MR. Shinwell's Statement

Part of Army Estimates, 1949–50, and Army Supplementary Estimate, 1948–49 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th March 1949.

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Photo of Mr Stephen Swingler Mr Stephen Swingler , Stafford 12:00 am, 10th March 1949

I am sure that the 12 months is right; if anything, it might be even too long. Again, I could quote the authority of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton for saying that we ought very seriously to consider a National Service system based on six months. The whole tendency should be towards the most economical period. If we want National Service, and agree that it is necessary to have trained reserves in order to have a floating body of men in the Army which we can send hither and thither to bolster up the Regular Forces where there Is a gap, then we want a minimum period of training. When we consider the whole question of the fighting power of the Services generally, it is quite clear that we have to make certain assumptions in regard to the size and composition of the Armed Forces, and how much money is to be devoted to them. Obviously, it is different if we think there is going to be a major war in the next 12 months, different again if we think that a major war will not come for five years, or that there is not going to be one at all.

We cannot have an Army which is thoroughly operationally fit and on a war basis and at the same time have it on a peace-time basis. We run certain risks either way. If we maintain it on a war basis with masses of fighting formations and so on, the risk is the economic ruin of the country under present circumstances. On the other side, we always have to run certain risks, as is so frequently pointed out by hon. Members opposite, of military unpreparedness. In Debates on this subject, there is very often an air of unreality because we do not bear in mind all the time the balance of manpower in the country. We must remember that we are not meeting the vital manpower needs of industry, and that we are having battles on the economic front. What is the good of maintaining a colossal Army if the nation has feet of clay?

We are often told of military unpreparedness by hon. Members opposite. As we have seen elsewhere, great masses of expensive armaments and fortifications all tend towards ruining the country economically, demoralise it, and they are no good if there is nothing to back them up. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton referred to the fact that today we have an Army of over 400,000 men. We have recently had the figures of the United States Army given to us. On 1st July, it will have 677,000 men, 92,000 in Europe, 5,000 in Trieste, 170,000 in the Far East, etc. That is the figure for the United States Army compared with 400,000 for the Army of this country, which has only one-third of the population of the United States. By that standard, it is seen that we have, proportionately, a very heavy burden to bear.

I want very rapidly to turn to another subject on which so much of our discussion has been concentrated, and which was also dealt with by the hon. Member for Windsor. It is the question of pay. In all these Debates we have heard a lot about the question of pay, as if that question had been neglected by the Government, or that what the Government had done was something discreditable. Hon. Members opposite are continually talking about the need to increase the pay for soldiers and for people in the Armed Forces generally. I want quite quickly to look at some of the history behind this topic, because I think we should get this question of pay into a proper historical perspective and see the way in which it was generally dealt with, so that we may judge how good or how bad is the record of the Government on this question. I learn from those who are expert in the subject that in 1919, after the First World War, certain rates of pay for the Army were laid down, to come into effect in July, 1920. One of the things provided for was that the pay of officers should vary according to the rise or fall of the cost of living. As, generally speaking, the cost of living was declining from 1919 to 1924, the pay for officers actually went down.

In 1923 an Amendment to King's Regulations was introduced which laid down that the Army Council had the power to vary from time to time the conditions of service, including pay, for new volunteers entering the Armed Forces. They could not affect those who had already volunteered and joined, but they could vary conditions, as they thought fit from time to time, for those men coming into the Army. The idea of the Government of 1923 was, in fact, to introduce a reduction in the rates of pay, but that was scotched by the minority Labour Government which came into power in 1924.

In 1925 the rates of pay in the Army were reduced by more than ten per cent. of the 1919 rates by a new pay code which came into operation on 26th October, 1925, for new volunteers. Six years later, at the time of the financial crisis and the election of the National Government, cuts of about 10 per cent. of the 1919 rates were introduced for all those who had not been affected by the 1925 cuts. Those cuts were gradually restored over the period 1934 to 1935 and in 1938, under the Army Order 169 of that date, a rise in pay by time-promotion was given to officers. Looking over that period, as I have done very briefly, we see a series of reductions or attempted reductions in the rates of pay for the Army which were fixed in 1919 and which nobody at that time described as being over-generous.

I would point out to hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite that these reductions in pay made in the inter-war period were, without exception, made by Conservative or predominantly Conservative Governments. Since this Government has been in power, since 1945, a new pay code has been introduced for the Armed Forces. Nobody would describe that pay code as being ideal, but I think we can say that the new code represents a substantial advance on anything that the Forces have previously had in peace-time. It is based upon a comparison between the payment of soldiers, sailors and airmen with that of people in civilian occupations. I would not suggest that there is no room for improvement on this question of pay, but I think hon. and gallant Gentlemen should be a little careful in shooting at the Ministers of this Government who have introduced this new code, comparing favourably with the past, in view of the record which there has usually been in peace-time in regard to the pay of Forces—and those particular Governments before the war were those for which the party opposite were responsible.

I have another point to make. We have frequently discussed why we do not have sufficient volunteers for the Regular Forces. We all know that it is due to a combination of factors, one of which is full employment, a second of which is the natural reaction, psychologically, after a long war, and a third of which is certainly some unattractive features about the Service. But we must be careful as to the conclusions which we draw. Hon. Members agree that a certain additional number of volunteers are required to man up the Regular Army and that that is something very vital, and they draw the conclusion, therefore, that there must be increases of pay in order to induce people to join.

I do not think all those hon. Members would immediately agree, however, that as it is vital that we should have, for example, more agricultural labourers, more coal miners, more textile workers, immediately the conclusion should be drawn that we should go on putting up the wages in those industries until we get a sufficient number of people to man them up. It is not the conclusion they draw that it automatically follows that we must go on increasing pay until we get a sufficient number of people volunteering. I believe that soldiers should have the best possible conditions, but I do not believe in the idea of bribing people to enter the Army, of making it a kind of élite, and I believe there are a lot more things the Secretary of State for War ought to get on with as well as looking into the question of possible increases in pay.

I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton did not return to the Chamber until the middle of my speech. I should certainly be accused by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of idle repetition if I went over my speech again, which I am strongly tempted to do, because so much of it was by way of a compliment to the hon. and gallant Member. I have endeavoured to comment upon what he said. As he has now returned, and as I was earlier challenged on this point, I want finally to emphasise one point I have already made. I believe that the tenor of the views which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has been advocating for some considerable time is that we must abandon National Service because it is a millstone around the neck of the Regular Army, and in fact what he has been saying—