Orders of the Day — Defence (Government Proposals)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th September 1950.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington 12:00 am, 14th September 1950

I do not care so long as we get that answer. We should like that assurance very much.

As to the pay increase, that is very good. One point was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) to which I hope the Minister of Defence will give us an answer tonight. The increased pay for the National Service men will only come into force in the extra six months of their service. No exception can be taken to this arrangement as a general principle. When those National Service men are engaged in active fields of operation, surely they should receive the same pay as the Regulars who are fighting alongside them. That point was put by my right hon. Friend yesterday, and we feel that it is just. We hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us an assurance that he can do that, or at least that the matter will be considered.

The Prime Minister told us on Tuesday that substantial additions will be made to the strength and preparedness of Anti-Aircraft Command and that a high priority was being afforded to our radar defence. Something must be said about that because both these vital arms are manned in the main by auxiliary forces. We do not know what the rate of buildup has been since July when they received their first influx of National Service men but some recent decisions which have been taken must react on them. For instance, the Government presumably hope that National Service men will transfer to Regular engagements. If that happens the new rates of pay are bound to have their effect upon the number of men available for the auxiliaries.

More serious than that is the effect of the extension of National Service to two years, which will mean that from 1st October this year and for the following six months the only additions to the Territorial Army and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve will be from voluntary recruitment. No others will be coming through owing to the retention of the National Service men. I reckon—I do not know whether it is right or not—that it will not be until July, 1954, that these auxiliary forces will reach their maximum strength, and that is rather grim.

What is to happen, meanwhile, in this absolutely vital sphere—I use the much-abused word "vital" but it really is a vital sphere—of Anti-Aircraft Command and fighter control? This was raised in July. The Prime Minister then told us that in the event of an emergency sufficient reserves could be called upon to man the radar stations fully. I hope that the Minister of Defence will be able to amplify that assurance by telling us who comprise these reserves who are to be called up to man these stations. Were not many of the personnel who manned the radar chain during the war women? How many of these are still available and free from responsibilities of homes and children?

The present undermanned position is extremely serious. As I understand the figures—there is nothing secret about them because they have been made publics —on 1st July the total strength of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force—it includes fighter control units—was 6,855 out of a total established strength of 20,000 That is a lamentable short-fall on this vital defence position. I should like to ask the Government, if they are concerned, as they must be, with this situation, whether it would be worth considering giving some refresher training to a number of Class Z Reservists, so that if the emergency does arise we can be sure that the immediate manning of these vital services is possible?

At any rate, I do not feel that we or the Government or anybody else could be content to leave the position in the dangerous situation in which it is now. The same applies to the question of the Territorials. The Prime Minister referred to the number of Territorial divisions which will in due course be available. I take it that the date when they will be available is a date very far off. If the right hon. Gentleman can give us any information about when that will be we shall be very glad to hear it tonight or at any other time.

I now want to say a word on a subject which has been raised by several hon. Members, that of Colonial troops. Are the Government making any progress at all with plans to raise additional Colonial forces? I raised this question last July and several of my hon. Friends have done so in this Debate and previously. The Prime Minister will remember very well the gallant part which the West African division played in Burma in the last war. Their record was equal to that of any other division in that very tough fighting. In East Africa, the King's African Rifles have an equally brilliant record. I should have thought that it would have been possible before now to have had two African divisions available. With their jungle training they ought to be of the greatest value for service in Malaya. They could relieve some of our own battalions and thus increase our reserves at home and perhaps make it possible to meet the problem which the Government will have to meet of at least one further division than they propose for Western Europe.

I must confess that I was not at all convinced by the Prime Minister's arguments last July. He said that the numbers in Africa are only sufficient for internal security. That may be so but, if it is so, why cannot steps be taken to recruit more? At the same time he implied that the men who could and did serve with such conspicuous success in Burma might not be so useful in Malaya. I find that hard to believe, and I hope the Minister of Defence will tell us what he can on that subject and give us a full explanation of the situation and of the policy of the Government. I do not see how we can afford to neglect the very high quality troops that the Colonies could contribute at a time like this.

I welcome the decision of the Government to create an armoured division at home. That is certainly right, because the smaller the force the more it needs to be mobile and to contain a high proportion of armour. I assume that our production of Centurion tanks is sufficient to deal with this and to maintain the necessary reserves. What is the position, I wonder, about motorised infantry? We know that the Americans and, indeed, the Russians have gone in for that arm to a considerable extent. I presume that motorised battalions and motorised infantry will form part of the new armoured division. But what about their equipment? As I understand it, no new vehicles have been produced since the war for them. Is there a prototype available, or how is it proposed to mount these motorised units?

One other comment on equipment before I pass to some general words before I sum up. Can we be told what progress has been made between the allied countries in the standardisation of equipment? The practical military advantages are obvious, though I know how difficult the carrying out of it must be. But the advantages are not only military. There are political advantages in it too, because these are all factors that tend to create a unifying influence between the free countries on the broadest possible basis and that, after all, is precisely what we are trying to do.

I turn from that, if the House will bear with me, to make one or two observations on what may be called the political side of this rearmament question and of the situation which we confront. It seems to me that the international situation in which we find ourselves can be best summed up now as a world alert. It means that we have to take up a position of self-defence, not merely country by country, but by concerted action over the whole free world, and we have to keep up our state of preparedness for an indefinite time.

All this will involve a supreme test of nerve, and to break our nerve will be as much a Communist objective as any other strategic or tactical plan of conquest, whether through direct aggression or through infiltration. We could quite easily have a crisis of confidence among the ordinary men and women in many parts of Europe and of Asia, especially among those who have had vivid memories of invasion and occupation, and all that means, unless we can give them practical evidence that they are part of a united and effective Defence system—and that is the importance of the proposals we are now considering. That point was made very well by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) last night.

Therefore, I am convinced, for my part, that concerted action in joint Defence is the best political as well as economic weapon we can interpose against the central Communist strategy, and I presume to provide this is the basis of the work to be carried out by the Foreign Ministers' Conference just begun in New York. But at the centre of their discussions lies the problem of the contribution Germany may make to the defence of the West. That has been much debated today. Opinions may differ, and they obviously do, in all parts of the House, as to the means, but there cannot really be any question that Germany is a military factor of crucial importance to the West. Any idea that Germany can be somehow side-tracked into a neutral position is today sheer fantasy. Everybody agrees about that. If we were so foolish as to try it, all I can say is that Soviet expansionist plans would take advantage of it the next morning.

The fact that Germany is already partitioned between East and West is the realistic answer to anyone who still hopes that her neutralisation is practical politics. In the last year we have seen agreements by our country, by France and by the United States, to important modifications of the Occupation Statute. Now we understand that further provision, it may be in the sphere of responsibility for foreign affairs, is now being discussed in New York. I hope that it is; I should welcome that. But we should also agree that the whole purpose of any modifications of that Statute, as well as the efforts of my right hon. Friend at The Hague and at Strasbourg, has been to draw Germany into the European family of free and democratic nations. That is the purpose of these acts, whether by the Government or by my right hon. Friend. That is the result we all wish to see.

If I carry the House with me, it is merely a development of our own actions that Germany should be associated in the defence of the free nations. This, as Mr. Acheson said, is "an obvious and proper objective." I do not think anyone in this House would deny that it is impossible to make constructive plans for European defence without those plans involving the defence of Western Germany. The Germans, however, have not asked for an army of their own. They have asked for a larger and stronger police force, in proportion to the undoubted threat represented by the Bereitschaften, or armed police, sponsored by the Soviet in Eastern Germany. I think we have to accept that that claim is well founded in view of what has happened in Eastern Germany. This police force should, therefore, be provided. But I, personally, say this without enthusiasm, for I am not myself very fond of strong police forces, and I am a little surprised to find from some of the benches opposite a much greater enthusiasm for this larger police force than for the idea of forming components of a European army.

I do not follow that myself. If one had to choose between the two, I should prefer to see a German contingent working with other countries under international command than a strongly built police force. Anyhow, it must obviously be done in view of what has happened in Eastern Germany. It would be a first contribution to Western defence, because the internal security of Western Germany is a component of European peace. But the question remains: Is it enough? We have to give earnest and, so far as we can, unprejudiced consideration to that question. I was impressed by the good sense of a remark made by one of the German representatives at Strasbourg, who said: We do not expect from others that they defend us without our making a contribution on equal and just conditions. Here, I ought to emphasise that the resolution for a European army, for which my right hon. Friend was responsible at Strasbourg, was framed in the context of "full co-operation with the United States and Canada." It opened the prospect of a German contribution to a European army. It most certainly did not imply the creation of a German army in any nationalist sense or in anyway independent of the Atlantic defence organisation we are all so anxious to see rapidly established. Personally, I hope that agreement on these matters will be reached by the Foreign Secretaries of the three Powers in New York in the next few days, and I hope that such agreement will make it possible for a German contribution to be made in due course to the international force which is to defend Europe.

I come now to the front where the actual fighting is being fought—the Far East. The fighting in Korea has been, and is, very tough, and the casualties, particularly, of course, American casualties, so far as the United Nations are concerned, very heavy. One conclusion is clear enough already. With the equipment of modern war, the aggressor has at the outset an overwhelming advantage; and if anybody still doubts who is the aggressor, he has only to look at that side of the picture. But in the diplomatic sphere I think there do seem grounds for more confidence. In particular, the steps taken to neutralise Formosa, politically as well as militarily, are most welcome. The United States have shown statesmanship as well as good will in proposing discussion of the future status of Formosa both by debate in the United Nations and, if necessary, by investigation on the spot.

As to the tangled problem of recognition of Communist China and her admission to the United Nations, which has been referred to today, I do not want to go into the subject in detail now because it will obviously be discussed by the Foreign Secretary. But the House must remember—it seems to me to add complication to the situation—that the Soviet case if China's admission is linked with the entirely artificial proposition that the United Nations resolution, upon which we are all acting now, which condemned the Korean aggression as a breach of peace, was invalid through the absence of China as much as through the absence of the Soviet Union itself. It is the Soviet intransigence which emphasises the difficulty of the situation. I am only expressing my view, but it adds the difficulty and danger of re-opening that question before U.N.O. until the Korean conflict is resolved. That is the consideration I would leave with the House.

I wish to say a word on the United States. May I say here that I think we should be careful in this House in trying to align parties in other countries with political parties in our own? That leads to the most fantastically absurd conclusions. I heard the hon. Member for Coventry, East, referring to our Republican friends and his Democratic friends as though the Democratic Party in the United States and the Socialist Party here were one and the same thing. If there is any hon. Member opposite who really thinks that, I have a suggestion to make to him. Let him go across the Atlantic and seek nomination as a Democratic candidate on the basis of nationalisation of the steel industry and see what happens to him. We could hope to be able to welcome him back in due course.

I suppose we are all agreed that our relations with that great and generous country are all-important, but that does not mean that we have to wait for all the initiative to come from that side of the Atlantic. We are co-partners and, while we cannot match the United States in material resources, we can be in the forefront in the leadership of the free world. It seems to me that what we want is a sustained resolve to establish and maintain mutual confidence from the highest to the lowest level, accepting the fact that we share a common burden.

I feel there is need for a better perspective on our part of the great strain now being imposed on the American people as much as on their Government by the incessant provocation of Soviet propaganda. The Communists have made an unparalleled effort to convict the Americans as the arch aggressors and conspirators against world peace. "Shameful, bloody orgy," "dirty plot" and "bloody Colonial war"—those are only some of Mr. Malik's epithets about the United States' intervention in Korea. Since that action was taken on behalf of the United Nations, since we specifically approved that decision surely we ought to do all in our power to sustain the Americans in their moral, as well as their physical strength.

There is one particular twist of Communist propaganda in America against which we ought to exert all our influence. Mr. Acheson himself has drawn attention to it. It is the phrase "a preventive war." Mr. Acheson has commented on it in very severe terms. He used these words: When we talk about it we tend to bring about the very thing we are trying to prevent. … It does great harm to our Allies. It makes them believe we are not steady, sensible, and calm. It does great damage to our chances of peace by making our enemies believe that their own propaganda is true. These seem to me to be wise and courageous words. I have no doubt myself that they represent the sustained opinion of the people of the United States, and that is why I have quoted them.

This brings me to a point which is of fundamental importance—the necessity for a greater effort for ensuring that our own propaganda is both true and effective. Its truth is a cardinal necessity, but, even if it is true, it will lose effectiveness if presented in a defensive spirit. In a certain sense the free world is too much on the defensive, and by that I do not mean in the preparation of guns, tanks and aeroplanes, but in the presentation of its thought.

It is a favourite Soviet theme—we find it in every country in Europe, and especially in what I call the border countries—that the free countries are reactionary; that it is our policy and way of life that is static. Nothing could be further from the truth. No system of government is more reactionary than the police State. The whole political conception of the police State is indefensible, for whatever purpose it is set up, or however specious the argument used to support it. The fact that this Communist propaganda strikes us as demonstrably untrue does not mean that it is entirely ineffective. Mr. Malik's distortions in the Security Council may be merely water on a duck's back to the initiated, but we must allow for the probability that the uninitiated are made of rather more absorbent material.

The counter does not lie, in my view, in the mere reiteration that Mr. Malik has got it all wrong on points of detail. It lies in presenting the case for the Western world with clarity and force; in setting forth the stability of worth-while democratic institutions, and all the infinite variety of our spiritual assets which it is the constant effort of Soviet propaganda to conceal or distort.

One final word. At all times and in all places we must never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of our rearmament is peace; to negotiate from strength for the purpose of arriving at a lasting settlement. That is what it is for, and it is fantastic that the Soviet Union and her satellites, with their enormous expenditure on armaments for maintaining forces under arms far in excess of any other country since the war, should be allowed to succeed in attempting to pose as champions of peace, merely because they found a piece of paper for people to sign at Stockholm.

I hope the Government are giving thought to all these matters. They are all part of the struggle in which we are engaged. It is a contest of thought as well as of material defence. If, together with our friends, we approach these matters firmly and in concerted action, I myself have confidence that, dark as the outlook is at present, we can yet establish in the world a rule of law and an enduring peace. That must be not only our prayer, but our constant endeavour.