I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof,
this House is of opinion that, in view of the strong feeling that exists in the Army on the question of demobilisation and re-employment, that an advisory council be set up, composed of five officers and ten other ranks, and that all measures necessary be taken to ensure that all men due for demobilisation are so trained that they can be fitted into useful employment with the minimum of delay.
May I be allowed to refer to the high tributes paid by the Secretary of State for War to the commanders in the field and by Members of the House to the spirit, the courage and the achievements of our soldiers in the field? Tributes are good, but something much more than tributes are required. That is why I move the Amendment. I am reinforced in moving it by the following couple of sentences from Command Paper 6568:
The interim period is likely to be one of severe readjustment. Many difficult problems will arise and many conflicting interests will need to be reconciled.
The Minister may say that that White Paper was issued by the Minister of Labour and that the interim period is the business of that Minister. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman, however, that the demobilisation which will take place in the first instance will be an interim demobilisation. As the Minister has said, there will still be in existence a very large Army carrying on warfare. In the Army of to-day there are considerable grievances. I am not going to deal with them, but will just mention them in passing. There are grievances about leave, repatriation, being transferred from
one front to another, gratuities—all kinds of grievances—and it is necessary that everything affecting the Army should be handled with the greatest care and the greatest measure of human understanding. I am not satisfied that the Secretary of State is a partisan for the Army or that the War Office shows a human understanding of the many problems that come up. The Minister mentioned how many letters are received by the War Office. It is not the bulk of letters but the character of the answers that matters. I got a letter three or four weeks ago from the War Office, a terrible letter. I showed it to the Minister, and he could not understand the utter lack of human feeling and the terrible character of the letter. He told me it was meant to be a nice letter. I sent it back to the War Office, and I believe that, as a result, some discussion is taking place as to another method of dealing with the matter contained in the letter. It was a horrible letter.
I want an advisory council so that letters of this kind will not be sent. The Minister still does not understand the ghastly character of such a letter and I hope that no other like it will ever be sent out again. I will come in time to the advisory council. This great Army has its grievances, and there is a lack of care and of the human touch. When the interim demobilisation comes nobody will watch with greater interest what is happening than those who remain in the Army for whom the Minister is responsible. They are very watchful at the present time, and in many cases they are very suspicious. There is a general acceptance of the interim scheme, but that does not mean that everybody accepts it. It does not mean there is not great feeling in many parts of the Army about it. I have seen letters which urge that service abroad should be the dominating factor. Others urge that age should be the dominating factor. Others urge that domestic responsibility should be the dominating factor, while others draw attention to the fact that physical fitness, apart from sickness that calls for dismissal from the Army, should be one of the deciding factors. The important thing is the watchfulness that will be displayed regarding the interim demobilisation and re-absorption into civil life because those who are retained in the Army and those who are brought in by the process that is going on will see how demobilisation and re-absorption is going to affect them. What is likely to happen is of the greatest interest to them, and it is in the interest of the Minister and the War Office to see that nothing happens that can have any adverse effect on the millions of men remaining in the Army. It is not possible to stress too much the importance of that.
It will not do for the Minister to try to "pass the buck" to the Minister of Labour, or to some other Service Department, and to say that he is finished with the men as soon as they are demobilised. He is not finished with them, because he is responsible, not only to them, but to the men who remain, to see that the demobilisation takes place in such a way as will give general satisfaction. The men have been taken from the Ministry of Labour and trained in the arts of war. They have given a good account of themselves, they have used the tools with which they have been supplied with a tenacity and courage which every one is ready to recognise. Under the control and direction of the War Office and under their commanders they have defended what is generally called "our island home." That is recognised by all. Our cities stand, not one of them has been laid under siege. If we look across to the Continent we see city after city gnat has been under siege and razed to the ground. Many of our cities are scarred by the blitz, but every one stands because, as the Minister has said, the Army crossed that strip of water and pressed the enemy back from the menacing positions he held on the Western coast. Not only have our Army defended this island home, but it has liberated many countries in Europe from the Nazi scourge.
Recognising all this and paying tribute to all those who took part, the Minister and the War Office cannot wash their hands of their responsibility to these men. When victory comes in Europe, the Minister cannot say: "I am finished with them; I have no more interest in them; I hand them back to the Minister of Labour, as they are his concern." The Minister of Labour brought them from the factories and the schools and handed them over to the War Office. He knew when he was handing them over that there was a job waiting for them. When the Secretary of State hands back to the Minister of Labour, will he see that there is a job waiting for them? That is the responsibility which the Department has. I know that the Department will want to dodge it. It is much easier to pay high verbal tributes than for the Department to interest itself in a matter of this kind. Already many questions are arising about the interim scheme. There is a general impression that the interim period will be a very long one, but it may not be long. When it is over, great masses of the soldiers will want to be demobilised at the earliest possible opportunity.
What provision is being made for the general demobilisation. What discussions are taking place? Millions of men are affected. Are they to be consulted? Is any consideration at all shown for the opinions of the men? The Minister of Labour comes to this House occasionally, makes propositions regarding various types of workers and tells us that he has had consultations with the Employers' Federation, with the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, or with officials of the particular organisations to which the men belong. In some cases he has told us that the questions at issue had been settled in the discussions between him and people outside, whereupon protests have been made in this House about negotiations having gone so far. It is all very good that those discussions and negotiations should go on between the Minister and representatives of those masses of workers, but why should not consideration be shown to the opinions of the soldiers on matters which are so vitally important to them? Why should there not be a consultative body representing the men in the Army? Why should there not be such consultations with the men in the Army?
Letters come, I am certain, to every hon. Member regarding demobilisation and questions which arise out of it. I have had a few letters which have said that the writers would rather not be demobilised, than left to wander about the streets unemployed. I heard the Minister quote Field-Marshal Montgomery as saying: "It is an inspiration to see such fine soldiers." The Minister should not forget that similar things were said about our soldiers during the last war, but it was a heartbreak to see the same soldiers after they were demobilised. The Minister of Labour does not take the men out of the factories and leave them to wander the streets till the Army picks them up. Are the Secretary of State for War and the War Office proposing to take the men out of the Army and leave them to wander about the streets until the Minister of Labour can pick them up? Will that be an inspiring sight or a desirable example? Does the Minister realise the effect it would have on the men who still have the fighting to do?
Many problems arise, and many different questions and complaints come in to Members. I had some suggestions from a soldier not long ago which seemed to me to be very good, and so I sent them to the War Office. We are always getting complaints and suggestions. Would it not be good if we had an advisory body to which we could send such questions, suggestions and complaints so that they could be considered by those with an understanding of the conditions? Such an advisory body I suggest in my Amendment. I know that this suggestion is new.
It is one thing to have such a body in an isolated area, and another to have one nationally, which would accept responsibility and would be consulted in all questions affecting demobilisation and reabsorption of the soldiers, as a part of Government policy. This is something new. We know that anything new is generally abhorrent to the Tory mind. That is one of the difficulties that we are always up against. I am always struck with the massive lack of intelligence of the Tory mind.
I remember that a present Member of this House was, towards the end of the last war, in Petrograd, and sent a report to the then Prime Minister which is typical of the Tory attitude of mind which it is impossible to break through with a new idea. I wish it was possible to save the young Tories from becoming old Tories. They might look around, and when they see the sour and solemn defenders of privilege for the few, and privation for the many, perhaps they will realise what they are likely themselves to become, unless they leave that charnel-house of dead hopes, and come out into the fresh, clean air with the true progressive forces. The hon. Member of this House to whom I have referred had come up against the political commissars or delegates, and that was something new. He reported to the then Prime Minister—and this is the authentic Tory voice [Interruption]—We are faced with the fact that if Harry Pollitt makes a statement anywhere I am held responsible, and I accept responsibility for it. If Johnny Gollan in Glasgow makes a statement, I am held responsible, and accept responsibility for it, yet if a Tory makes a statement, every other Tory wants to dodge it. The authentic Tory voice was heard when that hon. Member, talking about the position in the Russian Army, reported: "The political delegate is now looked upon as a universal panacea, but he is not half so effective as were the subaltern's boot and fist in former times." [An HON. MEMBER: "What?"] Boot and fist, kicking the men; that is the Tory voice and the Tory mentality: that is how it was in the past, and so it must always be. It may be that that mentality still finds a place in the War Office. If it does, it should be cleaned out. It is still in this House at any rate.
Associated with the questions of demobilisation is the training of men for being reabsorbed into civil life. That will be a very big and very important task for the War Office. As the men are trained, they will be able to take their places in the country which they have so nobly defended. The Minister and Field-Marshal Montgomery speak highly of them, and so does everyone else. When the men come back, will the Minister say: "These are your cities; you have saved them. The best that is in them is for you." Will he see that they will be able to fit in, and will not simply have to take just anything that may be provided for them? Will they be fitted in and be enabled to give fruitful and valuable service for the community?
Everybody wants to see these men trained for absorption into civil life. Surely the War Office has a responsibility for seeing that civil life is ready to receive them. It would be a waste to train the men and then to put them on to the streets. I hope the Minister understands that point and that all the time the men are in the Army, he will be watching it. It will be quite possible to make mistakes through bad handling of the interim demobilisation. I want the Minister and the War Office to say to the Government: "When the war with Germany is ended we shall be able to release so many men. Have you jobs for them?" It will be necessary for the Government, if they are to meet the needs of the occasion, to control the industries to ensure that these will be capable of providing work. Are the War Office prepared to submit those suggestions to the Government?
The Minister pointed out that the building of "Mulberry" represented an amazing example of co-ordination between the War Office and civil Departments. It is more important now that there should be co-ordination among all the Departments, in order to bring about proper reabsorption of these men into civil life. I want to see the men consulted on all questions which affect them, and an advisory council representing the Army being considered and consulted in all such questions. The men and the officers have as much right to be consulted as the men and the employers' federations in industry and for that reason I propose that an advisory council should be appointed to ensure that those consultations take place. The Minister has a great responsibility for the men, and so has this House of Commons. The men have proved themselves grand soldiers. Therefore, the Minister and this House must 3.ee to it that these "grand soldiers" are given every opportunity to become grand and useful citizens when the war is over.
I beg to second the Amendment.
The compliment might perhaps have been even greater if it had not been dictated to some extent by the numerical representation of the hon. Member's party, but I do appreciate being asked by him to second this Amendment on such an important subject. I would like to congratulate the hon. Member on his passionate sincerity in matters of this kind in the interest of the soldiers and the workers, whether in the field or factory. I congratulate him on his luck in the Ballot, and on his good sense in framing an Amendment in the interests of our soldiers. I cannot add too sincerely and whole-heartedly my tribute to his and to the others paid to-day to our soldiers in the field, both men and women, who have taken part in the defence of this land and the liberties of the whole world.
The purpose of the Amendment is to make possible for those men and women who have made peace possible, and we hope enduring, a better future and a better world, with wider opportunities for them than they had in the past; and what is even more important to them, better opportunities for their children after them. In the meantime, while these men and women are in the Services, let us do better justice to them in matters pertaining to demobilisation and their training for re-entering industry after the war. We cannot pay these debts easily, or dismiss lightly their demand for more adequate attention to their needs. Had we had more representation of the actual serving men, officers and other ranks, in the past during this war, I feel certain that a lot of those causes of friction and discontent, which are brought to our notice so frequently in letters and personal interviews, could have been obviated altogether. Many of these questions which are important to the men could have been solved for them without their having recourse reluctantly to Members of Parliament, had they been able freely to express themselves, and to have their views put effectively in the councils of the War Office and Ministry of Labour, through a tribunal or council of this sort, proposed by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).
I have heard it summed up very bitterly by a soldier from my constituency in a fairly free paraphrase from a speech by the Prime Minister: "It is toil and sweat and tears all right, for us. We toil and sweat for profiteers!" That may have been an exaggeration or not, according to how one looks at the question. Those in the Services have been called upon to face the enemy and to make, possibly, the greatest sacrifice. They have seen men and women at home enjoying a higher standard of living than they themselves enjoyed in the past. They have said "If we had been at home, we would have enjoyed the same standard of wages, and would have been free agents and in dividuals and happier beings. Instead of that we have been drafted at inadequate wages, with a prospect of a miserable gratuity compared with those of the Dominion and American Forces." They have had no adequate means of expressing themselves on this question except through Members of Parliament. That is not enough. Many Members have done a great deal in these matters, but I think the men would have felt that they were better represented had they had an opportunity for the expression of their own views through a special agency, and free from all the restrictions on the Service soldier in expressing himself on military matters.
I wish to put a few points about the question of releases. These are individual and practical points. One of these concerns the question of considering compassionate leave in relation to a man's service for demobilisation. I do not know for certain what is the War Office attitude on this question; but I plead with them to disregard compassionate leave for length-of-service demobilisation purposes. It is given to a man only because of exceptional hardship; and this special leave should be completely disregarded. Since it is not disregarded under the present arrangements, I hope they will be amended to make it possible.
I mean temporary release. The term "unpaid leave" was used loosely. In connection with the specific question of training for the teaching profession I would ask the War Office to encourage and advise men and women to take advantage of the improved scheme for getting them into the teaching profession, which both needs them, and will welcome men and women from the Services with their wider experience. But do help to prepare their minds now to choose the full university and training-college courses, rather than the telescoped and inadequate courses, which will leave us with some badly-equipped and partially trained teachers, to the detriment of the teaching profession and its standards, and the standards of education, and which will be damaging to the training to the children, the citizens of to-morrow. I would urge the War Office to approach the Treasury and other Departments concerned in this matter to ensure that adequate funds will be made available to give our Service men and women a full university course instead of being rushed through half-trained as partially competent teachers. In respect of certain other trades and professions also, I would rather that men should be given time, and their minds prepared now, to think in terms of the full training and full courses, with the assurance that the necessary money will be forthcoming, not only in their own interests and the interests of the trade, but in the interests of the future of industry as a whole.
There is a feeling in some of the rural areas in connection with post-war use of amenities which have been set up for troops in the country areas. There is a feeling among men serving abroad, for instance, in our Highland divisions, that the new electricity facilities and water supplies, etc., should be left permanently in those areas; so that they shall have in their own homes in peace and permanently, the things which are deemed to be so necessary for strangers, those on war service, even temporarily, in these areas. There is a great deal of suspicion and doubt among the soldiers, whether justifiable or not, regarding the question of employment after the war. That is the more widespread probably because of the fact that millions of very young men and women have been taken into the Services without any previous training whatever in industrial work. They were part way through their apprenticeship, part way through their training, or they had had no training at all. They expect, after the war, to be given the same conditions, the same wages and the same standard of living generally that their fellows have had who have not been called up, or disciplined and put into the firing line in this war. It is a serious problem.
Remarkably good work is being done by the Ministry of Labour and National Service. I cannot complain about them in relation to my approaches to them, but the War Office itself can do a tremendous amount to prepare the minds of these men and women for the future, for their approach to the kind of work into which they are to be fitted, and how they are to tackle the problem of their training. They will have to get out of the minds of hundreds of thousands of these young men and women the idea that they will step at once into a job at war-time wages. There is no reason why they should not enjoy those conditions— they have more right to expect it—of those who have enjoyed personal comfort as citizens at home, and have had, to a large extent, their personal freedom. We have to give those in the Services reassurance that, not only the disabled cases, not only the difficult psychological cases, are to be specially provided for. We have to give them some assurance that, as my hon. Friend has said, even as we find plenty of work for them to do in the Services, so we will find, at good wages and in good conditions, useful, constructive work for them to do as citizens in the post-war world, in the world which they themselves have preserved for civilisation. We must get rid of this suspicion which exists about the post-war world by putting something definite and wholesome in its place; that is by putting there a full reassurance and practical guarantees of suitable opportunities for training and employment after the war.
Many of our soldiers, men and women, are anxious regarding the question of the employment after the war of aliens. I mention that only in passing, to say that many aliens apparently wish to remain in this country after the war, and take the place of many of our own men and women in, for example, the catering industry. Our men have fought for trade union conditions, which were built up through years of effort, to be enjoyed by free men. I do not think we should give priority to those who were on tie other side, the wrong side of the battle for freedom and tried to force their slavery on us as well. There are compassionate cases, and difficult ones, but in the main let us be blunt and give a guarantee to our own men and women. Let the Government say that we shall give preference to our own men, and people who have fought for our freedom. That would, I know, be welcome, and would dispel many doubts. Some of our serving men and women have been worried about another odd story; in connection with reparations and "making Germany pay" some stories have been circulated about the bringing into this country of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Germans as a punish- ment to do the work that our men themselves would otherwise be doing. That may be far-fetched but it has been brought to hon. Members' attention by men who are worried about it; and I ask that an assurance be given on this also.
With regard to the question of priority on release for the higher administrative posts, there is worry in the Services with regard to the selection from the Army, on demobilisation, of men who have been in the higher commissioned ranks—that these men will automatically be fitted into the higher administrative posts in peace-time services. According to the official story, which has always been maintained, against our experience to some extent, men are chosen for a particular job in the commissioned grades because of a suitability for that particular job, as a job. For example, you do not make a man an infantry officer because he is a good medical officer in peace time. It would be silly. You obviously make him a doctor in the R.A.M.C. Similarly, because a man has been a civil engineer in peace time, you do not make him an officer in the R.A.M.C. In the same way you do not make a man a senior officer in an entirely different civilian service in peace time, because he was a good Army officer. You do not make him, because of his fate Army rank only, senior to a technical expert who was only an N.C.O. or a private, or a corporal during the war. There is a good deal of misgiving about the question of putting men into civil life in grades corresponding to the positions and rank which they have held in the Army. There is a good deal of fear of all the "plums" being offered to the "brass-hats" when they come out of the Services. That feeling arises, perhaps, out of the misconception of the White Paper's intentions and our discussions here about it.
The Minister of Labour should dispel these ideas if they are not true. A statement from him would go a long way, because his good will is appreciated in the Services and in this House. Such a statement would get rid of a sense of impending unfairness in allocating post-war jobs. Let the men be told that they are going to start equal in civil life, and find their own level on merit, irrespective of the ranks they held in the Army. Let them, of course, have scope to use the qualities which gave them promotion in the Army, but do not let them be given preference in civil life because of their ranks alone. If you could dispel that fear of unfair priority in civil life on the basis of service, commissioned standing, you would go a long way towards reassuring the serving men now. It is important that the untrained millions—untrained for anything except military service—should be given every possible kind of vocational guidance and technical training on coming out of the Service. We cannot afford to say that we cannot afford the greatest amount of financial and other assistance, within reason, to enable men, whether they come from rich homes or from poor homes, to be trained on the basis of the country's need. And our desire in this House should be that they shall be afforded every opportunity and help to make their own way in society, and along the line they have chosen to pursue as a lifetime vocation.
One way of doing that is to put more directly for free consultation at the disposal of men requiring training and vocational advice a body of people representing the active Service officers and other ranks, to whom the troops can have free access, without fear of being penalised for going to them. Almost every letter that we get from men on service says, "Will you please keep this confidential?" or "Will you regard this as being entirely personal to yourself and not pass it on to the War Office?" because they fear repercussions, not from the War Office directly, but from somebody lower down, who may be annoyed at the soldier going to the War Office or M.P. over his head. If we could have a body, in consultation with, and co-operating with, the rehabilitation services of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Pensions and so forth, to which the men could go freely, without any fear of victimisation, in the assurance that this was a body officially set up for their purpose, it would give a great fillip to morale in the Service. We have not far to go: the war is approaching its end; and there is little enough time in which to perfect our demobilisation plans. If the right hon. Gentleman will accept this Amendment, in the spirit of its helpful intention, I think the troops will be grateful to him, as will be many hon. Members of this House.
I have been very much impressed by several of the observations of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher),
and by one particular phrase in the Amendment:
all men due for demobilisation are so trained that they can be fitted into useful employment with the minimum of delay.
I am sure that all Members, after listening to the Minister, are convinced that we have a great deal to congratulate ourselves upon, so far as the military service of these men overseas is concerned. People who can take their minds back to the years between 1914 and 1918, and others who even to-day think of absent ones from their homes, will realise that this matter affects every home in the nation. Unless we have a contented military service this nation can achieve nothing of value. In view of the discontent all over the world, we must recognise that the more we can do to bring about good conditions in the Army and contentment among the relatives of the troops, the better it will be for this nation and for the world. I realise now more than ever, not only the responsibilities of parenthood but the responsibility of representing in this House a great commercial city and those who "go down to the sea in ships," and who go overseas to fight for us. We cannot escape our obligation to those young men, who have so readily stepped into the gap, and in some cases have made the great sacrifice, to enable us to have a better future. I am fully aware of the debt that we owe to those men for the sacrifice that has been, and is being made, by them. The future is of pressing importance to those men, and we ought to know what that future is to be.
Anyone who thinks that we shall have a new world when this war is over is under a delusion. To talk about an Eldorado coming in a few moments is absurd. There is a responsibility on every Member of this House in regard to the men of the nation, not only from the little homes but from the homes of the rich, who are taking their place on the battlefields of the world. But there is another fight which will begin only when the war is over and men resume normal life, which will be very difficult for many of them. What is the future to give them? It is not too much to ask a Minister who is responsible for the greatest Army that Britain has ever assembled in a fight for her life: "What are you about to do in regard to those young men, and those middle-aged men, who have done so much for us?" When we recollect the sacrifices that have been made, we must realise that we have had an easy time compared to the young men who in the course of a few years have become philosophers and sages before their time, because in their youth they have seen much greater things than we have seen. When senility has had its time in this House and is passing out, and younger men are taking their places here, they have a right to ask the Minister, in regard to youth, "Quo vadis? Whither goest thou?" One or two little cameos come into my mind—not cameos from the jeweller's shop, but cameos of life, studies of the individual who comes to his representative in this House, and not with any fear of the authorities in the Army, for I have not found men afraid to say: "I would like to put my complaint before you." There has been no anonymity about it. They have come straight to me, and said: "This is my complaint," and when the statements have been vouched for I have been able to find redress.
Last week I had a case bearing on this question of rehabilitation. On 28th February a young man who had been in the Army came from Scotland to Liverpool to look for a home. He had no home. He left the Army after 11 years as a gunner on special duty. I have here the location, destination, and everything else, with his name and address and number, but I do not intend to give them. This man, now 29 years of age, became a physical wreck in December, through enemy action. He is getting treatment. He goes to Scotland, because his wife and two children have been blitzed out of their home in the South and are unable to get a house in Liverpool. In Scotland he gets a shack, which has been untenanted for many years, because it is insanitary. Now he is living there, with his wife and two children, because he is not able to get a home. He came from Scotland to Liverpool last Friday to see if he could get a home there. I want to know if priority rights are to be given in cases such as this. If priority rights are to be given, in regard to household effects and a home, men who have sacrified their health deserve them. A Minister cannot say, "I have my own Department, and I have nothing to do with this particular part of the work." Ministers, like the Trinity, are all one. It is a question of collabora- tion. The Minister of Health, the Minister of War, and the Minister of Labour must work together; otherwise, there can be no true organisation in the affairs of this country. We shall be told that the matter we are raising is a matter for the Ministry of Labour, but—
With all respect, Sir, I am trying to keep in Order, but I daresay I passed the border. I am trying to point out, in regard to the co-ordination of the three different Services, how essential it is that, in regard to the particular Service about which I am speaking, collaboration must take place if fair treatment is to be received by the individual.
I am afraid that that matter is outside the scope of the Debate. In the past, the matter of the co-ordination of staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force was raised and that has been ruled out. Therefore, co-ordination of the Ministry of War with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour must also be ruled out.
I am sorry that I am unable to escape the meshes of the jurisdiction of the Chair, and so I shall have to confine myself to the War Office, although I have heard that the 86 Irish Members in the olden days used to be able to break the Rules by asking what they were. I am anxious to bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and so I address a specific question to the Secretary of State for War, asking what he is doing in regard to his duty and responsibility towards the serving men, and inquiring if he is having any collaboration with anyone else—without specifying any particular Department—in regard to the interests of these serving soldiers who will have to be rehabilitated. I should be very pleased to know if any steps have been taken to see that these people who will come back will be rehabilitated. I am anxious to know whether young men in the Far East, and those in the European war zone, who are coming back to this country and may be demobilised in the course of six months or a year, will be given every opportunity to fill posts in this country which they were filling prior to the war. In regard to the position of employers of labour, who are under a responsibility to give employment to the people who were previously in their employ, are the military going to insist that these young men, officers as well as other ranks, shall have the opportunity, when returning to civil life, to get back into the kind of employment in which they were previously engaged? I want to know if any collaboration has taken place in regard to the returning officers or soldiers to ensure that no injustice will be done on the two points I have raised, those of housing and the question of re-employment, and I shall be very thankful indeed for any information that can be given.
The Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has moved to-night covers matters in which all serving in the Armed Forces are vitally and deeply interested, and I think, if I may say so, that the House owes a debt to my hon. Friend for raising these matters through the medium of his Amendment. I am not saying that I will find myself in agreement with him later on, but I think we are certainly grateful to him for raising these matters. I think it would be of interest to the House if I were to deal briefly with the principle of release. As the House knows, the general principles of the scheme of release of men from the Forces, which is, of course, applicable to all three Services, are fully set out in the White Paper on the re-allocation of man-power between the Armed Forces and civilian employment during any interim period between the defeat of Germany and the defeat of Japan.
The House will recall that this scheme was very fully debated on 15th November last, and, it may be fairly said, was generally approved, and there is every reason to believe that, by and large, it commands the general approval of those who are serving in the Forces. I do not propose to go through the features of the scheme, which are well known to everybody, but it may be worth while to emphasise certain fundamental points. As was pointed out in the White Paper, the present scheme is not a scheme for general demobilisation; it is, as the title indicates, a scheme for the re-allocation of the nation's man-power between the needs of the Armed Forces and those of civil employment. As long as the war with Germany lasts, the demands for man-power by the Army require the services of every man that can possibly be spared, and the requirements of the civil economy have to go short. When the war with Germany comes to an end the balance will shift to some extent, since it will be neither necessary nor possible to deploy the whole of our existing man-power resources against Japan, and, consequently, more men will be available from the Army for reconstruction and the general civil economy of the country.
The release scheme is, therefore, in essence, simply an instrument for deciding the order in which man-power now in the Army surplus to military requirements should be released. An essential need is that this order of release should take into account, not merely the priority or demand of civil industry—this aspect is, of course, catered for by what is called the Class B scheme—but the legitimate claims of those who have undergone the hardships, dangers and separation involved in service in the Forces to return to their homes and normal vocations.
Any scheme which, in its impact, affects the lives of millions of men, each individual different, must inevitably be open to criticism from certain angles. No scheme of this nature could possibly be devised which could satisfy every individual interest; the best that can be hoped for is a scheme which will be fair and equitable as between man and man and will provide the greatest common measure of satisfaction. As was stated in the White Paper, the arrangements for the release of men from the Forces must be readily understood and accepted as fair by the Forces and they must also not be too complicated for practical application.
To put it briefly, the scheme must be fair and must be recognised as fair, and must work. These desiderata can only be achieved by having an objective ponderable standard to govern the order of release; and I would suggest that age and length of service is such a standard. An objective standard does not depend upon the assessment of merit, whatever that may cover—or a physical condition, as was suggested by one correspondent of my hon. Friend—by another human being or body of human beings who, however well-intentioned, are fallible. Nor does it admit of wangling. Every man knows his year of birth and the date on which he joined the Army, and both can be verified in his documents. Explanatory tables showing the age and service groups have been supplied to every unit and sub-unit in the Army. Every man can thus see his group and discuss his position in relation to other men, and nothing can alter that relative position unless he forfeits service under conditions fully made known to him.
I think the method of the notice board is adopted, and I must confess that I have not yet met a soldier in my journeys who does not know his service group. I think my hon. and gallant Friend can be assured that every practical step is taken, but if he has information to the contrary, perhaps he will let me have it? When the time comes for his group to be released and he wishes to go, the only thing which can prevent his going is the possibility of his having to be retained on grounds of military necessity. As was pointed out in the White Paper, military requirements must override all other considerations, but every effort will be made to reduce the application of military necessity to a minimum. Retention under this heading will be rigorously restricted to real military necessity. Few individuals are indispensable, and the possibility of replacement must be thoroughly explored before retention is authorised, as was announced in the House a little while ago. The competent authority to authorise retention on this ground in the United Kingdom is the general officer, commanding-in-chief, of the command, and overseas commanders-in-chief, who may, at their discretion, however delegate their authority to any officer not below the rank of brigadier. In addition, the War Office, may, at any time, authorise the retention of any individual.
Is it not a fact that this question of military necessity may very adversely affect the chances of demobilisation of medical officers, owing to the fact that medical officers are very scarce; and will my hon. and learned Friend pay particular attention to the possibility of making some adjustment of the scheme, so as to make possible the demobilisation of men of senior rank and low medical category as early as possible?
I will certainly have that suggestion examined, but I would not like to go any further than that at the moment. The adoption of an objective standard also facilitates enormously the administrative working of any scheme. Plans can be made in advance, since however long the war lasts the relative position of one man to another will remain unchanged in respect to age and length of service. This is one of the main reasons why it is undesirable to attempt to take into account too many factors, many of which naturally command sympathy. An attempt to assess and weigh a large number of factors would complicate any scheme and make it administratively difficult, with the result that, apart from possible controversy as to the relative merits of different factors, the scheme might well break down.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife has suggested that the release scheme should be operated through the machinery of a committee composed of officers and other ranks, his object, no doubt, being to ensure that the release scheme is carried out fairly, and without fear or favour. I need hardly say that the Government have no objection in principle to the setting up of a committee if such a committee would in fact assist. For some time past a joint committee of officers and other ranks have operated in the Middle East, and possibly in some other Commands, for the purpose of deciding cases for compassionate reposting, but I would point out that favouritism or wangling cannot operate in the proposed release scheme, which is, of course, one of its main merits. It cannot operate because of the standard we have established.
As I have already pointed out, each man knows into which group he falls. Nothing can alter that, and when the time for the release of his group comes he is bound to be released unless he is retained on the ground of military necessity, as to which it is obvious the military authorities alone must decide, or unless, of course, he voluntarily decides to remain in the Army. Any interference with the auto- matic operation of this objective standard would only cause a great deal of administrative trouble and delay, and accordingly the suggestion of my hon. Friend cannot therefore be accepted. If my hon. Friend has in mind a possibility of influence and interference in regard to the Class B men he need have no cause for apprehension. Nor could any committee of the type he may have in mind render any useful practical service.
The demand for Class B releases will come from this end. Nor, so far as block releases are concerned, will they be dealt with on the basis of individual persons. If the number of building operatives due for release in Class A on account of their age and service do not meet the requirements of the building industry and an allotment of a further X-thousand Class B releases is made by the Ministry of Labour in consultation with the other Government Department concerned, then the names of men to make up this number of X-thousand will be obtained automatically from the War Office central card index by running through the next age and service groups and extracting the names of the building operatives. It will, I think, be impossible to influence the electrically-controlled War Office central card index. As regards the release of individual specialists in the Class B scheme, these will be relatively very few in comparison with releases as a whole, and will have, as at present, first to be sponsored by the Government Department interested in the industries or professions concerned, secondly to be scrutinised and accepted or rejected by the Minister of Labour, and, thirdly, to be finally agreed or rejected by the War Office, so that the chances of unfair discrimination are very remote.
Would it not be simpler if the hon. and learned Gentleman, instead of going through all this, were to say that there would be no problem of any kind affecting the soldier in connection with interim demobilisation and therefore the War Office does not need any advice?
The War Office is always glad to receive advice, but what I am trying to say is of great interest to soldiers. I am trying to tell them and the nation as simply as I can what exactly we propose to do when the time comes. Cases of hardship will, however, continue to be dealt with as at present on compassionate release grounds. No hard-and-fast definition of what constitutes hardship is practicable, but conditions will conform generally with the provisions of the compassionate manual under which the Army operates at the present time. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. MacMillan) asked whether it was not possible to include periods of compassionate release in reckoning length of service, but I am afraid that this is not possible, as only days for which a soldier receives pay can be counted, and a man who has been released does not receive pay.
This seems to me to be an additional hardship to the one which caused the man to be originally temporarily released on compassionate grounds, and now we are going to impose a third hardship.
In my experience soldier A goes home and secures employment and the remuneration that goes with it, whereas soldier B has to stay and render service either at home or abroad, and I think it is only right that the other man should not be given advantages which are not possible for the one who remains on active service.
I am sorry to interrupt again, but does the hon. and learned Gentleman really think that it is possible for a man to secure employment for two or three weeks when the employer knows that in a very short time he will be leaving him?
I would not like to commit myself but I think the House will agree that it is fairly easy for any man to get a job at the present time. I should like to give an assurance that we have not lost sight of one of the bad mistakes of 1919, when inadequate time was given in which to make the necessary arrangements to bring home those serving in distant theatres of war. The release scheme applies equally to all personnel wherever they may be serving and when a group or a block of groups is scheduled for release, it is intended that all personnel wherever serving shall, as far as possible, be released concurrently in the United Kingdom. It cannot of course be guaranteed that every man in a particular group will get home from abroad, and be released at exactly the same time as other men in the group stationed at home, but the intention is to assign a period during which a group will be released, and to give sufficient notice of the opening date to enable the necessary arrangements to be completed in respect of the movement home of the men serving overseas. The House may like to have some information as to the mechanics of release which have now been worked out with plans ready to be put into execution when required.
I do not know, and I am certainly not in a position to say anything about it to-night.
England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been divided into dispersal areas, each of which is served by a dispersal unit, established in some existing camps or barracks. Near every dispersal unit will be a collecting unit, also established in existing camps or barracks. The procedure on release will be as follows: Every Class A man who is stationed in the United Kingdom will go first from his unit to the collecting unit serving the dispersal area in which he is stationed at the moment. If he is, so to speak, a native of that area, and is going to live there, he will be passed on at once by the collecting unit to the neighbouring dispersal unit where his final documentation will be completed, we hope, in a very short time—15 to 20 minutes. If, on the other hand, he does not reside in that area, but in some other part of the country, he will be sent by the collecting unit to the dispersal unit serving the area in which his home is.
Each individual officer or other rank, man or woman, will have a release book, the greater part of which will be completed in his unit before he or she starts on his or her journey home. At the dispersal unit, there will be representatives of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health to issue unemployment books and medical contribution cards. Four pages will be left in the book for the individual to take away from the dispersal unit. One is a railway ticket home; one is a form in exchange for which he can obtain from the local authority a civilian identity card, ration book and clothing book; one is a form on which those eligible for national health insurance benefit can obtain medical treatment by a civilian doctor if they need it during the 56 days' release leave, and one is a form on which he can apply for a disability pension if he desires to claim one. The back cover of the book forms a leave certificate, a record of service, and a testimonial which the individual can keep.
Other ranks will be paid a round sum according to their rank at the dispersal unit, the balance due for his release leave being sent later by the paymaster in a book, on which he can draw fortnightly payment at any post office. As already announced men will receive an outfit of clothes at a clothing depot which will be near the dispersal unit. Women will not be given clothes but will receive clothing coupons at the dispersal unit, a grant of £12s. being sent to them direct from the paymaster. There will be separate wings of each dispersal unit for the A.T.S. Men coming home from overseas for release, will be sent direct from the port to a disembarkation camp. There they will hand in arms and equipment and will be sent direct thence to the dispersal units serving the areas covering the neighbourhood to which they are to go on release. There they will go through the procedure already described. A.T.S. coming home from abroad, will not go to a disembarkation camp, but will be sent from the ports to a suitable unit in this country, and thence to the appropriate dispersal unit.
As releases in Class B are analogous to the releases which have been made during the war from the Army to work of national importance, and the procedure for the Class B releases will be much the same as for the former type of release, there will be no necessity for men released in Class B to go through dispersal units or for them to use release books. Men released in Class B will be released direct from their units, but, before leaving their units, will be sent to clothing depots to draw their civilian clothing outfit. They will, however, only receive 21 days' leave with pay and allowances of their rank, seven days' pay and ration allowance before leaving their unit the balance to be forwarded shortly afterwards by the appropriate paymaster.
I should like to refer to the main schemes for education and training and for placing men and women in civil employment. Those have already been announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour on 16th November, 1944. These schemes provide facilities for the further education and training of those men and women suitable for professional careers, and a vocational scheme to provide training for the skilled manual occupations and for certain occupations for the black-coated worker. As regards the Army, while education and training will assume far greater importance during the interim period following the defeat of Germany, there cannot, of course, be any question of the Army becoming primarily an organisation for the preparation of men and women for civil occupation. There are, however, obligations which the Army, in full agreement with the other two Services, is anxious to discharge as regards all men and women who have given a long period of service in uniform. Preparations for a wide scheme of education and training in the Army are well in advance. They provide the most generous facilities which it is possible for an Army in being to provide with the object of refurbishing old skills, developing skills and capacities which have been acquired or utilised during service, and preparing men and women for the fuller education and training schemes which are to be available as I have indicated after they have been released. The scheme will apply to all ranks, men and women, at home and overseas and, generally speaking, will be on a unit basis.
The War Office must give consideration to the fact that they cannot send these young lads away in the period when they would have been getting training, and then, when they come back, say: "We are not going to take any responsibility for their general training." You cannot turn them out in this way.
I entirely disagree with my hon. Friend. I do not think that it matters who does the training as long as the men receive the training. It must be remembered that any education and training schemes within the Forces must conform to the general scheme of release, as it is considered that the vast majority of soldiers who would not wish the date of their release to be delayed to accord with the requirements of the education and training schemes. The schemes, therefore, seek to make the best use in the interests of the men of such time as may be available for education and training until their time for release, in accordance with age and length of service, arrives. It has, therefore, been decided that the Army scheme shall be mainly general and prevocational, the vocational training being provided for by the schemes for which the Ministry of Labour has accepted responsibility. The House will remember that the details that have been published of some of the educational training schemes for which the Ministry of Labour is responsible require a six months' course; I take one for example—bricklayers, carpenters and other trades connected with the building industry. These men do not require to be under Army conditions for six months while they receive their six months' training.
Mr. J. J. Davidson:
May we take it that there is complete co-ordination between the War Office and the Ministry of Labour in order to see that those men who go in for Ministry of Labour vocational training will not be left for a considerable period unemployed?
I think I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance. This may be the convenient point to deal with three points which were raised by the hon. Member for the Western Isles. He referred to the need for teachers to receive the full course of university training. He will, no doubt, recollect that a scheme has recently been announced by the Ministry of Labour which seeks to provide the very facilities which he suggested were desirable.
I said that I hoped it would be made clear to the men that these facilities would be available, and that they would be encouraged to take advantage of this training rather than go in for the easier way. That is what I was emphasising.
My hon. Friend can be assured that every attempt will be made to bring to the notice of the men all the facilities that are to be provided, and there is no reason why we should not encourage those who wish to do so to take the full course. He would like an assurance that our returned soldiers are not to be displaced by German labour. It is a rather fantastic suggestion which has been made, but as it has apparently reached a number of the troops—although I do not think it necessary for this to be done—I will give an assurance that we certainly do not intend to allow our returned soldiers to be displaced by German labour. Another point that he made was whether the appointments branch of the Ministry of Labour was restricted to officers. It applies to all ranks provided they have suitable educational or technical qualifications.
Now I come to what the scheme provides. The scheme provides the individual soldier in the unit with a reasonable choice of study under the following headings:
Under the heading of "Technical Subjects," there will be courses likely to suit men who have an interest in mechanical or electrical engineering, or who are thinking of becoming, let us say, welders, fitters or mechanics. This heading will also include courses in building construction, designed to attract men who fancy some such trade as decorating, bricklaying or plumbing. None of the many courses under this heading will train or qualify a man for a job—but they will at least teach him the elements of the subject and thus save him time if and when, after leaving the Army, he decides to go all out for preparing himself for a trade. Full information and instructions concerning the facilities when the time comes to provide them, and the preparations which must be made, have been published to the Army in the field by the Army Council. For some time past planning and preparation has been going forward and provision has already been made to meet the main requirements of the educational scheme. Supplies of books and equipment are now being accumulated and substantial provision has already been made for the initial training of a proportion of the instructors who will ultimately be required. This provision is about to be very substantially increased. These larger schemes of education and training intended for the period following the defeat of Germany will not be without good foundations. Already, particularly in the theatres less actively engaged in military operations, not only has the wartime scheme of education taken root but considerable developments towards the Release Period scheme are already taking place.
While the education and training schemes in the Services must mainly be general and pre-vocational, the scope of such general and pre-vocational education and training will not be narrowly interpreted. Facilities must be provided generally on the basis of part-time education amounting, where military requirements permit, to some six or eight hours per week. All this provision must be on a dispersed basis in view of the fact that military requirements dictate that the units of the Army shall be able to take their education and training provision with them wherever military need requires that they shall serve. The House may be interested to know that plans have been made for the establishment of what are to be called "Formation Colleges", which seek to provide opportunities for further education for men and women who wish to pursue general and technical studies at a more advanced stage than is possible in lower formations and units. Each college will be a residential educational institute for men and women of all ranks, and will provide a full time course of one month's duration, catering for from 600 to 1,000 students at each college in home commands. Similar colleges will be set up overseas. The main lines of the scheme which is to operate in the Army have been laid down after the most careful consideration of all the circumstances which are likely to exist. It is essentially flexible and general. It dovetails into the facilities provided by civil education generally, and by the two main schemes of education and training already published by the Ministry of Labour, and if it should happen that during the course of the operation of the release scheme, more direct training for particular occupations can be made available, the scheme provides for such a transition. It is, however, essential to the scheme that no unfounded hopes should be raised by offering training for jobs which when the time for release arrives are not in fact available. Full provision has, however, been included in the scheme to make available to the men and women in the Army, wherever they may be, the fullest possible information about employment which the Ministry of Labour can from time to time provide.
May I say in conclusion that reference has been made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier in the Debate to the British soldier, and may I add my personal tribute? I believe that the British soldier has played a great part in this war. He has shown himself to be a superb soldier, unbeaten in defeat, modest in victory, and he deserves well of our nation. But he is, first and foremost, a citizen soldier, ever looking forward to his return home, so that he may take up the threads of his civilian life again. It is both our duty and our privilege to assist him to do this, and I feel sure that the House will agree that the plans that I have outlined to-day will indeed provide practical and valuable assistance for our returned soldiers.
A good deal of the policy part of the statement I have made is already in the White Paper which has been published. What I have endeavoured to do, in addition, is to convey to the House some conception of the mechanics of the release scheme, and what we are doing administratively in the direction of giving some measure of training and education to our soldiers in the period with which we are dealing.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, in a fine speech, has covered the whole wide field of military operations. In my few remarks I only intend to touch one theatre of war. I have been fortunate enough to be a member of the Parliamentary party which recently visited Italy and Greece and I should like to take this opportunity publicly of expressing my thanks to our hosts and paying a tribute to the troops of the Central Mediterranean Force. We were the guests of the Army and we could not have had kinder or more thoughtful hosts. Everything was done to make things easy for us and to enable us to see as much as possible in the time available. We had only to express a wish to see some particular unit or formation for that wish to be gratified as far as time and distance would allow. Wherever we went we were able to meet and talk informally with all ranks, and nothing could have been more friendly than the reception which they gave us. What I have said applies equally to our visits to naval and air establishments.
I do not propose here to raise the various points which were put to us in the course of conversation by officers and other ranks. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) has mentioned some of them and I agree with what he said, but we have already passed them on to the proper quarter and I know that my right hon. Friend is giving them his sympathetic consideration. I would merely make a few remarks of a more general nature. Hon. Members will forgive me if they appear obvious, but there are some obvious things which tend to be forgotten, and it is most important that our troops out there shall know that we at home do realise all that they have done and what a vital part they are playing towards the coming victory. In the days when the battle was raging across North Africa all eyes were fixed upon the Eighth Army. History will record that astonishing story and the debt which the world owes to that small British Army and to the Dominion troops in those tremendous days when the British Empire stood alone. I often think that insufficient tribute has been paid to those leaders who bore the burden and heat of those early days, often under grave difficulties, and on whom fortune did not always smile. But history will assess their achievements. After Field-Marshal Montgomery's historic victories and the Germans had been cleared out of North Africa with the aid of the Americans and the French, there came the short Sicilian campaign and finally the landing in Italy.
The Italian campaign was a testing time for the Eighth Army. They were used to rapid movement and swift advances and had to adapt themselves to the slow tempo of mountain warfare. Anyone who has motored, as we did, right up the length of the Italian Peninsula will realise what a tremendous achievement this campaign has been for armies fighting nearly all the time in a jumble of mountains with every hillside favouring the defence, where every road was mined and every bridge was blown. It was a wicked country in which to fight. When you think that in under four months from the opening of Field Marshal Alexander's offensive in May of last year down to 26th August the Eighth Army had broken through the Gustav and Hitler lines, cleared the Germans out of countless delaying positions and had advanced from Cassino to Florence, more than 200 miles as the crow flies but a far greater distance over the winding Italian roads, it was a tremendous achievement ending as it did in the triumphant attack on the Gothic line.
I have traced this short history because, for many months now, the troops in Italy have not been in the limelight—it has been switched off and focused on other fronts. The role of the Armies in Italy has become an unspectacular one. In the front line high up amid the rigours of the Apennine snows or down in the plains in the waterlogged districts along the Adriatic—most difficult tank country—they have been condemned by the weather and the terrain to relative inactivity. The march of events and the coming of spring will no doubt alter the picture. In the meantime, however, we want our fighting men in Italy to know that we realise that the job that they are engaged on is no picnic, and that we understand the value of the job they are doing. The Armies in Italy have been containing nearly 30 German Divisions which, if thrown in elsewhere, might very well have altered the course of the war.
I think it should be generally known that the bulk of 15th Army Group—60 per cent, of them—consists of British troops from the Mother Country and from the Empire, 25 per cent. from the U.S.A., and the remaining 15 per cent. of Poles, Brazilians and Italians. The British are still the backbone of the Armies in Italy. The American Forces in Italy know this, and nothing could have been more genuine or more generous than the tribute paid by General Mark Clark to British, Dominion and Indian troops—but are these figures known in this country, much less known in America? I wander.
In passing, I would like to say how tremendously impressed I was by the fine spirit of comradeship and the excellent integration between the American and British staffs. I think we should rememher that Field Marshal Alexander's task in Italy was not made easier, as the Secretary of State pointed out, by having a considerable number of Divisions drawn off last year to make the landing in the South of France, and by the necessity for sending troops to Greece—but how right that decision was. All this, however, has meant that very much greater demands have had to be made on those troops who remain in the front line. Some of these men have been fighting for over four or five years. I know a British battalion—and it is not unique—still in the line when we were there which has suffered in casualties in one year 75 officers and over 1,300 other ranks, nearly 30 per cent. of the battalion has been wounded twice, and some of them three times. That is the sort of thing I would like to tell the world, to shout across the Atlantic Ocean, just as an example of British guts and endurance.
In conclusion, may I say a few words about our visit to Greece? We had the honour of being received by the Regent, a most impressive figure. It was a great privilege to be able to see things for ourselves and to meet General Scobie and our Ambassador, and to talk to the troops. There was no doubt at all what the troops felt. I heard not one complaint about the job they had been called upon to do, although it was a beastly job, and they had done it with all the courage, discipline and restraint which one expects from British troops. They had friendly feelings for the Greek people—but they were angry—angry with those "something" bandits which they called the people they were fighting against; angry with certain sections of the Press in England who had so misrepresented the Greek situation; angry with those hon. Members of this House who had criticised our Greek policy, and who had said that we had "backed the wrong horse." Our troops in Greece knew that we had not backed the wrong horse. What they said about some hon. Members opposite was not polite. It was certainly not Parliamentary, and, if I were to repeat it now in the vernacular, you, Sir, would rule me out of Order.
We were frequently asked to pass on an invitation to some of these hon. Members, in particular—I am sorry that none of them are here—to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks), the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), to visit the troops in Greece in order that the troops might tell them "where they got off". I can assure my hon. Friends that if they went to Greece, they would receive a very warm reception. All ranks expressed great satisfaction with a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the Debate in this House on Greece in January. "He understands" they said. I can well realise the overwhelming enthusiasm with which he was acclaimed during his recent visit to Athens, not only by our troops but by the Greek people, of whose gratitude to Great Britain there is no doubt at all.
There is much else about our tour that I would like to say, but time is short. Before I sit down, however, may I just mention two incidents which moved and impressed me very much? I would like to record them. At the Piraeus, we went on board the ship—an old C.P.R. boat which used to sail between Victoria and Vancouver—on which the British and Indian prisoners and the Greek hostages had just returned from Volos. Our men had suffered grave hardships and privations, but their own sufferings had not incensed them half so much as the brutal treatment which their Indian comrades had received at the hands of the enemy. I was told that towards the end of their captivity, when the R.A.F. started dropping supplies, the British insisted that the Indians should receive first pick of everything, as a token of their affectionate regard, and the indignation and the sympathy which they felt. The other incident is this: The House will remember that the South Africans, who have for so long been fighting alongside a Guards Brigade, recently made a most gracious gesture which will never be forgotten in this country. They sent a princely contribution towards the rebuilding of the Guards Chapel. I was deeply touched at being asked by South Africans in Italy, "How is our chapel getting on?" It is such acts of comradeship which gives one faith in the future of our country and of the Empire.
The House has now had the unique opportunity of listening to the reminiscences of three of the hon. Members who formed the deputation to Italy and, indeed, Greece. I propose to say nothing in that respect, because I believe that, if I did, I should have considerable difficulty in keeping in Order. I will only say, as the Secretary of State for War is here, that the arrangements made by the Army authorities for the Members' visit to Italy were excellent, and our hosts, the Army, were perfect hosts. We have listened to two very important speeches to-day—one by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, telling us, in almost epic language, of the deeds and exploits of the Army; the other, by the Financial Secretary, giving us most valuable information, which I can only hope will get to the troops, because I can assure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that they know little about what the Financial Secretary has told the House to-night.
I do not want to detract one iota from the remarkable speech of the Secretary of State for War about the exploits of our Army, but I am wondering why it is that the public has been for so long denied this record in the unpublished despatches of the Commanders-in-Chief. It has been the custom of this House and the nation to receive them. It was the custom during the last war for the Commanders' despatches to be published almost as soon as they were received or at any rate within a few months. Now we have to wait until nearly the sixth year of the war has expired to hear the Secretary of State for War telling us in the main what has been told to him by his Commanders overseas in their despatches. I have asked the Prime Minister before to publish some of these despatches. It may be that at certain periods of the war it was not possible, for security reasons, but I maintain that there is no possible reason, now that we have had one despatch on what was a defeat of the British Army published by the Commander-in-Chief, why we should not have some of the despatches on the victories of the British Army published.
We have had very little information about our Armies in this House during the past five years. It is true that either the Secretary of State for War or his predecessors in that office, and the Prime Minister, have told us something about their doings, but we have had very little information. For obvious reasons we have been told very little about the size of our Forces, the cost of our Forces, and, indeed, the purposes of these Forces. Of course, hon. Members may ask "Why should we want to know that? We all know the purpose for which these Forces have been mobilised." We do indeed, but we are coming to the end of the German war—very shortly, I hope—and then will the Government say anything about the purpose, the size, and the cost of the Armies we shall need for the war in the Far East? If they do not, I suggest that it will be impossible to answer questions which have been proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise). It will be impossible to satisfy the large numbers of men in the Forces that they are really needed in the jobs which they will then be called upon to undertake. Make no mistake about it. They will not all be asked to go to the Far East and to fight.
I imagine that quite a small proportion of the British troops will be required to go to the Far East for that purpose, or even the Services which supply those combatant Forces. Are we to be told nothing at the appropriate moment? I realise that we cannot demand these facts now, but in view of the fact that the war with Germany is coming, as we hope, to a speedy conclusion, the House will be lacking in its duty—and I do not know what the occasion will be when we can demand this information—if it does not demand from the Secretary of State for War more information than he has hitherto given about the size of our Forces and the purpose for which they are to be used. This House, over a long period, has fought consistently against the Crown over the size and the purpose of the Armed Forces which, even to this day, owe allegiance to the Crown.
The Army Act is passed each year giving to this House control over the Armed Forces which now are in almost the sole control of the Executive. Five years—perhaps six years it may be, I forget now—we have been debating Service Estimates, and particularly Army Estimates, on a more or less academic basis. We have listened to speeches like that we had from my right hon. Friend to-clay, speeches which, I admit, should be made on the appropriate occasion, speeches which proclaim to the whole world the glorious deeds of our Armies. But I suggest that the purpose of these Debates should be to get something more than information, which, as I suggested a little earlier, should be given to us in the despatches from the Commanders-in-Chief. When the war with Germany ends, Parliament will be asked to provide the necessary funds and facilities for certain forces to continue the war against Japan. We already know from the Minister of Labour something about the interim demobilisation plan, and the Financial Secretary has told us to-day something about the mechanics of that plan. But if I may refer for one moment to my visit to Italy in conjunction with the other Members of Parliament who made that trip, what the troops there want to know a little more about is more than the mechanics of the demobilisation plan. They want to know when they will get leave, or when they are to be repatriated under the Python scheme. The only answer we could give them was the answer which was giver; to us by the Secretary of State for War, namely, that there was little hope for leave, and perhaps a little more hope, although not too great a hope, of the repatriation of long-service men under the Python scheme. The Minister said he hoped that when the war with Germany was over it would be possible to bring that period down from four years and six months or a little less, which it is now, to three years. I suggest to my right hon. Friend and the House that if he is only going to bring that period down to three years there will be a great deal of disappointment, and that the Ministry of Labour and the other Departments concerned may be inundated with requests for earlier release than that.
Make no mistake about it—and I challenge any of my hon. Friends who went with me to Italy to deny it—the men are war weary, just like the nation. Of course, that does not mean that they will not carry out their duty until the end, but it does mean that they are concerned about seeing that the end comes quickly, and that that end brings with it, their return home to peaceful pursuits. I suggest that we cannot rely indefinitely on the National Service Acts in order to pro- vide large numbers of soldiers for service in the Far East. During the war with Germany one motive has actuated the large forces which Parliament conscripted, namely, the overthrow of the Nazi evil which has been near to their own hearths and homes. An added incentive to that has been the bombing which their families have had to undergo from the enemy. But this and other factors will not apply in the same degree, when the war with Japan is started in real earnest. The war with Japan has to go on—we all know that—but I think the Secretary of State had better tell us something more than he has hitherto done. It may be that the House will then want to know what contribution the Dutch are going to make towards the recovery of the Dutch Empire in the Far East; what contribution the Americans are going to make to the recovery of certain lands in the Pacific in which they are interested, and what contribution the French are going to make to the recovery of that part of their Empire which they surrendered so wantonly at a time when we were almost facing defeat.
The House will be entitled to these facts, and if it is not for the Secretary of State for War to reply at the appropriate time, we must have this information, unless Parliament intends to surrender altogether its prerogative and undoubted right, through the Executive, to control the Armed Forces of the Crown. A little while ago I put a Question to the Prime Minister asking what was being done to recruit our post-war Army. Even my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise), with much of whose interesting and vital speech I agreed, suggested that we should want a post-war Army. He went further. He said that we should want such a vast postwar Army that we should need conscription to provide it. I do not go so far as he did in that respect, but I travelled along the same road as he did when he asked the Secretary of State what is being done to try and recruit that postwar Regular Army which we shall need whether we have conscription or whether we do not? The Prime Minister, in answering the Question I put to him on this matter on 28th November, said;
Plans for the reconstruction of the Army after the war are under active consideration in the War Office, and these include such matters as the terms of service and the means
or attracting men, to enlist under regular engagements. The question of national service as the foundation of our military system is also being examined."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1944; Vol. 404, C. 2389.]
It does not look, from that, as if the Government have made up their minds in the direction that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Smethwick would desire. If the question is under examination, presumably it is under examination only for the purpose of mitigating the present harshness of the National Service Acts. Although this is not germane to my argument to-night, I would say it also includes the direction of industrial labour—of which I would especially like to remind my hon. Friends on these benches. I am concerned to know something about what the War Office are doing in these matters for this reason: The Secretary of State for War, on 16th November last, in answering a Debate initiated, I think, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan), who raised a specific matter affecting one of his constituents, said:
… I will certainly have it noted as a point for consideration in the general review which will have to take place in time for the conditions of service in the post-war Army to be clearly understood in advance, because it is a matter of common knowledge now that the regular Army, at any rate in ranks below warrant officer, Class I, has, to all intents and purposes, disappeared, or will have disappeared in a year or so. Most regular soldiers will, by then, have completed their engagement. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 2234.]
Thus, our Regular Army is in the process of disappearing, except for the limited recruitment which is now taking place, for long-service men and officers, by the War Office. What does that amount to? The Army Council have asked for volunteers in the commissioned ranks and, I think, they have received more offers to serve for a long period after this war than they require. At any rate, they are rejecting large numbers of officers who want to offer their services after the war. Perhaps many of these officers will not be suitable for such service then but, at any rate, I am convinced, from the evidence which has come to my attention, that the Army Council are not recruiting from the commissioned ranks for the Armies they want after the war; they are merely dabbling with the problem. When it comes to the other ranks, I say that the Army Council are taking no adequate steps to try and induce men now serving to enter into
long-term engagements. Why not? Because they can hold out very little reward for such soldiers.
Many know what happened after the last war, when rates of pay were cut down. Many heard from old soldiers that if they served for eight years and had a clean conduct sheet, they got only an extra threepence per day as long-service and good conduct pay, and that if they were fortunate enough to go an for 13 years—and most engagements before the war were for a lesser period—they got the magnificent sum of 6d. per day for long service and good conduct. Some have heard what happened after retirement from the Army. If they retired before serving 21 years, the pensionable period, what did they get? The magnificent sum of £1 for every one year's Colour service. Small wonder that the Army Council are not recruiting a Regular Army. You cannot recruit a Regular Army under those conditions except, perhaps, the "scum of the earth" which, so the Duke of Wellington told us, formed the basis of his Armies in the Peninsular War. Have I not said enough to convince the House that these matters are urgent and that, so far, the Secretary of State has told us very little about what he is doing about our post-war Armies? Have I not convinced the House that it is our duty to insist on an answer to these questions?
Why does the hon. Member suppose that all long-service soldiers will retire as private soldiers? He was talking about rates of pay for private soldiers only. If a B.Q.M.S. retired in 1930 on a pension he would have something like £2 10s. a week. Most old soldiers do get some promotion; they do not all stay in the Army as privates.
Long service and good conduct pay comes after eight years and 13 years' Colour service, and the bonus of £1 for every year's service conies after retirement from Colour service. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is labour- ing under a misapprehension. At any rate, perhaps the Secretary of State will inform the House how many soldiers are discharged with the rank of B.Q.M.S. on retirement after 18 or 21 years' service, as compared with the large number of private soldiers who are discharged with a few shillings a week pension?
I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is going to say something now—and I think he could—or in the immediate future about what he is doing to provide the basis of our regular cadres that will, whatever the system, be the basis of our long-term Armies—the Armies which garrison the British Empire, which the conscript Armies are now going to win back in the Far East? The hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick developed a very interesting point when he was elaborating the idea for a conscript Army after the war. It is quite alien to the British instinct of freedom and volunteering to have conscript service. The best of our battles were won, not by conscripts but by volunteers.
That is not the case. The Army at Waterloo was a conscript Army. Service, in the militia in any case, was compulsory. We have had a conscript Navy almost since the beginning of time, and up to quite modern times, the sheriff had the right to call out the forces of the county.
I only want to give an illustration of my point that the country will not tolerate conscription as lightheartedly as the hon. and gallant Member imagines. He was talking about the method of obtaining our junior officers for a conscript Army. I do not know what term of compulsory service he had in his mind but we will assume a year. I believe it takes roughly ro months to give an infantry man his primary training, or perhaps a bit more than his primary training. If you take subalterns from the ranks of a conscript Army, what chances of promotion have they? I asked the hon. and gallant Member that in an interruption and he said they would have a chance of promotion in the Special Reserve. He also mentioned the analogy of Territorial officers. Service Members are conversant with what happened to the Territorial Army when the war broke out. Territorial officers may have got promotion while they were Territorials, but, when the war broke out, the regular officers did their best to displace them on every possible occasion. There may have been very good reasons—I do not deny that—but if that is all that you are going to offer your subalterns, recruited from the ranks in a conscript army, you are not going to get many aspirants for officer rank from that class.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman knew what he wanted. He wanted a class system of officers, such as prevailed before this war and the last. I would not raise the class issue lightly but I have served in the last war and in this. I know the conditions under which a man rose from the ranks in the last war, and I know the conditions of this war. In this war the imposition of a term of service in the ranks was initiated by the present Adjutant-General I think. If that system served the nation well under the test of war, are you going to throw it away under the test of peace, even in a conscript Army? You will never get any conscript Army on those terms. I think my hon. Friends on this side will oppose it bitterly. I am not denying that many valiant, courageous and clever officers have not gone through the ranks before they achieved the position they did but under the impact of this war, at any rate, the lower commissioned ranks have justified the method of selection initiated by the Army Council, namely selection from the ranks except in a few specialist cases.
I urge the House vigilantly to watch this issue of the recruitment of our postwar Forces. We do not know yet, although some of us have an idea, whether it will be necessary to have large land forces in the future such as have operated in the past. Revolutionary advances are taking place in weapons which may even eliminate the necessity for large land forces such as we have known in past wars. Many of us have know the artillery of the past from practical experience and yet, day after day, what do we hear on the wireless—so many' raids, so many sorties, so many thousands of tons have been dropped. We hardly ever hear how many guns there are and how many rounds of ammunition have been fired. The curtain was lifted a little the other day, though it was lifted far more when we went to Italy. What about the Navy, and what about the Air Force? They will get all the volunteers they want after the war. One of the reasons why the Navy has been recruited on a voluntary basis, in spite of what the hon. Member for Smethwick says, is because it has been a fine Service—
I am not disputing the challenge. The hon. Member can raise the point that the other Services get recruits more easily, and it may be possible to go into the question of past history, but we really cannot expand this Debate to go into the values of the three Services.
I did not intend to do so. All I say is that what the Navy and the Air Force can do the right bon. Gentleman ought to do, and I leave it at that. I asked the right hon. Gentleman what he is doing in relation to recruitment for the Armed Forces in the post-war years and he told me practically nothing. Yet my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) asked the Secretary of State for Air the other day what the Air Force were doing, and the answer given, him was that there will certainly be short-term engagements. The Air Force will be able to get their men on those terms because they are excellent terms. All I ask is that the Secretary of State for War shall use the same methods to recruit the post-war Army. The House should not be put off by these platitudes, which are too often used by Ministers in dismissing a very awkward subject—and this is one of the most awkward subjects the Government have to face, the question of how they are going to get their men to serve in the Army after the war.
It is said that you can take a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink. The right hon. Gentleman will not get the men to go from the European areas to the Far East, on the terms that he is offering them at present. I do not only mean the pay terms. There are many men who are determined that they will not go, and that is not the spirit that we want in the British Army. We want, if possible, to maintain the spirit which has animated large numbers of soldiers who have fought valiantly against the German menace. We want to finish the war properly and we want to do the job properly for the men and their families. In negecting this issue, as I suggest that the War Office and the Army Council are neglecting it, we are not doing the fair and proper thing for the large number of men that we shall want, not only to finish the war with Japan but to win back vast territories of rubber and tin.
I should like to start, as others have done, by congratulating the Secretary of State for War on the way he has told the story of what has been perhaps the most famous year in the famous history of the British Army. I was very glad that he said the British Army had been waiting for four years before it went over on D-Day. I was reading last night that there are two enemies to the morale of an army—anxiety and boredom. Both those factors were very present during those four years. The men were anxious because their homes were under air bombardment, and there was the boredom of four years' continuous training without fighting. Yet the Army went over with a higher morale than that of any British Army which ever went overseas. They could not have won their victory otherwise. I believe that the best testimonial to the general standard of training and administration in the Army during the war is that after four years the Army went over with its morale so high. The sentence that pleased me most in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was that the principal job in the fighting was done by the infantry. In the last war, while the infantry had an ample chance of showing its bravery—its guts—it had no chance of showing its skill, and it got about that, in the infantry, no skill was needed. Hon. Members may remember the remark of the late Lord Fisher when he was Sea Lord, that it took 12 months to train a seaman, but that any ass after a week could go out and fire a rifle in a trench. The idea that to be an infantry soldier needed very little skill more or less continued until after this war broke out. The restoration of mobility in this war has brought back the need for the infantry soldier to be a highly skilled man. He has to know small arms and mortars of various calibres, how to handle and maintain wheeled 2-track vehicles, to know short-range wireless, have a thorough knowledge of ground and the way to get over it, and to be able to get himself and his weapons over any natural or artificial obstacle.
Mr. J. J. Davidson:
He always had to do that. Will not the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that the infantryman in the last war often had to go through musketry courses and bombing courses, that he had to act as runner between company and battalion, that he had to learn the lay of the land and to find his way back, and that he had to carry equipment just as heavy as any equipment carried to-day?
The hon. Member is wrong. There are nearly three times as many weapons in an infantry battalion to-day as there were in the last war. In the last war, if an infantry soldier advanced 600 yards he did very well, but now he is asked to advance six to 12 miles, which is a very different matter. A man who has great skill at a job, who is recognised as a trained driver mechanic or wireless operator, a cook or a clerk, is a tradesman. At present an infantryman is just an infantryman, whatever he does. A man who knows how to use his weapons and the ground and by patrols in no-man's-land gains the initiative in battle, is rated exactly the same as the dear old gentleman who with canvas shoes on his feet and the badges of some famous infantry regiment in his cap carries out the coal and sanitary fatigues at some rural headquarters. The highly skilled infantryman has had to make a greater physical effort, and at least as great a mental effort, as any one else to learn his trade. He has learned the trade of being a first-class fighting soldier, and I hope that in the Army of the very near future he will have the status of a tradesman.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise) on reforming the post-war Army. I wanted to say a good deal about this subject but the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down made a long speech and I will try to keep the average right by making a short one now. I agree Very much with what the hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick said, but I hope that the re-formed Army will be based on the tradition of our old Territorial regiments. It will be a terrible thing for the Army if these regiments disappear. Owing to the exigencies of war certain of them are in abeyance. Everybody interested in the Territorial Army—and a great many local people are interested in it who are not interested in the Army in general—are looking forward to the fulfilment of the pledge that was given that these regiments would be re-formed. I believe that the country did not have as good a Territorial Army as it might have done before the war, but, taking into account the amount of interest it was prepared to give to that Army, and the amount of money it was prepared to spend on it, we had a great deal better Territorial Army than we deserved. I hope that that Army will be fully revived when the war is over.
I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his speech and the wonderful story he told us. It has only been made possible by the valour of the soldiers and their hard work and efficiency all over the many theatres of war, and also by the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides. I also want to keep down the average because time is late. I want to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bilston (Lieut.-Colonel Gibbons) with regard to the future of the Territorial Army. Anybody who looks back to the last days of 1939 will recollect with pride the efficiency and wonderful record since those days of the all too small Regular Army. But the outlook of this war might very well have been very different if it had not been for the Territorial Army which was mobilised and became one with the Regular Army. Their record is a proud one and second to none. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) have referred to the future of the Armed Forces. They both took it for granted that the Territorial Army will continue. I very much hope that we shall at no far distant date have a statement to that effect from the Government, because there is considerable thought about the future of the Territorials among those who have an interest in the future of the Armed Forces and the peace of the world when this hard-fought peace is won.
It is particularly in the nature of the British man that he gives of his best if he can give voluntary service such as that in the Territorial Army. I believe that, whatever is settled about the future of the Regular Army, its ultimate size and the period of conscription, it will have to be married with the Territorial Force, which gives voluntary service and in time of crisis can be the backbone on which a large Army can be built, although most of us hope that that time will never come again. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done a great deal personally to help further the interests of the regimental spirit, and, in spite of great difficulties, has done all he can to keep units together. I know, however, the difficulties that there are from the staff duty side and from the Adjutant-General's side in this matter. Unfortunately, a good many units have been broken up in this war, and I hope my right hon. Friend will continue to use his influence where possible to keep units and men together. The whole spirit of the Army is built up on pride in the regiment. That is particularly so in the case of the old Territorials. During the rest of this war and in the future, I hope that the Department which is responsible will take into consideration that great regimental tradition and couple it in the case of the Territorial Army with the association of a district or county.
I want to touch on a point that was mentioned in a Question to-day by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tavistock (Major Studholme) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing - Commander James). It concerns the areas taken over by the military for various purposes, mainly for training. It may be that they are to be used further by the military, but it looks to the outward eye as though this will not be necessary now. It may be that the War Office are waiting for the passage of another Bill which I would be out of Order in mentioning. It goes against the grain and the heart of one who represents a constituency in the country which has probably contained in the last two years more military than any other in the British Isles, and which contains areas which have been used to train more troops than any other area, to see those lands still retained by the Army and denied to agriculture. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider returning them to agriculture at the earliest opportunity.
I would like to join with other Members who have spoken in paying my tribute to the splendid work which has been done by our fighting men on the field of battle. I would also like to endorse the final statement made by the Financial Secretary to the War Office that, after the work the men have done, it is our duty to do well by them when they return to civilian life. The question I want to raise is not a big one, but it is an important one. It concerns the wounded soldiers, and I am wondering whether the House, the Government or the country are facing up to their responsibility to these men. I want to raise the question of the discharge of wounded men from the Service while they are still in hospital. I had the opportunity a short time ago of visiting a large military hospital in the North of England. I went with a voluntary organisation which was taking comforts to the wounded men. As I passed through the wards I found the complaint that was general in the hospital was that the War Office was carrying out a policy of discharging from the Service badly wounded men, who had come from Normandy and had taken part in the invasion on D-Day, while they were in hospital and that they were actually serving their 56 days' leave in the hospital. I could not have believed it had I not actually seen it.
In addition to that, I have had several letters from people in my constituency, mostly from parents whose lads have been badly wounded and have been discharged under similar circumstances. As a result of those complaints I put Questions to the Secretary of State for War asking whether he was aware of what was happening in those hospitals, and aware also of the great financial loss to the wounded soldier and his dependants. On 6th February I put down a Question to ask what was the relative financial position of the wounded soldier before and after discharge. Hon. Members will find in HANSARD the answer of the Secretary of State for War, and will note that there is very serious financial loss to the wounded soldier and his dependants. I asked for a statement which would apply to all ranks. I realised that it would be a very long statement if that were done, and so the Secretary of State gave me a few examples of the effect. For the benefit of the House, I propose to give figures showing the actual loss of income of the soldier, before and after discharge.
In the first case, that of a private who is married—and I would like the House to keep in mind all the time that these men are still in hospital receiving treatment and are in some cases to be operated upon later—he loses, after his discharge, 13s. 6d. per week of his income. The private who is married and has one child loses 23s. 3d. The corporal, married and with no children, loses 17s. 2d., while the corporal who is married and has one child loses 25s. 6d. per week. When we come to the sergeants, the relative figures are that the married sergeant with no child loses 24s. 4d. while the sergeant with one child loses 31s. 10d. Those reductions of income take place despite the fact that the men are lying in bed wounded, as a result of fighting for their country.
In addition to those losses of income, there is a charge against the wounded soldier. If he is married he has to pay 7s. a week out of his remaining income for his keep while in hospital. The wounded soldier who is a single man and who is 100 per cent. incapacitated and lying in hospital, has a pension of £2 per week when he is discharged. He has to pay 19s. out of his £2 for his keep while in hospital. All this time, while this is taking place, there is no change, and the wounded soldier is still in hospital receiving treatment. Not only does he suffer that financial loss but he is also unable to use the N.A.A.F.I. canteen and is deprived also of the comforts which the Red Cross and other voluntary organisations bring to the soldiers. The hospital to which I am referring is a semi-military civil hospital. After the men are discharged they are transferred from tile military side to the civil side of the hospital, with the results which I have just outlined.
I understand that the procedure before the discharge of these soldiers is contained in the reply which was given by the Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Summers) on 30th January. In that reply, the Secretary of State stated that it was the policy chat after six months—I do not think the period was named—if a man had been determined by medical examination to be no longer physically fit to return to his unit, he was given 56 days' notice of discharge. He receives full payment during that period, but at the end of that period there takes place what I have just explained to the House.
I feel that this is not the treatment we should mete out to our men when they come back. To reduce the income in the home to the extent which I have just outlined can have effects which can easily be visualised, especially in the case of men who had to depend upon weekly earnings before they were enlisted or joined the Forces. It is absolutely wrong, and it has created a feeling in the minds of these men that when the Government want them to fight they compel them, but that when they are wounded and can be of no further use to the Army or the country they are got rid of as soon as possible. I know that this is a perplexing question and I understand from the reply which the Secretary of State gave to me on 13th February that this matter concerns other Service Departments also.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
Would the House like me to read it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it."] The crux of it is:
It has been decided, therefore, that the fairest way of dealing with these cases if to fix a minimum period. In future, no member of the Forces, whose in-patient treatment in a
Service or E.M.S. hospital is not completed, will be discharged from the Service until at least eight calendar months, including 56 days' notice leave, have elapsed from the date of his first absence from duty on account of the disability."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 1242.]
That is no improvement upon what I understood to be the case when I visited this hospital. I understood that the period before examination takes place was six months, and after the six months the men were given 56 days' notice of discharge. There is no improvement.
My point, on the statement which I brought from those lads at the hospital, is not altogether the period or the minimum period before discharge. In the circumstances these men ought not to be discharged at all until they are fit to leave the hospital and to return to civil life. Before they joined the Army they were earning wages, and some of them good wages, in civilian employment. They go into the Army and receive a certain income. They are badly wounded, just as anyone might be in a pit or a factory. They are injured in battle and they are thrown back upon about half the income, or perhaps less, that they had when in civilian life. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that these men are crippled for life. There are men who are not likely to be able to obtain suitable employment when they return to civilian life, even if they are capable of doing some form of light employment.
This is nothing more or less than throwing these men on to the scrap-heap. After all the eulogies and glowing tributes which have been paid by both the right hon. Gentleman and the Financial Secretary to the War Office these men who have saved Britain and the world are to be thrown into civilian life, with an income which would not keep a single man, never mind a man with a wife and one child. This House should see to it that these men are treated differently from this. Just paying lip-service to the great work they have rendered gets them nowhere. It is the money which they receive and with which.they can purchase commodities, get decent clothes or bring their children up decently that counts. Lip-service, or a text on a tombstone, does not do any good whatever, or giving them medals. Medals do not keep a man. There are ex-Service men in the streets wearing medals and ribbons begging for a livelihood. [An HON. MEMBER: "And selling them."]
My final word is my reason for raising the matter. I want my right hon. Friend to understand why I have raised it. It is not so much that there should he a minimum period as that there should be a principle not to discharge these men from the Service while they are in hospital. The Government should take the responsibility of seeing that these men have the best possible treatment while in hospital and until they are fit to resume civilian life—and they tan never resume normal civilian life. That is the least we can do for these men who have done so much for us in these battles in Europe and other parts of the world.
We have heard to-day from my right hon. Friend of the triumphant successes of our Armies in three major theatres of war, North-West Europe, the Mediterranean and o South-East Asia. I was particularly glad to hear the high tribute he paid to the Commanders for their skill and foresight, and to our soldiers for their courage and endurance. There is no doubt that there has been a very severe test of their endurance, and, as we have heard from hon. Members who have visited the Mediterranean theatre, that test has been particularly severe in Italy. The House knows that a great many, the bulk, of the British and indeed the Imperial Forces engaged in that theatre have been in almost constant contact with the enemy for a very long time. That imposes a tremendous strain upon them. I hope that that fact will be realised throughout the country and the Empire.
In measuring the extent of our successes, it is a poor compliment to our troops to under-estimate and under-rate the skill and determination which our enemies have shown. I have not fought the Japanese, but I know that the German is a very skilful and determined fellow, and he is overcome only by superior skill and superior determination. I hope that that too will be realised, and although I wish to say nothing to decry the quality and quantity of the magnificent equipment with which the Army has been provided, it should be realised that it is founded on the skill and courage of the individual man. Therefore, I par- ticularly wish to support the plea of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bilston (Lieut.-Colonel Gibbons) when he said that he hoped that the proficiency of the infantryman would be recognised, and that he would be treated as a tradesman. It takes a long and arduous training to make an infantryman. He has to handle a great number of weapons. He has to be skilful in the use of ground and camouflage. He is exposed to the elements, he has to know how to live hard and how to work hard and to fight hard, and if anybody deserves trade pay I believe he does. I would very much like to hear, if there is a speech at the end of the Debate from the Front Bench, whether something can be done to recognise that, and to make a practical gesture to the fighting man on this point.
Other hon. Members have dealt very effectively with the question of publicity for the Army, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Major Markham). They both pressed very hard that the great work which the Army has done should be recognised in the country and throughout the world. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will use what influence he has with the Minister of Information to see that he gets a proper share of publicity for the Army. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) have both referred to the post-war Army. I do not intend to take up the time of the House by sketching my scheme for the Army, but I would like to ask my right hon. Friend for a little more detail about the selection of officers. There have been published two Army Council Instructions, the earliest in 1942 and the other as a supplement to it in 1944. The earlier one set out in broad terms the conditions of service and the second filled in the details a little more. But there is one most important detail, which all aspirants for commissions in the Army will want to know, and that is the ordinary question of what they are going to earn. I feel that if that register is to contain the widest possible selection the War Office can have from which to choose, they should know something of the financial conditions of their service.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I do not propose to go into the question of psychologists and psychiatrists. I am not quite so sure of the general opinion throughout the Army as to psychiatrists. They have a different word for them. If my hon. Friend will forgive me I will leave that matter to him later in the Debate. But they do want to know what they are going to get. There are only two references to finance in those Army Council Instructions and they are both rather in a negative sense. The second recalls Punch's advice to those about to commit matrimony—"Don't." It is that no allowances were payable, prior to the war, before the age of 30. I do not think that would be a great encouragement to a young man aged perhaps 24, with five or six years' service, who thinks of marrying, and who wants to have a Regular commission. We ought to hear a little more from the Secretary of State on this matter at a very early date. That covers the three points which I wished to bring before the House to-day. These are, trade pay for the infantryman, more publicity for the Army, and a little more information as to the conditions of service on which Regular commissions are to be granted.
I can assure the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Captain Sidney) that the House is always glad to hear him, and I hope he will take more frequent opportunities of assisting in our Debates. I want to raise to-night one point very briefly, that is the question of gratuities. I have received quite a number of letters from serving men, and I have made a selection of two, one from the father of a young man, the father himself having served in the last war, and an extract from the letter the boy had written to his father. The case which they put forward is that which has been put forward in the other letters I have received, and it has been so well put by them, that I feel I cannot do better than to quote them, nor can I add to the strength with which they
argue their point. With the permission of the House I will quote the letters:
I have received a letter from my son, who is serving on the Burma front. He has been in the Army since the outbreak of war and has served in Europe—until the Dunkirk evacuation, and in Africa and South-East Asia for nearly three years. An extract from his letter is enclosed herewith.
As an ex-Service man of the last war and the father of a serving soldier, I appeal to you to use your good offices to see that fair treatment is given to our Service men on demobilisation. I, and other relatives of Service men feel strongly about the gratuity scheme, which in its present form, appears to us and these Service men to be most unjust. The gratuity will be our first effort towards helping these men to civil life and may be our only opportunity of being able to confine to confer on ex-Service men, any aid to better conditions.
In most cases war service has taken place at a vital stage in life and many careers have been shattered. The longer the period of service the more difficult it will be for these men to fit into civil life. This is the more reason why gratuity should be based on length of war service only—thus the amount could be increased to the benefit of those who have served longest and of necessity lost most financially and otherwise.
That is the letter of the father. Here is the extract from the letter of the son which the father has sent:
A private soldier with five years' war service gets £30, but a lieutenant with only three years' war service gets £34 16s., and a general with five years' service gets over £200, Well, this is the point that annoys us; that is, that rank counts a lot more towards gratuity than does war service. Well, I ask you, is this fair or even commonsense? The infantry private who has probably done five years of continuous fighting for the glorious new world which we are supposed to get when this war is over gets a mere £30, after all they are the people who do the most graft, suffer the most and get paid the least. The purpose of this gratuity is to help Servicemen back to civil life. Well, in civil life whether a man be ex-private or ex-colonel he still has to pay the same price for a Portal house or a suite of furniture or anything else he has to buy. Yet a lieutenant who has only done three years' service gets more money than a man who has done five years, but during the two years before the lieutenant came into the Army he was probably in a position to save a considerable amount of money, while the private was sweating his guts out on some battlefield for a few shillings a day and was not able to save anything. Now I ask you, who has suffered the most, who is most in need of the money? The private, without a doubt. It is utterly unfair to bring rank into the matter; there are no ranks in civilian life. Length of war service alone should count towards gratuity. I wonder what reaction the Government think this will have on the soldiers on the battle fronts. These are the views of us here and
the majority of people who are fighting this war, so don't waste any time about it, try and get it done immediately.
That has been so cogently and forcefully put that I should be detracting from the strength of the argument if I added anything more. Gratuity is not deferred pay; it is a gratuity for services rendered, and length of service alone should count.
The Secretary of State for War has had a very pleasant task to-day in detailing to the House a record of achievement which is, I think, unparalleled in the whole history of British arms. The country is deeply grateful for what has been done. There are those of us—I am one—who hardly felt that it was within the bounds of possibility that it could be done. It ought to be put on record that the whole country owes a debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the way he has organised his Department to achieve this result. My right hon. Friend is apt at times to get a little impatient with some of us. He has yet to learn to suffer fools gladly. But none of us doubts his sincerity, his vigour, or his earnestness in prosecuting the great job that he has to do. I am sure the whole civilised world hopes that but for a recounting of the events leading to the overthrow of Japan, this will be the last time that such an opportunity as this will occur. So much has been heard recently about the exploits and the gallantry of the 14th Army in Burma that it has outlived its appellation of the "Forgotten Army," but I hope the House will hear with me if I bring to its remembrance another Army which for a very long time has served the country well, and has still more merited the description of the "Forgotten Army." I refer to the Territorial Army. When it was formed by that great Secretary of State, Lord Haldane, in 1908, I do not think anybody expected that it would so soon be put to the stern test of war. Perhaps the late Lord Kitchener may be forgiven for not altogether trusting it when war broke out in 1914.
That is a view which is widely held. I was not a Territorial in those days, but that interjection is not without value. The country cannot forget what it owed to the Territorial Army then, and in this war. We are continually reading in the Press of the exploits of the 50th, 51st and various other Territorial divisions, but their splendid records were not laid in this war. It was in the last war that a captured German order revealed that the Germans considered the 51st the most to be feared of all British divisions. Nowadays, although tens of thousands of men volunteered for service in the Territorial Army before war broke out, that Army seems almost to have disappeared from view and to be forgotten. If that is not the view—and I do not think it is—of the public at large, at any rate it seems to be a fair reflection of the War Office point of view. I do not think that the Territorial Army is getting a fair deal. It is obvious that, under the rapidly changing conditions of modern war, it is necessary to meet those changing conditions by reconstruction within the Army itself. Nobody would cavil at the necessity, which from time to time becomes apparent, of altering the functions of units, or sometimes, unhappily, of disbanding them, but in the case of the Territorial Army this point of view appears sometimes to have been carried to excess. I submit that after five years of war it is not unreasonable to say that man for man the Territorial Army officer and the Regular Army officer ought to be of the same standard of efficiency, but it may be said that it would be easier for a cable to go through the eye of a needle than for a Territorial Army officer to aspire to a rank higher than that of major, and certainly the command of formations such as brigade and higher seems to be almost exclusively though not entirely, reserved for Regular officers.
I appreciate that, but a great number have lost their jobs, very often for quite trivial causes. If my hon. and gallant Friend will let me go a little further I think I can provide him with a reply. On the other hand, bowler hats are handed out with great frequency to Territorial officers. I will not weary the House with a great number of cases, but I will give one or two examples. One officer was so good at his job that he was given command of his Territorial brigade before the war broke out—in the spring of 1939. He was then at what was considered a pretty youthful age for a brigadier—I do not think he had reached his 4oth birthday; and he was an amateur soldier at that. To-day he has just come out of the Army, still a brigadier, with an exceptionally fine war record. During that time, he has seen a number of Regular officers, one of whom happens to be a friend of mine, promoted to the rank of major-general and handed their bowler hats, and retired because they were not quite up to their jobs. I suggest that that is a case that does make one think. A Regular officer, who happens to be a close personal friend of mine, and who himself has admitted to me that he never ought to have chosen the Army, was made lieut.-colonel when the war broke out. He is a delightful fellow, but he is still a lieut.-colonel, and I do not think the reason is far to seek. I think a man who has made the profession of arms his career and who has studied the art of war is the proper man to run the Army in war time, but I also feel that this sort of thing can be carried too far, and I think that proficiency is the only thing that, in war time, should govern promotion to higher rank.
I have an acquaintance in the Army, a young officer who was promoted to command a regiment in the Middle East, and who eventually lost that command because a certain general came round to inspect, just after he had received orders to move from one place to another. He was getting on with the job, and did not lay on any ceremonial, and that annoyed the general, and so the officer found himself a major again. I know another general, who, under exactly similar circumstances, would have taken the other point of view, and, if that young officer had put on a ceremonial parade, he would have said to him, "Why are you not getting on with your job?" and the officer would have gone just the same. I submit that promotions and demotions should not depend, in war time, in cases like this, on one particular man, and I feel very strongly that St. Paul must have had the Territorial Army in mind when he said, "My brethren, these things ought not to be."
In regard to the splitting up of Territorial Army units, it often seems to me that, in many parts of the country, Territorial formations are held in closer affection than regular Army units. In my own county of Durham, neither of the two battalions of the Regular Army have served within the county, and their regimental depot is over the river in another county. It is not surprising that the Territorial units are those in which the affections of the local inhabitants are centred, but, when an emergency arises, I have never heard of a regular formation being broken up, but only of the Territorial Army having to suffer. There are, I understand, men who were appointed brigadiers some time ago in various theatres of war, and who were found, perhaps, not quite up to their jobs, or, it may be, whose units were changed to something else, so that their commands disappeared. These men, between 50 and 60, are still brigadiers, still holding the rank and getting the pay, having been "kept on ice," for civil affairs jobs. Are they the right sort of people to represent this country abroad in civil affairs when the fighting is over? Are we really trying to stage a come-back of "Colonel Blimp?"
Finally, I would like to mention two other points. I trust that the War Office, after the war, will keep the Department of Scientific Research going for the benefit of the Army. In peace time, I think, far more than in war, we should have a Secretary of State for War who is a man of imaginative qualities, who will see that the Army is not only properly trained and equipped, but that it is two jumps ahead of any other Army in the world. We do not again want to go back to face the criticism of always having been thoroughly prepared for the last war we fought. I hope that national service will continue after the war. I think that it is a fine thing that young men and young women, in return for all the benefits they receive 'throughout life from the State, should be ready, willing and prepared to serve their country to the utmost of their powers in time of war.
I certainly see no reason why young women, with young men, should not serve their country. I feel that, so far as our reserve forces are concerned, they ought properly to be based upon some territorial system, though not perhaps the Territorial Army as it was before the war. I hope it will be better trained and very mach better equipped than the Territorial Army, but the affection in which it is held by large numbers of people, because they have had personal contact with it themselves, either through service themselves or by their own relatives, makes it, in my opinion, the proper vehicle for the Army reserve, and it ought not lightly to be thrown aside. It is, obviously, too early for plans in this respect to be formulated now, but I hope that these ideas will be borne in mind, because I know that they are held not only by hon. Members of this House but by large numbers of the public outside, when reformation of the Army falls to be undertaken. I hope my right hon. Friend will bear some of these ideas in mind.
The Secretary of State for War had a glowing story to tell of the achievements of the Army and he was very proud in the telling. If I may say so, his speech was admirable in both tenor and tone, and my right hon. Friend, if he were present, would not be offended if I say that he seemed to have become mellowed and softened, I will not say chastened, by the House. We saw him more like a cooing dove than one who is so often annoyed at the interjections and questions of hon. Members. May be, this changed tone is due to the fact that the anxieties of past years are not so great upon his shoulders now, and that he seems to realise that victory may be very near.
In the last few days we have had three speeches from Service Ministers. The Secretary of State for Air, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and now the Secretary of State for War have each retailed to the House in admirable terms the deeds of daring and the valour of the men in the Services which they have the honour to represent in this House. I would not for one moment make comparisons. Each of the Services has rendered inestimable benefits to the community, and I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman, in closing his speech on such a high note, brought to our notice again the great sacrifices that have been made which should inspire us to re-dedicate ourselves to the determination that those who have suffered most grievous of all and have given their lives that those who they have left behind shall be cared for, and that those who come back shall be provided with full opportunities of living a decent and full life.
I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise) is in the House, because I made some interjections during the course of his speech and he seemed either puzzled or pained that I had not understood his speech, which, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, consisted largely of words of one syllable. It was because I understood it that I could not believe it was true. It was so simple and so patent that the scheme he was advocating was just the perpetuation of an officer class, drawn from a certain section of the community.
I cannot let that pass. I suggested that officers should be recruited from the J.T.C. There is no class distinction in the J.T.C., which is recruited from all classes of the community. It is a highly efficient body.
I still assert that my contention is strictly correct. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is true that the hon. and gallant Member suggested that you should have the J.T.C., but who are likely to become members of the J.T.C.? The children who go to the elementary schools? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I wish hon. Members would wait until I have finished. Many of the children who go to the elementary schools will not have the opportunity afforded them of going into the training corps. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] For many and varied reasons. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?"] If hon. Members really want to know I will give them. A great number of children of working class parents have various duties to perform or they have to utilise a definite part of their time for study at home. It may he said that that applies to other children, out there is this difference. In many schools there will be junior training corps already established as part of the school and it would definitely be to the advantage of children of parents who had their children at such schools. It would be giving these children a greater advantage. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] This view is fundamental. I do not think they should start their military training until approximately 18 years of age. The time that could be spared before that age should be used to enable them to become educationally fit.
The hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick advocated the formation of a conscript Army. I do not know what is going to happen. We shall have to have a much larger Army for the first few years after the war. It all depends upon our commitments in Germany and so forth but I am convinced that as far as the community are concerned they will demand that, if we have an Air Force, a Navy and an Army, there shall be afforded a free and full opportunity for everyone, to any boy, to become an officer, no matter from what branch of society he may come.
I want to deal with three or four points as briefly as I can. We do not want to keep the Secretary of State for War too long away from his bed. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has gone already."] Then, I do not want hon. Members to be away too long from their beds. The Financial Secretary to the War Office dealt with the question of education. I would like to ask whether the War Office is sufficiently conscious not only of the importance of education now but during the post-war period. Now that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War has come back I hope that he will not think that I have been casting aspersions upon him in any shape or form. I would rather he knew that I had been paying him compliments. I said that the right hon. Gentleman had become mellowed but not chastened.
With regard to education, we not only have to take into account the needs of the standing Army but also the Army of Occupation. I was one who had occasion to be concerned with the formation of the Army Education Corps. I remember after all the work that was put in the ruthlessness of the Geddes axe destroyed the education system of the Army. I hope the Secretary of State for War will set his face against any reduction in the form of educational training. It is true, as the Financial Secretary said, that the Army cannot primarily become an educational establishment. It is also true that as the Army took these young men into the Service they have to see to it that they do not suffer from the educational point of view, and at least have facilities for education offered to them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will stress the direct importance of education among the troops in post-war years and improve, as far as possible, the amenities of Army life in preparation for the return to civil life. There is a point I want to ask the Secretary of State for War. I am not sure how far he is concerned with it, but I along with a number of other Members received letters from people who are very distressed about the conditions of service offered in the Indian Army.
But the sweet gentleness, persuasiveness and grace of the right hon. Gentleman might soften the heart of the India Office, who may be responsible, and perhaps he can get something done so as to remove the impression that has been created. Suspicion has to be allayed and the position has to be clarified. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the welfare and amenities of the troops in India, but what is certain is that there is still a deal of discontent about the canteen conditions and so forth among the troops in India. We have had the Munster Report, but I would like to know what has been done to implement the provisions of that Report and whether action has been taken. A comparison was made, quite unfairly, in a speech in this House by the Secretary of State for India, who stated that the prices of articles in the Army canteens of India were much lower than they were in N.A.A.F.I. This is entirely untrue. Of 36 articles only one in N.A.A.F.I. was higher than the price charged in the Indian canteen.
I am not complaining that the right hon. Gentleman omitted certain things in his speech, which was a magnificent review of the scope and operations of the Army. There is one point I would have liked him to mention and which I am certain only the question of time prevented him so doing. He is the representative in this House who answers for N.A.A.F.I.—the Navy, Army and Air Force canteens. It is true that N.A.A.F.I. functions over the whole of the Services but in the main it functions in the Army itself. N.A.A.F.I. has been a much-maligned and misunderstood institution. It has rendered tremendous work for all the Forces. In the last few months I have been especially privileged to see the work of N.A.A.F.I. in its varied forms and ramifications. I saw it before D-Day. I saw a great deal of the skill and organisation which had been put into that organisation. Great credit and tribute should be paid to Sir Lancelot Royle and the Board of Management for their great services and for the great skill with which they carried out the work of N.A.A.F.I. N.A.A.F.I. has meant a tremendous lot to the troops There may be occasional criticism of N.A.A.F.I. with regard to cigarettes or no sugar in tea. These are the usual grouses of soldiers.
In the main N.A.A.F.I. has rendered inestimable benefit to soldiers in this country and especially abroad. As far as N.A.A.F.I. has been concerned it has been prominent on D-Day and every day in this war. N.A.A.F.I. has followed up the troops quickly. In paying a tribute to the girls—and they were the first girls to go overseas and the staff of N.A.A.F.I. who have done-so much, I hope that their services will be recognised by the Secretary of State for War. I would like to know if the Secretary of State for War is considering a situation that may arise with regard to a section of the soldiers in the Army. I think it is true to say that, practically speaking, those foreigners who have been permitted to join our Services have in the main joined the Army. There are in our Army at the present time a large number of foreigners—some of them coming from enemy country—who have fought valiantly and well and who have, in some cases, given their lives for the cause which they have at heart. Can the Secretary of State for War tell us whether the Prime Minister, who in speaking of the Crimea Conference said this:
In any event, His Majesty's Government will never forget the debt they owe to the Polish troops who have served them so valiantly, and for all those who have fought under our command I earnestly hope it may be possible to offer the citizenship and freedom
of the British Empire if they so desire."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 1284.]
I want to know, Mr. Speaker, whether anything is to be done, whether any special arrangements are to be made with regard to these foreigners who have joined our Forces. They will not have jobs to come back to in the same way as the British soldier, who we hope will have a job given to him. I want to ask three questions: If the Secretary of State for War can state if any consideration has been given to the status of these aliens who have fought for this country in our Army; whether that service may be regarded as one of the factors in determining naturalisation, and will facilities be granted to those; and will the Secretary of State advocate that facilities shall be, granted to those who have served with the Forces to emigrate to the Empire? I feel that is a problem that has to be dealt with, and the sooner it is considered the better.
My last word is this: We believe that the forces of the Army can overcome all difficulty, can encounter all danger, and will come out victorious. Let us, out of the thankfulness of our hearts, determine that for the sacrifice they have made, for the courage they have shown, this country will be thankful not only in words, but in deeds as well.
I am sure that at this late hour the Secretary of State will excuse me if I do not join in a well-deserved eulogy which has come from all parts of the House in respect to his review of the works and achievement of the British Army. I would not, in fact, have intervened in this Debate had it not been that the Secretary of State made some comment towards the end of his speech as to the tank situation. It seemed to me that my right hon. Friend tried to prove too much. He tried to prove that his policy in respect of tanks had been quite right and that the critics' policy in respect of tanks has been quite wrong. Now what was my right hon. Friend's policy? It was persistently to refuse to put a request to the Ministry of Supply for a tank provided with heavy guns, and for a tank provided with heavy armour. Nothing that my right hon. Friend said in his speech, in my judgment, could justify him in that policy. It is true that he gave the House a statement from Field Marshal Montgomery but I think it would have been better if we could have had some direct statement from one of the chief officers of the Armoured Corps. In my experience there used to be a direct representative of the Armoured Corps in the War Office. Now, of course, all this information has to come through the Field Marshal, and though of course one takes a great deal of notice as to the observations of Field Marshal Montgomery, I think it would have been more convincing if we had been told by the Secretary of State that the Royal Armoured Corps itself were quite satisfied with the policy which had been followed by the Secretary of State, namely, his refusal to demand a heavy tank.
Now what was the critics' policy? The critics' policy did not say "We want all our tanks to be heavy tanks", but we did say that we must have, in our judgment, some tanks in our organisation armed with powerful guns and well-protected. We put forward the analogy of the fleet—that it was necessary to have some battleships and not rely on all cruisers. We never criticised in the least the most excellent fast British tanks—I suppose the fastest tanks in the world—which were at the disposal of the British troops, but we did say there ought to be something more. My right hon. Friend said our tanks now mount a 17-pounder. I wonder if he would tell us what proportion of our British tanks have got 17-pounders. When we criticised, we did not criticise the 17-pounder because it was not a good gun; on the contrary, we said it was a first-class anti-tank gun. Mind you, an anti-tank gun is a defensive weapon. My right hon. Friend may play with the fact that we are now on the offensive. We said the time would come when we had to take the offensive, that the time would come when the gun required would be in both defensive and offensive roles, when we would need a dual-purpose gun capable of firing an effective high-explosive charge.
What does my right hon. Friend say to-day? He says that he has such a gun. He says that the policy that we advocated is the policy which he has now adopted. He tells us more. He tells us that he is now going to produce a heavy tank, and therefore I would suggest that my right hon. Friend did try to prove a little too much. One cannot go too much into detail on matters of this kind, but on the whole, the situation now is that the Secretary of State told us that we are going to have a gun which can fire an effective high-explosive charge. We are going to have a heavy tank which is capable of dealing with the heaviest gun of the enemy, and that, after all, was all the critics asked for. I would say only this in conclusion—it is never too late to mend—but two years is a long time to wait.
I want to join, in support of the hon. Member for East Willesden (Mr. Hammersley) on the tank issue, but I shall defer that until later in my speech. I may say at the outset that I welcome the sign that the House proposes to celebrate the return to more normal hours by sitting a long time, and I certainly do not propose to help it to adjourn at an early hour.
May I refer first, with great seriousness, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster), especially to his concluding sentences, in which he emphasised the treatment to be meted out to those persons in the Services who suffer from loss of limb, wounds, and disease, as a result of the war. I think every hon. Member who was present would endorse all that he said about the necessity and urgency of locking after them. But I would add- that those of us here who were in the last war recollect what happened after that war. No doubt the intentions of the House of Commons before the end of the last war were just as genuine as the intentions of the House of Commons to-day. My hope would be that we do not forget the men this time, as the House of Commons after the last war forgot the men we saw trotting up and down the streets begging on one leg, in dire- poverty and distress. If we do, we shall have betrayed the lot.
I, for one, am going to congratulate a Minister of the Crown. He will probably say that there must be something wrong, but I felt with the right hon. Gentleman particularly in his most moving peroration. I regret, however—and I say this without any criticism of my right hon. Friend, because I have never put him in the same category as some of the professional politicians who adorn the Front Bench—that Ministers will persist in read- ing their speeches. Looking up at the Press Gallery in the course of the Minister's oration, I noticed that the Press had stopped taking notes and were reading a copy of his speech. It would be a great convenience for me if I had my right hon. Friend's precise words alongside me to refer to while I was speaking. The Minister had an epic story to tell and I was glad to hear him—I think he is the first Service Minister to do so this year—offer sympathy and regret to the friends and relations of those who have lost their lives or suffered wounds in this war. I also agreed with him when he referred to the nonsense of saying everything was all over bar the shouting. I emphasise this point only to refer briefly to a matter I have referred to before, namely, that I sincerely and honestly believe that the war might very well have been all over bar the shouting a long time ago but for the idiocy of our "unconditional surrender" policy. When we look back on the idiocy of that cry, we may live to regret it. Certainly, those who lose friends and relations killed from now onwards will have cause to complain.
The Secretary of State also paid tribute to the terrific valour shown by our troops in all theatres of war, and so do I. But how much more effective might that valour have been, had it been supported by adequate weapons, weapons far ahead of those employed by the enemy, as they very well could have been. I was glad to hear the Minister pay tribute to the Bailey bridge. Recently, I had the opportunity of visiting our Forces in Italy and on my way back from the front, I picked up two Americans who wanted a lift. In the course of that journey I said to them, "What do you consider, quite without prejudice, and quite regardless of nationality, to be the best invention of the war?" Without hesitation, both said "The Bailey bridge." I thought that was a generous tribute from them. I also endorse all that has been said about the labour and sweat of those ingenious persons who provided those marvellous things, the "Mulberry" Harbours.
I do not want immediately to get on to the tank issue. [Laughter.] This is a serious matter—and I propose to do so. I want to speak about two other matters. The first is the question of feeding Europe. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say so much about the terrible problems confronting us in feeding the huge civilian populations in Europe who have nothing to eat. I carry my mind back to what may now be forgotten, to the futile, although repeated, efforts some of us have made in this House to try to organise the distribution of limited amounts of foodstuffs in enemy-occupied countries. Such a distribution would not have hurt our war effort, or helped the enemy, but would have provided a channel of organised communications which could have been built upon and enlarged when we came to invade Europe. We said so at the time. To another point—I know the Secretary of State has little to do with what—perhaps unfortunately for some people—has become a somewhat notorious speech I made in Cairo. I do not wish to refer to that speech except as a matter of principle [Laughter]—really, this is serious. We are told that men in the Forces are only too anxious to take part in the next election, to learn the points of view of the Left, Right and Middle, and whatever else may be served up on the electoral plate. How can they do that, unless given a fair opportunity of hearing representative speeches, undoctored and untampered with, from Members of all parties?
I want to ask the Secretary of State whether he will reply to me on this matter, which I and other hon. Members regard as very serious? It appears that towards the end of December, which happens to be a short time after I was in Cairo, orders were issued that no speaker on political issues from England, whether a Member of Parliament or otherwise, would be allowed to address troops without the permission of the Commander-in-Chief in Egypt, or that part of the world, and without first submitting the script of what he was going to say.
There is no difficulty about this, I can assure the House. General Paget, I understand, was responsible for issuing this edict. The matter which concerns me is this: Since this order has been issued, there has been a well-known speaker on Tory politics, Mr. Arthur Bryant, who has been sent out with the approval of the War Office to talk politics to the troops, and for no other reason. I understand there is now an approved list. Will the Secretary of State let the House know who is on the approved list, and whether it is going to include or does include all parties, and whether persons who happen to hold different views from those of General Paget, or the Secretary of State himself, will be allowed to address the troops? The matter has even gone so far that where war correspondents tried to refer to my speech and give reactions to it, everything was closed down on them and they were not allowed to report home. War correspondents got themselves into trouble for threatening to do so. Further, the British Press in Egypt have now been told not even to report any reference in this House to that particular instance, even from HANSARD—
I am glad of that interruption. That is the situation. I was somewhat surprised at the reception which my speech got here, in view of the eulogies showered on it by the local Press in Cairo, which is by no means Left Wing. They have been told from London to shut up. Despite the fact that Army education officers in the Middle East have requested that representative speakers from all parties should be sent out to address the troops, that, also, has been "sat on" at this end. I do not blame the Secretary of State. It may be a Cabinet decision. But the House is entitled to know the degree of suppression, which will affect very seriously political thought in the Armed Forces.
Now I come to tanks. My hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), whose speech unfortunately I did not hear, said he had been told that 6-pounder guns had knocked out Tiger tanks. Of course, it is possible that an air gun would kill an elephant, but if my hon. Friend bases his opinion for his own patients on the kind of evidence which he appears to have submitted to the House with regard to tanks, I am very sorry for his patients.
I made a joking reference to my hon. Friend's well-known concentration on the tank situation, but I was only relating an incident that actually happened to show the extraordinary gallantry of the soldiers concerned. I was not really attacking my hon. Friend, who, of course, has a monopoly of the tank subject.
That is just where my hon. Friend is wrong. He gets quoted wrongly against me. People do not understand the tone of voice with which things are said in the House and I felt bound to answer him. I approach this tank question from one angle only and that is that men's lives are concerned. Thousands of lives have been lost and tens of thousands have been wounded as the result of the incapacity of responsible people at this end to produce proper tanks and the inefficiency of the weapons that have been produced as compared with what the enemy have. Our tanks, such as they are, work, but the other chap has something that is much better. I thought the right hon. Gentleman passed over the matter much too lightly. He talked about flail tanks. I remember our difficulties in pressing for minesweeper tanks and the trouble the Army had to get them. Where were the flail tanks made? Not here. They were knocked together in workshops at Cairo and Alexandria because the troops could not get them from this end. The right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to tell the House, because he could not, that we have anything comparable either to the Tiger or the Panther. It is all very well to quote messages from Field-Marshal Montgomery. Does he expect Field-Marshal Montgomery to say publicly that all our weapons are rotten? He is in the position the critics have always said the soldiers would be in if we had a Minister of Defence who is also Prime Minister. They have to pay regard to what the politicians want to say. They have not any independence of thought at all. I am sorry for Field-Marshal Montgomery for being put in that position, and I am not a bit impressed. I should have been much more impressed had he quoted somebody from the Royal Armoured Corps.
I am reminded of a report I saw—I cannot remember in which paper—of a conversation between Field-Marshal Montgomery and the Prime Minister. It is reported that the Field-Marshal said, "You know, I still don't like the Churchill tank"; to which the Prime Minister replied, "Well, Field-Marshal, it had one or two blemishes on it, before they gave it my name." That is the only report I have heard from Field-Marshal Montgomery on that particular subject. The Secretary of State went on to say that the Tiger is the only tank with a "hotted-up" 88mm. gun—
I know. I meant the Royal Tiger. I have asked a lot of questions about them, and I had not had a decent answer. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that, as if it was the worst our troops had to meet. It is not. He said nothing about the Panther, with its "hotted-up" 75mm. gun.
That cannot be stated in understandable figures to this House. Anything can be done with figures. I have spent all my life in engineering concerns and I know how easy it is to deceive your listener with figures. I assure the House, however, that I have never tried to do that in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the 17-pounder gun, and when I interjected and asked whether he really called that a dual-purpose gun, he said "Yes." That is a half truth; it is the worst kind of deception. No gunner will tell you that the r7-pounder gun, as used by the troops to-day, is an effective dual-purpose gun.
I should be surprised, Sir, if an experienced cavalry soldier like yourself would call a 17-pounder gun as it is to-day an effective dual-purpose weapon. As for the Secretary of State for War, his later duties have made him out of date. It is obvious that the 17-pounder, high velocity, shell cannot carry enough explosive. It will take only nine ounces. At least the simple formula should be clear to the House that the volume of the shell varies as the square of the diameter. The 17-pounder gun is put against the 88 mm., firing a 22-lb. shell, which carries about 25 ounces of high explosive.
I do not intend to argue all the details of this case again. I have done it so often before—but I am going on. I propose to read a letter which I received, dated 11th March this year, from a very gallant soldier who is just home, with the D.S.O., and, I think, bar, and the Military Cross. He is in the Royal Armoured Corps. He says:
Your own qualifications for receiving a letter like this are widely known; my own for writing it are not. I have fought tank actions in seven distinct types of British and American tanks, beginning with tile antediluvian A10's we took to Greece and ending with the Cromwells we took to Normandy on D day. I have myself had 17 tanks knocked out in one way and another, though my survival, I assure you, is in no way attributable to the design of the tank concerned, and been wounded four times. So you see I ought to know what I am talking about.
For four years now I have been watching shells fired from mine and other tanks bouncing off the front armour of German panzers. I mean actually watching and actually bouncing, and that after we had wriggled and crept and rushed our tanks to within effective range for our weapons. This has meant always that for at least 5,000 yards we have been within the enemy's effective range before we
could fire a shot that had any hope of success. And then, unless we had somehow managed to get to the side or back of our opponent, we would see our well-aimed shot ricocheting into the air.
"What about the 17-pounder, you ask?" That is what the Secretary of State has been asked to-day.
I answer that the 17-pounder does not penetrate the front of the German Mk VI or Panther. I was sceptical when my gunners in Normandy told me they had got strikes on the front of the Panther at close range and that it got away. Then a test was held on a captured Panther at 600 yards with a 17-pounder, and boo yards is pretty close. The first shot made a scoop in the oblique plate, the second shot cracked it and did not penetrate, the third shot penetrated …
You can imagine the thoughts that pass through the heads of every tank crew when they read the extraordinary ballyhoo that originally surrounded the 2-pounder and 6-pounder guns, and the Prime Minister's statement in the House after the invasion of Normandy: 'I am informed by General Montgomery that the 17-pounder will go clean through the Panther.' All our guns will go clean through the side of a Panther. As far as my experience goes none of our anti-tank weapons will penetrate the front of one, unless there is a lucky strike on the driver's visor.
That seems to be unanswerable, from an officer with exceptional experience. The Secretary of State also talked about the speed and manoeuvrability of our new tanks. That is an old, old story. [Interruption.] The Minister should not interrupt. I listened patiently to him without interrupting.
That is very acceptable. I was just saying what this officer had to say about manoeuvrability. I have always said that the curse of our tank production was the idiocy of putting it in the hands of the motor-car trade, which thinks in terms of high speed and not in terms of guns and armour. This is what he says:
The facts of the matter are that the German Panther and Tiger tanks are within a few miles per hour as fast as the Sherman, the tank which has made the most spectacular of our break-throughs"—
this was up to the time of Normandy—
the only time you would ever need the 40 m.p.h. of the Cromwell is when yours is in headlong flight. Or in a demonstration. … In the close country of Normandy and doubtless the greater part of Europe it is undeniable that the Panther and the Mark VI were far more mobile or tactically manoeuverable than the Cromwell or Sherman. The recent Russian break through from the Vistula to the Oder with tanks at least as heavy and probably heavier than the Tiger and Panther must surely thump the last nail home in the long-delayed coffin of 'fast, lightly armoured tanks.' I cannot believe that it was beyond anybody's contemplation to build a heavy tank that would also go fast; it is a pure matter of weight and horse power ratio.
I apologise to the House if I am quoting at too much length, but it seems to me a very unusual letter. He goes on to say:
Supposing I was challenged to a duel by a German tank commander, and that I had the choice of weapons. The choice lay between a Mark IV Panther as used in the first year of the war, and a Cromwell, as used for the first time in June, 1944, I would choose the German Mk IV.
It seems to me that is completely damning, though I agree it is a matter of opinion. The Secretary of State for War went on, in his great eulogy of tanks, to talk about the fact that the Churchill and the Cromwell had become grandfathers. I do not know what that means, but it is perfectly true that the Churchill, the latest A22, has got heavy armour on the front where it is wanted. The trouble with the tank is that it was originally designed for a 2-pounder gun, and that is what the public does not know. I remember having a quarrel with the Prime Minister in 1942, when he came down to the House and made a long ex-parte statement at the end of Questions in answer to a question of mine. He told us that the reason why we rushed into production was that we had to have something to defend these shores. The A22, with only a 2-pounder gun, was then put into production at the very time when we had Valentines and Matildas with 2-pounder guns—coming off the production line at 400 a month. The Germans already had Mark IVs—and we in the engineering profession knew that something of the order of the Tiger was about to appear. Yet nothing was done to put us ahead of the Germans. It simply is not good enough for the troops, merely to let the Secretary of State get away with what he said to-day. I came to this House with some considerable doubt as to whether I would speak on the matter at all. I realise it is too late to put things
right. Had the things been done which we recommended two or three years ago, the situation on the Rhine to-day would be entirely different. I am not going to allow the Secretary of State to give the impression to the troops that we are not sufficiently watchful in this House to contradict what he said.
I am amazed on this issue. We hear great talk of our development and invention, and the difficulties of producing big tanks. Yet the Russians have got bigger and better tanks than the Germans. The Secretary of State for War will not answer Questions when they are put down. He says it is not in the public interest to give the information. What he means is that it is not in the Government's interest to tell the truth—he dare not. Soldiers have asked me whether it is really impossible, with out engineering capacity in this country, for us to have produced in the course of the war, a tank equal to or better than the Tiger. My answer is of course it is possible; I drove a tank in the early days of 1943 with a gun better than the 88 mm. gun. Had that tank been proceeded with—and I wrote and called the attention of the Prime Minister to it, in a letter to which I received only a cursory acknowledgment—we should at least have got something better than the Tiger today, even though we might not have had it in the quantity we desired.
The Secretary of State for War is always applauding the virtues of the Cromwell. I agree that it is a good tank and has good points. But as long ago as 1942 he told us that this was a world-beater, "better than anything the Germans or the Japanese had produced, better than any tank in the world," and that it would have a stirring effect on the war. That was in September, 1942. The first time it was used in action, however, was in Normandy in June, 1944. In February, 1943, I asked if the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to say that in his considered judgment that tank, the A·27, was capable of taking on the German Tiger. He did not answer, but HANSARD records—this is interesting, because HANSARD does not often record these things—that the Secretary of State "indicated assent." It is not true, as every tank officer will tell him. It is astonishing that we never seem able to give the coup de grace in a military affair. I think it is because, both in armour and in armament, our tanks are not adequate for the job. The soldiers say that. My right hon. Friend constantly jeers at me that I am the only person who finds deficiencies. He knows, and every Member knows, that the soldiers in the Royal Armoured Corps are constantly complaining. I have a pocket full of letters from people who say, "For Heaven's sake go on! what you say is quite right. Perhaps we shall get something adequate in the end." Why are we never ahead of the enemy, but always lagging behind?
As I said in production Debates, even before the war, it is a fundamental error to separate the production of fighting weapons from the Department concerned. Where would the British Navy be, if the supply of battleships had been handed over to the Ministry of Supply? It is a frightful mistake to allow the weapons which the Army are going to use to be produced by a different Ministry. Trouser buttons, if you like: clothing and that sort of equipment, but not weapons. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will agree—I was not watching for his nod. Let us be quite fair. I do not blame my right hon. Friend for all this. He has taken over the sins of others. There is a history behind this, for which he is not responsible. When in the past we have got the House of Commons to such a pitch that it is really prepared to discuss tanks, what happens? We are plunged into Secret Session so that the people shall not know the sins of the Government and for no other reason. I have quoted that in Debate before, and I do not mind doing it again, and it is not uninteresting to remember that, on the only day when tanks were debated in this House, the Minister of Defence was inspecting paratroops in the country! I believe there have been two Reports from the Select Committee that were so bad that the Prime Minister suppressed them. The Government dared not allow them to be published—even to the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War are both so afraid of the defects that they dare not allow even Members of Parliament to go and see the latest German weapon and compare it with our best. It is a lot of humbug to say that the tank cannot be seen because it is being experimented upon. It is perfectly easy, without experiments all day and every day, to bring a tank along for us to have a look at it or let us go to
the tank. But the Government dare not do it. They are just afraid of the wrath of the people if such a demonstration were carried out. I am afraid that there has been a great deal of deliberate deception in this matter. What about the two-page illustrated article in a newspaper not so long ago, in which the War Office tried to make out that the A22 (Churchill) was a better tank than the Tiger? What practical man who knows anything about either, would admit that? They have even indulged in the old-time trick of taking a close-up picture of the A.22, and a distant one of the Tiger, so that the A.22 (Churchill) looked bigger and better and headed it:
Tiger biggest tank in action! Churchill can lick it hollow.
even adding "Outgunned at last," as if the low-velocity 13-pounder on the Churchill were better than the high velocity 22-pounder on the Tiger! I would just remind the House that, in 1943, when the Tank Committee met, the Minister of Production, the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Supply then told the Committee that there was
no military demand for a tank to mount a gun capable of matching or outmatching the 88mm. gun on the German Mark VI Tiger tank.
That is simply contrary to what every fighting soldier knows. It has been in all the newspapers that the German name for "the admirable Shermans," is the "Tommy Cooker." I will read part of an American sergeant's letter:—
The Mark VI has seven inches of armour, and all of our guns except the 90 mm. bounce off its front when it is hit. They have an 88 mm. gun that will pierce 5½ inches of armour at 2,000 yards. The front of our tanks has only 3½ inches of armour. Our tracks are only 16 inches wide, against the Germans' 32 inches.
When the Russian generals came over to the Rhine, and saw a lot of our tanks bogged down in mud because of their narrow tracks, they said that those conditions would have been regarded as favourable on the Eastern front.
I come now to my final point, which is that of the sheer necessity of a proper inquiry into all the circumstances. Thousands of people have lost their lives, and tens of thousands of young men have been wounded. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to laugh it off, but the Ministers responsible are, primarily, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Production, and they are the people who have deceived the country and the country should know that they have repeatedly come to the House and have lied.
Mr. Quintin HoÄ£Ä£:
On a point of Order. The last words of the hon. Member's speech were that two Ministers of the Crown "have repeatedly come to the House and have lied." That is what I understood the hon. Member to say. If he did say that, is it in Order—
On a point of Order. Is it correct that a Member has said that two Ministers have "come to this House and lied"? If that is correct, there should be an inquiry or a withdrawal. May I also respectfully submit to you, Sir, a point concerning your own statement about the end of the hon. Member's speech? May I submit that the remark made by you is an improper remark for the Speaker to make at the end of any speech? I will put a Motion down on the Paper. It is a perfectly improper statement.
Further to that point of Order. Very many of us were extremely anxious to hear the speech made by the hon. Member, and many of us are extremely grateful the speech was made. We have decided in this House to meet at a quarter to four in the afternoon—I am talking of the Debate—and I submit that we shall be under very considerable restraint and may be, in fact, inhibited from doing our duties in this House if at the end of speeches Mr. Speaker is to use language which rebukes Members for doing their duty in this House.
There is one remark with which many of us will agree and it is that it is wrong for the War Department not to be responsible for the manufacture of their own weapons and I think it is a matter which will bear far greater attention in the future in the House. I think the account given of the history of the tank has been unfortunate. The hon. Member has paid far too little credit to the achievements of the Cromwell—
Let me deal with two points I wish to make. First of all the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster), dealing with the 56 days in hospital. I think we all have a good deal of sympathy with that point, but he did not give the Minister credit for the change that has been made. I think I am correct in saying that before 27th February, the man had 3 months in hospital and then got 56 days. That three months has been extended to six months, but I do not think it is yet satisfactory. What is happening really is that a man who is suffering from multiple wounds is being penalised against a man who has got less complicated wounds. I have a constituent in hospital who has been in hospital with multiple wounds for well over six months. As a result, that man, who has served his country for four years, is being penalised compared with another man who has slighter wounds. I ask the Secretary of State to reconsider this matter for I feel that the country expects that, so long as a man is in hospital suffering from his wound, he shall not suffer a diminution in his rate of pay during that time.
The main reason I had for rising was to draw attention to the fact that, great as have been the achievements of the Army, it is a notable fact that the burden and heat of the fighting have been borne by a very few. I think that is a failure that has been admitted by my right hon. Friend. It does mean that, somehow, during this war we have skimped the Army of men. The burden has always fallen on the same men. That does require rectification, and I thought the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) did an ill service to the House, when he suggested that we should not send many men into the Far East. I gathered that the explanation of his speech was that he was trying to dissuade men from service in the Army, and especially from service in the Far East. I hope that will not be the policy of His Majesty's Government. Do not let us throw the burden of the fighting in Burma on a few units. Let us spread the burden on as many units as possible, so that all can have a proper rest.
My object has been amply served. The hon. Gentleman made a speech which, in my view, was subverting men in the Army from their discipline. I am glad to have his refutation. If he reads his speech in HANSARD to-morrow, he will see that that appeared to be the case. If we are to bear the burden of more units in the future, I think the right hon. Gentleman has to get a greater comb-out, both from the other Services and also in the Army. I have noticed from my experience in the war how some commanders in the field have combed-out their services more than others. I could think of notable examples where commanders have gone through their services in the backward areas, and out of those services have made fighting formations to take part in the battle. I believe the example of these commanders should be followed universally in the Army. I am quite sure that there has been an economy of manpower in a great many of the theatres of war, but it is my experience that there has been in these theatres at times a great wastage of manpower. I have known Cairo for two years and during that time there was a terrible waste of manpower whilst the Army in the field was dependent on one or two divisions. I have seen a mushroom growth of new services often with long alphabetical pseudonyms, and usually belonging to some of the minor branches of intelligence. There are far too many of these so-called units.
The one remark of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War with which I disagreed was that in which he tried to make a comparison between economies of man-power and economies of welfare. One does not lead to the other; it is rather the opposite. You find a good commander who economises in man-power is usually able to give far better welfare to his troops than those who are extravagant in man-power and I do think we should do more in this direction to economise in man-power. But if we are short of man-power, this is the time to think more of morale. If we are dealing with a few units, let us see that those units are at fighting pitch for as long a period as possible and that does mean that the Adjutant General's Branch of the War Department has to try to keep units together and he has also to pay more attention than is paid to-day to the geographical arrangement of units. I do not want to use the phrase "territorial"—it may be misunderstood—but men will fight better together if they are drawn from the same area of England.
I left out Scotland because I think the Director of Infantry makes it quite unnecessary to refer to it. There is no reason why in future years we should not have our fighting divisions related to some area or territory. I think the Regular Army has paid too little attention to that territorial spirit in the fighting formations. The time has come when that must be introduced.
In the war establishments of units you have got always provision made for first reinforcements. Throughout this war I have found first reinforcements and what used to.be called "L.O.B." in North Africa have been completely misused. The first reinforcements should be used as a relieving company, so that when a battalion had been in the line for a long time, you could draw one company out and rest it and put in first reinforcements. In my experience of the Army, we did not have reinforcements, or if we had, they were far behind and used for another purpose as in 194o. I think the time has come not to review these matters having in view the finish of the German war and also the operations in Burma. We want to carry on our campaign with a maximum economy of manpower, and also with the greatest incentive to the morale of the fighting troops that has been ably demonstrated during the last 12 months.
Many Members have paid tribute to the Army during to-day's Sitting but I think the greatest tribute this House has paid is the fact that such a large number of Members is present at such a late hour. I would like to say how much I agree with Members who have suggested that the Army should go in for a greater degree of publicity. I have been impressed recently by reading about Remagen detailed accounts showing the actual unit that first saw the bridge, the actual captain of the company, where he came from, and what sort of man he was and everything about it. One got a complete picture of it as one would not get by a simple recounting such as one usually gets with the case of our own regiments. I would like to say, although perhaps it might not be quite diplomatic, that if at all strategically possible, the next time we advance, it would be well to see whether the Americans can hold the hinge, while we do the more spectacular advances.
The right hon. gentleman the Secretary of State of War mentioned that we had captured, since D-Day, 1,000,000 prisoners of war. I want to ask what we are doing with these prisoners of war. Recent events have disturbed Members of all parties. I do not speak only of the escape of certain officers in South Wales or near the Forest of Dean. We all know that officers can escape from prisons from time to time, and that there can be mistakes and I am not prepared to say that the people who were running this particular camp were guilty of any great negligence. But I am, and many other Members are, concerned at the far more serious incident that took place when one, two or three German prisoners, anti-Nazis, were beaten up and severely injured by violent Nazi German prisoners. In his reply to questions on 20th February the Secretary of State for War said that some of the prisoners at this camp in Canning Town had been treated by the camp doctor and none died or were admitted to hospital. I would like to inform hon. Members that since that reply one has died. Secondly that there was no British doctor present at this camp; that the only doctors there were German doctors; that these doctors were Nazis and that they refused to treat the non-Nazis.
That is the situation at one camp. Is it due to lack of supervision? I am not so certain that it is. I think it is due to a "don't care" attitude, an attitude which I think was expressed when the right hon. gentleman replied that it did not very much matter whether one set of Germans killed another set, they were all equally bad and nothing could be done to make the killers into war criminals. I hope that there will be no "grilling," as it is called, of members of the Forces connected with prisoners of war camps as a result of anything I say. When the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) asked a question recently, I am informed there was "grilling" and personnel who, it was thought, might have had contact with him, were called up before commanding officers and asked, "Did you give this information? If so, why; what right had you to give it?" That is something that we as Members of Parliament cannot possibly stand for.
What is the system of administration in our prisoner of war camps? I should suppose, first of all, that they are divided into different sections composed of different kinds of prisoners—good, bad, and indifferent prisoners. But not at all. They are simply divided into groups of from 1,500 men. These groups are represented by what is called the lager fuehrer, and the lager fuehrer is chosen, not because he is the most democratic, the least unpleasant German. He is chosen because he is the most Nazi and the best disciplinarian. You will find in camp after camp groups of 1,500 men whose sole method of communication with the British authorities is through a man who is known as a Nazi leader, who has been picked out for many years as a Nazi leader, and who is there to preserve discipline. What powers has that man got? He has very great powers. He sits, in many camps, in the orderly room, or in the company office with the officer in command who may be a subaltern or a captain; and with him there is a sergeant. The men are brought up before this Nazi leader and they are brought up charged with certain crimes. One might assume the crime is insubordination to a British officer or British n.c.o. But the crime with which the men are frequently charged is insubordination to a German n.c.o. and the German n.c.o.'s are in the majority of cases members of the Nazi Party. These men are brought up charged with these crimes and sentence is then passed by the Nazi officer. I admit that it is possible for the British n.c.o. to alter a sentence; it is quite possible for him to remit the whole sentence. But in fact the attitude often taken is: "It is a good thing for these men to keep camp discipline. They order these chaps about, and it is a good thing for one German to keep these other Germans in order." I submit that is not the best way of running our prisoner of war camps or inducing Germans to cease upholding the Nazi régime.
What remedies are there? What remedies can we suggest? I would suggest in the first place that the Nazis be separated into different groups. There might be Nazis in one; there might be anti-Nazis in another; and in the third group there might be those people who form the great majority—thoroughly stupid, very often sullen German soldiers, who are neither Nazi or anti-Nazi, but are just stupid and go whichever way any leader takes them. Unfortunately, during the past five or ten years the leader has been a Nazi. I would suggest that they should be taken out of the hands of the Nazi leaders who are to-day moulding them in the wrong shape, and put into sections where, I believe, it would be possible to mould them into better shape.
It may call for more British guards. I am told one of the objections is the question of space. That was the objection raised by the right hon. Gentleman. As to the question of space, my information is that there is plenty of space in prisoner of war camps. It might be necessary to provide a certain amount of tents and certainly an amount of barbed wire. One thing that would prevent the War Office from doing it, would be a great deal more trouble. It may take a certain number more troops to do it, but I would submit that the job is well worth doing. I would suggest also that it is very unfortunate that there is such a shortage of British interpreters. It is unfortunate that a man who wants to tell the officer in charge about difficulties, or to explain anything, may have to go to a German interpreter rather than to a British interpreter, because there are not sufficient British interpreters. The German interpreter may entirely misinterpret them. I know hon. Members on the other side will say it is quite impossible and useless and that there is no point in thinking about these Germans at all. I would suggest, on the contrary, that this job of looking after prisoner of war camps is worth while. It may not be so spectacular, and may not contribute so much to the war effort—or, rather, may not appear to—as many other more spectacular works we have heard about to-day. But, at the same time, it may contribute a great deal to lay the foundations of peace. The right hon. Gentleman paid great tribute to the Army, and I think it would be discourteous if one did not say that some of the tribute should go to the Secretary of State for War himself, who has been head of the Army during its victories. I would ask him in his reply to deal with our prisoner of war camps. In so doing he may not only be doing yet more to help to win the war but may be doing something to help to lay the foundations of peace.
What I have to say is rather different.from what we have been discussing in recent speeches. But I do want to pay my tribute to the men in the Army. The Army's day has come behind those of the Navy and Royal Air Force, but I am sure our men, had they been in the Air Force or the Navy, would have been equal to the men in those Services in doing their duty. I want to say a word about the men in India and in Burma, not in regard to their services in the actual fighting, but as the heroes they are. I believe when the tale is told of what our men have done in Burma, there will be nothing finer in the world's history of warfare. May I say a word or two about the treatment of the men proceeding to the front and after they get there? With regard to the troopship, I recognise that it must be a very difficult job to give comfort, spaciousness and good treatment to men in troopships, but there are, I understand, very considerable complaints so far as the private soldiers are concerned. I have a little experience of this, because, a long time ago, I went to Australia, and while I did not work my passage I went steerage. I, therefore, have some idea of the position of the men who are travelling practically steerage. When the ship is divided off for first and second class, there is not much room left for the men. Something should be done as to feeding and the mess deck arrangements. Would it not be possible, with the limited space there is, to let the men have, at least, a dining room and cafeteria, and, above all, to let them have some deck space for exercise and entertainment?
Another thing—and I want to proceed as rapidly as I can—is the accommodation in the troop trains in India. Some of the journeys are very long, anything from 5 days to 10 days. I have information from a young man, in whom I have the most implicit confidence, who says that some of his journeys have taken five to seven days. The accommodation for these men is simply abominable. I see that the Secretary for War indicates that he agrees with me. I have been on trains in America three or four days and I know what it means to be so long on a train even with comforts; but on these trains I understand that there are no sanitary arrangements for the men. If they want to make tea they have to get hot water from the engine. The only water they have for ordinary use, shaving and that sort of thing, is the water they get during the day. In a hot climate, when they want a bath, they have to go to the second or first class when the tanks are being filled and if the attendant is kindly disposed he puts a shower on them.
I want to speak now about the canteens. I understand that there is no N.A.A.F.I. East of Suez. What is happening there?
I am sorry. It is my fault, but I should not have allowed the hon. Member to proceed on that topic. This Vote is exclusive of India. There will be other opportunities of dealing with India.
I have made my point. We look upon the Secretary of State for War as a man who is prepared to stand up to anybody or anything, and it seems a pity that our boys, when they go there, have to pass into somebody else's hands, seeing that the right hon. Gentleman apparently agrees with me that the conditions are abominable. I feel that he should follow these lads through and see that they get correct treatment.
There was a very sad tragedy not far from my constituency a couple of months ago in which ten young men were drowned. There was an inquest, but there was no criminal charge, according to the coroner—a very wise and capable man for whom I have the greatest respect—against anyone. Eighteen young men who had been in the Army just a month or two began practising crossing a river in a wooden structure covered with canvas, and very light—and needing very special skill even under more or less normal conditions. But on the day this happened there was one of the biggest floods there has been for many years. A short distance away from where the accident happened there was a weir. There is a bend in the river, and the river hi flood takes the weight of the water to the side. Underneath the weir—about a 11 ft. or 12 ft. drop—there is a pool from which stones were quarried when building the weir. The weir is about 70 yds. long, and the pool 30 ft. to 40 ft. deep by 30 ft. to 40 ft. wide, and these lads having been instructed how to paddle over lost control and went over the weir and were drowned.
There is, as I say, no criminal charge and I am not making any now. But to take young men and give them instructions how to cross there, without placing any qualified person in the boat with them to ensure that they would cross, shows there has been a great dereliction of duty. A serious lack of judgment was shown in allowing a state of affairs like that to continue. To me it seems like taking a number of young men and giving them instructions how to swim and then telling them to get into a considerable depth of water and chancing that they would be able to swim on the instructions they have received. Surely when we have not all the man-power we require to-day it is more than ever necessary that we should cherish it and be careful to ensure that the young men we do get will be able to fulfil the purpose for which they joined the Service.
One last question in regard to this accident. The coroner made the suggestion that, in circumstances like this, there should be a rope across the river, so that if boys were not able to manage, or lost control, at least they would be able to grasp this rope and thereby save their lives. A representative of the War Office promised to pass this on. I would like an assurance that this arrived at the War Office and a further assurance that it will be carried out, because I can assure the House and those who know this river as I do—and I know it like the back of my hand—that this tragedy—it was nothing less—created a very great feeling of despondency and not too high an appreciation of the judgment of those who have young men's lives in their hands.
I do not propose to embarrass the Secretary of State for War by making any more complimentary references to his speech. He has always been sharp and direct and has had a great story to tell, and, what is more, he has made the Army popular in the eyes of the world. I do not want to detract in any way from that popularity which he has so successfully achieved. If I raise certain criticisms to-night they are criticisms of detail and will not in any way affect the popularity of the Army in the country, but there are things which are pinpricks. They are local and all constituency matters. The first is a very small point but one of importance to the people concerned. It is a question of shirts for Army cadet officers. Naval cadet officers and air force cadet officers can wear their Service shirts in civil life. The sea cadet officers have white shirts and the air cadet officers have blue shirts, and they can be worn with ordinary civilian clothes. The Army cadet officers are not in that position. Borough engineers or business men cannot wear a khaki shirt and collar with their civilian clothes and it has been represented to me that the issue on repayment of an army shirt, officer type, with collar and tie coupon-free to army cadet officers would be a very great assistance to these people, who, after all, are giving their time voluntarily without any form of pay and with no hope of reward. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to look into that, and if possible to give a satisfactory answer.
The next thing on my list is that I hope that cadets themselves will have their clothing issue reconsidered. I have in my hand an order from the County of London Cadet Committee regarding a football match between the County of London Army Cadet Corps and the City of Lanark Army Cadet Corps. In the course of that order, the County of London Committee state that khaki overcoats will be worn, and that uniforms must be correct in all details. That raises two questions. Uniform, correct in all detail, means boots and anklets, not shoes, but the Army cadets have no issue of boots and unless a boy happens to have boots he is not in a position to turn out in full uniform. I know the position regarding boots is difficult but I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether it would be possible to have a pool of boots for these special occasions. The same applies to overcoats. Army cadets are not issued with overcoats, while "khaki overcoats will be worn," says the order. It is an impossible order to carry out. How is a boy to get a khaki overcoat? He is not allowed to have one issued to him. If he borrows his father's from the Home Guard it will have to be cut down and that is contrary to Home Guard orders. If he borrows that of his brother, home on leave from the Services his brother may have to go back, perhaps to France, without the overcoat. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the question again of issuing overcoats, or if cadets cannot have overcoats issued to them, that there shall be a pool held by the County Cadet Committees or the Territorial Association, so that they can be drawn upon on special occasions when overcoats are wanted.
The last point is a rather different one, affecting the Regulars. I propose to go with some detail into a special case to illustrate the difficulty I have found with cases of releases. There have been great delays and I think there must be a great deal of overlapping between the Government Departments concerned. If I give details of this case it is not the only one, because I have others under notice at the moment. But I think this case a particularly bad one and therefore I bring it to the notice of the House and my right hon. Friend in the hope that we can get this thing cleared up and more efficiently run in future. Private Schneider, who is British and is a constituent of mine, was employed to the extent of 90 per cent. in working for the Ministry of Supply in making Sherman tank parts.
I visited this factory to-day. They are still employed to the extent of 90 per cent. For the other 10 per cent. they are making jacks for R.A.F. aeroplanes and kitchen units for the Ministry of Works. In other words, the firm which is a small one and employs about 25 people is wholly employed on working on essential work, 90 per cent. for the Services itself and Mr. Schneider is the owner of this small works. He was called up about a year ago. At that time he applied for deferment on the grounds that he had to attend to his business which was entirely on war work, but that was turned down. On 22nd September he applied for his release. I should explain that during the time he was away there was another man who was a technical assistant who was not only looking after his business but a whole lot of other businesses and all that happened was that this other man visited the factory occasionally and also looked after the books. This man has got so busy now that he can no longer look after the books and the only man in charge who is now called the works manager, but in fact, is a foreman. Although he is a very nice fellow, he cannot attend to the books, the accounting or correspondence. His application for release was turned down in December.
The first question I want to ask is why on earth he was turned down when he was working 100 per cent. on war work and 90 per cent. for the War Office working on Sherman tank parts which the War Office itself wants. Why did the War Office turn it down? The War Office and the Ministry of Supply between them surely could have overcome any objections of the Ministry of Labour. Then on 9th January the Soldiers and Sailors Help Society appealed to me. I made inquiries and wrote to the Ministry of Supply and asked them three questions—whether the original application was strongly supported by the Ministry of Supply, what the reasons were for turning the original application down, and whether the Ministry of Supply had appealed against the first decision. And this is the answer I got from the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Supply. The application was strongly supported by his Ministry, the War Office would not give the reasons why the application was turned down and that he had already appealed. It was obviously in the interests of the War Office that this man should be released from the R.A.O.C. So I then wrote to the War Office.
The Ministry of Supply letter was on the 12th of February and on 7th March the P.P.S. to the Secretary of War wrote as follows:
So far there is no trace of any appeal in regard to this matter.
I do not understand what has happened but I am told that the appeal usually goes from the Ministry of Supply to the Ministry of Labour and the War Office.
Here is a case of a man making tank parts which the Secretary of State wants. The Minister of Supply strongly supports this application and has appealed—God knows where the appeal has got to—but he has appealed. Surely it is in their own interest to appeal in this case and see if something cannot be done. On the merits of the case I would only add that Pte. Schneider is 41 years old, and medical category C2, which means he has to be employed indoors. He is employed in an ordnance depot doing work that an A.T.S. would do better. I can see, therefore, no reason why if the War Office want tank parts they should not release this man forthwith and see that they get their tank parts and to see that this man is released to do far better national service than he could ever do with his age and medical category in the army.
I do hope my right hon. Friend will deal with this case as expeditiously as possible. These are relatively minor matters where perhaps the machine has got clogged up and is overworked but this particular case seemed to me to be a grievance which it is my privilege but it is my duty at this stage on the Army estimates to raise.
I do not think it is at all a bad thing that the House should show on this first day of the return to normal hours of sitting, that it will not shirk working overtime on such an important subject as the Army. The Secretary of State has had a very long day. I pay him my tribute for the patience, punctuated only occasionally by perhaps natural manifestations of impatience, with which he has sat through a large number of speeches. But I am hopeful, late though the hour is, that he will be able to give us more than a perfunctory reply, a fairly detailed and thorough reply, to some of the speeches we have heard to-night.
One speech which contained rather serious allegations, which should be answered, was that of the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) concerning recent incidents in prisoner of war camps. -The hon. Member for West Bromwich made two particular charges which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to deal with. The first charge was that the right hon. Gentleman had misled the House when, in answer to a question by me, he said that a man had not died as a result of the disturbance in the camp at Canning Town; and the second of these charges was that following that question by me a number of the officers and men employed in that camp were had up before the commanding officer and "grilled"—put through an interrogation—as to whether they had supplied the information to Members of this House or not. These are two quite serious charges, as it seems to me, and I hope, the right hon. Gentleman will deal with them when he comes to wind up this Debate.
I presume that he will be dealing with the very long but, I must say, extremely interesting speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). I have no technical knowledge whatever on the subject of tanks and I cannot speak about them as hon. Members on this side and that side of the House have done. All I know is that I have actually seen some of our tanks in action and certainly the most inspiring memory of my life is the memory of having been privileged, last 17th September, to be with the Guards Armoured Division—even though only as a spectator or recorder—on that memorable Sunday afternoon when they broke out of their bridgehead in Holland and advanced up that straight road towards Eindhoven. One of the memories that remain with me from that day is of the sombre sight, towards sundown, of a large number of our tanks blazing on each side of the road—"brewed up," in the jargon of the Royal Armoured Corps. It was a terrible spectacle. It was a grim as well as a splendid day, and the only reason that I mention it now is because, à propos of the speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich, I felt bound to report to the House what some of those particular tank crews did think about this matter. I talked to a number of officers and men of the Guards Armoured Division on that day and the following days in Holland. I know the right hon. Gentleman himself will not suspect me of being a blind follower of the hon. Member for Ipswich. In many respects, perhaps in most respects, I differ from the hon. Member, but on this particular issue of tanks, I am bound to report that those officers and men were 100 per cent. supporters of him. They were not Left Wing mischief-makers, or any thing of that kind. Hon. Members opposite will know that such types are not frequent among the officers of the Guards' Armoured Division; they were what might be called "pukka" Guards Club types. They asked questions about the hon. Member for Ipswich. They said: "What is this chap Stokes really like? He seems to be a pretty good so-and-so in some ways, but he is dead right about tanks." I merely pass that information on, from those men on the spot, for what it is worth.
That brings me to the main point I wanted to raise—the facilities granted to war correspondents with the fighting forces at the front. As the right hon. Gentleman may remember, I did intend at one time to raise this matter on the Adjournment; but, for various reasons that I need not go into, it was postponed, and it was postponed for so long that my first-hand information on the subject was no longer topical. Moreover, I heard that the situation had considerably improved over on the other side, and therefore I did not raise it on the Adjournment. However, it now becomes topical again and reasonable, I hope, to raise it, because I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether sufficient steps have been taken to make sure that there is enough technical equipment and everything else that is necessary to cope with a situation which might arise in Germany similar to that which arose during that great sweep forward up to Brussels and Antwerp. The trouble for the war correspondents, who have done and are doing quite an important job, arose en- tirely, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, from the tremendous speed of that advance. The necessary technical facilities and equipment were left far behind, and it was very difficult to catch up with the speed of the armies. Supposing a similar situation arises now, as it may, during the victorious Allied advance into Germany, has anything been done since last September to improve and make more ample the transmission facilities?
On 3rd October I asked the right hon. Gentleman two questions on this matter arising from my own direct personal experience as a war correspondent. Unfortunately, they were not reached orally, and therefore I only got written answers, which are never the most satisfactory kind of answers. One of the questions I asked him was about the censorship and the lack of uniformity of practice between the two almost rival groups of censors, the field censorship in Belgium and the censorship at S.H.A.E.F. headquarters, which were at that time in England. I pointed out in my question that details of the progress of operations had been simultaneously stopped by the field censorship in Brussels and released by S.H.A.E.F. in England, with the result that messages from correspondents were obsolete by the time they reached the newspaper offices. The right hon. Gentleman replied:
In view of the speed of the advance of the British Second Army, particularly from the Seine to the Scheldt, and the consequent strain on communications some unevenness in censorship was unavoidable.
From experience on the spot I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that his word "unevenness" is one of his most momentous meioses. He went on to say that instances of this would be reduced as far as possible. I also asked the right hon. Gentleman if he was aware that, owing to repeated failures of communication and transmission, war correspondents serving with the Second Army had been unable to report adequately the operation in Holland; and if he would endeavour to afford fuller facilities to the public relations service concerned.
I am not going to labour the details of the inadequacies of transmission facilities at that time, because that was in September and it was improved considerably a few weeks after that; but I do want to guard, so far as we can, against the possibility of the same thing happening if there is a very rapid sweep forward into the centre of Germany, because it is very important that the story of such an advance should be told fully and promptly. Merely by way of illustration in passing, to show how bad things were at that time, I will mention that transmission from Brussels began on or about 4th September, and that from the eighth to the nineteenth of that month, according to the Public Relations staff themselves, transmission was satisfactory on two days only. The great operation at Arnhem and the simultaneous land operation towards Eindhoven started on the afternoon of Sunday, 17th September. That was obviously one of the great stories of the war from the point of view of glorifying the British Army, which is, after all, the point of this debate to-day and the Secretary of State's speech to-day. Yet on the next day, 18th September, no fewer than 30,000 words which had been filed by war correspondents in Belgium were still held up at 7 o'clock in the evening, not transmitted to the London offices—with the result that the British public did not get as complete or as prompt a picture of that great operation as they could have had.
It is not a matter of the convenience or the comfort of the newspapers or war correspondents that I am concerned with. That, obviously, does not matter. Nor is it particularly a question of the information of the public here, though I think that that is rather more important: I think the public are entitled to claim as full a picture as the security people can release of these great operations in which so many millions of their relatives are concerned. It is not that. It is because I think that there is a tremendous political importance in getting in its correct historical perspective now, not only in this country but throughout the world, the great part played by the British Army in the liberation of Europe. It would be disastrous if either now or a year hence or ten years hence it could be said in Europe—in Belgium, in Russia, or in America, or anywhere else—that the British Army had only played a very minor and subsidiary role in the liberation of Europe. It is because I believe that the job the war correspondents are doing, and can do, contributes quite a lot towards the total picture that I am asking that the right hon. Gentleman should give us some guarantee that as the armies sweep into Germany the fullest possible facilities will be given them for transmitting their stories and for getting them censored as speedily and as uniformly as possible.
As is both natural and proper on the Army Estimates, the Debate has ranged both wide and long. I wish to refer to one particular subject, and I do so because it is something which will concern the Army very considerably this year. The Army will have to face a task in the next twelve months it has not had to face in any of the other war years, and I hope it will acquit itself with as much success as we have had recounted to us this afternoon by the Secretary of State for War. The task the Army will have to face is the fact that there will be in the next twelve months a general election while a very large number of men will still be in the Forces. I believe it is the wish of all Members of this House that those in the Forces, for whom we have gone to some trouble to provide them with facilities for voting, should be able to exercise their rights in that election in the best possible manner. As far back as 9th March last the Financial Secretary to the War Office did say in this House:
In the past special instructions about political activities have been issued on the eve of a general election when the vast majority of the men in the Services are affected. This will be done on the eve of the next general election. I can assure the House that, consistent with the reasonable requirements of discipline and with the interests of the Service, the fullest opportunity will be given for all Service personnel to exercise their rights as citizens for election purposes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March, 1944, Vol. 397, col. 2352.]
I put one question to the Secretary of State to which I would like a reply: when do the Government intend to announce to the House their plans for the fulfilment of this promise given by the Financial Secretary? I do not expect the Secretary of State to do so to-night, but I would be glad if he would give some indication when this important matter is to come forward.
I believe if the men in the Forces are to be able to exercise their rights as citizens in the election, two things will have to be done. First there will have to be some relaxation or modification of King's Regulations and various A.C.I. that have been issued and, secondly, I believe there will have to be a different spirit and a different approach to this question both in the War Office and also in some Commands. As an illustration of the way in which the existing regulations have been interpreted and may be interpreted, I wish to refer to an example which is very well-known to hon. Members—the Cairo Parliament of which there has been some discussion in this House. I wish to refer to it as an example and also because I do not believe that the full story of that Parliament has been yet disclosed to the House. If some of the things I have to say are already known I must apologise to hon. Members.
This, as the House will recollect, started off in a venture which was called "Music for All" in Cairo some time in 1944 and in this Parliament, which was attended both by service personnel and civilians, there were at first no parties. There was a pro-nationalisation "government" and anti-nationalisation "opposition" and by large majorities this government introduced and passed "bills," one called the "Distributive Trades (Nationalisation) Bill" and another the "Inheritance Restriction Bill." It happened that an ex-Conservative Member of Parliament was attending this forum and he complained that there must be some secret Left Wing movement organising the Parliament if they passed "bills" of this sort. After consultation with the area Army authorities, a general election was held with the following result: Labour was returned with 119; Common Wealth 55; Liberals 38; and Conservatives 17. That meant that the people returned for the Labour Party were to form a "government" and on 1st March this "government" led by a private of the R.A.P.C. presented the "King's Speech." It is interesting to note that in the period between the election and the "King's Speed'," a Lance-Corporal Hunt, who had been "Prime Minister," had been posted away from Cairo.
We will pass on. It was only after the results of the election were known that there was any opposition from the Army authorities to this venture and the area commander, Brigadier J. L. Chrystall, issued instructions to Dr. Worth Howard, the voluntary literary director, an American citizen, that no civilians or reporters were to be allowed in at any further meetings of the Parliament, and
this was agreed to by the committee concerned for their next meeting, which was to be on 5th April last year. A few hours before that meeting Brigadier Chrystall saw Dr. Worth Howard and produced a completely new set of rules which among other things provided that the word "Parliament" was not to be used, and the proceedings were to be conducted under military control. These are the exact words of the instructions:
This is simply an insurance that no violent political propaganda occurs.
When asked for an example of what constituted "violent political propaganda" the example given was that if the "Chancellor of the Exchequer" in introducing his "Nationalisation of Finance Bill" attacked landlords, that would be taken as violent political propaganda. It was further pointed out that the War Office had already inquired about the Parliament, which was not quite the same story as that given in this House when the Secretary of State gave us to understand that the suppression of this Parliament had come from Cairo and not from this end. Anyway, Dr. Worth Howard refused to communicate these rulings to the Committee, and so an Army officer attended at this meeting and read these instructions out, which, as is known to this House, led to a spontaneous protest on the part of all parties in this "Parliament." That finished the whole thing off, because when the next meeting took place no one turned up. From that time the people who had been mostly concerned with this venture were quietly posted away from Cairo.
I do wish to stress this affair as an example of the spirit which was found both in the War Office and in some commands which is quite contrary to the statement made by the Financial Secretary which I quoted. I wish to quote as a further example the case of Captain Gilbert Hall, who was at this time an officer in the Army Education Corps in Cairo. Captain Hall, as well as being an officer in the Army, was a member of the Party to which I belong. He had already contested one by-election unsuccessfully, and he is now an adopted Common Wealth candidate for a constituency. He had been a member of the committee of the Cairo Forces Parliament. On 26th April he received from the Education Officer-in-Chief M.E.F. a letter referring to the Parliament which stated:
I must ask you to refrain from taking any part in its activities.
Why this should be I cannot for the life of me see. That brings us to 26th April. [Interruption.] I am bringing this example to the notice of some Members who appear to think it is not a matter of some importance. But I think it is. It affects the privileges of this House, for among other things Captain Hall cabled to an hon. Member of this House, the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), about this matter, and although it was accepted by the censor in Cairo and actually forwarded to the Member concerned, apparently after it was forwarded, an attempt was made by the authorities in Cairo to stop it, because they told Captain Hall that the cable had been stopped, although in fact it went through. As well as sending this cable, Captain Hall wrote to two hon. Members of this House, the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith and the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Loverseed), about the Cairo Parliament. At this time the hon. Member for Eddisbury was a member of the National Committee of Common Wealth. Since then he has followed the example of the present: Prime Minister and changed his party. He was a member of the same party as this officer who was a Parliamentary candidate. This officer was refused permission to send this letter to his colleague, who was a member of the National Committee of his own party. The substance of the letter was that he was disclosing to his colleague that he (Captain Hall) had received this letter from Colonel T. St. J. Anderson, Education Officer-in-Chief M.E.F. on 13th May, 1944, as follows:
You will not deliver any lecture, nor will you assist in the organisation or proceedings of any Discussion group, Debate or similar activity without reference to, and permission from this G.H.Q. while you are stationed in Middle East Command
I think that is a monstrous, unlawful command to give to any officer. It would mean, for instance, that he was not allowed to take part in any discussion group which might be discussing religion, or philosophy or anything you like. After he had been given this instruction, when he did apply for permission to give lectures these permissions were refused. The result was that while there was never any complaint about his efficiency or capabilities in the end Captain Hall was called upon to resign his commission be-
cause of his political opinions, which he did. I am quite sure that people who use their military authority for political persecution of this kind are not really fitted to see that at the time of the general election there is a reasonable opportunity for those who are still in the Forces to exercise their rights.
Since that day have things got better or worse? I personally think they have got worse. I think there has been a tightening up of regulations on this matter. There was the one quoted by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes)—the order with regard to the Middle East to which he referred. There is another one, A.C.I. 1537, 1944, which I propose to read:
All ranks will be warned not to permit their names or their opinions on service matters to be published for political purposes, nor to add their signatures, nor to permit their names to be added to public petitions, circulars and affairs dealing with political matters. Any officer or soldier who permits his name to be so used may be held to have contravened one of the following regulations: K.R. 1940, 530, 541, 547.
Regulation 530 refers to the redress of grievances within the unit. Obviously that cannot apply to public petitions for instance relating to the payment of family allowances to the mother; 541 is well known, dealing with the affairs of any political organisation; 547 entirely refers to communicating military information to the Press and it seems that all this is really threatening Service personnel with action which cannot be justified on the parts of the Army Act to which it refers. I and other Members of this House have on former occasions asked the War Office that there should be a relaxation of the present regulations on general grounds and on what we believe to be the rights of a citizen Army. I believe that there is widespread persecution of people holding Left Wing views in the Army. Time and time again I have come across traces of what can only be described as persecution and victimisation and I desire that before a General Election there will be a thorough examination of this matter so that the House can be told what relaxations are going to be made so that these Servicemen and women who are going to take part in the election may do it in a really free and democratic way.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
I can only speak with the leave of the House, and at this very late hour I have got only a very small ration of voice, and in any case if I tried to answer one-tenth of the points of infinite detail which have been raised, I should be here and the House would be here until to-morrow morning at breakfast time. Accordingly, I can deal with only a limited number of points and for the rest all I can say is I will look through HANSARD, or cause it to be looked through, and if there are any points which ought to be dealt with, I shall attend to them.
Let me thank those Members who have made kind remarks about my speech. I am all the more grateful for the remarks of those who have praised the Army and, in particular, the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson). I should like to thank him very much for his tribute to the Army which he knows so well. He raised the question of greater publicity for the Army, and I entirely agree with him. I have no doubt whatever that we have made mistakes in this matter from time to time, but until the end of the German war, the full story of the censorship and all the names of the formations and units cannot be told. But when the story can be told, it will be seen that there has been a great deal more to be said for the censorship, than is yet known. Even so, I am prepared to believe that we have been, from time to time, a bit sticky. But even then we have done a great deal more than Members seem to realise over this particular operation which has now just concluded with the closing up of the Armies to the Rhine.
I have in my hand a list of some 18 or 20 units whose names have been published as taking part in the operation, and I know that three or four divisions have been mentioned so I think there has been a great deal of exaggeration about the unwillingness of the authorities to let the information out. In any case, as I have said in reply to a Question to-day, I have sent exhortations to commanders-in-chief from time to time on this subject. It has however quite often happened—it happened in this last operation, and over the whole of the Normandy operation—that there was assigned to the British a very much less spectacular role than there was to the Americans, and no doubt war correspondents have been looking for the more spectacular operations. Even when all is said and done, I think, at this period of the war, deception and cover are clearly of much less importance than it was in the early days after D-Day, and I hope names will be more forthcoming. But if that does happen I hope that the Press and war correspondents will do their bit in the matter and talk about British soldiers and write about British soldiers even in their unspectacular days.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
I know all about that. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street raised some questions about the A.T.S. One particular point was whether friends could be sent together and units together. I had intended to read what I said on this subject in the original Debate at which the hon. Member was not present as he was in Italy.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
I had dealt with that in the original Debate saying we would try to send friends together and, in the rare cases where it was practicable, units together. This has now been embodied in the instructions which have been sent out.
The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) reminded me of one of the things I had left unsaid and undone, that is to pay a tribute to the doctors and the medical services. There is no doubt that they have been beyond praise in this war and the number of lives and limbs saved by the devotion of doctors is almost beyond measuring. In the newspapers the other day there was, as the House will remember, an account of the heroic action which won the V.C.—a posthumous V.C. unfortunately—for a lance-corporal of the Royal Army Medical Corps. I do not remember ever reading anything more heroic.
The hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing Commander James) made some remarks of which I am bound to say I rather regretted the tone. They seemed to me to indicate that there was a tendency on the part of people of this country to throw up the sponge. I do not believe it for a moment and I a little regretted what was said. As regards his point about moving road blocks, I dealt with it in a reasonably full answer in the House on 12th February, to which I cannot add anything at the moment.
The hon. and gallant Member also said that a large number of Service officers were lying about at Catterick. He got hold of a figure of 1,054 which happens to be very near to the office population of the R.A.C. at Catterick, but they are not lying about by any means. Some 500 are on sick leave, 260 have just returned under the Python scheme; 57 are under orders for overseas, 170 actually employed on substantial jobs and 33 under training. I do not know what that adds up to, but it disposes of much the largest part of 1,054. I do not think it is right to convey the impression that there are large numbers of officers lying about kept doing nothing. There must be a certain amount of overlapping in postings when you have a scheme like the Python scheme working and a certain amount of delay in posting people when you have so many conversions in units from one job to another. But as soon as it becomes clear that there is no further prospect of employment for an officer he is discharged in the ordinary way.
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise) dealt very largely with the shape of things to come. I, personally, did not think it a minute too long, and I listened to it with great care; with some of it I agreed, with some of it I disagreed, but wild horses would not drag from me which were the parts I agreed with and which were the parts I disagreed with. It must be obvious that the shape of the post-war Army raises very largely particular major decisions but I can assure him that once major decisions of policy are taken the work which is being done will enable the complete picture to be filled in very carefully indeed.
I was going to make some remarks about the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). I got the same impression as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), but as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw disclaimed any such intention, I think I better reserve any observations I wish to make until I have read his speech in cold print.
Let me come to the speech on tanks. I will deal with that very shortly. I am afraid there is no hope for it. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and myself are and will continue to be in complete and utter disagreement on this matter. It is not merely that it is over- sight on my part or neglect. I entirely disagree with his view of tank warfare. He claims the support of various soldiers—pockets full of letters and all that sort of thing. I have seen, as well as heard, some of the letters. But I claim that I have the agreement of the most consistently successful British soldier since Wellington and, that being so, I prefer to adhere to my own view. I have no hope of converting the hon. Member for Ipswich to my view.
Perhaps I can have one more shot by way of parable. There was once an occasion, he may be surprised to hear, when I followed his doings with excitement and approval. That was when he was an ornament—well, perhaps not an ornament—of the Cambridge scrum. I imagined from what I used to see of him at that time that he had not very much speed and was not very manoeuvrable and that it was thickness of bone and muscle which got him his place in the Cambridge XV. But however much muscle and bone may be qualifications for the scrum to set up as an expert on tank warfare—
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Tavistock (Major Studholme) for what he said about the reception and hospitality of the troops in Italy. I will certainly pass on to Field-Marshal Alexander with great pleasure what the hon. and gallant Member said. He asked whether we realised all that the Army in Italy had done. Certainly. There is no doubt about that. I am only sorry I could not deal fully with that Army's story and with the Burma campaign as well as with the campaign in North-West Europe. As regards Italy and other theatres, the more this House praises the Army, the better I shall be pleased. From this point of view I am bound to confess that the Debate to-day has left on me a certain impression of disappointment.
Certainly—there can be no question of it—the year 1944 has been for the Army its annus mirabilis. It has moved from the United Kingdom to Normandy and the Rhine, from Cassino to Rome, Pisa, Florence and Ravenna, from Kohima and Imphal to Mandalay. The Army which landed in Normandy without a hitch, on the showing of Field-Marshal Montgomery, was the best equipped Army we ever had. On the showing of anyone who ever visits the Army it is well fed and well cared for. Thousands of our gallant fellows have laid down their lives that Britain may live. They are helping to save Europe. They have rescued the Greeks from a hideous fate. I would turn from the great things abroad and come down to some of the smaller things that have happened at home. Troops have gathered in the harvest because there was not enough labour; they gathered in the sugar beet crop and the potato crop. They were brought in to take the first bump of repairing the bomb damage. When the dockers struck, the troops helped out so that Londoners could get their food. When the gas workers struck in Manchester, the Army had to keep the light and heat going. With this record for the past year to speak of, a good many of the speeches to-day gave me the impression of being merely a repetition of the points raised at my Tuesday serenade. I am rather sorry about that. I do not think the House really ought to give that sort of impression or that that sort of impression ought to go out from it to the Army, because it is the best Army we have ever had. The message that ought to go out from the House or from anyone of us is that we are proud of them.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
I will leave that to the judgment of the House. A large part of the speeches have been those which, as I say, are more customary to the Tuesday serenade I have to put up with every week—I am sorry; I withdraw that—that I incur every week, and quite rightly. But it is appropriate then; it is less appropriate in a Debate like this.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
I cannot do that now. Although the hon. Member accuses me of misleading the House, I will examine the accusation of misleading that he has made. So far as my information goes—I have not verified it in the last day or so—the information I gave to the House is correct. I shall certainly take steps to see if it is correct.
Could not the right hon. Gentleman deal with the three points I raised of which I did give him notice? Can he assure the House, or me at any rate, that he will deal with the matter by correspondence if he cannot deal with it now?