§ 3.36 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. James Ramsden)
I beg to move,
That the Army Act 1955 (Continuation) Order 1963, a draft of which was laid before this House or12th November, be approved.
I hope that, in moving this Order, it will be convenient if I refer briefly to discipline and then give a full statement of the present recruiting position.
As the House is aware, one of the main purposes of the Army Act is to provide the legal power to impose discipline. The Act defines offences, prescribes punishments and places authority in the hands of particular officers. At the same time, it includes various safeguards to protect individuals from the improper use of power. In particular, it provides for the individual aright to seek redress of grievance, and imposes upon his superiors a statutory obligation to accept and deal with such complaints.
In the ordinary everyday life of the Army, the Army Act is very much in the background. Relations between officers and men are based on mutual trust and confidence rather than on legal sanctions. But, of course, offences are committed beyond those that can be dealt with by verbal correction or rebuke, and then the machinery of the Act must be brought into action.
During last year, two changes have been made in the administration of discipline under the Act. Less serious offences are dealt with in the company office, and we have recently enlarged the powers of company commanders. Hitherto, they have not had power to award monetary penalties and minor offences attracting such penalties had to be dealt with by commanding officers. Subordinate commanders not below the rank of captain may now award forfeitures of up to seven days' pay and stoppages up to £5 to corporals and privates, subject to the right of the accused to elect trial by court-martial. This new arrangement is working satisfactorily.
The second change concerns the record of punishments and is consequent upon the first. Within units punishments awarded by company commanders are recorded on a conduct sheet which may 35 be periodically destroyed after a period of good behaviour or on promotion to certain ranks. On the other hand, punishments awarded by commanding officers have hitherto been recorded permanently on the man's regimental conduct sheet, with certain exceptions.
We have clarified the position and provided that, when a commanding officer awards a punishment no greater than that which the company commander can now award, it will be entered only on the company conduct sheet. A soldier's future need not, therefore, be prejudiced by a permanent record of comparatively trivial offences, provided he qualifies by subsequent good conduct for the destruction of his company conduct sheet.
The last 12 months have not witnessed any striking changes in the statistics concerning courts-martial. Nineteen officers were convicted, which is nine less than the number in the previous year and represents about one officer in a thousand. In the same period, there were 2,521 courts-martial convictions of other ranks. This is a slight increase in the number for the previous year, but expressed as a percentage of strength the rise has been only from 1.46 to 1.48 per cent.
There has been a marked increase in appeal petitions to the Army Council—59 as against 37 in the previous year. But the number of cases taken to the Appeal Court increased by only two—from 29 to 31. The most significant rise is in the number of appeals which were upheld by the Appeal Court—six in the last year as against a total of eight for the whole of the previous ten years. I am carefully watching the position to see whether there are any special inferences to be drawn from this trend. Meanwhile, of course, the findings of the Appeal Court in each case are most carefully studied.
In this period, the Army has passed through a transitional phase, and the all-Regular force has at last been achieved. There has, obviously, had to be a good deal of adjustment in this period, but the state of morale and discipline is good. Several hon. Members, like myself, have recently visited the British Army of the Rhine and elsewhere, and I am sure that they will 36 have been impressed, as I was, by the morale and bearing of the troops.
I would like to give the House some account of the recruiting situation. As hon. Members will know, another purpose of the Army Act is to set out the terms of enlistment which provide the legal basis for other rank recruiting. In July this year my predecessor indicated to the House the position as it stood at that time. By the end of October, the strength of the Army had reached 171,092, and of this figure 151,895 were other ranks. This means that we were still over 8,000 short of our target of 160,000 other ranks within a total of 180,000 officers and men.
It is worth while going back a bit in time so as to see how far we have come. In February, 1961, in the Estimates debate of that year, the then Secretary of State recalled that we had set ourselves the minimum target of a 165,000 Army, containing 146,000 other ranks, and we were aiming to achieve that by the end of 1962. At the beginning of 1961, the strength was 130,000. During 1961, the numbers built up to 137,000, but the prospects of our reaching our target of 146,000 by the end of 1962 still seemed doubtful.
The House will remember the remark able recruiting year that followed. We enlisted, during 1962, no fewer than 28,500 recruits from civil life. At one period, we were recruiting men from civil life at the rate of a battalion a week. The minimum target of 146,000 other ranks was reached during the month of August, 1962, five months ahead of schedule, and by the end of the year the strength had risen to 150,430. By any standard this was a good effort. I should like to mention, with the Army's gratitude, the late Sir Frederic Hooper, adviser on recruiting to the Minister of Defence: I worked beside him and knew the full value of his help.
The period of this large and rapid intake had given rise to certain criticisms. It was said that we were not being selective enough about whom we took. I dare say that with the heat turned on recruiting as it was, and rightly, and with the growing and gathering momentum of the recruiting machine, some men got in whom we could have done without. But this is not to say that we lowered our standards. We did not. What we did 37 decide to do, in the autumn of 1962, encouraged by the rate of the Army's build-up, was to tighten up these standards in certain respects.
With effect from January, 1963, we revised the rules concerning character and medical fitness and placed certain restrictions on the entry of married men. I think that this was right and was, and still is, in the interests of the Army.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I will give way when I complete this part of the argument. What was said about married recruits might have caused misunderstanding at the time and, possibly, affected the rate of applications. This has now been cleared up, however, and I am satisfied that the rules as to the acceptance of married men are being operated by recruiting officers in a sufficiently flexible way.
§ Mr. Wigg
To deal not with words, but with facts, will the Secretary of State be good enough, before the debate ends, to let us know the rate of rejection as at 1st January this year and last year, so that we may make a comparison, and, by way of a guide, the rejection rate before the war, so that we may know roughly whether we are comparing like with like?
§ Mr. Ramsden
I take it that the hon. Member means the rate of acceptances as compared with the total of applicants.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I do not see why we should not produce that information for the hon. Member. I will certainly try to produce those figures for him.
The year 1963 started badly and as it went on the trend of recruiting grew more and more disappointing, for the first three months intake brought us only 70 per cent. of the 1962 level. The end of the bad weather came, but there was no improvement. In April, 1963, we had the lowest monthly intake for over two years. It is never easy to analyse or isolate the particular factors which make for a good or a bad spell of recruiting. Nevertheless, looking back over the past, it is possible to adduce several reasons which may explain why recruiting began to go as badly as it did.
38 It was, as I have said, a good effort to reach our first target several months ahead of schedule, but I must admit that I had always looked forward to our doing so and to the attendant publicity, which could not be escaped, with some mixed feelings. There was a real chance that it would produce a reaction and a slackening off of effort and of the sense of urgency in recruiting all the way down the line. I believe that this is one of the things which may have happened.
The Army had been making exceptional efforts to recruit during 1961 and 1962. It is bound to be difficult to keep such an effort of this kind keyed up to high pitch over a long period. The time was bound to come when the machine changed, so to speak, into a lower gear, but the trouble was that we got into one gear too low. We were not helped at this time, either, by a series of incidents which got the Army a bad Press.
In the face of all this, we have not hesitated to take the necessary measures to improve the situation. We laid on another intensive drive, both on television and in the Press, and by September the figures showed some improvement. The net result of the period of very low recruiting had been that between the end of March and the end of August there was a fall in the strength of the Army of nearly 700 men. September saw some improvement: this is normally a good recruiting month, but the figures were significantly better than the pattern of recruiting over the previous eight months had led us to expect they would be. There was a gain in Army strength of nearly 800 during the month. In October, in spite of the fact that a larger than normal number of men reached the end of their engagement, there was a rise of some 200.
Taking stock of where we are now, and looking, first, on the credit side, we are today within 5 per cent. of our target strength for other ranks and we have a better balanced Army than we had a year ago. The serious shortage of specialists, in particular, in the Royal Signals, has been reduced. Experience has shown that it is possible to channel recruits into the corps which are short: not all applicants insist on joining a particular arm. In consequence, we 39 have been able, in spite of the general situation, to achieve a steady build-up where we needed it most On the other hand, we still have shortages: these are particularly disturbing in the infantry, where we are 9 per cent. short of our requirements. Moreover, we are today facing heavier commitments than we had to face a year ago.
I remember very well the first debate which I had to answer at this Box, over three years ago. The point had been made that there might well be a situation before we reached our full Regular strength when we would have to manage to meet our commitments in spite of certain shortages such as I have mentioned. Hon. Members on both sides of the House rightly expressed their concern lest in such a situation we might have to ask of the Army more than it was fair to ask.
Bearing in mind that shortages, besides leaving some units under strength, lead to difficulties in the way of sudden and unexpected moves and postings and other inconveniences of that sort, and in spite of some extra commitments which could not have been foreseen, I am glad to say that the Army is taking the present situation in its stride. I think that a tribute is due to all ranks and to the staff for their ready response and the flexibility they have shown in meeting and responding to the challenge of commitments, foreseen and unforeseen.
Morale in the Army is high, and we must keep it so, because contented soldiers are our best recruiting agents. We shall continue with our present publicity: this is essential if we are to be sure that the possibility of the Army as a career is presented as widely as possible to anybody who, because of his age, is a potential recruit. We are trying to put this over more and more in terms of a real slice of Army life. Hon. Members may have seen the recent television films in which serving soldiers were briefly interviewed and asked their opinions of the Army.
This is an attempt to put the Army in the mind's eye of the potential recruit. But that is only the first stage. What brings him in is personal contact with contented Regular soldiers. We are, 40 therefore, superimposing on the basic groundwork of the recruiting organisation a number of what we have called Army youth teams—officers and men whose task it is to make contact with the youth of the nation and tell them and show them what Army life is like. All these should continue to produce results, and over the next two years we shall be helped by having a higher number of men born in 1946 and 1947 coming within the field of recruitment.
On the debit side, as in all large organisations, there is the problem of replacement: people leave before their due term for medical or compassionate reasons; they find they are not up to the job or they misbehave and have to be dismissed. This wastage, as it is termed, costs the Army about 14,000 men a year. In addition, we have to cope with run-out, that is to say, men coming to the end of their engagements. The run-out figure in 1964 will be considerably higher than in the present year because many men who enlisted for six years in 1958 will be coming to the end of their term of service.
One great asset which we possess is that next year we shall have a greater number of boys maturing to man's service: this has not been achieved without planning. The build-up of boy strength has proceeded swiftly from 7,000 at the beginning of 1959 to about 12,000 today. The output to man's service is already nearly doubled, from 2,200 to over 4,000 this year. Next year we shall be getting an output to man's service of nearly 5,000 boys. This will be a most valuable contribution to the recruiting problem.
The Army is very proud of these boys' units. If my hon. Friend can manage to satisfy the House about our figures today I am hoping to catch a train and visit one in the north of England tomorrow. I hope that we shall be able to provide opportunities to visit units of this character to any hon. Members who care to avail themselves of them.
These units serve to provide the Army with high quality junior leaders, skilled apprentices and much-needed tradesmen, as well as many bandsmen and infantry soldiers. Their training is expensive, and they tie up a good deal of military manpower, so that there is a limit to what we can do in this respect. But there is 41 no doubt that the boys represent a splendid investment, both for the Army and for the nation.
That is the picture, which I have tried to describe as fully as I can. It is obviously difficult for me, or anyone else at this stage, to make an exact prediction as to when we shall achieve a full-strength Army. We shall spare no efforts to get this as soon as we possibly can; and I hope that I have in no way given the impression that we are tackling an impossible task. The difference between maintaining the strength of the Army and achieving a build-up, when one gets down to it, is a fairly marginal one. In fact, if each of our recruiting and information offices could recruit just one more soldier each week than at present, that is to say, bring us up to about the 1961 rate of recruiting—and 1961 was a good but not in any way an exceptional year—then we should soon be home and dry.
I ask the House to approve the Order.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
As the Secretary of State has pointed out, this is the first complete year in which we have had all-Regular forces. Opinion as to the desirability of abolishing conscription and going over to an all-Regular basis cut straight across the House. There were those on this side, for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has been a spokesman, who strongly opposed this, and there have been a variety of hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), who took the same view.
As one who, throughout, was in favour of going over to a professional basis, I feel that the Government are to be congratulated on the present result, although it is by no means perfect. Very few things which we ever attempt in fields of government, let alone defence, are. It is not, perhaps, as good as it might have been if the difficulties had been recognised and tackled earlier. Nevertheless, to have got within 8,000 of our requirements at this stage is pretty good. This was always the point at which we recognised that there might be shortages.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the work of the late Sir Frederic Hooper. We would all join him in 42 paying tribute to Sir Frederic, but we would also be a little churlish not to remember the very notable service of the former Secretary of State for War, who showed great energy in this field and should be remembered with gratitude and appreciation in this respect.
One point about which I am not quite clear is the question of the lowering of standards. The rejection rate—if that is to be the level of standards—is certainly a great deal lower than it was before the war. For that we can congratulate ourselves on the enormously superior health of the nation. Whatever anybody may say, one way or the other, about the Welfare State, it has certainly provided us with a much healthier, larger and physically fitter rising generation We would certainly be very surprised if the rejection rate were not a great deal lower than it was before the war.
What I should be interested to know is how the rejection rate compares with what it was before 1961—before the decision to go over to an all-Regular Army had been taken. Is there any marked change, and is there a change in the rejection rate at the point where recruiting figures began to go down—that is, at the beginning of this year? Did these reductions in recruiting figures coincide—if I may put it that way—with a higher rejection rate? If they did, we might be interested to know whether there was any cause and effect, and whether the falling off in recruiting figures represented a demand for a higher standard.
I feel that it is important—I hope that this will be dealt with by the new publicity campaign—that people should get a better understanding of the position of the married recruit. How much is he wanted and how much is he not wanted? The idea got about that the married recruit was not wanted, and I regard that as a considerable factor in the recruiting figures. September figures are better and brought us a net gain of 800, but these figures were still down on the September, 1962 figures. Is this still so for October? I do not know. We have not had any October figures or been told how they compare.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I am interested to know to which figures the 43 hon. and learned Gentleman is referring. The October recruiting figures were published about a week ago.
§ Mr. Paget
I wish to know the comparison with the figures for October of last year and the subsequent November situation, about how they are now running, and whether we are back to the average.
The good features in prospect are that we are nearly running into the population bulge, so we should see an improvement in recruiting figures. If we still get the same sort of proportion, more people will come forward next year. I am worried about the question of better balanced forces. Last year anxiety was felt about the number of cooks, medical orderlies and transport personnel. Are they no longer causing anxiety?
The problem presented by the infantry is more difficult, but I have always considered—I have pursued this theme over the years and long before conscription was abolished—that we should not confine recruiting to these islands. It is wholly unnecessary that an effective fighting force should be homogeneous throughout. I suppose that there have been few more effective fighting forces than the German Army, during the last war. It is true that we beat the German Army, but only after a good many years. And we should remember that Germany was fighting not only ourselves, but the Russians and Americans combined.
Germany managed to maintain that battle for a long time. But the German Army was under 50 per cent. German. It was manned up in all its units by a foreign element and the great majority of these foreigners could not even speak German. Rommel's élite panzer divisions had a very high percentage. At times the figure was up to 40 per cent. This is an aspect of modern war. Only about one man in 20 actually fights. The other 19 are serving him, helping him, putting him into a position to fight; and these men certainly need not be recruited from these islands.
What about recruiting for the catering arm from Malta? In the Navy we used to recruit stewards from Malta, and anyone who has served with them will have a kindly memory of them. Anyone who, like myself, had a "doubtful" 44 stomach in nasty weather will remember the extraordinary kindness of the Maltese stewards. We could also recruit from Malta into the Royal Army Medical Corps and few, I should have thought, would make better medical orderlies than the Maltese.
Malta is not the only field for recruitment where there is severe unemployment and where the opportunity to serve would be not only an advantage to us but a blessing to the potential recruits. There is Singapore. If we require recruits for transport there are few better natural mechanics than the Chinese or indeed "stouter" chaps. In Malaya a great deal of our M.T. is run by Chinese recruits. Is there any reason why they should not be recruited, either on the ordinary basis, or as a special section in the Army Service Corps, or in R.E.M.E., to deal with transport?
Detachments of Chinese might serve with the infantry, because nowadays the infantry have a great deal of transport. When one looks at an infantry formation it is not now just a question of counting the rifles. Even at battalion level there are a lot of support troops. I have not even mentioned the West Indies, which is yet another source for recruitment. With Malta, Hong Kong, Singapore and the West Indies, we may find large sources of recruitment as yet untapped.
I fear that the speech that I am making is a little repetitive, but these are suggestions which I have been hammering at for a long time. The Minister said that the best recruiting agent or means of contact is the satisfied and happy soldier. I would add to that contact, also, with satisfied and happy ex-soldiers, because in both officer ranks and other ranks of the Army service is very much a matter of family tradition. It is from the Army families that we get the very best recruits, and we shall not continue to get those recruits, and have not continued to get them, because we have treated the senior members of those families unfairly. By paying pensions in bad coinage—that is what we have done—we have been creating in the military families, that most important recruiting field, anti-recruiting officers. Many of those men have been saying, "Do not go into the 45 Army. Look how it treated me", and they have been right in saying so.
The time has certainly come, and so it ought, when pension is paid according to service regardless of when the service was given. That would be cheaper than paying the pensions stepped up to the purchasing power which they held when they were contracted. After all, the Government enter into the contract and the Government control the coinage. Is it unjust to say that when that coinage becomes bad and depreciated the Government have a moral responsibility to make good their undertakings and pay for the service which they have received? After all, pensions are payment for service received in good coinage at the value contracted to be paid at the time. It would be far more expensive if the Government stepped up the purchasing power of pensions than if they merely paid them according to service regardless of when the service was rendered.
This morning I received a letter from a regimental sergeant major, stating:Because of the time that I left, having completed ray service as a regimental sergeant major, I am now getting less pension than privates who served with me and never rose above the rank of private"—that is, simply because the privates came out at another time. While that sort of thing happens we shall not get enthusiasm within the military families.
I urge, not merely in the name of justice—and I think that this is a cause in justice—but in the name of practical value, that the principle of pensions for service on the same level regardless of when the service was given ought to be applied if we are to get recruits from the sources from which we need them.
The only other matter that I want to raise is the position with regard to reserves. I hope that we can hear a little about how the figures stand there. We have, of course, a Bill changing the matter which will be coming before us after this Measure, but I should like to know a little more about the existing situation. After all, we are experiencing confrontation in Borneo. That may be an increasing commitment, because "confrontation" means, in effect, raiding across the border, and since we live in a world in which small nations—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have some difficulty always in keeping these debates within the very narrow confines which our rules impose on us. There might be difficulties about the subject of pensions, but I let the hon. and learned Member continue. We must remember that we can talk really only about what is in the Bill and that we must treat the matter rather like a Third Reading debate. I think that if we get to numbers of forces required and the numbers of forces confronting them we shall get out of the range of this debate.
§ Mr. Paget
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I will not go very much further. Of course, the Bill provides the law with regard to reserves and reserve liabilities. The point that I was about to make—I certainly will not make it if you feel that it is out of order, Mr. Speaker—was that the method of dealing with these commitments, which look rather threatening at the moment, would certainly be by means of reserves and not by a reimposition of conscription, which would provide us with only untrained personnel. That was the only point that I was going to make. We have difficulty in Borneo, but we have, we hope, no difficulty in Kenya—
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to consider again the statement that you have just made about our debating the size of the forces referred to in the Bill? The Minister devoted a good deal of his speech to the size of the Regular Army, the shortage of other ranks and related matters. It appeared to my hon. Friends and myself that the statement you have just made suggested that if we followed the Minister we should be out of order. I apologise to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for interrupting him.
§ Mr. Speaker
As I understand it, the Minister sought to talk about recruiting. I did not succeed in excluding the subject of recruiting last year—although I think that I might have done so—merely because of the terms of enlistment carried in the Act. However, to discuss what should be the appropriate size of the Army with regard to the paragraphs relating to recruiting is, I think, outside 47 the rules of order on one of these Orders. The reason is that the Army Act does not govern the matter in that way, and we have to treat the debate on this Order as a Third Reading of the Army Act.
I should not lake to commit myself as to the exact extent to which the Minister went. There are moments when one's attention is a little distracted, but I hope that my deputies, if I myself am not here, will not rule anybody out of order for going as far as the Minister went, because that would not be fair. But when hon. Member say that we should have X tens of thousands of men, that is not a matter governed by the Bill, and, therefore, strictly speaking it is out of order on this Order.
§ Mr. Speaker
Now we are getting confused. There is on the Order Paper a Bill for Second Reading later on. It sounds to me as though the hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to that. If I misunderstand him, I am sorry. Is he referring to the Army Act?
§ Mr. Paget
All I am asking is whether at present the Minister is satisfied with the situation as matters stand now. A future Bill will not, of course, be immediately affected; it is intended, as I understand it, to deal with a future situation, one that does not arise yet. I am concerned whether the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that the reserves position is adequate to allow us to move quickly enough people to provide some sort of presence should three emergencies arise together—as they might well do—in Borneo, Kenya and Israel. I remind the House that we are still, of course, committed in Israel and that there is a very immediate threat with regard to the Jordan border. We should certainly like 48 to be reassured that the existing reserve machinery under this Act is adequate to deal with the immediate situations with which we might be faced.
We are working very much on the balance of numbers and mobility. If we have enough mobility we can do the rest. Unfortunately, the three Services have been used so much as a soup kitchen for the aircraft industry that the transport situation is nothing like what it should be. We have not got the right transports. They are available, but the wrong sort have to be bought so as to oblige the aircraft industry.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot include weapon development, or vehicles, or things of that sort in the debate. All that is in the Army Act about vehicles is requisitioning.
§ Mr. Paget
I will not go further along that line, Mr. Speaker. I merely want to emphasise that lack of transport will create considerable difficulty. We must have a very quick method of moving the forces up to war establishment in the event of our being faced by several crises at the same time
We welcome very much the boys' units to which the right hon. Gentleman referred and I am sure that some of my hon. Friends would be glad to accept the invitation to visit them.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Clive Bossom (Leominster)
I will not endeavour to follow the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about the figures of rejections, but I look forward to hearing them from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I like the idea of recruits for the Catering Corps, put forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and also his reference to a service corps. Having served for several years in Singapore and Honk Kong, I quite agree with what he said.
I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on their new appointments and on their very refreshing new approach to public relations which, I believe, is the key to good recruiting. Like my right hon. Friend, I am confident that after the falling off during the past 12 months recruiting from now on should gradually improve.
It is no use denying that the Army has had some very adverse publicity, 49 much of which has done a great deal to destroy the Army's good image. But, as has been pointed out, recruiting is not as bad as some right hon. and hon. Members opposite, and parts of the Press, make out, because the figure is within 95 per cent. of the target figure of 180,000.
I want to put forward a few ideas on recruiting which, I hope, are not too unconventional. The first question one must ask oneself is: what makes young men want to join the Army? Pay and conditions are a major draw and apparently there is to be a pay rise next April. This I welcome—of course, it will help recruiting for a short time—but money is not the only carrot to bring in recruits.
For the past year or so, great emphasis has been placed on welfare, amenities and married quarters. All of these, in a young married Army, are most important and must be absolutely first class. This summer I had the opportunity to visit several units in the Middle East and the Far East and saw the progress taking place in the various building programmes. Indeed, I think that the worst shortage of married quarters is in this country; but that is gradually being put right as well.
I feel that now, however, is the right time to switch from the welfare approach which we have been taking in the last year or so and to put much more emphasis on to the two "A"s—action and adventure—which a highly mobile and highly trained Army can certainly supply today. I would like to see an all-out recruiting drive for the S.A.S., the Parachute Regiment and the Commandos.
The special rôles of these regiments appeal to young men. I realise that such a drive might be to the detriment of some of the line regiments, but while we can attract these recruits I feel that we should take them. Perhaps we will be over strength for a time in these specialised units, but, unfortunately, it seems that during the next few years the so-called "fire brigade" units will be more important, both in the Far East and, perhaps, in the Middle East.
Another good recruiting line could be that "the Army will teach you a trade". In other words, young men could be 50 shown that if they joined the Army they would not and up as foot sloggers, but, at the end of their service, would be qualified for reasonable employment in civilian life. I am sure that much more emphasis must be put on training for trades. That would be a good recruiting draw and would also help to raise standards in the Army, which would certainly be useful. The military correspondent of the Daily Telegraph put his finger on the weak spot when he wrote last week:Recruiting depends a lot on being ready to accept a man when the urge to join up is upon him. In this respect the 17-year-old is not at present catered for.That is very true, and I ask my right hon. Friend to take another look at the joining-up age. I am still convinced that the Army loses many healthy young men who are mustard-keen during their last year at school, or on leaving school, but who cannot join until the age of 17½. I accept, of course, the excellence of the junior leader regiments and the boys' training units, but a lot of young men at this age want to go straight into the Army and to a depot.
Of course, I am aware of the arguments that, at 16½, a young man needs very specialised handling, but today young men are much more mature than previous generations were at that age. The depots have an intake of young drummers and bandsmen and this intake should be widened. We should consider something like a special training company consisting of recruits under 17½.
After all, once a young man settles down in industry, or comes under the influence of a girl friend, the Army usually loses him for ever. My right hon. Friend touched on this when he said that he was thinking up ways and means of attracting youth. We want to get young men interested and "clued up" about the Army. I would like to see a pilot scheme which would stimulate much more interest and knowledge of the Army among boys at 14 and upwards. The Army recruiting teams should have much closer liaison and association with youth clubs and the boy scouts, with organisations like the St. John Ambulance Brigade and/or the schools. It is hard to contact these young men once they leave their clubs 51 and various organisations, but while they are together they could be told much more about Service life.
I thought that it was an excellent idea when, last year, some young men spent a week-end with the Army. Young men were able to see the Army at first hand and also find out about the food, which is quite important to point to a young man at that age. I have found that a good active, colourful display is always worth 10 recruiting stands, or a dozen 16-sheet advertisements. This is the age when youths of 14 or 15 need help to make up their minds what profession they want to take up, and direct contact with youth clubs and other organisations would be helpful.
I suggest that our educational authorities should produce a type of Army course, with a special syllabus for the secondary modern schools and technological training colleges, which would tide over the Army-minded young man for a year or so. The Army could even give him a small retainer's bounty while he was waiting to join up.
I should like to say a word about the presentation of some of our Army propaganda for recruiting. It has certainly greatly improved during the last few years. I feel that county regiments and T.A. battalions have always a good coverage by their local Press, but the national Press, unfortunately, seems to seize on ail the misfortunes and they never give enough praise. This is where the Army public relations needs looking into.
I wonder in the past if the Press has been given enough up-to-date copy—whether it has been given the right kind of news material. These are things which have to be looked into. What I think makes an impact today and the right impression on a young man are T.V. and Pathénews items showing action, tough inter-Service training, especially training overseas. I think that the battalions which went to Canada and one which went to Australia is the type of news showing the Army overseas which needs exploiting by our national Press.
Actual news items are always better than direct recruiting propaganda films, which are good and getting better, but these young men are inclined to take 52 them with a pinch of salt. We have to march with the times. Next April the three Services literally will come under one roof, so why do we not try to combine the recruiting centres in some of our cities and large towns?
At present, I believe, the Royal Air Force takes in about eight to 10 airmen a week and receives 150 to 200 inquiries a week. If the three Services were all in one building, some youngsters who were turned down for one reason or another for the Royal Air Force might feel inclined to go to the Army or the Navy counter. If they were all in the same building I think it would help people in that way.
We have talked a lot about how to get recruits to join the Army, but it is just as important that more thought should be given to how to keep them once they have been recruited. The main problem is to keep them interested and fully employed and not allowed to get bored. Training programmes must be original and alive, which is extremely expensive, but I feel that every penny spent on it is well worth while. I was pleased to read the other day that there have been second thoughts whether free discharge within three months or' joining is not too soon. It hardly gives a young man long enough to settle down or make up his mind and I would have thought that six months was a much fairer period.
If the Army wants to be "with it"—or the latest expression, I believe is "switched on"—I would have thought that now would be a good time to revise some of the Army's traditional terminology. Next year we have the Defence (Transfer of Functions) Bill coming into effect, when some designations of the three Services will be changed. The Army has still several old-fashioned terms, like "other ranks", which sounds wrong, and "married quarters", which sounds stupid. Surely a better title could be thought up for the W.R.A.C.S., which sounds like "wrecks", and which is far from the case, because they are a magnificent body of women. I think that some of the old titles will have to be changed.
I have endeavoured to give some constructive ideas which, I hope, may help recruiting. The Minister has pointed out, quite rightly, that we are all inclined to overlook the simple fact that the best 53 recruiter is a satisfied customer. It is up to each unit to ensure that its men are both efficient and happy and then I think we shall continue to get recruits.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I want to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Bossom) about recruiting. Obviously, in recruiting, pay is a very important factor. We have been given indications through the Press that the Forces may expect an increase of pay next April and I should like to know whether, when the time comes, the. Government will do what they did 18 months ago and welsh on their obligations.
Then, the Grigg Report found in the Forces' favour, but when the time came to implement the finding they got only 50 per cent. of what it had been suggested they should have. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us firmly whether, when the next Grigg Report is published, the Forces can expect their rise next April to be the whole amount and not 50 per cent., as on the last occasion. That may be an important factor and great assistance to the right hon. Gentleman when he comes to follow up on his recruiting drive this winter and next year.
I want to confine the remainder of my remarks to what the Secretary of State had to say about discipline. He gave some important figures of the number of men court-martialled—more than 2,000 other ranks, a slight increase on the previous year, and 19 officers. He went on to deal with the number of appeals to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, which had risen from 29 to 31. He said that there had been an increase, a significant rise, in the number of appeals upheld by the Appeal Court, which was six in the last year. He said that he was carefully watching the position and that the Appeal Court's findings were being carefully studied. It is in this context that I want to deal with Sections 84 and 120 of the Army Act and with the issue of discipline.
In April of this year, the Courts-Martial Appeal Court heard an appeal following which Questions were asked by myhon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and myself and a number of others in connection with the court-martial which had given 54 rise to the appeal. I am concerned to know whether, following the disclosures of the remarks of the Appeal Court in that case, the Secretary of State has taken any steps to ensure that the procedure under the Act is now being followed and that the machinery which the Act set up is now satisfactory. At the Appeal Court hearing it transpired that the court-martial which had tried Major Cory had been very unsatisfactory. That is not only my view, but the view of the Appeal Court itself.
On 24th April, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East asked whether steps would be taken to expedite hearings at the Appeal Court and he was told by the Secretary of State that a searching inquiry would be held into every aspect of the case which had given rise to my hon. Friend's Questions. At that time, there was a good deal of disquiet and publicity in the Press because of the staggering delay between the court-martial and the appeal and because of the length of the court-martial. Seventeen months elapsed between the court-martial and the appeal.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) at that time suggested that as only about half-a-dozen cases a year came before the Appeal Court, there was no reason for the delay. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the figure was higher, but the hon. Member has made his point that in this court there could not be the staggering congestion to be found in many other courts. In whatever system of justice is operated, in the Army and elsewhere, there must be anomalies and injustices from time to time; but of Parliament has set up a procedure to remedy or mitigate those injustices, then, especially when the freedom of the individual is concerned, the system must be expeditious and must not allow the staggering delay which occurred in this case.
The peculiar features of this court-martial are that it was held in Kenya and lasted no less than 43 days. The whole of the evidence was taken in long-hand, even though shorthand writers were present, and there were 1,400 pages of transcript. The accused was in the witness box for more than a week. The Secretary of State said that there would be an exhaustive inquiry—"exhaustive "and not "exhausting" was the word he 55 used, although, in view of the Government's failure to produce results from that inquiry, he should have said "exhausting" and not "exhaustive".
The report in The Times on 10th April made some stringent observations on the hearing. It said that the Appeal Court said:The trial…could only be described as astonishing. It must have involved great strain and the chances of confusion were obvious. There was a mistaken conception that the charges would be simple and there was a lack of proper preparation of the accountancy evidence. To this confusion were added the lack of proper inquiries and changes of front by the prosecution.Some documents were lost and apparently the prosecution did not take any steps to make them available in time for the accused to deal with them.
The Appeal Court made this observation on the general deficiency charge:…it ought never to have been brought, since there was no fraudulent conversion to justify the charge. The inclusion of the charge so muddled and confused the trial that it resulted in a miscarriage of justice.The court allowed the appeal on the grounds I have mentioned and because of that did not feel obliged to decide the third ground, which was the conduct of the trial. This is what concerns us, having regard to how the Act should be working.
The matter was left at that stage for two months, and I then asked the Secretary of State, on 3rd July, whether he was now able to tell us what he had been doing. The then Secretary of State said that he was sorry that the inquiry had taken so long, but that it was now in its final stages and that he hoped that hon. Members would not have long to wait. He went on to say:If an inquiry is to have its effect, it must study every aspect of what is, in this case, a very involved matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 368.]I concede immediately that this must have been a very involved matter. The Minister was pressed to say what he knew about the circumstances and admitted that he did not know when the inquiry had been set up, or who was conducting it, and he invited me to put down another Question. I did so on 10th July, when the right hon. Gentleman told me: 56The documents are at present being studied by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and myself personally.He was pressed about when he would be able to give the House the fruits of that study and he said:My noble Friend and I are hoping to get together to discuss it later this week…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1963; Vol. 680, c. 1217–8.]The Minister said that he hoped to give a report to the House before the impending Recess. In fairness to the then Secretary of State, I should say that before the Recess he came to tell me that he was not in a position to make a report and that it would be made at a later stage.
Another four months have now passed, seven and a half months in all since 24th April when the issue was first raised in the House. What is wrong is that whatever the delays in the past and whatever the time this court-martial took, 43 days, whatever the staggering delay between the court-martial and the appeal, all that situation has now been aggravated by the Government's delay in publishing their report.
The court-martial itself was described by the Appeal Court as astonishing. I have never made any allegations about the manner in which the court-martial was held. I have left it to the Appeal Court to make its observations and I await the Government's report before making mine. However, I should like to know whether, in the meantime, it has been possible for similar occurrences to have been allowed and whether there has been any danger of a repetition of what has been described as an astonishing trial. Men in the Army are entitled to know and the public are entitled to know whether we have averted any possible danger of a repetition of this astonishing conduct. We have been told the number of cases that are heard by the Courts-Martial Appeal Court each year. The case to which I have been referring was not the only one about which there was complaint. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East who raised another case at that time.
This is an important issue, and one on which the Government have been stalling for far too long. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State replies he will be able to tell us what has been happening, and what is the result of the 57 involved inquiries of the two ex-Secretaries of State for War and the Lord Chancellor. Last July, we were told that the previous Secretary of State for War was studying the matter personally, and I hope, therefore, that at this juncture, in December, 1963, the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what has been happening. The Army and the public are entitled to know. This was an unsatisfactory case in all its aspects, and the continued delays by the Government have added to the unsatisfactory nature of the whole affair.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
I should like, first, to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the way in which he introduced this Order. I was particularly pleased to find that although he did not sound unduly depressed about the recruiting figures, he did not sound over joyous and did not give the impression, which we have sometimes been given during similar debates, that everything in the garden is lovely. Unfortunately, the current figures show that everything in the garden is not lovely. My right hon. Friend told the House that during one period last year a battalion was being recruited every week, but, unfortunately, during two months of this year only just over a battalion was recruited each month. This is a sad and worrying state of affairs.
I should like to add my comments to the remarks made by my right hon. Friend about the late Sir Frederic Hooper. His contribution to shaking up recruiting methods and the immediate recruiting response was remarkable, but I think that we ought to realise that he could not have achieved his success had it not been for the wholehearted way in which the Army accepted his ideas and carried them out with such detail and enthusiasm.
I was interested in what my right hon. Friend said about the junior leader battalions, because these units are not only of great potential use to the Army as a means of getting first-class recruits, but, because the trade unions have accepted the qualifications of the persons who complete these courses, they make a real contribution to the skilled manpower of the nation as a whole. I appreciate that these units may be extravagant in the use of the Regular soldiers who are needed to look after 58 and train these young people, but I hope that in the national interest my right hon. Friend will find it possible to continue giving them his full support, and that the trade unions will continue to accept the qualifications of those who pass through these units.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the target that is required to have a full Regular Army. He also said that the balance within the Army had improved considerably over the last 12 months. This is very good news, because the situation in some units of the Army was desperate due to the lack of specialists. When the strategic reserve—or some units of it—was being prepared for an emergency we were faced with the farcical situation that certain specialist units from other so-called fighting formations had to be moved to bring it up to a balanced force. What I want to know—and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to deal with this in winding up—is whether, with a figure of 180,000, it is possible to maintain the units at present in the British Army. I am very doubtful whether this figure can maintain the units that we have, and I wonder whether it may be necessary to have a complete reorganisation to get an efficient all-Regular Army of about 180,000.
I should like to follow up the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Clive Bossom) about recruiting in other parts of the Commonwealth. I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is on a very good wicket when he refers to the Maltese as potential recruits, because it is possible that Malta will become independent very shortly, and we are not sure whether she will remain in the Commonwealth. We have seen the difficulties which can be caused by having non-British troops in the Army because of the political pressures that can be brought to bear at home, and there is already one cloud on the horizon in a similar case.
There are, however, lots of other areas within the Commonwealth where we have had experience of the magnificent fighting qualities of the local troops, and from which we could surely recruit people for the Army. The Seychelles have produced a number of recruits who have been successfully absorbed into 59 the British Army, and so has Fiji. During the emergency in Malaya the Fijian battalions proved themselves to be exceptional. When, recently, a move was made to recruit more Fijians, the numbers that applied were out of all proportion to the vacancies available, and I understand that the latest Fijian recruits have been successfully absorbed into the Army.
I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will consider including an in creased number of these wonderful Fijian fighting troops in the Army. He might even consider establishing a battalion out there to carry out the preliminary training for the Army so that the recruits are partly trained before joining their regiments here, or in Germany, or in any other part of the Commonwealth where they may be required to serve.
But all those suggestions are palliatives, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, with the fresh and balanced approach that he brought to these matters when he introduced this Order this afternoon, will remember, first and foremost, that what we require is an Army of adequate strength now, and not in two years' time.
If an army is to be of any use in negotiations and in the furthering of our foreign policy, we must have it now and not at some far distant date which none of us can foresee. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will treat this serious drop in recruitment which we have seen this year very seriously and will not just hope that, somehow or other, the figures will return to what they were last year. If he does that, then I am sure that he will have to take some pretty drastic action in order to keep the units of the British Army even viable.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
With reference to recruitment and enlisting, I think that it is time that the House of Commons and the British people looked at one serious factor concerning the size of the Army and its purposes and commitments. I know that I should be out of order today if I went into the philosophy of defence in relation to foreign policy, but to hon. Members on both sides of the House it is quite clear 60 that we must ask ourselves about this and get clear what the purposes of defence are, what the function of the Army should be in the nuclear age, how it is to work, where it is to work and why it is to work. We should then look at recruitment in relation to those factors.
I do not know how far hon. Members have studied the various reports which have appeared from time to time, or the Statement on Defence for 1963, but if one looks at the tenth Report of the Estimates Committee, which is in the Vote Office but which has not yet been debated by the House, one realises that there is an outstanding problem—it is the only one that I shall have time to deal with in the 10 minutes or so at my disposal today—which we must face. It is the case of the commanding officer. I will take only the Army because we are dealing with that Service today, but it applies to all the other Services as well.
A commanding officer is much more than simply a commanding officer in many spheres of activity. He is also the mayor of a town. He has similar functions to those of a mayor. He is responsible for health services, hospitals, schools and the impedimenta, since it was decided that certain types of recruitment and enlisting should take place and that we should have a married man's army, that clutter up the Army in all the vital spheres of the world. This has a retarding effect upon the competency of the firing power and the teeth of that Army in any one place. The fact that the tail of the Army is so fat with its schools, its hospitals, its obstetric services and its gynaecological services means that it cannot move along. How can we get recruitment that will give us greater firing power and teeth, if I may put it in that crude way?
We are told in this Statement on Defence that by 1964 we shall have in Germany alone over 15,000 families in hired accommodation. We are also building quarters for 6,800 families in Germany at the present time. Those quarters and hirings have to be paid for and there have to be the ancillary services. There have to be schools. In Aden, we have a school for 750 children. We are building a new school in Singapore for 1,000 children. This service must be available. The Ministry of Education 61 and others are involved. With a central organisation of defence it may be that later we shall get some clarity about this.
The point I wish to make is that we have struck an average cost for this. In some cases the married man's Army is costing us £1,200 to nearly £1,500 per head more than the single man's Army. How can we afford this expenditure ad lib? Can we have a married man's Army Sek Kong in the new territories beyond Kowloon and Hong Kong right out to Jamaica, for which the British taxpayer has to pay, as well as other commitments? What can be done about it?
The tenth Report of the Estimates Committee makes a recommendation on this matter. It says that not enough attention has been paid to it and that the Committee was not satisfied that sufficient thought was paid to the full cost and implications of married, accompanied, overseas tours. As I have said, the needs of the family make it very difficult to get an efficient machine. As a result of this our population overseas is two and a half to three times greater than it would have been if we had not had the married man's Army. How can we get out of this situation? We believe that it is a situation which should be studied seriously and that the House should pay attention to it.
I will give one example. We are putting up married quarters in El Adem and Tobruk for 101 families. These quarters are to cost £700,000. At the price of houses in this country it would take 60 or 70 years to work off the cost of these quarters. We shall get no compensation for them and no one could ever say that we shall get any return in cash. Could we not have a new approach to the matter?
I realise that we cannot always count the cost when strategic matters are of paramount importance. The cost in dollars or pounds cannot always be measured against strategic necessities. But strategic necessities will always have to carry overseas the burden of the married man's family. Were we to stop married men from going overseas it would interfere with recruitment. Therefore, we cannot put forward a diktat. It would adversely affect recruitment if it went out from the House that no married men would be sent overseas.
62 I do not think that that would help either side of the House, or the purpose for which we are here, so I hope that hon. Members do not think that I am putting forward the wild idea that no more married quarters should be built overseas, fn Kowloon, we are spending £602,000. In Kenya, we spent £6 million, even though we knew at the time that we were coming out of Kenya in a year or two. We spent this money on quarters and other impedimenta needed in the modern married man's Army.
We on the Estimates Committee ask that this problem should be examined. I even suggest a Davies plan. I shall give only one example because I do not want to delay the House in dealing with its business. Take the case of 15,000 families going into Germany. If it is to cost nearly £1,000 a year more—and, further overseas, still more—because those men are married than if they were single, what would be wrong in making this suggestion to a married man? Tell him that it would cost £700, £800, £900 more for him to go overseas and that we would put into the bank a lump sum of £500 or £600 for him. He could not buy himself out of the Army with it, but, regulated by his discipline and conduct, after he had done his tour, that money would have earned interest in the bank. When he came back into civil life it would make him a property-owning democrat. In passing, I hope that he would not be a Tory.
The Government should go into this suggestion. I have made it only "off the cuff", but I believe that we could get thousands of married men who would be prepared to consider it. I have discussed this in Singapore, Hong Kong and other parts of the world with troops and with the highest ranking officers. Some disagreed, but when I put it to a group and asked, "Do you think it all bunkum?", after consideration some of them said the idea was worth investigating. I put it as an idea for lessening our great expenditure overseas, bringing greater benefit to married men and making it easier for commanding officers overseas to attend to military matters to which they should attend.
I should like to explain this at greater length, but that would be unfair to the House, in view of the rest of the business that we have before us. I 63 hope that the Minister will go into this suggestion seriously and not cast it aside. He might find that more people than he expects would accept it. I am not asking for any enforcement; it would be voluntary. We might be able to afford to bring a man home twice a year to see his wife and children. It would make him a happier soldier, and give him a bounty which would be worth while. With it he could buy a house when he had done his service. I hope that this idea will not be cast aside, but will be considered by this or any other Government in the near future.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The value of the interesting suggestion made by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) would depend on whether or not the money offered was extra. If it were to be deducted from what married men have at their disposal to spend at present I am not sure how practical the suggestion would be. The hon. Member will know of Mr. Parkinson's law, that expenditure rises to meet income. In my tours overseas I have not found many men with families who reckoned they were well off in their stations. They have undertaken various commitments, such as the purchase of a car or a 'fridge and have to keep up the payments. The suggestion is worth while studying, however, and I hope that it will be considered.
I wish to raise one or two miscellaneous points. I apologise for not being in the House when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened the debate, because I was attending to duties elsewhere. I hope that I shall not refer to something with which he has already dealt in his speech. I should like to know how the new provision of the Army Act and the stoppage of a sum from pay is working. At the time when it was proposed it received the approbation of everyone who dealt with the matter. It was believed that it would give the C.O. greater initiative and greater freedom and also be appropriate punishment for many offences.
It is perhaps the besetting sin of all our Armed Forces that, in spite of our ideas about ourselves as a race, we 64 sometimes lack individual initiative. In the Services we wait to be told from above what to do, whereas those in some other forces do not do so. I am sure that this step in discipline, giving the C.O. much more complete control over his own station, was a good thing to introduce. I should like to hear how it has been working.
Secondly, I ask if my right hon. Friend is entirely satisfied with the form of financial discipline applied to the Army today. It seems that the C.O. in the unit is entrusted with enormous responsibilities, but when it comes to spending a little actual cash he is regarded as a potential crook or a financial idiot and has to account in great detail for every tiny item.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) mentioned courts martial. Discipline in the Army, combined with the civil rights of a soldier as a citizen, is very difficult. Any courts-martial system will suffer from this difficulty, but I wonder whether the courts-martial system is entirely appropriate to the Army today and the age in which we live. We have to keep courts martial for disciplinary offences in the Army with the most severe sanction in the last resort, but I believe that, as in civil courts, a great deal of courts-martial work is occupied with motoring offences which have very little to do with Army discipline. I think that is the reason why so many more courts martial are held than used to be the case. I wonder whether the system in this motoring age is adapted as it should be.
When I visited B.A.O.R. recently, I found like everyone else who has been there, that some infantry battalions were very much better recruited than others. I was not able to tell why that should be so. I should like to know in detail what help the commands or the War Office give to brigades and regiments to recruit in their own areas. Looking at the units on the ground, there seems no good reason why some should be overfull and some lacking the men they need. I should like to know what courses are run and what is done to help a unit, quite apart from national propaganda. What does the War Office do to help each unit to recruit to maximum capacity?
65 When I was in Germany I saw the deplorable effect on one or two units of being landed in areas where there were no, or very few, married quarters. That seems a tremendous obstacle to the proper deployment of troops, especially in Germany. We cannot expect discipline, satisfaction or recruiting to be as good as it should be if, as I found there, a unit is moved into an area in which two units have been for a long time so that they have mopped up all available hirings and accommodation. There is literally nowhere for the families to go. I saw very disappointing arrangements made for the third unit in such a case. It was not surprising that that unit had no fewer than 34 N.C.O.s proposing to buy themselves out of the Army, because they could not put up with the accommodation for families, or separation from their families.
I know that a great effort is being made in Germany to build married quarters, but I was appalled, as the hon. Member for Leek was, by the lack of mobility which this situation causes for our troops. There are very few places in Germany where accommodation can be found for them. Whether it is forward strategy or backward strategy, the situation is the same; we have to put our troops somewhere near their wives and children, and this is the most awkward business from the military point of view.
Both the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and my hon. Friend mentioned recruiting people from outside this country into the Army. I have several times referred to this with enthusiasm, but I have come to realise that there is a difficulty because there are not now many Europeans anxious to join the British Army. There is no shortage of work in Europe, and we could not rely on recruiting large numbers in this way.
I should know, but I do not—and I apologise for putting the question—what is the quota of people from outside this country or of foreigners accepted into the Army. I believe that there is a quota laid down as a guide for recruiting from outside.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I should have known that. I think that it would be difficult to exceed a certain proportion of such recruits in any unit. The way in which the British Army lives in peace time, very largely abroad, means that each unit is very much a family, and if we introduced people with different backgrounds, and families of very different social organisation and different religions, the commanding officer would be trying to command two separate units which did not work together. If we want to recruit into the Army fairly large numbers of people from outside these shores, it will be essential to recruit whole units and not individuals, so that these people, with their own customs, their own type of food and their own religion, could serve together.
There is a large wastage of members of the W.R.A.C., and if one sees these ladies it is not surprising that so many people want to marry them. But they would be recruited in greater numbers if they were allowed to serve abroad much more than they are at the moment. In the B.A.O.R. there were more duties which these girls could be permitted to do. At the moment many duties are reserved to men. I feel sure that the extra recruits we could get if they were given greater opportunities to serve would be well worth while.
The Army Act is silent about whether there is a separate code of discipline for the Gurkhas. I do not know whether there is a different code of discipline for this fine body of men, but I was delighted the other day to read that my right hon. Friend said that the reduction in the numbers of the Gurkhas had been postponed. While I was pleased with that announcement, I did not like the word "postponed'', and I hope that my right hon. Friend,will give the House an assurance that "postponed" was written into the brief by an extra-cautious Treasury and that he did not wish to say "postponed".
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
The last occasion on which we discussed the operation of the Act was notable for a positive, indeed categorical, statement 67 by the then Minister that the Government had determinedly set their face against the reintroduction of conscription and National Service. I should very much welcome a reaffiirmation of that policy by the Minister in view of statements which have been made about the decline in recruiting. As reported in The Times last Friday, there was a definite statement that there had been a substantial drop in recruiting, and in the Daily Telegraph there was an analysis of the causes of the drop.
I am certain that this problem is very much in the Minister's mind and I should like to know whether the War Office take the same attitude this year as they took last year. Parliament and the country are entitled to know. The young people, in particular, want to know. In view of the recruiting position, do the Government still adhere to the statement, so clearly and explicitly made at this time last year by the then Minister, that the War Office and the Government have set their faces definitely against National Service and conscription?
Recently kites for the reintroduction of National Service have been flown by eminent and notable military people. There was a speech by Lord Montgomery in another place in which he came out in favour of some sort of National Service. I always read his speeches with the greatest interest, although his views are not shared by my constituents. But his arguments in another place will, I feel, be heard frequently during the next few months, especially as the recruiting situation is apt to deteriorate.
The alternative to National Service is to reduce our commitments. Lord Montgomery's argument is simple. It is the argument of the old soldier. He wants a big Army. But he advanced at the same time the argument that we could well bring about a reduction of our forces in Germany. The argument was that we are keeping 55,000 soldiers in Germany at a cost of £80 million, upsetting our balance of payments. This speech will be read by potential recruits to the Army. I agree with Lord Montgomery in the view that keeping these 55,000 soldiers in Germany is a waste of both manpower and money. Lord Montgomery knows more than I do about the situation in Germany, because he was Deputy 68 Supreme Commander of N.A.T.O. for many years. When he assures us that we have too many soldiers in Germany, his argument should be listened to with respect.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. The hon. Member is tending to go much too far in his arguments. It is not in order in the debate to deal with strategic considerations.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I intervene to point out that quoting from a noble Lord in another place who is not a member of the Government would be out of order.
§ Mr. Hughes
I will leave questions of strategy. One of the questions which a recruit naturally asks himself is, "Where am I going to if I join the Army?". One of the main places he is likely to be sent to is Germany. I come to the question of the discipline of our units in Germany. I believe that since last year's debate there has been a great deal of discussion about the conduct of our troops in Germany, especially at Minden. This links up with the question of married quarters. If great military authorities say, "We do not want to keep any more soldiers; we want to reduce the number of our soldiers in Germany," the question which naturally arises is whether recruits will join the Army.
It is true that there have been very regrettable offences against discipline, especially by members of Scottish units. I would be the last to justify in any way the conduct of these soldiers. They appear to have been drawn from certain places near Glasgow which have a certain record of lawlessness. It is understandable that in these cases sentences have been imposed by court martial which have meant men being sent to prison with hard labour and discharged from the Army. I wonder if it is any good imposing such sentences. The men are no longer soldiers. They become ordinary prisoners. They are a 69 burden on the nation as prisoners. If a soldier is found to be unfit for the Army, why should he not be discharged from the Army and so find his way back into civil life?
There will be other criticisms of Army routine. I should like to know how many soldiers are in what are called detention barracks. Is the number less, or is it more? Exactly what are the figures? Do they illustrate, or do they not, the statement made in this debate that the morale of the Army is very high?
I turn to the question of recruiting. In my constituency nobody joins the Army. At least, a very insignificant number of young people join it. I remember asking the former Secretary of State how many recruits there had been from Ayrshire during a period of three months some time last year. To my great surprise he jubilantly replied to me and crushed me with the Answer that the recruiting in South Ayrshire had gone up by 50 per cent. I did not know where the recruits had come from. When I ultimately got the figures, I found that the figure had risen in a month from four to six.
There is some reason why young people in my constituency do not join the Army. They are just as patriotic as anybody else. They like their country as much as anybody else. Even if I went on to the recruiting platform in every village in South Ayrshire, I am sure that the net number of recruits who would join the Army after I had addressed them in this patriotic way would not exceed three.
This applies not only to my constituency. It is not due entirely to my attitude. It applies also in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), who advocates National Service. I believe that there is some deeper reason why recruits do not roll up and why the number is decreasing and, I believe, will continue to do so. It is for the simple reason that the modern young man does not know what is to be the function of the Army in a possible war. We do not know what will happen to the soldiers in Germany in a nuclear war. We are frequently given different prophecies of what is likely to happen in a nuclear war, or in a conventional war, or in a 70 war of any kind. Nobody who thinks and watches television programmes and follows what is going on in the world can seriously tell the Army what its job is likely to be in the next war. Frankly, I do not know the answer. I do not know that a rational case for appealing to recruits to join the Army in 1963 can be made out.
One argument is that it is good for them to be under discipline. I was surprised to find this argument in the conclusion of Lord Montgomery's speech. One statement he made was that National Service would at any rate result in the Beatles getting their hair cut. I do not know why they should get their hair cut. I do not understand that that argument is likely to bring young men into the Army at present. Why should a soldier need to have his hair cut in a certain way? Why should not soldiers be allowed to wear beards? [Laughter.] My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) laughs. I have myself been asked why the young man who wants to join the Army is told that, if he goes into the Army, he will have to cut off his beard, whereas if he joins the Navy he can keep his beard.
§ Lord Robert Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some soldiers are allowed to wear beards?
§ Mr. Hughes
I was not aware of that. If the hon. Member wishes to develop that point later, I shall be very pleased indeed to have expert information upon this point.
§ Mr. Hughes
That was a really blood thirsty explanation. I must confess that I am indebted to my hon. and learned Friend for it. Soldiers wore beards when the Prime Minister's ancestors advanced over the Border and it is worth remembering that some extremely successful military manoeuvres have been conducted in recent years by people who have worn beards. In Cub a 71 for example, the commander-in-chief and several of his aides-de-camp wore luxuriant beards.
I doubt whether the Beatles are likely to rush to their nearest recruiting office to join the Army upon hearing Lord Montgomery's remark that if they do so they will have their hair cut in a different style. I mention this to show that appeals for recruits for the Army must be made in a common-sense way and must not be frivolous.
It is said that, sooner or later, the recruiting figures will decline until the point will be reached when a form of selective military service will have to be imposed by any Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) frequently advances this argument. But who will be selected? What is the idea behind strengthening the Army by selective conscription? I understand that the modern Army must be a part of a great organisation, equipped with modern transport, and that, because it must be mechanised, it must contain skilled mechanics, electricians, fitters and so on. Those who advance this argument must realise that these are exactly the people we urgently need in industry.
I understand that a man who is skilled enough to maintain and repair an Army tank is just the person needed to look after a steam roller. I am convinced that such a man is more useful when working with a steam roller in industry than when manœuvring and maintaining a tank. If people are drawn from civilian life—electricians, mechanics, engineers and so on—into the Army it will be a sheer waste of manpower.
There is a shortage of officers in the Army, and in last year's debate we considered this problem. What kind of young man is wanted to officer the modern Army? Drives are frequently held in Scottish universities in an effort to get officer recruits. For example, I was informed recently of such a drive at Glasgow University. Are the Government aware that the young men in their early twenties whom they are attempting to attract are urgently needed as teachers? When I read that the Minister is anxious to obtain young people from our universities to become Army officers I cannot help pointing out that we are short of 3,500 teachers in Scotland.
72 As I said last year, the Minister is up against an almost insuperable problem. There is no rush to join the Army today and I do not see the slightest possibility of the recruiting drive succeeding. To illustrate this, it is worth noting a report which appeared in the Daily Express about three weeks ago. It told of an interview in Los Angeles or San Francisco. A young man, the son of a distinguished soldier, had gone to be educated in America. When asked by the Daily Express correspondent "Why do you not join the Army?", he replied, "I went into some depôts and did not like them". This young man became a student at the University of California. I cannot reproach him for his conduct, and it is worth pointing out that this young gentleman is the son of the distinguished soldier, the Duke of Gloucester.
If the average young person in Britain discovers that there is disillusionment and dislike felt towards the Army, and that he has no understanding of what the Army is doing and is meant to do, I cannot see how the recruiting drive can succeed. It is for this reason that I must repeat what I said last year—that the Minister is up against an almost insuperable problem. The right hon. Gentleman must think up an alternative to the scheme of selective service. He must examine our commitments and reduce them. There will not be a rush to join the Army and, therefore, our whole military policy must be based on a frank realisation of these facts.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
I do not wish to detain the House for long but merely to raise a few important points. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said that my right hon. Friend would not get the number of recruits he requires. Many hon. Members were fearful that this would happen some time ago, but my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on the methods he has adopted and the success that has been achieved through his recruiting drive.
It must be remembered that there are always in this country a number of men who wish to join the Army. That number will always be slightly below our requirements. Our task, therefore, is to attract the marginal person and so get over the 73 difficulty of balancing the figures as between those who intend to join and those who need to be persuaded to join. We must, at the same time, consider our commitments and in some way economise with the forces we have. We must ensure that every man who wants to join the Army is given a proper and responsible job. To do this we should attract a different type of person and, perhaps, increase the civilian services, similar to the way in which my right hon. Friend already has, and look further a field, including the Commonwealth, for people who would be prepared to do certain non-military duties.
There is a precedent for doing this. Before the war the Army in India employed two categories of non-combatant people, the enrolled and the non-enrolled, which left other men available for combat duties. If we took Commonwealth recruits into these two categories—the first to be, perhaps, locally employed in their country of origin and assured that they would not be employed except for local defence purposes, and the second comprised of non-combatant forces so as to enlarge the number of combatants in the Army—it might help to solve some of our recruiting problems.
§ Dr. Alan Thompson (Dunfermline Burghs)
The hon. Member is making a most interesting point. Would he explain it further, and would he suggest that recruitment to responsible positions in the Armed Forces should be conducted amongst Commonwealth immigrants to this country?
§ Dr. Glyn
As I understand the Army Act, there is no bar on anyone joining the Army, whether he be an immigrant or any other member of the Commonwealth. The only bar is on the proportion of foreigners who can join, this being a historical matter to make sure that we do not have too many foreigners in the Services.
Another vitally important aspect is that of married quarters. My right hon. Friend has done a great deal in this respect, but if we could say to someone thinking of joining the Army, "You'll be guaranteed quarters," I do not believe that we would ever be short of recruits in the foreseeable future. The problem is not only the number of married quarters but the difficulties encountered in their administration. If a 74 man is posted overseas, his wife may have to leave the quarters. I know that my right hon. Friend has these matters in mind, and if he can solve this problem it will make a great difference.
Married quarters in Germany present a very real difficulty because of the shortage of labour and building materials there. Has my right hon. Friend thought of overcoming that obstacle by telling N.A.T.O. of our difficulties and persuading them to impress on local civil administrations in Germany the importance of these quarters? If town planning difficulties arise over the erection of quarters, is it possible to put portable buildings on existing Army sites which, technically, are part of the War Department in Germany? That would probably overcome some of my right hon. Friend's town planning difficulties in Germany.
As my right hon. Friend has said, there has been an important advance in military discipline in that it is now possible to use one of the strongest penalties—the fine. A fine in the Services means, of course, deduction from pay. Many of the present punishments, such as confinement to barracks, are out of date, and deduction from pay is a far more practical and acceptable punishment.
We could economise considerably in our accounting system by authorising regimental commanders to write off larger sums than at present, thereby doing away with such things as the courts of inquiry, which entail a great loss of time for officers and men, and often mean nothing.
We must also impress on recruits that in the Amy they will acquire a trade that will be useful and worthwhile in civil life. There is a difficult gap between the time when a boy leaves school and his joining the Army. When, and if, the school leaving age is raised to 16, it might be possible—and perhaps it is not too early to start work on this now—to find a more practical way of bridging that gap of years. If the school leaving age were raised to 16, it might even be possible to allow recruitment at that age.
It is vitally important that we get the right type of officer. As I have suggested to my right hon. Friend on many occasions, one of the difficulties is that 75 if officer recruits go to Sandhurst, they get a very good military training but one that is rather limited in terms of civilian employment. I know that my right hon. Friend has it in mind to broaden the syllabus at Sandhurst, and to increase the number of vacancies for officers at universities, but would it not be better to lengthen and broaden the scope of the Sandhurst course and make it more like a university course, with a degree at the end of it?
At the end of his service, the officer would then have something to offer to industry. He would have a qualification that was usable in civilian life. At the moment, Sandhurst training is not really accepted as a full academic qualification. If my right hon. Friend intends to draw up the syllabus, I ask him seriously to consider a course with some sort of degree at the end of it—either an external degree or a special degree—so that the man will have something to offer later to a civilian employer. That, in itself, would be an inducement to men to offer themselves as officer recruits.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
It has been asked; what makes young men join the Army? It would be more appropriate to ask; what stops them from joining the Army? As a young man, I was unemployed for a year, and I seriously considered joining the Army, as I could find no other kind of employment. I was always stopped by the fact that joining meant giving up my freedom. That is what stops young men joining, and that is what we have to alter if we are to get the recruits we require. On joining the Army, a man becomes virtually a slave He gets all sorts of silly orders which, however unreasonable they may be, must be carried out.
We must give our Service men the right to leave when things get too bad for them—and by that I do not mean when they are in a dangerous situation but when they are in an intolerable situation, and can no longer put up with silly restrictions. We have heard about hair cutting, but there are hundreds of other restrictions that can be most unreasonable. A man may be told, "Get up early tomorrow morning, do a certain 76 job, and you will get away early". When he goes to the bus queue for the football match, along comes someone who orders him to do guard duty. He can do nothing about it. These are every-day occurrences, and they all help to prevent men from joining. If we give them the right to leave, we remove the difficulty of recruitment
It has been suggested that we should search the world for recruits. It has been suggested that we should give bounties of up to £600. That is nonsense when, at the same time, there are great numbers of unemployed. We cannot find jobs for them, yet the same people will not join the Army. What is the difference between Army and ordinary jobs? The only real difference is that in joining the Army a man gives up his freedom, and people are no longer prepared to do that even to get a job. If we remove that obstacle we have removed our recruiting difficulty.
Unlike the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), I believe that we have to defend ourselves. We have to find the men to do that—and they are there; all we have to do is to remove the stupid restrictions that take away their freedom. If we solve that problem, we shall have solved the basic problem and all the other silly problems, too. That is the quickest way to solve the problem.
It has been suggested that people would not go overseas. My experience was that, during the war, the people who wanted to go overseas were rarely sent, and, very often, those who did not want to go were sent. I was one of the latter, so I know what happens. In the Royal Air Force, if a man has a qualification, he is, more often than not, employed in some other capacity. An experienced gamekeeper finishes up as a bank clerk, and a bank clerk is put on cleaning lavatories. This is the sort of unreasonable and illogical thing that happens, and the quickest and surest way to cure the ill is to give people the right to terminate their Service employment when they are treated unfairly.
Again, it has been suggested that we should not get people to do dangerous jobs, but experience belies this. In the Royal Air Force, in which I served during the war, the most dangerous job, undoubtedly, was as a member of 77 air crew, yet there was no lack of volunteers. I know this because I was one who was rejected. I know what I am talking about, and I speak from bitter experience. These are the facts, and I repeat that the quickest way to solve the recruiting problem is to remove the one thing which makes the Armed Services different from any other kind of job. We must give men their freedom.
It is said that we should lose a lot of money if we trained men and then allowed them to leave. Does not this apply to any job? If a man goes into industry, does not the employer spend a lot of money on training him, and, if he leaves, is not all that money lost? Yet no one suggests that it is not profitable business for the employer to do the training. Therefore, if it is profitable for private firms, corporations and nationalised industries, would it not be equally profitable for Her Majesty's forces? I am sure that it would.
The root of all our difficulty in getting recruits lies in the fact that people know that they give up their freedom when they join the Army. Remove this basic objection, and we shall solve the recruiting problem.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I do not think that I should have intervened, in the debate had I not heard the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on one thing. He has put his finger on something about which there is, I believe, great general misunderstanding. His experience, unfortunate as some of it appears to have been, was gained at a time when we were at war and when we had conscription. It has long been the opinion among Regular soldiers, sailors and airmen that any Service which happens to have conscription is never as good to live in as a Service which is entirely voluntary.
If the hon. Gentleman has been unfortunate—I dare say that he has been—in the disappointment which he must have had when he was not accepted for air crew, I can well understand his feeling a little bitter about it. There are a good many people who have felt bitter about these things. But, as a former Regular soldier for 11½ years, I beg him not to assume too readily that his Ser- 78 vice, the Royal Air Force, or either of the other two Services, when they are on a Regular footing would tolerate that sort of thing or put up with it for very long.
My own belief is that the good Regular Service, well officered—it must be well officered—can offer a man as good a life as any other profession or calling can offer. I say that quite deliberately, for family reasons as well as out of my own personal experience. I am absolutely convinced that the Army today can offer a young man as good an opportunity for the future, both after he leaves as well as while he is in the Army, as any profess on could offer.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
If that is so, why does the hon. Gentleman object to the suggestion that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) makes, that, if they do not like the Army, soldiers should have freedom to leave it?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am not objecting to anything the hon. Gentleman has said so far. In fact, I congratulated him on putting his finger on something about which there is considerable misunderstanding. I repeat my congratulations to him for doing that, and I agree that, if we can put the finger on things which are deterring people from joining the Army, we should do so.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the loss of freedom. This is very often cited as a deterrent by many people, especially those who have never been in any of the three Armed Services. Often, of course, something which is in prospect, something unknown, is more frightening than the actual experience. There are those who do not like the idea of being disciplined in any way. It is, I suppose, regarded as one of the greatest freedoms that a man should be able to do as he likes.
Field Marshal Lord Montgomery has been quoted on one or two occasions already, and I think that it is worth repeating now something which he said, not in another place—that proper liberty is the freedom to do the right thing. True liberty is not freedom to do exactly what one likes regardless of the consequences to others. It seems to me that this doctrine might well be propagated a little more vigorously in some seats of education where all too seldom nowadays it is propagated.
79 I believe that my right hon. Friend would be well advised to look again at the cadet forces. If there were more cadet forces in schools, and if headmasters and the teaching profession were more behind them, we could have better recruitment than we have now because experience in a cadet force can give a young boy the opportunity to understand a little of what discipline really is and how essential it is, if one has a certain job to do in the world, be it keeping the peace at home or keeping the peace abroad, that there should be discipline and that people should be prepared to accept discipline automatically. This is one of the great problems.
All I say to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who is an old sparring partner of mine in the House, is that he knows very well that he gets away with an awful lot of misrepresentation of the Army simply because he is a sincere pacifist. It is very easy to assume, when the hon. Gentleman is speaking, that he speaks from personal experience of service in the Armed Forces, whereas, of course, he has always assiduously avoided it, for reasons which we respect.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
For about three years, I was a member of Her Majesty's Forces. I was classified as a soldier, and I was court-martialled five times. My position was not that of someone who was outside the Army. I know more about the inside of detention barracks and guardrooms than any other Member of the House.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I realise that the hon. Gentleman knew that side of it—he has told us that before—but I did not realise that he had quite so long as a serving member of the forces. I thought that he did his best to avoid becoming one, and, having become one, he did his best to get out again, although certain people kept him there much longer than he would have liked.
I only hope that those who study the report of this debate will bear in mind that misconceptions are sometimes expressed in the House of Commons about what the Armed Forces really involve. The hon. Gentleman is a great deal older than I am, and I think that his memory may, perhaps, have become a little coloured over the years. To put it mildly, 80 his views of what the Army is like are really out of date in relation to what it is really like today.
In fact, many a man, in spite of ideas he might have had about the lack of freedom before he joined, has found Service life much more enjoyable than he thought it would be once he has been through his recruit training. This is an important point in reply to the suggestion by one of my hon. Friends that it might be a good thing if men were allowed to get out of the Army at an early stage. I am by no means sure that it would be a good thing. I am much more inclined to the view that, unless a man is able to get right through his recruit training, and know what it feels like to be a trained soldier, he will have a feeling for the rest of his life that he ran away from something for fear of the unknown.
That is never very conducive to self-respect. While we must ensure that there is no unnecessary restriction of freedom, especially off parade, in any of the three Armed Forces, nevertheless we must, at the same time, make it clear that if we are to have Armed Forces we are determined to make them good Armed Forces, which they never will be unless a really effective system of discipline operates in them. Anybody who pretends anything else is wasting a great many people's time and an immense amount of millions of public money.
We in this House have a duty to say that we want the Armed Forces of the Crown to be adequate to fulfil the commitments in which we are involved. At the same time, we want to ensure that those forces are adequately equipped, that they are properly disciplined and that they can do their job. It is up to us not to encourage those who would have them otherwise. That is the great danger of too much talk about the awful loss of freedom in the Armed Forces. There are a great many men who are proud to have served in them, in all ranks, and who have had the greatest fun of their lives in them. I am certain that if the average young man goes into any of the three Services, he will find there as wonderful a life as he can find anywhere else and, what is more, training for life when he leaves the Forces. That is the great thing about them.
81 I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) concerning married quarters, particularly in B.A.O.R. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to remember that those regiments which have been stationed in Germany for some time are in an extremely privileged position over the regiments which arrive some time later. If a unit which has been in Germany for some years is moved to another part of Germany, and to a part where a unit has moved in fairly recently, that new unit may find that its married families slip backwards on the list for married quarters because the people who have been there longer have priority to move their families in, too. This is a thorny problem and I do not underestimate its complexity.
In the end, there is only one major step which will substantially help to solve the problem in a short time. That is, if we can get the rotation of units to Germany so much more frequent that the families can be left back here at home. If we could get that sort of system operating not only shall we ensure that as many units as possible have experience of serving in B.A.O.R., which is supposed to be the flower of the British Army, but, at the same time, we shall avoid the vast expense which is involved in moving families, we shall cut down the need to transport a Welfare State to Germany to the extent which we now have to do with the Army, and we shall probably have a lot more satisfied families who do not have to "up sticks" every few months or so or to live in very great squalor, which is what often happens simply because there is nothing else.
It is easy enough sometimes for those who have the wherewithal to employ others to move house for them. I have done it nine time in three years, so I known a little bit about moving house. I realise, of course, that it is great deal more difficult for those who cannot employ others to do much for them. I am certain that of all the amenities in the Army today, this is the one which has the biggest shortfall from what is desirable. We shall solve it only if we ensure that as many units as possible move frequently in rotation, so that their families 82 can be left at home permanently. I believe that they would be much happier if that were done.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I should like to say publicly what I have said privately to the Secretary of State for War and tender to him my congratulations on his appointment and express the earnest hope that in the short time he will be Secretary of State for War he will succeed in solving some of the problems which confront him.
I should like to address my remarks in the first instance to the Continuation Order. This is the first time that we have had such a debate since the passing of the Army Act, 1961, which was the second rhythm of five years. It is not a waste of time to remind ourselves how this came into being. Although the debate is sparsely attended, we are today continuing in modern form a procedure that was laid down in the Bill of Rights. It was enacted that the raising or keeping of a standing army within the Kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, was against the law.
Until 1879, discipline was maintained by the passing of the Mutiny Act. Then, for a couple of years, there was the Army Discipline and Regulation Act, and then, in 1881, we had the Army Act, with the procedure by which the Act itself was permanent. But after the passing by the House of the Resolution on Vote A about the numbers which it would be lawful to recruit in the course of the year, the Army (Annual) Act was passed. This procedure obviously was grossly defective. With the passing of time it became necessary to introduce Amendments, and between the passing of the 1881 Act and the time it was amended the procedure was altered. There were no fewer than 920 Amendments. When, in 1952, some of us who were aware of the position urged that something should be done about it, the Act was hopelessly out of date.
The reason why it is important that we should look at this procedure is because during the years I have been in the House of Commons—and I made my maiden speech in a defence debate—there has been cut and thrust about defence policy across both sides of the 83 House. One side has not always been right and the other side has not always been wrong, but we have learnt something from each other. Without being too boastful or too humble—mealymouthed is almost as bad as being the other—I claim to have been right most times.
In the controversies about the Army, about the three-year engagement, and about the introduction of the differential, there was one thing of which I was convinced; and I apologise to the House for saying it yet again. These problems, however, are of such a character and complexity, they arouse so little attention among hon. Members and the public in peacetime cares so little about them, that it was necessary to proceed on the basis, if one could, of getting the maximum amount of agreement in an endeavour to find a solution.
In 1952, we had an out-of-date Act. The Conservative Government did not have a very large majority. Some of us put down large numbers of Amendments, such a large number that we could have brought down the Government—there was no doubt about it—because they had to pass the Army Act by 30th April. I well remember discussions with the then Mr. Crookshank, who was Leader of the House, who said "What terms do you want?" The terms we wanted were an up-to-date Army Act.
Discussions took place behind the Chair. We settled for a Select Committee. It was then done behind closed doors for two years, meeting often in the Recess, with both sides pooling their experience. The present Army Act was produced and with it the present procedure under which we continued and by which we have an affirmative Order of both Houses for four years and then we have a Select Committee.
From the experience which I have gained during the years I have been a Member of the House, I believe that what was true then is valid today. It does not matter very much whether one is discussing terms or whether one is discussing weapons. The other chap may be mistaken or he may be stupid, but it does not necessarily follow that he is wicked or unpatriotic because he does not agree with one. We had an 84 example of this kind of benighted policy the other night. I refer to the "smart Alec" tactics of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro), who has not graced many of our defence debates—I am sure that we are the losers for that—but tried to introduce a note of acute party controversy into a subject which is a matter for argument. It is not my intention to transgress the rules of order, but what we were discussing was not the solution of the weapon itself. That was neither here nor there. The first point to decide was whether we needed a replacement of the weapon in question, and one can argue that, not on the basis of opinion or on the basis that, because the other chap does not agree with us, he is a traitor to his country, but on the basis of an objective examination of the facts. That was what we had in that Select Committee.
I should be out of order if I referred to debates going on upstairs, where the maximum amount of good will is being shown. Although there are differences, there is an understanding of what it is all about. However much time or money we spend, we must start from the premise that the country needs defence. If in accepting that we go on to say that we agree about far more than we disagree about, there is a chance of getting it right.
On the other hand, whether the subject be the question of who is right about recruiting, or whether we should have Blue Water or the TSR2 or any other weapon, if we try by "smart Alec" tactics to put this person or that person in the wrong for party reasons which do not stand up to a moment's examination, there is no chance of pulling it off. In the long run, the only thing bound to suffer is the very object to which we are paying lip-service when we undertake that action.
The hon. Member for Kidderminster, in an earlier part of his life, shared an experience similar to my own. I know that he is not mealy-mouthed or ashamed about it. However, if he remains loyal to the traditions which he was taught, then he will have learned something, and that is to put the regiment first. If he does that, he will never again repeat the tactics which forced me to outwit him—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Would the hon. Member be good enough to address himself to the Question of whether we should continue the Army Act for another twelve months?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have a duty to try to remind the House of the rules of order. The hon. Member must conform to the rules of order. The Question before us is whether we should continue the Army Act or not.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
On a point of order. If the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) continues to make mendacious statements about my personal character, will I be allowed to make a personal statement in reply to them and remain within the rules of order?
§ Mr. Speaker
It was in order to stop this sort of thing that I was seeking to bring the House back to the Question which arises.
§ Mr. Wigg
I was unaware that I had made any statement of a mendacious sort about the hon. Member's personal character. I do not care tuppence about his personal character. If I made such a statement I withdraw it here and now. What I said was that he had got cold feet. But we know that. That is not an attack on his character.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Dudley would direct himself to the Question which arises under this Order.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
On a point of order. In view of the repetition of this mendacious statement, could the hon. Member for Dudley be requested to withdraw it, or, alternatively, may I reply to it? Are hon. Members opposite allowed to indulge in mendacity to an unlimited extent?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
No; I am on a point of order. May I have an answer to my point of order, Mr. Speaker?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am not sure about the totality of what the hon. Member for Dudley has said. In my view, no kind of personal attack on any other hon. Member should, or does, arise on the Question before us, which is whether or no we continue the Army Act for another twelve months. I wish that the House would discuss that.
§ Mr. Speaker
The word "mendacious" was put both ways round, but I am not sure to what it was applied in the first instance. I do not wish to rule hypothetically about anything. I want the House to get on with the debate.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Further to that point of order. I used the word "mendacious" in regard to an allegation that my feet were cold. In fact, they are jolly warm, and I am in very good order.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am acknowledging the fact that the hon. Member's feet have been cold and that his head is big. I should have loved the opportunity of warming up one and reducing the size of the other in both Dudley and Kidderminster, but he has funked it. I am satisfied for the moment No doubt some other opportunity will occur—perhaps even tonight—when we will be able to refer in more detail to the real issues. However, obviously the hon. Member for Kidderminster remains unconverted. Coming back to the Order, whatever the hon. Gentleman thinks about me or anything else, I plead with him to pay attention to the larger issues. Obviously, be is entitled to hold what views he likes; that is his business. 87 However, would heconsider the wider issue of endeavouring to examine defence as a whole from a non-party angle?
I was very interested to see the rapid conversion of the Prime Minister to this point of view. On the first day that he spoke in the House he wanted to throw defence into the cockpit of party politics, but last week, speaking at a Parliamentary Press Gallery luncheon, he said, "Keep politics out of defence and defence out of politics". He is absolutely right.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I wish that the hon. Member would bear in mind the Question that arises. I think that it would assist the House.
§ Mr. Wigg
Mr. Speaker, the issue before us is the Order continuing the Act. Unless we can discuss the merits of that Order—its history, how it came into being and, indeed, what the situation would be if we rejected it—it makes a nonsense of this debate. If the hon. Member for Kidderminster and the Prime Minister had their way, a House might be elected which would reject this Order. Therefore, while it may not be agreeable to discuss it in these terms, surely we must be able to discuss the Order itself, and this is what I set out to do. I thought that I was scrupulously careful to keep within the rules of order. I have sat through the whole of this debate. In view of some of the things which I have heard during the course of it, although you may not agree, Mr. Speaker, I regard myself as a paragon of virtue in my efforts to keep in order. However, I will not trespass on your kindness, Sir.
I turn to the question of recruiting, which I am sure, you would agree, Mr. Speaker, is in order. I wish to consider this matter in some detail. Before anybody congratulates anyone on attaining the targets, we should stop to ask what the targets were. Figures of 165,000 and 180,000 have been mentioned. Nobody has ever mentioned the real target of 200,000 the figure set by the Hull Committee. The figure of 165,000 was introduced for party political reasons. Lord Head, on 28th July, 1958, refused to accept these figures, and that is why he did not take office. The target was 88 said to be 165,000. But it was a political target. The absolute minimum, allowing for the replacement of non-effectives, was 169,000. Subsequently, in 1959, as soon as recruiting showed some signs of improvement, a new figure was introduced. It was not 165,000, nor 180,000. Nobody mentioned 180,000. Even after the most careful examination, hon. Members will not find any Minister saying that the target was 180,000. It was 182,000.
Approaching the problem in another way, it was not even 182,000, because the first figure given in the 1957 White Paper was 375,000 overall.
In the next year when it was broken down, it did not add up to 375,000, but to 388,000. In 1959, when the then Secretary of State said that he needed another 15,000, the total we had was 403,000 which gives a different picture.
The Minister knows perfectly well that the problem about the Army is the problem of balance. It is not only a question of being able to recruit for this arm or that. It is a question of having a balanced force. Two years ago during the debate on the Queen's Speech the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) made a devastating confession which has never been retracted. He admitted freely that the Rhine Army was out of balance. It does not matter which way we look today at the Rhine Army or the Strategic Reserve or the forces in Brunei. The charge that it is out of balance is as true today as it was then. One of the things which I wish to ask is what happened to the 15,000, the allocation of the 15,000, from 1959 onwards? At that time the Secretary of State for War said that he would allocate the 15,000 increase with 11,000 of it going to the teeth arms. I have done a little research and I have given the figures before of how this increase was to be distributed. I should like the Minister, not necessarily to confirm them in detail, but say where the short-fall lies. This will illustrate whether or not there is a true balance.
There were 8,440 allocated to the infantry; the Royal Artillery was to have 750; the First Echelon 900; the Second Echelon 1,600 and the Administrative Wing 2,900. There were 1,000 to go into training and 1,400 were going into a planning margin. That added 89 up to just over 15,000. We know—the right hon. Gentleman knows only too well—that a considerable number of infantry battalions are below establishment. He does not tell us what is the establishment. We know, because the Secretary of State in 1959 told us, that the figure of 635 was much too low and we needed an establishment of about 800–774 to be precise—and so a considerable number of these battalions are below strength.
If we know that they are short, what is the shortage as a whole in the Service? My guess is that there is still a shortage of about 10,000 spread across the board. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman gave figures to show that, with 19,200 officers, he had 171,000 to 172,000, which is between 8,000 and 9,000 short. The right hon. Gentleman may get the 8,000 or 9,000, but that is at least 2,000 less than the original figure, which was 182,000.
If we relate it to the figure of 200,000 we are 30,000 short, and the right hon. Gentleman has admitted that even in the last year the commitments have increased. The hypothesis in 1957 was that the commitments were going to decline. But the opposite has happened. The Minister knows only too well that the situation in Brunei may become a running sore. We talk about our influence in relation to our allies. But our inability to meet the conventional bill is a grave cause of lack of influence. The Minister knows as well as I do that the phrase which is used about us is that we use the "double count". We count the troops in the Strategic Reserve earmarked for Germany, and the same troops earmarked for some other theatre are then counted again. That is a situation which cannot be put right quickly.
I listened to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say, and it is perfectly true that we are heading for a pay increase. The year of a pay increase, is always a good recruiting year, but increased pay has a short-term effect. When I looked at the recruiting figures for 1963, this is what I found, and I pay tribute to the assistance of the Research Department of the House the able members of which are always ready to do one's sums. There was a 23 per cent. drop in January last over January 90 of 1962. I make my comparisons between the months and the corresponding months of the previous year because the trend goes on throughout the year. There was a 34 per cent. drop in February; a 41 per cent. drop in March; a 51 per cent. drop in April; a 51 per cent. drop in May; a 53 per cent, drop in June; a 50 per cent. drop in July; a 41 per cent. drop in August; a 36 per cent. drop in September—the best recruiting month of the year—and a 36 per cent. again in October.
This is not very encouraging picture, because one has to face the fact that certainly November and December will be very poor months. They are the worst months of the year. So the possibility of closing the gap during the life of the present Government is not very great. I think that the Government are batting out time and my right hon. and hon. Friends will have the bill presented to them. Then we shall see. I shall wait with great interest to see whether there is any interest shown in the House; whether there is any interest shown in the Press or whether some of the defence correspondents, who are keeping quiet now, will suddenly start screaming about putting this right and putting that right. I was with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) during the period of Korea. I know only too well what we can expect from people like the hon. Member for Kidderminster. We shall then see what happens.
This afternoon I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question about rejections. This is not a new question. We had a debate a year ago, which was a memorable debate for me, because I got neatly trussed up. I was "mug" enough to accept a change of procedure in good faith, and I spoke first on the Adjournment and both Front Bench speakers spoke after me. But tomorrow is also a day. And the day after that is another day. And we wait—yes, we wait—[Interruption]—if the hon. Member for Kidderminster makes a noise like that, I shall have to make another comment—one cannot expect anything from a pig but a grunt. Let us deal now with the rejection rate—
§ Mr. Wigg
Before the war, the rejection rate was 70 per cent. Last year it 91 was as low as 40 per cent. In that debate last year the Secretary of State boasted that in 1961 the rejection rate was 60 per cent. In fact he admitted that he was rejecting 10 per cent. fewer than before the war. He said that at one stage it was as low as 60 per cent. But hon. Members can watch this. They do not need to be told what is happening by the Secretary of State for War. Hon. Members should watch the wastage rates in the more unpopular arms of the Service—not in the Guards or the Royal Armoured Corps, who will keep their establishment, but the more unpopular arms.
In the Pioneer Corps it was, at one stage, as high as 50 per cent., and the waste of public money involved in that and the lowering of the prestige of the Army is a consequence of deliberately lowering the wastage rates. And, of course, it was that. The Secretary of State did not send out a circular saying "Bring in the halt, the lame and the blind". He put tremendous pressure on the recruiting machine which, in the event, had exactly the same effect. When this goes on, and if it goes on long enough, it produces a situation at the second stage which militates against satisfactory recruiting because it produces bad regiments. If there are bad regiments, people are not happy and they either desert or there is a high incidence of crime. In other words, so far as the Army is concerned, Gresham's law applies, the bad will drive out the good. Equally—this is in reply to the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig)—a good regiment is a regiment with a high standard of discipline where people know exactly where they are. In such a regiment the freedom to which he referred is not lacking. Throughout such a regiment one knows exactly where one is, and no one tries anything on because he knows what will happen. I have no doubt that the higher the standard of discipline is, the greater is the freedom. However, this is, again, an argument on another point, and I do not intend to digress. I want to remain on the problem of finding a solution.
The hon. Gentleman who has just become the Under-Secretary of State for War held a Press conference last week and detected an improvement in the 92 recruiting figures and was encouraged by the pay rise which is to take place next year. But there is something that he overlooked in relation to the recruiting problem. This takes a great deal of study and understanding, and even when one has tried to understand it, one is not sure whether one has succeeded. What happens is that in such circumstances one borrows from the future. The pay rise will come along next April and a great many men who have been discussing the subject with their mothers, fathers or girl friends will decide to join the Army, whereas if the pay rise had not come in April they might have joined in August or October.
This is shown by the figures. The situation is much the same with regard to unemployment. There is no direct correlation. Anybody who claims that unemployment as such is a recruiting sergeant will be in great difficulty in proving it. If there is unemployment on the Clyde a man of enterprise may leave to seek work in Newcastle. He may then go on to York or perhaps to London, and then he may get fed up and join the Army in Bournemouth. There is no direct correlation between the place in which a man joins the Army and the recruiting in that place.
The facts of the situation—the shortages in the infantry and the other arms of the Service—affect all of us. They affect my hon. Friends, because before long they will be faced with the responsibility of finding a solution. When my hon. Friends become the Government, hon. Gentlemen opposite, who will then be on this side of the House, will also have a direct interest in solving the problem, for another reason, because there is no short-term solution. No translation from this side of the House to the other side will produce a solution overnight. It is a long-term problem—one of five or ten years.
When we come to weapons, that is even more true. This is what makes the comments of the hon. Member for Kidderminster so ludicrous. These things take a very long time to evolve. The Government themselves used the argument about it taking ten years to produce an answer. Here we are working on a five-year cycle. These Orders go on for four years, and then we have a Select Committee. Thus, this 93 represents the life of a Parliament. In the case of weapons, because of their very nature, one has to think in terms of a decade.
This seems to point irresistibly to the conclusion that attempts to find solutions on the basis of scoring party points are so absurd that they should be for children only and we ought to try to give up that sort of thing here. We ought to try to make use of the resources of the House. I can think of nothing better than the Select Committee procedure. I have had on the Order Paper a Motion calling for a Committee on defence expenditure. I want to put teeth into the Estimates Committee procedure. I favour the use of this sort of device by Government and Opposition alike. It would be out of order to pursue this matter very far, but I should like the Opposition to be brought into consultation on defence matters up to the very highest level of policy where the apex of the pyramid goes up into foreign policy. I should like to see the Opposition brought into consultation as they were in the days of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
Equally, in terms of the procedure of this House, I should like the Select Committee procedure to be adopted each year. It is far better to have a Select Committee looking at the Army Act every year than to have this continuous Order procedure which attracts only a handful of hon. Members. One thing that we can be sure about is that if we are in Committee upstairs behind closed doors, party considerations go out of the window, and until that happens we shall not get the objective approach which is absolutely vital to the finding of a solution. How can we argue across the Floor of the House with hon. Members drifting in and out and not being terribly interested—I do not blame them—in the terms of service?
We talk about "men" when we ought to be talking about "man years". The return that we get every month is nonsense and meaningless when one man is worth three years, another six years, and another nine years. Also, the return itself covers not only external recruiting but also internal recruiting. These are matters not necessarily for specialists but for those who are prepared to give up their time and take an interest in the subject. It is necessary to get to 94 grips with toe facts in order to achieve objectivity.
This is a cri-de-coeur which I have uttered before. I offer it in all sincerity for exactly the same reasons as before. I am convinced that unless we can get this approach into our defence affairs, disaster will sooner or later overtake us.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) sent me a registered letter last Thursday saying that he proposed to refer to me in today's debate. I received the letter this morning with gratitude for his courtesy.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Since I received the letter at nine o'clock this morning I have been quaking in fear about what the hon. Gentleman might be saying about me in the debate. In fact, all that the hon. Gentleman has said about me has been out of order, Mr. Speaker, so I cannot refer to it. I do not propose to incur your wrath, Sir, and thus prejudice my boundless opportunities on future occasions of addressing the House. I propose to remain strictly within the rules of order and to talk about the contents of the Order. I will deal with the hon. Member for Dudley in this House on defence matters on future occasions.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
No, not there, because the proper place to debate defence is in the House of Commons.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
If the television authorities would like to invite the hon. Gentleman and myself to appear on the screen or a mutually convenient occasion—I repeat, mutually—then—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
—I would accept with alacrity. I have, of course, appeared on television far more than the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The number of times on which the hon. Gentleman has appeared on television will not be affected by the acceptance or rejection of this Order, which continues neither himself nor the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). Do let us get to the business of the debate.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am sorry to have incurred your wrath, Mr. Speaker. I was trying very hard not to. The hon. Member for Dudley said that I was a funk. This is the first time in my life that I have ever been called a funk, or told that I have cold feet—both of which I deny.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
—but there is a lot inside it.
If I may now refer to the Order, I rise to put to my right hon. Friend one point which I believe to be of substance. We have heard hon. Members opposite—I have sat through the debate since half past three—complaining about the scale and extent of recruitment, the failure to reach target figures, and associated matters. What we have not heard from the Opposition is what their policy is, whether it favours the reintroduction of conscription or whether it supports the policy of the present Government in having abandoned conscription.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) addressed the House for half an hour, skating carefully round this fundamental fact and failed to say either "Yes" or "No"—for conscription or against it. The reason is, of course, as we all know, that the hon. and learned Gentleman is against conscription whilst the hon. Member for Dudley is for it. The party is split in two.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
"Vast majority"—now we are getting down to brass tacks. But the hon. Member for Dudley did not declare himself as being for conscription.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
This simply underlines the fact that the Socialist Party is split from top to bottom on the issue of conscription. A percentage of the party believes in it and a percentage opposes it.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I do not want to give way again.
I declare myself as a determined supporter of the Government on this. I am pleased that conscription was abandoned. I believe in a fully volunteer, whole-time, professional Regular recruitment for the Army. I believe that to be the preferable system.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
At present, the deficit is only very marginal. I discount the hon. Member's allegation that the target is 200,000 for the Regular Army. It has been firmly fixed in my mind at 165,000.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The Secretary of State set the target at 165,000 today. I am sure that my right hon. Friend was not wrong. The deficit is about 5 per cent., and 5 per cent. in a manpower deficit is very marginal. I do not believe that, having regard to conditions of employment and the general prosperity in civil life, 5 per cent. is an insurmountable deficit during the course of the next few months.
The second point I want to raise is the matter of the Gurkhas, referred to also by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). Many contributors to the debate have talked about the recruitment of Commonwealth 97 forces, either for combatant or non-combatant duties. We have been taken as far a field as Fiji, Seychelles, the West Indies, West Africa and other parts of the Commonwealth. But it seems to me that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud is exactly right in focusing attention on the Gurkhas. There are 15,000 Gurkhas.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Peter Kirk)
It is not far short.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Then it is only 400 short of 15,000. That is a tiny margin and the hon. Member for Dudley, rudely shouting "Wrong, wrong" at me, has again proved his own abysmal ignorance of combatant soldiers.
The Gurkha strength—I stand corrected by my hon. Friend—is 14,600 men, of which part are in the Strategic Reserve in this country and part are serving overseas. Last March it was announced that the Gurkhas would be reduced to 10,000 and I believe that today, in giving the figure of 152,000 other ranks, my right hon. Friend excluded the 14,600 Gurkha troops.
Notwithstanding the fact that my right hon. Friend has made it clear that he is postponing the reduction of the strength of the Gurkhas from 14,600 to 10,000 men, I ask him whether he should not now reconsider this policy and decide finally that there should not be a postponement, but rather that the establishment of the Gurkhas should be continued at a minimum of 15,000 men.
I personally believe that, as there are thousands upon thousands of Nepalese—to whom we refer as Gurkhas—who are anxious, willing and ready to join the British Army and serve under British officers, we should plan to increase the strength of the Gurkhas from the present figure of 14,600 to a figure of approximately 20,000.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
No doubt, Mr. Speaker, you will correct me if I am wrong, but I am sure that I cannot argue Income Tax in this debate. Hon. Members will be asking me to argue Purchase Tax next.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
That is a matter of opinion. I should remind the hon. Gentleman that he spent a long time pleading that we should try to raise defence matters above party. He even alluded to his own origin as a private in the Hampshire Regiment as being the same origin as mine as a rifleman in the Green Jackets. I do not mind these references to our humble origin, but I dislike his humbug and hypocrisy in saying that defence should be lifted out of party controversy and then shouting "Wrong, wrong" at me every ten seconds. So far, I have not been wrong on my count. I am not going to argue Income Tax today.
The point at issue is the serious one that, rather than reduce the strength of the Gurkhas from 14,600 to 10,000, we should increase the strength to 20,000 as part of the British Army, for two main reasons. First, it would make a contribution to overcoming the marginal manpower deficit from which we are suffering, and, secondly, it would be additional insurance against continuing or even expanding trouble in the Far East us a result of the creation of Malaysia and the activities of President Sukarno.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
As I took some part in the opposition to the proposed reduction of the Gurkha Regiment, some time ago, along with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, may I ask whether, to clarify this matter, the Secretary of State will say whether it is practicable to increase the Gurkha element in the British Army from 14,600 to 20,000?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) for supporting me.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that we are not in Committee. There is some difficulty if, while an hon. Member is speaking, another hon. Member intervenes in his speech to ask a question of someone else. That is difficult procedurally.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
May I assume then, Mr. Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman was addressing his question to me? I am grateful for the support of the right hon. Gentleman. There is, of course, the constitutional difficulty that, when the British left India in 1947, it was agreed that Gurkha recruitment should be restricted to 10,000 men. Unofficially, by arrangement between the Indian and British Governments, that figure has stood at practically 15,000 for several years past.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I wish that the hon. Member would not keep saying "No". The figure has stood at about 15,000 for many years past and from the information I have it is apparent that there are almost unlimited volunteers from among Gurkhas to increase their strength and that they are prepared to come and serve in the British Army. I hope that my hon. Friend, in replying to the debate, will deal with the question of the Gurkhas for the two important reasons that I have attached to my question.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Thompson (Dunfermline Burghs)
In a few brief remarks, I should like to address myself to some of the long-term problems, particularly recruitment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) said were common to both sides of the House. This is a problem which this side will face equally when it comes into power.
I would at this point comment on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who, with his characteristic eloquence and wit, told us that he saw no real reason for the existence of an Army in a rational world. My only objection would be that we do not live in a rational world, and that, although we are working towards it through such bodies 100 as the United Nations, there will still be a continuing need for British defence forces. Even when we make the United Nations a more effective instrument—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, with his broad international interests, supports the United Nations—the British contribution will still depend on the existence of an effective Army.
Most hon. Members have stressed the importance of the Commonwealth contribution to the Army. It not only helps us in our manpower problems—speaking for the long-term; I understand the short-term difficulties in this—but, as well as being specifically concerned with the Army, it strengthens our idea of Commonwealth and breaks down racial barriers. I served in the infantry during the war, alongside a number of coloured soldiers whose popularity in the regiment, and effectiveness and sense of humour changed the attitude of everybody who worked with and served beside them. I think that anyone who has served beside such troops could never be the victim of the silly racial prejudice which besets a lot of people in this country. The widening of our Army to include this Commonwealth idea is very useful.
As I said in my intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), if we could perhaps put out publicity for Commonwealth immigrants they might provide a source of recruitment when they arrived in this country if the possibilities and facilities of Army service were put before them. I gather that there are no legal difficulties in the way of accepting them. The possibility of Commonwealth immigrants serving in responsible jobs in the defence of our country might go a long way towards answering the exponents of racial prejudice.
It has been rightly said that the important thing today for recruitment is, in the short term, the level of pay. Long term, we face other problems. The hon. Member for Clapham said that the Army was an unpleasant job and would always face difficulties of recruitment. I am not sure that it is an unpleasant job for everybody. People are interested in different things and are good at different things. A farmer would find the life of a lawyer extremely unpleasant, 101 tedious beyond measure, and would never join a recruiting drive for lawyers. A nurse might view with apprehension the job of a waitress. A waitress might think that the job of a nurse, emptying bedpans and taking blood from people, utter anathema. There are all kinds of people to whom we can appeal for different kinds of jobs and always there is a source of people who are interested in the Army. What is needed is more market research into the consumer market. We need more sociological investigation into the kind of people who like Army life, and should direct our publicity towards those people.
I do not think that there is anything in the nature of the Army itself which is unpleasant, but that there are extraneous features which are unpleasant. Some of the central activities of Army life, opportunities for travel and the increasing emphasis on craftsmanship and technological factors, make it in many ways a desirable job. There are extraneous factors which my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig)—referred to arbitrary and irrelevant discipline—which sometimes make it unpleasant, but I would say, with all respect to my hon. Friend, who, I thought, spoke sincerely on the matter, that the Army has changed a little since he and I were in it—not all that long ago.
In dealing with the Army as a Member, I find that in many ways it is more humane than it used to be and that personal grievances are dealt with better than when I was in the Army. It was regarded in my day as highly improper to write to one's Member of Parliament, but now I think that there is a general feeling that grievances are investigated.
The investigations that I have made of personnel and officer selection show them to be much better than they used to be. We might improve it still further with more boys from grammar schools and a wider dispersion of the regions of the country supplying officer material, but I think that our selection methods are much better than they were and are scientifically based. I would put in a plea in our modern obsession with selection—getting people young and promoting them to be officers, executives or senior civil servants—not to forget the ranker, the man who, perhaps by accident of birth, or 102 money, has not had the education which would initially qualify him, but who, perhaps, in the ranks, later becomes suitable material. For instance, there are late developers among university students. Before a selection committee bays of 18 or 19 are often a little tongue-tied and inadequate, but three or four years later they are sometimes quite different and have brought in a range of experience that changes them. Similarly, the Army should never close or seem to close the door for commissions to people who by accident, have missed the initial selection processes which take the boys young.
Finally, I think that we should regard the Army as being complementary to civilian life. When a man goes into the Army he does not, or should not, sever his connections with civilian life. I should like to see much more flexibility. I think that this is growing. Many civilian professions are enriched by having ex-soldiers. I know of a most distinguished judge, recently appointed, who did not study law until he left the Army at the age of 40. Then he sat down to his law books, and now, quite a number of years later, he is a judge, and I think that he will be a better judge for the kind of experience of men and life that he gained in the Army.
The same may be said of teachers. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire that we must be careful not to compete for teachers and officers from the same kind of people, but, again, I would say that often the best kind of teachers are those who had some kind of Service experience. That has been my experience. In view of the Robbins Report and much greater emphasis on higher education, the Army will have to "get in on the act" very quickly by looking at, and giving close study to, the way in which it capitalises on this increased output of higher educational manpower.
Finally, we must still greatly concern ourselves with welfare, particularly in the more outlying regions of the world. We sometimes concentrate too much on welfare at home or near home bases when, as we all know, many young men, often in their late teens, are in Borneo fighting the most difficult war in the most difficult circumstances in the jungle, not only in a difficult environment, but 103 hedged around with diplomatic objectives and other reasons which are a little complicated, the difficulties of attacks across frontiers, and so on, and all the other diplomatic difficulties which so often seem to hedge round the Service man and limit his efficiency, but which are necessary in the world of today. All these factors add to the burden of our soldiers in Borneo.
As we sit down to our Christmas dinners or New Year's celebrations, these young men will still be there, still in the most difficult circumstances. In the last war, the jungle forces were always thought to have the worst theatres of war. The 14th Army was called the "Forgotten Army". I trust that our forces in Borneo will not become another "Forgotten Army" and that the right hon. Gentleman will pay close attention to the provision of welfare services for these men.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
It was not my intention to take part in the debate, but I have listened to practically the whole of it, so perhaps someone who has shared in the administration of the Army on two occasions, once in the 1930s and once for some years between 1945 and 1951, may offer a few observations.
I begin by expressing my sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. There will always be some difficulty about a target, because the military personnel who are responsible for running the Army have varying views of the appropriate target to enable the country to fulfil her commitments. I recall that not long ago the Hull Committee decided that no fewer than 200,000 men were required if we were to fulfil our commitments. Since then, targets have been frequently bandied about from one side to the other, and we are still debating what that appropriate target should be.
It will have been noted that the right hon. Gentleman referred to our increasing commitments. How right he was! We have a situation developing in the Far East which may require the services of many troops and other increments from our forces during the course of the next few months or years. In those circumstances, we ought correctly 104 to determine how many troops are required—I am discussing land forces—so that these increasing commitments can be met. That is not asking too much.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was not asking for an immediate solution, for there is no immediate solution. He wants a Select Committee. Surely hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree, after our protracted debates on this matter, that it is impossible to come to an appropriate determination of what forces we require without a meticulous examination, and such an examination is impossible in the House.
In spite of all the appeals which are made from time to time to elevate this important matter of defence above partisanship, the "old Adam" always emerges. That is natural in a House of this kind. It is democracy, for what it may be worth I do not despise democracy but, like other hon. Members, I recognise its inevitabilities and its implications. If we had a Select Committee, and hon. Members from both sides of the House were able to argue out these matters upstairs, with all the statistics available and with ail the facts submitted and with no bluff and brag and pretending about the strength of our forces vis-à-vis our commitments—I hope that I shall be excused for using those terms—we could get down to brass tacks and see exactly where we were.
We have never done that yet. I remember an incident when I was Secretary of State and when targets for our Territorial forces were presented to me. In those days, we had vast numbers of active troops at our disposal and the question of a target for them did not arise. However, we were then contemplating an increase in our Territorial forces. A target of 150,000 Territorials was presented to me as being appropriate and capable of achievement. However, not long afterwards it was reduced—not by me, but by those who understood the nature of the problem—to 100,000, subsequently to 80,000 and eventually to 60,000. We became more practical as we examined the facts, and I have not the least doubt that this sort of thing still happens at the War Office.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not regard it as strong language if 105 I beg him not to pretend any longer. I am not in the least blaming him, but there is no use indulging in pretence about the strength of our forces vis-à-vis our commitments. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), in an excellent and sincere speech—although I did not agree with every word of it—refer to the need for defence, in contrast to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who regards defence as irrelevant. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West that a country like ours cannot discard defence, but our potential defence is weak.
Over and over again, in defence debates, I have warned the House about the weakness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and of the defections of some of its members in the provision of adequate forces. This is not an appropriate occasion to say more about that, but there is no use pretending that we are strong when we are not, for we might be caught out and it might mean disaster for us.
It is not a matter of whether the figure is 152,000, 165,000, 180,000 or 182,000, or, the verdict of the Hull Committee, 200,000. It is what is necessary having regard to likely circumstances which would require all the strength which we could command. With my experience of the War Office, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to request his military advisers—I hope that they will forgive me for this; I have a great regard for them—to tell the truth. I remember that on one occasion, when I was Minister of Defence, we were considering expenditure and I asked the Chiefs of Staff what money would be required, taking calculated risks into account. Their response was that we had to consider manpower.
I remarked that it had nothing to do with them, that it was my responsibility, but they asked, "What about the finance? Can the nation afford it?" "That is not your responsibility" was my response, "That is mine". All that I asked was, "Taking the calculated risks into account, what do you regard as the adequate needs in defence for this country?" That, with respect, is the proper rôleof the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Defence. It is for those two right hon. Gentlemen to judge, after consultation with their 106 colleague, what the nation can afford, and what manpower is regarded as appropriate.
I repeat that the Secretary of State for War should ask his military advisers to state what is necessary. He should then come to the House and tell hon. Members what he regards as necessary. The matter should then go to a Select Committee for an examination of all the facts, without any question of partisanship. The Select Committee should consider this important matter of manpower and the possibility of trouble emerging in various theatres. After taking all the facts into account the Committee should decide what is required.
This is what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has been asking for for a long time. It is no use the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro) asking hon. Members on this side to state their s solution for the problem. The fact is that neither side of the House is able to produce one. If the Under-secretary of State disagrees with me, I challenge him to tell me what is the solution.
I heard the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) talking about married quarters. Many years ago I had something to do with the provision of married quarters, by the provision of a loan of £40 million for their construction. The scheme was not successful because the number of married quarters provided was inadequate. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely was right. If the Government insist on sending large numbers of married men to the European theatre, they naturally want to take their wives and families with them. The present system will never be successful, for the simple reason that there will never be enough quarters available for married families. There will always be discontent, and this may deter recruitment.
What is to be done? I was not quite clear what the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely suggested as a solution, but I suggest that there should be more frequent leave for men serving in Germany. This may cost a little more money, but it will cost much less than the provision of adequate married quarters which, in any event, can never be provided on an adequate scale. Now 107 that air transport is available, there is no reason why married men serving in the European theatre should not have leave for a weekend or for a few days every two or three months. It may thus be possible to some extent to make up for the lack of married quarters in the European theatre.
I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West said about freedom. Of course, there must be discipline in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. Indeed, in view of our responsibilities, I sometimes think that there ought to be more discipline among Members of the House. What I mean by discipline is precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has been asking for—no bluff and pretence, but an examination of the facts. Relying on facts is in itself a measure of discipline.
I do not ask for complete freedom for the men in the Forces, of course not, but I ask that they should not be pushed around too much. They will accept discipline, but they will not accept being pushed around, or being buffeted from pillar to post. Nor will they accept being ordered about too much. It is no good the hon. Member for Kidderminster indulging in an almost inaudible protest at what I am saying. Although things may have changed during the last few years, my experience as a result of visiting various depots is that there is too much pushing around of, and yelling at, people who are subordinates.
I am not able to say whether discipline is a deterrent to recruiting. From time to time hon. Members talk about various deterrents to recruiting. They refer to such things as the lack of married quarters, the lack of freedom, the inadequacy of pay, and a variety of other things. I do not know whether these are deterrents, but what matters is that we should examine the facts closely, whatever they are, and however unpalatable they are, and we shall then be able to come to a conclusion on what should be done.
I repeat my request to the right hon. Gentleman not to pretend any longer. In view of our commitments, we are weaker than we should be. I do not want us to be weak. I say that because I do not want to see men plunged into 108 the maelstrom of battle unless they are strong and well-equipped to protect themselves. That is why I am speaking in this way. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman. I sympathise with him. I have some experience of the situation, and I realise the difficulties. It is only when we begin to realise the difficulties and seek to escape from them by a meticulous examination of the facts, and come to a definite conclusion, that this House will begin to understand what the content of our defence really means.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. Peter Kirk)
The debate on this Order is limited by the nature of the Order itself to two particular subjects, that is, the discipline of the Army and the level of manpower or recruiting, and I shall, if I may, reply to the various points that have been made under those two headings.
Not a lot has been said about discipline in the course of the debate. In opening the debate my right hon. Friend singled out only one point which might give rise to comment, namely, the increase in the number of cases which have been overturned by the Courts Martial Appeal Court, and, as my right hon. Friend said, we are watching this to see whether this is indicative of a general trend.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, raised one case that had been overturned by the Courts Martial Appeal Court. It was the case of Major Cory, which hon. Members will remember gave rise to considerable concern earlier this year. The then Secretary of State for War undertook an exhaustive inquiry into the circumstances surrounding that court-martial.
The hon. Member for Aberavon, somewhat understandably I thought, asked when the results would be made known to the House. The inquiry has taken a very long time because of all the circumstances surrounding the case. For example, most of the inquiries we have had to make have had to take place in East Africa and an officer was sent out from the War Office to undertake them and subsequently another officer had to be brought home from East Africa to assist in the evaluation of the results. At the same time, a mass 109 of documents had to be considered by a large number of people. The transcript of the case alone occupied 1,400 pages and all this had to be examined with great care. I am not in a position this evening to give the final results of the inquiry, but I can give the hon. Member a firm undertaking that they will be made known before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.
Only one other major point was raised on discipline. That was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). He referred to the new regulations, to which my right hon. Friend also referred, regarding the right of company commanders to inflict financial penalties in the form, in some cases, of stoppage of pay. This scheme has been working only since 1st July and it is a little early to make any final reflections on it now, but so far as we have heard it seems to be working very well. It is all part of the attempt to give greater responsibility to officers lower down the ranks. We hope that it will continue to work well, but it is a scheme which, of course, must be watched fairly closely in its opening stages.
Most of the discussion in today's debate has been on the second of the two functions of the continuation Order, recruiting. It is to that that I should like to devote most of what I am going to say. I think most hon. Members will agree that this has been an extremely constructive debate. A large number of very interesting ideas have been put forward and all these will be considered. If I do not refer to all of them in detail in winding up this debate, that does not mean that they will not be looked at when we consider the whole question of recruiting figures.
I should perhaps first say something about the target to which a large number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) have referred. Although perhaps I should not say this, I share with the right hon. Member for Easington a great dislike of targets. It has been decided as a result of considerable examination of the situation that the present commitments of the British Army can be effectively discharged at a figure of 180,000 Regular troops.
110 We have at present a figure a little over 8,000 short of that, 171,000-odd. It is sometimes not realised how narrow the margin is. That is a difference of just on 5 per cent. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) referred, rather turning against the War Office, to the fact that recruiting in his constituency had gone up in one month from four to six. I do not think he quite realised what he was saying, because six people recruited in one constituency means about 3,600 all over the country in a month, and that is what we have to do in all constituencies in three years. If the problem could be solved in all constituencies in the same way as in his, it would not be such a great problem.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
There is one flaw in that argument. The figures were for the five constituencies of Ayrshire, not for only South Ayrshire.
§ Mr. Kirk
Even so, when we consider the national average of electorates compared with that in the hon. Member's constituency and the constituencies around it, which is so much smaller than in the country as a whole, if we could achieve the same results in every constituency we should not have an enormous amount to worry about.
Nevertheless, despite this narrow margin of 5 per cent., we are by no means complacent about the present situation. We are hopeful that we can reach the figure of 180,000, and although in the earlier part of the year recruiting was extremely bad, as hon. Members have pointed out, there are signs that the situation is slightly better now.
The hon. Member for Dudley, in my opinion rightly, pointed out that it was wrong to make a comparison between one month and the next. I hope he will also agree that it is sometimes wrong to make a comparison between a month in one year and the same month of the previous year—particularly when, as in this case, the previous year happened to be exceptional. It will be possibly better when we consider this matter at a later stage and when we have had the all-Regular Army running for some time to make a comparison between the average of the previous five years and the position then.
111 Even on the basis of this year, the reason why we are encouraged by the rate in the last few months is that, roughly, during the whole period from April to August when we had the really bad results the intake had been running at about 71 per cent. of the average in the last five years. That was a pretty poor return, but in September it rose to 84 per cent. and in October it kept up in the same way.
The September figure was in fact higher than at any time since January. The trend, therefore, was good, but it was not only good, it was against the trend of previous years. We are by no means complacent about the situation. That is all I said and I was reported in The Times. I did not say that it was going up, but that the decline in the figures appeared to have been stopped and this, I think, is the case.
The hon. Member and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) asked about the rejection rate. This is a very important part of the argument. I was a little surprised at some of the figures which the hon. Member for Dudley gave because the figures I have are rather different from his. I shall nevertheless give them and hope that they will convince him that the rejection rate is not too bad at the moment. Out of every 100 recruits 50 per cent. were rejected in the years 1935 and 1936 and in 1937 the rate rose to 57 per cent. It was a pretty high rejection rate. In 1961 the rejection rate was 41 per cent. and in 1962, when recruiting was breaking all records, it rose to 43 per cent. At the end of last year we tightened up the standards and since January 1963 it has risen again and is now running at 47 per cent.
We have to bear in mind, as the hon. and learned Member said, that there has been a considerable improvement in general health, welfare and education standards since before the war. On the whole, if one bears that in mind, we are rejecting at about the same rate as pre war. I think our standards are at the moment adequate for the type of Regular Army we are trying to recruit.
§ Mr. Wigg
I follow the point the hon. Gentleman is making. I got my figures from the Annual Report, which were available before the war and had to work 112 them out myself. It may be that I took a later year, but the other figure which the hon. Gentleman has given is the same as mine. Surely we must not base ourselves on the argument put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), because that is quite fallacious. To argue that the standards have risen since before the war ignores the fact that the equipment which is being used is very much more complicated and that to be able to use that equipment we need to be able to draw on a much higher standard. Therefore, we cannot use the argument that because we are rejecting 40 per cent. now it is the same as before the war and it is therefore all right, for, although the standard is higher all the way round, the needs are also higher.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Does my hon. Friend agree that we have a higher standard of education than before the war and that a higher proportion of men are more fitted to do the more technical jobs?
§ Mr. Kirk
I think that is true and I am not placing great weight on this argument, but, as the figures were asked for, I have given them. I think they are very interesting and they show that we are keeping a close watch on the intake for the Army.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton also asked about the reserves and whether my right hon. Friend was satisfied with the present position. We are to have a debate later, I hope, about the reserves, when my right hon. Friend hopes to make a fairly general statement about the position. If there are further questions asked about it, I shall try to answer them at the end of that debate.
The hon. and learned Member also asked a number of questions about the shortage of specialists. One of the difficulties is that if we run into a shortage of particular specialists and make a great effort to recruit them to the full level, we find that we have possible shortages elsewhere. Our most serious shortages last year were in the Royal Signals, the R.A.M.C. and the Army Catering Corps.
113 In the last ten months all these have gained in strength, the Royal Signals by 800, the R.A.M.C. by 160 and the Army Catering Corps by 170—all very useful additions. At the same time, the infantry have lost in strength marginally by about 140 men. I think that we can say that we are not doing too badly for specialists, but we have still the infantry problem to look at, and it is one of our main concerns. It is perhaps that which we should consider when discussing measures to increase recruiting.
A large number of suggestions have been put forward in this interesting debate. The main suggestion running through a number of speeches—notably that of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Dr. A. Thompson) and my hon. Friends the Members for Leominster(Mr. Clive Bossom), Stroud and Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) was the possibility of more recruiting overseas. One difficulty is the expense involved, which is very considerable for what might be not a very great return. But there is no bar on any citizen of the Commonwealth joining the British Army, and quite a number do. For example, the hon. and learned Member on visiting B.A.O.R. may have seen Maltese working in the Royal Army Service Corps depôts there. Part of the difficulty with Malta is the Royal Malta Artillery, which tends to recruit in Malta, and therefore men tend to be put in a corps or unit there.
There are difficulties about overseas recruitment. It is possible that we shall be able to build it up a little, but I do not think that the gain would be more than marginal. The hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs mentioned Commonwealth immigration, and we should look at this point to see whether recruiting from this source is as good as it should be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster referred to the 17-year-old gap. This is the gap between the age at which boys leave school and the time when they can join the Army. We have been looking into this with some care, and we hope that eventually we shall find a way of overcoming this difficulty. He mentioned the importance of the Army teaching a trade. This has been one of the major difficulties in recruiting for 114 the infantry. If we recruit for a specialist unit we have the inducement of a trade, whereas in the infantry the inducement is not so great. We have started up two Army resettlement courses which are designed to lead into the Ministry of Labour vocational courses and which we hope will make it much easier for the infantry man, in particular, when leaving the Army to adjust to civilian life and to get a good job. We think that these courses will be helpful in this respect.
My hon. Friend mentioned the question of unit recruiting. There are problems connected in this, in that so many units are overseas and it would be difficult to send home members of those units to recruit in this country. But the British Army of the Rhine has an arrangement whereby each unit sends home a recruiting team for a short time every year, and I believe that it is very successful in gaining recruits. There are opportunities through the Territorial Army, in particular, for this, where from time to time they can be taken to do some training with B.A.O.R.
Certain public funds are allotted through regimental channels for these recruiting purposes. At the same time, as my right hon. Friend suggested, we have the Army Youth Units, which to a certain extent will assist local recruiting efforts. Finally, we have been looking into the possibility of local Press advertising to help in recruiting and have carried out a pilot scheme in Lancashire. This has not yet proved to be an immense success in raising the number of recruits, although it is a little early to say whether it will be successful.
A large number of extremely interesting suggestions were made in the debate. One of the most interesting was made by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) in what I thought was a most exciting speech. He referred to the difficulties arising out of the shortage of married quarters and offered an original way in which we might get over them. He has sent me a note saying that he regrets that he cannot be here for the end of the debate, but we will look at the scheme, which has one or two features in common with the "Save while you Serve Scheme," which we started eighteen months or two years ago and which so far has been extremely successful.
In conclus on—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
My hon. Friend will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and I questioned the Front Bench penetratingly about additional recruitment of Gurkhas. If we cannot have a detailed answer to this question tonight, when may we have an answer, because it is a pressing matter and one about which we are very concerned?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
We do not much like procrastination at this stage. I gather that my right hon. Friend says, "There is no procrastination". I press him in the matter. This is a reservoir of first-class fighting men, for reason which I gave in my speech. If he cannot give an answer tonight, will he undertake to be able to give an answer by the date of the Army Estimates in February? How long are these negotiations with Nepal and other interested parties likely to take?
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Will my hon. Friend also confirm that the Gurkha strength, whatever it may be, is outside the main target strength of the Army and in addition to it?
§ Mr. Kirk
As far as I know, that is so, but I can give no undertaking other than that which I have given, that we will look at the matter. When it will 116 be possible to discuss it again in the House is something that I cannot say. I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro) an undertaking about that tonight.
§ Mr. Wigg
The answer was given to me in the first place, although the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro) came in a little late. I asked the question which led to the statement that the reduction would be postponed. I am interested in the novel suggestion that we should recruit up to 20,000. In March we were told that the number was to be reduced from 14,000 to 10,000. Are the Government going up to 20,000 or are they simply postponing a reduction from 14,000 to 10,000?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Will my hon. Friend examine the practicability of doing this? I pressed him on that again. This is an urgent matter. We do not want a lot of procrastination. This is 9th December. Surely we can be told that we can have an answer to this problem by the debate on the Army Estimates in February.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)
Order. This is not a Committee stage. We cannot go on like this.
§ Mr. Kirk
I am a little worried that it may be 10th December before I can answer that point. Before we can give an assurance of that kind to my hon. Friend, we must examine whether there is a need for them. That is a point which we shall no doubt have to look into. We cannot tell my hon. Friend whether it is practical until we know whether we need them.
I have tried to answer the main points which were made in the course of the debate. I am sorry if I have done so a little hesitantly. It is the first time that I have been put in this position. I hope that I have filled in the gaps pointed out in the debate. I end by 117 assuring the House that this matter of recruiting, as I said at the beginning, is not causing any complacency in the War Office. We are determined to keep on towards the target figure of 180,000, and we believe that it is possible to obtain it.
§ Question put and agreed to.