Orders of the Day — Army Recruitment (Publicity)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th July 1948.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 16th July 1948

If the hon. and gallant Member will allow me to continue, I will put my point of view. In Scotland, where there is an acute housing shortage, we need on the building front all the trained building apprentices who are now being called up into the Armed Forces. We are short of plasterers, of building trade workers, and of every kind of skilled labour which should be used in building the houses our people need. In addition, we are there faced with the fact that the present tuberculosis figures are the worst for the last 20 years. The greatest enemy of the people, in Scotland at any rate, is not any foreign army but tuberculosis. I object strongly to any recruiting campaign being conducted to take away building workers and others who are needed on the home front, merely in order that their energies may be diverted to doing God knows what in barracks, and training for something which might never come off, and which if it does come off may not be like the rehearsal.

I can understand the point of view of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and others who come from the military caste, who have the Sandhurst tradition, and who think in terms of military expenditure. But I come from the working class, and I will use every opportunity I have in this House to point out that what we need is manpower mobilised for raising the standard of living of the working class, and I will not advocate anybody going on to the recruiting platform at the present time.

What is the Government attitude towards recruiting? For what purpose are they recruiting men? What was said the other day by an air-marshal who took part in a recruiting campaign in the City of Edinburgh? He made what I consider to be a most mischievous speech, and said that we wanted all the men we could get in the Royal Air Force in order that we may get "cracking" for the war with Soviet Russia. I put Questions to the Minister of Defence and to the Secretary of State for Air, asking if that represented the point of view of His Majesty's Government, and they replied that it did not represent the point of view of His Majesty's Government. I understand the air-marshal was politely and discreetly rebuked behind the scenes.

If the Government do not want a gigantic Army for the purpose of defending ourselves against Soviet Russia, why do they want all these men mobilised in uniform, when nobody quite knows what to do with them? Of course, we differ fundamentally. If it is intended to carry out any kind of recruiting campaign, the people who are to be asked to go on to the recruiting platforms should be issued with weekly notes to speakers, such as one gets from party headquarters, telling them what to say. If that were done there would be a very fundamental difference in the briefs issued from the two sides of the House.

Some people want the Army as an established institution, while others do not know what they want it for. What we do know is that after every war there is a small collection of vested interests in the war Ministries—for the Army, the Air Force and the Navy—who have to perpetuate their existence; they have to find some excuse for carrying on; they have to justify this enormous publicity; they have to try to imagine that we are back in the last century instead of in a new century, when we have the atom bomb and bacteriological warfare, and all the other devilish devices which will destroy civilisation if we carry on in the old military way.

What about recruiting for the women's Armed Forces? I have already said a great deal about that in this House. At present, we need 5,000 trained nurses in Scotland, but we cannot get them. Yet at every post office and every Ministry of Labour office there are glamorous pictures showing what an attractive career is afforded to the women of this country if they go into the Armed Forces. But there is no glamorous appeal for nurses to fight T.B. Women are being attracted into the Armed Forces when every one of them is needed on the home front. I was distressed to see in a report published by the Minister of Defence this week that there were still 40,000 women in uniform, and that the Service chiefs are calling for more. The Service chiefs will always call for more. There can be no justifiable reason for it, and I wish this Labour Government would exert itself over the Chiefs of Staff and tell them that our business is to mobilise the manpower of this country for the essential needs in bettering the social conditions of our people.

How many Labour Members of this House spend their time at the week-ends recruiting for the Armed Forces? Not many. And why? Because the whole conception of mobilising manpower for the Armed Forces is, in the Labour and Socialist Movement, associated with war. Socialist propaganda and activity are for the organisation of manpower to build up peace and a decent system of international relations. I am trying to impress upon the people of this country the absolute need to change the policy of this Government to turn away from a continuation of the policy which gets a blessing from the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill): to have a real Socialist policy which will dispense with the idea that in time of peace we must have a huge Army. At a time of economic crisis and of supreme need, when we should have better houses and more goods for the people, when we need more labour employed on the land, we should not dissipate our energies in mobilising our men and women for the purely destructive purposes of what is called "the art of war."