I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
Since I introduced the Army Estimates last year the British Army has been engaged in campaigns is six separate theatres—in Libya, East Africa, Greece and Crete, Iraq and Syria, and the Far East. From time to time the Prime Minister has described to the House the course of these campaigns while they were in progress, so I will not cover the same ground again to-day. Since a Debate has been arranged for next week, I do not propose to discuss the grievous set-backs to our arms and to our prestige brought about by our defeat in Malaya and the subsequent fall of Singapore. So far no details of the fighting have reached me, and I do not know the extent of our casualties. But I want to assure those who are passing through this agony of suspense waiting for news of their loved ones that as soon as information is received here it will be handed to them without delay.
There is just one point which, though it is rather obvious, ought not to be forgotten in connection with the fighting and the loss of Singapore. In the Great War of 1914–18 we were able, as a general rule, to send new divisions to a quiet part of a stationary line of defence, and there they were able to secure battle training and experience in a modest way before being committed to the hazards of a pitched battle. In this war the position is quite different. When we meet the German armies in the field we meet troops having 2½ years' experience of fighting. When we meet the Japanese we have to face hardened soldiers with 4 years' experience of a type of warfare with which we are totally unaccustomed. There is no time for our troops to secure preliminary battle training: very often not time for them to become accustomed to the new climatic conditions after a long sea voyage under the cramped conditions of a troopship. That is a handicap we have to accept for the time being and which we must face.
For practically the whole of the last 12 months, our troops at different times have been engaged in active operations against the enemy. We have suffered some severe reverses and disappointments. A great deal has been written and said about the failures, but I think it is only right, in fairness to the officers and men engaged, that some mention should be made of our successes since they have considerably strengthened our general position in the Middle East. I would ask hon. Members to judge for themselves how much more difficult our position would be to-day if the Italian armies in East Africa, Eritrea and Abyssinia, comprising some 280,000 soldiers—more than one-third of whom were Italians—had not been wiped out. That vast theatre of war would have become a running sore. We should have had to employ more and more men and equipment to contain the enemy; forces and material which, thanks to our final victory at Gondar, were liberated to fight in Libya and elsewhere. Acts of magnificent heroism were performed by our small Forces of British, Dominion, Indian and East and West African troops under, I may say, the most trying conditions against an enemy numerically far stronger.
Then if we turn to Syria, it had become obvious, even before the evacuation of Greece, that the Germans were beginning to infiltrate, and there could be no doubt that the Vichy Government would give up the Syrian airfields for the use of the German Air Force. Possession of these airfields would have made it possible to mount a heavy scale of attack upon the Suez Canal and our Egyptian base, and it is unlikely that Cyprus could have been defended in those circumstances. It therefore became a matter of extreme urgency for our own defence to carry out an immediate occupation. The campaign began on 8th June and, though unsupported by armoured forces, of which none could be spared from Libya, it was brought to a successful conclusion in five weeks. In August, in conjunction with Russian troops, our forces entered Persia and assured the expulsion of German agents from the country of our new Ally.
So, thanks to the short but successful campaign in Syria, to the fact that the revolt in Iraq had been speedily crushed and, finally, to our occupation of Persia, what had looked like becoming an ugly situation was cleared up and we had now secured all the countries which form the northern front of our Middle East position. We had ensured, for the time being at any rate, the safety of the essential oil supplies in Persia and Iraq. Moreover, we had opened up a supply route across Persia to our Russian Allies. I need not enlarge upon the vital importance of this northern front to our Middle Eastern position. It must remain a constant source of anxiety for us. It is not so long since it was seriously threatened by the German advance towards the Caucasus, and, though the threat has been staved off by the brilliant series of Russian counterstrokes, we must not lightly assume that it is wholly removed or that it may not develop in another way by a German threat through Turkey in Asia. The Western flank of our Middle Eastern position is no less vital to our plans. So with a view to removing the danger to the western frontier of Egypt and freeing the North African seaboard, we decided last summer to launch an offensive against General Rommel.
The House is familiar with the fact. The ebb and flow of the tide in this Libyan battle has bewildered the onlooker, and it is natural to inquire how it is that, having destroyed a large part of Rommel's forces, we are yet compelled to withdraw towards the end of what seemed to be a favourable battle. I cannot say how far this reverse is due to tactical consideration, but I do know that the difficulties the Staff have had to contend with in keeping troops in the forward areas supplied with food, water, ammunition, petrol, etc., have been colossal. It is often difficult for those like myself, whose fighting experience is confined to the Western front in the last war and who have consequently never taken part in large-scale operations in the desert, to appreciate how tremendous are the distances which our supply columns have to cover and what this means in time and in the wear and tear of men and vehicles. As I remember it, in the last war in France railhead was, generally speaking, somewhere about 25 miles behind the front line, which in those days was, to all intents and purposes, both static and continuous. In the desert there is no continuous front line. You never know when you are going to encounter marauding enemy patrols. Our forward troops are not 25 but sometimes as much as 300 miles away from their railhead. The House will readily understand from this that the number of troops that could be maintained in the forward area to attack Rommel's strongly defended position at Ageila, or to resist any counter-attack that might be made against them was strictly limited by the amount of supplies that could be brought forward over those hundreds of miles of desert.
I am coming to that point in a moment. As we advanced we got further and further from our supplies, and our difficulties increased. As Rommel retreated on to his supply dumps his maintenance difficulties became less, although his total force had been very seriously weakened during the fighting. So you got the position that, owing to supply difficulties, although we had a total force stronger than the enemy, this advantage was counteracted by our not being able to maintain in the forward line of battle a force sufficiently strong either to drive the enemy out of his defended position covering his reinforcements and supplies or to withstand a counter-stroke which the enemy, refreshed with men and materials, was able to launch against those light forces which were all we were able to maintain until, once again, we could use Benghazi as a forward base.
Let me say a word about the statements and rumours which have circulated to the effect that our tanks, their armour and their armament are inferior to German equipment. Certainly in some respects we are at a disadvantage with the Germans. In tank warfare, as in battleship construction, there is an eternal struggle between armour and armament. Before the war our tank and anti-tank gun, the two-pounder was, without doubt, the best in the world, and its worth was shown in the battles preceding the evacuation from Dunkirk. But we knew very well that the success of this gun would be countered by the enemy using heavier armour and fitting his tanks with a more powerful gun. So before the war began, we started to design a tank and anti-tank gun of longer range and greater hitting power. It was imperative that the production of the two-pounder should not in any way be delayed, because our demands for it were very great indeed and, as I have said, it was the best weapon of its kind available at that time. If after our heavy losses at Dunkirk we had used some of the two-pounder capacity for the production of the larger gun—and there was no other capacity ready—we should have very greatly reduced the total number of tank and anti-tank guns available for the Army at a time when, owing to our losses, the troops were almost entirely without protection and invasion was expected at any moment. Thus it was necessary to rely on new capacity for the production of the larger weapon. This new capacity was secured and, as announced by my noble Friend the Minister of War Production, the manufacture of the larger and more highly-powered gun is proceeding apace. The House will be interested to learn that we are working on the production of a still larger tank and anti-tank gun with even greater penetrating power.
A second point upon which I should like to make a few remarks has been referred to many times in the public Press and is now finding some expression in the newspapers of the United States. I refer to the general suggestion that while we are very willing to accept arms and equipment from any and every source, we are not so willing to send our soldiers out to fight with them. With all the emphasis at my command I deny this insidious and wholly false accusation. A figure has been quotes to me as current in America which purports to show the number of Imperial troops under arms in Libya, and it has been stated that only an insignificant fraction of these troops are British. Criticism of this sort, though based on false premises, must be met: but, in meeting it and giving the true figures, I intend to do justice to this country, not to depreciate the efforts of all those who have helped us from outside. The Middle Eastern Command covers not merely the whole of' Libya, Egypt, the Sudan and Eritrea, but also Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Persia. The figure quoted in these criticisms covered also the East African Command. The proportions of British troops are very far from what our critics would like the world to believe. Of the total troops in the Middle Eastern Command nearly half come from this country, rather more than a quarter from the Dominions. India finds something over a tenth, and the balance is made up of Colonial and Allied contingents.
No, I meant East and West African troops. Now as to the composition of the Eighth Army during this present battle. Fifty per cent. of all the troops employed were British. Nearly one-third were provided by South Africa and New Zealand; more than a tenth by the Indian Empire. There was also a small number of Australian troops, and the remainder of the Force was completed by units provided by our Polish, Free French and Czech Allies. All the armoured tank brigades were British.
I mean troops from the United Kingdom. I repeat that all the armoured tank brigades were British. The armoured car regiments were from the United Kingdom, except for two from South Africa. Let us look at the casualties. Of every 100 men killed or wounded in the land fighting since the beginning of the war up to January, 1942, about 70 have come from this country.
In view of the widespread criticism that has been made against this Island in other parts of the world, will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman take every step, in conjunction with the Ministry of Information, to see that these figures are given the widest publicity?
I know. That is why I am making this statement on the matter. Our critics will not forget, I hope, that in naval warfare, and, of course, amongst the Mercantile Marine, the vast majority of casualties have been inflicted upon our seamen; and the same is true of the Royal Air Force which, in spite of the magnificent contributions of the Dominions and of the Allied forces, has suffered far more heavily than any of them. Even if we exclude civilian casualties due to enemy air raiding—casualties happily not shared so far by our Dominions—it is true to say that in proportion to population the British Army and the British nation as a whole has borne a very full share. I hope that what I have said will finally dispose of this most malicious slander.
The despatch of United Kingdom troops to foreign theatres depends fundamentally upon two things. First the absolute necessity of defending this country, the heart of the Empire. Second, the availability of shipping. As to the first point, it is vitally important that this outpost, this bridgehead for future operations on the Continent of Europe, should be held inviolate. It is unthinkable that the safety of the vast machinery of production that we have created here, the arsenal from which arms are flowing to all the Allied nations, should be risked by any under-estimate of the threat which can be brought against it. Hon. Members who listened to the secret Debate on shipping last week will appreciate the gravity of the second point. I should like to remind hon. Members that, difficult though it is to find, assemble and convoy the shipping necessary for even one division, it is no less difficult to produce the subsequent stream of freighters upon whose safe and punctual arrival depends the maintenance of that division in the field.
A consideration of the operational activities of the Army would not be complete without some reference to the equipment position. In this respect the last 12 months have shown a marked improvement in our position. Judged on any reasonable comparative basis that I can think of—whether the comparison is with the peak period of the last war or is with earlier periods of this war—the sum total of deliveries to the Army in the last year has been astonishingly large. But, good though the relative result may be, the absolute result is not yet satisfactory. With the great dispersion of our Forces, with the large allocations that have had to be made to Russia—allocations that have been put to magnificent use—and with the further calls of our Dominions and our Allies, our needs are enormous indeed. It is not only the quantities that are stupendous, it is the different types of highly technical and specialised weapons, not to mention the enormous amount of motorised transport, that make the equipping of the modern Army for this war, compared with the last war, such a colossal undertaking. Fully as I appreciate all that has been done, I do endorse most emphatically the Minister of Production's call for more and still more effort. This war, as we have learned, is largely a war of equipment. We started a very long way behind scratch. Since Dunkirk, when we lost so much of the ground we had gained, we have been forced to start all over afresh. For new weapons and munitions of war, we have so far had to rely, for the most part, on our own productive effort. I cannot, therefore, tell the House that I am satisfied or that the Army has yet got all the equipment it needs.
With the permission of the House, I will now give some account of progress in the field of administration and organisation which has taken place since I last introduced these Estimates. Both at home and abroad, the year has been one of steady and progressive administrative development. The most important development has been the complete reorganisation of the Forces in this country. This reorganisation has not been apparent to the general public. It has, nevertheless, been of great extent and significance. If the House will permit me, I will, as briefly as I can, sketch the historical reasons which resulted in this reorganisation, since it may, at first sight, appear strange that there should be such a comprehensive change when the war is over two years old.
Before the war, the British Army consisted of a few Regular divisions and a number of Territorial divisions. Plans existed for sending a small Expeditionary Force to the Continent of Europe, and those plans included the formation on the outbreak of war of numerous maintenance units which would be required to enable this Regular Expeditionary Force to operate. These additional units were formed from the trained reserves of the Regular Army, which existed largely for that purpose. The Territorial Army—as opposed to the Regular Army—comprised several volunteer divisions, which, though they were complete in fighting units—in which, obviously, service is popular—depended upon post-war action to produce their maintenance units, because there was nothing corresponding to the Regular Army reserves. Thus there were no corps, army, or line of communication units to complete any force in which Territorial divisions might be included, largely because that type of unit did not attract volunteers in times of peace. When it was decided to double the Territorial Army, this disadvantage was increased. The quickest way of doubling the Territorial Army was to throw off from existing units duplicate units, which were necessarily of the same kind. This provided a very large addition to our Armed Forces, but it brought in its train many disabilities which have had to be eradicated by a gradual process of adjustment. We had doubled the number of divisions, but the deficiencies in corps, army and line of communication troops were also doubled, and the War Office was faced on the outbreak of war with the very difficult task of raising a great number of miscellaneous units, many of which required technicians and technical equipment, in both of which there were shortages of supply. In spite of these difficulties, some Territorial divisions were sent to France to reinforce the B.E.F., and the necessary ancillary units to complete these divisions were sent with them. But it was impossible to make any progress towards completing into major formations those other divisions which were left at home.
The difficulties were vastly increased after Dunkirk. Practically all the technical equipment was lost, and the threat of invasion demanded at that time that the maximum number of fighting units should be equipped to meet the enemy. There was no time to build up a balanced Army, comprising a proper proportion of ancillary units capable of sustained operations, either in England or in theatres overseas. The very large intake of new personnel which followed during the autumn of 1940 had either to make good casualties in existing units or be formed into infantry training units; the only equipment available in sufficient quantities was infantry equipment. The threat of invasion continued during that winter and the spring and summer of 1941. Equipment for armoured units and artillery was still in short supply, and it was not until the autumn of 1941 that sufficient equipment began to be available to enable us to convert large numbers of infantry units into the artillery, armoured, signal, R.A.S.C. and R.A.O.C. units of which we were so woefully short. But the plans had been laid some long time ahead, and, though the reorganisation did not begin until the autumn of last year, it was possible to carry it out with great speed, and much progress has been made in that direction.
We have formed a number of new armoured formations, including armoured divisions and army tank brigades. We have strengthened the armoured formations in the Middle East by the provision of new units, and this process is continuing. We have formed a number of field regiments of artillery, which were required to complete the forces already overseas and to provide corps and army troops for forces in this country. We have practically completed the formation of the required number of anti-tank regiments. We have converted considerable numbers of infantry battalions into anti-aircraft regiments for the Field Army. A great number of new signal units has also been formed, mainly for service overseas. In this direction, we have still a long way to go, and I should like to remind the House that training of technical units is not a quick business. It takes about eight months to train the more technical signaller. A start has been made in organising and training air borne troops, and we now have a number of parachute and air landing units.
I hope that what I have said, as briefly as I can, will show the House that a great deal of hard, slogging, administrative work has fallen to the lot of the War Office and Command staffs during the last 12 months, and has been carried out with great thoroughness and despatch. When things go wrong with the Army, as they are bound to do from time to time, it is the custom to put it all down to what people are pleased to call the "brass hats." It is interesting to observe, by the way, that that phrase is rather out of date—brass has disappeared from the Army hat; though not, I believe, from those of the sister Services. But in my opinion, and in that of well-informed observers, the brass has also disappeared from the minds of the leaders of the Army, indeed, it was ever there. Those Members of the House who have informed themselves of the various activities of the Army, by personal contact with its senior staff officers, must have gained the impression that the directing staff comprise a body of hard-working, hard-thinking and sensible officers.
I do not in the least agree that they are hidebound. At the War Office the Standing Committee on Army Administration, of whose constitution I informed the House a year ago, has investigated the mechanism of the big administrative departments of the Army. The impetus to reform afforded by this Standing Committee has made itself felt right down to individual units. In particular I approved a recommendation by this Committee that there should be set up an Executive Committee of the Army Council. This Executive Committee meets weekly, or more often if necessary, and it disposes of questions of important day to day administration while giving preliminary consideration to those larger questions of policy which must necessarily be referred to the full Army Council in due course. These frequent meetings of this Committee have the natural consequence of reducing "minuting" and the to-ing and fro-ing of files within the office and of securing rapid and authoritative decisions. As an indispensable corollary to this Committee, I have approved the creation of a new Army Council Secretariat, which nor only performs the usual secretarial work of the Army Council, for its Executive Committee and for other Committees within the War Office, but also provides—which is most important—a convenient instrument for that closer working together of the military and civil sides of the War Office on which the Esher Committee laid such stress a generation ago. [Laughter.] It is a good thing to have done it, anyhow.
They have not. My noble Friend will probably know that that is not so. It is taking some time to work on. The policy of decentralisation of administration has developed since I referred to it last year. The success of the experiment of providing a Command Secretary in one Command, as I told the House last year, has justified its extension to two other Commands. I hope to extend it to all Commands in due course. I am having examined the question of devolving administrative functions below Commands to lower formations, of improving the machinery of military headquarters throughout the country, and of developing the work already achieved by the Standing Committee in reducing and simplifying paper work. I know the House takes a great interest in that kind of paper work.
For the moment I said it is limited to three, but I am endeavouring to extend it to all. For example, the number of returns submitted on the average by an infantry battalion has been reduced by more than 30 per cent., and the decision to complete only one attestation form for each soldier, instead of two, is saving tons of paper and much clerical labour. We can and will do more in this direction. There is much more to be done, and we are progressing along these lines. The policy of decentralisation is one to which we are definitely committed, and to the extent that its success must depend upon the exercise of initiative by lower commanders, it is a step which carries with it the possibility of breakdown in individual cases. It is a step, therefore, which is open to many theoretical and some practical objections. But I am satisfied that it is in the interests of the Army as a whole and as a great administrative organisation it is a step which ought to be taken and one which the House will fully approve. It is, moreover, a step which will smash bottlenecks and speed up the working of the machine by securing that decisions are taken promptly at a level proper to their importance.
In the time at my disposal I cannot hope to deal with the many subjects connected with the Army in which the House is naturally most interested. But I should like to mention one point which is of the greatest interest, I think, and with which is bound up the future efficiency of our troops. I refer to the methods which we adopt with the object of securing that soldiers are employed on the tasks for which they are most suited. Under the voluntary system obtaining before the war the choice of regiment or arm of the Service lay largely with tae recruit himself, and, generally speaking, a recruit was placed according to his own wish. From this system sprang the County layout of the infantry arm in particular with its great advantages in the direction of the creation of a regimental spirit, but corresponding disadvantages in the creation of a great national army. Now we place a man not necessarily according to his own wish, but where the Army needs him.
I want to explain what we do with the new entry, or, as it is known, the Army Class intake. In regard to this intake, we are perfecting a system of what is known as selection testing. We started it in the middle of last year by the appointment of a Director of Selection of Personnel, who serves under the Adjutant-General. This officer is helped by a Board of four civilian experts who meet every few weeks and have placed their great skill unreservedly at his disposal. The main object of this new system is to prevent the waste of man-power, which can occur in either of two ways—either by giving men work which is beyond their capacity to perform efficiently, or by employing on simple routine tasks men who are capable of much more skilful work. The scheme of selection procedure is rather like a series of filters of steadily narrowing mesh. The first filter is applied before men or women come into the Army at all, before even they are medically examined. It consists of a simple intelligence test. After this test, and after medical examination, a man or woman is interviewed by a military interviewing officer, who has the marks from the previous test before him. As a result of this talk, the Interviewing Officer recommends to the Ministry of Labour, who are the posting authorities, to which arm of the Service the man ought to be posted. The Ministry are aware of the demands of the various military arms, be it artillery, engineers, R.A.S.C., R.A.O.C. or infantry, and within those limitations they issue their posting orders to the individual. The main object of this first filter is to pick out men and women who are likely to learn a new job well and quickly, men and women of good native wit, irrespective of whether they have had a long and expensive' education. Here then is the first rough assignment to the various arms of the Service.
The second filter is applied at the training unit stage. There men and women are given tests, some mechanical—and these are devised by scientists—some with pen and paper. As a result of these tests, coupled with a careful individual interview, the man is earmarked for the particular duties for which he seems to be best suited. This second filter is designed to find out all that can be readily ascertained about a man's experience, his interests and his gifts. The result of it may be, in some cases, that a man is transferred from the arm to which he was originally posted. The third filter—and this is as yet only in the experimental stage—comes very much later on, when men are considered for commissions. Here quickness to learn is only one factor, though an important one, especially for the technical corps. Most important are the man's personality, his capacity for leadership, his capacity for endurance. I should like to make it quite clear that men are not considered for commissions solely on the result of these tests, or of isolated interviews. Not at all. They are recommended on their whole record, including their military knowledge and the impression which they have made upon the officers who have been training them for months.
I have heard these stories, but I do not see why it should follow that because a man's father happens to be a Labour man he will be turned down. The same thing might be said about my son, who is serving as an ordinary seaman in the Navy. I do not believe it.
I do not propose to speak in the Debate, so I would like to ask this question now. Does not the Minister think it is somewhat irrelevant to ask a boy what his father is? Ask him what you like about himself, draw him out, but do not put questions which might be misconstrued in his mind and those of others.
I really cannot take that line. I do not see why an ordinary boy's mind should be prejudiced because he is asked what his father is and what is his own life. As I was saying, all these data are checked by an outside opinion, an impartial interview board, and the new development which I have outlined consists in the presentation to the interview board of an objective assessment of the candidate's temperamental fitness for an officer's work. All this is a great advance upon the past. It is of the greatest importance that we should not waste time and money in sending unsuitable candidates to the Officer Cadet Training Units, and I feel that the House will welcome what I have said as showing that we are setting about the business in a common sense, up-to-date way.
The remarks which I have made about selection testing bring me, naturally, to a consideration of some of the points raised in the Report of Sir William Beveridge's Committee on skilled men in the Services. Members of this House have already seen the Report and the remarks of the War Office upon it. One of the most striking features of modern warfare is the link between the Fighting Services on the one hand and industry on the other. But even in the last Great War the conflict between the production field and the user field began to obtrude itself, and now it has become almost a truism that warfare cannot proceed at all without a vast array of men and women behind the fighting lines producing the required machines and munitions. We are not alone in suffering from this dilemma. The Germans have met it, largely as a result of their unsuccessful campaigns in Russia and of the tremendous loss of men and material which they have suffered there. Our American Allies are now meeting it. On the one hand they have planned to equip an enormous army and great naval and air forces. On the other hand they must also equip with tremendous speed and efficiency the great factories necessary to feed not only their own Forces but those of their Allies. We in this country have been at war now for 2½ years, and though by 1914 standards our casualties in the field have been light, the problem of the proper distribution of man-power, particularly of skilled man-power, has become more and more difficult. For all these reasons my colleagues and I have welcomed the advice and assistance given to us by Sir William Beveridge and his colleagues.
I should like to make one or two specific points, not by way of apology, but by way of explanation. The Committee have tended, very naturally, to apply to the Army problem the standards of the civil engineering world, and it has been natural for them to draw attention to the fact that, under the Army system, there is a very wide distribution of the available skill and that concentration of this skill in central workshops or establishments would effect an economy of numbers and an economy of production. As a theoretical principle this is undeniable. But Members of this House who have followed the progress of operations, particularly in the recent battles in Libya, will realise that the problem before the Army -s not merely a question of the most economical method of maintaining its technical machines, but the far more difficult problem of maintaining those machines under active service conditions in the field and in action. From the accounts of the battles in Libya it is clear that the Axis armoured divisions are very well served by their repair and maintenance units, who have succeeded in putting damaged tanks on their tracks again with great rapidity. I may say that on our side I have heard much praise of our repair units, though we have been somewhat short of repair echelons and have not been as amply provided as we should like to be with tank transporters and recovery vehicles.
But, Sir, the moral of all this is that no system of centralisation of repair and maintenance could give adequate results on the battlefield, and it will be clear to the House from this one instance that in the Army we must of necessity accept a wider distribution of our skilled personnel than is possible in civil life, and we must accept also the fact that we must have proportionately more skilled men than would be justified in other circumstances. The Committee has admitted this proposition to some extent, but has not, I feel, wholly appreciated the point. But the Committee have argued that the Army would do well to follow the example of the Royal Navy by establishing a unified corps of mechanical engineers, and they go further and argue that the skilled technicians already on the establishment of the Corps of Royal Eng seers should be made available for the repair of machines, particularly of tanks, instead of waiting in enforced idleness for the jobs for which they are trained.
I will admit quite frankly that there are skilled men in the Royal Engineers who may sometimes have to stand by without using their skill, but, if the House will again take into consideration the fighting in Libya, it would have been quite inconceivable from a military point of view for units of the Royal Engineers, or for individuals from that corps, to accompany the armoured fighting formations in the front line in order to service our armoured fighting vehicles. Detachments of this corps did, of course, go with our forward troops, but they went to clear mine-fields and destroy damaged enemy tanks. The duties for which the Corps exists fully occupied their attention. I mention such tasks as the rapid construction of forward landing grounds for our aircraft, the repair of water installations, and of electric plants, and the many other engineering tasks which were required of them in the towns along the seaboard as those towns fell into our hands. The proposal that all engineering skill should be amalgamated into one corps of engineers is not impossible of achievement, but, even if it were possible to carry it into effect during the course of a war—and I am having this problem examined as a matter of great urgency—there would still have to be particular units earmarked for this purpose or that and in the stress of battle units earmarked for work of a field engineering type on the lines of communication could hardly be detached for mechanical maintenance work in the forward areas.
With regard to the maintenance of tanks and similar material, whatever the arrangements are surely there is bound to be an immense waste of skilled technical personnel as long as the necessary material for repairs is not available?
Obviously, if the material is not there for the skilled personnel to use, they are bound to be idle. Nevertheless, as I said, we have greatly profited by the advice of this Committee, and my hon. Friends will describe perhaps in rather more detail the action that we have taken in carrying out the Committee's recommendations.
It had to receive a considerable amount of careful consideration before publication.
I have given a sketch of the record of the Army during the last year in the operational sphere and I have said something about progress in equipment and organisation. In the latter we have a story of steady and encouraging progress: in the former, in the main, one of disappointment, discouragement and even disaster. What of the future? As I see it, we are growing stronger all the time: but are we growing stronger quickly enough? It is true that this time last year we stood alone. To-day we have the great Russian people and the might and the resources of the U.S.A. behind us. But what matters most is the answer to the question, "What are we ourselves doing?" Are we going all out? Are we giving 100 per cent. of our individual best without thought of self to help the country's war effort? Quite frankly, for the moment I do not feel that we are. Perhaps our immunity from air raids during the past months, perhaps the fact that the recent reverses have not taken place close to these shores as was the case in the summer of 1940, is responsible for a certain feeling of lull, for the tendency sometimes for people to sit back and watch the progress of events. Sir, we have had grievous defeats; we are in the gravest danger. Is this the end, or is this only the beginning of a new period of influence and glory? It can be the former if we are untrue to our traditions and to our duties. It will be the latter if we deserve it, and I believe that it is possible for mortals of our race to command success by deserving it.
The House, I am sure, appreciates the exposition of the Army Estimates which it has just heard from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think the House will thank him more than anything else for the denial, and the figures he has given to prove that denial, of the charge that the British race has been using other forces rather than its own to fight its battles. We have all heard the cry, "Where is the British Army?" It is possible that some of the people who have used that cry have been the victims of a deliberate charge that has been made from interested places. As a matter of fact, that story has come back to this country and affected our own people. We are very grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving us facts and figures that will now go abroad in the world. But I have been wondering why the War Office did not tell this to the world before, What is the purpose of the Ministry of Information if not to inform the world as well as our own people, and particularly to deal with matters that might affect the morale of our own people? I think that this matter is sufficiently serious for inquiry on the part of the Government. Is it the War Office which is responsible for letting this matter go on for so long? This information ought to have been given to the world long before to-day. It may be that these statements will be coloured and used by the enemy, and that they have affected the battles we have been fighting in the Far East. As far as I am concerned, I hope that more will be heard about the matter. Of course, we are particularly open to that kind of charge. This country needs a very large garrison, and there will always be people in enemy countries who will seek to affect the strategy and disposition of our troops.
There have been people in this country who have been trying to underrate the danger of invasion, and I am glad that the Government are very conscious of the imminent possibility of invasion. I know something about this matter, and the world and the enemy can know it, namely, that the Forces in this country have been continually exercising their minds on the subject. The troops have also been exercising, and there is an alertness for whatever might happen. We ought to take heart from these facts, because there are some things which we are apt to forget. For instance, at this time last year we had hardly re-equipped the Dunkirk troops, and the Home Guard had not even got pikes. I understand that a representative of the War Office has been suggesting that pikes are not a bad thing. I once read about a gentleman who won a war with a stone and sling.
I think it was before the last war, but, so far as this particular gentleman is concerned, I consider that to use language of that kind does an injustice both to the Home Guard and to the country. I should like to use the words of one of the sages on the Saturday - night broadcasts, and say "Take him away." During the last year we have turned out hundreds of thousands and almost millions of trained men, and we must not forget that from the High Command down to the humblest N.C.O. the Army has been working at
high pressure to train them. We are apt to take for granted the fitness of our troops, but it requires a very high standard of intelligence, bunched together as they are in these Islands, to maintain that high standard which is uniform throughout the country. The country expects the Army authorities to make the utmost use of man-power The Minister gave an explanation of the Report of the Beveridge Committee, but that Report reveals that there is still some of the old Army spirit left. I suppose that a good many Members have reed the Report, but from the Minister's statement one would hardly expect to find this quotation in it:
In respect of the Army, our investigation has shown a continuing failure to use men of engineering skill according to their skill, which has surprised us by its extent. … They include highly skilled engineers of all kinds, millwrights, turners, tool make -s, fitters, copper-smiths, electricians, boilersmiths, panel-beaters and pattern makers. … Up to the present there is no guarantee that men of this type now supplied to the Army will be used on work that needs them.
That is a small illustration of the scathing criticism of this Report. I do not believe that this misuse is widespread, but it is a serious matter for the country when craftsmen of this description, who are worth their weight in gold to the country, are being used in the Army in dead-end jobs and are wasting their time, as time can be wasted in the Army. I consider that this matter ought seriously to disturb the War Office. The "Tines" comment the other day was:
It is difficult not to agree with the Committee's view. The failure of the Army, compared with other Services, to make the best use of skilled man-power is due to a frame of organisation, and it may be fairly added, to a frame of mind suited to conditions which are no longer conditions of modem war.
I would ask the Minister how it is that this Report was three and a half months old before it was put into the hands of Members? It is surely an unusual thing, when there has been an inquiry, for a Department to wait until it can publish, along with the inquiry, its reply. I have never known such a thing take place. This evidence of waste of valuable material is so important that it ought to have been in our hands long before it was three and a half months old.
I want to deal with the question of the selection of officers, because it seems to me that there is one aspect of the matter that is being overlooked. In the last war by this time there were great masses of men who had been promoted on the field, who had few or no educational qualifications, but who had proved themselves good soldiers and good leaders. Of course, you have not the same conditions, and you have all the risks of selecting men without their being tried in the field. I know that the War Office are very anxious to get the best men, and they have their intelligence tests. A year or two ago the House decided that all men who were given commissions should have served in the ranks. That was supposed to be a safeguard for the country, that we should select our officers on a democratic basis and get the best men. I wonder whether it is having quite that result. I would not say a single word about those who have been selected, but have we the range of selection that the House intended we should have when it established the principle that men should go through the ranks? It is not the War Office that selects. It is not the Selection Committee. They select only from the human material that they get. It all depends upon who is sent up by the commands. Commands do their duty as they see it.
It is one of the tendencies of modern life to give undue value to degrees and that kind of thing. Are some of the commands influenced more by educational qualifications and social status than by those qualities which really count for leadership on the field of battle? Courage and mother wit are worth a stack of degrees on the field of battle. As far as I know, the class of men who have proved good leaders on the field, men from the mines and workshops who have no educational qualifications, are not being sent up by the commands. No one who knows me will believe for a moment that I under-value education, but I have noticed in modern life—and this is typical of modern life as well as of the Army—that more credit for intelligence is given to those who are supposed to be educated than is sometimes justified. The commands work hard, I know, and so do the N.C.O.'s. I should not like men who may be of the highest quality overlooked merely because they have not been to some university. One of the best-known and ablest of our men, who has now passed on, the late Sir William Robertson, I believe, had no educational degrees at all.
That is the whole point that I am trying to make. There are some very well-read, well-educated and highly intelligent men who, I think, are not receiving any consideration at all because of the lack of these academic qualifications.
The right hon. Gentleman did not deal with the question of the women's Services and the charges that are being made generally. I am very sorry that those charges have been raised in the House and in the country generally. We have led the way among the countries of the world in using women-power in the Army. I do not think that is an exaggerated statement even compared with Russia. Hundreds of thousands of our young women have voluntarily left their homes to do the rough work of the Army. Many of them are very much concerned with what has been said in and out of the House. I write to a young lady in the A.T.S. myself, and she writes to me. She signs herself as "One gunner to another." That is my daughter. I know generally from the expressed feelings of parents as well as from these girls, that this Mother Grundy kind of business has not done any good in the country. It is shameful to scatter these things abroad instead of telling the world something of what we ought to be proud.
I should have liked to have dealt with the equipment that is used by our troops. I want to see this country well garrisoned, but I do not want to see too many men kept here. "Safety first" is a very good thing, but you can sit at home until you lose health both of mind and body. I understand, but I do not know how it is, that the Germans have more infantry in Libya in action than we have. I learn on high authority that they have infinitely more anti tank guns. The right hon. Gentleman himself has said that our gun power is not exactly equal to theirs, but even after he has given his explanation there is a good deal that puzzles people about Libya. It will, I dare say, come in for examination in the forthcoming Debate. I would like to ask, however, whether it is true that we were outnumbered in infantry in Libya.
By comparison with last year, in spite of the grim circumstances of to-day, and in spite of the Far East, we are apt to overlook the tremendous distance we have travelled on the way to security so far as this country and possibly Europe are concerned. Last year at this time we had hardly any defence worth anything. We are reminded by these Estimates that this country has now masses of men trained and equipped for war who were not at our disposal this time last year. Many of them, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, have been sent to the Middle East. We have great Allies, with tremendous man-power and resources, who were not linked with us this time last year. The almost illimitable man-power of long-suffering China, the vast manpower and resources of Russia, to whose epic struggle we owe so much, and America, whose statesmen cheered, encouraged and helped us in the hour of our lonely struggle against overwhelming odds, are with us. I speak with some emotion when I think of those lonely days through which we passed in 1940. Our gratitude to that great nation, the United States, is so deep that it will become part of the warp and woof of British history. These great nations have become our Allies since last we discussed these Estimates. Their fighting power and resources are added to ours, and though we have suffered grievously in latter days and will suffer in days to come, I venture to say that these forces will spell doom to that brutal system from which the world is in danger at the present time.
There is one matter of vital importance to the Army which has not yet been mentioned and which I should like to raise. It is the training and co-operation of the Army with the Air Force and getting the due support that the Army ought to get from the Air Force. In the period prior to the war, I think I may say without contradiction, co-operation between the air and our ground forces was to all intents and purposes nil. I happened to be living on Salisbury Plain during the summers of 1938 and 1939, and I frequently watched field days and manœuvres. On no occasion did I ever see any air support. I remember attending one specially important field day on the Plain when all available mechanised forces were engaged. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff and several senior staff officers came specially from London. There was a large contingent of the Press, and everybody of importance was there. I attended with two serving staff officers, and one of the first questions I asked was, "Where are the planes, where is the air reconnaissance?" I was told that there would not be any and that there practically never were any. I asked the reason, and they said that there were so many difficulties in making arrangements between the two Services, with the result that there was no training between them. I cannot say whether that was the fault of either of the Services, but certainly there was no co-operation between the two, and this vital part of training was not carried out.
During the whole of this war the common complaint has been that the Army has lacked air support. Wherever the Army has been employed the cry has been the same—"Give us the machines to work in co-operation with us." It is only recently in Libya that the air has been covering our troops to any extent at all. In fact, when the advance in Libya took place, the news bulletins on the B.B.C. always took great care to emphasise the fact that our troops were getting air co-operation, as though it were a new and novel experience after the experiences that the Army had had in France, Greece and Crete. The excuse was that we were short of machines, but it looks as if there were some faultiness in distribution, for the Army should have had a certain number of machines allotted to them. I know the Army have frequently been told, "Because you do not see planes overhead it does not follow that you are not getting air support." There may be a certain amount of truth in that statement, but it does not appeal to the Army when they are being harassed and dive-bombed, and they begin to get a little sceptical as to whether they are really getting air support. The Navy, of course, is fortunate in one way, in that it has its own Air Arm, and there is a school of thought—I do not know how strong it is—in the Army which thinks that it should have its own Air Arm.
It seems to me that there should be no large Army formation abroad without its component air force with it, and not only with it but having been trained with it beforehand to act in conjunction with it. Even in Libya, although we know the Army there have had more air support than ever before, it is a great question whether the training between the sister Services had been sufficient. There have been many reports, and I am told they are true, that the Air Force had sometimes been unable to distinguish between friend and foe, rather to the detriment of their friends. It does not encourage troops to go forward if they are being bombed by their own Air Force, and it must entail a certain lack of enthusiasm to the advance. I noticed in the "Evening Standard" last Monday that the R.A.F. are planning a large-scale training with the Army. The report stated:
Big R.A.F. forces operating from home bases are to begin special training in support of the Army.
"Are to begin"—two and a half years after the war started.
The fighter pilots are to practice attacks on Army columns and take part in the Army's invasion exercises. Army and R.A.F. officers are to be brought together to study each other's problems and plan combined operations. This is the biggest step forward that has been taken in this country.
It was last Monday. I do not know what truth there is in that report, but I hope that even at long last we shall have this training. The whole question bristles with difficulties. For good or ill we have our independent Air Force, and, personally, I believe that is for the best. It has its all-important independent rôle of fighting and defeating its opposite number of the enemy—bombing military objectives, factories, ports, etc.—but it must not be too independent of its sister Services. It cannot win the war on its own, although there may have been some almost super-airmen who seemed to consider that it might. The United States of America have their separate Air and Army forces. I read in the papers that the Germans have followed our course and have three Services, but there is this difference between us and the Germans, that their three Services certainly work in much closer co-operation than do the three Services in this country. I think the German Air Force and the other Services in Germany are much more co-partners in a large defence force and have much better liaison than we have.
In anything I have said I have not wished to say anything against the R.A.F., because I think we owe them the greatest debt of gratitude for their gallantry and bravery, which have been unsurpassed during the war. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their part in the Battle of Britain and in all the different areas in which we have been fighting. I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for War will not take amiss anything I have said in this matter, because I think it is of vital importance.
All I have wished to do is to strengthen his hand in fighting his own battles. I am sure that is the feeling that is universal throughout the whole Army. I hope that we shall soon see the Army and the Air Force acting in friendly co-operation and trained together before they go into action, and I should like to put the accent on the training.
It is not often that I feel compelled to pay a compliment to the Minister, but I should like to congratulate the Secretary of State for War upon the vigour of his speech to-day. He has made me feel that there is, perhaps, at last some real movement in the War Office. I welcome his reference to the part that the troops who had come from this country were playing on the battlefields of the world, but I feel that he was more than a little over-optimistic when he said that "brass" had disappeared from the Army now, and when he went on to say that the General Staff to-day was most up-to-date and modern in outlook. I could give him many examples to show where the Staff is not up-to-date and modern in outlook, but I do not propose to do so in the course of these remarks. What I intend to do is to make some attempt to get down to the root causes or our military disasters. I am going to say some hard things, but I should like my right hon. and gallant Friend to appreciate that I have the interest and the reputation of the Army at heart. Like him, I fought in the last war, and my son to-day is serving in the Army. I want to say nothing that will distress. All I am concerned to do is to make some contribution towards getting things right. I feel that all is not well with the Army at the present moment. I fully agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir E. Makins) said about the need for far closer Air co-operation, and I do not feel that in the middle of a world war we can consider the Army in vacuo. After all, Sea power affects it at every turn, and Air power has converted what was a far simpler two-dimensional war into a three-dimensional struggle; but the Air factor has not invalidated the Sea and the Land factors. It has merely synthesised them. That is why Air co-operation is so important at the moment.
In this Debate upon the Army Estimates I feel it is impossible to talk sense if we consider the Army entirely on its own. After all, the Armed Forces are the instrument through which the whole resources of the nation are brought to a concentrated focus against the enemy, and it is against that background that we have to consider the Army. There is also another aspect to this problem. The battle zone to-day is not confined to the areas in which the contending armies are at grips. The battle zone covers the whole territories of the nations at war. Gone are the days of those Cabinet wars when Governments and their armies fought against each other without interfering very much with the life of the community as a whole. The air arm, blockade and the quantities and complexities of modern military equipment inexorably put every citizen in the contending nations right into the front line.
In other words, war is no longer an extension of politics, as Clausewitz, thought. Politics has become one of the most vital weapons in the armoury of war. We cannot consider the Army outside its political context. Our failure to recognise this is one of the fundamental causes of our disasters in the Far Fast. We are attempting to-day to fight a fully mobilised Japan on the basis of a Colonial war. The natives stand passively aside while the Army fights its battles in their midst. Malaya could only have been held in co-operation with the Malayans. I will read what the "Times" correspondent has said about Singapore. I should
like to point out that my notes for this speech were prepared before the "Times" article was printed. The article does rather indicate that the war in its course is proving the truth of our contentions, and that our generalisations are confirmed by the facts that come from the battlefields. The "Times" correspondent said:
From the scene of hostilities"—
Unlike Tobruk, Singapore has a population of 700,000 people. Unlike Moscow, the bulk of the population were apathetic spectators of a conflict they felt did not concern them. … The Government had no roots in the life of the people of the country. … The bulk of the Asiatic population remained spectators from start to finish. Their inclination was to get as far as possible from the scene of hostilities.
I think this is the important point—
There was no native labour at the docks. Soldiers had to be taken away from military duties to load and unload ships.
In one conversation with U-Saw the Prime Minister made more possible the loss of Burma. Two days ago the Prime Minister of Japan made a speech that our Prime Minister should have made in order to fire the peoples of India with enthusiasm for what should be our common cause. I am sure—
I will leave that point. It was Hitler's brilliant political strategy that enabled his Panzer divisions to cut through the armies of Western Europe like butter. Not less significant is the failure of those same Panzer divisions to disintegrate the Russian Army. Russia stands impervious to political infiltration, because the Russians are welded by a common faith into impregnable unity. There is another aspect of this problem. It is not only in the air that the internal combustion engine has profoundly altered the character of war. On land the internal combustion engine and the short wave radio have freed the modern Army from the shackles of railhead and telephone grid. Freed from those restrictions, the modern Army can rapidly build up an overwhelming local superiority almost where it will. Once the defence is pierced, composite combat groups pass through the gap to disintegrate the defensive forces by attack from the rear. The battlefield becomes a chaos of what appear to be unrelated actions. The German and Japanese commanders maintain contact with their combat groups by means of short wave radio. They keep feeding in support where it is required until the defence is completely disintegrated. Supporting troops press closely on the heels of spearhead groups. Both leaders and men of the German and Japanese armies are trained to develop a high degree of independence and initiative, so that they can size up a situation quickly and act instantly, without orders.
That is what blitzkrieg means. It is the zig-zag path of lighting, forcing its way along the path of least resistance to its objective in the rear. In Norway, France, Greece, Crete, Malaya, and Singapore, the resistance of the British Army has collapsed before these blitzkrieg tactics. Why is this? Because our Army leaders have failed to evolve a tactical doctrine based upon the profound changes in military technique brought about by the internal combustion engine and the short wave radio. Shortage of equipment and shortage of air support, important as they are, are not the primary causes of those defeats, when we are on the defensive. We still form lines. Once the line is breached and the enemy is penetrating to our rear, back we go to the next line. The British Army seems incapable of arresting that process of disintegration brought about by the infiltration tactic of blitzkrieg. It matters not whether the forces and the equipment are adequate for the purpose; the British commander loses contact and control of his forces. His defeat then becomes inevitable. He surrenders with 60,000 men. Comparing our tactics with those of the Japanese at Singapore the "Times" correspondent said:
The Japanese possessed above all that capacity for co-ordinated effort with every man and every weapon, all arms co-operating so that the maximum effect was achieved—that very capacity which has been most conspicuously lacking on the British side. One good push has sent the structure crashing to the ground.
What is wrong with the British Army? To face that question and to accept the inescapable facts is not treason to the cause. It is treason to dodge the issue. Unless the question is fairly faced, I believe that we are well on the way to
final and irretrievable disaster. It is not that the British soldier is inferior to the German or the Japanese, man for man. I am certain that this generation of British manhood is as tough, courageous and tenacious as any generation that has gone before. The root cause of our humilating defeats lies in another direction. I have tried to explain that this is a war of peoples against peoples. All the resources of the nation pitted against the total resources of the enemy. We are attempting to fight this war of peoples—this People's War—by means of a class army. A tactic based on the internal combustion engine and the short wave radio, depends for its success upon the independence and initiative of the private soldier. It depends also upon a discipline, based on mutual co-operation and understanding between the soldier and his officer. In such an Army class can have no place. If it is there, it must produce disaster. The Secretary of State for War made it clear that the War Office instructions on this point are explicit.
Candidates for commissions are to be selected for their practical qualifications and not because of their class, education, or birth. I fully exonerate the War Office on that point. But these War Office instructions are flagrantly disregarded by commanding officers of units and by selection boards, who very frequently indeed—even to-day, in spite of what the Secretary of State has told us—ask these class questions:—"What school did you go to? What is your father? What private income have you?" I have even talked to young men recently who have been asked what their clubs were. I am not going to quote specific cases. What I say will be confirmed by cases which are, I think, known to almost every Member of this House, and they certainly will be known to innumerable thousands of the public outside.
I would, however, like to illustrate the depth of folly to which snobbery has reduced the leadership of the British Army. The son of a constituent of mine went to an O.C.T.U. When he got there, the commanding officer said to him, "Did you go to a public school?" In fact, this boy did not go to a public school; he went to a State-aided secondary school, but being a bright and intelligent boy, he promptly answered, "Yes, Sir, Redruth." A few days later the present Secretary of State for War went down to inspect this unit, and, in announcing the impending visit, the commanding officer said, "The Secretary of State for War is coming to visit us. We must have a guard of honour of public school boys. X, you must be one, you went to Redruth, didn't you?" This story has been repeated and has become a standing joke in Cornwall. When candidates who are not public school boys go up before the selection boards too often they are selected because they ape the manners and the accents of the public school boy rather than because of their practical qualifications. The German Army selects its officers on quite another basis. This is what Ludendorff says about the qualifications required for an officer in the modern German Army—
Yes, Sir. This is what he says:
In times of people's armies and of totalitarian warfare, the officer will fulfil his task only if he has a clear notion of the basis upon which the unity of the people and discipline rest, if he is himself rooted in the national life and knows the essence of the soldier's soul. In these qualities the old school of officers was lacking, for the officers lived apart from the people.
This is what the "Times" correspondent says of our leadership in Singapore, and it has some bearing on this matter:
The absence of forceful leadership made itself felt from the top downwards The material of the men was potentially good. Something was lacking to crystallise it, to co-ordinate it, to infuse it with the fire of confidence.
Australia has a classless Army. This is what the "Times" correspondent says of their leader in Singapore:
To my mind the general who showed the greatest qualities of leadership was the commander of the A.I.F Hard, bitter, sarcastic, difficult, he was a fighter through and through, imbued like his men with an aggressive, offensive and unconventional spirit.
As for the men, for the kind of warfare by which our Armies are faced all over the world, military mass training is useless.
Again in Ludendorff's words—
must be to train independent soldiers who will gladly assume responsibility. Discipline must be a harmonious co-operation of all, suppressing all thought of self and directed to one aim only. That aim is victory.
That kind of training we have already got for our commandoes. We must have it for the whole of our Army, if we are to survive. It is impossible in a Class Army in which the function of the private soldier is largely "not to reason why." If the Secretary of State for War would discuss it with some of the many intelligent young men in the Army to-day; he would find it is impressed upon them that it is their duty "not to reason why," not to understand the basic reason for their training.
How are these things to be got right? I think three things are vitally necessary in order to lick the British Army into shape in the shortest possible time. I am convinced that it can be done. The first is that I think the Defence Minister, or the Secretary of State for War, must select as head of the Army, an officer who understands the type of war his Army has to face, and who is capable of evolving a correct tactical doctrine based on modern developments in military technique. There are many officers in the Army at the present time who have no conception of what has taken place. They have not received training for it, and if the Minister is a wise man, I think he would beg the Russians to send a military mission to this country in order to assist him in his task.
Secondly, I think we should have a Select Committee of this House appointed to pass our military operations under continuous review in exactly the same way as the Select Committee on National Expenditure looks after the money side of things. Only so can we hope to bring to an end quickly the monotonous repetition of our military mistakes. Only so can the slackness that characterised the lack of preparation of our defences in Singapore be brought to an end. That is all I wish to say on that subject to-day; I hope I shall be able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye next week, because I would like to say more about it then.
The third, and most important, point is that I think an Inspector-General, directly responsible to the Secretary of State, should be appointed. He should, of course, have an adequate and competent Staff, and should be able to descend on units without any notice at all, to investigate all aspects of their administration and training, and he should report direct to the War Office. If the report is unfavourable, then the commanding officer of that unit should be ruthlessly liquidated.
In conclusion, I feel that it is imperative to make some reference to the Beveridge Report. It is true that the Secretary of State for War did touch upon it, but he far from satisfied me about it. I feel that a full-dress Debate should take place on that Report at the earliest possible moment, particularly in view of what I feel to be the disingenuous rejoinder of the War Office that is printed with it. In that rejoinder there seems to me to be same attempt to discredit the reliability of the Report. The War Office attempts to get away from the Report on the ground of the slender evidence produced by the Beveridge Committee. The War Office complains of the slender sample, of the few men who were interviewed. But the Army sample was larger than the sample for the other two Services; in fact, it consisted of 600 interviews—a very large number indeed—and those interviews were divided into three different categories. An important point which seems to justify the conclusions of the Beveridge Committee is that the results were consistent as between these three groups. All show the same substantial failure to use skill on the part of the Army. What justification is there for the reclassification by the War Office of the men interviewed? That, I completely fail to understand. The Committee made its classification with the full concurrence of the Army assessor. Now the War Office reclassifies the men without giving any indication of the basis, and without even consulting the Committee about it.
The importance of the Beveridge Report goes far beyond the disclosure of the misuse of skilled man-power. By implication, it shows the vested interests of the various corps competing with one another. Instead of the Army being an entity, like the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force, it is a congeries of competing corps, each fighting for its own hand, with the results we see on the battlefields. Several Members have already asked why, after this Report had been presented to the War Office, it has taken nearly three and a half months to publish it. Surely, it should have been in the hands of the House long before, and surely this House is entitled to some explanation about that. Does not this long delay show that there is a lack of any sense of urgency in these matters on the part of the War Office? This seemed to be indicated also by the Secretary of State when he told us to-day that the Esher Report was now being put into operation.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) has dealt with a large number of points with only one of which I should like to deal. As often happens in these cases, his comparison with the German army appears to be a little out of date. I do not know when Ludendorff wrote that book from which he quoted.
He was then coming to the end of his tether. There is, however, no question about it that we have a good deal to learn even from our enemies. I want to draw attention to one or two points which arise from one of the Army services not mentioned in the Secretary of State's illuminating address to-day—the Army Medical Service. It is particularly appropriate that we should pay some attention to it to-day, because the modern Army Medical Service, with its nursing and ancillary services, is largely the product of the late Secretary of State for War, Lord Midleton, whose death, only this week, we deplore. I had the good fortune to act as assistant secretary to the Departmental Committee of the War Office by which he undertook and carried through the reorganisation of the Army Medical Service. As a young house surgeon who in South Africa had criticised strongly the Army Medical Service of those days, I was put on this Committee in order to help them to consider in what way they could reorganise it to attract the right recruits into the Service. The work of that particular Departmental Committee was absolutely vital. It is worth while remembering this in comparison with the idea expressed by Wolseley in 1886, when he wrote:
The sanitary officer as a general rule is a very useless functionary. In future, so long as this fad continues, my recommendation is to leave him at the base.
That was the idea of the War Office and Horse Guards of the sanitary and medical services, except when it was thought necessary to treat the wounded. What was the result? In the South African War we saw the result of years of neglect not
altogether, perhaps not at all, the fault of the Medical Service, the repeated applications of which for improvement had been turned down. In two and a half years of that war in an average Army strength of 208,000 there were 58,000 cases and 8,000 deaths from enteric, and only 7,000 deaths from casualties killed in action. Compare that with the last war. Vaccination was good and thorough in the 14 years which ensued, and for a total strength five times the average in the Boer War, instead of 58,000 cases of enteric, there were only 7,500; instead of 8,000 deaths, only 266. How had this been done? It had been done in many ways, but largely owing to the introduction of vaccination, which had been brought to perfection by the research work of the Army Medical Service. Of dysentery, there were 86 cases per 1,000 in the South African War and only 6 per 1,000 in the last war.
These things are typical of conditions which are vital to the whole Army machine. We have learned to do quite a number of things with regard to the engines of warfare and the repair of machinery. That is all very well, but does the Secretary of State, as did the Horse Guards in the last century, take human material absolutely for granted which can look after itself and not require repair, except by technical officers? His speech and speeches which have been made on behalf of the War Office on these Estimates—and I have taken part in these Debates ever since my maiden speech 21 years ago, to which the present Prime Minister replied as Secretary for War—have generally been to approve the real importance of the Medical Service and still to look upon it as though it is only required to treat wounds in the field. They still have the idea that it is not essential, even since the last war. All through the 40 years I have been watching it we have gradually seen built up, by its own initiative and by the initiative of idealism, a far large conception of the importance of the Medical Service, the recognition that the Army cannot get on without healthy personnel. It has to be as healthy as it can be made to be. When a man arrives in the Army he has to be made healthy and has to be maintained healthy. Steps are taken in order to keep him healthy in the field.
There are certain definite points which we see which show we are reacting to modern ideas. There is the large increase in women medical officers in the Army. There is a considerable amount of questioning, especially among the women doctors outside the Army, as to whether they are given the proper position inasmuch as they are not given the same commissions as other medical officers in the Army but receive general commissions. I will not go into that, because it is under active consideration by the War Office and the Central Medical War Committee, of which I am a member. We shall be meeting to-morrow on the subject. On the whole the Army Medical Service has gone ahead in recruiting and making good use of these women doctors and also in establishing their position by creating an extra division of the War Office, with a woman colonel at their head.
There are other more technical points on which we want to hear definite evidence about their advantage. There are the troops about whom we have been hearing fighting on these eight different fronts, facing all sorts of dangers and troubles. To what extent have they suffered? We do not hear, we cannot tell, except by general it formation, by letters and correspondence of our own, and from particular technical journals. There has been remarkably little sickness over and above what is inevitable. A great deal of that evidence is attributable to the anti-toxin which is prepared by the Army Medical Service There is a great difference between this result and that of those Italians and those Greeks with whom we have been able to exchange experiences. As regards enteric, there have been, I believe, very few cases among the inoculated; they were far more among the Italians in Libya. As regards tetanus, I believe that most people in the House do not recognise the appalling danger to the wounded if they get infected. As a result of our tetanus inoculation, I believe we have only had two mild cases in the whole of our services amongst the inoculated. The difference that this creates was particularly noted. In the Greek hospitals there was a large amount among the Italian and Greek wounded. That ought to be borne in mind. I want to refer to the way in which the Army generally have had their eyes opened to the effects of the deficiency diseases. A remarkable series of nutritional scales has had to be worked out, and I believe that no less than 100 different specialised rations have had to be prepared to meet the different races among our troops: Cypriots, Indians, and so forth.
One particular point which I wish to raise is the difficulty of dealing with the subject of psycho-neurosis. Among ordinary people—and this applies to the Army, as well as elsewhere—that is regarded as a minor factor; but I believe that of cases invalided out of the Army at home, no less than 15 per cent. are due to these psycho-neuroses. These cases are people of less stable mentality who have been whipped up into the Army, and who are a constant nuisance not only to themselves, but to the units in which they serve, until they are cast out. A great deal more attention has been paid to this subject in the German Army than in our own. The difficulty which we experience is that there are not enough people who have gone through the schools of psycho-neurotic work and who have sufficient common sense to be useful. The Army has taken on some of the best of them, and they are helpful; but a great deal more requires to be done. I am told that the higher appointments in the German army, not only in the medical service but in the rest of that army, are made on the findings of the psycho-neurotic advisers; and that is the reason why the German army is commanded by young, promising, active, able heads and chiefs. This science of the understanding of psychology must go a great deal further before we can make proper use of the human material submitted to us.
There is no time for me to deal with all the other points that I should have liked to raise, but there is one question, which has been raised at Question Time, concerning the number of men who are taken from civil practice in order to fill the ranks in the Services, and especially in the Army. The Services were asked some time ago to see whether they could not modify their demands for more men. They have done a good deal in response, and we appreciate their difficulty. But I am not sure whether more could not be done, especially in regard to Service hospitals. There are several different sets of hospitals: one for the Army; another for the Navy; and, I think, one or two for the Air Force; hospitals under the Ministry of Pensions; hospitals under the Ministry of Health; Emergency Medical Service hospitals; and ordinary civil hospitals. I do not believe that this is a proper economical way of going on. We cannot make such big, radical changes in the middle of a war as we would wish; but we can prepare for them, and in the meantime we can co-ordinate. What is more important is the question of these men who have been dug out from private practice, whose work has to be carried on by older men and by disabled men. Are these men being properly used? When I first started as a civil surgeon, 42 years ago, in the South African War, no education in military duties was provided. Now in three weeks at the depot every civil practitioner, on being called up, is taught the very things that one wanted to know, and that one never learned, either in hospitals or in private life. Men go through this course and then have a week in the Army School of Hygiene. I assure the House that the demands of the Fighting Services have denuded, and are denuding, the civil medical service to an alarming extent. So far we have not suffered seriously from epidemic disease, but there may come a great demand for civil doctors, especially in the event of invasion.
I will end up on that point. The Army have organised the Home Guard. What have they done in the way of providing medical services for the Home Guard? I believe that the British Medical Association did offer the services of the profession, in a general kind of way, to the Home Guard; but they want some kind of organisation. There is an organisation, very much in skeleton form, in one or two areas. The thing can be done. What is wanted is not the appointment of medical men to be trained with the Home Guard, because these doctors have their own civil work going on at the same time; but they want to know what demands are likely to be made on them and what occasions they are likely to be required. They want a large number of first-aid posts, rest houses, and so on marked off.
I should like to end by asking the Secretary of State for War to look into the future of the medical service of the Army; because I believe that if every lad and lass is to have a year's military training as an essential part of their education, the Army medical service will play one of the largest parts in introducing the young adult to the ideal life, mental, vocational and spiritual as well as physical, and preparing him to advance the defence of his country if necessary, and to take his part in all the other things to which we hope to return in time of peace.
I want to say how very delighted I was at being able to hear a survey from the Secretary of State for War of the military situation which one can say, in general, is of such a very satisfactory character. When we look at the series of military operations in perspective, and contrast what was happening at the beginning of the war with what is happening now, despite the fact that the war has spread over a very much wider area—and I believe it will spread over a much wider area—the result must be regarded as very satisfactory. I believe we have nothing to fear, except, of course, deaths and wounds.
The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) raised the question of the allocation of medical personnel, but I feel that I must first say something with regard to the slanderous accusations which were recently made with regard to the women's Services. For over a year I was on the medical staff of a command and my principal job, among many other jobs, was to deal with everything that had to do with the medical side of the women's Service in that command. As regards accusations which are made about parts of the Service, I do not say, speaking generally, that all the women in the Services are complete angels. In fact some of them are rather like their brothers, but on the whole, and, by and large, to the extent of about 99·5 per cent., the women in the Services in my experience have an extremely high standard of conduct in every way. It is unfair that those who do not know and who speak from outside experience should make jeering and very scandalous references to the women of the Services. I worked with them and I had them working with me as clerks and assistants, and as expert advisers on many points on which they were very expert indeed, and everyone who has had that experience realises that they are just the women of our race doing a fine job, and it is not fair to speak ill of them as has been done.
Having said that, I want to get on to the question of the medical services and the allocation of medical man-power as between the Army, which takes the largest number of doctors, both men and women, the emergency medical service, which takes a far larger number, and the civilian medical practitioners in the country as well as those doing ordinary hospital work. One realises that the intelligence tests to which the Secretary of State referred and which are now such an important part of the Army machinery for grading men and putting them to the service in which they can best be used—an enormously important matter—are, fundamentally, based on medical knowledge and require medical direction and are carried out to a very large extent in association with the medical branch of the Service.
I would like to reinforce what the hon. Member for St. Albans has said, that there is a wrong idea about as to the function of the medical services. Some people seem to think that the business of the doctors in the medical services is to look after the sick and the wounded and that that is all. Far and away the most important function of the medical service is to look after the physical welfare and the well-being of the men in their unit, to see that they keep well and that the conditions of their lives, in every possible way, are as good as they can be. Anyone who has seen any active service knows that in a unit the commanding officer relies to a very large extent upon the medical officer with regard to maintaining not only the health but the morale of the men. He has, in that aspect, a very important function. But, even with regard to doctors who are waiting for casualties, one sometimes hears complaints, both in hospitals and from medical officers who are attached to units, that they have enough to do.
I had an experience in that respect which I will relate to the House. I had gone out to France in May, 1940, for the purpose of looking into the medical services and seeing what they were like, with a view to making use of the information in this House at a later date. I found, on going to one unit which was on the then Belgian frontier, that the medical officer was in a state of suppressed fury. He told me what a very large practice he had somewhere in the Midlands and how he had nothing whatever to do in the wretched battalion with which he was associated just north of Arras, and how he thought that he would have no more work to do at all. I remained in Arras for two days after that and on the second day after that interview I was awakened by a certain number of bombs exploding close by an aerodrome. It was the beginning of Hitler's offensive. The medical officer who had been complaining that he had nothing whatever to do, no doubt went through the whole of the retreat to Dunkirk and the evacuation from Dunkirk, and no doubt acquitted himself like a gallant gentleman; and he certainly in those circumstances could not complain of lack of work. I mention that because it is essential in the Army that at all times there shall be men ready to take up work when the emergency comes. As we know, the emergency has not yet come in this country. We shall be extremely and unusually lucky if we do not require to have Army units in action in this country before the war is, perhaps, very much older.
The Army requires very large numbers of medical men, and so does the Navy, though not so many, and the Air Force, and some time ago a committee was set up under the chairmanship of the Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, known as the Shakespeare Committee. It consisted of a number of distinguished medical men representing the civilian medical profession, and of one representative each of the Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Navy. It was appointed to determine how the medical man-power in the country should be allocated as between the Services, the Emergency Medical Services and the civilian practitioners. The Committee has done a valuable work and reported, and I hope that the Under-Secretary in his reply will be able to give us more information about that Committee and the valuable work that it has done. There is in fact—and I hope that this will be confirmed by the Minister in his reply—no real shortage of medical personnel in the country. It is only a question of the allocation. The Army has enough people at the present time, although it is constantly requiring more, and so have the other two Services, and it is really a question of seeing, as the hon. Member for St. Albans rightly pointed out, that the civilian medical practitioners are not too much reduced in numbers, so as to be unable to give adequate attention to the civil population. I believe that the Shakespeare Committee will have indicated in its report the lines on which that allocation of medical personnel should proceed. The Ministry of Health has, at the instance of this Committee, recently sent out a circular to the emergency war hospitals which provide most of the medical services, asking them to reduce their staffs because it is thought that those staffs are too big. That, I think, will have to be done. It is a very important point and I hope we shall have more information about it.
Also, of course, as a result of the findings of this Committee regional committees have been set up to deal with the matter in great detail and especially the vexed question of allocation as between hospitals occupying men full-time and occupying men part-time. On this point I want, particularly, to ask whether it is necessary to keep the Shakespeare Committee in being as a kind of court of appeal? As a fact-finding committee it has done valuable work but why should that Committee be maintained as an executive authority to decide upon the allocation of medical man-power? There is in the Services already, all the executive authority which is required and I suggest that if the Shakespeare Committee is maintained—and I have nothing against it; it is an admirable Committee—it will be only a fifth wheel to the coach. What I am aiming at is an increase in the efficiency of the organisation with regard to the medical services of the country in general, and also that allocation, in future, along the lines suggested by the Shakespeare Committee, should be made the business of the heads of the various Services. It should be the business of the head of the Emergency Medical Service, the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Anderson, Secretary of the Medical War Committee and representatives of the ordinary medical practitioners in the country, under the chairmanship of an independent non-medical person.
If that body is constituted as I have suggested—and I believe it would recommend itself to the Services—you would have in the hands of that committee or council, whatever you like to call it, all the necessary knowledge with regard to the needs of the Services. There would be the knowledge of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Emergency Medical Services, medical officers of health and private medical practitioners and you would have, not only knowledge of their needs but executive authority to allocate and use the men and women concerned. I believe that would be a valuable improvement in organisation. Undoubtedly, it will become more and more necessary for us to economise, as the Minister said, in every possible way. Any economy which can help to do away with correspondence, the use of paper and the unnecessary expenditure of time would be of enormous advantage. These men I have suggested, if grouped into a committee, would be able to deal with the whole medical organisation of the Services and the civilian community. The constitution of such a committee would be a considerable improvement on existing circumstances and our war effort would move with greater rapidity.
I would like to refer for a moment to something which was said by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin). He criticised most severely the method of selecting candidates for Officer Cadet Training Units. Well, my experience of the Army during the past two and a half years has not been the same as that of his informants. I have been instrumental in putting up for these units, the names of men quite half of whom did not come from public schools and, as far as I know, almost every man I recommended to my commanding officer was selected. I think the hon. Member's speech will be mischievous in effect, and will give an inaccurate impression of the true facts; and I hope that, on further investigation and consideration, he will feel disposed to withdraw something of what he has said.
I shall not refer to the speeches made by the two distinguished doctors who have preceded me. I have no medical knowledge and, therefore, I have no wish to criticise but I would like to say something about the speech of the Secretary of State. It was a good speech, full of interesting matter. I was particularly interested in his appreciation of the importance and significance of the lack of what might be called the experimental laboratory we had in France during the last war for the training of troops. In training in this country the Home Forces suffer exceedingly because they have nowhere to "try out" training, close at hand. In that connection I would like to stress the anxiety which many besides myself feel, namely, that we are not adequately using the experience of those who have learned something about modern war in the Near and Far East. I was interested, too, in what my right hon. and gallant Friend told the House about the British share in the fighting which has taken place, and I would like to add that it is only right that some steps should be taken to bring out the specifically English share. I believe the whole Empire suffers because of the lack of mention of English troops—[HON MEMBERS: "British."] No, I am particularly referring to English troops. Scottish troops are picturesquely garbed, they make odd noises and they are very fine soldiers, but I maintain that English troops are second to none in the world. I would sooner fight with English troops than any other troops in the world. It is not a question of sentimental justice; real harm has been done to the British cause by the failure to point out that English troops do the predominant amount of fighting. I would like also to refer to the Beveridge Report and stress my conviction that it deserves particular study.
But the speech of the Secretary of State in general was beside the point. He either dealt with past events or with administrative questions. But this is a moment when people are seriously worried about the Army. They feel that the British Army will play a key part in winning the war for us. They are not worried about administration—except for the fact that the Army is over-administered and that administrative powers are not devolved down to junior formations and ranks much more than they are at present. I know that many questions which cause anxiety cannot be dealt with in public but some can, notably the two main questions with which my right hon. and gallant Friend hardly dealt. First, there is the question of equipment, and, secondly, and above all, the question of training. The Minister made no mention whatever of our methods of training or of his confidence in our methods of training.
I will give one example only, and I think the Under-Secretary would interest the House and the country if he dealt with it. It is this. Are the higher ranks in the Army—and I am making no charges or implications—satisfied about air co-operation? In particular, the amount of air co-operation available for training? That is the sort of question that the Secretary of State, in my humble submission, ought to have dealt with in his speech. My right hon. and gallant Friend has very great responsibilities. He is responsible for the British soldier, and nothing is too good for the British soldier. I am old-fashioned enough to be firmly convinced that the British soldier is far superior to any other soldier as a fighting man, and I am certain the British soldier is conscious of that, too; but if the Secretary of State devotes more than a very small part of his time and activity to questions of administration, questions of the past, questions of personalities, he is not being true to his trust. He is primarily responsible for providing the British soldier with the training he deserves, the equipment he deserves, and the leadership he deserves. I very much regret that he did not touch on those subjects in his speech. As a representative of the Army in the House, I conclude by saying that the British Army, I am convinced, will not fail this country. Once again, as in the past, it will snatch victory out of apparently adverse circumstances; once again it will save this country, and once again civilisation will survive, thanks to the British soldier.
After listening to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State introducing the Estimates, I am inclined to offer congratulations to him on a workmanlike speech. Although I may have appeared unfriendly in making two interjections in that speech, I want to say quite frankly that even the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's worst enemies—and I include some of those who have written books dealing with him and the job he held so brilliantly for his party when he was Chief Whip—could not help paying a tribute to him for the way he has spoken on the Estimates.
Many aspects of the Beveridge Committee's Report have been referred to, and I think we can reasonably expect a full day's Debate on that report at a later stage. The report proves beyond a shadow of doubt that the War Office have failed to exercise such scrutiny of its man-power as would enable that man-power to be utilised effectively in the best manner. As we have already been informed, the report deals almost exclusively with the non-use of skilled men in engineering and kindred trades. There is no suggestion in the report that the men referred to are shirking their duties in any way, shape, or form. The criticism is that the men have special qualifications that are not being utilised—that is all—and that they are not being utilised at the time when there is a widespread demand for men with those particular qualifications.
I want to call attention to some other aspects of a more deplorable and inexcusable waste of man-power. The "Star" newspaper—and I make no apology for mentioning that newspaper—has performed, during the last few days, a useful service by calling attention to the vast number of fit men in the Army who are really what they rightly describe as toy soldiers. These men add nothing to the fighting strength of the Army, and in fact they do little, if any, regular training as fighting soldiers. With great respect, I maintain that in the main they perform jobs which could adequately and efficiently be done by women, boys and older men. Far too many of these men are being given commissions on entering the Army. They do not pass through an Officer Cadet Training Unit or have special training, and yet they seem to obtain very rapid promotion. I refer in particular to welfare officers, who come under what is called the A.W.2 Department of the War Office. These men with commissioned rank are strutting about like peacocks, and some of them hold very high ranks indeed. They are favoured people who are relatively useless to the Army, and their presence in the Army is liable to cause discontent among genuine soldiers. Their presence undermines, rather than stimulates, morale in the Fighting Services and training battalions. When I think of what is being endured by our lads in the Middle East—where I served in the last war—in Burma and in the far-flung battle-line, I say without hesitation it is inexcusable that we should have so many of these men strutting about to-day.
I have taken a special, if not a personal, interest in the entertainment side of the Army, and I have found considerable pleasure in doing so as a civilian. I wish to say quite frankly that I am in favour
of providing reasonable facilities for entertainment of a wholesome kind, and I am in favour of encouraging the soldiers in their different units and war stations to help in entertaining themselves. I notice that the Under-Secretary agrees with me, but I would point out that when teams of professional entertainers are introduced into some of these depots you destroy the impetus which is required to get amateurs to take an interest in the question. By the formation of their own concert parties and bands, much good has been done, but I am afraid that amateur entertainment is being neglected by the Welfare Department. I say that from my own personal contact with various Army depots, camps, units and brigades. The "Star," supported by a volume of evidence, has, in the last few days, disclosed a state of affairs which cannot be tolerated any longer. They have given cases of dance bands playing day after day and night after night in cabarets, dance halls and music halls, and, in some cases, in night clubs, and I would particularly draw attention to the fact that this entertainment is purely for civilian audiences. These bandsmen are in uniform and are clothed, fed and maintained by the State, and their wives and families are receiving the usual Army allowances and pay, and yet they are allowed to receive substantial fees from vested interests in the music halls, night clubs and cabarets. There is no doubt that the greater part of their time is spent in working for civilian employers. One organisation says in its report:
The company to which I refer has been serving soldiers and training soldiers in Scotland for the past 12 months. This party has been going about for nearly a year and has been seen at nearly all the most important theatres in Scotland.
To call these men soldiers is simply grotesque. I have been told that the head of the Army welfare has complained that the Army requires a greater volume of entertainment than it is now getting. I have no doubt about that. The Army needs far more entertainment. When I have asked Questions in the House I have been told that the welfare officers report, in the specific areas to which I have referred, that everything is all right, but, if the General wants more entertainment for the troops why does he without protest permit these Army dance bands and concert parties and soldier artistes to appear
before civilian audiences night after night in every part of the country instead of utilising their services, as he could do, to entertain the troops? I have some of last week's bills. These are not the old-time military bands which could do a job of work, say, in connection with War Weapons Weeks. They are jazz bands and concert parties. Here is one that had a week's engagement at Preston. They call themselves the "Tigers." Another is called the "Tam o'shanters." Little did I think I should find that the racketeers had organised themselves into a concert party, but I find that they are associated with an Army regiment, and they are making a good thing out of it because they are likely to get £150 for a week's engagement, so it is a very good racket indeed.
To offer the explanation that these artistes are on a week's leave is pure nonsense. If they are on a week's leave, how in heaven's name do they come to be on a week's leave each week for month after month? It is perpetual leave that they are on. There are people appearing in the West End of London this very week. We have been told in the gossip columns that they are in the Army, but they are not in the Army like some of us were in the last war, when we were two or three years away from home without a day's leave. We were glad to entertain our pals and do what we could to stimulate the morale of those around us, but these people, week after week, all the time, are entertaining civilians in the West End. A more alarming state of affairs is that theatrical agents are sending to managers lists of dates on which some of these military parties are free to accept engagements for civilian entertainment. According to official statements, many of these artistes have been enlisted into the Army and employed solely for entertaining the troops.
If this be so, I would ask why they are given frequent leave to appear in music halls at certain intervals. I would also ask what social and vested influences there are behind these arrangements, and I would like to know why certain of the big organisations in the entertainment world and well-known managers are able to influence leave with such regularity for these big names in the music-hall world. Why are groups of men recruited to certain units and relieved week after week from their ordinary military duties? Why do they not, like some of our lads, appear on the parade ground morning after morning? Why do they not, like some of us had to do in the last war, do sentry and picket duty night after night? Why are they subject to such favouritism and privileges?
These are questions which the general public are asking and they have a right to know who is behind it. If General Willans is responsible, let us have him before a Select Committee so that he can show how this racket is being run. It is a misuse of man-power and deserves the fullest investigation. Some time ago the House was informed, following the setting up of a Departmental Committee, that the National Service Entertainments Board would co-ordinate a scheme for Service entertainments generally. Is this Board carrying out its duties? I believe that it has had one meeting, but has it met since? Has Lord May, the chairman of this Board, taken steps to bring such facts as I have referred to the notice of the Board? Will Lord May provide an answer to this House why the Board is not functioning to-day? I would again remind my right and gallant Friend that I have no vested interest in any form of entertainment organisation other than ordinary amateur drama. In that respect I have a particular regard for many of the organisations that have been doing a fine job of work. Any criticism I may level is in no way directed to amateur theatrical organisations. We have reason to be concerned with what Lord May should have been doing and has not been doing. While entertainment may be playing only a minor part in this war, it undoubtedly indicates a regrettable waste of man-power when we find such abuses, which are fairly obvious to anyone in almost every town and city. I appeal to the Minister to convert these toy soldiers into real soldiers without delay. They bring discredit on the Army, they disturb morale, and they create discontent in the depots because their fellow soldiers say, "You have only to play in somebody's jazz band"—I will not mention names—"and you can be excused everything and can keep on dodging the column." I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to examine this matter. The Beveridge Committee may have overlooked it. It concerns many thousands of men, and he will be doing a useful job of work if he thoroughly examines the whole situation.
Last week I raised the question of better conditions for soldiers, and because I made a comparison between the pay of our soldiers and those of other countries who are over here I was told by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for War, in somewhat sepulchral tones, that I was doing a disservice to the Army. On the other hand, he said practically in the same breath that the "rates of pay must be governed by the conditions of the country in which they are paid," and a little later he said:
It is right, and I would not quarrel for a moment with the argument, that the rate of pay for our Forces should be related as far as possible to the rates of pay and of wages of every other man and woman in this country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1942; col. 1491, Vol. 377.]
That all seems very strange to me, because the suggestion which I made and which the Under-Secretary said was a disservice would, if it were adopted, cost the country 2s. 6d. extra per soldier per day, but the argument which the Parliamentary Secretary said was right might cost the country anything between 7s. 6d. to 15s. extra per soldier per day.
I must say that I said nothing of the kind. I said that the wages of those in the Services must bear a relation to the wages of industrial workers, and that must be taken into account.
That is all I am saying—
to the rates of pay and of wages of every other man and woman in this country.
The only reason why I was quoting that was that in view of the somewhat acrimonious discussion we had on the previous occasion I was hoping that on this occasion we could go along common ground, and therefore I intend to leave out to-day the comparison I made then between our
Forces and the Dominion Forces, and shall merely make a comparison between the pay of our soldiers, especially the married ones, and workers in industry. I quote yet again the words that the Under-Secretary used:
that the rate of pay in our Forces should be related as far as possible to the rates of pay and wages of every other man and woman in the country.
I am in complete agreement with that, and I think that many members of this House would also endorse that suggestion if it could be carried out. How could it be carried out? We as a nation would have to do one of three things. Either we should have to bring the standard of living of the civilian worker and his family to the level of the soldier and his family, or vice versa, or find a fair equal medium for both, that is to say the same standard of living for both to be assessed after taking skill and personal risk into consideration. To give an example, an industrial apprentice would be compared with the non-tradesman private, and at the other end of the scale a highly-skilled workman would approach the category, possibly, of a sergeant parachutist. Following that, it would be necessary that every adult civilian, like adults in the Services, should come under military law.
I notice that the hon. and gallant Member has confined his argument to private soldiers and the relation between their rates of pay and those of industrial workmen. Would he now give us his opinion as to the relation in pay between officers, from the rank of second-lieutenant upwards to that of general, and that of industrial workers?
I am following an argument which I used on the last occasion, when I said that I would confine my remarks to the minimum amount of pay in the Army. It is following those remarks that I am basing my approach to-day, and if the hon. Member will allow me to continue on those lines, he will enable me to save some time. It is obvious that what I have suggested and what, I believe, has been suggested on other occasions by Members of this House ought to have been done at the beginning of the war, but its adoption now would not only give some real meaning to the farcical slogan "Equality of sacrifice," but it would
nip in the bud that dangerous and growing resentment that is sweeping through the Services, in spite of the denials of the Joint Under-Secretary last week. Since that time I have received innumerable letters on this subject. A great many of those letters have come from responsible people in or connected with the Services. It is interesting to note that though a number of them endorse what was said on that occasion last week about the disparity of pay between our Forces and Dominion Forces, practically every one of the letters says something about the unfairness between civilian and Service pay. I should like to quote one or two paragraphs from a few of the letters. Here is one from a soldier's wife living in Warrington. I naturally take a particular interest in this case because it is from a constituency which I once had the honour to represent. She says:
Before my husband volunteered, he was getting between £5 10s. and £6 a week. Now my Army allowance is £3 10s., to keep myself and five children. No wonder we get disheartened when we see our neighbours' wives and children dressed up to perfection, and new carpets going in their homes, when my own carpets are worn out and cannot be replaced. By the time my husband gets his discharge, he will be coming home to bare boards. I hope I have not done too much wrong in writing to you, but I just could not help it.
Here is an extract from a letter from a number of men of a certain field company. More than 200 men have subscribed to this letter. This is what they say:
It is a great source of worry to the soldier that his dependants should have to exist on a miserable pittance from the Government, which should long ago have rationalised civilian and military labour on basic rate.
You will find the same theme running through most of this correspondence. Here is one from a sergeant parachutist. The paragraph that I had intended to read, now I look at it again, is very true but also very rude, and on second thoughts I do not think I will read it. But towards the end of his letter he says:
The Army stands four-square, ready to fight anyone. All we ask is appreciation in a practical way to enable us and our dependants to live on the same standards as our brothers in industry.
This from a staff sergeant at Aldershot:
This 'nest egg' should be retrospective, that is to say, with effect from date of enlistment. To soldiers that have been through Dunkirk, Crete, etc., the knowledge that after
two years of war they now have the colossal sum of one guinea, and after another year's hard fighting the sum of £9 odd, cannot by any means be considered gratifying, the more so when we read in the Press of boys of 15 or 16 years of age earning £9 per week.
I will not weary the House with several others that I had intended to read, but I will convey just one last extract from a letter by an officer in the War Office. This is what he said:
Sir Edward Grigg denies the statement of resentment in the Forces with evident rancour, and proudly states that there is nothing wrong with the morale, claiming that he has reports at frequent intervals. Does he really suppose a soldier is so naive as to go to some bumbling old general to say, 'No complaints, Sir,' just as he does to his orderly officer? Who make these cheerful reports? Nobody who really knows his men! I know no one, in three Commands who has ever made such a report to higher authority. The men in the Army are 'browned off.'
I think that these extracts all go to show that there is little doubt as to what is likely to be the main problem at home of this Government in the near future. If I am to receive a reply that there is no real dissatisfaction among the troops, if the Government persist in that ostrich habit, I shall have to ask leave through the usual channels, possibly for a Secret Session—as I do not think it would be proper to convey such information in open Session—so that I can convey to the House certain irrefutable serious facts and figures that I have in my possession which will show serious conditions. I am hoping that that may not be necessary, and I am quite willing, after this Debate, to convey this information to the representatives of the War Office.
If my recollection serves me aright, I think it was in a Debate on man-power—it will be within the recollection of many hon. Members of this House—that the Minister of Labour not long ago said in effect that he did not mind what was earned by industrial workers so long as they produced the goods. So, to-day, civilian workers have a higher standard of spending power than they ever had before. I am not grumbling at that for one moment, but I have yet to hear the Secretary of State for War say, "I do not mind what soldiers earn so long as they win battles." In the meantime the spending power of the ordinary soldier is, I will not say at a pauper's level, but is at anyhow a miserable rate. And the Joint Under-Secretary explains that situation
in the same Debate to which I have already referred by saying:
Once these rates are raised to a certain point they must affect the rates in time of peace."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1942; col. 1492, Vol. 377.]
I somehow feel that that is typical of "the old school-tie" mentality, the mentality that continues to approach our wartime problems in a peace-time manner. That is the kind of mentality that is being such a menace to many Government Departments at the present time, which, I hope and believe, if rumour is right, are at this moment being reconstructed. I could name, and I think I shortly intend to name, 21 other Ministers who are also quite incapable of moving with the times if they are still in office. What does it matter what we do now, so long as it helps us to win the war? We hear a great deal about peace plans. There was the Atlantic Charter. Over the week-end the Foreign Secretary spent time telling us what we were going to do when we got peace. What is the good of making all these peace plans if there is a possibility still that we may lose the war? Yet the spokesman of the War Office says of something that would immensely encourage our fighting men that "once these rates are raised to a certain point, they must affect the rates in time of peace." What a difference to the outlook of the Minister of Labour which I have just quoted. For some reasons if only the Minister of Labour could take the place of the present Secretary of State for War then there might no longer be the necessity for myself and other Members in this House to stand up here time and again and plead the cause of the ordinary soldier, the Cinderella of the Fighting Services, and for so doing only receive in return the kind of insults that were hurled at the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and myself by the spokesman of the War Office on the last occasion when these matters were raised.
I cannot regret sufficiently that the hon. and gallant Member has not got what he deserves. I am not quite certain what that would be. There are one or two minor points I wish to raise in connection with these Estimates. None of them are points of any great moment—
On a point of Order. I really wish to know in what manner the repeated insults and the unwarranted innuendoes which are passed on every occasion on which the hon. and gallant Member for Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) speaks can be brought to an end, for the credit of this House.
So far as I am concerned, I have never, to the best of my recollection, alluded to the hon. and gallant Member before. I had not any innuendo in mind, and I did not think that other people had any in mind, as apparently they had. No offensive innuendo was present to my mind, although there was one apparently in other people's minds.
I had in my mind a phrase which would not cause offence, but perhaps I did not express it as carefully as I might have done. If I have caused the hon. and gallant Member any offence, I have done my best to remove it, by saying that I regret it, which I do; and I did not think the matter would be taken as seriously as it has been by the serious hon. Members opposite. Now perhaps I might proceed.
I hope that all hon. Members will. Unfortunately, I did not quite plumb the minds of some hon. Members opposite. But we will pass from that subject, or perhaps some other storm may start; and that would be very unfortunate.
As regards the new system for the intake of recruits, it is a very scientific system, and one cannot now come to conclusions as to how it will work out. In theory, it seems to provide great advantages; but hon. Members, particularly those who served in the last war, will remember that there was a very scientific method of demobilisation after the last war. Under that system, the man for whom there was the greatest need was demobilised first, and so on until finally only the poor unskilled labourer, who was generally an infantry man who had gone through many campaigns, was left. That system broke down completely on the human element, because everybody in the Army knew that the poor old fellow who had been fighting for years, even if he was not a very skilled workman, ought to be given a chance to get home early and get on with his job. I am sure that my right hon. and gallant Friend will bear in mind that the very scientific scheme is sometimes a little impracticable when it neglects the human element.
There is another point on which people are suffering some disquiet. We have a very small supply of professional soldiers. The senior professional soldier who has been in the Army all his life has a very great advantage over the amateur. Recently a large number of senior Regular soldiers have been removed, I understand, from their active employment because of their age, although I think manly of them were quite capable of carrying on active soldiering. In the case of Marshal Foch, if the present schemes as regards age limits had applied, he would have been dissociated from the French Army a good deal before the last war began; and yet he did very well. When you have not got the constant training of active warfare, which we had in the last war, to bring on the young men, it is not always a sound theory that because a man is young he is good, particularly if he has not behind him the thorough backing and training of a long period of professional service.
There is another point which arises out of the reorganisation of the infantry as regards the territorial feeling and regimental tradition. I hope that, without interfering with the new scheme, it will be possible, in accordance with the regimental tradition, for association with certain parts of the United Kingdom to be maintained. It is better that Englishmen should serve together and Scotsmen and Welshmen, and even Irishmen. There is one point with regard to Northern Ireland which I would like to mention. I do not know whether it would be possible to allow troops from there to wear some distinctive badge. It is no fault of ours that the Military Service Acts do not apply to Northern Ireland because we are actually the only country in the Kingdom who did not give a vote against military service. I suppose that is why everybody else decided that we should not have it ourselves. At any rate, every one in Ulster is a volunteer, and it would be rather nice to have a little red band on the shoulder or something of that sort. I do not know whether that is practicable.
I speak with profound conviction regarding the Adjutant-General's branch, but I wonder whether a small reform could possibly be brought about? A limit ought to be put upon the use of the word "forthwith." If the General Staff had mastered the art of surprise to the same extent as the Adjutant-General has mastered it, we would win all our wars. When officers or anybody else get a direction to go somewhere they are always told to "go forthwith." If the Army Council could suggest a slight lessening of the use of the word "forthwith" it would be received with great enthusiasm by the troops.
There is one last thing I want to bring up, and it is connected with the medical side of the Army. When officers or other ranks become ill, it has to be decided whether the illness is due to their military service or not. On practically every occasion when there is the slightest doubt it is decided that it is their own fault, because the kind of diseases to which one is liable when wearing a khaki jacket and to which one is not liable when wearing a black jacket are very few. In workmen's compensation cases, for example, if a workman has an illness contracted through injury, he comes before the impartial tribunal but not so the soldier and the officer. The matter is taken to the War Office and is decided by the War Office, which is an interested party. The War Office then, with intense regret, notifies the soldier or officer that disability cannot be held to be due to war service.
I am not trying to bring up a past case, although there was a past case which nobody knew more about than I, where the doctors who dealt with the individual were not even consulted. Moreover, the conclusion was not arrived at until four months after the event and it was in the teeth of the evidence of all the doctors. Cannot something be done about that sort of thing? It all arises out of one paragraph, loosely drafted, to the effect that there must be some specific feature of the case which makes it apparent that the disability was due to service and that it was not due to a cold which one might get in the ordinary course of business, if one was a civilian. This is being applied at the present time with the utmost harshness to other ranks and officers. There is still a sort of idea in the back of the minds of some of the high military authorities that officers are a wealthy class. Well, they are not. They have very little to come and go on and when, after they have had to live under military conditions in bad weather, they are thrown out of the Army their pay is stopped and they are put on the unemployed list and have to pay their own medical expenses, I think it is treating them harshly. It is bad enough for other ranks to be treated in this way but they are not treated as badly as officers. So I hope something will be done about the question of disability arising out of an individual's military service. I hope there may be some chance of appealing to a party who is not directly interested; that if such a matter has to be decided by the War Office, they will, at least, consult the medical officers concerned with the case and that a quicker decision than is given now will be made. This is a matter which is of great importance to many individuals.
I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I reply to the general Debate in order that the House may be able to take the Amendment which is on the Order Paper. I would like to say first how grateful we are to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) for the speech with which he opened the Debate on the statement of my right hon. and gallant Friend. I am sorry he has had to leave the House because I would have liked to have thanked him personally for his speech. It was up to his best traditions and I am sure will be very useful to the Service and the cause for which we are fighting. Nobody could have dealt with the Army in a more sympathetic and generous manner. There were two very important points which he raised—one about the selection of officers and the other the use and importance of infantry at the present time. Before I come to those two questions, which are questions of principle in Army organisation, I should like to deal with some of the smaller points that have been raised in the Debate.
To begin with, let me say how much I appreciated the tribute which the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street paid to the Auxiliary Territorial Service. They have been most unfairly impugned, very serious reflections have been cast on officers and on all ranks, and they are perfectly right in resenting those reflections. I am sure the fact that the House recognises how unfair those reflections were will be a great encouragement to all ranks in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. I also appreciated very much the hon. Member's reference to the Home Guard, the high military value of which, as he knows, we greatly appreciate. As a matter of fact, I gather that the military value of the Home Guard is also highly appreciated by the other Services, for quite recently I heard from a very responsible authority of the answer that was given by a naval rating to the question, "What is the use of the Home Guard?" The naval rating replied, "The Home Guard are most important; they exist to defend this country while the Navy are evacuating the Army." The Home Guard are in splendid fettle, and their spirit has been shown recently by the extraordinarily small number of resignations that took place when compulsion was introduced.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Sir E. Makins) raised a point, to which other hon. Members have also referred, concerning co-operation between the Army and the Royal Air Force in training. I can assure hon. Members that co-operation in training began many months ago and was carried on all last year. I should not be speaking sincerely for either of the Services if I said that it has yet reached the degree of co-operation which both Services want, but it is making very good progress, and both Services look for great improvements in the coming year. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) that we in no way dissent from him in our high appreciation of the services of the Royal Army Medical Corps. We owe a great deal to them in the present war. The health of the Army is excellent. I agree with my hon. Friend that the greatest value of the Royal Army Medical Corps is not to cure sickness, but to keep the Army healthy, and that they have certainly done with very good effect. I will not give a detailed answer about the medical service for the Home Guard, for it is very complicated, and it would take some time to describe. It affects the Civil Defence Services as well as the Home Guard. If my hon. Friend wants details on the matter, I shall be glad to supply them. The organisation has taken a little time to work out, but I think it is reaching a high degree of efficiency at the present moment. May I add to what my hon. Friend said about the Royal Army Medical Corps by saying a word or two in praise and gratitude to the nursing sisters? The Army owe an enormous amount to them, and as usual they are maintaining their very high level of service in the present war.
The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) asked a question about the Shakespeare Committee. I am afraid I am not sufficiently well informed to give him a detailed answer on that matter; but I thought his remarks were very much to the point, and we will bear them in mind in future. I can tell him that although there was a shortage of doctors for the Army last year, priorities were established and we now have sufficient doctors; but we realise the importance of doing our utmost not to starve the civil population of doctors. I think I can best wind up my reference to the medical services by quoting from a recent report from the Adjutant-General on the health of the troops. There is only one feature in which the health of the troops is really not good at the present time, and I think that applies to the whole of this nation. He says that 80 per cent. of the recruits require dental treatment. I am afraid that that is a great weakness in the country at the present time. The good health of the Army extends not only to troops in this country but to troops overseas, and a great deal has been done by the medical services for our troops overseas. The medical authorities report that the health and condition of our oversea troops contrast strongly with that of enemy prisoners, among whom dysentery, typhoid and other diseases are very prevalent.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Farnham (Captain Nicholson) asked about the equipment of the Army. My right hon. and gallant Friend dealt with that in his speech, and I do not think that I can add any more details to what he said. Great as the production of this country has been, equipment is still short of what we require, and naturally the Army ask that the greatest possible effort should be made so that it may be forthcoming. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) and one or two other Members have referred to the Beveridge Report and to examples of the waste of man-power. As there is an Amendment dealing with the waste of man-power, I think that I had better leave a reply on that subject to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, so as not to confuse the Debate by introducing the subjects in two parts of it.
Surely the Under-Secretary recognises that the Minister himself laid great stress on the utmost use being made of the military personnel now at hand? This question deals with men already in the Service, who are being freed and receive higher rates than other soldiers who are asked to do the ordinary routine work of the Army.
I am not in any way derogating from the importance of the subject; I am saying that it will be dealt with by the Amendment, because I understand more speeches are to be made, and, therefore, the Debate is really not completed. I must leave my hon. Friend to deal also with the question of dance bands, a subject upon which I am afraid I am not at the moment very well informed. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) shall certainly be quoted to the Adjutant-General on the question of the use of the word "forthwith."
I will try to subtract the copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT from the Adjutant-General's attention. My hon. and gallant Friend surprised me very much when he said that he is ordered in the Army to "go" forthwith. I spent some time in the Army and I was never told to go anywhere. I was always told to "proceed." I hope the Adjutant-General has not altered the Army terminology.
I sympathise very much with what my hon. and gallant Friend said, and I agree very much with his remarks about regimental tradition. Certainly no one who has belonged to an infantry regiment is likely to underrate the importance of regimental tradition, which is of many kinds territorial, historical and so on. It is vital to maintain it as part of the esprit de corps of our fighting services, and I welcome what he said. The hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) returned to the question of pay and allowances, and said that he could quote a number of hard cases. I can only tell him that hard cases should most certainly be brought to the attention of the War Office and that we will most quickly go into them. We are most anxious to deal with hard cases. He must remember that the Advisory Grants Committee helps officers as well as other ranks. Obviously it is impossible to deal with every case under ordinary rates of pay and allowances. There are two points he mentioned, however, which I regret very much. I do not understand why he referred to the Army as the Cinderella of the Services in regard to rates of pay and allowances. The rates of pay and allowances are equalised in the three Services and they are not properly a subject for a Service Minister but a broader question affecting the three Services, and of course affecting the Treasury. I also deprecate what he said in regard to morale. He quoted a letter which came from an officer in the War Office. I am not asking for the name of the officer but I ask whether the letter was signed.
I do not know why an officer who was not prepared to sign his letter should proceed to get into touch with someone to whom he addressed the letter anonymously. I do not wish to carry out any victimising inquiry, but I have some doubts about the value of a letter of that sort.
The letter dealt with the question of Army morale, and I should have said that to write such a letter was an improper and unpatriotic thing for the officer concerned to do.
Hon. Members have spoken about the system of selection of officers. I want to deal with that carefully because it is a matter of the utmost importance, not only to the Army but to the nation. The nation wants to feel that the very best men are being selected for leadership in the Army in this terribly critical war and at this terribly critical moment of the war. I want to say, with all the emphasis at my command, that the Army is not in the least concerned with the origin of the candidates who come up for commissions. It is governed by one resolve only, to pick the best men regardless of their origin or background. I hope I shall be able to establish that we are doing our utmost to secure that result by what I say, in detail, of the existing system.
Everyone, whatever his background, starts at once with an equal opportunity of promotion to non-commissioned rank. All the time, in the Army, an eye is being kept open for men capable of command and leadership to take non-commissioned rank, and those who show the necessary qualities get promotion very quickly because non-commissioned officers are so badly needed. The first test whether a man is fit for commissioned rank is, obviously, whether he has shown capacity for non-commissioned rank. That a cadet should have held non-commissioned rank is not a sine qua non for being recommended for a cadet training unit, for the very good reason that excellent candidates may be in small units where there are so few N.C.O's that they do not get a chance of promotion to non-commissioned rank. Still, I can say for the Army generally, that promotion to non-commissioned rank is open to a recruit at a very early stage if he shows the capacity. Everyone is on the look out for capacity of that character.
That is varied in the case of units where it is difficult to get non-commissioned rank. I have made inquiries on that point and I have received a complete assurance from the Adjutant-General that that condition is not insisted on in units where non-commissioned rank is difficult to attain.
I think I must ask for notice of that question, but I will find out. There are, however, special reasons in the case of a technical arm of that kind. The conditions applying to non-commissioned rank are not quite the same.
The next point which has been raised is whether the commanding officer can be trusted to pick the best men and not to overlook good men. We are well aware of that point because all human beings have their idiosyncracies. Commanding officers are changed a good deal so that men get a chance of passing under more than one eye. Nevertheless, we are anxious that the selection should be as discriminating as possible, and lieutenant-colonels have been appointed in every command to go round units to see that the best men are being picked and to look out themselves, so far as they can, for promising men. General officers in all commands are paying special attention to that matter. I would remind hon. Members who have doubts on this point that a soldier who is not satisfied that he is getting justice in this matter has always the soldier's right to apply to the next highest officer. Every soldier has that right in regard to any grievance. If he thinks his nearest commanding officer is not doing him justice he can appeal to his superior officer. That is a valuable right which soldiers ought to make use of. I can say definitely that there is no question of insisting on any special educational attainments in candidates for Officer Cadet Training Units. The whole emphasis is on, and the whole search is for, leadership. That is what we want irrespective of everything else.
I hope that if I describe the system of selection when once a cadet has been put before a selection board hon. Members will agree that we are doing our utmost to get the best men chosen. The selection boards for personnel have recently been revised, and the members now consist almost entirely of young commanders with recent experience of handling the young intake in infantry training centres and Officer Cadet Training Units. They have had recent experience of the whole Army intake. When a candidate first goes before the selection board he is not interviewed for two days. There are two days during which he goes through special tests before the interview. They are watched by the president of the selection board so that he can get acquainted with the candidates whom he has to interview. He spends two days seeing how they shape under these tests, which are, in the first place, intelligence tests. By intelligence is not meant the possession of a school certificate or anything of that character, but the general intelligence which a soldier requires for work in the Service. The second test is for alertness, quick reactions to events.
The hon. Gentleman made a strange distinction there. He said the first test was not an intelligence test in the sense of the man having a school leaving certificate. Did he mean that it relates only to technical knowledge, or is it general intelligence?
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House when the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street suggested that candidates were being selected because they had been to secondary schools or universities, because that is the point I was meeting. The test here is not a test of educational attainments but of general all-round quickness of mind in a soldier's duties.
The hon. Gentleman speaks of general intelligence in a soldier's duties. Those are not the same qualifications. Is it a general intelligence test? Is it a test designed to show the man's intelligence or is it a specialised test? I am not concerned with the other point referred to.
I do not know what the hon. Member means by the distinction between a general test and a specialised test. I say it is a test of general intelligence which does not require to be backed up by school certificates or educational qualifications.
Thai is not a question for the War Office. I hope I have succeeded in making clear the purpose of the intelligence test. The second test is for alertness and quick reaction to events. The third test is of personality, the power to inspire confidence. The fourth test, the hardest of all, is a test of toughness of fibre, moral and physical, and it is being carried out by trained psychologists. Hon. Members will realise that a man may have all other qualifications but not be of a type to stand up to the actual conditions of battle. Everybody who has been in a battle knows of such cases, and medical Members in particular will appreciate the importance of this test. It is being carried out by trained men to make sure that these candidates will be able to sustain their warlike capabilities in the stress of battle. These tests are being slowly introduced. We have been slow in introducing them for a special reason. They have been in use in the German Army and in the American Army for some time, but we are not Germans or Americans, and we were not sure that the tests of other nations might prove applicable to our own people. We have therefore been carefully testing the tests, and it is only now, when we are satisfied that we have got the right tests by very considerable experience, that we are applying them generally.
I agree, of course, with hon. Members who have said that there is still one supreme test lacking, the test of battle. That is the great difficulty which our Army has faced in this war more than in the last war. As my right hon. Friend said, in the last war it was usually possible for formations of units to go into the line to be shot over and to get somewhat acclimatised and experienced in active service conditions before they got into violent fighting. Now units are thrown straight into the mill, and, as we have recently experienced in Malaya, thrown against veteran enemies with years of battle service behind them. It is a hard test of morale and training but I have no doubt that we shall overcome the difficulty.
We are constantly getting them here from the Middle East as well as from other battle areas. Commanders of all ranks are loud in their praise of young officers who are coming into the Army and they pay high tribute to their qualities. I do not think that hon. Members will be able to say to-day that the possession of an old school tie is of particular advantage. I do not think it ought to be a disadvantage, but it is almost becoming that to-day. In the intake of officers up to October, there were 24 per cent. from some 100 schools which are labelled as public schools and 76 per cent. from all the other schools and educational establishments in the country, secondary, elementary and all the rest of them. Of the 76 per cent., only 9 per cent. had had a university education. The net is therefore being thrown very wide.
It may interest hon. Members to have the figures for a test of leadership made last October as between those two classes. Candidates were, after considerable testing, separated into four classes—outstanding qualities of leadership, above the average, average and below the average. For outstanding qualities of leadership the public schools came out with 6 per cent. and the rest had 5½ per cent. In Grade B, that is, qualities above the average, there were 33 per cent. from public schools and 34½ from the rest. It therefore works out that for the highest classes 39 per cent. were from the public schools and 40 per cent. from the rest. For the average grades, the test showed 47 per cent. from the public schools and 43 per cent. from the rest, while for below the average, the percentage was 14 from the public schools and 17 from the rest. Hon. Members will notice that the difference between public schools and the rest in each of the four classes is very small indeed. It was a very fair cross test, and shows what is being done at the present moment.
I should like to say a word about the next grade of officer, those who go to the Staff College, and qualify for staff appointments. They may not all go to the Staff, but they take the Staff College training. The average age is about 30 years, and the number of Territorial officers about equals the number of officers in the Regular Army. The commandant and others say that in quality the students at the Staff College are of very high grade indeed. These are the reasons for having confidence in the selection of officers at the present time. I have given the House all the details possible at the present time of how the selection is made. Hon. Members will realise how much care and thought has been given to trying to get the best system of selection. They may remember that any system of selection, apart from that of piling up marks, which is quite impossible when you are trying to arrive at leaders, is always open to the charge of bias and favouritism.
It is the great disadvantage of board selection; everybody knows it, and there always will be hard cases. There always will be large numbers of candidates, or parents of candidates, who believe that they or their sons have been turned down for reasons which are not the real reasons. All I can say is that there, are no means of overcoming that, but, if hon. Members have cases in which they suspect hardship or bias, I hope they will send them to one of the Ministers at the War Office. They are always glad to investigate cases of that kind. I have investigated a good many, and I think I have been able to satisfy those concerned that there has been no real cause of complaint. When the facts have been stated they have begun to realise it. Very few people realise how tremendously keen the competition is at the present moment, and how hard it is to qualify. Competition is acute and there always will be cases of dissatisfaction; but I can say on behalf of my right hon. and gallant Friend, my colleagues and myself that if these cases are brought to our notice we shall be only too glad to investigate them, because we are most deeply anxious that there should be no shadow of suspicion of favouritism about the way in which leaders are chosen for the Army.
I will inquire about that. The object of the questions, as I pointed out, is to try and get the candidate to talk and to express himself and his own personality. The interview really is not a very important business; the other tests are important. But that is the only way in which a board can work. It is no use cross-examining the candidate. You get nothing by that means. You have to try and find out what the man is like, and the way to do it is to get him to talk himself. As a matter of fact, there are two questions which, the House will no doubt be interested to know, the Adjutant-General has ruled out of order. One is, "How much money have you got?" and the other is "How much money has your father got?" Those two have been completely ruled out.
Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me for asking whether he will say a word about officers who, after having passed the tests and having been selected as officers, have been badly reported upon, removed from officership and sent back into civil life? I have submitted a case to the War Office in which everything showed that the man in question had been a good officer, doing very good work, but was unpopular with the commanding officer of his regiment. I would like him to say a word about that.
Obviously I cannot answer now for individual cases, but in principle it must be possible. No system produces 100 per cent. of the right men, and the Army must have the right of rejecting officers who are found, after further trial, not to be capable of command. As a question of principle, there is no question whatever of favouritism in regard to this matter, and my hon. Friend should remember that every case in which an officer, having been unfavourably reported upon and called upon to resign his commission, appeals against the decision, is personally investigated by three members of the Army Council. Their examination is pretty thorough and complete.
Every officer has the right to see the Military Secretary or his representative. I know many cases in which officers have seen the Military Secretary, and although the decision may not have been altered, they have been satisfied that their case has been fairly considered. I think that the hon. Member has some case in mind about which I know nothing, and, of course, I cannot discuss that with him. I am giving him the general principles and practice. If he will send the case to me, I will arrange that it should be looked into.
Then it is being inquired into. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street asked me whether we had as much infantry in the Libyan battle as the Germans and Italians had against us. I am glad he asked that question, because it is very important that the value of infantry in the modern battle should be realised. I welcome the opportunity of saying something on that point. The answer to his special question is this: the number of infantry in the Eighth Army is approximately the same as the number of enemy infantry in Cyrenaica. Probably our numbers were slightly greater than the enemy's with regard to infantry. But it must be remembered that in battles like that of Libya, fought over such distances and with extended communications, neither army can bring into action at any one time all the infantry of which it disposes. Roughly speaking, the infantry force on each side was equal.
On the general question of infantry I wish to say a word. It is of importance at the present time and because there has been a certain feeling which, I think, has told against the intake of officers for the infantry, or was doing so last year, that the infantry was an obsolete arm, which only soldiers who were looking back to the last war would worry about at all, that what mattered were the specialist corps—Commandos, Armoured Corps and so on, and that the poor old infantry was out of the picture. That is not at all the experience of this war. I want to speak about infantry in this war not because I served in the infantry myself, still less because I would wish to depreciate in any way the immense importance of other Arms, but only because the infantry has been foolishly decried. As a matter of fact, training for the infantry and, especially, training for leadership in the infantry, is the most difficult of all forms of training at the present time. The infantry has the most varied role. Its tasks may change rapidly. It has to cover a very wide variety of ground. Not only that, it has to do more individual fighting by sections, and even by soldiers, than other Arms. Other Arms fight much more in groups, such as the Artillery. The infantry fight in a much more isolated manner, by sections, or even individually. The training of the individual, from the leader down to the smallest unit, may be of the very utmost importance. In fact, I am sure that, apart from one particular junior leader, that is a junior leader of a group of tanks, the infantry leader's task is the most exacting in modern war.
That is a measure of the importance of infantry. Previous experience is of little help in that training, unless the experience has been very unusual. Candidates have to get down to this training almost from scratch. They have to learn not only the practical use of their weapons, but how to deal rapidly with situations of a much greater variety than other arms have to meet. It is a fact that a single infantryman, isolated, may have a task to carry out in action as vital, and requiring as much courage, individual resource, and determination, as a single fighter pilot in a Hurricane. What I have been saying has been fully borne out by the fighting in Malaya, which has been largely a matter of infantry operations, and where the value of infantry training and leadership has been demonstrated to great advantage. I am sure that in this war, when the other Services have done their utmost—and, as hon. Members know, the closest possible co-operation of all three Services is indispensable—it is the Army which must clinch the issue; and in the Army, when the other Arms have made their contribution, it is the infantry which must occupy, and hold, and stand the hammering. It is the infantry, the oldest of all Arms, which is still the final factor in modern war. The best proof of that is that in Russia the Germans, who relied, to begin with, on their armoured formations, found that when dealing with an army of high morale, like the Russian Army, they could not depend on specialised corps, and that infantry was necessary. They reorganised their armoured divisions, halved the number of tanks, and doubled the number of infantry. That is an example of how infantry counts more and more in this war.
I wish to say one word more about the morale of the Army, particularly in reference to an extremely doubtful letter which was quoted by the hon. and gallant Member for Marylebone. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) asked me the other day whether I had ever heard the expression "browned off." I have, as have most people who have ever served in the Army. I agree that there is a certain amount of boredom, as there must always be. It is inevitable, especially when men are not allowed to fight, which, after all, is the main job of an Army. This boredom in the Army is worse towards the end of winter. It disappears very rapidly when the period of large-scale training begins at this time of year. At the end of winter, it is one of our difficulties to overcome this periodic boredom, with which everyone can sympathise. After all, the Army's job is very largely a routine job, whatever variety you may bring in.
I should therefore like to say a word about the Army Bureau of Current Affairs, which was set up very largely to deal with this trouble. It has arranged that once a week, in training time—to use a business phrase, in office hours—a unit gathers under its officer, and discusses some subject of public interest. The officer is in the chair, not in the pulpit. His business is to start a discussion, and to get the soldiers to give their views. In order that they may have interesting things to discuss, bulletins are issued in alternate weeks—one week, dealing with the war all over the world; and the next week, dealing with home affairs. These bulletins are written by independent authorities. They have proved very popular in the Army and not only here at home but in the Army overseas, which is always asking for larger numbers; and they have been welcomed also by the Canadians and others. If hon. Members are interested in these weekly bulletins, they will find copies of them available in the Library. I shall always be grateful for any comments on them which will help to make them more interesting and valuable. The officers are helped to start these discussions by the Army Education Corps and also by regional committees for adult education, and it is an interesting fact that in the last three months 2,400 officers have attended special courses to fit them for conducting aid starting discussions. The most valuable of all the results, apart from the dissipation of boredom, is the closer touch which it creates between officers and men. It certainly does that. I will give an example of what occurred the other day, when an officer who had been in China for some time started a discussion on China and Chinese domestic life and customs, and so on. They had a very interesting discussion on the subject for some time. That very same evening six of his men who had never been before came to see him with small domestic troubles of their own, asking for his help and advice, which shows that this kind of discussion helps to get men and officers together.
Are chaplains encouraged to do this kind of work? I know that certain chaplains have done it, but it appears to have been rather on their own initiative. Are they encouraged to do this, because it would give them an opportunity of getting in touch with the men in a way that is not possible by other means?
The chaplains are given every encouragement, but they are not encouraged to seek out men belonging to other communions, as it might cause trouble. The most convincing test that I can give the House of the high morale which exists in the Army, despite the effect of the long winter, is the test of absence. Boredom in an Army leads always to a high degree of absenteeism. Soldiers go simply because they cannot stand it any longer; absence is a very good test. There are two main causes. One is home worries, which occur all the time but are worse when air raids are on; and the other is simply boredom with Army life. The latest report, which is a very recent one, says that absenteeism is now down to an extraordinarily low level. It is a small fraction of one per cent. in the Army, and at the present time there is no sign at all of anything but a steady decrease of the little absenteeism that there is. If a unit is warned for service overseas or the moment there is any sign of service overseas, absenteeism disappears. I would like to read to the House the report of a divisional commander on the moral of this question of absence. He says:
It is doubtful whether severe punishment (which has been tried) acts as a deterrent in the majority of cases. The best preventive is good, close relationship and understanding between officers and men. As a result of efforts in this direction, the average number of
men in the Division absent at any one time has been reduced from 125 to 40 in the past year.
To have only 40 men absent at a time is rather a remarkable record.
The latter figure represents less than one quarter of one per cent. and probably cannot be much further reduced. That this absence does not indicate a lack of fighting morale"—
and this is the important thing—
is shown by the fact that when the division was ordered to mobilise and the men expected immediate orders for overseas, the number of absentees dropped to 12.
The other day the hon. Gentleman rather alleged that I was guilty of something treasonable in making a statement about morale. My statement was related to the effect on the Army, and the Services generally, of the lack of attention by this House or the authorities to their just demands for pay and allowances. I have never for one moment suggested that the Army's fighting spirit was any lower than it has ever been. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not think for one moment that I consider that the Army's fighting spirit is not good. But in view of what he has just said, it would be interesting if he could say how far the four leaves per year, the renewal of short leaves and the four free travelling warrants per annum have contributed to that fact.
I think the leaves have contributed. I am glad to hear that explanation from the hon. Gentleman and, of course, I accept it. Perhaps the other day I turned upon him a little sharply, but it must be remembered that the word "morale" is used all over the world to mean fighting quality and it is dangerous to say that the morale of the Army in this country has been affected by anything in the world, because it has not. If you like, "general dissatisfaction" and so on is all right, but I would deprecate the use of the word "morale," which carries that sense, certainly in other countries.
I will conclude with only one more testimony to the morale of the Army. I have quoted from a general, now I will quote from an outside authority which cannot be accused of overfriendliness to the Army, namely, the Beveridge Committee. This quotation comes from Appendix B by Mr. F. Pakenham. It is
headed, "Outstanding Morale" and says:
The angle of this Appendix has necessarily been critical. But seeing that few, if any, civilians have enjoyed during the present war such opportunities as has been afforded us of cross-examining individual soldiers in their units and listening to their stories of misuse, one may be allowed in conclusion to pass outside the strict province of the Committee and respectfully record an abiding recollection of outstanding morale evident up and down the country among all ranks of the British Army.
I think the House will not wish me to say more than that.