Vote a. Number of Land Forces

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th March 1948.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Hughes Mr Herbert Hughes , Wolverhampton West 12:00 am, 15th March 1948

There are large areas outside South Ayrshire in the Northern and Western parts of Scotland which have fewer alternative claims for public use than almost anywhere else in this island. I would not dispute that the hon. Member knows a great deal more about the local terrain than I do, and I shall not therefore venture further on his own ground.

I would ask whether in this matter the War Office is exercising the maximum possible discrimination between the needs of the Regular Army and those of the Territorial Army. It is quite obvious that the Territorial Army needs access to land just outside the industrial areas, but it is also obvious that for Regular Army training it is possible, with a little administrative ingenuity, to go further afield. I and my hon. Friends from Staffordshire kept the House quite a long time on one occasion discussing the merits and demerits of Cannock Chase. We made the point then that while Cannock Chase is an example of an area which is suitable for some Territorial training, a great deal of Regular military commitments take up land there in one of the few beauty spots ready of access to the population of the West Midlands. I feel sure that what is true of Cannock Chase is true of many other areas.

Having said that, I would like to pursue a little further some more general issues which have been discussed during these Debates on the Army Estimates. I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary because, in spite of all the pressure that was put on the Government last year to give the public more information on the Army Estimates, they have this year succeeded in giving even less information than we had last year, which is a very remarkable achievement. They state in their White Paper that it is the policy of the Government to give the public the greatest amount of information consistent with essential security. About the only extra information is given on pages 10 to 14 of the Army Estimates, where, under the heading of "Army," is set out what appears to be the brief of the first lecture to be given to a recruit on entering the Army. It seems somewhat reminiscent of Elementary Lectures, Part I, which I was given as a recruit at my Preliminary Training Centre. It certainly does not give any more information than would be given to a recruit at that early stage of his training.

I want to press still further that, bearing in mind the essential needs of security, my right hon. Friend should again look at these Estimates to see if further information can be given. It is a little unsatisfactory that the "New Statesman" should be so much more informative than Vote A, that statements can be made that we have a very limited number of formations ready for active service and that arms are starved of technical recruits, and that no hon. Member in any part of the House has information which will enable him to substantiate or deny such allegations. Bearing in mind the Vote of 850,000 men which we are being asked to pass, this House should ask and press for further information.

Normally, I believe that the achievements after the second world war can be compared very favourably with those after the first world war, but when one turns to the run-down of the Services I am afraid that the comparison works much the other way. My right hon. Friend quoted the other day from a document giving figures of the war of the Spanish Succession. I want to quote from the same document a few figures in relation to one of the later stages of our history, because the public should be aware of these figures. They show that in 1917 the manpower strength of the Army was 3.8 million. By 1921, it had run down to 296,948. By 1938, one year before the outbreak of the last war, the figure was 193,342. In 1945, the manpower of the Army rose to 2.9 million, and in September, 1947, it had only run down to a figure of 742,799. On the basis of the figures now before us, we shall still have 345,000 men in the Regular and conscript Army by 31st March, 1949. That is a larger figure than we had in this country in 1921, even if one adds all the 1921 Territorial Army on to the Regular Army figure.

These are large and significant figures, and before this House can feel really satisfied that in this economic crisis we can afford that amount of manpower in the Army, we should have a good deal more information than we have already been given. I wish to press a little more closely a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler) on the achievements of the manpower economy committees. At a very early hour on Thursday morning last the Under-Secretary of State said a little about what the manpower committees had done. He said that they had made a number of recommendations which were now being implemented. Can we not have some more information on the work of these manpower committees? Can we not know some of their recommendations? Is it impossible for the War Office to give us some idea of the savings of manpower that will be effected if these recommendations are put into effect? Could we have a little more information on how these manpower economy committees have worked? Have they had the advice of specialists on organisation and methods? I hope that my right hon. Friend will be prepared to say a little more about them when he deals with that point.

Another point on which I would like some information is the raising of the call- up age to 18 years 9 months by 1950. That will have a serious effect on the young men who are to be called up. During the whole of the period prior to their service they are bound to be unsettled; they are not fitting into normal life in industry or elsewhere. If the Army cannot handle these men I should have thought that it would have been better to see if some alternative method could not be found of reducing the call-up without delaying it, and so lessen the period of uncertainty.

The Economic White Paper points out that we shall be seriously short this year of skilled workers in certain occupations—in the iron foundries, the steel industry, etc. Would it not be easier, rather than to delay the general age of call-up, to extend the exemptions from call-up on the industrial grounds which we have already applied in the case of coalmining and agriculture, and in that way minimise the economic effect of the call-up, as well as avoid lengthening the period of unsettlement of the youth of the country?

In his speech on the Army Estimates my right hon. Friend went to great pains to stress the standards of accommodation that were being given to our troops in Germany. I thought that he went a little too far in that direction. In fact, last autumn, when I had the opportunity of visiting Hamburg, quite responsible persons made the point to me that the standards and quantity of accommodation which our troops were occupying in that city were rather higher than was absolutely necessary—standards of housing, theatres, hotel and hospital accommodation. I do not deny that our troops abroad should have good standards, but in a city where thousands of houses are in ruins, where the civilian population is living in holes and in cellars underneath blitzed buildings, I feel that we must try to strike a happy medium and not have too sharp a distinction between the standards of the occupying troops and the standards of the civilian population. I should have felt happier if the accommodation taken by the Army in Germany and elsewhere was controlled by the Control Commission.