Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 443,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Hare)
In the debates last week on the Estimates for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force my colleagues explained the unusual procedure of asking the Committee for a Vote on Account. I shall not repeat this explanation.
What I am asking for today can be briefly summarised under four headings: first, authority for the maximum number of officers and other ranks of the Regular forces to be maintained in the financial year 1957–58; secondly, authority for the maximum number of officers and other ranks of the Reserve Forces, the Territorial Army and the Home Guard to be maintained in 1957–58; thirdly a Vote on Account of £210 million to cover estimated expenditure for a period of five months from 1st April next; fourthly, authority to start certain new works services on or after 1st April, before the relevant Vote has been passed by the House of Commons.
The debate today is to take place on a Motion on Vote A. In other words, the Committee is asked to approve the maximum number of Regular officers and men which the Army may maintain in the coming year.
What are the tasks that face the British Army? With the advent and rapid development of modern nuclear weapons, the main task of the Armed Forces in the future must be to prevent a world war ever beginning. Next, we have to consider the form that a limited war may take and the number of troops and weapons we should have available. 806 Finally, there will remain the continuing and traditional commitment of the British Army to maintain internal security and serve British interests throughout the world. Certainly, in the conditions of the last ten years this has been a heavy burden. Unfortunately, we cannot assume that it will not continue in the future. These, then, are the three main Army tasks.
If I may, I should like to return now to consideration of the numbers required for these tasks. The numbers shown in the Estimates are the maximum strength of the Army in the 12 months beginning 1st April next. For Constitutional and historical reasons, they include Gurkha and colonial troops maintained by the British Exchequer and also some Commonwealth troops either serving in this country or maintained by the United Kingdom. The actual strength on 1st April next will be approximately 370,000 officers and other ranks raised in Great Britain, in comparison with 403,000 12 months ago, or, in other words, a reduction of 33,000.
A further reduction in the strength of the Army during this year is being planned. I regret that at this stage I cannot announce the figures. Everybody, of course, knows that a drastic review is taking place. Decisions will shortly be taken which will determine the structure of the Army for a generation to come. I realise that this is causing anxiety among people in the Army about their future, and that is one of the most important reasons why we are determined to announce our proposals just as soon as possible.
I am afraid that the period of delay through which we are now passing is unavoidable, but I should like to emphasise that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence and I are keeping the interests of the individual officer and man in the forefront of all plans which are now under consideration. We should be foolish to expect to make a success of future recruitment if we gave unfair treatment to anyone serving now. I hope very much that this assurance will do something to allay the anxiety to which I have just referred, which certainly exists in the minds of many people in the Army today.
What I should like to do now is to put to the Committee some of the problems, many of them very human ones, 807 which have to be borne in mind when planning to reduce the size and cost of the Army and, at the same time, retain its ability to carry out the tasks which I have outlined. Our object is to build up a larger regular element in the Army. How can we get more volunteers, especially volunteers for long service? In recent years, there have been a good many changes in the engagements offered to Regular soldiers. I do not think that we have yet struck the right combination to bring in the largest number of men. With the experience of ten years of postwar recruiting to draw upon, we are now considering urgently what further changes are required.
What does a man have in mind when he is either contemplating joining the Army for the first time or considering whether he will re-engage? I do not believe that our countrymen are solely moved by material motives in the choice of their career. The Army can still offer young men things which money cannot buy and a steady civilian job very often cannot offer—adventure, comradeship, and the opportunity to serve their country.
But, obviously, material things do count as well; and of them pay is certainly one of the most important. The new pay code, introduced by my right hon. Friend and predecessor, the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head), gives the Army at present a reasonably fair deal as far as pay is concerned. This was one of the many great services which my right hon. Friend rendered to the Army during his term of office. As his successor, I have been able personally to see the extent of the great contribution which he has made. I would not, therefore, put pay at the moment as the major obstacle to getting more recruits.
It seems to me that there are two barriers to recruiting which must be tackled if we are to have hopes of getting a Regular Army of the size we want.
§ Mr. Hare
The first is the problem of instability. We must maintain a fair balance between home service and service overseas if we are to be successful in solving the Army's posting problems. All of us, I know, are agreed that since the war many Regular soldiers have had to 808 be moved so often as to create real hardship, especially when long family separations have been involved. Even granted that the soldier's life is a roving one and that we must expect emergencies to continue to arise at short notice in various parts of the world, we must give much more stability to the average officer and man than he has had in the immediate past.
I cannot go further today except to say that the Army Council has under consideration a system which may give us the solution which we require.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman so early in his speech, but will he elucidate one point which, I know, must be present to the minds of hon. Members? He speaks about plans, and he has just referred to the Army Council having certain plans about manpower in mind. Would he say whether these plans are to be announced shortly by the Minister of Defence in the defence debate on the basis of the Defence White Paper, or at a later stage, in subsequent debates?
§ Mr. Hare
I would say that the answer to the right hon. Gentleman is a combination of those two. The Defence White Paper, which has been promised to be published by the end of this month, will give the general shape and size of the forces to come, and then the detailed Army Estimates will give an opportunity to fill in the details which I cannot fill in at the moment.
§ Mr. Hare
The second barrier to recruiting and particularly, perhaps, to re-engagement arises, as I think most hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will agree, from the shocking standard of some Army barrack accommodation. Since the war, a great deal has been done to improve civilian housing, and we must now provide decent living conditions for our soldiers. In this connection, I am sure that the Committee will join with me in paying tribute to the late Lord }lore-Belisha, who did much to improve the lot of the soldier, but whose standing memorial is the barracks which, through his energy and drive, sprang up so fast in the years immediately preceding the war.
809 To return to the post-war years, it is, fortunately, true that the building of married quarters has progressed better than the building of barracks. In this country, 11,000 new married quarters have been built, 2,300 have been or are being modernised, and another 1,400 which are out of date and too far gone to be modernised are going to be replaced. Although much remains to be done, this is no small achievement. That is why, although we have still to complete the married quarters programme, the major part of our building effort must be directed towards the building of new barracks, attractively laid out, with modern canteen and recreational facilities.
The Select Committee on Estimates drew attention to some of the defects of our present building methods in a Report which it made last year. In my view, we shall have to make more fundamental changes of organisation than were covered by the Committee's recommendations. The traditional Government methods of check and double check do not lead to speed, and, once it has been decided to build anything, speed and continuity of effort are an essential part of efficiency. We need an up-to-date, businesslike organisation which will enable those responsible to see the job through as quickly and as economically as possible.
It was with this in view that my predecessor appointed a strong committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Weeks, to look into our whole works organisation. Its terms of reference were very wide. The committee is at work now. I hope, with its help, so to remould our organisation that, on a basis of firm policy, we can build better, quicker, and with more economy. So much for instability and bad accommodation.
What about a soldier when he leaves the Army? We in this country are enjoying a higher standard of living than was the case in the years before the war, and more people are able to take a longer term view of their lives and careers. Nowadays, fewer men are willing to become Regular soldiers without looking beyond their service to the position in which they and their families will find themselves after they have left the Army.
I am attracted, as others have been before me, either by the idea of being 810 able to offer a civilian job within the War Department to a long service Regular soldier on his retirement from the Army or, alternatively, a better chance than he has now of obtaining other kinds of civilian employment. Something has been done already in this direction. Special arrangements exist by which a limited number of soldiers can obtain established posts in the Civil Service. Again, some industries agree to take a quota of soldiers at the end of their colour service. I would also like to say that we have had help from the trade unions in the recognition of Army trades.
I am grateful to all those who have helped us, but I wish to press this matter further because—and I am sure that both sides of the Committee will agree—I attach the greatest importance to giving the men who come forward, and offer the best years of their lives to the Army, prospects of a good career when they leave it; in fact, right up to normal civilian retiring age.
Recruitment for the Regular Army is not only a question of enlisting young adults. We must not forget the importance of our boys' units and apprentice schools. Here we have boys between the ages of 15 and 17½ who are taught technical trades, such as electronics, engineering and surveying; modern trades, without which the Army cannot exist. Between them, these schools have provided 15,000 of the Army of today, chiefly, of course, in the technical corps. Of these 15,000, 2,000 are officers, 2,000 are warrant officers and over 4,000 are sergeants.
Since about one-third of the 15,000 have less than five years' service, I think I am not exaggerating when I say that this is a remarkable and desirable result. That is why we thought it right that boys units should be renamed Junior Leaders' units, and I wish to lay increasing emphasis on their importance. With the growing technical demands of a modern Army, there are great numbers of technical jobs to be filled, and I believe that we should rely more and more on these schools to fill such vacancies in the future. A good deal has been done to improve them, especially during the last few years, but we are now seeing how we can make them even more attractive to boys who contemplate an Army career.
811 Before I leave the subject of manpower I want to say something about civilianisanon. It is very important that in the Army of the future we should endeavour in every way to increase the proportion of teeth to tail, and a larger proportion of civilians in administrative jobs can help in this. I have every intention of increasing the use of civilians in the place of soldiers where this is practicable, and I am grateful to the Committee which sat under Sir John Wolfenden for the useful comments it made on this subject. The committee felt that there was considerable scope for saving military manpower by the greater use of civilians, and I think it was right.
§ Mr. Hare
Many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have spoken recently, and for some time past, about a greater use of office machinery and mechanisation in the accounting and statistical work of the Army. I agree with their view, although I do not think that the Army is anywhere near as out of date as has been suggested. For example, punched card systems have been used in the War Office and the Army record offices for many years.
But new mechanical methods and, in particular, the recent advance in the science of electronics, have obviously opened up much wider possibilities and we are about to move over in some realms, especially that of pay, to electronic accounting and data processing. I have high hopes that the experience we shall gain will, in time, enable us to adopt far more of the modern methods of accounting. This should result in removing the burden of routine clerical work from a large number of civilians and soldiers.
The Committee would probably like to hear of two decisions that have recently been taken which will affect the future Army. Guided weapons are now being introduced into the Army and many Royal Artillery and R.E.M.E. officers and other ranks have already been trained in their use. One Guided Weapons Regiment, Royal Artillery, is already forming, and it will be equipped with the latest version of the American surface-to-surface guided missile, the Corporal. This will be the forerunner of other regiments of the same type.
812 Next, light aircraft are required in increasing numbers to support the Army in various rôles, including artillery observation and inter-communications. Army pilots have for many years flown such aircraft under the technical control of the Royal Air Force, but in future the R.A.F. will be much less concerned with small piston-engined aircraft. It has, therefore, been agreed that the Army will shortly take over from the R.A.F. full responsibility for aircraft with a maximum all-up weight of 4,000 lb. This will include the Skeeter helicopter for reconnaissance as well as the Auster type fixed wing aircraft and details of the hand-over are being worked out. I am very grateful indeed to the Royal Air Force for suggesting this new arrangement.
Now I would like to say something about what is embraced in the Army's use of the letter "Q"—its land, equipment and stores. A Command Paper of 1947 gave a figure of 648,000 acres as the Army's requirement of land for future peace-time training purposes. In fact, at present we are well below that figure, with training land of about 525,000 acres.
I can now announce that we are proceeding straight away to make a further 86,000 acres available for release. In addition, there are about 10,000 acres, used for accommodation and storage purposes, which will also soon be given up. When our plans for the future are settled, I will certainly again review the Army's land requirements and put forward a scheme for further reductions. I know that the Committee realises that land disposal is never a very quick process. The clearance of unexploded missiles, the disposal of assets on the land, the inevitable legal procedure all take time. However, I am glad to be able to report the progress that we are now making.
Now I turn to stores. For present purposes the story begins in 1946, when we were left with huge accumulations of stores as a result of the war. Between 1946 and 1950 hundreds of thousands of tons were disposed of by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. In 1950, however, with the outbreak of the Korean War and the decision to rearm, they rightly put the policy into reverse, and disposals virtually came to an end.
813 The Korean War dragged on, the international situation got worse, and it was not until 1955 that the thaw in international relations appeared to start. It was not until then that the disposal of stores began again. This process had started to gather impetus when the Suez emergency arose last August. Then the whole effort of the store holding organisation was turned to issuing stocks for the troops engaged in the emergency.
The disposals programme is only just beginning to get under way again. The immediate programme which we now have in hand provides for the disposal of large quantities of engineer stores, ordnance stores, ammunition and vehicles. To give the Committee some idea of the size of this programme, I would say that between now and April, 1959, we are planning to dispose of more than 70,000 vehicles, 250,000 tons of ammunition and over 120,000 tons of engineer stores.
Inevitably, the action we are now taking will lead to a reduction in the number of depots and base establishments. But the emergence of the megaton bomb has made it clear—I think the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) will agree with this—that the day of vast dumps of vehicles, ammunition and stores of all sorts to support a large Army in the field over lengthy lines of communication is a thing of the past. The Army of the future must be streamlined with its stores and supplies ready to hand and easy to move.
I feel that the whole Committee will support me in my efforts to speed up the disposals programme. Hon. Members can really help me in a practical way. There are bound to be some mistakes in any large disposal programme. I shall do my best to see that they are reduced to the minimum, but if they do occur I hope they will be seen against the background of all the effort that will be put into the job of getting rid of the stuff that the Army does not need.
At Question Time today, various complaints were raised about the sale of razor blades and shaving brushes. The House was able to hear the Minister of Supply say that he would consider how he could improve the methods of disposal employed by his Department. I trust that hon. Members will give me their help in dealing with the very large programme 814 which I have in hand in getting rid of stuff which is not needed.
Another matter of interest that I can report to the Committee is the improvement in our troopships. During the last six months two new troopships, the "Nevasa" and "Oxfordshire", have been brought into service. These two ships are of the very latest design and provide troops with the highest standards of seagoing comfort; and will, by their presence, enable us to dispose of two older ships. I am glad to say that all other troopships have been brought up to post-war standards of comfort by extensive internal modification. I think we can say that British troops now travel in far better conditions that were ever thought of in the days before the war.
We must not forget that the troopship is still, in many cases, the most convenient means of transporting units, their families and their equipment. At the same time, there has in recent years been a great increase in the number of troops carried by air. In fact, today air transport takes about half the troops going further afield than Germany.
Meanwhile, the Army carries out its tasks throughout the world. The account of the last year's operations will shortly be laid before the Committee in the usual Memorandum on the Army Estimates; so now I should like simply to give passing mention to what that account will tell.
§ Mr. F. I. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say, in elucidation of that last remark, whether a dispatch will be published from the Commander-in-Chief of the operations in the Middle East, or what does he mean? It is not usual to publish reports like that in the Memorandum on the Army Estimates.
§ Mr. Hare
I understand that the dispatch will be made by the Commander-in-Chief of the Suez operation to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence. The Army Memorandum will take the usual shape, which means that it will give an account of what has happened to all our troops in the various theatres throughout the world.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Surely a dispatch from a commander is always published in the London Gazette.
§ Mr. Hare
I will check that point, and see that my hon. and gallant Friend receives an answer.
The Committee will remember that spoke about Suez a few weeks ago. Apart from that terrorism has continued in Malaya, and also in Cyprus, where our troops have had considerable recent success against the E.O.K.A. terrorists. In Kenya, last November, the Army was withdrawn from operations after two very difficult years of anti-Mau Mau fighting. Lately, there has been trouble in the Arabian Peninsula. There have been tensions in Singapore and Hong Kong where, at the request of the civil power, the Army has played an important part in keeping order and maintaining the peace.
I sometimes feel that we have lived with these troubles so long that we forget the demands they make on the skill and patience of our troops. Our troops deserve our admiration and our gratitude; and an occasion like this is a proper time to remember how splendidly they have risen to each task with which they have been faced.
I hope that within the limits imposed by the major review which is still in progress I have given some idea of the fundamental problems which are facing us and that this will help hon. Members when they come to consider the proposals which will be put before them when the detailed Estimates are available.
I know that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are concerned for the well-being of the Army and for its ability to meet its commitments in the best and most economical way. That, I think, is as good a brief definition as I can give of the objectives which I and my colleagues on the Army Council are keeping in the forefront of our minds.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfred Fienburgh (Islington, North)
I suppose it is my duty, as I am following the Secretary of State for War, to follow the content of his speech and deal with it. Frankly, I am not going to do any such thing. If we were to follow the right hon. Gentleman's speech, where should we get to? We should get into an erudite dissertation and a dialectical exercise on the means of expediting the building of barracks. We might even have an interesting time exploring whether dispatches from commanders-in-chief should be published in the 816 Memorandum on the Army Estimates or the London Gazette, things which are totally irrelevant to the major problems facing the Army in the reconstruction of our defences today.
To that I must add that I am entirely unconvinced by the excuses which have been made by the Minister for not being able to put forward in the proper way in the light of proper and orderly methods of administration the Memorandum on the Army Estimates which the Committee has a right to have before it when it is embarking on a technical debate on the Army.
The right hon. Gentleman has even gone as far as to whip himself up into a self-congratulatory fervour. He is now trying to drag virtue out of inadequacy by saying that the reason why things have not been brought forward in their proper order is that the Government are now busy on a thorough and comprehensive review of our defences. What has been going on in the past few years? We are now in the twelfth year of the atomic age. We are now in the fourth year of the hydrogen bomb age. We are now, worse luck, in the sixth year of the present Administration. After all this time, is it now proper to tell the Committee, "Please give us an extra two months, and by then we might have begun to think and to produce something serious relating to the reorganisation of our defences"?
Some hon. Members opposite may say that the reason for the delay is that the Suez operation happened and that it has led to the need for a thorough recasting of all aspects of the problem, and so that is a valid excuse for the delay. There are three reasons why we cannot accept this argument. First, the Suez incident should never have occurred. Secondly, some of the disclosures which have been made in connection with that operation prove the point that I am making, that there were inadequacies and failures in the planning and execution of Army matters by right hon. Gentlemen opposite in the years prior to the Suez operation. Thirdly, hon. Members on this side regard the Suez argument as invalid because, in all the material that we have been able to gather about proposals which might soon be forthcoming, Suez seems to be one factor of which the 817 Government propose to take no notice at all.
The right hon. Gentleman has not been able to present to us a detailed statement of the rôle, scope, functions and future of the Army——
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I should like to be clear about this, so that the point may be argued later. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the ordinary Army Estimates, together with the White Paper, should be produced today and not at a later date?
§ Mr. Fienburgh
That is precisely my point. I am saying that it is unfair to ask the Committtee to conduct a serious debate upon the Army—which is expending a considerable proportion of our annual wealth and productive increment—without having before it the proper papers Estimates and memoranda of accounts. It is no use saying, "If you will allow us another two months we will do the job."
There have been many months in which a global reconsideration of our strategic aims and our defence structure could have been undertaken, and it is a puny excuse to say that they must have another two months before they can bring this matter before the House.
If the Government cannot do so, perhaps I may make an attempt—which, I admit, is liable to be shot down by hon. Members opposite—to do their job for them. I hope that I am not being too arrogant in attempting to do so, but I feel that they cannot see the wood for the trees. Perhaps I may be able to take them by the hand and lead them gently through the forest. By so doing, one or two points that I develop may become embodied in their minds.
First, I want to deal with the rôle of the Army. On this point I do not greatly disagree with what the right hon. Gentleman said. The rôle of the Army is to bring forward reinforcements in the cold war—which is another way of saying what the right hon. Gentleman said, that its rôle is to stand prepared to intervene in local operations in the hopes of preventing them spreading into a major thermonuclear war. I do not go all the way with him when he says that there is a 818 wide range of imperial commitments which it is necessary for us to uphold and sustain upon the old pattern, but there are one or two factors which we must bear in mind in considering the implementation of the rôle of the Army.
The first is that it is nowadays impossible to suggest that British forces, and particularly the Army, should be able to "go it alone" anywhere in the world. Therefore, there must be a great deal of integration with the forces of our major allies. Secondly, within the national economy there is only a certain amount of resources which can be devoted annually to defence, and within that again there is a fairly rigid ceiling upon what can be expended for the Army. These limiting factors must be borne in mind.
I want, first, to summarise quickly some of our overseas commitments—a job which, I suggest, the Government ought now to be engaged upon—to see whether some of them can be done away with. In their thinking upon these matters the Government will get nowhere at all unless they manage to rid themselves of the old-fashioned imperialistic conception that we must deploy the Army in penny packets all over the world, in pursuance of our imperial strategy. That may have been true for generation after generation, but in the modern world and with modern strategy it is no longer true. Unless hon. Members opposite can rid their minds of this inhibiting factor which makes it necessary to have British forces disposed in penny packets along the lines of imperial communication, where they now have little function, there is no chance of the Government doing anything serious to reduce our overseas commitments.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
My hon. Friend has made about the most important statement that a speaker upon this subject can make, namely, the capacity of this country to be able to "go it alone." That question is the core of our strategy. On 5th February my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) said that we were able "to go it alone," whereas my hon. Friend says that we cannot. My hon. Friend knows that I am at variance with the rest of my party upon this subject, but it is fundamentally important that we should have this matter cleared up.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
I wish that my hon. Friend would settle his quarrels with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) directly, and not through my intermediaryship. Nothing that I have said in any way conflicts with what was said by my right hon. Friend.
If I recollect his speeches correctly—and I always listen to them with care—my right hon. Friend has consistently made the point that in our deployment of forces and strategy we must ensure that our forces and efforts are completely integrated with N.A.T.O., S.E.A.T.O. and the forces of our major allies. That is precisely what I was saying. My hon. Friend will, no doubt, be able to speak in the debate later and then deploy his argument, but when he does so he must not mind if I intervene.
I now come back to my main point. I was about to embark upon a detailed examination of our overseas commitments. I take, first, the Middle East and, within the Middle East, Cyprus. In Cyprus, we have about 14 battalions with supporting arms, consisting of 25,000 or 30,000 men. What are they doing in Cyprus? The Suez incident has made it abundantly clear that Cyprus, as a base, is unusable in major operations. The Army planning staffs had not noticed that there was not a deep-water harbour which was capable of loading ships from Cyprus. I rather doubt whether we will build a deep water harbour there now; to do that would be to multiply folly by lunacy.
One of the political consequences of the Suez operation is that in that part of the world there is now no major rôle which that base could fulfil as a British base, although it might do so as a N.A.T.O. base. As a British base, is it effective in the cold war? Of course not. Is it effective as a British base from which we might intervene once again in the affairs of the Middle East? I should think that any intervention by us would do more harm than good in the immediate future.
What are our troops there for? They are there because the Government refuse to grant self-determination to the Cypriots. They are there to control the island and perform one of the most distasteful and reprehensible tasks upon which British troops and National Service men can be employed, besides 820 being a task which is completely contrary to the principles of freedom in the world, which our troops are supposed to be engaged in defending. I do not say that everybody must come home from Cyprus, but if the base is to be of any value it must be made a N.A.T.O. base. Our troops who remain there should be much smaller in number, and should be part of a general N.A.T.O. commitment, and not a purely British one.
I turn next to Libya and Cyrenaica, where we seem to have the nucleus of half a division. What is it doing there? The Suez incident again showed that that base was unusable for the task for which it had been created. Is it there now merely to maintain King Idris on his throne? If it is, it is a complete and grotesque misuse of British soldiers and National Service men. There is now no purpose in maintaining the Libyan base.
I suppose that our Jordan commitment will now go—and it will go in the most ignominious circumstances, not as part of a sensible and comprehensive redeployment of our Army, but because our Army is being kicked out by the Jordanians, to whom we have paid subventions for years. That is another direct illustration of the Suez folly. As I said, all the grandiose talk of rethinking which we hear at the moment about our Services in the future seems to break down on this point, because the Government have not and will not learn the lessons which ought to have been learned from Suez.
I turn from the Middle East to the Far East. Perhaps the most expensive commitment in the Far East, not in terms of numbers but in expenditure, is our commitment in Korea. There, I understand, we have about 5,000 troops. It is expensive because of the distance and because, due to the distance, the number of people in the pipeline for replacement and maintenance is very high indeed. I think that the time has come for us to say to our major allies that this is one part of the burden in the Far East which must be reduced.
In the original Korean War we acquitted ourselves honourably, gallantly and well, but now I think that it is time, in regard to our sharing the burdens with our allies in the Far East, that we should say that at least part of this commitment is far too expensive— 821 as it is, in all ways—for us to be able to sustain, and we should be able to share that burden in different proportions in this part of the world.
Next I come to Hong Kong. There, I am told, we have about 11,000 troops. The general strategy in Hong Kong is obviously that the 11,000 troops there can be nothing more than a trip wire. If we were to put the whole of the British Army in Hong Kong and about two years' supply of conscripted soldiers as well, we would still be unable to hold Hong Kong against an attack from the Chinese mainland. There is no doubt about that at all. We have to face the fact that if there were to be a major attack from the mainland upon Hong Kong our troops there would be nothing more than a tethered, sacrificial goat. Have we not learned, particularly in this part of the world, that it is stupid to leave troops in traps and wait for the traps to be sprung? These are lessons that we should have learned, particularly in Malaya and Singapore. Of course, I do not say that we should withdraw every single soldier and gun from Hong Kong, but if a trip wire is what is needed—a warning that if there should be an attack upon Hong Kong it will be reacted to defensively by Britain—it could be done with about one-tenth of the present forces.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Has my hon. Friend considered that that will make it even more difficult to persuade the Americans not to come to our rescue, which, I imagine, is the last thing in the world that we want?
§ Mr. Fienburgh
My hon. and learned Friend will forgive me if I read that carefully, analyse it, parse it and work out the conclusions from it before answering him in about two weeks' time.
Hon. Members opposite, and on this side of the Committee, might now say that we ought to maintain large numbers of troops at Hong Kong because of the riots at Kowloon some time ago. Here I say again that that is not the purpose for which British Army regiments should be used. If internal insurrection, riots and difficulties of that nature have to be dealt with they should be dealt with by multi-racial police forces, because the use of armies in these circumstances is 822 more likely to cause exacerbation rather than pacification. Our Hong Kong commitment should, therefore, be reduced.
In Malaya, there are about 25,000 troops, of whom about one-half are from the British Isles. Again, perhaps it is not possible to have an immediate reduction, but with the emergence of the independent Malayan State there is time in hand for more and more of our finances to be spent on a well-trained and equipped modern army.
In the Caribbean we have two battalions in what must be the most salubrious station in the British Army. What are two battalions doing in the Caribbean? Showing the flag perhaps, but with two battalions it can only be a very small flag, like a penny streamer on a stick. Surely we should show a flag which should be a substantial one or we should not expose our weakness by showing a small one.
The only stations which I think I have left out are Kenya and Aden. On Kenya, I will say only this. The Mau Mau difficulties are now over, but let us learn a lesson from them. There may be all sorts of psychological reasons why Mau Mau happened, but surely it should be a precept of military defence for the future not to hold forces in an area to stop revolutions, revolts and rioting after they have happened, but so to reorganise our economic assistance and the social structures of those areas as to prevent revolt from happening. This is a new concept of military structure which I should like to see the Government follow.
In the review of commitments I have left out one enormous commitment, and that is Germany. I left it out for a particular reason, because I should like to differentiate, if I can, between those commitments from which we can withdraw and those commitments which we should maintain, but maintain more efficiently and with a more economical use of manpower.
Our commitment in Germany is to maintain there four divisions or what, in the opinion of the supreme commander, is equivalent to four divisions, but I do not think that we should have allowed ourselves to get embroiled in an argument with our major allies in that part of the world on how many bodies we should have in Germany. At present, we have 823 about 75,000 to 80,000 soldiers in Germany. I do not think that we should in any way renege upon our commitment to maintain four divisions, but I believe that they should be modern, efficient, streamlined divisions on the pattern which our major allies themselves are advising and deploying in that part of the world.
Let us look at some of the figures. An American division has an establishment of 13,000, 14,000 or 15,000 men. A German division on peacetime establishment is 12,500 men and on war establishment 15,000 men. A French division varies, but a rough average is about 15,000 men. A British division is 18,000 men. This is after a substantial reduction by some means of reorganisation which took place about 18 months ago. It does not lie—and I want the Government to bear the argument in mind—in the mouths of the Americans, or the Germans, or the French now to complain if we reorganise our divisional structure in Germany to save the 30,000 men, which would involve also some reorganisation of the "tail" and which, I think, could be saved from that part of the world.
After all, all that we would be doing is following fairly closely the pattern which they themselves think is right, the structure which they themselves think to be adequate and the type of division which they themselves think to be consonant with modern warfare. So I would suggest to the Government that they have a lot of blame attaching to themselves for the way in which this matter has been so misunderstood. What they are doing in handling the German question at the moment is quite obvious.
After Suez there was perturbation, worry and a feeling of ill-ease in the community about the organisation of our Armed Forces. The Government, as is the way with this Government, are seeking to produce a rabbit out of a hat, like a conjuror. They seek a flashy, glamorous stroke which they can present to the public and say, "My goodness, it may have taken us a long time to wake up, but we are awake now; and as part of that awakening we are bringing 30,000 troops home from Germany".
We should bring them home. It is not my argument to insist that they should stay there. But it is patently obvious to the world that the way in which we are handling, or rather the Government are 824 handling, the matter is a "gimmick" and not an item of statesmanship, or part of the comprehensive rethinking of our military deployment. Had the Government started at the beginning by a survey of the deployment of our forces throughout the world, and, as part of that survey, had brought people home from Germany, it would have been understandable and proper. In any case, the reorganisation of the divisions on which I am basing this argument should have happened a long time ago, in my submission. The exercises were put in train by the late Government and it has taken an unconscionably long time for them to come to fruition.
One final point on the German question. The nature and cost of the redeployment in Germany is inevitably bound up with the support costs paid by the West German Government and here, on three occasions in the last year or so, the Government have been outwitted and out-negotiated at the negotiating table by the Germans. I am not blaming the Germans one bit. They had a duty to look after the money of the West German taxpayers. But we have a right to criticise our Government when they allow themselves to be out-manoeuvred and out-negotiated in this way.
What are the three things in which the Government have been out-manoeuvred? The first is that when the original treaty was set up for the West German armed forces, we were committed to putting four divisions in that part of the world for a period of time which will outlast at least my life-time. But the Government made no provision for the payment of support costs by the West German Republic, no provision at all. That was the first occasion on which the Government were out-manoeuvred. Then, when, rather belatedly and in very typical circumstances, they had to go to the West German Government and ask for support costs, they settled for £35 million.
Again, as events proved, they were outmanoeuvred, because during the last few weeks a new agreement has been signed; and as soon as the West German Government heard a whisper that we were going to pull out some troops they increased their contribution from £35 million to £50 million. We could have had that figure a year before. We could have had £50 million a year before, had the negotiations been conducted in that kind of 825 hard-headed, bargaining spirit which we have learned to expect from right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but which they so rarely produce.
The Government were out-manoeuvred again when the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented the new Agreement on support costs to the House the other day and when it was clear—I do not quite know what was clear, but, certainly, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not clear—first, that he had not read the agreement and, secondly, that if he had he did not understand it; and that if he did understand it, he was ashamed of it and did not wish to disclose it. What it amounts to is that if we reduce our troops now in Germany the whole question of the support contribution is open for review on 1st September. In terms of international negotiation that means "the day after tomorrow."
I think it is shabby and squalid that the contribution to common defence in that part of the world should be based on so many pounds worth of Adenauer aid per British body in Western Germany. The Government should be clear about the fact that we must reserve our right to re-equip our divisions and to reconstruct our forces on the pattern which is popular with our allies, but that we cannot reopen negotiations on the question of support costs.
I have tried to differentiate between the withdrawal from commitments in other parts of the world and the maintenance of them in Germany on an efficient basis, and I wish now to turn to two or three other matters in this sort of gratis memorandum which I am trying to present and which is open to attack from hon. Gentlemen opposite. A consequence of the reduction of commitments must be the end of National Service. The Labour Party has expressed its policy on this subject with clarity and definition for some time. We have said that we should end the call-up in 1958 on its present basis so that by some time in 1960 the last National Service man will leave the Army.
I know that it is difficult for hon. Gentlemen opposite to come to grips with this problem, because there has been such fluidity in their own appreciation of what size the Army should be. They have no starting point for a sensible discussion on 826 National Service. A few years ago they said that we must have an Army of 400,000 men. That figure was whittled down last year to just over 300,000 men, and, to secure the smaller figure, we had a month-by-month postponement of the date of call-up so as to get three call-up periods a year instead of four, and thereby reduce the numbers coming into the forces.
That system has to end in 1958, and I fail to see how the Government can continue to phase back the call-up by widening this gap between school leaving and entry into the forces, which is the most disturbing thing there is in young life. If they go on much longer, they will be calling up middle-aged men and conscripting them into the Army.
The Government must devise a new system and we say that it must be the end of National Service. We have to face the fact that it will leave a gap. There will be some gap between the Regular Army which we can hope to get on present figures—I emphasise, on present figures—and the Army which we should require of about 175,000. In parenthesis, may I say that the latest figure we have had from the other side of the Committee on what should be the size of the Army have come down to the figure which the Labour Party announced about a year ago, when we said that we should have a Regular Army of 175,000.
Although the right hon. Gentleman has told the House nothing and the Minister of Defence and other Service Ministers have told the House nothing, someone has been telling the military correspondents of The Times, the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph an enormous amount; and we have what we think is a clearly emerging picture of what is in mind. But, as I have said, the figure of 175,000 will still leave a gap which I am sure the Government are seeking to fill in one of two ways. Either they are going to be honest and be gamblers, or dishonest and allow selective service to creep in and hope that no one notices.
If they propose to be honest men and face this problem, from their point of view—not from ours—they will introduce a ballot. This "Premium Bond Government" will now introduce a form of "bullets by ballot" for soldiers. I do not think the Government will do that, because they floated the idea in a debate 827 some time ago and such was the reaction of the community, the Opposition and the trade unions that, clearly, it is not a practical proposition.
Unless the Government propose to force that through in the face of overwhelming public opinion, obviously what they will have to do to fill the gap is to pretend to abolish National Service—by pretend I mean in a sense other than we are going to do—and widen the area of non-selection; leaving behind a smaller and smaller field from which soldiers will be called for the National Service section of the Army. They hope they can do that without much chipping away and widening of the field of exemption, and that no one will notice. And then, after a while we shall find ourselves with a form of selective service. I can tell hon. Gentlemen opposite now that we are not prepared to accept that, and I do not think that the community will have it, either.
The Government have to decide how the Army should be maintained after 1958. They must make up their mind now and not announce that some time in the unforeseeable future they will deal with the matter. What the country wants is something practical and not just pious hopes, and I trust that the Government will reveal something practical in the forthcoming White Paper. But it will leave the problem of the gap. That problem can be dealt with sensibly only by increasing the rate of Regular recruitment, and at present our recruitment and re-equipment figure is low.
I was interested in the point made by the Minister about pay. I think he would agree that pay is not the be-all and end-all of Regular recruitment. We shall not necessarily get people flooding into the Services merely by increasing the pay unless we do a lot of other things to a lot of other matters. The two must go together. Let it be clear that if we are to have an efficient Army we must build up an Army containing a large number of craftsmen and technicians who will have to be paid as craftsmen and technicians. It is no longer possible to recruit soldiers by tieing their pay to the general level of the pay of unskilled manual workers. The men in a craftsmen's Army must receive the craftsmen's rates of pay and that must apply to all the personnel in the Army.
828 Speaking as an infantryman, I resented the advanced rate of pay which, during the war, went to the technicians in the Royal Army Service Corps. I am not being rude about the R.A.S.C., it fed me for years, but we cannot hope to have a happy Army where the infantrymen at the sharp end is on a lower rate of pay than the technician at the back end. The whole structure of Army pay must be based upon a level appropriate to the craftsman, the kind of man we want to engage.
There must be added to that another element which I would describe as the "being messed about" element. It is no good talking of comparable rates with civilian craftsmen if we are to ask the soldier to accept the restrictions and inevitable regimentation, the moving about and posting, and all the other commitments of Army life. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Army was a roving career. I always thought that that was said of the Navy, but it is true of the Army. In the element of pay there must be some recognition of the difficulties of Service life and the amount of messing about that the men have to put up with.
We cannot get craftsmen to come into the Service if married quarters are not provided for their wives and families. I cannot emphasise this too strongly. An Army will not be recruited and maintained if the soldier has to live in slum barracks in one part of the world while his wife and family have to live in expensive furnished rooms they can ill afford in another part of the world, or if they have to stay with their "in-laws." They have a right to live together.
People are marrying younger now than before the war. The old pre-war conception of the number of married quarters must be revised. People have a right to marry at 21 or 20, and they have the right to expect homes where they can bring up families. It is no use always pleading the exigencies of the Service and the difficulties of Service life. These things must be catered for.
I am glad that the Minister touched on the point that there must be a career structure. Something must be done to alter the status of the soldier. The young technician, the craftsman, will not exchange the rough and ready democracy 829 of the workshop floor for the excessive regimentation and "bull" of the Army. He will not do it, and he will register his protest by not joining the Army. As the object of our exercise is to make him join the Army, we are defeating ourselves unless we do something about it.
We are always hearing from the right hon. Gentleman about campaigns against "bull", and I am grateful for every single one, but it is remarkable how little effect they have on units when they have percolated down to the level of the company sergeant major and the sergeant. The initial dynamism has been lost in the chain of command. We still hear of a man having to dubbin the toes of his boots at one unit and then, when he is posted to another, they say, "The heels as well here". At the third unit they say, "We are really smart here. Burn and bone the whole of your ammunition boots and get a shine on them", and at the fourth unit they say, "We are operational; dubbin the lot".
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Would not the soldier have worn the boots out in the continual process from one to the other?
§ Mr. Fienburgh
At least, the soldier gets a ride today but that is what used to happen.
We must somehow break down the psychological gulf between the officer corps and the other ranks corps in a technical modern Army. That is not an easy thing. I cannot give half a dozen easy answers on how to do it. It is a matter of approach, technique, training, thought and investigation, but that must be one of the aims. Unless we do it we shall not get a Regular Army of the size we require.
I wish to say a few words about the Territorial Army. There are two points to bear in mind. First, is there a rôle for it now, particularly now that the Government have, in effect, said that they do not regard it as a force which can be mobilised and sent overseas as part of an expeditionary force? Secondly, even if there is a rôle for it now that the Government have, in effect, removed the National Service element by ending the fortnight 's camp, can we, on a purely voluntary basis, get enough people to execute that rôle? Those are the two questions about the Territorial Army.
830 The answer to the first question is that I think that there is a rôle, but the rôle must be in the light of the possibilities of thermo-nuclear warfare and must be by way of providing services for the civilian Civil Defence authorities. I stress the word "civilian", because I believe that Civil Defence must be a civil function. I believe that the Territorial Army, properly organised and trained, is capable of providing services. If there is a thermonuclear attack we can expect ground communications in certain areas to be destroyed. There will be need for an engineer element to build bridges across rivers, canals and railway junctions and to clear the streets of rubble.
The second thing we can expect is a breakdown in line communications, telephone exchanges, and all the rest of it. Therefore, I believe that the Territorial Army can have a signals function to recreate a network of communications by W.T. and V.H.F. when normal communications have broken down. Those are the two rôles which the Territorial Army could fulfil.
Can we get the volunteers to do it? I do not know. I was myself a Territorial Army officer until about two months ago, but I found that I was holding down a majority which somebody else wanted. As I was not going to drills, it seemed unfair, so I opted out and let the other man have his promotion. There is a good, enjoyable spirit in the Territorial Army. I very much enjoyed getting away from the House of Commons as often as I could and talking about anything but politics with the members of the Territorial Army. I am sure that people with even duller and more routine jobs than Members of Parliament must find that they get a break and a change by going into the Territorial Army.
We will not get people to stay in the Territorial Army to crawl across wet fields doing platoon exercises which were out of date in 1906, but we could get them to combine their desire for comradeship and good fellowship in the Territorial Army with the performance of a useful function, provided that proper training and equipment was given.
There are two minor points I wish to make about reserves. Another point which was apparent from the Suez operation was the catastrophic failure of the War Office, with all the 40 generals, 831 to mobilise quickly the reserves, to mobilise them selectively and to get the right square pegs into the right square holes for the mounting of the operation. No one will pretend that, given a perfect Regular Army, we will not in emergency have to call upon reserves, but the methods of selection and the procedure of call-up must be revised, because they broke down completely on the Suez operation.
Secondly, and this is important, we cannot expect nowadays to drag reserves from their jobs and their homes in an emergency, and invite them to court danger in operations while, at the same time, reducing by half the standard of living which their wives and families had previously enjoyed. If we are to whip them out of their civilian jobs, it is a crime against them to ask them to embark on operations while they know quite well that at home their families will suffer badly through a reduction in the standard of living. Therefore, the question of the reserves should be looked at very closely indeed.
The last technical and detailed point is this. I noted the reference in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to the formation of the missile section of the Royal Artillery. I make this entirely personal comment, because this is a technical point on which there may be a dozen different views, but I think that by splitting up the deployment and use of ballistic missiles between the three Services we are in danger of triplicating research, supply and development, because in many ways the principles of propulsion, direction, control and aiming will be, to some extent, the same.
I am not sure that it is a good idea to set up separate units in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy for the deployment of these missiles. We sometimes talk rather grandiosely about the complete integration of all three Services. That does not amount to much more than talk at the moment, but when a new function comes into the Armed Services we should see at least whether it cannot be a common-user function for all three Services, thereby avoiding the different chains of command and the proliferation which will result.
To show that I am not parochially minded, I would say that, for my money, the Royal Air Force could well under- 832 take this function. After all, the "Corporal" will take over only the close support, tactical rôle which the R.A.F. has been providing up to now. It will make a big drain on air photography which will not be provided by light Austers. Service will still be required from the R.A.F. for air photography and strategic reconnaissance. I believe that thought should be given to the idea of having a common-user service, not an individual arm in each Service, to handle these new techniques.
The temptation, when one stands at this Opposition Dispatch Box for the first time, is to abuse the privilege and speak for far to long. I will, therefore, not go into any more points of detail, but will conclude. When the White Paper does come and the Estimates are presented we shall view them from this side of the Committee with reserve, restraint and suspicion, for the simple reason that sound, logical and realistic thinking cannot be produced by the kind of last-minute panicking, pulling out of files and sorting out what kind of "gimmick" to present to the public, which is obviously going on now.
Two months the Government have asked and two months they will have for winding up this—
§ Mr. Fienburgh
The right hon. Gentleman is not even original in his interjections. That remark was used some time ago.
It is obvious that there is that degree of searching and scratching around going on. The Government want to present something which will give an impression of, if not create, a system which will reorganise our Armed Forces. If it can go forward in the ordinary way as a product of normal discussion, argument, debate and thinking, we may have some faith in it, but not in this last-minute panicking, which we shall view with suspicion. Our suspicions will be doubled by the fact that Government supporters have many times in the past brought forward grandiose reforms and reorganisations of our forces, and so often have failed and failed again to carry them out.
There is a lot to be said for not introducing a partisan spirit, for not raising issues of party conflict, in technical debates on the Services. On this side of the 833 Committee we care for the defence of our country just as much as do Government supporters. Many of us are as devoted as they are to the regiments and the Service to which we have given a considerable part of our lives. When we feel, as we do today—I will not disguise it—that there has been and is mishandling, confusion and bungling we should not be doing our duty to ourselves, to our rôle as an Opposition or to the Services if we did not complain, argue, and bitterly protest from time to time.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray (Berwick and East Lothian)
I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) will not take it as an impertinence if I say from a back bench that I venture to congratulate him on his first performance at the Opposition Box. I am the happier to do that as an infantry soldier myself. One sees much of the point of view of other infantry soldiers. One thing which was so welcome was to find an hon. Member who can make a speech without constantly relying on his notes.
Let me turn back into a politician and say that I certainly sympathise a little bit with what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech when he complained that it was difficult to take part in this debate without having had the benefit of the Government's White Paper, promised at the end of this month. I agree with him on that point, but I do not agree that he was right to complain of the fact that we had not got the Government's White Paper. He himself said in the course of his remarks that we should learn from Suez, but if we are to learn from Suez there must be time to take advantage of Suez and to think out new plans, and then to produce a White Paper based upon the lessons of Suez. I hope very much that that is what we shall find.
I had hoped that we would not only have the advantage of the White Paper, but even have the opportunity to read the report of General Hull's Committee on the future strategic use of the Army. However, I absolutely accept the reasons given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War for declining to place that Report before the Committee. The strategical assumptions which are the 834 basis of the Hull Report must always be top secret. The recommendations in the Report do not make any sense if read separately from these assumptions.
I thought over that point a great deal and I think that my right hon. Friend was right. He could not have made the Report public, so, as a supporter of the Government, I am left trying to make helpful and useful suggestions without having read it. They can go along several lines, not only strategical lines, as we are without so much necessary information, but certainly along lines of economy without loss of efficiency. The first line I should like to pursue, taking the largest field for economy, must obviously be our forces in Germany.
A month or so ago I found myself welcoming what had been said, or what got into the newspaper as having been the opinion of General Gale, that we could accept a reduction of 25,000 or 30,000 men. Since that time, although I am not shaken in my view that we must move in that direction, I have realised that we should exercise a good deal of caution in the timing. We are not alone in this matter; we have allies to consider. If the reduction of our forces can be dovetailed into a general picture to the satisfaction of the Supreme Commander, that must be done. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was thinking and working along these lines when he was in Paris over the week-end. While we should continue to insist that a material reduction must be made, I hope that the timing of the reduction will be selected constructively, so that it does not upset the N.A.T.O. scheme of defence.
I turn from that subject to others which only concern ourselves. First of all, there is the question of our base in Libya, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, North. When we wanted that base a few months ago we found that it was useless for our purpose. I would ask the Secretary of State for War or the Under-Secretary of State to give us one of two things—either an assurance that if Libya is useless as a base we shall discontinue it, or state a function for which the Libyan base is fit and useful. It must be one or the other.
I pass to the general question of bases, principally overseas, which brings one to 835 the question of integration of the Services. I think it will be within the knowledge of some hon. Gentlemen that there is a great deal of duplication at the headquarters of the Services. Let me take Malta as an example. There an admiral is in charge of naval headquarters, an air marshal in charge of Air Force headquarters and a general in charge of Army headquarters. If we mixed up the officers of the various Services a certain amount and put them all into one headquarters under the command, either of the general, the admiral or the air marshal—it would not matter which—we could effect a very great saving of manpower and avoid a great waste of time. We should get greater efficiency as a result.
If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War feels it his duty to bat up for the Army and never allow it to take second place to the other Services, may I remind him of what I read in Lord Alanbrooke's diary? I was reading it last week, as I am sure other hon. Members have been doing. Here is a comment by Lord Alanbrooke:With the ever-increasing importance of the air rôle in modern war I am certain that in future the airman will occupy the central position in planning and that Supreme Commanders will best be found among airmen.I do not say that I adhere to that entirely, but I do say to my right hon. Friend that when we have a soldier of the stature and experience of Lord Alanbrooke expressing that opinion and allowing it to be published we should have no hesitation in accepting integration and should not be in any way petty in looking after the privilege and position of one particular Service.
I turn from that to further integration, not only abroad but at home. What about the medical services? In Germany one will find a large hospital working under the auspices of the Army and alongside it a large hospital working under the auspices of the Royal Air Force. Why could these two hospitals not be run by the same organisation? When they are on land, why should the medical services of the Navy not be worked under the same organisation and, indeed, under the same doctors? It might not be popular for an officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps to be told he had to go into a ship, where he might be 836 seasick, but the actual work could be done by a centralised system. The same could apply to the dental services.
Could we not go further than that? I think a lot of the supply lines could be integrated. I do not say that the work of the Royal Army Service Corps would be common to the Navy, but a lot of that work would be common to the Royal Air Force and the Army, and much transport could also be covered. I should have thought that the whole of the Pay Corps question could be covered by that. I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about getting up-to-date machinery in order to release manpower. Why not release it altogether? I appreciate that my right hon. Friend is responsible for only one of the three Services.
I do not want to take so long a time as the hon. Member for Islington, North took. If I may make a criticism, perhaps the hon. Member talked for too long because of his lack of notes. I shall stop speaking when I get to the end of my notes. I wish to refer to economy in other elements. I think the divisional tail is too long. The hon. Member talked about streamlined divisions in Germany. Is he right and up-to-date in that? I have a hankering after the streamlined brigade rather than the division. I think the brigade group is the sort of thing at which we want to aim. I believe my right hon. Friend has that in mind. When we consider the divisions and their "tails" we find there are large forces of Royal Engineers in Germany. They could undertake putting a bridge across the Danube and another across the Volga, but what nonsense that is. It is a pure waste of manpower. There is a great field for economy before my right hon. Friend in that direction.
I turn to something nearer home, to the Wolfenden Committee Report, which has been mentioned more than once. I do not know how long National Service will be necessary, but so long as it is necessary I am sure that we should take account of the unanimous opinion of the three persons who produced the Wolfenden Report that more civilianisation at a low level should be encouraged. The Report expressed the view that three civilians doing a job regularly can do it better than five National Service men. There is a clear waste of manpower in 837 having five National Service men doing what three civilians could do better, but the problem does not end there.
In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend said that an advantage of giving work of this sort to civilians is that we can use as civilians time-expired Regular soldiers. That is what we have wanted all the time, that the man joining the Army on a Regular engagement should see a future in his Army Service. Here there is scope to give that to him. I should make it clear to the Committee that I do not want to go too far in suggesting that civilianisation of work at present done by soldiers is always a good thing or always an economy. I would quote from information given in reply to a Parliamentary Question. The growth in the numbers and expense of senior civil servants working under the War Office is very frightening. The figures which I have been given are that in 1938 there were 35 senior executive officers working in the War Office and that their cost was £25,000. Now we find, twenty years later, on 1st January this year, that 35 senior executive officers have risen to 90 and the cost has risen from £25,000 to £145,000 a year. That is no great step towards economy.
I will take an even more striking figure of the higher executive officers, who are just junior to the senior executive officers. In 1938 there were 120 civil servants of the higher executive grade at the War Office. They cost £73,000. Today the number is 417 and they cost £535,000 a year—half a million pounds a year. I warn my right hon. Friend that in his search for economies, which I am urging him to make by civilianising at a lower level, and in any attempt to reduce the 40 generals at the War Office he should also turn to these higher executive and senior executive civil servants because they cost as much and are equally difficult to retire.
I return to another point in the Wolfenden Committee Report. In his reply we should like to hear from the Under-Secretary some statement on what action the Government have already taken on that Report. We read on page 16 of the Report, referring to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps:It seems to us that in some of the depots which are almost wholly civilian there are unexpectedly large numbers of uniformed officers of senior rank.838 The suggestion of the Report is that those officers are superfluous and wasting their time. The Report goes further and makes a specific point. I am glad to give the Under-Secretary something specific to which to reply because one feels flattered to be referred to in a winding-up speech. At the bottom of that page is a footnote which says:At one unit at which a carburettor was deemed unserviceable, no fewer than twenty-seven forms were required for its despatch to the Central Ordnance Depot.That was in December last. The question which I want to put to my hon. Friend is how many forms must one now, in March, fill up from that self-same unit before one can send a carburettor, deemed unserviceable, to the Central Ordnance Depot? I look forward very much to hearing his reply.
I said that when I got to the end of my notes I would come to the end of my speech—and I have only one page left. I have been talking about economy and about cutting down our forces overseas and our depots, integrating and trying to let one man do the work of three Services, where hitherto three men have been required, one for each Service. The last point I want to make is not one of economy or cutting down. It is concerned with preserving efficiency and the fighting spirit in the Services.
I ask my right hon. Friend to be very careful how he cuts down regiments. Let him preserve regimental identity wherever he can, and let him preserve the county connections of regiments. I do not know whether it is intended to abolish any regiments at all. I can only hope that it is not. But if it be that a regiment is not wanted as infantry, then turn it to some other job. We shall have to have a rocket regiment. Why not have the "Border Rocket Regiment," or the "Hampshire Rocket Regiment," to retain the county connection? We have had experience of this. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) knows that when the cavalry were unhorsed they were turned over to mechanisation—and nobody can say that the cavalry as tank soldiers failed in their part. We must keep the regimental indentity and the regimental tradition. What we turn the regiments to does not much matter; they will not let us down.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
Unlike the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. AnstrutherGray), I have not availed myself of the use of notes. Frankly, I find them an encumbrance. I always did. More particularly is that so on this occasion, because while the Secretary of State for War was addressing the Committee I did my best to take note of what he said and found myself in very great difficulty. He said very little on which it was possible for hon. Members to engage in serious debate.
The right hon. Gentleman came to the Committee today to ask for the necessary funds to enable him to meet the expenses of the Army. That, of course, was quite proper, although the procedure is somewhat unusual. Indeed, if I may digress a little, I think that protests should be made from both sides of the Committee against the procedure which has been adopted. We have had two debates on the Army on what amount to token Votes on Account, and we have had two other debates—one on the activities of the Air Ministry, such as they are, and one on the Navy Vote on Account. Little information has been conveyed to hon. Members in the debates.
One would have thought that the Secretary of State for War, after the experience that he has gained from listening to his right hon. colleagues from the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, would have sought to justify the expenditure which we are asked to meet on this occasion. I am sorry to tell him that although I regard him as blameless in this regard—he has to give us pretty much the views which his advisers tell him and is pretty much in their hands—he has failed to justify the existence of the Army. Of course he has told us what a gallant lot of fellows the soldiers are. Of course they are. He has said that they rise to the occasion whenever they are called upon to do so—and of course they do. Everybody knows that, and we are proud of them. They rise to the occasion in almost any circumstances, whether in war or in peace.
But we are not considering the gallantry, the devotion, the loyalty, the general behaviour of the men in the Forces. We are considering whether the War Office is properly organised, whether 840 it is economically run, and whether it justifies its existence. It occurred to me while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking that if there had been a Labour Government in office and we had had a succession of these debates, followed by such a speech as that made by the right hon. Gentleman today, there would have been much greater noise on the Opposition side of the Committee than has been encountered this afternoon. I recall those animated debates when the Service Ministers—my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) was Secretary of State for War—and others equally concerned were vigorously castigated by the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. We were told that we were not providing value for the money which was being spent, and that the Service Ministers were wholly incompetent.
When I think of the recent debates we have had and the showing made by the Secretary of State for Air and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, and now by the Secretary of State for War—I do not want to be offensive and I speak with the utmost good will—I say that these right hon. Gentlemen are far inferior in quality, talent and presentation to the Service Ministers under the Labour Government. Everybody recognises that.
That, of course, is not what we are debating. I wonder how the Minister of Defence felt as he listened to these debates. He is primarily concerned with effecting drastic economies in the defence organisation of the country. If I may say so with great respect, I found the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) interesting and eloquent, delivered, as it was, for the first time from the Front Bench. All power to his elbow or all eloquence to his tongue, however hon. Members like to put it.
My hon. Friend demanded higher pay for the men in the Army. A few days ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), speaking on behalf of the Labour Party in connection with the Air Ministry Vote on Account, asked about supersonic bombers. I understand that the prototype of a supersonic bomber costs £10 million, apart from the additional expenditure which would be entailed later when those bombers were in production. Even my 841 right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley), speaking on the Navy Vote on Account, was at great pains to show that we should emulate the United States in the construction of nuclear submarines. All that costs money; make no mistake about it. It is no use in one breath demanding drastic economies in defence expenditure and at the same time demanding improvements which of course entail considerable expenditure. We have to strike a proper balance.
The right hon. Gentleman said a great deal in his speech—indeed, if I may say so, there was little else—about the preparations for a review and the plans that are coming along, in due course—as soon as possible, as early as may be—and all the rest of it. We have had six White Papers since the present Government and its predecessors emerged—at least six; I am not sure that there was not a seventh. In every one of those White Papers—and I think that hon. Members will agree with me on this matter at least—we were told about the reviews that were taking place.
Is it not too much that we should have to listen to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues telling us about the need for reviews of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, of our defence costs and the like? What has been going on in all those years? We have had the Wolfenden Report and the Departmental inquiries. There has been a great deal of labour and a long gestation, but precious little in results. Had there been results we should have heard of them; and surely this was the occasion when hon. Members on both sides of the Committee were entitled to expect from the Secretary of State news that some results permanently beneficial to the Army had emerged in consequence of the investigations and activities of the various committees.
I venture to predict that when the Minister of Defence comes to that Box on the occasion of the defence debate, despite all the talk there has been about drastic reductions in defence expenditure—some say £200 million, £300 million, £400 million, £500 million, astronomical figures—the actual reductions will be no higher than this; they will just make up the difference in the cost of our defence 842 organisation, that is, equipment and the like, at this time and those of twelve months or two years ago. There will be actually no saving at all except in relation to increases in prices. I make that prediction, and if I am wrong—and nobody would be more delighted than I if I were, because for a long time I have advocated a cut in defence expenditure—I will apologise to the Committee and, if necessary, to the House.
I believe that what I have predicted will happen, and I will say why. Let us take, for example, this matter of the number of generals at the War Office. That matter was raised a few weeks ago, and the right hon. Gentleman did not deny the suggestion then made; and no word came from him this afternoon. He decided to keep the matter dark, and hush hush. He is presented with a difficulty, because he does not know what to do with those officers. That is one of the difficulties which we have in the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. As a result of the constant succession of officers coming in, of promotion, of the difficulty of retirement, there are far too many officers in all the Services, and some occupation has to be found for them.
As Secretary of State for War and as Minister of Defence I was faced with that difficulty. I will be quite frank with the Committee and say that I tried to get them civilian jobs. I had a great deal of sympathy with them because, at the age of 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, or not much older, they are thrown out of office and no other occupation to which they are accustomed is provided for them. Some of them were associated with the nationalisation schemes. Jabs were found for them. We did not speak about "jobs for the boys," of course; it was only a question of "jobs for the boys" when anybody from the Labour Party was appointed.
The right hon. Gentleman's difficulty this afternoon is that he does not know what to do with the generals at the War Office. Quite frankly, I think that it would be just as well to retire them and give them their pay, because they would be just as useful, and in any case they get very good pensions. And let it not be forgotten that when we were in office we provided higher pensions, and gratuities at a very high scale, not only 843 for officers but for other ranks. All that is very helpful. I only wish that Members of Parliament could be so well provided for. But that is what we did.
There is something more. The Secretary of State is faced with the need for economy. Pressure groups on this side and on the other side of the House, the newspapers, the Cabinet, the Minister of Defence—they are all bringing pressure to bear on him to reduce his expenditure. How is he to do it? He has told us this afternoon about the need for reducing the number of depots and of releasing a great deal of land. Only a few weeks ago his attention was directed to the fact that a large number of tanks, armoured and other Army vehicles were concentrated in some place in Yorkshire. He admitted that there were 8,000 of them there, but what he has not told us is what he intends to do about them.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that some depots are to be dealt with, and drastic reductions made, but I want to tell him one thing in the most forthright fashion. It is useless for him to make up his mind as to what he intends to do about those things until he knows just exactly what he has. I challenge him on this matter. Has he an inventory of all the equipment in the possession of the War Office, and of all the stores in the War Office? Of course he has not. And until he knows what he has, how is it possible for him to decide what he can dispose of? More particularly, how is it possible for him to decide what to instruct the Ministry of Supply to purchase on his behalf?
I suggest that there are far too many depots, and far too much storage accommodation and far too much land in the possession of the War Office. I suggest, further, that it would not in any way impair the efficiency of the Army and of our defence organisation if the Minister got rid of at least 50 per cent. of it. We on this side of the Committee did something about that, also. When we were in office there was a great deal of unexploded ammunition in the possession of the defence Departments. We dumped a great deal of it, and we sold a great deal of material.
We sold destroyers, and frigates, and tanks and various other kinds of defence equipment all over the world. I suppose 844 that, because of the advent of new weapons, there is not such a good market nowadays. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State needs to dispose of a lot of that material, for the simple reason that it is cluttering up the depots and requires a great deal of manpower for its maintenance. If he did that, he would save a great deal of money.
I want to leave these matters—because I do not believe that in a debate of this kind we can discuss them adequately—and to turn to the question of manpower. A demand has been made by the Labour Party for the ending of National Service. Of course, that is nothing new. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself advocated a reduction in the period of National Service five years ago. Since then we have made a demand that National Service should be brought to an end in the course of three or four years.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North so rightly said, if we abolish National Service, there is bound to be a gap. How are we to provide the Regulars? The suggestion is made that we might provide more Regulars with a longer engagement, and this is particularly important, because we could get another 100,000 Regulars, but if they were all on the three-year engagement it would be of very little value. We could, however, get more Regulars on longer engagement if we put up the rates of pay.
Let us face the fact that if we do that, it will increase the cost; let us make no mistake about it. What do we mean by higher rates of pay? The pay of a private soldier who accepts for six years' service is about 9s. or 10s. a day. If we are trying to get men to engage for longer periods, we shall require to pay them 14s. or 15s. a day. Let us consider what that means.
We have to face the fact, whether we like it or not, that in the future we shall have to rely upon a much smaller Army, and it has to be a Regular Army. What should be the size of that Army? Before the war, we had an Army of 160,000 or 170,000 men—I mean Regulars. It is true that in those day we had the Indian Army of 50,000 men, which was a kind of strategic reserve. We sought to rely on them in the event of an emergency, but we had a Regular Army of fewer 845 than 200,000, and I venture the opinion that we could get a permanent Regular Army at the present time of about 170,000 men, provided that it was streamlined, and I accept what the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian said about it.
We have argued this matter out over and over again, both in Committee and in the House, in the course of our defence debates. We could have this Regular Army if it was properly streamlined, and if we could reduce our commitments. That is even more important. I believe that it would then suffice for our purposes.
Reference was made by one hon. Member to the subject of our troops in Libya. For what purpose do we retain troops in Libya? In order to guard our position in the Middle East? I remember the time when I was at the War Office and at the Ministry of Defence and we were told that we could not withdraw from Egypt or from the Canal Zone because our position would be precarious, and because we should not be able to face up to Communist aggression and the like if we were to withdraw our troops. We have withdrawn our troops and it has made very little difference; and it seems to me that until we can reduce our commitments in various parts of the world, National Service will continue for many years to come, and that we shall have a constant succession of debates in the course of which we shall discuss whether we can increase the numbers of the Regular Army and how that is to be done.
So I repeat that we should review our commitments to begin with, and, secondly, that we should streamline the forces so as to make them efficient and capable of dealing with any emergency. That brings me to the subject of N.A.T.O. This is a matter that we have discussed many times. I notice that the Prime Minister has been to Paris with his colleague the Foreign Secretary to meet their opposite numbers in France. It appears that the right hon. Gentleman has agreed—we are not quite certain about it, but we assume that he has agreed—not to reduce our forces in Germany.
What are the facts about our forces in Germany? The fact is that there is not a single battalion, not a single brigade, not 846 a single division which is up to effective strength. These are the facts. We talk of our divisions in Germany. It is all nonsense. There is no such thing as four effective divisions in Germany—neither infantry nor armoured divisions—and that ought to be stated. When the argument is adduced, and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North supported it, that we ought to reduce the size of our divisions—and the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian talked about brigade strength—we ought to consider whether we ought not to drop the divisional concept altogether and rely upon combat groups of brigade strength of 4,000 or 5,000, with such supporting troops as they may require, provided that they have got both striking power and mobility of the highest quality. In my view, that is the line that we must follow in the future.
On this question of N.A.T.O. I have this to say. I know that it is not easy, and that the United States is bringing pressure to bear on the Government, as France and some others have done, in order that we shall retain all our forces at present in N.A.T.O. The Belgians have no case at all, and neither have the Scandinavian countries. What is their contribution, anyhow? Indeed, what case has France got? For many years now, we have known that France has not made a valuable and effective contribution to the N.A.T.O. forces. There may be good reasons for that, but nevertheless N.A.T.O. has had primarily to rely upon American forces and British forces.
In respect of American pressure, I do not think that we require to follow the lead given by the United States. We can decide for ourselves. Therefore, on every possible ground—first, that we can streamline our forces there; secondly, that we must reduce our expenditure; and, thirdly, that we must resist the pressure coming from any quarter whatever—we ought to reorganise our forces in N.A.T.O.
I wish to say a word about something that has happened recently. While some hon. Members may not agree, I shall venture to express my opinion very strongly in this matter. I refer to the appointment by the N.A.T.O. Council of General Speidel. I think it is appalling. I know 847 that General Norstad, the Supreme Commander, thinks that he is an excellent general, and I have not the slightest doubt that, from the military point of view, he is first-class. But I am not concerned with that aspect. What I am concerned with is his past.
There is no doubt at all that until 1944, when General Speidel was supposed to be involved in a plot against Hitler, although that is not very clear, he was an ardent supporter of the Nazi régime, and indeed in 1941, when he was associated with the German forces of occupation in Paris, he was responsible for the order that was given—at all events he had some part in that order—for the execution of 1,000 alleged Communists and Jewish refugees.
I do not take my stand on General Speidel's past alone. I take my stand on this ground. If the German forces had been organised in the West, and if they had had the 500,000 men which we were promised—the 12 divisions about which we have heard so much in recent years—there might be a case for a German general being responsible for the command of the land forces in that area. But German rearmament has not proceeded apace; indeed, it lags behind. For a long time to come, N.A.T.O. will rely, not on German forces, but on the British forces. Why do we require a German general to command British forces? I do not know what our troops are saying, but some French troops have refused to serve under General Speidel, and quite properly too. They remember the German occupation, and they are justified in recalling it, and what occurred on that occasion.
I am surprised that Her Majesty's Government decided to support, in the Council of N.A.T.O., the appointment of General Speidel. If no other person supports me in this view, which I am expressing as strongly as I can, I still say that I think that it was a deplorable incident and one for which the present Government are largely to blame, because they could have prevented it, had they so desired.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is directing his attack on General Speidel as an individual or whether he means that no 848 German should be given this appointment? It is rather important to distinguish.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. H. Hynd)
The debate has ranged rather widely, and if the right hon. Gentleman does not go too far, I do not propose to stop him at the moment.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Libya is not carried on the Vote. Neither is Hong Kong. Many of the things that have been mentioned are not carried on the Vote. I do not require my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) to remind me of that. I have had a much longer experience of this Committee than he has.
§ Mr. Wigg
With respect, despite my right hon. Friend's long experience, I do not agree with him about Hong Kong. The troops living in Hong Kong are borne on Vote A. Every matter that has been mentioned this afternoon and the troops involved are borne on Vote A. General Speidel is not borne on Vote A.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The British Army is part of the N.A.T.O. forces. I can allow this discussion so long as it does not go too far.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am concerned with the British Army and its commanders. That item is on the Vote. I would answer the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) by saying that I would object to any German general of any character and of any quality at present being in command of British troops.
§ Mr. Shinwell
No, there is no reason at all why we should scrap N.A.T.O. When we appoint a supreme commander of all the forces in Germany, it is one proposition to appoint an American commander; but when the Germans have not organised their land forces and when we rely primarily on the British troops there, I see no reason, except in the absence of a qualified British general 849 —somebody of capacity—why a German general should be appointed. Sir Richard Gale is a far better man than General Speidel. So is General Keightley whom the War Office is now retiring. So is General Templer. Why could not one of them take charge? Why should we have to rely on this German general? If hon. Members are inclined to forget the record of the Germans, I am not.
The Secretary of State for War has not justified his existence this afternoon, but I do not blame him. I blame the people behind him. What can we do? If we attack the civil servants and the military at the War Office, we are told that we are attacking people who cannot speak for themselves. I have discovered that they can say a great deal for themselves—sometimes a good deal more than they need say.
I look forward to the publication of the Defence White Paper. It is only when we get that White Paper and we see what the Minister of Defence has decided about our forces in the future, when we have a concept of our future defence policy, that we can have an adequate debate, and not before.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Sir James Hutchison (Glasgow, Scotstoun)
I wish that I had a command over my memory of the kind that has been shown to us by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) when he spoke at the Box—a noteworthy effort for a maiden speech from that position—and of the kind shown by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who used his memory to recall nostalgically the excellent speeches that he and his colleagues had made in the dim and distant years far away on the Government Front Bench.
The memory is a fallible thing, and I am afraid it has let the right hon. Gentleman down, perhaps not only in the quality of his speeches, but also in relation to one or two other remarks which he made. He said, speaking of our division in Libya, that when he was at the War Office he had been told that the withdrawal of troops from the Canal area would have been very damaging, and he added, "What difference has it made?" It has surely made this difference, that the Canal is now blocked. If our troops had been there, a very different situation would have arisen.
850 Then his memory led him astray in his remarks about General Speidel. I do not want to take up the cudgels on behalf of General Speidel, but I would say that the rearmament of Germany is going ahead very fast. At a meeting which we had with the German Ambassador the other day on this very subject, he said that the Germans were aiming at and were likely to achieve five divisions and two combat groups during 1957.
That brings me back to my notes, and to the major points which I should like to make. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend talk about the chance of employment of soldiers, both officers and men, after they had left the Army being improved. It is of the greatest importance that that should come about. That is one of the bigger deterrents which operate just now in the thoughts of a man when he is considering joining the Army.
The hon. Member for Islington, North took us on a world-wide, chiefly Far Eastern and Middle Eastern, survey which was extremely interesting and with some part of which I agree. But I wonder if my right hon. Friend will say whether Parliament is going to have the benefit of seeing the Hull Report. I understand that this is the very question which General Hull was set to examine, and I understand also that the Report has been presented to the War Office and to the Ministry of Defence. Without seeing that Report, it is difficult for us to know in which of these spheres of activity there can most easily be made a cut.
There has been criticism of these interim Estimates. The only thing that is abundantly clear in them is that under Vote A there is to be a serious reduction in the strength of the Regular Army. I hope, as has been instanced by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) and others, that my right hon. Friend will succeed in increasing the civilian proportion, but I think we must remember that civilianising the Army is not economical. It is economical in manpower, but not in expenditure.
Germany has succeeded, we were informed at the same interview to which I have referred, in civilianising quite a large proportion of her proposed new army. It seems clear from all we are able to read in the Press and elsewhere 851 that we have made a suggestion to N.A.T.O. that we should remove part of our forces in Germany. The right hon. Member for Easington was quite right when he said that there is no such thing as a proper division in Germany. They are about 60 to 70 per cent. of strength, and so, in that sense, our divisions there are weaker already than they were intended to be. If the Secretary of State for War, or the Minister of Defence, intends to remove one or two of the divisions in Germany, he will be taking an extremely serious step.
If I may remind the Committee, in order to get the agreement of Continental nations to Western European Union when it was replacing the European Defence Community which had broken down, we undertook to keep for a long time four divisions and a tactical air force in Germany, or their equivalent, and the equivalent was to be to the satisfaction of the Supreme Commander. That agreement cannot be varied without the consent of the majority of the signatory Powers—the other members of Western European Union—or if there arises for this country an acute overseas emergency. Neither of those two situations obtains at the present time.
We have had the views of the Supreme Commander, General Norstad, about the reduction in the British contingent over there. He has said quite frankly that he needs all thirty of the proposed divisions to which, with the German component, the strength is now being built up, and he has taken account, in his needs, of the integration or supply of tactical atomic services along with those divisions.
The other day, a committee of us visited the Commander of the Central European Forces, land, sea and air, and he told us that at the present time with the forces that he has at his disposal there is no hope without atomic weapons of holding back a Russian aggression. He recognised, and we must recognise, that the British divisions are at only 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of strength. The French have thinned down their contribution, first of all by the Dien Bien Phu campaign and now as a result of Algeria. The defence of the West is left largely to American forces, to four 60 per cent. strength British divisions, to very 852 weakened French divisions and a small component or contribution from the other Western European nations.
I understood from this meeting at Fontainebleau that the American conception of how tactical atomic weapons would be used would be that the Americans would have mobile units in their area and would move them up where they were needed or where an eruption was threatened. I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend say earlier in the debate that we were setting up, and perhaps shortly would have, an atomic guided missile unit of our own. I should like to ask whether it is to be provided with our own atomic warheads or whether we are to rely upon the Americans for that. Will those tactical atomic units be available to other nations on the line of the front, or is it intended, as I was informed at Fontainebleau, to do as the Americans intend, namely, that they should move their units up to the threatened point? If the latter, that is a very inefficient and dangerous conception.
We came away with a very depressing picture of the defence of the West at the present time, and certainly not with the impression that this was a time to weaken our shield. As I have said, the Germans are going ahead, very faithfully I think, with their contribution. If we reduce ours, and if they achieve the rearmament they are planning and are confident of getting, they will soon be in a position of dominance as regards their forces in Western Europe. That is exactly what the French have been very anxious all along to avoid.
If we take away a division from Germany we shall have done three things. We shall have broken our solemn undertaking, unless we get the consent of the majority, which looks very unlikely; we shall have dangerously weakened the shield which the Commander-in-Chief already knows is too weak, and we shall have created for Germany a position of dominance which most of our other allies are very anxious to avoid.
For what else does the Treaty provide? Let us see if there is any way out of our dilemma. The Treaty says that if the maintenance of our Forces throws too great a strain on the external finances of the United Kingdom, we can invite the 853 N.A.T.O. Council to review the financial conditions under which they are maintained. It should be noted that the words are "invite the Council to review"—not to remove the troops. That, I think, has already been done. Indeed, it has been publicly announced that the support costs to be paid to us—they have already been criticised by the Opposition—are being increased. I should like to know whether, when we got the support costs increased, that was irrespective of the numbers we undertook to keep in Germany. I should be glad if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State would deal with that point when he comes to reply. Were the increased support costs which were given by Germany to this country in any way tied to the maintenance of four divisions, or are we free, on that count, to remove a division without having broken the agreement about increased support costs?
How are we to get out of the dilemma? It is clear that we must have economies in manpower and expenditure, and this is the suggestion which I make to my right hon. Friend. Why should not part of our strategic reserve be regarded as being in Germany? I am perfectly certain that our allies, whose representatives I am constantly meeting on defence matters, would be agreeable provided that the four divisions are there physically to be seen, with all the morale which that goes to foster. I am quite certain that they would be prepared to let us use one of those divisions as part of our strategic reserve. As I understand it, we have the first and third divisions here as part of the strategic reserve. If we have to get rid of one division somehow, I suggest that it should be one of those, not one which is in Germany.
If the conception of the defence of the West is as I have understood it, namely, to have a screen of tactical atomic cannons, weapons and missiles in defence along the front, with mobile independent brigades or even small divisions, forcing concentration on the enemy so that he has to present a tactical atomic target—if one just allowed them, so to speak, to flood through without being concentrated, there would be no tactical target worth firing at—we shall need considerable strength in the West. Those divisions charged with the task of carrying out this mobile rôle of forcing concentration on the enemy would be perfectly good 854 troops if they were suddenly required for a campaign of the type we had in Korea or Malaya. Every infantry soldier has to go through the basic, elementary training of fire, movement, camouflage, use of weapons, and so on, and it is only at a later stage that he enters upon the more complicated rôle associated with tactical atomic weapons and tanks. If he is not needed in a theatre of war where tanks or atomic weapons are being used, he is still fundamentally a perfectly good infantry soldier for the other type of campaign.
Our strategic reserve should be in Germany. It should be possible to fly it quickly to any theatre where it is required. I have seen a Beverley loaded with a field gun and its tractor, which is quite a considerable weight, but if heavier equipment than that which can be carried in a Beverley is needed, it must follow by sea or else be picked up by the troops at a nearby depôt.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Gentleman is arguing in support of retaining four divisions in Germany, one of which he now suggests should be part of the strategic reserve, but that, of course, does not make any difference; it is part of the four divisions. That means, if they are brought up to strength, something like 90,000 to 100,000 men. The figure at present is 80,000 for those weak and ineffective divisions, and bringing them up to strength would require some 90,000 to 100,000 men. If that is to be done, what becomes of the Government's promise to get rid of National Service?
§ Sir J. Hutchison
I was coming to the strength of the divisions, of course. I think it was the right hon. Member for Easington, or at any rate one hon. Member, who drew attention to the great disparity that exists between the different divisions in Germany. In a defence debate, I should be glad to have an opportunity—perhaps I shall later—of speaking about the extremely difficult position in which the Supreme Commander is put when he gets, on the one hand, a French light armoured division consisting of, I understand, 7,000 men, and, on the other hand, a British division of 18,000. Somehow or other, we must try to standardise the divisions so as to give the Supreme Commander something he knows about and can handle.
§ Sir J. Hutchison
All right; it is my case too. We can have the four British divisions in Germany, of a smaller component than they are now, bringing the new divisions to something like 80 or 90 per cent. strength. One of them can perfectly well be part of the strategic reserve, to be flown immediately to wherever it is required. There could thus be an economy in one division here and now.
If that be the solution, may I point out that it will achieve three things? There would be no breach of our treaty obligations under Western European Union because, if our strategic reserve were required, there would automatically be an overseas emergency of the kind envisaged. We should not upset our other partners in Western European Union, and the division would be where it was most likely to be needed. We have all come to realise, I think, that it would be a matter of great difficulty to be able to get a division from this country to the Continent if a global, nuclear war broke out. So the strategic reserve would be in an area where it would be most likely to be needed and could easily be flown to another destination if an acute overseas emergency arose.
I realise that this would create a considerable number of administrative difficulties. It would mean that the British troops would rarely be home, but this could be overcome by giving them more generous leave. Families would not necessarily be separated but united in Germany. What the soldier hates is not so much being abroad as being moved all the time, which is what has been happening ever since the war. A more generous provision for the education of children would have to be made, but the extra cost would be small compared with the saving that would be achieved by the reduction of the division plus the divisional tail.
I want to ask the Secretary of State for War or the Under-Secretary of State, if he winds up the debate, whether any saving in conventional artillery cannot now be brought about? Tactical atomic weapons are inevitable in a European conflict, so surely we can reduce our conventional artillery weapons to the size that might 856 be needed in a Korean, a Suez or a Malayan campaign?
Now I want to touch for a moment on the question of the tactical atomic units. I said we were informed two months ago that the American component in France had the idea that it would control all the tactical atomic units and would move them up to the path of the front that was threatened. I regard that as ridiculously inefficient. Not only might they have to move across a front under danger of attack, and so perhaps arrive too late at the point where needed, but tactical atomic targets will be fleeting targets. The time would be past when one could call up somebody 200 miles south and say, "There is a job for you up here."
They will be asked to fight alongside units not familiar to them, and not familiar with the way they work. So co-operation will be about as difficult under those circumstances as it could possibly be. Also, they will be away from their own line of communications. It is hard to understand, but the arrangement at present is that each nation is responsible for its own logistics or lines of communication—the new term displacing the old. That raises the most immense difficulties. It means a line of communications with all its supplies suitable to the British Army and, running along that line, another for the French and, along another line, one for the Americans.
Therefore, as soon as any of those units is moved from south to north or north to south, a French unit to an American area or an American unit to a British area, there will be the most appalling tangle on logistics. The units will be moving away all the time from their own supplies, from their own ammunition and their own food, into an area which has made no provision for them. It is fantastically inefficient, but it is like that just now, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Central European Forces, General Valluy, told us that to move a formation or unit out of its own area into another area under the jurisdiction, under the surveillance, of another country would present him with a most appalling logistic complication.
If we are thinking of efficiency in the defence of the West, we need something 857 nearer a standard division, something nearer a division equipped with equal armament and of equal size, provided by the countries which make up Western Europe. At present the Supreme Commander can be handed a division by, say, Holland which, stating the case ridiculously, might be mounted on horses with its transport on mules. He has no say in that. All he can do is to protest. He cannot say what type of division each country should put into the pool. Therefore, one of the most efficient steps we can take is to fix, and give him power to fix, on some form of standard division, and that division should have something nearer standard equipment.
Our visit to Fontainebleau left the representatives of the seven nations far from reassured. I hope that the economies, which I recognise we must have, can be found without the subtraction of one of our divisions from Germany. I do not know what degree of opposition my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has met in his discussions with our Western European allies, but I know that there is great anxiety and great criticism amongst ordinary Parliamentarians like myself who meet to discuss these matters. I know that if we take this step we shall increase the already preponderant Russian superiority. I also know that if we take it without the consent of the majority, we shall be in breach of a very solemn undertaking.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Having listened to so many speeches in debates on Army Estimates in the past, my mind goes back to the kind of speeches made by hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. Those speeches have always followed a traditional and conventional form—except today, of course, when we were not given any real Estimates speech by the Secretary of State for War.
The jargon used by hon. Members speaking from both sides of the Committee is the same. For example, the strategic reserve, which has been bandied about today, notably by the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison), was not in the jargon of this House two or three years ago. It was only when the troops were to come back from Egypt that we 858 heard about the strategic reserve. Indeed, I am not sure that in those days the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War did not use as part of his argument for bringing back the troops from Egypt that fact that he wanted to form a strategic reserve.
I do not object to the strategic reserve being kept in Germany. Indeed, I am not sure that some time ago I did not even advocate the same thing. What is a strategic reserve? Is it possible for hon. Members and military minds in the Service Departments to get away from their old conventional ideas, as they must in view of the new weapons coming into existence, and to think afresh?
No Secretary of State for War in this House since Lord Haldane has ever attempted to think in flexible terms of how to create his Army and its use. It was Lord Haldane, in the earlier part of this century, who conceived the idea of the territorial force, and where is it today? Does any hon. Member of this House, especially those opposite with military experience, know what the Territorial Army consists of today except as the repository for a large number of ex-National Service men for whom the War Office cannot find any other place?
Today the Territorial Army is in process of being disbanded—40,000 in one night by the present Prime Minister when he was Minister of Defence, and when the right hon. Gentleman disbanded all the anti-aircraft forces of this country. How right he was. They were peashooters, with popguns to use against the aircraft they were supposed to bring down. Yet that Command, the largest in the Army, was kept in existence because the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and the staff officers at the War Office had a vested interest in keeping it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), perhaps a little late in the day, was right in what he said about the staff at the War Office and in the other Service Departments. They have a vested interest, and no Secretary of State, including those of my own party, has ever attempted to challenge those military chiefs, because there has been no clear thinking about the form our Forces should take in the new kind of warfare, should it ever come. We talk glibly about "brigade groups", "brigade groups" being the modern idea of the 859 fighting formation. What do we mean by "brigade groups"? I suggest that if the "brigade groups" are ever expanded with all arms and services, they will be fully equivalent to any divisional formation in existence at present.
Consequently, I would say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington that I welcome the impact of the German Army and the German General Staff—although it may not be called that now—on military thinking in Paris. It is about time that we had a little clear thinking about what forces we require and what is expected of them.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Has it ever occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that the vested interest which the officers at the War Office have, and which he was running down, might be that of keeping this country properly defended?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am not denying the patriotism of those officers, but what I said is not limited only to them. What executive anywhere, in business or in the Services, wants to be dismissed and put on pension?
The other day I was talking to the wife of a young officer about to go to the Far East. I said to her, "I should not be too sure that your husband will go there. Maybe he will be bowler-hatted." She said, "Oh, is that what your party will do if it gets into power?" I replied "You need not wait until my party gets into power. A lot of bowler hats will be distributed by the present Government before the Labour Party ever has the opportunity of getting into power again."
The Government are quite right in their attitude. The object of the Minister of Defence is to streamline the Forces that the House will permit, and to this end he is engaged in cutting down the Services. That is why we are today going through this farce—it is nothing less—of discussing the so-called Army Estimates—three sheets of paper. Hon. Members, especially those who have come into the House since the war, should go to the Library and look at the Army Estimates which were presented in former days and at the debates which took place. Then we examined the Army Estimates in detail, but we are prohibited from doing so now.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I will give the House an illustration of the mystery in which the Service Chiefs, in collaboration with the Service Ministers, enshroud the discussions of the House about military affairs. The other day I wanted to look at the Army List, which contains an alphabetical or regimental list of officers in the Army. I went to the Library and asked to see a copy. I was taken to a steel safe and there the Assistant Librarian took out his keys and opened the safe and produced the Army List, like a bank manager asked to produce securities from a safe deposit. That is an illustration of the mumbo-jumbo surrounding military debates in the House. It is small wonder that we hardly ever get any really instructive exposition by the Government or criticism by the Opposition of our military affairs.
The hon. Member for Scotstoun talked about the necessity for keeping four divisions in Germany. Why that magical figure? It is only because that figure was put into the Treaty of Paris. That figure was not sacrosanct; there was an alternative, an equivalent. Let the hon. Gentleman go to S.H.A.P.E. headquarters in Paris and see the wonderful maps of airfield dispositions and so on which are displayed for the edification of hon. Members who go there. I do not think the hon. Gentleman, who has had experience at the War Office, would deny that our four divisions would not, as a fighting force, last long against the overwhelming forces which the Russians could throw against us. All they are there for is to protect the advanced installations, radar equipment and so forth until the power of the air weapon can be thrown against the advancing Russian forces.
I do not mind—indeed, I welcome it—if the Government are to attempt to withdraw British Forces from Germany. We cannot afford to keep so many troops in Germany. That is one of the reasons why I have been consistent in supporting the rearmament of Germany although so many of my hon. Friends were not too enamoured of the idea. If we can get them, twelve German divisions will be a very strong fighting combination, which we have not got at the moment with 861 practically all the French Forces having been withdrawn for Algeria.
The hon. Member for Scotstoun criticises his Government for attempting to withdraw some of the British Forces from Germany, but what does he say about the withdrawal to Algeria of all the French combat divisions? No doubt that was done with the approval of the Supreme Commander, but why should not the Supreme Commander agree to some British Forces being withdrawn. Do we not need those British Forces in our far-flung commitments elsewhere just as much as France needs her troops in Algeria? There is very good reason, both strategically and financially, for the withdrawal of British military Forces from Europe.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
There may be good reason for what the right hon. Gentleman says, but is he suggesting that, having accepted an obligation, we are now entitled unilaterally to break it on the ground that the French have broken it?
§ Mr. Bellenger
I did not say that it would be done unilaterally, but I would say that "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander." If French troops can be withdrawn, then British troops can be withdrawn so long as there are substantial grounds for the withdrawal. It is provided in the Treaty that this may be done on the ground of financial stringency or as long as we maintain an alternative force, comparable not in numbers but in fire power. If the Government do their duty properly and equip our Army with the nuclear weapons which it will have to possess, I think we can maintain our treaty obligations with fewer troops in Germany. However, that remains to be seen. I look forward to the explanations which the Government will give in their White Paper.
My criticism of today's debate is that we are engaging in something in which the Army is fond of engaging—T.E.W.Ts., tactical exercises without troops. The Army often fight their battles on paper, and that is what we are being asked to do today. There is no reason why the Government should not have asked for a token Vote, as they did during the war. During the war, we never had detailed Estimates. We merely 862 voted something like £10 on account. The results of the military operation—if I may call it such—were then given to the Select Committees of this House. I agree that this situation is not quite the same, but it is farcical that we should be debating the Army Estimates today, as we have debated the Navy and Air Estimates last week, when we shall have all this over again in two or three weeks' time, and be presented with something that we may be able to talk about with a little more erudition than we can use today.
To those hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh), who say that so many of our bases are of no use, I would put the question, "What is your conception of the strategy of this country, considering our engagements all over the world?" Are we to withdraw our Forces to these islands and have what the Americans are pleased to call a peripheral strategy? If we do that we shall have to have a far bigger Transport Command than that with which the Royal Air Force can provide us today. Moreover, the American conception of peripheral strategy is to have their bases as far away from America as possible, placed in a position to meet the attack which they fear may come.
I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North that Cyprus and Libya may not be suitable bases, but I suggest to him and to other hon. Members that we must have bases in different parts of the world, although where they have to be situated in countries which do not belong to us, or are not under our control, we must get the agreement of the indigenous populations.
The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) made an impassioned plea to his right hon. Friend not to disband regiments. I agree with him that the fine traditions of many of our regiments should be maintained if possible, but I disagree that we should keep them going at all costs. By doing so we are duplicating the "overheads" of different depots and regiments, and if those regiments cannot recruit sufficient troops there is no reason why they should not be disbanded. Hon. Members may not agree with me in that, but they must face 863 the unpleasant situation that many famous regiments today cannot find troops to fill their depots. If they cannot do that they will simply disappear in time.
I think it was also the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian who talked about the integration of staff training. That was a very interesting point. A few days ago I put a Question to the Minister of Defence in relation to joint Service training, and he invited me to submit to him my ideas about this matter. I am only waiting for him to produce his White Paper, when I may have some ideas to put before him. I want to see what he will do with the three Services before I suggest ways and means of implementing joint staff training. It is interesting to see that I am supported in this idea by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
I now turn to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington about General Speidel. I hold no brief for that general, except that I believe that he is a fine soldier, and if we are to have good commanders we should have good soldiers, whatever their nationality may be. My right hon. Friend made a serious accusation against General Speidel, and Her Majesty's Government should refute his remarks, because they leave disturbing thoughts in the minds of many of those who are otherwise well-disposed towards Germany. My right hon. Friend made a definite statement to the effect that General Speidel was responsible for things which are not soldierly or soldierlike, and if what he has said is true I should have doubts about the General's appointment.
It is interesting to note that the Social Democratic Party in Germany does not think as my right hon. Friend does, because it has approved the general's appointment to this Command. On the wider issue, I believe that if we want a strong German contingent or element in our N.A.T.O. defence forces it stands to reason that if we accept Germany's soldiers of lower ranks we must accept those of her higher ranks into the unified command. No less a person than General Norstad himself has told hon. Members, in the precincts of this House, that he thoroughly approves of the appointment of General Speidel, That is no secret.
864 The Under-Secretary should deal with this point and set at rest the minds of all hon. Members who may have doubts about the matter. I have taken every precaution in investigating this subject in Germany and as far as I can judge, the General is there held to be thoroughly capable, efficient and eligible for his job in N.A.T.O.; indeed, I wonder if hon. Members know that in the German House of Commons, or Bundestag, there is a committee which selects or rejects the higher ranks in the German Army. Since that committee consists of all the parties I should have thought that it was a sufficient guarantee to set at rest doubtful minds like those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington.
I suggest, however, that the Government should not gloss over the matter but should once and for all settle it, so that what might appear to be slanderous allegations should not be made against high ranking commanding officers who may be called upon to give orders to our own troops in an emergency.
I want to deal with one remark which I thought was a little perfunctory in the otherwise admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North. In his opening remarks he dismissed a little casually the idea of commanders-in-chief submitting dispatches to their Service or political chiefs. That tradition has prevailed in our military forces ever since Parliament was given the opportunity of controlling the Armed Forces of the Crown. Why should not commanders-in-chief render dispatches so that we, their masters—because no military forces could exist in this country if the House of Commons did not give its approval—may be told some of the facts about the Suez operation which we cannot get from Her Majesty's Government?
I hope that the Commander-in-Chief will present his dispatch and that it will be published. It is quite right, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) said, that these dispatches used always to be published in the London Gazette, but it is not always the case nowadays. I hope that the dispatch will be as full and interesting as those of Lord Alanbrooke that we are now reading. The nation is beginning to read about some of the facts of our military operations during the war. I do not wish to comment upon the criticism of 865 the Prime Minister, as Lord Alanbrooke's political chief, but from that book—which is in the nature of an extended dispatch, which we must all pay for, but which is well worth the price—we are learning a great deal of what went on during the war.
Those of us who were in opposition during the war and used to criticise the Government—and who on one occasion even took the matter to the extent of puting down a Motion of Censure of the Government because of our doubts about the military conduct of the war—are now reading how well founded were so many of our doubts and hesitations.
Therefore, the only reason which has impelled me to speak today is not because I am in a position to criticise or examine the Government's policy but to urge upon both sides of the Committee that we should get more information than we have been getting, not only today but on other occasions when we have military debates. Then, perhaps, we may be able to do our duty to the nation and even to provoke hon. Members opposite, as I think I have done with regard to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely. I do not think that we disagree on the courage and the patriotism of Army officers. We have both held the King's Commission. How can we have anything but a high regard for these officers. But Parliament has to maintain its control over these officers, high or low. It is for Parliament to say, "More bowler hats" if it thinks that is right.
It would, of course, be wrong of us to dismiss these officers who have given the best years of their life and long and gallant service without adequate compensation. How often are the lower ranks in our society, in industrial circumstances, dismissed and thrown out with perhaps one or two weeks' wages? Therefore, I make no distinction between these more humble members of society and high-ranking officers in the Army. I would only add the qualification that this disbandment must be necessary in the interests of the country, and if there is any attempt by military vested interests to hold it up, then Parliament must be supreme always.
I hope that I have said enough today to show that I am looking forward with 866 great interest and, perhaps, even a welcoming note to the time when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence produces his White Paper. I remember him—and I only wish that he were here to hear me say this—as a young officer in the Territorial Army before the war, fighting the whole of the military machine which threatened to court-martial him when he said things in this House about the state of unpreparedness of our antiaircraft defence in those days. He was right to do his duty and to do so in this House, and so are we, however much we may upset Members in different quarters of this Committee. I hope that the Minister of Defence will do his duty now irrespective of those who might be trying to hold him back, because I believe that it is high time that we got down to this really fundamental problem of thinking and planning for better defence forces than this country has had since the end of the war.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. James Lindsay (Devon, North)
I am not able to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) very far in the arguments he has put forward, but I am in accord with him when he says that the Under-Secretary of State should give a full defence—and, I am sure, a justifiable one—of the appointment of General Speidel to his new office.
This debate is largely concerned with the economy and efficiency of the Armed Forces and with the reorganisation which is about to take place of which we shall hear soon and which will depend—in fact, very largely hinge—on the ability of the Army to attract more Regular soldiers. The pay of the Regular Army has been recently increased with, I understand, satisfactory results, but the Army can never compete with industry in pay. It must compete in kind and provide a satisfactory and satisfying life to those who wish to make the Army their career.
There are two barriers which the Secretary of State mentioned that have to be got over. One is the difficulty and danger of the man not being able to find a job after his long service, and the other is concerned with the problem of family life and too frequent postings. These are the two things which most concern the ordinary man when he is thinking of taking on a Regular engagement. He wants to 867 know whether his family will have a satisfactory life and whether he will be guaranteed a job on his retirement.
I am very glad to hear that the Secretary of State is to try to secure less frequent postings so that a man may know more or less what his life is to be for a certain time ahead. Improvement in married quarters, I am sure, would also be a help. If jobs can be guaranteed afterwards, that ought to be an encouragement to men who are thinking of taking on a Regular engagement.
In another context, the Secretary of State said that he was going to increase what he called "civilianisation" in employment in the Forces, and I hope that that can be combined with guaranteeing jobs for ex-Regular soldiers. Nowadays we have rather extraordinary words in use, and we might be able to find a word or words which could come between a guaranteed job and civilianisation of employment, such as "ex-Regular soldierisation" of jobs in the Army. These words are all monstrosities, but perhaps this one has a few good qualities.
One can presume that a reduction in the Army must be a reduction of infantrymen. There is, of course, the question whether regiments will have to be disbanded, particularly nowadays as most regiments are on a one-battalion basis. This might involve very hard decisions for the Under-Secretary of State. He may have to make a very unpopular and difficult decision to disband a regiment with, perhaps, 300 years' tradition behind it. That may be his duty, and if he considers it to be the right thing to do, he will have to harden his heart and take this action.
I was interested in the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. AnstrutherGray) that it might be possible to turn an infantry regiment into some other arm so that it might retain its identity even though its actual function was different. It might be possible to keep alive the spirit of some disbanded infantry regiment in training centres where some infantry cadres or groups might be called after the names of some disbanded regiments and so keep alive the spirit of those regiments, which might be necessary if ever they should be reactivated.
Another point which I should like to make is that I hope that the Secretary 868 of State will not be too drastic in the reduction of the infantry. After all, the infantryman is the most important man in the Army. He is the only man who can take and hold ground. He is the man whom all the other arms of the Services are there to assist. We must not mistake the means for the end. He is the man we want to help.
We must remember that we may be involved in some minor operation where we cannot invoke nuclear and other weapons which we hope will prove a deterrent to other people. If we rely only on them they may prove a deterrent to us because we would not dare use them. Therefore, we need sufficient conventional forces to carry out certain necessary operations. It is an alarming thought that we might be landed with these nuclear weapons and nothing else. One is reminded of the story of a king of this country who was shown a list of the generals who were to take part in a campaign. He said, "I hope this list frightens the enemy as much as it frightens me." We may find ourselves in the position of being deterred by our own deterrents.
The aim, then, is economy and efficiency. We have heard much, and we shall hear a great deal more, about the development of nuclear power and missiles in warfare. I wish to suggest another weapon which has the attributes of being economical and effective, namely, the propaganda weapon. That weapon has been neglected by us for a number of years. We had a very efficient psychological warfare organisation during the war years, but it was disbanded and run-down. We shall neglect that weapon at great risk.
Certainly, its importance is realised by our enemies or our ill-wishers. The Russians and others have used it with great effect and with economy. No risks have been run by them and few men and materials have been used. We would effect great economy in the use of men and materials and money were we to devote a greater proportion of our effort to the development of this arm. When we consider the amount of money spent on normal weapons and the amount spent on propaganda, we realise the difference in the assessment of the value of these two types of weapons in the armies of the future.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
Is the hon. Member aware that the Government which he supports have effectively cut the money available to the B.B.C. for these purposes by 20 per cent. since they have been in office, and that they are now proposing totally to eliminate British broadcasting to six Western European allies?
§ Mr. Lindsay
I am putting the case that propaganda is an immensely important arm and one which we should develop and exploit to the full.
We have seen wars waged by propaganda, like the cold war. We have seen the devastating effects which have resulted. We and other countries in Western Europe have suffered many reverses in such wars. Our troops have not been defeated in battle, but we have had to retire from positions. We have been pushed out of places and we have been talked out. So far we have had no answer, and I believe it is time that we provided an answer. We must fight these wars on the ground chosen by the enemy, and we must do so speedily. Our ill-wishers have gained a great lead over us, and we must get our organisation going as quickly as possible and carry it on.
I do not think it sufficient that we should be on the defensive. We must be aggressive; we must attack. We all know the saying that it is difficult or impossible to catch up with a lie, but that is only half of the truth. It is difficult and almost impossible to catch up with the first impression made by propaganda clearly and forcibly on the minds of people. It is hard to eradicate that later on. We must put our case firmly and clearly, and above all, we must put our case first. I am sure we were all glad to hear that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is turning his attention to this matter. I hope he will not be stinted for money so that he can do the job well and employ the best means.
There is another point about propaganda, what I would call the technical or short-term propaganda. There is great scope for psychological warfare immediately before a battle and even during it and just afterwards. After all, the object of waging a war or a battle is to convince the enemy that he is beaten; and I think that we should use psychological weapons 870 to that end as well as material weapons. We should attack the morale of the enemy.
There is nothing new about this idea. Psychological warfare is as old as war itself. Devices such as war paint and resplendent uniforms were used solely for this purpose. In modern warfare there is no scope for pictorial or sartorial aids to victory, and we must return to propaganda, which is a tremendously powerful arm. We must exploit it and use propaganda just as normally as we use artillery support. Propaganda ammunition should be brought up in the same way as ordinary ammunition. Propaganda should be used after the battle to confuse or comfort the civilian population, whichever course proved the more expedient in the circumstances.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
Would the hon. Member relate his observations to the prospect of our being wiped out in three days by nuclear weapons?
§ Mr. Lindsay
I do not take such a defeatist attitude as that. I realise the horror of nuclear weapons, but nevertheless I think that we should try to instil a fine spirit into our men and attempt to destroy the will of the enemy to resist.
This idea of psychological warfare is of the greatest importance and should not be left to amateur soldiers who have been seconded for the purpose. I should like to see a corps of specialists established who would devote themselves to this branch of warfare. They would have to provide their service immediately. They would be dropped with the first parachute landings, and they would be with the first wave of troops in the front line. They would be professional specialists with a wide knowledge of languages. They would be expert in the operation of wireless equipment, so that they could make use of any installations which might fall into our hands; and they should be thoroughly acquainted with the enemy and his susceptibilities. We should exploit to the full the potentialities of propaganda or psychological warfare, and I hope that the Minister will give careful consideration to this vitally important matter.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
First, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) on his very able speech. I am sure that what he said will add greatly to the understanding of the House of Commons by the Army. When we have Service debates we are apt to forget that while the Secretary of State for War is answerable to the House of Commons for what the Army does, he is also answerable to the Army for what the House of Commons does. And the House of Commons has a very bad record. We take the opportunity to indulge in space fiction and turn a Service debate into a foreign affairs essay. We attempt to escape from reality because, of course, reality is unpleasant, it is not picturesque; and to face reality means that we must grapple with a lot of unpleasant problems and do some hard work. Therefore, I consider that my hon. Friend, who was a soldier of distinction, has done a good job for the Army and for the House.
I do not agree with all that was said by my hon. Friend, and he would not expect me to. I do not wish in any way to be didactic, but obviously, if we are to make a survey of the Army's commitments, it is not sufficient to make a list of the places where soldiers happen to be serving. I am sure that a moment's reflection will convince my hon. Friend of this. For example, had this debate taken place before the First World War, or even before the Second World War, we might have overlooked our commitment to put six divisions on the French left because no British troops were serving on the Continent. But it was the commitment of going in on the left of the French Army which decided the shape and pattern and indeed, the terms of service of the British Army. Like our present Continental commitment, it was a political commitment which had been decided by the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and it was a matter of such secrecy that public opinion was unaware that an undertaking had been made to put 6 divisions into France.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. Today, the size, shape and pattern not only of the Army but of the Armed Forces as a whole arises out 872 of the political commitment made in 1954 that four divisions and a tactical air force should be committed to Germany. I always opposed German rearmament for that reason; I knew that it was absolutely certain, when I looked at the way our recruiting figures were going, that we could not carry out that commitment.
I was very interested to see yesterday that the Prime Minister was in Paris. He introduced a new phrase to cover our retreat: he said that we were not "tiptoeing" out of Europe. The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay) spoke about psychological tricks; I would like him to sample one. If he will stand at the Bar when the Prime Minister is speaking he will notice that whenever the Prime Minister makes a point, one of his spontaneous jokes or flashes of wit which gets its polish between midnight and first light, he always kicks with his right foot and I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman used those words "tip-toeing out of Europe" that right foot gave a heck of a kick.
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is not here, because I might have suggested to him that when the Epsom Derby meeting comes along and a bookmaker cannot pay and runs away, all the other bookmakers must now say, "He's tiptoeing out". In other words, the Prime Minister has discovered a new word for "welshing". We are now tip-toeing out; that is what this country is proceeding to do and we are going to welsh. We are going to seek a formula to welsh on a political commitment that we entered into in 1954.God works in a mysterious wayHis wonders to perform.We do not just get away from our commitments in that way. Memories will persist in Europe and people will say that once again Britain has gone back on its policy the moment it became inconvenient to honour the pledge we had given.
Of course, this commitment of four divisions and a tactical air force in Germany is the shadow that is hanging over us, and it is there even though it is not brought out into the light of day. Various ways of lightening its burden have been suggested in the debate. One was that we should cut down the size of the divisions, another that we should 873 organise brigade groups and another that we should let the establishment run down. Do Government supporters ever stop to think that, from the point of view of a commitment, whether we maintain the four divisions at full strength or not, or cut them down to two, the commitment is still there?
These men and their formations were posted there for a purpose. If things ever go wrong they will have to be reinforced. They cannot be left there—unless it is argued that the political life of this country has reached such a level of honesty that we are openly using British troops and National Service men in the rôle that is taken by the goat when used to attract a tiger. If anything goes wrong, are those men to be left there to be overwhelmed? What is the point of making a commitment of four divisions and a tactical air force if we do not mean what we say?
There is no easy way out. As a result of the undertaking that was given, we have enormous bases in Germany. There is the Antwerp base, built at enormous cost, and a G.H.Q. built at further cost. All these bases have to be supplied and serviced, right back to the big ordnance depots in this country. Supplies and stores have to be acquired and maintained. Indeed, one of the main charges on the defence bill in peace-time is the storing and servicing of stores which are growing all the time.
One of the Churchillian war-time doctrines was, "In the first year you get nothing at all; in the second year just a little, and in the third year all you want." Now we have to face the truth of that saying in reverse. During the war we had no storage or maintenance problems because all the stores were shifted off and were either sunk by U-boats or were blown to smithereens. We started with the re-armament programme in 1951, and now we find after seven years that the charge on manpower and in terms of the cost of maintenance of stores is becoming year by year increasingly greater.
I congratulate the Secretary of State for War therefore on what I understand is to be a determined effort to liquidate—if that is the right word—those 874 hoards of equipment, much of it obsolescent, which constitutes such an enormous charge upon the defence services. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) that that system of control over stores is by no means perfect and that it is extremely doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman knows what he has got.
The lack of reality about defence finds expression in all sorts of ways, and sometimes in quite small ways. I was struck the other day when listening to a Question put to the right hon. Gentleman by one of his hon. Friends who raised the question of the stationing of troops in Bermuda. My mind went back to 1954 when the War Office decided to bring the troops out. Then came a visit by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) to Bermuda and, lo and behold! 250 men, including 100 of National Service men, went back there, at a cost of £25,000. I put a Question down to find the annual cost, which I discovered was £100,000.
Last week there was another little incident. One of my hon. Friends raised the question of the Bank of England guard. There were cheers from all sides of the House when one of my right hon. Friends spoke in defence of the maintenance of this service. So we go on, with big commitments, small commitments, commitments which are not written down, commitments that we tend to forget, and tiny commitments imposed on us by tradition. They make a pattern which, when added up, maintains the bill at the highest possible level while the defence result is at the lowest.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has come in, because I prefer to say what I have to say in his presence. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North when dealing with commitments, made the point that he did not believe that we would be able to go it alone. I interrupted him to point out that the statement was in contradiction to a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. I interrupted, because I regarded the statement as fundamental. The question is whether we should attempt to organise our Forces so that, should the necessity arise, we could take independent action. I therefore drew my 875 hon. Friend's attention to the fact that what he said was not what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. I do not think it was. What I had in mind was three or four passages from my right hon. Friend's speech of 5th February. I draw attention to this in no captious way. I do not disagree with it, I believe there is nothing wicked in it, but I point out that it has been said.
§ Mr. Wigg
Certainly. I was waiting for my right hon. Friend to intervene. I hope that is not typical of his methods of controversy. He must not do that, because I told him that I would quote this. I waited until he came into the House, and I have the references in HANSARD with me. My right hon. Friend said:I do not want the world to see, or to draw the conclusion, that we cannot any longer mount, even in a good cause, an expedition of this kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 382.]That surely means that my right hon. Friend has in mind, should the necessity arise, that we should be organised in such a way as in a good cause to mount an operation like Suez. I hold the view that the time has passed when we could do that; and I do not believe it could be done any more. I believe that if we organised our defences in such a way as to be able to go it alone, we should end in disaster. That is what worries me about these defence debates. I believe that Suez was not the last occasion on which we shall get our pants well and truly kicked. I said on 31st July and all through the Suez debates that my fundamental objection to the Suez operation, although I also objected on moral grounds, was that we did not have the means to launch a brigade group operation in the Suez area.
I said that and I wrote it, and I say it now. I do not dissent from any hon. Member having whatever views he takes on defence, but I would be failing in my duty if I did not point out certain contradictions. I believe the Labour Party is going to be the Government of this country inside two years. That devolves on all of us special responsibility for what we say on this matter. For even more quickly than we think we might 876 be called on to carry it out. I do not believe the Labour Government will be in a position successfully to mount an operation of the Suez character. I believe that if they tried the disaster would be just as great with a Labour Government as it was with the Conservative Government.
§ Mr. Wigg
That is another matter; it raises a quite different point. I do not believe this country could carry out an operation of the size of the Suez operation alone; that is what I am saying. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is asking me to give an answer to a political question. When the Suez trouble started we put a battalion into Bahrain and another in Aden. It may be that those battalions would be enough in any circumstances, but if it became necessary to launch a brigade group operation in the Persian Gulf I do not believe we could carry it out.
I go further. My right hon. Friend and, I think, everyone on this side of the Committee, with the exception of myself are saying that we propose to get rid of National Service starting in 1958. It was repeated from this Box this afternoon, and it was said in the debate on the Air Estimates last week—the last National Serviceman would be out in 1960. I do not believe it. I said on 31st July that I do not believe it. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but it is because I do not want to see a Labour Government having to eat their own words, as they would. This is not a matter of opinion. In my submission, this is a question of basic facts.
Before going into the question of National Service, I will deal further with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. With my wholehearted support, the Labour Party is demanding a cut in the size of the bill. I listened to the debate on the Navy Estimates, I listened to the debate on the Air Estimates, and I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North today. On the strength of those speeches, the annual bill is £2,000 million. This is not insincerity, lack of knowledge or stupidity; this is the very nature of the defence 877 problem which faces this country. Go back forty years to the man I respect above all others in these matters, Lord Haldane. The first day he became Secretary of State for War he was asked, "Minister, what kind of Army do you want?" He said, "An Hegelian Army." He went further when challenged by his colleagues and by the right hon. Member for Woodford, then in his Radical days, and said that we had to have a better Army even if it were a more costly Army.
In my submission, under a Labour Minister of Defence we could cut the bill and get more for our money. What has gone wrong for the last twelve years is that the people of this country right up to today have been judging results by the size of the bill. To my mind that is absolute nonsense. We have tried to do everything, and—this is a gross exaggeration—we have done almost nothing. That is because we do not face the facts of the situation.
I turn to the question of National Service.
§ Mr. G. Brown
My hon. Friend said that he was going to deal further with me, and I waited for him to do so. I am not responsible for the fact that hon. Members opposite have wasted money on everything and not done anything well. That is not a question for me, but I understood that my hon. Friend would deal further with me and, for that reason, I waited to intervene. Is he going to deal further with me? In the main, if I get into an argument with him, that is to the benefit and amusement of hon. Members opposite and not to ours. My hon. Friend has chosen to attack me so wildly with so little evidence to support it. May I ask him to answer the question put by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)? Does he really believe that if there were a Labour Government there would not be occasions of limited war in which we might have to "go it" alone and for which we might have to be prepared to "go it" alone?
What is the point in asking who will be the next Government? We shall be. Shall we not be able to meet an attack adequately? My hon. Friend referred to the ending of National Service. Will he please be fair and recall, not that we said it would end in 1958, but that we said it was a four-year operation in which 878 the last National Service man would stop being called up two years from the date when we announced the ending of it and the last National Service man would be out four years after the ending of it? That would be 1958 and 1960 if it started from last year, 1959 and 1961 if it started this year, and 1960 and 1962 if it started next year. I invite my hon. Friend to stick to the facts of the case and not do the opposite for the sake of getting a little laughter at our expense and for the benefit of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Wigg
I can only leave what I said in the memory of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I dissented from the view that this country could "go it" alone—not on whether it should do so, but whether it could. The right hon. Members is a better debater than that, but he has changed his ground. Earlier he was saying that he did not say it.
§ Mr. Wigg
I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North to make the point that what he was saying was different from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper was saying. He asked me to read it, and I read it. I am not concerned with the political consequences, and the question which my right hon. Friend raised on those lines in his interruption are quite irrelevant. This is a debate on the Army. It might be disastrous if we could not tackle such a situation as my right hon. Friend suggested, but I said in July that we could not do it over Suez, and I say that no Government could do it. In fact, this country is incapable of it.
§ Mr. Brown
This is important from the point of view of the defence of this country, for which we shall be responsible. We mobilised three divisions over Suez and we should have mobilised four divisions. We made a mess of it, not because we did not have the men or did not mobilise them, but because the Government made a sad mess of the plan. Nevertheless, we mobilised three divisions and, if we had mobilised them properly, at the right moment, for the right occasion, for the right operation, it would have been a success.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not agree. There were two occasions last year when it was clear that a situation had arisen in which the Government might require to take armed action. One was the dismissal of General Glubb, when it might have been necessary to put the para-brigade into Marfak. The transport aircraft was not available. They were found only with difficulty to reinforce the para-brigade in Cyprus. The second occasion was Suez. Three divisions were mobilised over a period of five weeks, but the tank-landing ships were not there. That is precisely the point. If we want the Government to have sufficient tank-landing ships, they will have to lose something else.
I would go further in my doubts about the ability of this country to undertake an operation of this kind, for they arise from far more fundamental reasons. When I look at the amount of pushbutton equipment being evolved, I am sure that it is taxing our economy to produce it, and I do not believe we can both produce and maintain it. In Korea, America, with all her resources, found difficulty in maintaining in the field 60 per cent. of her equipment at a reasonable state of efficiency; and if America cannot do it, I do not believe we can do it. I should be failing in my duty if I did not say this, for I do not believe that we can produce a hydrogen bomb, a V-bomber, an atomic bomb and all the paraphernalia which goes with them and at the same time produce a force which can be mobilised in traditional terms.
May I turn to the question of National Service? I am sorry if I have misquoted anybody on this; the statement was made from the Dispatch Box this afternoon and in the debate on the Air Estimates, and for the purpose of my argument it 880 does not matter whether we start in 1958 and finish in 1960 or start in 1959 and finish in 1961. Indeed, I will allow three years, or any period, for it. On present recruiting figures and the present Service structure, I do not believe that the Government can cut National Service. The reason for that is not to be found in current recruiting but in the three-year engagement and the consequences of it.
What hon. Members fail to notice—I do not know why, because it is a simple question of fact—is that the original three-year engagement was designed, so it was said, to get a prolongation of 33 per cent.; but that in July last year it got 5.1 per cent., and the last time I asked the Secretary of State the question it got 4.9 per cent. The calamity is even greater than that, because of the 4.9 per cent. of the three-year engagement men, at least half are men who are not very much good to the Army and who in pre-war days would not have been allowed to extend their service, and the other half, roughly 2½ per cent. of the total, would take on in any case.
What are the simple figures? Of the 194,000 Regular officers and other ranks of the Army at present, no fewer than 85,000 are serving on the old three-year engagement or serving on a 22-year engagement with the option to come out at three years. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North; of course, the Government will not make any proposals about a selective draft. Why should they? It would be political madness from their point of view to introduce the selective draft by name, although, of course, we have had the selective draft under both Labour and Conservative Administrations because we depart from a universal draft when we exempt whole industries and when we increase the number of special groups.
I will tell my hon. Friends what will be in the White Paper. I am quite content to make prophecies; I do not expect anyone to take any notice of them; I am quite used to being called various names, and no new names can be found. Moreover, I am quite content to check up my prophecies six months later and to put the statement which I made against the actual figures given by those people who, at the time, scorned 881 what I said. For example, if any hon. Member would care to look at HANSARD of 23rd July, when I dealt in the Adjournment debate with the Army and its future recruiting figures, or at HANSARD of 31st July, when I dealt with the Royal Air Force, they will find my forecasts. They are not prophecies but forecasts, because one can work them out on the back of an envelope with a stub of pencil. They were not very far out —40,000 Army recruits and 23,000 for the Air Force.
If the selective draft is not to be adopted, there is one step which the Government must take—and it is a step which they could never take as long as the previous Minister of Defence was in the Administration; they must get rid of the three-year engagement. I will say this to the Secretary of State, if it will help him: on the day he makes the announcement I will not come to the House.
The three-year engagement is certainly on its way out. It is the cause of the trouble. I noticed that this morning the Daily Telegraph, which is very near to Government circles, estimated that the Government could get Regulars to engage for six years, and The Times in a recent leading article estimated eight years. My figure for Regular recruits is between 12,000 and 13,000 annually. I do not believe we shall get more than that. Hon. Members can multiply that number by six and get the answer as 72,000; that is the size of the Regular Army. Or they can multiply it by eight, the figure given by The Times, and get 100,000. I do not believe that we can ever get a Regular Army of more than 130,000.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington has the Armed Forces at heart. When he was talking about the size of the Regular Army now and before the war, he included the Indian Army. That was quite right. What he overlooked was that before the war we had an Air Force of 35,000, whereas now we have a Regular Air Force of 155,000.
When they look at the pattern, hon. Members will see that the Navy seems to be within 6,000 or 7,000 of getting rid of National Service and having all Regulars. If they look at the Royal Air Force they will see that the gap does not appear to be big. If they look at the 882 Army they do all sorts of sums and calculations and hope for the best. There is an enormous gap. What hon. Members do not see is that there is only a limited number of men who will undertake to serve this engagement and that if they join the Navy and close the gap there, then the gap in the Air Force and in the Army remains. I think the gap in the Army is nearly a permanent gap. Those who had any part in shaping and influencing opinion to lead to the introduction of the three-year engagement have put the Army on a basis from which there is no easy road back. I have repeatedly said this, and I do not know the answer.
I think that the Defence White Paper will show that the Government will rule out, for political reasons, the selective draft; that they will abandon the short-service, three-year engagement, and will probably, according to their wisdom and courage, go for a four- or five-year engagement—perhaps the former as a step towards the five-year engagement. I also believe that the White Paper on National Service points to the fact that by March, 1958, the call-up age of our young men will be raised to 20. I think that that is absolutely certain.
These manpower points that emerge, not from a study of what is in the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Herald, but from a study of the facts of the situation, lead one irresistibly to the conclusion that our democracy is not capable of supplying sufficient recruits to undertake brigade group operations either in Suez, Bahrain or anywhere else.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Brigadier O. L. Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I will follow for a minute or two points made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). Since 1945 we have had many debates here, and I am coming to agree with him more and more as time goes on; whether that makes me wrong and him right I do not know.
I think that he will agree that the three-year engagement was introduced at a time when it was necessary to fill a gap, and it was the only way that could be thought of. It has, in fact, transpired that it has become a method of getting more than National Service pay. By enlisting for one more year a man is paid as a Regular soldier, which has a 883 certain amount of attraction to some who are due to be called up for National Service. I think that it is obvious that if we do away with National Service we shall also have to do away with that engagement. I do not like the three-year engagement, and I hope that when the time comes to alter or abolish it my right hon. Friend will seriously consider making the engagement one for five years.
In his reference to our commitments in Germany, the hon. Member for Dudley forgot, I think, that under the agreement there are two escape clauses. One is the economic clause, in which it is stated that if it is found an economic burden which we can no longer support we can reduce our forces. The other clause provides that if, for domestic reasons, those forces are needed elsewhere, they can be reduced.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about that, but I will not pursue the point further.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State, who is to wind up this debate, could refute the allegations made about General Speidel by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). It would be a very good thing if he could do so. About General Speidel I will say only one thing, having known a little of him when he was Rommel's chief of staff. It is that if anyone will cut down the staff of all headquarters, General Speidel will do so—and I hope that he will. The Germans achieved most phenomenal cuts in their headquarters staff during the war.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I know. That was the point which I was making. I am glad of the hon. and learned Gentleman's support.
We all listened to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) with great enjoyment. We always listen with greater enjoyment to a speech made without notes than we do to one made by reading from closely-written typescript—particularly when it is produced by a Department. Nevertheless, I must admit that I did not quite get his point that we ought to have had the whole of the Army Estimates today. The history of the matter is that we have normally debated Vote A at the end of the Army Estimates. Today happened to be a Supply Day, and for some remote reason that I cannot understand, it was decided between the official channels to have this debate today. It is not really our fault. I agree that it would have been much better to have had the whole thing, lock stock and barrel when the Army Estimates come along, as they inevitably will, after the Defence White Paper is issued, but to say, as the hon. Gentleman did, that we should have had the whole of the Army Estimates today is, I am sure, mistaken. That surely could not be operable, because we must discuss them after the issue of the White Paper and not before.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
I do not think that there is much between us. My only point was that there has been an unconscionably long time taken. There has been a great deal of experience, and much research, argument and discussion for years and years. Therefore, it is wrong at this stage to say that we need another two months just suddenly to recast the whole of our defence structure. That is the real point; that the White Paper, as we know, is being delayed for this vast reorganisation and rethinking.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
It is taking a considerable time because it is so vast and, let us hope, so far-reaching that the whole structure of the Armed Forces for the next fifty years will be decided in that White Paper.
We would, I think, all support what the Secretary of State said in his speech. He said several encouraging things, and 885 if he carries out the things which he said he intended to do with the determination with which he said them, I think we shall probably get them done. The training of National Service men has been the great deterrent to people taking up the Regular Army as a career, and if and when the time comes for the abolition of National Service I am sure that my right hon. Friend will find that that abolition will act as an attraction for men to join the Regular Army.
My right hon. Friend knows all about the question of disturbance and the cost, and I hope that he will do something about it. This subject of the continual movement of families has always been resisted by the backroom boys, because they do not have to endure it, whereas conditions in Service life are very much different.
I am somewhat disturbed by the reports which I get about the type and the standard of the would-be officers who appear before the War Office selection boards and the various places where potential officers are put through the mill. I gather that the standard is going down fairly rapidly. The reasons are difficult to understand, except that Army life no longer holds out the adventure and the fun which it used to hold in the old days. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend should look at that matter and get reports from some of the senior officers in charge of those establishments to see if he can find the reasons for it.
One of the main points which my right hon. Friend mentioned is the education of the families of serving N.C.O.s, officers and men, a matter which has been raised many times by others and by myself. If he will be so good as to look back two years to the Army Estimates debates of March, 1954 and March, 1955, he will find the full details of all that lies behind this question. It would take me twenty minutes to go into it now, and I do not propose to do so.
I will only say that in the last year the War Office managed, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, to go some way towards what was needed, but the local authority aspect of it, that is to say, the education of children at home in local authority schools is not yet satisfactory. Another matter which is most unsatisfactory is that the allowances 886 given do not apply to people serving in this country. We all know the reason for that. I hope that my right hon. Friend will use every power of persuasion that he has to try to get that altered.
With regard to the floating level of the majors who are not to get promotion, I am glad to hear that officers in that position are now being informed of this fact a year in advance, and that they are being encouraged to go before it is too late for them to obtain occupations in civilian life. At the same time, I do not believe that we shall tempt them to go unless we can help them with greater terminal grants at that particular level; or perhaps we might be able to give them terminal grants such as they would have received if they had remained for a further period of years. I think that the terminal grant has done a great deal of good, but in that respect it has not gone quite far enough.
I want to draw attention to what was said in the White Paper last year about the tasks which the Army was supposed to be prepared for—the cold war task and the commitments in areas where Communist subversion had taken place. Another task was of course that of a limited war. There were another two that are really matters for a defence debate instead of an Army debate, and I therefore will not mention them.
The first of the tasks to which I have referred, in nine cases out of ten, that of going to the aid of the civilian power, as in Malaya, Kenya and so on. To quote from last year's Memorandum on the Army Estimates, for such a task we need—and this is in reference to the brigade that was being mobilised for this particular task—a force which will hold itself inimmediate readiness to move to any part of the world in support of the civil administration …and havethe ability to operate on arrival with the minimum of delay.Having seen what happened when we tried to move another striking force about which I am going to talk in a few minutes, I should like to know whether that fire brigade that may be required for such a task is ready to move tonight on the receipt of a telephone call or tomorrow morning at daylight, or whether it will be six or seven days or even six weeks 887 before it is ready to go. It is certainly time that it was ready.
That is one type of force which it is essential for us to have—what I would call the jeep-borne force, with nothing heavier than personal weapons, machine guns, and jeeps. It is that sort of thing which would be necessary in an operation in support of the civil power. I would call it the jeep-borne fire brigade, but it must be a fire brigade, and must, like members of a fire brigade, come "sliding down the pole" the moment the bell rings and be off within a few hours.
Do not let anybody at the Staff College or the War Office tell me that this is not possible. I know how quickly one can move a brigade if one plans it, but it does need careful thinking—it is no use having wishful thinking—and those concerned must practice doing it and the whole thing must be worked out in minutest detail, so that everybody knows what those details are and is able to act. That is what is lacking in the Army today. We had experience of it in the war, when we slid back to the old ways of doing things, when operation orders were issued at great length after the emergency, instead of the whole thing being prepared on a pushbutton basis.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I do not agree with that. The force might not necessarily have to serve for any length of time. It may have only a very short, sharp action. If, as I hoped, the hon. Gentleman was going to say it was because we have not got the aircraft to move it—
§ Mr. Wigg
Of course, I agree that we have not got the aircraft to move it, but the real reason is the short-service engagement, and it is the fact that most regiments of the line are on lower establishments, and that means that it is impossible, with the manpower structure as it is at present, to ask the Secretary of State to do what the hon. and gallant Member is asking.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I think that the particular formation to which I was referring is—or it should be now—up to 888 full strength. I am simply asking whether it is, and I shall be glad to know if that is the case.
Again, there is the question of aircraft, and I quite agree that it is no use keeping a lot of aircraft in Transport Command idly waiting for an emergency to happen and doing nothing. Why on earth is it not possible to have an arrangement with certain of the charter aircraft companies or with the Corporations by which certain aircraft would be earmarked to take these troops, who should have at least one or two exercises in climbing into and out of the aircraft and learning how to do that, perhaps flying round these islands and coming down again. These are questions to which we have no answers. I may be entirely wrong about this matter. It may be that I am barking up the wrong tree, but I should certainly like to know whether that is the case or not.
The other commitment is that of a limited war, about which there has been a lot of talk today. I think it would be a very brave prophet who would suggest that we should never be faced with a limited war again. The type of force about which I am talking is not the jeep-borne force to which I have just referred, but one which would require heavy tanks, heavy anti-tank guns and artillery. That is the sort of force for which we do not seem to have planned adequately. We had a cock-shy at it in the Suez operation, and what happened?
It was all worked out on the same basis as the plans for the Normandy landing and the landing in North Africa. Really, that sort of situation has to be faced. This is not the sort of operation which we have ever carried out before, and there-tore it is no use looking in the textbooks to find out how to load ships on the basis of what was done before. Somebody with real imagination has got to get down to this, and plans have to be made in detail, to ensure that somebody does know how to load ships in the proper order in which the equipment is likely to be required on an operation of that kind.
We understand perfectly well the difficulties. The first difficulty is that we have not got a forward base, with a sufficiently deep harbour to be able to mount an operation like that from nearby. That is an admission which I have already made in this House, and I say again, as I said in the last debate, that either a 889 deep water base must be built in Cyprus or we must have a forward base somewhere else.
If we cannot have Cyprus, what about Turkey? Is Turkey really out of the question? The Turks are members of the Bagdad Pact, and they are allies of ours. Is it beyond the wit of man to build, as the Americans have done, a base in a friendly country where we know that we shall get all the support that is needed? In present circumstances, and I shall say something about the future in a few moments, we have to transport our tanks, anti-tank guns and field artillery by sea, and there is no other way of doing it.
We have heard something about bases recently. There have been letters in The Times about Kenya, and I wonder if the gentlemen who write those letters have ever had a look at a map and used a pair of dividers. This is rather interesting. The distance from Mombasa to Suez is 3,000 miles, precisely the same distance as it is from Britain, so what is the advantage in that? Malta is only a thousand miles from Port Said, and that was considered too far. Therefore, I do not think that, except as a main base, with a forward base somewhere nearer, which is a sensible suggestion, that that idea makes any sense at all, from the point of view of time and space.
In regard to mobilisation, I hope something will be done about that. It has been suggested that we should have a mobilisation plan such as we had for the 1914–18 war. It is a very difficult problem, and we have to remember that those forces did not have tanks or anti-tank guns, and there was not the same problem of moving a force including 50-ton or 60-ton tanks. In any case is it really true that we had only two tank landing craft available, and that a whole lot of others had to be taken out of mothball in the recent operations? If that is not true, I think it should be denied tonight, and the real truth given to the Committee, because it was one of the most depressing things that I have heard. Is it also true that ships were loaded in the wrong way, so that the wrong stores came off first?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
My hon. and gallant Friend has mentioned this before. He is being a little unfair to those who were responsible for that work. He must 890 realise that the original loading was for an entirely different type of operation.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
It may have been a different operation by virtue of its size but not by virtue of its objective. It was a precisely similar operation, only it was cut down. Therefore, I think that the loading tables should have been precisely the same.
In an operation like that one will always have to rely on the reservists who are in civilian jobs, because it is essential that certain units which it would be a complete waste of time to keep mobilised in ordinary so-called peace conditions—dock units, engineering unts and so on—should be mobilised from a reserve which is kept for that purpose. But does it take as long as all that to do it if those people are properly earmarked and if they know what they have to do if they are called up? There is such a thing as a warning order. Of course, it would not be economic to keep them under mobilisation the whole time.
I want to make it clear that I do not believe we can continue attempting to fight these limited wars with the sort of weapons which are needed for a global war. Whether the tank in a global war has not outgrown its size is a debatable point. This all springs from a fallacy which is in the minds of infantry generals who have never had anything to do with armour, and the fallacy is that the tank is an anti-tank gun and that its purpose is to knock out enemy tanks. It is nothing of the sort. It is because of that thinking that we got ourselves into such trouble even in the last war. The tank is an infantry-destroying weapon, and the antitank gun is the weapon which knocks out enemy tanks, or should do. If we did not learn our lesson before, we certainly should have learned it from the Germans, who knew exactly how to handle their self-propelled guns behind their tanks.
For that type of war is it not about time that we had a tank of the size that can be transported in an aircraft? Would it not be better to have twenty of those than one Centurion tank? Would it not be better to have twenty of those transported by air than one Centurion tank waddling round by sea transport?
What about the anti-tank gun? There is such a thing as a recoilless gun, and it is light. Work has been carried out on 891 this gun for a long time, and I believe that the Americans have perfected it. Is it not time that we were armed with recoilless guns and small tanks so that the whole of that equipment, instead of having to go 1,000 miles by sea, or 3,000 miles as has been suggested, could be lifted overnight in the same way as the jeep-borne force which I have been discussing? Until we do that, we shall not have the sort of force that is capable of dealing quickly with any limited wars which may break out from time to time.
Why should not this force, consisting of paratroops, commandos, Navy and Air Force, be kept in one area and train together? Think of the esprit de corps which would result. Think of the spirit and the adventure which would exist in such a force. Think how soon such a force would be recruited up to its maximum, with a long waiting list of people wanting to come in, instead of having to go to a mothball fleet for an odd L.S.T. here and there, with no training, no real mobilisation plans, no loading tables, etc. If the ships could not be obtained for training, the force could practise in dummies, while the ships and the ports could be earmarked. Everybody could be made aware of what they were to do and how they were to do it, on a push-button basis.
I disagree with Mr. Liddell Hart on one matter, although I agree with him on many others. He suggested that the higher authority should have taken a risk in allowing our Fleet—a thin-skinned fleet—to sail from Malta, 1,000 miles at 7 knots, knowing that on the Egyptian airfields there were large numbers of M.I.G type fighters and Venom type bombers. What would Mr. Liddell Hart have said today if they had done that and if the pilots—the volunteers, one may like to call them—had flown those aircraft and attacked our Fleet? They would have sunk a large proportion of it. I do not believe that any chiefs of staff or commander would have taken that risk in any circumstances. Let us think about the matter from a totally different angle. Let us assume that we do not again have to try to rely on a seaborne force for an operation like that.
I have spoken rather longer than I had intended. I want to make only one other remark. If we are to have this re- 892 organisation, if there are to be fairly major cuts, as it appears there may be. I implore the Minister to leave alone the county regiments and regiments of 300 or 400 years' tradition, so far as he can. There are the corps—the Royal Engineers, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Tank Regiment and the Royal Army Service Corps: they can all stand cuts. If the Royal Regiment of Artillery were reduced to only one regiment of artillery, there would still be the spirit of "Ubique" there.
The same applies to all the others. I have the greatest respect for the Royal Tank Regiment. I had the greatest pleasure in my life in commanding three of their regiments, and I know how good they are. I know that those people will not misunderstand the remark that I am about to make. This is not a cavalry v. Royal Tank Regiment remark. I think that the Royal Tank Regiment would agree with what I am about to say. If the Royal Tank Regiment were reduced to only a first battalion of the Royal Tanks, its spirit would still be there. But do away completely with the Black Watch or the 10th Hussars, or particularly a regiment like the cavalry regiment which has no other battalion at all, and we should knock out 300 years of tradition, and if we did that we should have to double the number of men to carry out a similar task.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am greatly tempted by the most fascinating speech which we have heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) to depart from the remarks I had intended to make, to say nothing of the interruption from the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), who ejected a cat from a bag more innocently than anyone I know. Of course, the people did not know for what purpose they were loading those ships to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred.
With regard to one point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing, it was never my idea and it has never:been my suggestion that a thin-skinned fleet from Malta should sail at seven knots to Egypt and chance whether aeroplanes would take off from Suez. I agree that is a risk which ought not to have 893 been taken. What ought to have happened is that the cruiser force ought to have gone "hell for leather" for Egypt and landed its marines and its boats. At least, let us find out what fight there was in the Egyptians, and then, having done that, we should have known that there was none. The important thing is to go there, try it, feel what the opposition is and feel what "guts" there is in it.
§ Mr. Paget
I am dealing with this as a military matter and not from the political aspect.
If one is going to do this operation, discussing it as a military matter, and one is dealing with somebody like the Egyptians, one must find out how much fight there is, and send the chaps there. Good heavens, we have landed in ships' boats before now in highly successful operations against better enemies than the Egyptians. One should go and try it. feel out the situation and see what is necessary. That is the way to conduct that sort of operation.
The other point to which I am diverted for a moment or two is this. I am in profound agreement with what was said about the heavy tank. The day of the heavy-weight tank is done. It is too expensive, costs too much in supplies and in bridging, and is too vulnerable a vehicle. In terms of modern warfare, the heavyweight tank is the armed knight which must give way to the light cavalry. What one requires is the airborne, small tank, with a fairly thin skin and a good gun. which relies upon its mobility, speed and size to avoid punishment but carries a gun which can give it. That is what we want and this nonsense about the Centurion is about as far from reality as the Dark Ages. But that is another issue which I do not propose to pursue at any length now.
I want to discuss the general shape of the Army. This is the subject which I regard as useful. I am taking as my basis a report, for which I was partly responsible, and for which the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State was in the main responsible, since he wrote it. He was secretary of a committee, of which I was a member, of the Army League which 894 brought out some two years ago a pamphlet entitled "The Army in the Nuclear Age" In that, we sought to outline what really was the function of the Army which we were creating. The first thing we said was this:The tasks of the British Army remain: (a) To provide adequate forces for the land defence of the United Kingdom and of the main Commonwealth bases.My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh), who opened this debate, dealt very effectively with the question of Commonwealth bases. I wholly agree with him with regard to Cyprus. I have always considered that the notion of Cyprus as a base was a piece of nonsense. It was never designed as a base; it was designed as a command post, which is something entirely different, and to imagine that one can have a base with one small airfield and no harbour seems to me to be ludricrous, let alone when one has to defend it from a hostile population instead of being able to rely upon the population to support it. Malta is a small commitment, and Libya as a base does not exist.
As regards Hong Kong. I should like to say a word. My hon. Friend who opened the debate referred to the 11.000 troops we have in Hong Kong as constituting a trip-wire. Who is it designed to trip up—us, or the Americans, or the Chinese? Plainly, Hong Kong is indefensible. We know that perfectly well. It is probably a convenience to the Chinese as a window to their country, and it is only on those terms that it is sustainable. What, then, have we got those 11,000 troops there for—to trip up whom? The most important purpose of our foreign policy has been to prevent the Americans from getting involved in a war with China, a war with China which would hold them engaged in the Pacific while we remain naked in face of China's ally. Our foreign policy has been designed to that end, and with remarkable success we have managed to keep the Americans our of a war with China. What purpose could those troops have, except to hold on long enough to involve American participation? Do we want American participation? It is the one thing on earth we do not want. Why are the troops there—to trip up the Americans into the very trap out of which we have done our utmost to keep them?
895 Do let us consider where our strategy really lies. Our strategy does not lie in having America involved in a war in the Pacific, least of all one to rescue us, which commits us to that war and leaves us naked in face of the Russians. It is nonsense. If we hold Hong Kong, we hold it by negotiation and not by military power. We must face that, realise it fully, and not go in for that particular waste of manpower which is required elsewhere. So much for Commonwealth bases.
As regards the defence of the land of the United Kingdom, I differ a little from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North, with whose speech I was in very great agreement. It is not a question of supporting a civil defence under a civil authority, because there will not be a civil authority to operate a civil defence. Let me make it quite clear. At the point at which we have to defend this island, there is not a civil government because that has been eliminated. Nor are there internal communications. Our major cities are atomised rubble. Those are the only conditions in which we shall have to defend this island.
At that stage, the first function of our military organisation is to provide government, for there will be no other. We can continue then only under a military Government departmentalised into districts, because in that phase of atomic war there is nothing else which will enable us to carry on. I would, therefore, say that, so far as the defence of this country is concerned, it must be localised and must be based upon a plan which can operate without any communications, because the communciations will have been destroyed.
What form of defence is that? I come now to the subject of the call-up. I hope very much that the call-up will not be dealt with by postponing the age. The more one postpones the age, the more vicious one makes the system. There is nothing so demoralising as that period without future between school and call-up. If for the intervening period we need a selective call-up, I for my part will support the Government in that, however unpopular it may be, for I believe it to be right. The one thing I would not allow is people to say "T'ain't fair", because that is perfect nonsense.
I do not want to see four National Service men called up, as is done at 896 present, three of whom we do not want but whom we call up so that the fourth man, whom we do want, will not say, "T'ain't fair". That is what it comes to, and it is the greatest possible nonsense. We cannot afford it. It is a waste of men and a waste of money to call up a great many men whom one does not want merely because those one does need will complain if one does not call up the other chaps. That is the sort of "dog in the manger" nonsense which the Government ought to have the courage to defy.
In the cutting down of the Forces as we visualise it, we are getting away from National Service. It is a bad system, a system which I have always disliked, and one which is wrong for modern war. We need it now only in a transition period. During that transition period, do not call up three men who are not wanted because of the need for one.
What form should the call-up take? As I have said before, I think it is extremely good for young men on leaving school to have a period under discipline. I would like to see this start when they are young, and finish as soon as possible. I would also like to see the form of organisation which alone will be of any use for the defence of this country when it comes to atomic war.
I would not have the call-up postponed until the age of 20 but advanced to 16½. I would call the boys up as soon as possible after leaving secondary school. I would form them into battalions. Their N.C.O.s and junior officers should be boys who have left school at 18 and who have had some experience in O.T.C.s, for which they have volunteered. I would have only a very small proportion of Regular officers and I would form the boys into battalions. Lot their teeth be examined by the dentists, let their health be examined, let them go out into the open air, and give them discipline and work and make them into units. Six months' training is quite enough. They will form the battalion, and it will remain a battalion for ten years or whatever is the appropriate period.
§ Mr. Paget
The battalion would remain in the district and in the event of atomic war, with the capital, with the 897 great cities and means of communication destroyed, throughout the country there will be local battalions, organised, capable of taking charge of government, capable of taking charge of organisation, capable of providing resistance, and a very effective resistance, it may be, against occupation.
Look at what happened over Suez. It was plain that it was no use going on and occupying Suez if we had to come back again. The alternative was to occupy Cairo. That is what had to be done if we were to go on. Why did we not occupy Cairo? Not because we feared an Egyptian army but because we feared the Egyptian guerilla. I am certain that there is nobody who agrees with me more on this point than the Under-Secretary of State for War. They were a wretched, yellow-livered lot who funked it, but that is what they funked—the yashmaked ladies for whom Nasser had provided guns. Those were the people who turned us. If we provide battalions of adequately trained young men, ready to defend their locality, the prospect of occupying this country becomes unattractive to anybody, even after an atomic bombardment. I believe that nothing less is of any substantial benefit to the defence of this country.
The second thing we talked of was to ensure the internal security of those Commonwealth territories or protectorates for which we are directly responsible. The first thing in this connection is an African army. I believe in it. The Under-Secretary of State used to believe in it, I hope he still does. I believe that it could be achieved with infinitely less elaboration than has yet been conceived. I want to give an example of something I saw when I was recently in Kenya. It was a reform camp for young Mau Mau. It was run by a Captain Gardner, whose name I am happy to mention because I think he is a man of great genius. He had been a Regular sergeant major in the Sappers and had become quartermaster captain. He took over these 1,200 or 1,400 young Mau Mau and determined to make the camp into a public school.
Captain Gardner set these young men to work to build their form rooms and technical instruction shops. He scrounged material and he scrounged instructors. He made a farm out of desert country. He built fourteen football pitches and a 898 sports ground, and he created a morale and enthusiasm which is good to see. In fact, when I mentioned this immensely moving development to the District Commissioner, he said, "Yes, the thing is a damned nuisance to me. Three or four times a week some blasted little boy here breaks into a shop, takes the proceeds round to the police station, and says, 'Now can I go to Wumumu?'"
That is perfectly true. Captain Gardner has created such enthusiasm among these young people that they now have a Wumumu old school tie. The boys from there get the best jobs. When the railway apprentices scheme was begun there were 6,000 applicants for the sixty places and twenty of those chosen were Wumumu boys. There is a Wumumu old school hall in Nairobi. The staggering thing about this experiment—and this is why I am referring to it tonight——
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Norman Hulbert)
I must ask the hon. and learned Member to come back to Vote A.
§ Mr. Paget
The reason why I have used this example, Sir Norman, is that the cost, including board, is £23 a year per boy, and Wumumu could provide quite an effective battalion because there is the morale there, there is the spirit there, there is enthusiasm, and there is the desire to learn. This is important to the African. In my opinion, Mau Mau failed primarily because the Wakamba remained loyal. The Wakamba are an allied tribe to the Kikuyu. Both are Bantu and speak Meru. The Wakamba has provided about half of the King's African Rifles, and what held the Wakamba together were the old soldiers who remained loyal.
There is another tribe, the Nandi. I believe we could raise a brigade of the Nandi alone. Let them have the run of the depots which the War Office is trying to get rid of, and they will equip themselves very effectively and will make good troops. They will build the barracks themselves. It can be done in Africa. They will do a lot towards feeding and educating themselves in agriculture, and heaven knows, the Nandi need that.
This can be done with extraordinarily little money if only we will get away from rigid staff college ideas and the definitions of complements, and so on. Let somebody go out there and see how cheaply 899 effective fighting troops can be produced for this kind of native warfare. I believe it can be done extremely cheaply by comparison, with very few European officers and N.C.O.s. The material is there in the Nandi. Take it. Let them do their traditional military service but let them do it for the Queen within their organisation, within their age group system, within their chieftains. They will love it. It will give them infinite pleasure. It will advance them. I hate discipline, but they love it. There is a great opportunity. I also agree about fie power and mobility.
With regard to the airlift, my earliest military recollection is that of men commandeering my father's horses in 1914. Why cannot we commandeer the aircraft of B.O.A.C. when we want an airlift? The whole point is that we can do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said that we could not have a mobile airlift in terms of divisions, but such an airlift is available. It may mean cancelling the tickets of some people who want to go to New York, but that would be just too bad.
The Government should set up an organisation which will have a tab on the available civil airlift and have a plan for putting in into operation for military purposes. I should like to be told whether the Government will consider the setting up of a skeleton staff to examine the civil airlift which is now in existence and prepare a plan for commandeering it and putting it into operation almost immediately when required for a military airlift.
I turn now to what is said about supporting our military alliances. I very emphatically dissociate myself from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) said about General Speidel. When we decided to accept the Germans as our colleagues in N.A.T.O. we accepted them as colleagues. That meant they served under some of our officers and that we served under some of theirs. To proceed now to abuse individuals whom we took into our partnership seems to me to be unconstructive, wrong and dishonest, having regard to the basis of the undertaking which we made.
I urge that we should not default on our German commitment. We are committed to four divisions, and four divisions 900 it must be. That does not mean that it must be four divisions lumbered up with a lot of totally unnecessary men which will make them less efficient instead of more efficient. It does not mean that we cannot slim our division to modern requirements, thus making its firepower more effective than it was, and thus making the division more realistic. But four divisions is the commitment, and it would be the greatest conceivable mistake for us to default on that or to let anybody think we have defaulted on it. By all means let us slim the divisions with the consent and approval of N.A.T.O. We shall get that; there will not be any difficulty about it. At the moment the divisions are too big and too fat. They will be much more effective if they are reduced in numbers, as our allies have found; but four divisions it should remain.
It should remain thus all the more because the Russian organisation is breaking in its satellite belt. When that happens, do not let ours break. When the Russians find that their satellite divisions are, in fact, on the other side, do not let us show them that there is nothing against them. Our strength is our bargaining counter when it comes to making our deal. I happen to believe that the time to do a deal is fairly close. Do not let us destroy our bargaining counter first by defaulting upon that essentially political obligation. If we must cut the number of troops, let us pull out of Cyprus, for what we are doing there is a complete waste of time. If "self-determination" means an area for the Turks and an area for the Greeks, let us do it that way if we desire to, but do not let us commit our troops there.
With regard to Malaya, let us ask Australia and New Zealand to do a bit of work in their own part of the world. With regard to Hong Kong, we are wasting our time there. These are the areas in which we can cut down. But we should hold on to N.A.T.O., stand by our obligations in N.A.T.O, and not wreck the morale of Europe by withdrawing a few troops prematurely from an area where their commitment is vital to the will of Europe.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Major H. Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has cheered me up a little. The tenor of his last remarks 901 has been singularly lacking from the debate. I believe it to be absolutely fundamental to the future peace of the world that we should think approximately on the lines on which I believe he was thinking in making those remarks.
Perhaps I might clear up a slight misunderstanding under which the hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be labouring, judging by his first remarks, in which he suggested that I had let a cat out of the bag. In our debate on the Supplementary Estimates on 5th February, his right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) said:That was 'Operation Musketeer' That was the code name given in the headline of the Economist as long ago as 24th November. Nevertheless 'Operation Musketeer', for which the ships were loaded last August, as the Secretary of State has reminded us, was not the operation finally carried out but quite a different one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 276.]
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I feel that I have double authority, that of the Secretary of State for War and that of a former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, for merely repeating that view this evening.
I feel that we might now leave the Suez issue because I made a speech in our debate on the Supplementary Estimates in which I gave my summing up of the situation, and I do not feel that any useful purpose can be served by going all over it again and again, every time we have an opportunity.
I endorse what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about the Germans and General Speidel. My view is that one can usually trust a German to be a good soldier before one can trust him to be a good democrat, and what really matters in this respect is which will be the Government or what will be the political power which will be controlling the General. We have been talking about controlling our own generals. With regard to N.A.T.O., whatever may be General Speidel's political record—I am prepared to believe that it is by no means perfect—what really matters is that a free association, as represented by N.A.T.O is in charge of him I feel that that in itself ought to be a very considerable comfort to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell)——
§ Major Legge-Bourke
—who had some very sever criticisms to make of the appointment. I agree very much with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that, having accepted the Germans in N.A.T.O., we must accept their being able to provide the commander for any part of it, however distasteful we may find that. That is not tod say that we automatically assume that all Germans have become potential democrats or that we have not to keep a careful eye on how German politics develop. I have as much reason as anybody in the Committee to be highly suspicious about what the Germans are politically.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will read the history of the past thirty-odd years. He will discover that in 1918. when there was an alleged democratic Government in Germany—not a Western or an Eastern Germany but a united Germany—it was thought that that would be sufficient to control the military in that country, but we discovered our mistake.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I entirely agree with that view. That makes it all the more important to do as I suggest, namely, keep a more careful eye upon them than ever before. For all the misgivings that we may have about General Speidel, and with all the alternative solutions there might have been to the Bonn Agreement, once that agreement was arrived at it was essential that Germany should come into N.A.T.O. as an equal partner and not purely as a subordinate. If we complain that the German contribution to N.A.T.O. has not been rapid enough, it may yet be that the appointment of General Speidel may encourage it, and that may be a very good thing for the safety of Europe.
All the public utterances, the Press statements and, to some extent, much that has been said in this debate, cause me very deep concern. It may very well be that we are moving into an era which, post-Second World War, will be the equivalent of that period, post-First World War, which ran roughly from the middle twenties to the mid-thirties. To the everlasting credit of the Labour Government of 1945–51. the defences of this country were not thrown overboard 903 —or at least after a fairly early demobilisation a very rapid recovery was made in our defence under the leadership of Mr. Attlee, as he then was. The country ought always to be indebted to the Labour Government for having had the courage to do that, because it was not entirely in accordance with some of its pre-Election teaching or philosophy.
At that time I believe that the Labour Government had to rely upon the Opposition to see them through, against some of the Labour Party who did not altogether approve of the Government's action. One such Member in the Chamber now, namely, the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus), certainly did not approve of the rearmament programme, or of National Service in time of peace. The fact remains that, over those years, largely at the Labour Party's instigation, we have spent very considerable sums of money each year upon defence, finishing up with an expenditure of £1,500 million or £1,600 million a year.
In the history of this country it has long been a tradition that the moment wars are over we should throw overboard all our armaments, demobilise, and turn back to peace, hope for the best and not worry too much about keeping large armed forces. Immediately after the Second World War we appeared to have learned our lesson in that respect. but I sense that because the burden of taxation is now beginning to hurt a little we are going all out to try to bring Service expenditure down, to disarm and to try to imagine that we can get away with a little less effort in respect of our defence. It will always be my view—not purely because I have been a Regular soldier, but because I have also read a little of our history—that defence expenditure is the last heading under which we should ever look for a reduction.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friends or right hon. Gentlemen opposite have ever read the book that I have here. It is one which has a very apposite title, and was written by a man fully qualified to give his views upon the subject. It is called "It Might Happen Again," and it is written by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Chatfield, First Sea Lord 904 for a long time between the two wars. This book should be made compulsory reading for every Government Department concerned with defence, for the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence today.
I appreciate that there is a good reason for the Minister of Defence being absent, but I regret the fact that he had to go after the first two speeches had been made, and that he has not reappeared since. In view of what is happening I think that he should be here throughout all these Service debates, to hear the views of all the back benchers, and not merely those of the two Front Benchers who began the debate. We are now living in a very vital era from the defence point of view. I want to make it absolutely clear that if the Conservative Party, of all parties, starts cheese-paring over defence in order to avoid being unpopular, I shall have a very little respect left for it.
My belief is that we have got into the slap-happy condition of imagining that the Welfare State is completely impregnable, and that if the cost of living rises the Welfare State organisation must at once take account of the fact and make things easier for everybody once again. If, in the course of doing so, it means abandoning this, that, or the other of our essential defence needs, it does not matter; the Welfare State is sacred and it must not be impinged upon at all. Whatever Oppositions may do, Governments are called upon to do something a little more courageous than that.
One of the great mistakes which we made between the two wars was to allow Chancellors of the Exchequer and their financial advisers in the Treasury to get into a position where they could, as it were, ration each of the three Services, by putting them in a queue along with many civil Departments and leaving each of them to fight the others—the devil taking the hindmost.
I have a vivid memory of going on military exercises even as late as 1938 and 1939 armed with a flag and a football supporter's rattle, which represented a machine gun, and I also remember, on manoeuvres in 1938, being shown what was believed to be the entire stock of British two-pounder anti-tank guns. There were just two of them. The regiment of the hon. Member for Islington, North 905 (Mr. Fienburgh)—the Rifle Brigade—used those two-pounder guns very effectively and to the limit of their capacity near Bir Hakim. I went out to Egypt with the 7th Armoured Division afterwards, and as I went through that battle area I noticed that the Germans had not bothered to collect those guns, because they had better ones. That will not happen again if I have anything to do with it.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I suppose that the hon. and gallant Member listened to the Prime Minister's television broadcast in which he committed himself and his party to a drastic reduction in defence expenditure irrespective of traditions or vested interests. Does he repudiate the Prime Minister?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know perfectly well that I am capable of reading what the Prime Minister says and that I am not always ready to take his interpretation of what the Prime Minister says. I know perfectly well that many people both inside and outside the House are saying that we have to cut down our defence expenditure—that it is too great for the economy to bear. If what I am saying conflicts with the Prime Minister's view, then it conflicts with it, that is all.
The final decision has apparently not yet been taken. I am using this opportunity to say some of the things which I think ought to be borne in mind before that decision is taken. It is very easy to become deeply emotional on this issue, as I fully appreciate, and I am trying to be as cold and calculating about it as possible.
When the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) earlier today accused the professional soldiers of having vested interests in keeping these enormous forces going, he was merely re-echoing something that a member of the Government, and a Cabinet Minister at that, is also on record as having said. The President of the Board of Trade was reported a week ago last Saturday in the Daily Telegraph and in the Daily Express—and both reports are the same, so I imagine that they must be fairly accurate—as !having said that the new Minister of Defence had to be very tough because the trouble was that the professional soldier, 906 sailor or airman wanted to fight the next war and the last one as well and we could not afford that.
I regard that as one of the most deplorable utterances ever made by a Cabinet Minister. I am hoping that the Secretary of State for War will say something about it, or get the Under-Secretary of State to do so in winding up. Here is the President of the Board of Trade, whose Department I should have thought was big enough, blundering in on a subject of which he knows absolutely nothing, and imputing a false motive—as I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw tended to do at one moment this afternoon—to men working in a Department who know only too well the awful price they have had to pay and this country has had to pay for being over-pared and cheese-pared in days gone by.
I believe that the professional Service man, whether soldier, sailor or airman, is the sort of person who tries to do his best by his own lights to serve his country to the best of his capacity. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is still a vested interest."] It may be a vested interest to the extent that there may be a few people who enjoy commanding a lot of people and do not get so much fun out of commanding fewer people. I defy anyone to say that there is anything wrong in a professional man, whatever his profession, trying to make sure that the organisation which he has behind him, or below him, or of which he has any command at all, is one capable of carrying out the job which it has to carry out.
I do not believe that professional soldiers, sailors or airmen can carry out their work properly in serving the object which my right hon. Friend today put before us as being the object of the Army, if all the time they are to be below establishment and wondering whether they will run out of the petrol allocation which they are to be allowed for training, and are to be subjected to all the other cheese-paring habits which creep in the moment the Treasury gets a chance.
I appeal tonight to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee not to play cheap politics over this question of defence. We shall be playing cheap politics if we give the people of this 907 country an opportunity of imagining that this country and the alliances to which it has put its name will be effective in preserving the peace of the world if we place more importance upon the Welfare State than we place upon our defence policy.
Let us be honest with each other about this matter. Let us be frank and say that if we want to cut down taxation, we must cut Government spending; and the two big items of Government spending today are, first, defence, and secondly, the Welfare State. If we want to achieve any major economies, we have to make them in the money spent on one of those two items. And if such economies are to be made, I know which item I should select. I should economise on the Welfare State before I cut the money spent on defence.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I should do so for the reason that if we have no defence, what in the name of fortune is the use of the Welfare State?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member has made a perfectly legitimate point. He asks, if we are bankrupt what becomes of defence? That, of course, is extremely important, but I say that we must not overstrain the British economy, and we are aware that it is under extreme strain at the moment. One of the reasons is because we have a Welfare State which goes far beyond its original concept, and is involving us in expenditure of money which we have not earned as a nation. It may be that we shall earn it in the future. But I do not want to go too wide in my remarks and if I start discussing the details of the Welfare State, I shall be ruled out of order.
Anyone who talks about saving money must face this fact, so let us be frank about it. For goodness sake let us be honest with the electorate about it. Do not let it be our fault that anyone should imagine that major economies can be made in Government spending and taxation materially reduced, unless we cut down the money being spent on one of these two big items. I believe that we must always aim at making whatever forces we have as efficient as possible, no matter what we spend on them.
908 We must not lose sight of the fact—I think we grasped its importance after the Second World War in a way in which our predecessors did not after the First World War—that it is no use putting defence in the ration queue. We must decide what we wish to defend and the technical advisers to the Armed Forces must say what amount of money is necessary to achieve that object. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be made to put that expenditure first. What he has over afterwards will depend on his assessment of what the country will stand in the way of taxation. That is the real issue facing the country today.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
There is something in what the hon. Member says. But if we cut defence; if we weaken N.A.T.O.; if we undermine the strength of the Bagdad Pact——
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The hon. Member may think that, but I have yet to be convinced that we have lost all our friends in the Arab world. I have yet to be convinced that the Arabs will ever trust Egypt for very long. They have hated Egypt more than they have hated most countries. I still believe that so long as we want oil and the Arabs have it, there will be friendship between us and the Arabs for that reason; quite apart from cultural ties and the admiration for courage that we both possess.
To return to the theme that I was pursuing before I was diverted, I would say that we in this Committee are under a tremendous strain because of our obligation not to mislead the country. There are signs that the country is being misled——
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Badly misled by those who for years—as have the hon. Member's party—preached the idea that the State is a bountiful multi-millionaire with sheaves of money——
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Norman Hulbert)
Order. I must ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman to relate his remarks to the Vote under discussion.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Yes, Sir Norman, I will indeed.
The point that I am trying to make is that defence expenditure is of vital importance. If we create the impression—it has so often been created by hon. Gentlemen opposite—that the State has a bottomless purse from which at any moment aid can be disbursed to make up for a higher cost of living, this country will never be safe from a defence point of view.
Of all the headings in the Army Estimates, which, presumably, we shall be seeing in a few weeks' time, none will be more important than that which affects the British infantry. Having been a cavalry man myself. I hope that I shall not be accused of having a vested interest in this subject.
What worries me so much is the possibility of a great squeeze coming about as a result of the new policy to reduce the number of British infantry battalions and to eliminate, perhaps for all time, the Territorial associations of many of the county regiments. It may very well be that for a foreseeable future—I think it is foreseeable and not a very long period at that—the hydrogen bomb may be a deterrent to war. But a moment will come when there is more or less parity, and when that moment comes we shall be thrown back on to a conventional basis in a way which perhaps few people have thought likely during the last few years.
When that time arrives, we shall need infantry as much as we have needed them in the past, and if in the process of this endeavour to save a hundred million pounds or two in order to ease the burden of the British taxpayer at the moment, who loves his Welfare State so dearly that he will not have that touched, we destroy our infantry strength, this country's position will be extremely parlous.
Of all the aspects of this problem none is of more importance than in these counties where there is no Regular regiment. but only a Territorial regiment. I am thinking particularly at the moment of a county such as Cambridgeshire which has never had a Regular regiment. It has 910 a Territorial regiment which has had its rôle changed about six times since the war, after having gone through the horrors of the South-East Asian campaign in that war. A county such as Cambridgeshire has a local pride, and if that is destroyed it may possibly be that all local links with the Army will be broken for ever.
I hope that every possible effort will be made to ensure that some local voluntary link is kept between every county in this country and the Army because such a link will be needed in the future. Weapons come and go. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton talked about knights in armour disappearing and heavy tanks now having to go. We may find the hydrogen bomb becoming as obsolete as gas is today.
All the time we shall be faced with the fact that in holding the peace of the world and fighting the cold war we shall need the British infantry. If we undermine the spirit of the infantry, we shall lose something which we may bitterly regret in the future. That is why I feel that we are at a very important turning point. It may well be that measures which are presented to us in the next White Paper will be as important in the future as Haldane's proposals were in days gone by.
For goodness sake, let us get these measures right, and, above all, let them be honest and not lead the public into assuming that we can afford to throw away certain safeguards in the field of defence and at the same time imagine that our British Welfare State is as safe as we should like it to be.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
To my surprise, I found one point in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) which I am able to take up. I believe that the hon. and gallant Member stumbled on something which, if not true, is at least related to the truth when he talked about the possibility that equivalence between Russia and the West in thermo-nuclear weapons might elevate the importance of the conventional soldier.
Almost the only point of interest made by the Secretary of State in opening the debate was his repetition of statements made earlier, and made in last year's 911 White Paper, that it is proposed to reorganise our land forces so as to enable them to fight with atomic weapons in an atomic war. The question to which I want to address myself is: do the Government think that it is possible to use nuclear weapons at all without being carried inevitably into total global thermo-nuclear war? Unless they have made up their mind on this question and have made their decision clear to the British people, to our allies and to any potential enemy, then expenditure on small atomic weapons is not only highly wasteful but intensely dangerous.
So far, Government spokesmen and even N.A.T.O. spokesmen, have proved not only confused but contradictory in their statements on this subject. The Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, speaking only a few months ago in London, said that he did not think any distinction was possible in the use of nuclear weapons. He said that quite clearly and openly. He was no doubt expressing his own views when he said that if we ever get involved in war we should hit the enemy—to use his rather vulgar phrase—with the biggest weapon we had got and kill the lot. The fact that it would involve our all being killed in return did not seem to worry him.
The Supreme Commander, General Norstad, was asked the same question—was it possible for N.A.T.O. to use these small weapons without our all being involved in total thermo-nuclear war? He was incapable of answering the question at all.
The British Government are no less confused. In last year's White Paper the Government stated quite clearly that they did not exclude the use of nuclear weapons in a limited war; in other words, that it was possible to use them and keep the war limited. Yet the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said, speaking in another place in a debate on the same White Paper, that he defined a limited war as one in which nuclear weapons were not used.
Confusion and contradiction to that degree, in matters which involve the survival not only of our own people but perhaps even of the human race, are absolutely unpardonable. I hope that the Government will take the trouble during 912 the weeks they are giving themselves before the next White Paper to make some clear statement on this issue.
§ Mr. Holt
Does not the hon. Member think that the Labour Party are confused on this issue, as they have been demanding that the Government should not carry out bomb tests yet give a welcome from the Opposition Front Bench to atomic weapons being provided for the British Army and missiles to N.A.T.O. forces?
§ Mr. Healey
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware of the fact that these small atomic weapons, in testing or in operation, involve no risk whatever to humanity as a whole, while the explosion of a megaton fusion weapon involves a definite risk to humanity as a whole. There is as much difference between the tactical atomic weapon and the hydrogen fusion bomb as between a bayonet and heavy artillery. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman seems unaware of it.
§ Mr. Healey
I am sorry. I cannot give way again. It is immensely important to our defence policy, our foreign policy and perhaps to our very survival, to clear our own minds on this question. If we decide that it is not possible to use these small atomic weapons without getting on to the escalator which leads to all-out thermonuclear war there is no point in having the small-yield atomic weapon at all. In that case we should start, not by using small atomic weapons, but by delivering the total weight of our thermo-nuclear striking power, rather than wait for the enemy, if we do start with small weapons, to get his thermo-nuclear blow in at us first.
Small weapons with a weight going down to half a kilo-ton of explosive power are totally irrelevant in total global thermo-nuclear war. I do not believe the Government even fully appreciate the sort of war total thermo-nuclear war is. The Americans have already developed nuclear weapons with an explosive power of 60 mego-ton, which is 3,000 times as great as those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. General Gavin testified to Congress last summer that the current planning estimates of casualties if the American Strategic Air Command dropped its bombs on the Soviet Union would run into hundreds of millions of deaths.
913 Those deaths would extend from Soviet territory well back into Western Europe if the prevailing winds were in that direction, or into Japan if they were in the other direction. An American journalist with special knowledge of these matters has gone so far as to say that the fallout from a thermo-nuclear attack on the Soviet atomic plants at Lake Baikal would cause casualties extending into India and Burma, so that those great Asian countries, perhaps neutral in the conflict, would cease to exist as population centres.
Talking about fighting after the delivery of this type of total thermo-nuclear punch is totally unrealistic. Many of the contributions made to the debate today about what forces we would need in Britain after thermo-nuclear weapons had been dropped are completely fantastic. If we once go in for this type of warfare no smaller weapons are relevant at all. It will be our survival as individuals that we shall be concerned with, not our survival as States or even cities. Therefore, it is immensely important that we should make up our minds whether in fact it is possible to limit the use of nuclear weapons because, if that is not possible, not only are they irrelevant, but we shall never get permission to use them at all from the public, except in the sort of issue on which we are prepared to commit thermo-nuclear suicide.
One of the important elements in the strategic predicament into which the world is drifting is that as through Civil Defence preparations and public discussion the public becomes more aware of what is involved in total thermo-nuclear warfare it will become reluctant to engage in such warfare in any circumstances which do not directly challenge its survival as a people. This is already evident in the United States, and I think it will become evident over here when knowledge of these new weapons becomes more widespread. Although I believe we ought to seek other means of achieving thermonuclear knowledge, if the explosion of our own thermo-nuclear bomb does nothing else it will do a great deal if it teaches the Government what in fact they are talking about and dealing with when they base their strategy on the use of such weapons.
914 Supposing we assumed that limitations in the use of nuclear weapons are not possible, then, precisely because of the justified reluctance of the public to engage in total thermo-nuclear war, we shall be compelled to build large conventional forces to deal with military threats involving anything less than our survival as a nation. I suggest that no democratic people and perhaps no people whatever in the world are prepared to commit suicide unless they are threatened with murder, and perhaps not even then. If all that is involved by military aggression is a threat to some peripheral ally the thermonuclear weapon is most unlikely to come into play.
It would be a perfectly logical position to say, "We cannot use nuclear weapons at all without involving ourselves in thermo-nuclear suicide and therefore we should try to build up large conventional forces to deal with the peripheral threats." But the Government are not doing this. They propose to cut our conventional forces and to reduce them all over the world, and they are justifying these cuts by the argument that they can achieve equal fighting power or greater fighting power with smaller manpower by using tactical atomic weapons. In other words, the Government's actions, as distinct from their words, suggest that, as far as they have thought the problem out, they believe that it is possible to limit the use of nuclear weapons in warfare.
If they believe this, it is most important that they should explain to the public their reasons for believing it and should train their soldiers to use nuclear weapons so that there is some possibility of observing the limitations. If the Government's secret or subconscious policy is to limit the use of nuclear weapons in certain limited local wars and they have not convinced their own people, or public opinion in the allied countries which are threatened by attack, that it is possible to maintain such limitations of warfare, then there is every likelihood that public opinion will refuse the Government permission to use those weapons at all when the crisis comes or, worse still, that the weapons will be used when the crisis comes but, because insufficient training and publicity has been given to the limitations, it will prove impossible to maintain those limitations and we shall be dragged by a local conflict into total thermonuclear race suicide.
915 I admit that it is extremely difficult to work out, even in theory, a basis on which it would be possible to limit the use of nuclear weapons in warfare, and even to work it out in theory involves certain conditions which so far Western policy has not fulfilled. For example, it is impossible to limit warfare without limiting war aims. Public opinion in the West would have to be taught that the aim in limited nuclear war was not to prove that aggression was fatal to the enemy but only to prove that it was unprofitable for him.
It would be necessary to work out a balance between two equations. On the one hand, we should have to put ourselves in a position in which we could make the enemy pay more for fighting the war than he could possibly gain by winning it. On the other hand, we should have to prove to our own people that the cost of making the enemy pay this was not greater than what we should lose if we let the enemy continue in his aggression. Using these two equations as a basis, we should have to work out on the ground ways of limiting a campaign in a series of possible areas of conflict.
The urgency and importance of this task, I suggest, is revealed by the way in which the Western armies have fought in recent manoeuvres or exercises, because when the N.A.T.O. forces carried out a tactical atomic warfare exercise in Germany two years ago, in the Exercise "Carte Blanche", they were held to have dropped 300 largish atomic weapons on the territory of Western Germany, and ever since that date this exercise has been used by the German opponents of N.A.T.O. and rearmament as a conclusive case against joining the Western defence effort. When the American Army carried out a tactical atomic weapons exercise in Louisiana, Exercise "Sage Brush", over a year ago, it was estimated by the umpires at the end of the Exercise that there was no life left in the State of Louisiana. If this is the Government's conception of tactical atomic warfare, how on earth does it differ from the point of view of the allies whom we are supposed to be defending from total thermo-nuclear suicide?
This is a really practical and important problem, because confusion and contra- 916 dictions amongst allies on this sort of question are already breaking up the Western alliance. All the allies are pulling different ways on different assumptions as to how and where it would be possible to limit this sort of warfare in the event of aggression. It is vital, if we commit ourselves to spending the money on these very expensive weapons and to re-organising our forces accordingly, that we should convince people not only in our own country but in the countries of our allies that it is possible to maintain such reasonable limitations in the use of these weapons as would make resistance worthwhile in an aggression. At the present time, the Government have committed the country to a policy of colossal expense and colossal danger without convincing the public, or even themselves, that the assumptions on which their policy is based are valid.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
It may be prejudice on my part, but I cannot help thinking that today we have had the best of these Service debates this year. Having said that, I would like to register a protest, as some of my hon. Friends have done already, at this Vote on Account procedure. It is really a wretched procedure. It means inevitably that all the Service Estimates debates go off at half-cock. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienhurgh) said in that quite notable maiden speech at the Box, which I think impressed the whole Committee very much, there is no very good reason for it.
In one sense, this is a new Government, but in another sense it is a very old one indeed. One cannot really see what the excuse is for the delay in the issue of the White Paper and of the Service Memoranda which are the indispensable basis for debating these Estimates. Without them, we are to some extent putting forward our own ideas without having been told what the Government's ideas may be.
The only real reason for this delay is the breakdown of Conservative policy and, therefore, of Conservative Government last autumn. This Government are extemporising, and are extemporising by delaying the whole introduction of a defence policy till very much later in the 917 year and making it almost impossible for the House of Commons to discharge its indispensable constitutional function of criticising and discussing that policy.
Even so, I must say to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State that I think that even with this procedure he could have said a little more than he did. What he said was said agreeably—as ever, if I may say so—but he did confine himself with great rigour, I will not say to trivialities, but to the avoidance of any of the main issues which can be discussed in this debate, as they have been by almost every hon. Member on either side.
The real things that the Commitee has shown itself anxious to discuss have been things like the size and shape of the Army, the Territorial Army and its future, of our forces in Germany and the acute issue raised by the Government's policy in that respect, and, of course National Service. Those are the things which the Committee has, in fact, discussed, but entirely without having had a lead given to it by the Minister. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State is to deal with these things, which are obviously occupying the minds and anxieties of a good many hon. Members today.
I will pass straight on to perhaps the smallest of these issues—although it is not a very small one—the future of the Territorial Army. I feel some anxiety about this. So far, we have not been given the slightest hint of what the Government think is the future rôle of the Territorial Army. After all, its whole existing rôle has now officially been wound up. It was to provide the volunteer nucleus of the great Reserve Army of 12 divisions, and that, quite rightly, has been decided by the Government as an obsolete concept and one on which we can no longer spend our money.
Here is this very considerable national framework of the Territorial Army all over the country, with county associations and the like, and large numbers of men giving devoted service—an enormous amount of voluntary service—to it. As the realisation sinks in that so far there is no real rôle for that force, I am afraid that that organisation will begin to rot. I do not think it could be sustained. I do not mean to say that I can suggest to the Government what that rôle should be.
918 My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North made some interesting suggestions about a kind of civil defence function, and there is something to be said for that, though I am bound to say that I agree with part of the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) that, in the case of a real nuclear attack on this country. It is very difficult to take any such civil functions seriously. [An HON. MEMBER: "Home Defence."] Home defence, yes, but what is the attack going to be? I am afraid that if it is a Territorial battalion against a thermo-nuclear attack, it is difficult to say what rôle it could really play.
It may be—and I shall bring this up in another connection—that there may be a rôle for a much smaller force—nothing like the 12 divisions which we thought of in the past for the Reserve Army—but a much smaller auxiliary force for the eventual reinforcement of Regular forces overseas in some non-nuclear war. It is conceivable, perhaps, that some circumstances of that sort might arise, but it seems to me that the Government really must think this out and not let the Territorial Army simply waste its energies and time with no real rôle or purpose.
We spend a good deal of money on the Reserve Army, as a whole, about £20 million in the Estimates, but I believe that the experts have calculated that it is really very much more than that, and that the amount of time and money therefore which the Regular Army must very rightly, as long as it exists, devote to the Territorial Army is very considerably more than that. Therefore, I do suggest that some decision, some view, some policy must be produced by the Government on this matter in fairness to the Territorial officers and men themselves, who are really being left out on a limb today.
One of the two main issues about which I want to say a word or two is this issue of our forces in Germany, their shape and size—the issue which has been raised very sharply by the Government's determination, announced to our allies, to withdraw some of these forces. Before I come to the main part of the argument, I should like to say a word about the question of General Speidel's appointment, which has been spoken of on both sides of the Committee today with some anxiety. Of 919 course, it is not an easy thing for us to take the appointment of a German general in that position. I should doubt whether any of us feel that it is a natural or easy thing to have happened, but I would say, as one who is not a supporter of German rearmament, that as German rearmament was, rightly or wrongly, decided upon, appointments of this kind seem to me to follow inevitably from it. I do not think we can really kick against it once that has been accepted.
I am bound to say also that I have been impressed by conversations on the subject with German members of the Social Democratic Party, Germans who think politically on the same lines as we do on this side of the Committee, and their view—it is not an unnatural one from their standpoint—is that if they are to be part of the N.A.T.O. Alliance there cannot be first-class and second-class allies. I am impressed by the strength and firmness of the German Social Democrat point of view on that score. Therefore, it does not seem to me to be open to us to raise any special objections to this appointment.
I now want to come to the main issue on Germany, and that is to ask why the Government have started their programme of cuts in our defence expenditure in this way by proposing to withdraw substantially one division or something of that sort from our forces in Germany. I was considerably impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison) on that subject, and I hope the Under-Secretary of State will reply to him even if he does not reply to me on that point.
It seems to me that there is a good deal that the Government must answer to their own supporters and to the Committee generally on this issue. I know very well that our treaty obligation is not particularly precise. It is to maintain four divisions, or an equivalent force in the opinion of the Supreme Commander in Germany. But up till now that has been interpreted as maintaining a force, I suppose, of the order of magnitude which we had in Germany at the moment—some 70,000 men or something of that sort.
I think there is a very strong military argument for rearranging the formations in which that number of men is arranged—streamlining the divisions, reorganising the whole command structure, this 920 double-banking of headquarters and of having the corps structure as well as the Army group structure, but it all seems to me to be terribly cumbersome. I agree that that does not profoundly alter the case. That should be done in any case, whatever the size of the force we have there.
I would ask the Government why they think it necessary to begin their programme of reductions in the Armed Forces by this particular move, saying that we have to take 20,000 or 30,000 men out of Germany today. For my part, it seems a very strange place to begin the process. I do not know what is the Government's view of N.A.T.O. today. I do not know what importance they attach to it, how seriously they take it, but it seems to me that they decided to begin this process by loosening—I would not put it stronger than that—something which is pretty well the lynch-pin of N.A.T.O. today. I cannot see why it was necessary to do that.
If the Government are going to do that, there is the question of this financial deal which they have done with the German Government and to which the hon. Member for Scotstoun referred. One point on which I did not agree with the hon. Member for Scotstoun was his remark that it was not clear that the financial deal was dependent on us not reducing our forces more than the Germans might. I thought the one thing—the only thing, I admit—clear in the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day was that after 1st September next—and that is fairly soon—the Germans would have the right to reopen the whole financial arrangement if we did withdraw forces beyond what they considered right and proper. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will correct me if I am wrong. The Chancellor of the Exchequer first said 1st September and then 1st December, and he was not by any means easy to follow, but that was certainly how I heard and read afterwards the statement that he made.
All this, of course, raises the question which has just been raised again very forcibly by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East: for what purpose are the N.A.T.O. forces, including our own, there? Are they there simply as a tripwire to set off thermo-nuclear bombardment on either side, a trip-wire which, if 921 anybody trips over it, means the end of the world and solves everything in that way, so that we need argue no further? For that purpose, I cannot suppose that it matters whether there is one division or four divisions; anything will do for that purpose. Obviously, they must be there for something rather more than that.
Are they there as a force seriously able, with the aid of tactical nuclear weapons, to withstand a Russian attack? I agree, of course, that if one had a full-dress Russian invasion of the West, all the Russian forces, with or without nuclear weapons, determined to conquer Western Europe by marching through it, it is very difficult to imagine that we should not use tactical nuclear weapons. But I agree also with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East that it is very difficult to see how that would stop and how full thermo-nuclear war would be avoided.
We must have tactical nuclear weapons available. I do not think anyone doubts that. But I am coming more and more to the belief—my hon. Friend hinted at it too—that there is a very good case for appreciable conventional forces held in Europe also. They must, of course, be dual-purpose forces in a sense, able to use tactical atomic weapons, but also able to perform military functions of the old kind without the use of nuclear weapons of any sort.
At the risk of exciting the ridicule of the Committee, I will admit at once that I cannot really give a convincing, logical reason for that. I cannot exactly describe the situation in which that might be useful, but I have a feeling, a "hunch," perhaps, that it is very unwise and reckless not to have appreciable conventional military forces in Europe. When we think of the events of last autumn, when we read the accounts of things which are going on in East Germany today and see the dynamic and fluid situation there obviously is in Europe, I for my part hate to get nearer and nearer the point where we are put in the awful dilemma of having either to capitulate to local pressure or blow up the world. That is an intolerable situation, and I am, therefore, worried by the weakening of conventional forces of the non-nuclear sort in this particular spot.
922 I say again that I cannot quite see the answers to the points made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scotstoun. After all, whatever size and shape we intend for our Army—I will come to that—why should we not keep the bulk of it in Western Germany at the present time, and why should not the strategic reserve be there? I am unable to give what is to me a satisfactory answer to that. I think I know what the Government's answer is. They are willing to sacrifice something under our treaty obligation in Western Germany, very imprudently, I think, and they are obviously putting a higher priority on the maintenance of those imperial bases or imperial fortresses of which my hon. Friend spoke.
I agree that, with the kind and size of army we must have in the future, we probably cannot do both. We probably cannot have scattered garrisons holding unwilling populations through the world and fulfil our obligations in Germany. We are, however, clear that faced with this choice we should get out of the Libyas and Cypruses. Let us keep not necessarily the exact number of men we have at present in Germany, but let us keep an adequate force genuinely to fulfil Treaty obligations.
I have agreed with everything else which my right hon. Friend for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said, except that if we dispense with many of the overseas garrisons and bases I believe that we must have a much more transportable and mobile force. I agree that it would be expensive, but it would not be nearly as expensive as keeping up the bases.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
The right hon. Gentleman has passed from the argument he was advancing about getting out of the Libyas and the Cypruses. Would he go a little further on that point? Would he include the Gibraltars, the Maltas, the Hong Kongs?
§ Mr. Strachey
Roughly speaking, I would say that we should get out of any base we have to hold by force against an actively hostile population, not purely for idealistic reasons. Certainly in Hong Kong, where there is no hostile population trying to force us out of Hong Kong, I cannot believe that 11,000 men are necessary in the area.
§ Mr. Strachey
I do not think that the population of Aden Protectorate is trying to drive us out of Aden.
§ Mr. Strachey
No, certainly not. The Government themselves think of getting out of Libya, so that quarrel the hon. Gentleman must have with his own Front Bench. From that I go on to say that, if we do this we must be able to mount an expeditionary force to go out from this country. There I really disagree strongly with the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) on the "go it alone" issue he raised.
I saw nothing conflicting in the statements of my two right hon. Friends. What we have all said, or endeavoured to say, is that we may and must have a requirement to mount an expeditionary force of a highly mobile character from this country. We think that nine times out of ten it would be to fulfil a United Nations obligation, as it was in the case of Korea, for example. But I said, and I am willing to repeat, that I cannot absolutely exclude the possibility that it might be of some character where this country had to act on its own in, say, the Trucial Oman States, or in Aden, or the like. What I would exclude absolutely is precisely the type of operation which we mounted in Suez and which was indirect defiance of the United Nations. That is one thing which I would exclude.
Therefore, I strongly disagree with the line of argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, who said that this country was incapable of mounting, a brigade group for such an operation. After all, rather tardily we think, even the previous Conservative Government mounted an operation of three divisions, and it was not a military disaster in Suez. Those three divisions could, of course, have seized the Canal Zone easily. Nobody denies that for a moment. It was a political disaster. That is what turned them back. It seems to me very strange when my hon. Friend—I do not know what he means—talks about it being impossible for this country to mount a brigade group when it just happens to have mounted—for an extremely bad reason, but that does not alter the fact 924 a force of three divisions with one in reserve.
With regard to National Service, the Government are apparently coming round to the view which the Opposition has steadily preached with increasing definiteness and urgency and in a perfectly clear cut way since last summer, which is that a date should be fixed now for the ending of National Service and that we should go back to an all-professional Army. I see in The Times—it would be very unusual if this were not an expression of official opinion—the suggested size for an Army of 175,000, which happens to be precisely the figure which the Opposition has preached as the possible one and one which could fulfil indispensable needs.
I do not know how far the Government have come round to this view, Unless they fix a date for the last call-up they will really be doing nothing at all. If we get in the White Paper and in the Army Estimates simply a statement saying, "We are going to end National Service," that can mean anything or nothing. The Government must fix a date. If they say that it cannot be done in a two-year programme, which means a four-year programme in all before the last man is out, which is what we have suggested, or if they put in a further year, I should not think them right, but they would at any rate be doing it, only rather later. If they do not fix a date at all, it will have very little meaning. Unless they fix a date at the beginning of the operation, I do not think it will ever be done.
I trust that when we at long last know what the position of the Government is on all these matters we shall not have just a vague foreshadowing of the end of National Service and a much less vague substitution of selective service for the present method, because in that case our last state will be worse than our first. That is something against which the Opposition would protest very much, especially if it were done under the smokescreen of calling it the abolition of National Service, which it would not be at all.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and I do not by any means always agree in these debates, but I felt some sympathy with some of the things he said tonight. I agreed with him when he said that a 925 great deal of the agitation for indiscriminate and immediate cuts in the defence forces today—we see it above all in the Conservative Press—arises from the fact that taxes are beginning to hurt. He said that we must cut either defence expenditure or defence on the welfare state, and I disagreed with him on that point. There is another alternative, which is that the well-to-do classes in the country should continue to pay fairly high taxation.
There was another point on which I agreed with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I trust that the Government are not approaching the defence issue in the spirit that the by-election results must be taken as the guide for their actions, with the result that they cut wildly and indiscriminately and without thinking what they are really doing to the defence forces of the country. I do not believe that it is possible, as much of the Conservative Press seems to think, for really subtantial cuts to be made this year. We should think it demagogic to try. We believe that substantial cuts in our defence expenditure can be made—though not easily—by cutting out whole sections of defence which have become obsolescent, useless and irrelevant, but it is an operation which cannot be done in a few weeks or even a few months, as I am sure the Minister of Defence knows.
That is the approach that hon. Members on this side of the Committee recommend. It is not a particularly exciting or a very popular one, but we believe that it is a sober and responsible one. I join with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely in hoping that the Government will also make that approach.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Julian Amery)
A number of hon. Members have taken exception to this procedure of a Vote on Account, to which the Government have resorted today. Whether they agree with it or disagree with it, I think that all hon. Members will agree that we have had a singularly good debate. If it is not presumptuous to do so I should like to offer my congratulations particularly to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Fienburgh) for the way in which he opened the debate. My hon. and gallant 926 Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) congratulated the hon. Member for not resorting to notes. There is much to be said for St. Paul's advice: "When ye are called before the judges of the people, think not what ye shall say for the Lord will put into your mouths the things ye ought to say." Although my hon. and gallant Friend spoke deprecatingly of those who are armed with Departmental briefs, I have thought it wiser to fortify myself a little upon this occasion, particularly as I cannot say very much.
§ Mr. Amery
That can always be tested in the Lobby. The hon. Member for Islington, North took the view that the reappraisal of defence policy which is now being conducted was overdue. He spoke of our now being in the twelfth year of the atomic age; the fourth year of the hydrogen bomb age, and the sixth year of the Conservative Party's tenure of office. I do not want to stress unduly the fact that we have a new Government—though it is new to me, anyway.
The truth is that this reappraisal is not the result of some Pauline conversion—a sudden seeing of the light. We have not all suddenly become Bevanites. It has been seen for some time that the advent of the new weapons would impose major changes upon the organisation of ground forces. The question was when would that become necessary? It was a question of timing. The reason why the reappraisal has become necessary now is that the development of new weapons has reached the point where the cost is beginning to mount year by year. This is not merely a question of the strain upon the economy, and the high incidence of taxation, to which the hon. Member for Islington, North referred, but also an indication that what has for a long time been potential is rapidly becoming actual.
I shall not be able to answer all or even most of the major points which have been raised. Many of them are still under discussion in the Department. As the Government are asking the Committee for a blank cheque in a sense, however, I recognise that there is some obligation upon me to show at least how our minds are working. I shall not be 927 able to say as much as some would wish, and I hope that I shall not give away more than I should. In the last few days the party opposite has not been exactly encouraging to members of the Government giving information, and I hope that I shall not be accused of a premature leak of the Defence White Paper.
The central question in the reappraisal of our defence policy is how the Army should be organised. Our thinking here has largely had to be determined by likely changes in the nature of war. In the days of air supremacy and conventional weapons, the heavy British division with its long tail proved an extremely powerful unit, well-suited to prolonged operations. But even in the last war there was beginning to be a feeling that the proportion of tail to teeth was too high. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Sir W. Anstruther-Gray) spoke of his feelings on this subject.
A number of attempts have been made to streamline the Army, and as a result of these efforts the divisional slice has been reduced since 1951 from 41,000 to 36,000 or thereabouts. But for some time, more forward-looking military thinkers have thought that more radical reforms were needed to meet the conditions of the nuclear age. Captain Liddell Hart has advocated the development of a lighter division or five battalions. His plan—I helped sponsor it in the Army League study group to which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) referred—would eliminate brigades and cut out corps, bringing light divisions under the direct control of the Army H.Q. Rather similar proposals were made in Germany by General Westphal—and practical experiments towards lighter divisions have been carried out by the United States and French Armies.
Our own thinking has been moving towards what we call the brigade group of all arms. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said, "What do we mean by a brigade group?" If the House will bear with me, I will try to explain our conception of it. As we see it. big formations now tend to be a liability because they present worthwhile nuclear targets. What is needed, therefore, is the smallest formation, contain- 928 ing infantry, armour, artillery and engineering elements which would be capable of fighting a tactical battle. The present division, still more the light division, while being rather too big in itself, that is to say, attracting nuclear attack, is, if split into two independent formations, too weak. The brigade group, while scarcely presenting a worthwhile nuclear target itself, would oblige the enemy to concentrate superior forces against it and so present a target to our nuclear power.
As our mind is moving at present, the brigade group would replace the division as the largest fixed formation in the Army. The standard brigade group would consist of five major units, three minor units, and appropriate elements of the administrative services. Thus an armoured brigade group would consist of three armoured regiments, one infantry battalion, one medium regiment of artillery, one squadron of armoured personnel carriers, one light anti-aircraft battery and one field squadron. In the same way, the infantry brigade group would consist of three infantry battalions, one armoured regiment, one field regiment of artillery, one L.A.A. battery, and one field squadron. In both cases the administrative services would include a composite R.A.S.C. company, a field ambulance and a R.E.M.E. workshop.
All routine administration would be channelled directly between brigade group headquarters and corps or force headquarters. For operations and training, however, a tactical divisional headquarters would be interposed between corps and brigade group. This would exercise operational control over two or three brigade groups. The standard brigade group such as I have described would be intended primarily for service in Europe. My hon. an gallant Friend the Member for Worthing has stressed the importance for overseas commitments of fully airborne formations, and it may be that some modification would have to be made in the standard brigade group. It could be tailored to suit the Middle East——
§ Mr. Fienburgh
We are grateful to receive, somewhat belatedly, information like this, although it would have been better had we received it at the start of the debate instead of at the end. In neither of these formations has the hon. 929 Gentleman discussed whether there is to be anti-tank guns. Is it envisaged that there will be anti-tank guns and artillery, and if so, where are they?
§ Mr. Amery
Yes, I understand that is envisaged. Certainly there would have to be anti-tank guns.
We doubt whether the term "brigade group" is a happy one. In our conception of the future structure of the Army the brigade group would take the place of what we have so far called the division; the tactical divisional headquarters would replace the corps headquarters, which would itself replace army headquarters.
§ Mr. G. Brown
I am not clear about this. The hon. Gentleman comes to us at the end of the day with something which we might well have had from the Secretary of State for War if it is a decision. The hon. Gentleman says, "It is the way our minds are moving." Will he elucidate that remarkable phrase? Is this a decision which he is now announcing? Are we reorganising the Army or is it a fantasy of his own that he is putting forward?
§ Mr. Brown
I am not clear. How far have our minds moved? Have we now reached this point or are we hoping to reach it? I am not clear whether the hon. Gentleman is announcing a decision which his right hon. Friend will stand by, or whether he is saying something just to keep going until ten o'clock, and which 930 will be later denied by his right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Amery
I thought I made it clear that I am not announcing a decision. I am informing the Committee about how our minds are moving in the War Office. I thought it would be of interest to tell the Committee that, in view of the number of questions we have had put to us. As we expected a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite——
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Gentleman has quoted figures of 4,000 and 5,000 for an infantry brigade group and an armoured brigade group. How is this brigade group to be supplied? Is it to have the same kind of supply organisation, though on a smaller scale, as one of the nuclear divisions, or is the supply service, ordnance, R.E.M.E. and the rest, outside the brigade group organisation?
§ Mr. Amery
I think that I explained that the brigade group would have services of its own. They are included in the brigade group. I gave the details a moment ago. If the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to look at HANSARD tomorrow he will see the details.
A number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have referred to the question of National Service, and I wish to be clear about where the party opposite stands, even if I cannot give much information myself. The hon. Member for Islington, North said it must be abolished in 1958 and the last man out in 1960; but the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) gave a rather different interpretation and suggested it would be a four-year process. I am not quite clear about it and it would be interesting to know the official policy of the party opposite.
§ Mr. Fienburgh
If the hon. Gentleman will do me the great honour of reading what I did say, he will find that I said that last year the Labour Party said that conscription should end in 1958 so that the last man will leave in 1960. That was last year. Of course, hon. Gentlemen opposite have lost a year, they have wasted a year, and so there is no contradiction between my right hon. Friend and myself.
§ Mr. Amery
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to qualify that in reply to an intervention by the hon. Member for 931 Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I am all for honest differences; I was just trying to discover which was the political point of view.
I am afraid that there is extremely little that I can say on this subject because, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has indicated, it is a matter which the Government are studying intensively at the moment and on which the House will no doubt very soon be informed. The principle has always been fairly simple. It is that the Army is an instrument of policy and that its strength must correspond to the commitments which the Government of the day decide to accept. Our ideal has been to meet commitments with Regular forces. In so far as Regular recruits have not come forward, some National Service has been necessary.
A number of proposals have been made for the modification of National Service. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton made some highly original proposals, and the hon. Member for Dudley made a number of prophesies. I really must ask the House to forgive me if I do not allow myself to be drawn on this subject. The matter is primarily one for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence——
§ Mr. Amery
Yes, we are on speaking terms.
I would only add that any constructive discussion on the question of National Service or the creation of an all-Regular Army must take into account the building up of effective reserves. The hon. Member for Islington, North was, I think, wrong in saying that the Reservist call-up at the time of "Operation Musketeer" was inefficient. Notices were sent out over the Bank Holiday—they took three days to send out—and, by and large, once the notices had gone out, the reservists were embodied in their units within a period of seven to ten days. Where there was delay, it was only due to the fact that the order of battle had not been prepared before the crisis arose. That was what I said in the House the other day in Supplementary Estimates debate. I am afraid that I am in danger of repeating myself.
My right hon. Friend spoke of the boys or junior leaders units closely linked 932 with the Army Cadet Force. This is not only a valuable youth movement, but an important source of recruitment both to the boys units and to the Regular Army. It is many years since the Cadet Force was overhauled. A Committee was set up in the time of my predecessor to investigate the present organisation, and we expect it to report shortly.
Reductions in manpower will have to be matched by improvements in weapons. There will be much more to be said about this when the full Estimates are presented, but there are one or two points which I thought I should make this evening. First, in spite of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton have said about the defects of heavy armour, the Centurion remains the most outstanding weapon which has been produced since the war. All marks have proved good, and the latest one very remarkable.
There has been a great deal of controversy in the past about the F.N. rifle, and I thought that I should keep the House informed about the latest developments. Troop trials have been held in Malaya and Kenya, and 14,000 of these rifles are now in service, mostly overseas. British production of the rifle starts this year. Everything we have seen justifies the hopes which we on this side of the House placed in the rifle. Production has also started on the Sterling sub-machine gun—introduced last year—which has given good results.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun (Sir J. Hutchison) and the hon. Member for Islington, North spoke of guided weapons. I should like to say a word about the Guided Weapons Regiment. In the New Scientist of, I think, 28th February, an article appeared signed by Geminus on the guided weapons which we bought from the United States. A copy of the article was sent to all hon. Members of this House and I should like to take the opportunity of correcting certain major inaccuracies in it.
In the first place, the article suggested that none of the officers of the regiment to which these weapons are being issued has ever seen a Corporal missile. This is, quite frankly, a whopping terminological inexactitude. As a matter of fact, 933 American guided weapons have been closely studied since 1951 by teams of artillery, engineer and Army ordnance officers, at the Fort Bliss and White Sands proving grounds and at Red Stone Arsenal, and 26 officers and four warrant officers have taken part in those studies. Training wings have been set up at Lark-hill and Arborfield to cover operational and maintenance training of Corporal regiments.
The artillery and engineering wings are now manned by officers and warrant officers who have been integrated in the American training organisation at Fort Bliss and Red Stone Arsenal and who have lived with the weapon during the period between July, 1955, and December, 1956. In addition, a number of other ranks have attended specialist courses during 1956 with American battalions in Germany. This means that a hard core of about a hundred experts has been built up who are capable of instructing on and manning this equipment which has been issued to the Guided Weapons regiment.
The present intention is that the regiment will undergo an intensive course of instruction, leading up to the firing of the weapons at the Hebrides range. It cannot be considered operational until it has done so.
The article goes on to suggest that the weapons we are buying come from "an American discarded stockpile". That is equally inaccurate. The weapon which we are buying is, in its internal structure, very different from the one which was seen for the first time by British teams in 1951 and to which the author of the article may be referring. This one is the very best that the United States can offer and will be the most up-to-date tactical guided weapon in the hands of N.A.T.O. troops today. I understand that it is the latest version of the equipment which has been issued to American units in Europe.
In the debate on the Supplementary Estimates I was taken to task by the right hon. Member for Belper and others, who referred to speeches that I had made in the past. This time the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has raised, though in not unfriendly fashion, my earlier military writings in the Army League Report. 934The bondage of wrought deedsbears heavily upon me. I cannot answer most of the problems and questions which the hon. and learned Member has raised, because most of them, as the hon. and learned Member will understand, are pretty close to the central reappraisal which is now going on. I can say, however, that I was gratified to find that the work of the Army League has been carefully read and studied in the War Office.
Time is getting short, but I must say a word or two about the questions that have been raised about British forces in Germany. There has been much argument about this, some hon. Members being in favour of keeping our forces in Germany and others of taking them out. The Committee will realise that I cannot reply in detail to the arguments, as the whole matter is at present under discussion in N.A.T.O. and the Western European Union. The Committee knows that we have for many years carried a greater share of the defence burden than any of our European allies. Though we seek some easement, there is no thought in our minds that we should do less than our fair share. I can also tell the hon. Member for Dudley that there is no question of "welshing" or of tiptoeing out.
On the question of General Speidel, several hon. Members have asked me for information. The general's appointment, as has already been stated, was approved by the German Social Democrats. I understand that he was nominated with the agreement of the French Government. I have been unable to find any evidence to support the allegations which were reported—I do not think that he necessarily agreed with them—by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). So far as I know, there is no truth in them. The general has a fine military record and it must be remembered that in this structure he will be serving directly under a French commander. There will be, over and above him, the American Supreme Commander and the British Deputy-Supreme Commander.
My hon. Friend the Member for Scotstoun and the hon. Member for Islington, North asked about the German Federal Government's contribution towards the local cost of British forces in Germany and about the meaning of the review clause. The terms of the review 935 clause were communicated to the House by the Chancellor. The German negotiators were made aware at an early stage of our estimate of the effect of the force reductions we were planning to make in 1957–58. Our detailed proposals were given to N.A.T.O. more than two weeks before the German negotiators on the Anglo-German Economic Committee decided to recommend the sum of £50 million to their Government.
§ Mr. Healey
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the past, when we have been negotiating similar questions with the Germans, it has proved a great disadvantage not to have in black and white what means what. Is the hon. Gentleman telling us now that the Germans have formally agreed not to request a review of their contribution when the British reductions are announced, if the reductions are of the order so far communicated to N.A.T.O.?
§ Mr. Strachey
Would the hon. Gentleman reply to the specific question which I asked him? He does not disagree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I take it, that if after 1st September reductions are made the Germans have the right to reopen the financial clauses of the Agreement? That is what the Chancellor said.
§ Mr. Amery
If the right hon. Member looks at what I have just said he will find that that point is fully covered.
936 I am conscious of the fact that I have left a number of questions unanswered. I have honestly tried to give the House as much information as I could. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Belper cavilled at something of what I had to say. It would be tempting to speculate much more freely than I have done on the Army's future, but the House must remember that we are dealing, not with a machine, but with a living organisation and with the careers of many thousands of our fellow subjects. In a few weeks the House will have much fuller details. Meanwhile, let us get on with the job. May I invite hon. Members to give us the Vote for which we ask?
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 443,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958.