India (British Troops).

Part of Orders of the Day — CONSOLIDATED FUND (No. 2) BILL. – in the House of Commons on 24th March 1936.

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Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I say that the two Indian members found broader grounds for saying the contribution should be granted. I think, therefore, the House would be wrong were it to consider that it was justified in discarding the findings of so important and weighty a tribunal after the scheme which it has suggested has been in operation for about two years. As I have mentioned; the personnel of the tribunal was a very distinguished one. It considered at great length the cases of the different departments concerned and heard counsel for all those Departments, and then issued this Report, Command Paper 4473, which sums up its conclusions. The hon. Member is, of course, well entitled to his point of view, but the House ought to remember that this distinguished tribunal came down definitely in favour of a contribution, and I should strongly advise the House to be impressed by the findings of so distinguished a tribunal which took evidence over so considerable a period.

However, I do not want to answer my hon. Friend by a mere reference to the weight of this tribunal as against his own experience, and I would therefore like to take up the different points which he raised. He said that he did not consider the first reason given, that there was in India an emergency force ready to take the field, to be a valid one. He asked whether, in fact, the Army in India, constituted of Indian and British units, could ever spare any proportion of its effectives to go overseas and to take part in any action or to render any service in what could be regarded as an emergency. Assistance has been given by Indian troops on many occasions in the past, from as early a date as 1856. There have been some dozen or more occasions when, for various reasons, Indian troops have willingly gone overseas. The most recent occasion was when Indian troops went to Shanghai. The understanding has been that assistance has been given in the past only if the external and internal situation of India allowed the troops to be spared. India has not failed in the past, and I see no reason, providing the internal and external situation allows the troops to be spared, why she should fail in the future. As regards the present circumstances, about which a right hon. Gentleman opposite interjected a remark, the House may rest assured that in the present emergency India has been willing to render the same service as she has rendered in the past. In particular, a certain force has been sent to Aden, and a company, as reported in the Press, was sent to Addis Ababa as a guard for the British Legation there. Therefore, looking to past history and to the present emergency, it has been possible for India, consistent with the undertaking as to the external and internal situation of India allowing it, to send troops abroad for specific purposes. The tribunal considered this matter most carefully, and I see no reason why the Government should alter the decision that was come to.

On the question whether India really forms a training ground for active service, the hon. Member said divisions in India did not come together, that they were scattered about and, in fact, gave the impression that the Army in India was a somewhat scattered force which did not provide a suitable training ground for emergencies or for the use of troops as an expeditionary force. I am advised, and I think that in my modest experience I have been able to see that it is so, than, India provides one of the best training grounds possible for the British Army. I think all our military experts would be agreed that that was so. It gives frequent opportunities for active service in minor affairs, and all ranks gain the greatest experience of the Army on what is more or less the equivalent of a war footing. Indeed, the battalions in India may be regarded as active service battalions. India maintains a full complement of educational and instructional establishments, which are open to all ranks, keep the troops efficient, and give every opportunity to the young soldier going out to India.

I cannot accept the hon. Member's view that the divisions in India are not closely in touch with each other. I should say that the Army in India is to-day at as high a level as it has ever been, that the units are as closely in touch with each other as one would expect in a modern army, and that army exercises are carried out in the way the House would expect a modern army to carry them out. The recent Mohmand operations were carried out with extreme efficiency and illustrate that the Army in India, both in its equipment, its adequacy and, I would say, in its humanity, is as efficient an instrument as hon. Members could hope to find. Hon. Members will recall that a programme for the re-oraganisation, mechanisation and re-equipment of the Army and Royal Air Force in India was sanctioned in 1928, and has been gradually put into force ever since, so that they will realise that the Army in India is receiving all the advantages of modern invention. There are still about two crore remaining of the original 10-crore programme started in 1928, and the main reasons for the total sum of money not having been spent are partly the economic crisis and partly the face that the Army in India is waiting, I think very wisely to find the latest forms of equipment and the latest experience of the West to add to their own equipment, and they have a certain sum of money still to spend on this important programme.

I believe that the duties which the Army in India carried out hitherto, of internal security, and will still carry out under the new Constitution, to which the hon. Member referred, have been and will be of first-class value. Perhaps the hon. Member is right that this is not the occasion to go in great detail into the condition and position of the Army in India, or in greater detail into the happiness and the contentment of British troops. I think Mr. Deputy-Speaker would rule that that would not be in order. In final reply to the hon. Gentleman I would say that I hope my words have shown him that the Army in India is an efficient force at the present moment. I would assure him that every effort is being made to make the life of British troops as agreeable as possible. I would just give an instance, which is that ventilating in the Plains is now carried out by electricity, which is a great improvement upon the old days about which Kipling-used to write. I only add that to show that the money that the House puts aside, in accordance with the recommendations of the Government and the tribunal, is well worth while, and that the availability of the Army and the availability of India for use as a training ground for British troops are very valid reasons for consideration in this House. I am very glad to have had an opportunity of assuring the hon. Gentleman that the Army in India is an efficient force.