I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
this House, while appreciating the improvements already achieved, regards the provision of adequate accommodation for married officers and other ranks both at home and overseas as requiring action on high priority in the interests of the well-being of the Service, the efficiency of the military machine and consequent promotion of economy.
Many people may wonder how I, who am closely associated with endeavours to encourage economy in the public expenditure, find myself suggesting that more should be spent on married quarters for the Army. The reason is that I believe that we cannot obtain the best and the most efficient service from our officers and other ranks unless we house them properly. So long as married quarters remain inadequate as they are today they will be a source of inefficiency in our Services, and therefore we must do everything we can to put them right.
Great strides have been made in the last two years in this matter and conditions of service generally have been vastly improved under the present Government. The three-years'-engagement plan has been introduced, and so has the full engagement for 22 years with the three years' option. We also have the new continual service beyond the normal period of retirement, and now the latest announcement made by the Secretary of State for War of special local oversea allowances. This is a further step in improving conditions for people in the Services and will be welcomed on all sides of the House.
In spite of that new announcement, the fact remains that separation is the crucial deterrent against men joining the Army. The effect that it has upon the Army has been very marked, and is particularly noticeable in age groups in the late twenties and the early thirties. My right hon. Friend has said that only 8 per cent. of the Regular non-commissioned officers have more than six years' service. That is a very serious state of affairs and means that it is all the more essential that we should encourage Regulars to take on for a full career. I do not want to enter into the various mathematical arguments that took place, but I understand that the latest position is that two-thirds of the married men in the Regular Army overseas are separated from their families. That is a pretty appalling position from whatever angle one looks at it.
There is a considerable number of what one might call "middle piece" officers who have applied to retire or are considering retiring prematurely. The dreadful thing about it is that they are the most efficient officers and those whom we can least afford to lose. A further point which is worth making is that parents are discouraging children from joining up in the Army because of the prospect of long and frequent separation from their families.
In one of the Sunday newspapers a few weeks ago I read that divorces in relation to the Middle East alone are at the rate of 42 per week. I would ask the Minister whether that figure is true and, if not, what the figure actually is. If the figure is incorrect, it is very important that the facts should be made abundantly clear.
All these things added together make it vital to ensure that married quarters are made available and that where this is not possible, financial hardship does not result. On financial hardship, I would remind the Minister of the question which was asked of him by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke). Where a man is moved on from one oversea station to another, will he get the special local over-sea allowance which the Secretary of State for War announced this afternoon? That matter is of the very greatest importance.
We all realise that there have been difficulties in providing married quarters. They seem to be divided into two groups. The first is the delay in making long-term plans, particularly between the end of the war and 1950; and the second, the continued unsettled conditions because of the prolongation of the cold war. On the first point, it was difficult to decide upon the established strengths and locations for post-war garrisons, and for that reason permanent married quarters were built sporadically and very definitely took second place to civilian construction.
By the end of 1948, only 961 married quarters had been built, and it was not until November, 1949, that the late Government brought before this House the Housing Loans Bill, which provided for more houses being built for the Forces. Under that Measure, however, houses could only be built provided they were suitable for selling or letting to civilians should the Army no longer want them. Even under that Measure, therefore, the number of houses likely to be built was limited, because in those areas where the population was not great, or in areas where, for one reason or another, it would be unlikely that the houses would be taken over by civilians if the Army did not require them, those houses came outside the scope of the Measure and still had to be provided out of the normal Army Estimates. Furthermore, the funds from the Housing Loans Act only became available in 1950, so that there had been five years in which very few married quarters had been built. That is one aspect.
At the same time as the Housing Loans Bill was brought before this House, a special Committee was set up in the War Office to study plans for the detailed location and layout of garrisons. The results of that Committee's deliberations were not available until 1951, so that arising from those two factors we have today an appalling leeway to make up.
The continued unsettled conditions due to the cold war are even more serious, and firm planning is not possible even now. For more than half a century we have had India available for our troops where families could be with their men, but today the position is very different.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War told us that 80 per cent. of the Regular Army was serving overseas. A large proportion of those men are serving in temporary stations or are re-inforcing small garrisons as a temporary measure. Except for one or two small fortress garrisons, such as Gibraltar, there is hardly a single overseas station which, in the long-term picture, is likely to accommodate troops on anything like the present scale. The result is that permanent married quarters are a rarity today and the family can seldom accompany the husband. Even where the family is permitted to do so, they have to wait until they reach the top of the movement's queue. Considerable improvement has been made in that by flying families overseas, and I want to pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend for what he has done in that direction. None the less, measures to lighten the problem of separation are essential.
I turn now to what has been done. First there has been the reduction to three years in the overseas tour for battalions and regiments of infantry and R.A.C. This means that the tour of the battalion or regiment now more or less coincides with the tour of the individual officer or man. In the past the officer or man would go abroad, do his three years' term of service, then his personal tour would come to an end and he would come home and be transferred to another unit. What happened to his family? They found it extraordinarily difficult to obtain married accommodation in the location of the new unit to which he had been posted. The result was that they were between the devil and the deep blue sea because they had to give up the quarters in the unit from which he had been posted and, in many cases could not find new quarters with the new unit.
With the synchronisation of the tour of the battalion or regiment and the individual accommodation will be much more easy, because the entire regiment will move out together and the quarters will become available for an officer or man as he comes back to his unit's headquarters. As I have said, at present these arrangements are confined to regiments of the infantry and R.A.C. Therefore I ask my hon. Friend if this can be extended to other main arms, particularly the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers?
Much has been done in regard to hiring accommodation, and that has been particularly helpful at home. It has also been done abroad, but to a more limited extent, and expense has been fairly considerable in stations like Hong Kong. Last year, in his speech on the Army Estimates on 10th March, my right hon. Friend said that there were 3,343 married quarters obtained under the hiring system. Did those include the hiring overseas or only at home? That was not clear from his statement. I also want to ask my right hon. Friend whether the fullest use of the hiring of accommodation system has been made and whether any figures can be given now.
I am afraid that I am putting a series of questions but I want to ask one or two more, particularly in regard to Germany. In view of the number of troops there, can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the need for accommodation is being fully met? And in that connection I want to draw his attention to some of those who are extra-regimentally employed, particularly in stations like Bad Oeynhausen where some people have been since 1945. Is it not time they were moved around to give some of the others a chance? My last question on hiring accommodation is whether my hon. Friend is satisfied that the allocation is fair? I understand that it works on a points system. We should appreciate details as to how that system works.
Now I turn to the question of financial hardship on account of separation. This has been mitigated considerably by the statement made by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. Under the heading of separation is the added expense of running two homes and, in certain stations, there is the increased cost of living. Local oversea allowances, in the past, have varied from station to station in accordance with the cost of living at the station concerned. Is the new local oversea allowance which has been announced to vary in the same way as the old local oversea allowances varied?
Under the old regulations the local married allowance was very much hedged about by rules. For example, the husband must have been posted to the area for 12 months, or longer, before he could get a local married allowance. The family must have received special permission from the command concerned. I take it that under the new proposals all these rules and regulations are being swept away, but I should appreciate an assurance from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that that is so.
Another important point that will be uppermost in the minds of the troops is whether the old regulations are still to apply before a man's family can join him overseas. In the past, these regulations have excluded a number of families who would otherwise have joined their husbands abroad.
The real remedy, however, for all our problems so far as married quarters are concerned is that we should as soon as possible come to a decision as to where the permanent garrisons are to be located. This, of course, is a matter very largely of foreign policy, but once we have come to this decision we should get on with the job of building married quarters as soon as we possibly can.
I understand that considerable progress has been made in Cyprus, and I am wondering whether my hon. Friend can give the figures. The sequence of construction has been altered in that garrison in order to give first priority to married quarters. This should in my view become the rule rather than the exception. What is the position in Cyrenaica? There seems to be considerable doubt about what we are doing there, and if any figures can be given they would be extremely helpful.
One solution might be to establish garrisons from which troops can be flown to potential seats of trouble, and I am wondering what progress has been made in this direction. I should appreciate very much if something more could be said about the Blackburn freighter, for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War said that it was not really practicable to hire aircraft for moving troops and that we must have our aircraft specifically allotted to that task and adapted to it.
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot), who has so ably proposed the Amendment, has given the subject a great deal of attention and has covered a very wide field. My remarks, therefore, will be rather shorter than his because of the large number of topics with which he has dealt.
The Army of today are essentially a police force, and their being does not intend aggression against other nations. They have helped to maintain justice in those distant lands of our Empire which in return have provided us, at favourable rates, with the materials and minerals which are so essential to our industries and factories and the market for our resultant exports. In this way the Army have played no small part in the economy of this country and have thus affected the standard of living of our people. Today, with the world in its present state, more than ever do we require a large Regular Army for the policing that is necessary, and our failure to raise a sufficiently large Regular Army has made National Service in the Army absolutely necessary.
The National Service man has proved himself, but the Army, like successful business firms, must have the continuity which creates experience. The National Service man does not serve long enough to provide this, and the Army today must be most efficient to meet the many calls that are made upon them. These facts are slowly being recognised by all, and the proof of this is shown in the action to make known that the Army offers a real career to any young man.
My right hon. Friend today has made an announcement which, I feel sure, will make a young man's career in the Army much more attractive. There have been increases in pay and better scales of pensions, but while there is a big increase in the number of three-year Regulars, there is no great increase in the numbers of those engaging for 12 to 22 years—and these really are the people whom we require, Indeed, despite the better pay and pensions that are offered, the Regular Army are still continuing to lose, which they can ill afford to do, many soldiers with five, seven and 12 years' service who give various reasons for not wishing to continue in Her Majesty's Service. One of the main reasons which are given is the fear of separation of husband and wife, of the father and his family and all the worry that is so caused.
I understand that the lack of houses and consequent long separation and financial hardships are some of the causes why men leave the Service. House building should be spread evenly so that every member of the Forces has at least a chance of having his family with him. I believe it would be better to build quarters in many camps rather than to build the majority of quarters in a few camps.
The average age at which a man marries is today 23 years. In the Army this represents the man with five years' service, the junior n.c.o. or officer, the potential senior warrant officer or major. There is no real reason why he should not expect to be married at about that age, but we know that as Army life means changes of employment and stations, he cannot count upon his family life being uninterrupted, as his civilian brother can do. The serving soldier is quite prepared to go unaccompanied to the operational theatres of war whenever required to do so, but in normal peacetime he sees no reason for this separation. He is essential to the nation; the nation is prepared to provide him with the tools of his profession and to house him, but not his family.
Any good business firms with branches spread abroad give encouragement to see that their married employees are provided with suitable accommodation. They realise only too well that any employee with domestic worries is only 50 per cent. efficient. I believe that the Army are aware of this also. When will the general public become aware of it and see that the Army do not suffer from this trouble, remembering that even in this country a large number of those serving in the Army are separated from their families?
Separation and his mother's influence as a result too often outweigh the wish to remain in the Army, and the good National Service men will not join, nor will the experienced five or seven-year man stay, unless he can be sure of good quarters. We must help these men, and part of the solution to this problem must be the provision of many more suitable quarters to house officers and other ranks with their families at home and especially abroad. The money voted for this purpose must be spent wisely. Every care must be taken in the selection of sites, the design and particularly the sound construction of these houses.
There should be a revision of payment rates for quarters—quarters allotted by rank and payment fixed by rank. Payment should be for the type of quarters occupied. As it is necessary to save land, flats could be built, with advantage to all. Rents must be fair. I think that the practice of raising the rent of his house when the man receives promotion is unfair. I was talking to a warrant officer recently on this subject. For some years he held the position of second warrant officer and on promotion to first warrant officer he had to pay a substantial increase in rent for the same house that he had been occupying for the last two or three years. That sort of thing tends to make men feel very unkindly disposed to my right hon. Friend and Her Majesty's Army.
No longer should the Army be left in the position of the "poor relation" among their own and other European peoples abroad. The soldier should not, as so often happens, have to pay very high rents for poor accommodation in bad areas. Stations recognised as family stations must have adequate and good accommodation provided that will enable his family to be accommodated with him, or at least not have to wait six months or more before they can rejoin him each time he is moved.
The provision of funds for work on 974 new houses in Home Command in 1953, and for further work on 2,461 married quarters started before 1st April, 1953, will help to relieve some personnel serving at home from the fear of separation, but more quarters are still required to encourage more Regular engagements The provision of funds under Vote 8 to provide abroad 258 additional quarters to be started in 1953–54 and for the completion of work on 207 under construction before 1st April this year can safely be said to be inadequate, especially since the fear of overseas separation is greater than that of separation at home. The majority of our Regular Army are overseas today and I fear that that will be so for many years ahead.
A great deal has been done to improve the situation, but a tremendous amount has still to be done in that respect, involving much more expenditure before the Army as a career attracts and keeps the number of men of the right type required to complete long-term engagements. Action must be taken quickly in this direction if the well-being of the Army, their efficiency and long-term economy in the cost of their upkeep as a result are to be ensured. Are the moneys at present involved being wisely spent? In any case these are far from adequate. We have always been justly proud of our Army; they are truly a faithful servant and, like the other Services, they have never failed the nation and never will. The nation must not fail the Army, that guardian of peace who, when ordered, will proceed at once to any part of the world to uphold the honour of our nation.
In the lottery that we operate from time to time the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) has been lucky in the draw. That has provided him with an opportunity of bringing to the notice of the House a very real problem affecting the Regular service element in the Armed Forces. It is true, as the hon. Member pointed out, that the governing factor in all this subject consists of political considerations into which it is not possible to go now. It is the political or international situation which decides, or will decide, where our permanent overseas garrisons are to be stationed.
Admitting this to be the overriding factor, we nevertheless have a duty to perform, and that duty has been not inadequately discharged by the hon. Member for Dover and the seconder of the Amendment in choosing the subject of married quarters. The problem of married quarters has a very decided effect upon recruitment for the Regular Army. I am sure that a number of very useful men have been deterred from joining the Regular Army simply because they were not sure what would happen to their wives and families, if they were married, and, if they were unmarried, because they were not sure what the position would be if and when they got married while fulfilling the terms of their engagement.
The problem is of importance because of its pronounced effect upon recruiting. I am sure that if it were possible for the War Office to guarantee to every man joining under Regular engagement that he would be provided with married quarters we should have a very substantial increase in Regular recruiting.
I do not know whether that is covered by the terms of the Amendment now before the House. It may well be that, subject to the permission of Mr. Speaker, it may be possible for my hon. Friend to ventilate this and other problems related to the Home Guard. That is not a matter on which he can fairly expect me to pronounce judgment.
I was saying that the effect on recruiting would be considerable. If we can increase the Regular service element, to that extent we can bring nearer the day when we may dispense with compulsory military service. National Service is a regrettable necessity and the sooner we can dispense with it, and depend upon an adequate number of reasonably happy and contented Regular soldiers, the better.
The hon. Member for Dover referred to the effect on morale, and the disquieting statements about the consequences of long separations on the matrimonial happiness of soldiers overseas. He quoted some alarming figures of the number of applications for legal aid in divorce proceedings from men serving in the Middle East. I know that statistics are kept of the number of applications of this kind, and I hope that the hon. Member gave previous notice of this matter so that we may receive a reply. I hope that on this and other matters to which he referred I may have an assurance that such preliminary notice was given by him.
That is something. On so many occasions in the past when we have discussed Army Estimates, the Minister has replied that careful note has been made of points and that in due course the necessary information will be provided. But we have never found what was the information, because if it was conveyed at all, it was in the form of a personal communication to the hon. Member concerned.
The position is all the more serious because of the large proportion of our Regular Forces serving overseas. At no previous period in the peace-time history
of this country have so large a proportion of our Forces been stationed overseas and so small a percentage at home. I view with alarm paragraph 42 of the Memorandum relating to the British Army of the Rhine. It states:
Special attention has been paid to financial economy… Considerable reduction in the number of requisitioned properties, for which rent is payable, has also been effected, with a consequent reduction in expenditure on public utilities.
I wish to know whether this will reduce the number of married quarters available to the men serving with the British Army of the Rhine. New B.A.O.R. headquarters are being built which will cost £12½ million. When I questioned the Minister about it, I was told that this sum was not a charge on British funds, but formed part of the occupation costs. I accept that. But the purpose of these vast headquarters is to provide accommodation for personnel, and I wish to know whether there is provision for married quarters.
I have referred to the question of married quarters because I do not wish it to appear that the interest in that subject is confined solely to one side of the House. So far as I am aware, there is no party issue in this matter; all hon. Members desire the utmost possible to be done to provide these necessary facilities for men serving abroad.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) that the question of the provision of married quarters ought not to be a party matter. But the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) expressed views which have a considerable party bearing on the whole problem of the provision of married quarters in the Middle East. I wish to speak particularly on that subject, as I believe it is the most difficult of all the overseas welfare problems.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West said—and I take it that he was speaking for his party—that there were only two alternatives; either that we completely evacuated the Canal Zone or we embarked on the re-occupation of Cairo. That is certainly clear enough as to where he thinks we stand.
I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman said that, but he did say he saw no alternative to the general acceptance of the principle that we should totally evacuate the zone unless we were prepared to reoccupy Cairo.
I believe it absolutely vital to the interests of this country and of all those people who want peace, that we should have a base somewhere in that area. I believe that there is nowhere else for such a base except in the Canal Zone. The right hon. Gentleman will probably not agree. It is no use pretending there is no party dispute about this, because there is considerable dispute about it.
I want to consider, first, what needs to be done and, secondly, where in the Middle East we must do it. I assume that most of us regard the Middle East as being absolutely vital not only to this country but to the British Commonwealth and, indeed, to the peace-loving world. Unless those who are prepared to preserve our way of life have a base in that area, there is no hope of our being able to carry out our undertakings to preserve peace. That is the premise on which I base my remarks. Hon. Members opposite may not agree with it, but that is the premise.
This is not the first time the hon. and gallant Gentleman has interrupted me. If only he had waited two minutes he would have found that is precisely what I propose to talk about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) has done a most useful service tonight. The subject of married quarters is one which impinges upon almost every other aspect of well-being in the Army. Certainly, we know that the existing situation is far from satisfactory. In the Canal Zone I suppose that rarely have so many of our troops been so concentrated in an area so extremely unpalatable to them.
Some people seem to think that if one goes to a hot country it is rather nice to live in a tent. But having lived in the Middle East in stone and brick buildings, in Nissen huts, concrete huts and in tents, I have come to the conclusion that there will never be a substitute for a properly built stone or brick building. However pleasant it may be in the early spring when the khamsin wind is not blowing, a tent can never become a home in the true sense of the word. Approximately 80,000 troops are in the Canal Zone. That is an over-concentration of men in an area which was designed to take, at most, about 10,000.
That is a matter to which we must give serious consideration whatever may be the final outcome of the negotiations with the Egyptian Government. I am convinced that the time is limited in which we can continue to expect that number of troops to live in the area without something being done about the conditions in which they live. That does not automatically mean that we must evacuate that area as a base. That is a different matter. What it means is that if we want to stay there with more men than the number for which the accommodation was originally designed we must spend some money, in the area or somewhere else, to provide the accommodation. That is the problem which I want to study.
Before we decide to spend that money, we should make sure that we are spending it in the right place. We are told in the Memorandum:
In the Middle East building has been inevitably delayed by political uncertainty; nevertheless a new cantonment for one infantry brigade has been started in Cyprus.
I should like to know how much money is to be spent in Cyprus on new buildings. What is the value of the new building to be started in Cyprus this year? What is the total value that that amount is intended to reach when all the buildings proposed have been completed? How many troops, or approximately what number of formations, can we expect to be accommodated in the new buildings? This is a matter of really vital importance.
As I said earlier when we were discussing the supply of jet aircraft to the Middle East, Cyprus seems to be a dangerous place in which to put much faith in the event of war. I say that because Cyprus is an island within fighter reach of the mainland. We know that now Turkey is a member of N.A.T.O. That in itself is most advantageous. In the north we hope that Turkey will be on our side in the event of another war. But what about the rest of the mainland in Syria, Lebanon and Israel? Are we certain that that mainland will be friendly towards us?
If we are not, is it wise to build a rather substantial base in Cyprus? That question is of vital importance. We should make up our minds on this subject. Islands have proved to have a limited use as military bases in war. The more atrocious the weapons of war become, the more unsuitable islands seem to be as bases.
I should indeed. It is one of the reasons I think that all of us ought to be doing our best to avoid another war. It is one of the reasons some of us on this side of the House have such a burning resentment against hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who tried to suggest at the General Election that we wanted war. I know that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) does not want one. He is a pacifist. He would demobilise everybody. He would not call up any builders. He has said all that before. However, I do not propose to be led away from my main argument to discuss whether or not England would be a good base in war.
I cannot think of a much more unsuitable place in which to build married quarters or a large base for an Army than Cyprus, unless we have made sure beforehand that the mainland all round, or on two sides, is certain to be with us. That is an absolute prerequisite. My belief is that even then Cyprus is not big enough for us to build married quarters and base depots sufficient to maintain the sort of garrison we have in the Middle East now. One of the most encouraging comments made by my right hon. Friend was when he said that there were now signs that Transport Command of the Royal Air Force was being stepped up a little to keep pace with the need to be able to move our troops rapidly from place to place. That is good news, but it is very late. I should have thought that the right hon. Member for Dundee, West, when he was Secretary of State for War, and with his previous air experience, would have been able to achieve something more than he did in that direction. I do not put on him the whole blame. I realise that he was merely one member of the Cabinet.
He was a member of the Government and I should have thought that he had some opportunity to provide alternative means of conveying troops to various parts of our Empire and the lines of communication that we have to maintain. That would avoid such a great need for married quarters. However, we are making some progress towards that end now, and I suppose that all of us hope that it will not be necessary for a great number of years to maintain as many troops in the Middle East as we are maintaining at present.
As I see it, we shall have to maintain a considerable number of troops in the Middle East for a very long time indeed, and it is perfectly obvious at once that there is an inadequate number of married quarters in the area where we need to have them. Where, then, are they to be built? My own feeling is that they will have to be built in the Canal Zone, and of all the unpalatable areas of which I can think there is none to equal it, unless we go further down the Red Sea to Aden, or even across the Sinai Peninsula to Akaba, where, I understand, we have a small sub-unit of one of the battalions now in the Canal Zone.
What are we to do to make life a little more tolerable for our troops in the Canal Zone? First, we must give them married quarters, but, even if we do that, we still have to do something else as well. What we have to do, I believe, is to take a leaf out of Mr. Butlin's book and provide some of the amenities which go with the type of holiday camp which we have in this country. I would not put it beyond the bounds of possibility that the War Office might get in touch with Mr. Butlin to see what they can do about it together. Not only will it be necessary for the families of married troops, but it will also be necessary in order to keep the morale of our troops, who are actually looking after stores at the level at which they should be maintained.
At present, I understand that even the leave ships to Cyprus have been stopped, and that the wives of many of the men now in the Canal Zone are living in Tripolitania. What an awful position in which to place a man. He gets the opportunity, in his turn, of coming back on leave to the United Kingdom, but his wife and family are in Tripolitania. Obviously, he feels that his first duty is to his wife and family, but by going to see them he misses the opportunity of going back, in his turn, to the United Kingdom. That seems to me to be an absolutely intolerable state of affairs which we should not allow to go on very much longer. I think it arose from the Abadan position, when more troops were moved from North Africa into the Canal Zone as a matter of urgency, because of a situation which had suddenly arisen.
I suppose that there is a continuing state of tension in the Canal Zone and elsewhere which can only be solved by a new agreement, but nevertheless, I still believe that there must be a limit to the time during which this state of affairs should be allowed to continue. There are some men among the 80,000 troops we have there who are married and who have families in another overseas station, and it is quite wrong that these men should themselves have to decide whether they should go home to the United Kingdom or visit their families in another part of the world. These men should be given an assurance that they will get their full entitlement of leave in the place in which they are entitled to have it, and that place is back here at home, or, alternatively, that they can have their families with them in the zone in which they are serving.
There is the further question of where we are to find the money with which to do all this, and that perhaps is the biggest problem of all, although there is one suggestion which I should like to make. Last year, when we were discussing the Army Estimates, in company with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I criticised to some degree the tank policy which we are following at the moment. I would say that this tank policy is crazy, from the long-term point of view. I am only using this point as an illustration to show one direction in which we could find the money that we want to spend on building married quarters. I know that I must not go into the question of tank design.
I can only say that I greeted with horror the statement of my right hon. Friend this afternoon that we are now going into production with an even bigger tank than the Centurion. As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton pointed out last year, in the same way as the knights in armour have passed away the tank is also on its way out. To be embarking on the production of a tank for which no landing craft has yet appeared which is capable of holding it and which no bridge in Europe will bear is absolutely idiotic.
Here, there seems to me to be an opportunity of doing far more good with this money by providing the men and their families in the Canal Zone with proper married quarters, and, as I believe that repetition is the only way of getting anything done by a Government Depart- ment, I hope we shall face up to the fact that, even before we begin producing equipment which we could not produce in sufficient quantities in time of war, we should certainly think again about tank design.
I would far rather see the money now being spent on tanks heavier than the Centurion employed in building married quarters. The expenditure in this direction is buried in the Estimates in the figures concerning warlike stores, which amount to £69,400,000. I understand that the Centurion tank costs about £63,000, and what the new one will cost I dread to think, but, obviously, more than £63,000. It seems to me that we could do a great deal of building with the money to be spent on a few of these tanks.
I know that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire would like to see this building done in South Ayrshire, but I should prefer to see it done for the troops who have volunteered or whom we have called up and are now in the Canal Zone, and so that their families can be properly looked after. I do not think that they are being properly looked after with the married quarters at present available.
Finally, the Middle East is to me an area which is absolutely indispensable to the peace of the world. If we move out of it or weaken our position in it, it can only mean that peace has been weakened with our going. We have to spend a lot of money in that area, not only on suitable barracks for our troops but also on married quarters, and it is upon married quarters that I am particularly concentrating at the moment. I hope that what was said by my two hon. Friends earlier in the debate will bear fruit, and that we shall see the amount of money being spent today on married quarters, which, I fully admit, is considerable, being something like £7 million, very materially increased.
I believe that one of the best ways of providing that money is in the way I have suggested, by economising in the very heavy type of tank.
I have often listened to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), but never with such a measure of agreement as I have done today. He has even reached the stage of advocating married quarters for South Ayrshire, and I certainly think it would be safer, in view of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the strategic value of islands, to build them in that part of the world than in the Isle of Ely.
I certainly associate myself with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said about obtaining the money for married quarters by diverting it from the other Vote. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was absolutely logical. He pointed out that, in view of the fact that the Secretary of State told us that tanks were on their way out and that we now have an anti-tank gun which will make the tank obsolete, it is ridiculous to spend £63,000 on each of these tanks. I endorse his argument that the money would be better devoted to the provision of married quarters.
But married quarters where? I cannot follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his argument about the Middle East or Cyprus. The Foreign Secretary is negotiating an agreement which will result in our leaving the Canal Zone sooner or later. At a time when our Treaty provides for that withdrawal from the Canal Zone, surely it is a shortsighted policy to advocate building stone houses there. It is not very economic to advocate building stone houses in a zone which we propose to evacuate. Although I agree that the money should be transferred from building tanks to building married quarters, I cannot see that it is wise to spend it on building stone married quarters in the Suez Canal Zone.
We should emulate the example of that eminent and illustrious military commander, Moses, who evacuated his troops from the Canal Zone and was a most popular commander among his forces. I am quite sure that my proposal—that married quarters for the officers in the Canal Zone should be established in this island—would be far more popular among the officers in the Canal Zone than the proposals of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle fo Ely.
If I make representations to that effect, suitable representations might be made in another quarter by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In any event, that is not a dominating strategic possibility in the present military situation. Both Front Benches now appear to believe that the Suez Canal Zone can no longer be regarded as a suitable military base for this country. Hon. Members on this side of the House believe that we should withdraw even sooner than is suggested, and even hon. Members opposite do not believe it possible to hold that base for 20, 40 or 50 years. If we were to borrow money for the provision of married quarters in the Canal Zone, presumably they would be financed in the same way as we finance housing schemes in this country, and the repayment period of the loan would have to be 40 or perhaps 60 years.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely that the number of divorces among soldiers in the Canal Zone is very high, but I suggest that the remedy is to bring the soldiers home. I would apply that remedy to the Middle East in general. The hon. and gallant Gentleman looked all over the Middle East, trying to find suitable bases. He landed on Cyprus. I agree that he did not stay there long. I have been to Cyprus, and I found that the natives were by no means enthusiastic about our having a garrison there at all.
An eminent prelate of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Archbishop of Cyprus, has been in this country expressing the view that the people of Cyprus would prefer to join their fellow compatriots of Greece. If that is the situation, I suggest that Cyprus is not a place where the building of married quarters can be regarded as a sensible proposition, especially in view of the fact that Cyprus is to be a bombing base and, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, islands which are bombing bases are likely to receive a great deal of enemy attention. It would be a very grave waste of money if the married quarters which we propose to erect in 1953 were demolished in 1955.
There has been no constructive contribution towards the solution of this problem from hon. Members opposite. The most constructive contribution was that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) who said that, in order to stimulate recruiting, Regular soldiers joining the Army should be offered a house. If that suggestion were adopted, instead of having posters stating, "You will be somebody in the Regular Army today"—posters which tax the credulity of those who have been in the Army—we should have posters saying, "Join the Army and get a house," and we should then get an enormous number of recruits. That is the only constructive suggestion which has been made, and it came from this side of the House.
If we are to apply this principle of married quarters in order to encourage enlistment in the Regular Forces, it could equally be applied to the Home Guard. If it were, there would be a rush to join the Home Guard, which would swell to inordinate proportions.
That is precisely my argument. Hon. Members opposite ask where the money is to be found for these married quarters. I ask where the men and materials are to be found.
I asked the Minister of Labour, the other day, how many building workers—presumably needed to build these married quarters—had been called up into the Army last year. The answer was that there had been 10,000 from England and 3,000 from Scotland. I will not digress into the question of housing in Scotland, but if we are to have married quarters on the scale recommended in the debate this evening, I suggest that we must have the workers to build them. I suggest that hon. Members who are keen to build married quarters in this island, which is the only logical place to build them, should advocate with me the exemption of building workers from National Service. The services of building workers who are now called upon to waste their time in the Canal Zone would be more appropriately used for building married quarters not only for Service men but for other sections of the population, too.
I am sure that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will forgive me if I do not attempt to follow his argu-
ments too closely. I shall not detain the House for long, but there are one or two points into which I wish to inquire, arising from the Amendment, which calls
attention to accommodation for married officers and other ranks;
and then talks about,
requiring action on high priority in the interests of the well-being of the service, the efficiency of the military machine and consequent promotion of economy.
Under Vote 8—I hope this is the right Vote—on page 134, I see that the Estimate for "Construction and Maintenance Services" for 1953–54 is £32 million, a slight increase over last year. I am not satisfied that the Army is an efficient machine when it comes to a question of its being run economically. I do not think it is possible to denationalise the Services, although I wish it were. Nevertheless, I wonder whether the Army is making the fullest possible use of private enterprise.
May I explain how I think it arises? I want to ask whether, in fact, the Army are being efficient in the building of their married quarters, and, therefore, using the money that is voted to that purpose to the best advantage.
My information is very much to the contrary. The Army have a large architectural establishment in London. I do not know, but they may have branches in other places. I am not at all satisfied that that architectural establishment is either fully engaged or engaged efficiently —or that it has been over a period of many years—and I should like to know whether the work is done not only for that architectural establishment but also for the Army by outside architects.
I should also like to be assured that, in this matter of building married quarters for officers and other ranks, the Army are being careful how they spend the money that they are asking for. I am quite certain that they can best do so by utilising private enterprise builders and architects for the whole operation. They can do it very much better and cheaper in that way in the long run, I am quite sure, than by entering into the architectural business and the building industry on their own account, which, I believe, they have done on quite a large scale—I am not at all sure very efficiently.
I do not wish to detain the House very long, but so much of the debate so far reminds me of the general who was watering his flowers with no water in his watering-can when an orderly said to him, "Sir, there is no water in your can," and he replied," It does not matter. They are artificial flowers." So much of this discussion on married quarters could have been included in a defence debate, or contained in electoral promises made by the Tory Party at a General Election—especially all this eulogising of private enterprise. Already 10,000 workers, we have been told, have been taken out of the building industry into the Army, and that does not seem a helpful policy.
Everybody knows that the entire art of strategy has altered completely in this modern age, and all this talk about old-fashioned methods seems rather aimless. The best thing that Britain can do, probably, is to burrow underground—in this age of atomic warfare. We have already been warned by hon. Gentlemen opposite about how dangerous it is in these conditions to live on an island. I do not indulge in the cheap stuff of saying that the party opposite want war. On the contrary, I think they sincerely believe that what they propose will ensure peace, but one may well question that.
Personally, I do not care very much where the married quarters are provided, so long as they are provided, but what really concerns me is cases of the sort of which I had an example only last week, when a young woman with a large family came to me with tears in her eyes, and told a harassing tale of housing hardships. This was in the area of the Leek Rural District Council. She had been living in a tied cottage. It was tied because her husband was a Regular soldier: she had been living in married quarters abroad. Her soldier husband had been serving to the best of his ability —not under private enterprise conditions —but serving his country with all that he had to offer; and he had died. This girl was driven out of her home. She drifted into a little country district and had to live in a two-roomed cottage with four or five children. A widow, she is running hither and thither seeking a home.
I ask the Secretary of State what he is prepared to do to guarantee for the widows of those men who, serving their country either here or abroad, and living in married quarters, have, through the fate of war or through climatic conditions, to make the supreme sacrifice. What are the Government going to do for the widows of those men—widows who may have children, because that girl I am speaking of cannot get on the priority lists of any local authorities?
This is a matter in which I have interested myself very much, and about which I have asked Questions. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me the name of the local authority that has refused to put a serving soldier's wife on a housing list on a priority basis? I know the number that have, and I know the number that have not, and that number is extremely few. Can I have the name?
I want to be fair to the local authority. Do not let the House misunderstand me. I did not say that these people are not given priority in some areas. In many areas in Britain, however, although priority may be given, the waiting lists of the priority cases is so long.
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think that this is more relevant to the Amendment that a half of what I have been hearing. After all, we are discussing conditions to encourage recruitment to the Forces. However, I will try to put myself in order. Here is something which I believe the Secretary of State for War should look into, and I think he should help the local authorities to provide accommodation for soldiers' widows, just as help is given in providing accommodation for miners.
Would the hon. Gentleman like to know that, as a result of a Question I put to the Minister of Housing and Local Government, a circular was sent to every local authority in this country advocating that the highest possible priority should be given in these circumstances, and that, in fact, in my own constituency——
I know that that is out of order, and that was why I hesitated about giving way to the hon. Gentleman. Circulars may be sent out, but it is wishful thinking to expect that we shall get very far in some areas unless we have a formula from the War Office about providing or allocating to local authorities the raw materials and manpower to help solve the problem. If I talk around the problem any more, however, I shall be like some hon. Members opposite, in that I shall be reiterating statements. I have made my point, and I shall sit down now, warning the Secretary of State, that some of us on both sides of the House will press him to the utmost to deal with this problem.
This is the period of the Parliamentary year when we embark on a number of defence questions. Last week we had the broad international picture, with a certain focus on the question of the retention of the two-year period. Today the picture, or the focus, is narrowed somewhat to that of the Army only, and for the moment it is narrowed further on to the question of married accommodation for the members of the Forces.
If the question has become thus narrowed, however, I do not want the House to think that we regard that question as being unimportant. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) has put his finger on a sore spot, and one which causes us a good deal of concern. I think the easiest way to answer all the questions that have been raised from various quarters of the House is for me to try to explain the system which is used about married accommodation, because I think that all hon. Members will find embedded in what I have to say the answer to most if not all of their questions.
The importance of a home to a soldier is just as great, though he is a soldier, as it would be if he were a civilian. The problem is probably more acute. The housing question is, as we all know, at the bottom of much unhappiness. The unity of the family, the upbringing of children, the health of the children and, indeed, of the parents, all depend upon it. So we are guided by a simple objective or aim in all the plans that we make for married accommodation, and that is, to endeavour to unite as many families as possible. I think hon. Members ought to try to distinguish what may not be immediately apparent when I say that, which is, that we may move somebody from a married quarter who is already disunited, through circumstances we can come to later, in order to move a united family into that quarter, the whole purpose being to have as many families united as possible.
The problem is—quite obviously, it has been realised by everybody who has spoken—a very difficult one, with our Forces as dispersed as they are, in Korea, Japan, Malaya, Jamaica, Gibraltar, the Canal Zone. At many of these places at the present moment the normal garrisons are very much swollen, and the continuance in perpetuity or even for a long time of the present strengths of those garrisons is, at least, doubtful.
Who are those entitled—because we have drawn up a list of entitlement—to married quarters? All married men are entitled, except National Service officers and other ranks. But of those—that is to say, Regulars—officers must be over 25 years of age and other ranks over 21 to be entitled to a quarter. For that entitlement our aim is to build permanent quarters for what may be considered to he an enduring need.
Let me examine what arises in the three different categories—firstly, at home; secondly, abroad; and, thirdly, in the Canal Zone, which presents a very special problem, as evidenced by the debate today. The quarters are provided in the United Kingdom by one of four methods—firstly, by building; secondly, by hiring; thirdly, by purchase; and, fourthly, by the provision of temporary hostels. I will deal with building first.
The building is financed normally, and for the greater part, out of the Armed Forces (Housing Loan) Act. That Act provides for money to be made available to the Services to build houses and for the repayment of that money over a period of 60 years, provided that the houses are approved by the Treasury, as advised by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. Approval of these houses depends upon the locality, the number, size and standard of houses, and is based on the conception that, if one day the Army find that they no longer require these houses, they must be reasonably usable by the local authority.
May I say a word to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), who was inclined to criticise the efficiency of the Army on this matter? A very good yardstick by which to measure our efficiency and costs is the local authority's building costs in approximately the same area—and we do not emerge badly from that test. Further, as my right hon. Friend has said, he has set up four committees of inquiry. One is engaged on just such an inquiry as this, and, no doubt, after my hon. Friend's remarks they will cast their eye particularly on this question. As to the second part of the building programme, if a house is not approved by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government because it is in an isolated area or is cheek by jowl with some barracks, and obviously never likely to be used by an ordinary member of the community, we build it out of our funds under Vote 8.
What are the calculations of our requirement for married quarters in the United Kingdom which we made a few years ago, and which I am bound to admit are rather greater than the figures I am now about to give? They showed that we required 10,200 new quarters in this country. The figures for the new quarters built since then are: 1950–51, 1,257; 1951–52, 2,021; 1952–53, approximately 2,000. Next year we estimate to build 2,000. So we are making some headway in closing this gap. That deals with the question of building at home.
Let me now deal with the second of the two alternatives for providing quarters—the hiring of furnished quarters in the civilian market. When we go into the civilian market and try to hire furnished quarters for our personnel, we normally pay a rent of up to about 5 guineas a week. I agree that this is an expensive way of doing it, but I think that hon. Members will agree that we have to try to find some sort of home for these members of the Army. When we do hire quarters, so that they are Army-provided quarters, we make what is known as a quartering charge for the use of the quarters by officers and other ranks.
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the breakdown of the figures, but I will try and get that information for him. The houses hired for officers are slightly different from those hired for other ranks, in the same way that the houses built for officers are slightly larger than those built for other ranks.
The third alternative is that of purchase. We do not use that alternative very much. It is used only in the case of senior officers, because we do not want to put a burden on the civilian market, which is already overburdened by the demand.
I find that I have the total of hirings. At present there are 4,000 hirings so concluded. I shall still have to get the breakdown of the figures for the right hon. Gentleman.
It covers home only.
The last of the categories is hostels, which I regard as a temporary and emergency arrangement. At the moment we have 17 hostel camps containing 755 families. They consist of suitable buildings and hutments and are for temporary use while families have a chance to make more permanent arrangements. These hostels are used for families returning from overseas and also for the wives and families of soldiers previously in quarters in this country who have been posted abroad and cannot for the moment find other accommodation. When families were evacuated from the Canal Zone in a hurry a year or two ago and that problem arose, we made special arrangements to hire accommodation in Blackpool for them. We still have provision, should anything like that situation recur, for some 200 hirings of that kind to be made available.
When soldiers are posted abroad we cannot normally allow the family to stay in its quarters because of the general shortage; the quarters would be required for another soldier and his family. That was why I wished to indicate at the beginning of my remarks that one has always to keep in mind the ultimate purpose of trying to unite as many families as possible. Suppose a soldier has been ordered abroad and his wife and family are in a house, and another soldier, with a wife and family, comes to take over the other man's job. If we allowed the original family to stay where they were, we should then have two separated families.
Consequently, we say to the first family, "We much regret it, but we are afraid that you will have to try to find some other place in which to live." That is the normal procedure. There are two exceptions. The families of soldiers posted to Korea are allowed to remain in married quarters; they are encouraged to find other accommodation, but if they cannot do so they may remain. The same applies to the families of soldiers in the 3rd Division and the 16th Parachute Brigade. The conception there is that they are a strategic reserve which we hope may soon come back to this country and be united with their families.
Families who are no longer entitled to stay in quarters have to try to find somewhere else. If they are unable to make their own arrangements for accommodation, they are normally accommodated in the hostels to which I have referred. The shortest, pithiest and neatest letter I have ever heard of came to my notice the other day. After a soldier's wife who was in a hostel had been informed that she would have to make other arrangements for accommodation, she wrote in reply, "Dear Sir, I remain, Yours truly."
We do all we can to help in these circumstances. We help in trying to find accommodation with local authorities. The reference which has already been made to local authorities by some hon. Members will not be forgotten by us. I have spent a great deal of my time trying to arrange for local authorities to be persuaded to give us a little more accommodation than they are sometimes able to do, but I have no power to do more than bring persuasion to bear on them.
I want to pay tribute to the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, which does a wonderful voluntary work. It investigates these housing problems and helps to secure alternative accommodation. It also advises and helps on a wide variety of questions. For example, the other day I went to a hostel camp near Portsmouth. Very occasionally, the Commandant tells me, tense and acute situations develop among some of the female inhabitants. That is quite understandable when we recognise that they are sometimes of diverse nationalities, their husbands are away and they have not always an awful lot to do. We have seen the heights of vituperation to which the United Nations can rise, so who are we to criticise? In these situations the Commandant sends for the local head of the S.S.A.F.A., whose skill, tact and feminine intuition soon straightens things out. I can think of no more unenviable task, and my gratitude to her is sincere and my admiration unbounded.
There are 17. I stated earlier that there was accommodation for 755 families.
Let us consider the position abroad. When I say abroad I mean everywhere except the Canal Zone because, as I have already stated, that has special and peculiar difficulties. In B.A.O.R., Austria, Trieste, the Caribbean, Singapore and Gibraltar the problem is difficult but not serious. We must remember, when one considers this entitlement to married quarters abroad, that it is not invariably the case that the families want to go out, so that when I tell the House that there are in the first three of those areas, namely, B.A.O.R., Austria and Trieste, 15,000 men entitled to married quarters and that there are 9,675 families there—which does leave a gap—we must not assume automatically that all those families who are not out there want, in fact, to go.
In B.A.O.R., Austria and Trieste the quarters are obtained from the authorities on lease, or are requisitioned. The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) asked me whether a reduction in the powers of requisitioning in Germany was going to mean a reduction in married quarters. It is not. The total number of married quarters will remain at least as high. In Korea no provision has been made. I think the House will agree that it would be highly undesirable —quite impossible in fact—to have families in a theatre of war of that kind.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of B.A.O.R., may I remind him that I put a question about the new headquarters. I asked him whether those headquarters included married quarters of any kind?
There will be married quarters, some of them requisitioned, in places adjoining or close to the new headquarters. I cannot tell the House bow many, but obviously it would not do to set up such an establishment without some married quarters being available for the people who are to compose the staff of the new centre.
In Hong Kong and Malaya there is a considerable shortage. Such accommodation as we have there is available in the form of permanent quarters or temporary quarters, while others are procured by hiring. The temporary quarters vary in type of construction in that theatre. The total entitlement to married quarters there is about 6,500 and the number of families who are united is 3200.
In all overseas theatres except Germany and Korea entitled officers and other ranks can hunt independently for accommodation. This is not quite as bad as hunting for the proverbial needle in the haystack, because it is surprising how often members of a family, particularly the husband, succeed in finding something. Where accommodation is found and a man proposes to bring his wife and family to live in it, he has got to get the authority of the local G.O.C.-in-C. for his own protection, because the place might be insanitary or he might be mulcted too heavily. If he succeeds in finding these married quarters and in getting them approved, we allow the family to come out on a free passage to join him.
In all the theatres with which I have dealt—and it applies also in the Canal Zone, to which subject I shall be coming shortly—there is a universal points system. Obviously where quarters are scarce we must have a method whereby those that are available are parcelled out fairly. A separate roster is kept for officers and other ranks.
This points system depends upon four factors; firstly, length of separation from the family—which applies to anyone who has been separated from his family; secondly, length of service and seniority; thirdly, size of family; and fourthly the family's housing conditions at home. I was glad in a recent debate to hear the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) say that he had been out in the Canal Zone and had gone carefully into the points system, and had come to the conclusion that it was fair. There are one or two minor adjustments to the scheme that we are considering making at the present time.
In Belgium we have a new base, where 100 families are already in hired quarters. We plan to build 150 new quarters. When hired quarters are taken by the War Office at home, they are almost invariably furnished. When they are taken abroad, we make War Office furniture available for those who go into the quarters.
I was asked whether I would consider the question of extending the three-year tour of duty abroad, which has been incorporated recently as the policy for the units of the Royal Armoured Corps and the infantry, to the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers. We are examining at the present time the question as it applies to the Royal Artillery, but the Royal Engineers are not a sufficiently homogeneous unit or series of units to make that possible. I would point out to my hon. Friend who asked the question that there is a limit of a three-year tour overseas whether for the unit or for the individual man.
Now I would come to the most poignant question of the lot, the Canal Zone, which, as everyone has realised, is in a very artificial condition. Quarters which were originally designed only for a brigade are now asked to house more than two divisions. In addition to that, some quarters which did exist are now beyond and outside the protected area, and have had to be given up. I say frankly to the House now, as I said the other day, that no permanent plan is possible until the whole Middle East question has been decided. Whether we consider Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Cyprus or anywhere else in the Middle East, the whole thing hangs upon the one big solution.
I make no bones about it; the position out there at the present time is quite unsatisfactory. We have a requirement for some 9,000 quarters; this would give a full entitlement if we could get all those quarters. But we have only 187 permanent quarters. 244 temporary quarters. 310 hired quarters and hostel accommodation for 370. I have been asked about Cyprus. At the present moment we have in Cyprus 42 permanent quarters and 275 hired quarters, while 70 quarters are just about at the completion stage and will be added to those already available.
Finally, I have been asked—and there have been notices in the Press—about the unhappy situation in the Canal Zone giving rise to a great deal of domestic home unhappiness, and whether it is true that there are 40 divorces a week among families with husbands in the Canal Zone, as has been stated in the Press. I am glad to say that the figure is nothing like that at all. The Army legal service, who supply free legal advice in cases like this, get application for legal advice amounting to something less than 10 per cent. of that figure, which has been wildly and unhappily exaggerated. The proportion of those applications which comes from the Canal Zone is no greater than that which comes from other theatres.
What are we going to do to try to meet this general situation? Obviously the main sore is in the Canal Zone, and I have explained to the House that we can do nothing permanent until the big question is decided. We are examining the use of demountable houses which can become, as it were, part of the baggage of a unit and accompany the unit wherever it goes. I am told that the Americans have made considerable headway in that respect, and we are examining the position to see whether we can do anything by which the soldier takes up his house and walks.
There then is the general problem. It is filled with poignancy. It is complicated by an unstable world and it is sharpened by lack of funds. We have not solved it, I know, but what solution is possible until we attain some stability? I can assure my hon. Friend and all who have spoken this evening that the question is ever present in our minds, and we intend to go on trying to find the answer.
I am extremely sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I should have waited.
I find this a depressing occasion, because it seems to me that our defence situation is so much worse than it was this time last year. Then the Lisbon Agreement was freshly made, now the Lisbon Agreement is in pieces. We have an Army which is not equipped with a modern rifle and the modern rifle is not forthcoming; which is not equipped with the modern anti-tank equipment and that equipment is not forthcoming. Indeed, there is a very heavy cut in the programme of material for the Forces. This seems to me to be an alarming situation.
In 1950 the Government which I have the honour to support adopted a defence programme which, in the prices of that time, was expressed as £3,600 million. It was to be spread over three years and I do not believe that anybody on any side of the House will believe that this party adopted that lightly. It meant surrendering many projects which were very near to our hearts, but we did it because we believed that it was our duty to provide for the defence of our country and of the free world. Prices inflated after Korea. The cost of that programme rose to £4,700 million, but we were still resolved to carry it out. A few members of my party disagreed with that, but the majority of us accepted it as our duty and it was accepted as the duty of the nation by the party opposite. In the Election the party opposite pledged themselves to carry out that programme, and when the nations of Europe met at Lisbon to consider our defence problems they did so on the basis that we were carrying out the defence programme which we had announced. And as lately as the Morecambe Conference the Labour Party pledged themselves to support that programme.
Some Members of my party disagreed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) believed that we should have a lesser programme. To the amazement of most of us, in December, quite suddenly, we learnt that the Prime Minister and the Government had been converted to my right hon. Friend's opinion. His policy became, without a word of explanation, the Government's policy. The figure which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) had suggested in the debate on the Queen's Speech—a cut of £250 million in the material part of the programme—became, within a few millions, the policy of the Government. Surely we are entitled to some explanation. We have not had one yet.
What, of course, really happened was that the Government had found what had been discovered by their predecessors in the 1914–18 war and in the late war. They had found, quite simply, that they could not carry out a major armaments programme with an uncontrolled economy. That issue was fought in the 1914–18 war. Mr. Runciman and Sir John Simon, as they were then, were the advocates of the free economy as against Mr. Lloyd George and the present Prime Minister, but it was found that the effort necessary for our security could not be achieved within the limits of "business as usual."
Precisely the same experience occurred during the last war, and during the last year the Government have found that they could not provide for our safety in a cold war any more than they were able to do in a hot war within the terms of "business as usual." They were faced with the alternative to do their duty and abandon their ideas to liberate the economy—to denationalise transport and to denationalise steel—and, on the contrary, to tighten up the controls and rationing or to fail in their duty.
Faced with that alternative they shirked their duty, adopted the defence policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale and pursued their party interests. That is what we have seen occurring during the last year, and since that occurred the European Defence Community has been in disintegration. That is the contrast with the situation as it was a year ago, with the will which had been exhibited at the Lisbon Conference, with the will to defend Europe.
What have we now? Neither France nor Germany has ratified the E.D.C. agreements. Not one of these countries has performed their Lisbon undertakings any more than we have. If our will to survive proved inadequate, if our leadership went as it did go this year, then it became tragically clear that the will of Europe would go too.
No, I would not agree. Our party were in favour of ratifying the agreement. The only issue which we took was that it was technically inadvisable to ratify at that particular time. If the hon. Member looks at the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger), who spoke on behalf of this party, he will see that the whole issue was one of timing.
Whether the timing was right then or not, personally, on this issue, I happened to agree with the Government. I thought it was right to give the lead at that time. Perhaps I was unwise and it would have been more effective to give the lead later. But we could not give the lead when we were abandoning our defence programme. That has been the whole difficulty here and it is in the light of this loss of will that we have to face this situation.
Various excuses have been put forward. At one time I think the Prime Minister suggested that the foreign situation was less dangerous. Can any man seriously believe that? Since this programme was launched the atom bomb has been developed by the Russians. Does that make our situation safer? Since that time we have seen in Russia the decks being purged and we have known what that meant before. Also, we have seen the change resulting from the death of Stalin, the change in the Russian leadership. That may be for our benefit;. on the other hand, it may not. Can anyone seriously suggest that the situation today is safer than it was in 1950?
It has been said, "Ah. this policy was economically impossible." That was the case put forward by the Prime Minister in the defence debate. That is nonsense. As the "Economist" in two articles, has pointed out, it is complete nonsense. The programme which we put forward was rather less than a quarter of what we achieved in 1944 in the defence effort. It was too great to be performed within a free economy, but if we were prepared to make sacrifices that were necessary—we could not go on the basis of "business as usual"—it was within our power to execute the policy to which we have pledged ourselves and which we accepted as our duty.
Instead of that we spend foreign exchange, about the same foreign exchange content as that involved in what we have abandoned, in buying meat in the Argentine. It may be said that meat makes a people more vigorous. Those who believe that should visit Israel. There, they will see a people the vast majority of whom have not tasted meat for four years. They have had the will to survive, but it appears that this Government have preferred meat. It is a dangerous, unhappy situation with which we are faced, but within the realisation that the present Government will prefer "business as usual" to the defence of the country, we must take a realistic view of what we are to do with our Forces. It does not leave an adventurous policy available to us. We cannot pursue empire when we have not the will to carry out the defence programme which is being accepted.
Look at the situation in Egypt. What troops have we there? What would we do were the Russians to put down an airborne division here in England? It is within their absolute power. What could we throw against them? A flying column from the cookery school? There is nothing else.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence says there is the Home Guard. Does he really think that the cookery school, even reinforced by the Home Guard, could fight a division of air-borne troops? It is a terrifyingly dangerous situation. In those circumstances, how can we seriously contemplate a war in the Middle East? The idea is farcical.
Once the defence programme is abandoned we are left with no alternative but to recall our legions and that is always a depressing prospect. However, there is one thing which is a good deal worse, that is to recall those legions too late. We need a mobile reserve in this country. Should the great war, which we all dread, break out, we need troops capable of defending the base. They are not here and they must be recalled. This Government have failed in their duty to provide that defence.
We must also be prepared to make the best use of lighter arms. The whole cut in the defence programme has been made upon materials. Within the "business as usual" concept men can be afforded better than materials which industry has to produce. It is vital that equipment should be provided which enables larger bodies of men to fight. A far higher priority should be given to the production of a rifle, whether it be standardised or not. A far higher priority should be given to providing anti-tank weapons for troops who are not supplied with tanks. They are cut in this programme and I urge that the seriousness of our situation should be realised.
The people should realise the extent of our surrender in abandoning our defence programme, and the nonsense talked about the Middle East and about imperialist ideas. It should be realised that these things are now beyond our power, and, I am sad to say, beyond our will.
I listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), with amazement. Not least was I amazed at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) who nodded his head in what I took to be a nod of approval, and not of anything else.
We are to understand from the hon. and learned Gentleman that whereas we are all Bevanites now he and his hon. Friends apparently are not. We are to understand that had the Labour Government returned for another period of office, or, rather, had they returned to continue the original period which they decided to forsake, they would have increased their armaments programme at the expense of the social services. If that is what he is saying, then he is either speaking for himself alone or, if he is representing the views of his party, the whole of the election programme put forward by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite was a base hypocrisy. I assume that there must be some support for the view the hon. and learned Gentleman put forward, from the head-nodding of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields.
The hon. Gentleman and I, who speak from the back benches, speak for ourselves; but if he asks me what my opinion is I must tell him that had we been a Government we should have carried out the programme which we were pledged to carry out and had assumed as a duty, and we should have placed upon the economy controls which alone would have made that policy practicable.
Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I speak for myself. Perhaps the difference is that I speak in unison with a large number of my hon. Friends whereas he has some difficulty in finding unison on his side of the House. I would ask his hon. Friends whether they endorse what he has said. I ask right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite whether they feel that they would have bad the full support of all hon. Gentlemen on their side of the House in the programme which their hon. and learned Friend outlined.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that no explanation had been given from this side of the House about the abandonment—that is his phrase and I shall deal with it later—of the programme of the Socialist Government. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear that he acknowledged the courage of the previous Government in introducing the programme, but in the normal course of development and planning it had become obvious that it was a practical impossibility for technical reasons. Therefore, certain adjustments had to be made. That is a straightforward and reasonable explanation.
The question of abandonment brings me to some observations made during the defence debate and this debate by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. One abandonment has been that indicated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who has stumped the country until this debate saying that we must reduce National Service from two years to 18 months. Now, by a peculiarly clever formula, for which I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition who leads the party opposite with such skill was partly responsible, the right hon. Gentleman goes into the Division Lobby in agreement with hon. Members opposite after the defence debate. But his argument then was very different from the argument which he adduced in the country.
The argument the other night—and this applies very much to this issue of National Service—was that there should be an annual review; but he had already made up his mind before the review had been made.
I associate myself with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I am sure that he stands by what he said on the previous occasion. He said that in his judgment a cut is possible, but that there should be a review which would establish that a cut was possible. There is no change at all.
I concede to the hon. Gentleman the self-appointed adjutant to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington that he knows better than I do what the right hon Gentleman thinks. But my recollection is very clear. The right hon. Gentleman definitely said in the country that National Service could and should be cut. Unless we first have a review, it is not very easy to know how it can and should be cut. I think the arguments produced in that debate and also produced in this debate are incontestible. There is no case for cutting National Service, and let us therefore return to the very remarkable speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, because it was remarkable in that it was made when he had a considerable temperature—higher than that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington—and he has returned to bed from which he so courageously arose to make his speech today. I think we should congratulate him upon the form of the Memorandum which has accompanied the Estimates, and we also particularly welcome the innovation of the reports from various theatres which give us a very clear picture of the situation prevailing there. The issue with which we are confronted is the balance between commitments and resources, and the point which I think escaped even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) is that the commitments with which we are confronted are not commitments of our own choosing but have been dictated by the initiative of a potential aggressor. If there is any doubt on that subject, the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton should convince anyone on that issue.
As has been rightly outlined both in the Memorandum and in the Defence White Paper, as well as in the debate, these commitments fall into the perimeter commitments under the United Nations obligations and in regard to the Commonwealth, and those on the home front, and we have to balance these commitments with the resources that are available to us at the present time. The most important of these resources is undoubtedly our Regular Army. The right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors opposite are to be congratulated on the fact that the Regular Army has been consistently build up over the past few years. I should like to say a word on this subject, because I have been a strong critic of the publicity employed by the Regular Army in the past, and I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the very much improved publicity for recruiting for the Regular Army, which I think is not wholly unconnected with the appointment to the War Office of Mr. Sidney Rogerson, whose expert advice is shown to have had a most salutary effect upon this situation.
Next, there is the Territorial Army, which we have discussed to a certain extent in this debate. It is a matter of grave concern that there are not enough senior n.c.o.s coming forward in the Territorial Army at the present time, because the general development of all our Armed Forces must depend upon rapid expansion through the Territorial Army. If the Territorial Army itself is not capable of bearing the brunt of that expansion, then the whole system is open to a grave defect, and the fact that there are not at the moment sufficient senior n.c.o.s coming forward is a very grave defect, not only in the Territorial Army itself but in the whole system.
Finally, there is the highly important element of National Service. I have already dealt with the question of the proposed reduction of the two-year period of service, and one of the questions that has never been answered by any speaker on the other side is where the reduction is to take place to enable us to reduce the period of service. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West made a remarkable speech in the defence debate. He indicated —and he developed this theme today —that the point of reduction was to be in the Middle East; but, as both he and the right hon. Member for Easington know, the two spheres in which National Service men are most required are those of Korea and Malaya, and those are the places which, geographically, make the reduction of the period of National Service quite impossible. I do not want to pursue the political arguments about the Canal Zone, which seemed to me a little dangerous, but I submit that there did not seem to be a recompense in the right hon. Gentleman's argument of anything like enough men to envisage the reduction in the period of National Service which has been proposed from time to time.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that the present situation is depressing in that we have to spend such a large percentage of our national income in this way, but I would not agree with him that it has not greatly improved over the last two years. In my opinion, that improvement is due to the efforts of both parties, and it is regrettable that there is a tendency in certain quarters from time to time to make political capital out of the statement that the situation has improved in order, first of all, to suggest that we should reduce our National Service commitments and, secondly, to suggest that volunteers should not be forthcoming for the various very important voluntary organisations which make up our national defence resources.
The Secretary of State for War is to be complimented upon his insistence on strengthening the scientific aspect of our Army. It is true that it lacks what the Minister of Housing and Local Government would call a "panache," but it seems to me that it holds the key to the future development of our Army. The most important thing which we have to consider tonight and in the future is how, if at all, we can stop this ascending spiral of expenditure. According to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, there is no way of stopping it, and, if there were another Labour Administration, it would be increased. I agree more with the right hon. Member for Dundee, because I think that there are ways in which the expenditure can be steadied. The most important way is to see how we can provide less extravagant means of defence in certain quarters. It is also highly important that, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War has repeatedly said, we should ensure value for money.
There is one sphere which has not been mentioned to any considerable extent, although the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) touched upon it and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton made rather scornful reference to it; and it is the home defence of this country where, I believe, we can make a much more profitable start with some of the methods which have been envisaged by the right hon. Member for Dundee, which could eventually begin to effect certain savings in our defence arrangements. I do not mean that these developments are immediate or imminent, but they ought to be considered most seriously.
The defence of the home front falls at the moment on two main military contributions, the first of which is ground defence. Under the present strategy, it seems improbable that there will be Regular Forces of any dimension available for the defence of the home front, and I share with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton some scepticism about the effectiveness of the mobile columns, to which a certain amount of undue importance has been attached.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton then referred to the Home Guard. The Home Guard has been greatly bedevilled by political controversy, and the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt), who, I believe, is to take part in the debate, has been largely responsible for bedevilling the Home Guard by his attitude. I suggest that a great responsibility can rest on the Home Guard.
I am surprised to see that Lord Beaverbrook has a new ally in the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I am by no means convinced by the quotation of that authority—any more than I was convinced by the hon. Member for Aston. The combination of the two is interesting, especially when it is accompanied by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire.
In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman had been entrusted with a high position in the last Government, responsible for conducting military affairs, his views, rightly or wrongly, were taken far more seriously in the country than perhaps they are in the House. However, he now has the assistance of Lord Beaverbrook and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire.
If I may take this matter a little more seriously, I would ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to consider very carefully the real position of the Home Guard. I believe that the Home Guard today is in exactly the same position as the Territorial Army used to be. I am certain that the right way to treat the Home Guard is to regard then as part of the Territorial Army, who will step in when the Territorial Army is mobilised to take its proper place with the Regulars, and I would submit to my right hon. Friend that the whole matter needs basic reorganisation, that the Home Guard are too far out on a limb, that they are organised too much on the basis of the last war, looking backwards instead of forwards, and should be more closely associated with the Territorial Army and given the place they fully deserve in the military organisation which we are planning. I would turn now to the more controversial and more difficult field of antiaircraft. The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw dealt with that in passing. I think that we have to look at that most carefully. The Minister of Supply got into some trouble before the last war for making some observations on this subject. However, he has not suffered too seriously as a result, and I am moderately encouraged by his present position to make some similar observations myself. In so doing I realise, and I am sure all hon. Members realise, that we are confronted in this particular field by this fact, that there has been extreme development—development which is referred to very modestly in the White Paper in paragraph 85 on guided missiles.
We have to consider in anti-aircraft strategy against what are we defending this country? It is a fact, so far as guided weapons and atomic weapons and rockets are concerned, that not a single one of the anti-aircraft weapons in operation at the end of the last war is of the slightest good. There is a very serious factor here from the point of view of developing and training Anti-Aircraft Command. Today, quite a lot of money—and that is an understatement—is being spent upon the completion of heavy anti-aircraft gun-emplacements which, in my humble submission, are not likely to be of any considerable value at all in defending this country against the sort of attacks which we have to expect. That is one aspect which concerns me very considerably.
Secondly, we are still talking about the development of the 40 millimetre gun as an anti-aircraft weapon. It is true that the 40 millimetre gun, with certain developments, will still be valuable for the defence of ground troops against low flying aircraft, but I would submit that the proper handling of those weapons would be by the infantry; that they should not be in the hands of the artillery, but that they should be transferred, as the lower calibre anti-tank gun, so that the troops on the march are self-protected from tank and aircraft attack.
Believe it or not, people are still talking about searchlights, yet searchlights, as instruments of anti-aircraft defence, will be useless. We should really stop talking about searchlights in this connection and get rid of them. One of the most serious aspects of this, I ask my hon. Friends to believe, is that the men who are keen on this defence system are men who have had some experience of antiaircraft work, and they know that these things are now obsolescent; and it is an insult to men's intelligences to ask them to train with equipment which they know, in the development of hostilities, will be useless, or, at best, of very little value.
I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to consider very carefully whether the vast expenditure upon manpower and equipment for anti-aircraft defence is, in fact, necessary or desirable, and that he should carry out a very complete and courageous review of this whole situation.
I understand that there must be a point at which development outstrips practical operation, and that it is necessary to draw the line and to say, "This is the point of development which is one of practical operation. We realise we have already advanced a long way further on the drawing board, but we draw this line, and at this point we shall bring all operational troops into line." I submit to my right hon. Friend that that line is drawn too far back in too many spheres of our military developments—drawn not at 1950 but drawn at 1945; and I ask him to consider this matter very carefully, because by economising in unnecessary expenditure we can make the contribution to the implementation of the principle of getting value for money, which he and the Government have outlined in the defence White Paper.
We realise that in this White Paper a programme is laid down, despite what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton may have said, which envisages continuous and increasing expenditure. It is essential in the long run that we should try to find a solution which will reduce that expenditure, and that drain on our manpower. I am sure that the eventual solution from the point of view of our Army is to produce the maximum power per man by high mobility and by increased fire power, and I agree entirely that the quicker that we find a solution with regard to the rifle the better. I think that in that way it will be possible to obtain greater results with fewer men.
Surely the hon. Gentleman realises that what he is saying involves a higher expenditure upon equipment and a lower expenditure upon manpower. That is precisely the opposite to what the Government are doing.
Unlike the hon. and learned Gentleman, I do realise what I am saying and the implications of what I am saying. I say that in the long term that is what we have to do in order to break through the continuous spiral in which we have involved ourselves. That is a very long-term measure.
For the time being this problem will not be solved by the various suggestions which have been forthcoming with regard to cutting National Service and cutting expenditure, although the hon. and learned Gentleman is a distinguished lone wolf in that particular direction. Eventually, we must aim to mobilise the "know-how" of this country to the best of our ability, and that will involve having a voluntary organisation in the Territorial Army, quickly expandable on our regular set-up. We must also see that very large number of men going out of the Service and becoming older are available still to our Army.
For that reason, I hope that my right hon. Friend will succeed in his project of reorganisation and recruiting for the Home Guard, no matter how strong the opposition may be from various orthodox and unorthodox quarters. I trust that he will make a special effort to strengthen the Home Guard, which, I am quite satisfied, has a highly-important part to play in the future structure of our Army.
I should like to follow for a moment the serious paragraphs in the speech of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey), in which he remarked that it was very difficult for us to see quite what we would be up against in the event of another war. I am afraid that my quotation has not quite the elegance of the original phrasing, but I think that was the point he was making.
The Secretary of State for War, in his speech, made a very brief reference to an exercise which is to be held later this year, the purpose of which will be to discover something about the effect of atomic weapons upon tactics. I very much hope that we shall, in due time, hear a good deal more about that, and that the right hon. Gentleman himself, when that exercise takes place and when he has studied the results of it, will accept the view that something very much more than military tactics will be affected by the development of atomic weapons.
It will call into question such problems as the comparative size which the three Services ought to bear to one another. One of our great difficulties all through this debate is that all of us, in discussing whether the Army ought to be of this size, or of this kind, or ought to have this or that equipment, have to make a large number of unproved assumptions about the nature of any future war. At present, I doubt very much if anyone has a very clear idea of what the nature of that conflict will be.
It is commonly supposed, I think, by the public at large that a future war will be much more greatly affected by scientific inventions than in fact it will; but it is right to say that we are living in an age when the rate of new invention is much faster than it has ever been before. I hope that later this year we shall be given, so far as is compatible with security, some account of what conclusions can be drawn about the effects on warfare of modern weapons. I believe that they are likely to be extremely far-reaching, and we may have completely to revise our ideas as to what kind of expenditure is sensible. The hon. Member for Harrow, East mentioned one or two instances.
It is possible that we shall find that those forms of expenditure which ought to be retained turn out to be the exception rather than the rule. By the nature of the subject, we cannot at this stage say any more about it than that, beyond begging the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to give very great attention to the problem and not to allow themselves to be influenced by the entrenched interest of certain Services and certain arms, and not to permit those interests to deflect national defence from the direction in which the best modern knowledge and judgment would point it.
I do not believe it possible at the present time to effect a reduction in National Service, and I want to make that quite clear. At the same time, it is extremely important that neither this Government nor any other should, out of a mistaken notion of prestige, nail to their mast the flag of "Two years' National Service, whatever the conditions may be." The Statement on Defence said that the period was to be reviewed "from time to time." It is not clear what "from time to time" means, except, apparently, to judge from the behaviour of the party opposite in the defence debate, that, whatever it means, it does not mean "from year to year," which was the proposal of the Opposition. It may mean "from decade to decade." If hon. Members opposite do not accept one or other of those interpretations, it would be interesting to know what was meant by "from time to time" in the Defence White Paper. I took the view that it meant "from time to time."
I will now give one or two reasons why it is important that no Government and no party should nail any flags to their mast on this subject. In the first place, it is always possible to comb and re-comb one's tail. Having stood at the Dispatch Box as Under-Secretary, I know well enough that a number of light-hearted suggestions are often made about how one can save a very large number of men. I have often wished it were possible to do as much by reducing the number of batmen in the Army as some critics have supposed.
I believe it to be true of all armies of all nations in all ages that they have a tendency, if not watched carefully, to waste manpower in every way. In his "War and Peace," Tolstoy remarks that one of the difficulties which had always faced mankind was that, by nature, none of us wants to work but, on the other hand, we all have a feeling of moral guilt if we do not, and the great advantage of the profession of arms is that it enables one to reconcile those two conflicting opinions.
There is no one solution to the problem of avoiding waste of manpower in the Army. The only thing is for whatever Government is in power to exercise the most ceaseless vigilance over the size of establishments and the way in which men's time is used. That is why I feel it would be a good thing if it were up to the Government of the day year after year to make their case for the retention for the period of National Service. If the Government had to do it in a set debate today I believe that they could do it, but if Governments were required to do that from time to time it would keep them on their toes and ensure that the military machine was kept on its toes about economy in the use of manpower.
There are two points I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman on that. What would be the position of parents and the boys themselves who would not know whether next year, as a result of a new decision, the youths would not be called to the Colours? How could anybody make plans under those conditions? Then there is the other aspect of the same problem. How could the War Office possibly assess the strength of their Forces for two, three or four years ahead if they knew that it was dependent each year on a decision taken in this way?
I might ask how are people going to make plans if the period is subject to review from time to time. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is for five years.") Oh, no, it is not. What the Government asked was the retention of National Service for five years. The period of National Service is subject to review from time to time. How can the War Office and parents make any plans at present in the knowledge that the Government of the day can reduce the period of National Service at any moment? That is the position at present, and if it is possible for plans to be made in the present situation, it is possible for them to be made in the case of an annual review.
Moreover, if the Government had an annual review they would be in an extremely strong position to refuse to discuss the matter merely in response to public opinion between the time of one annual review and another, and if they are worried about the War Office making plans, how is it possible to make plans about weapons if the Government can suddenly and without warning reduce the amount that is being spent on equipment in the manner described by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). However, Parliament cannot base its work on the assumption that plans must be made for the Service Departments and the powers of Parliament fitted in to the nature of the plans so made. It has got to be the other way round. That is just the risk of someone whose lot is cast in working in one of the Service Departments.
The Secretary of State mentioned the possibility of doing more in the way of air trooping. He himself realises that here is an avenue through which certain economies in manpower can be accomplished by reducing the number of men in the pipeline; and if a greater mobility of men is achieved, it is possible to maintain security with rather smaller garrisons because each can be reinforced much more rapidly.
There is also the possibility of the greater use of colonial troops, and in that respect I would ask the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the debate to clear up one point. Mention was made of the recruitment of colonial troops, but I think that by no means covers all the colonial troops referred to in the Secretary of State's figure in Vote A, because I find that the number of colonial troops, including a brigade of Gurkhas, will be 2,000 less than last year. I am not suggesting that there is necessarily a discrepancy between those figures and what the Secretary of State said. All I am saying is that there is a point here that does require to be explained. There, again, is another possible way—I say no more than that—of meeting difficulties arising from our manpower situation.
It should also be noticed that we bear a heavier burden of National Service than most of our fellow members of the Commonwealth or partners in the North Atlantic alliance. I know quite well that that is not a reason for saying we should do less; indeed, it is the reverse, but it means that the Government should make this fact and the feelings of our people about it known to our fellow members of the Commonwealth and our partners in N.A.T.O.
In view of those considerations, one obviously cannot say that the two-year period is sacrosanct at all times and in all places. Further, we have to consider the balance of desirability between the numbers of men we have at any one moment and the degree of training of the reserves. At the moment there is two years' full-time service, followed by a period in the Territorial Army, during which a man does a fortnight's camp a year.
There are obvious advantages in a man's doing not a fortnight but a three-week camp a year, and I invite the Government to consider this point. I put it no higher than this: can they say what their reactions would be to the proposal that men should in future do three weeks' Territorial camp instead of two, and serve 21 months' full-time service instead of 24? Obviously the Government have more knowledge on that subject and can comment upon it more effectively than can any private individual.
I have made reference to the Territorial Army, and I should like to agree with the tribute paid by the Secretary of State to those men in the Territorial Army who have made the present magnificent development of our reserve Forces possible. Nearly everything that the Secretary of State said today demonstrated the essential soundness of the conception of the Armed Forces which was held during the years following the war to the time when the right hon. Gentleman took office.
I hope that will have been noticed, particularly by some of the more responsible Conservative propagandists who tried to maintain during that period that the policy of the Regular Army was being destroyed, that National Service was producing merely a collection of Boy Scouts, that the nation was not getting value for money and that the rising generation was being ruined by mollycoddling Socialists. We now know, from the statement and the Memorandum of the Secretary of State for War, that all that was pure rubbish, as he himself, to do him justice, always knew it was.
On this question of reserves, have we very much information from the White Paper and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman as to how those reserves would be equipped if, in the very near future, it were necessary to mobilise? I can by no means agree with much that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said. I think he overlooked one point. When the original £4,700 million programme was introduced it was explicitly stated that the programme was subject to very important qualifications about what was economically possible. I agree with him that if the programme is to be modified it ought not to be done in the jerky manner in which it has been done, and that we ought to have more explanation about the modifications that are being made and the form they are to take.
All we know at the present time is that there is a substantial reduction in arms and stores compared with what was originally intended, but that the number of men will be much the same. In view of that fact, have we any certainty that the very large figure of our reserve Forces is backed by adequate equipment? What would be the position if it became necessary for the services of those men to be immediately called upon? We ought to have more information than we have had on that point.
While on the subject of weapons and equipment, I would say a few words about the.280 rifle. If I have the words of the Secretary of State correctly, he said he hoped that the new rifle will retain most of the advantages of the.280. It is to retain most of the advantages of the.280, but he said nothing to suggest that it possessed any special merits of its own. The implication of that phrase clearly is that it is an inferior weapon to the.280 but we must accept it because it seems the only way of getting standardisation. If there is anything to compensate for the fact that it does not retain all the advantages of the.280, I wish the Secretary of State had told us what were those compensations.
What, in any case, were the objections to the.280 rifle? One, I believe, was that it was considered not to be a sufficiently lethal weapon, that its penetrative power at certain distances was considered not to be sufficiently great. In fact, although I believe that objection was raised, I do not believe it had any substance in it. However, I have never heard any other substantial objection urged against the.280 rifle as a weapon. It would appear, then, that, in effect, what the Government have decided to do in the endeavour to get standardisation is to agree to get an inferior weapon when a superior one could have been secured. I doubt very much whether that was the right decision.
I do not think there is the least difficulty in supplying it with ammunition. It is not necessary to have standardisation of a weapon among all the nations in an alliance in order to have adequate supplies of ammunition. Moreover, if we had been able to get standardisation on the.280 that difficulty would have solved itself and we should have got as near to having the best of both worlds as one ever can in human affairs.
My criticism of the Government is that they did not stand out in order to secure both for us and possibly for our allies the excellent weapon which British inventive genius had created. However, it may be that the conference described to us by the Secretary of State may produce a weapon which will be as good as the.280.
May I clear up that point now? What I believe my right hon. Friend said was that there was every indication that the new compromise rifle would retain the exceptional performance and features of the.280 and would be in no way inferior.
Yes, there is every indication that it "will be in no way inferior." That still leaves us in the position that the best possibility we can hope for is getting something as good as the.280, but any mention of a compromise means a compromise between the.280 and something less effective. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If I am proved to be wrong about that, we shall all be delighted.
I hope that when the new weapon emerges the Government will give hon. Members of this House the same opportunities for seeing its performance as were given to hon. Members by the last Government. If we find that what has emerged is a superior weapon, I shall be the first to proclaim the fact and congratulate the Government [An HON. MEMBER: "Or equal."] Yes, or equal. At the moment, because of the considerabl delay, all we have are hopes and possibilities, and for those a really excellent weapon has apparently been sacrificed.
I wish now to refer to one or two quite small matters—soldiers' grouses—which will probably cause some of the more hard-bitten military members of the House to laugh heartily and to regard this as very small beer indeed, but I shall not be put off by that. The Government have recently decided to proclaim an amnesty for deserters, and I shall without difficulty manage to keep my enthusiasm for that proposal within reasonable bounds.
If we are to have an amnesty for those who for any reason have abandoned their duty, and particularly if we are to have it at a time when we are asking young men who have performed their duty of National Service to go on the register for another five years, there is a heavy burden of responsibility on the Government to see that they do the best they can for those young men who have not deserted but who stay and do their duty. I shall make no apology for mentioning even the smallest grouses voiced by young men in the Army from time to time. I have always endeavoured to try to keep in touch with this kind of thing.
As one might expect, one finds that some of the men say that they are worked much too hard and others say that they are not worked anything like hard enough. I believe that in many parts of the Army both of those complaints are true. There is a tendency—the Under-Secretary should keep an eye on this—when young men first go into the Army to delight in making their life and training, not only as rigorous, but as positively unpleasant, as possible in order to show them just what life can be like.
That may not be a universal practice, but it does happen in some units. There are men, for instance, who are required to get out of bed at half-past four in the morning merely to demonstrate that with really good discipline men can be got up at half-past four in the morning without complaint. [Interruption.] I said that some of the more hard-bitten military Members would laugh at this but I do not propose to be deterred.
I am not mentioning the units here—[HON. MEMBERS: "but I shall tell the Secretary of State. The young man who made that complaint wrote also, when he had been in the Army rather longer, in very glowing terms of what his life was like then. He wanted to make it clear that he had no grouse against the Army as a whole but that that particular thing seemed to be silly and unnecessary, and I agree with him. [An HON. MEMBER: "It does not happen very widely."] Perhaps it does not occur very widely, but looking round the Army one finds a certain number of pieces of absolute nonsense here and there, and it is part of the job of Ministers to see that those pieces of nonsense do not take root and multiply.
Another not uncommon complaint is that when the period of training is over—this occurs, of course, much more frequently with men stationed in this country than overseas—and the men are put in the places where they are supposed to be in what is to be their regular position in the Army, they do not appear to be occupied anything like fully enough. I know quite well that all complaints of this sort often relate only to a few units, but if Ministers do not keep a sharp eye on them the general standard of efficient administration in the Army goes down.
The idea that it does not much matter what a young lad who is doing his National Service thinks may become widespread in the Army, and it is against that that I am appealing to the hon. Gentleman to be on his guard. I say the hon. Gentleman particularly rather than his right hon. Friend, because Secretaries of State always have to concern themselves with matters of high policy, conferring with their colleagues in the other Service Departments, and so on, and it often falls to the Under-Secretary to look at the Army not so much as a fighting machine, but as a collection of human beings.
It should also be remembered that National Service men have precious little money until the last six months of their service. I hope, therefore, that we shall not hear any more complaints of the kind that have cropped up from time to time of men having compulsory levies made on them for what ought to be charitable subscriptions. This matter was brought to the attention of the hon. Gentleman in a Question. It came to my attention in connection with another unit, and this also is the kind of abuse that it ought to be made quite clear is not to be allowed in the Army.
The same applies to the collection of barrack damages as a lazy substitute for finding out who really was responsible for damage. It should be remembered that National Service men have precious little money in their first months, and life should not be made more difficult for them in those respects.
The hon. Gentleman is a very brave man if he will answer for every commanding officer. I repeat that I am not suggesting that these things are the general rule in the Army, but I am giving examples of things which occur from time to time, and I beg the hon. Gentleman to be on the look-out against them. When they occur they are recounted by one man to another and, possibly, they bulk unduly large and affect a man's opinion towards the Army as a whole.
Another thing which might be looked at is the quality of instruction given by n.c.o.s I am inclined to think that the Army today know as much about the technical job of giving instruction as any university or seat of learning in the country and when they are doing their job at their best they are doing a very good job indeed. Not always, however, are n.c.o.s themselves sufficiently acquainted with the best methods of instruction, and we find that the job of training new recruits is done in a heavy, dull, repetitive manner for which there is no need if the commanding officer sees to it that the n.c.o.s are well trained in their job.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give special attention to the position of boy soldiers in the Army. A few months ago there was a case where a number absconded, and I do not think that would have happened if their conditions of life and work had been what they should have been and could be if all Army administration were equal to the best Army administration.
I have put these points forward in the hope that the hon. Gentleman will look into them. He goes round visiting units. It has long been a question of what effect a Ministerial visit has. I remember once in a unit being asked to inspect the food. I was assured that this was the food they normally ate from day to day. I ventured to inquire of one young man what the food was like as a general rule and he said, "Oh, it is fairly good. Of course, when a brigadier comes along it is very good. Today it is just about average." [Laughter.] I am obliged to hon. Members who appear to think that funny, but on one occasion I told the story to a brigadier and he could not see anything funny in it at all.
It is true that if it becomes known that what are popularly called V.I.Ps.—whether civilian or military—are interested in the prevention of particular abuses, that helps create a general atmosphere which is unfriendly to the growth of those abuses. I remember how once it was explained to me, when it was important to prevent the mis-handling of vehicles, that the thing to do was to collect together a body of very senior officers and give them a short course which would enable them, whenever they went round inspecting, to ask what sounded really knowledgeable questions about how to care for a vehicle. Once it became known that when so-and-so came round he was sure to ask what the vehicles were like, the result was a rise in the general standard of the care of vehicles. That is one way in which both military V.I.Ps. and Ministers have made themselves useful.
I say again that even though these matters I have raised relate "to isolated and particular cases, they are the complaints of men trying to do their duty in the Army, and they should have some attention.
I am glad of the opportunity to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart). The last time we debated together was at a famous public school in my constituency, of which the hon. Member is a distinguished old boy. We did not debate the subject under discussion this evening, but we used all the tactical weapons of political warfare; and if I may use the expression which he used earlier, the boys of his old school rather "combed his tail."
I do not want to pursue the rather narrow tactical matters which the hon. Gentleman discussed, but rather the question of manpower. When my right hon. Friend opened the debate I was reminded of the days of my youth; not those days when I was learning mathematics, but earlier than that. My brother and I were brought up in our early youth by an aunt who was affectionate, though somewhat austere. I seem to remember that every afternoon we were regaled with a large, unappetising looking piece of bread, and on the same plate was a small, but reasonably sized pat of butter. We were told that the bread and butter had to be devoured, and we could deal with the matter as we liked.
I used to scrape the butter evenly over the bread and eat it. My brother, on the other hand, put practically no butter on the bread, but kept a little on which to put the pat at the end. He called it his "saint's reward." In later life he became a Regular soldier. I do not know whether that explains anything. But he did keep a strategic reserve, and today we are suffering from a lack of a strategic reserve in the Army. We have our various commitments all over the world, and although it is not my intention to follow the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) on that matter, I think we have most seriously to consider whether it is wise to have virtually no strategic reserve in this country.
We could quite easily start to form a strategic reserve on a modest scale by recalling our Parachute Brigade from the Middle East and, whatever the cost, providing it with the necessary tactical aircraft. We should then have a strategic reserve, however small, to cover our various commitments all over Europe, and the Middle East, and even further should occasion arise. I admit that I have mentioned this matter before; indeed, I made it the theme of my maiden speech. We could go further and build up an airborne division, and by doing that I believe we could cut down some of the commitments we have which involve little parcels of troops in Trieste and places in Austria. We could do that if we could have even one division as a strategic reserve capable of lightning speed in moving to the various points where unrest may occur. I earnestly ask my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend to consider that.
I now come to our other reserves, the troops we have in this country. I am sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is not in his place. He talked of the mobile columns which the Prime Minister formed during the early days of this Government. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would be the first to realise that it is a pity that he referred to them in somewhat degrading terms—as cooks' columns or something like that. I was engaged in one battle where we had to form an ad hoc company of signallers, cooks, batmen, and so on. They fought as well as anybody else.
Today, when we find ourselves very short of troops on the ground, it is most important to build up the morale of these mobile columns. Indeed, it is a great responsibility on my right hon. Friend and on the War Office to see that these columns receive adequate training. I hope that these troops are receiving really first-class field firing training in musketry. It is not much good administratively forming these columns which can be called out at any hour to meet airborne troops who may arrive anywhere if when they get there they do not know anything about the rifles which are in their hands. I hope that an assurance may be given that the training in small arms of these troops on the home front is being carried out and that the men are given the impression that their role is of vital importance.
I speak as one who has served for a number of years in the Territorial Army. I was rather concerned after reading the White Paper on defence and hearing my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister speak about the Territorial Army. There is no doubt that today the Territorials are at the crossroads. Those who came back after the war and gave their services as senior officers and noncommissioned officers have now begun to indicate that they want to have a rest. Who can blame them? Very largely, the difficulty is that the impossible was attempted. An attempt was made to weld on to the Territorial Army the auxiliary Army of National Service men.
A great deal has been said about the 29 per cent, of the National Service men who have volunteered for the Territorial Army. But if we look at the position from the other point of view, we see that 71 per cent, of the National Service men have no use for the Territorial Army. I was most interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey). It might well be worth pursuing further the suggestion that the Home Guard and the voluntary section of the Territorial Army should be more closely merged and, on the other hand, that those National Service men just completing their service but not having any special wish to volunteer for further voluntary service should be put somewhere on the same lines as the Z Reserve. They should do their annual training. Perhaps they should do weekend training with local Regular troops or local training establishments.
The voluntary element of the Territorial Army should be merged with the older people of the voluntary element of the Home Guard. The whole of that system, with the spirit of voluntary service, which, after all, has served this country well for many years—with the old Volunteers going back to the Boer War, the Territorial Army which came to the colours at the beginning of the First World War and that Territorial Army which took part in the Second World War—should be kept on one side, and not be merged in this auxiliary or National Service system, which is quite a different thing.
May I end on a slightly different note, also touching on the question of manpower but in regard to retired officers? I was able to put a supplementary question a week or so ago to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour about the difficulty of employing ex-officers, and not only ex-officers but also former rank and file, and particularly senior warrant officers and n.c.os. I think the question of the date of retirement should be investigated. It is strange that, in every other walk of life, men of 45 or 50 are considered to be quite reasonably young and more than capable of taking on an administrative job.
Why is it, then, that so often men who have done quite reasonably well in the Army are suddenly retired out of the Army after 20 or more years' service and are thrown on the employment exchange of the civilian world, where they find it very difficult to get employment? I believe that if any hon. Members would come with me to the War Office, we should find dozens of young men sitting at desks—young men who are there because it is the only way in which they can get their promotion—filling up jobs which could quite well be done by men of 50, 55 or 60.
I believe that the time has come when the Army must realise that its ideas about retirement must be more in keeping with the normal ideas of civilian life. We cannot afford to take men at the age of 50 and put them into retirement. The expectation of life of a man of 50 is, on the average, over 20 years, and we cannot afford to throw such men out of employment when they are doing a good job and put them on pensions, only to find that they have great difficulty in securing any other job in civilian life. I ask my hon. Friend to consider this question and to see whether we cannot keep these men, both ex-officers and those from other ranks, for a longer period in the service of the Crown.
I compliment my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not only on his Estimates but upon his excellent Memorandum, which shows that a very great effort has been made during the past year. It also shows what is perhaps the most important thing of all, that the very great spirit of the British Army is just the same as it has been in the past in the testing time of war, and that, if another testing time should come, there will be no flaw or fault so far as the ordinary men in the Army are concerned.
As a layman, I enter this debate with some temerity, because, unlike so many hon. Gentlemen opposite, I feel that my qualifications are limited, although I have spent some time in a quartermaster's stores. I want to keep to one idea which has been mentioned already by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. Mr. Stewart)—the question of Colonial Forces.
The Secretary of State spoke earlier about five battalions, but I cannot square that figure either with Vote A, with the amount of money paid by the Colonial Governments or with any of the total figures contained in the Estimates. I hope to give some figures to substantiate my opinion that the Minister's statement. while I do not say that it was bogus or even fictitious, takes some swallowing in the light of the facts before us.
May I draw the Minister's attention to page 27, where it says:
Provision is made for recovery from the Colonial and Middle Eastern Services Vote of the full cost of local military forces in the West Indies and part of the cost of local forces in the African Colonies.
I cannot square that with the statement in the middle of page 21, which says,
The local forces of the East and West African Colonies, Gibraltar and Jamaica are at present under War Office control and their cost is borne on Army Votes. Contributions towards their cost are received by the War Office and provided for under subhead Z.
Some of the Colonial Forces are in the War Office Vote and others are borne by the Colonial Vote, for instance, Malaya. A great deal of the expansion has been among those Forces which are borne on the Colonial Vote. The hon. Member must take care in comparing Vote A, which deals with numbers, with the other Vote, which deals with cash.
May I then pass to a wider field? I should like to see many more than five, 10 or 14 battalions. I am in excellent company here, for I am following the path of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, many years ago, extolled in glowing terms the idea of building up the Colonial Forces, not merely because the educational experience was valuable when the men were demobilised and returned to their villages and tribal societies or even because of the technical know-how and citizenship which they acquired, but also because of the important fact that we should think in terms of a strategic base in East Africa. I am in the excellent company of both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary, although I do not go as far as the Financial Secretary who, at one stage of his more ebullient career, even asked for a Foreign Legion.
But I want to see much larger Colonial Forces. This matter was mentioned in the defence debate on Thursday not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) but also by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), and it was not answered at all in the winding-up speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), who is now somnolent on the benches opposite. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will tell us something about the Government's intentions. I shall quote from the "Sunday Times" about the forthcoming conference in Africa on this matter of Imperial defence and raising forces from among the African peoples. It might have been helpful had the Secretary of State mentioned the subject earlier today when he commented on the added number of battalions we had obtained and those we hoped to obtain in the coming year.
Security, like peace, is indivisible, and in my view we need to make imperial defence, and particularly the defence of Africa, a joint affair with the peoples who live in these areas. While some people may think about the Empire as being the source of copper or manganese, and so on, I think that our biggest single asset in the Empire lies in the peoples them—selves and they are largely, to my mind, untapped at present. How can this untapped manpower, particularly in Africa, help not merely themselves but the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth family of nations?
In the last war the quality of those men was never in doubt. The name of the East African soldiers will always live in association with the memory of the Burma campaign. There will always live in memory the names of the West Africans, the Basutos, the West African Flying Squadron, the West Indian Regiment, the Fijians in Malaya—first class fighting men all. When hon. Members now on the Government benches were on these benches they spoke in favour of having these Colonial Forces—in those old days; now, in these days, they are unfortunately silent on the matter, and I should like to support the arguments they used in those old days.
The figures are startling. At the beginning of the Second World War the number in the Colonial Forces was 42,000, but at the end of the war the number was just under 500,000. Of course, they went down again to something like 87,000 or 85,000 by 1947. What are the figures today? If we look at Vote A we see this year we have something like 78,300 in the Colonial Forces; but next year the number will have fallen to something like 75,900. I think that if we take out of that number—I should not care to say how many, really—perhaps some 10,000 Gurkhas, that will leave us next year with a lesser number in the Colonial Forces than there were last year.
The Tories chastised us in the past for neglect of the Colonial Forces. At the moment, I do not think they are doing better. They are by no means doing what we had expected—what they said. when they were on this side of the House. what they would do when they crossed the Floor of the House to that side.
The Secretary of State for War spoke earlier today about "established" battalions. I should like to know what he means by "established" battalions. Does he mean that he has companies here and there, which go to make the equivalent of one battalion?
I think my right hon. Friend used the word "equivalent." In other words, he meant there were four companies stationed separately which would add up to the equivalent of one battalion, but not concentrated as one.
I am much obliged. Why not double them? I would suggest that we have in West Africa at least one division, that we have another division in East Africa. I do not think it is fanciful to talk in terms of a Catterick and an Aldershot of East Africa, somewhere on the Kenya plateau. I was a little disturbed today to hear the Secretary of State for War mention Kenya in this connection as being in the cold war. Perhaps, that was a slip of the tongue. Perhaps, the hon. Gentleman will tell us, if the right hon. Gentleman did say that, what he meant exactly by saying that Kenya was within the area of the cold war. I was rather surprised to hear that being said.
The next point that I would emphasise is this, that in the two divisions I envisage there would be all volunteers. I contemplate our having genuine volunteers. Moreover, it is important that they should have a clear idea of what they are serving—and, if necessary, fighting—for. They must not be mercenaries, or even levies, raised by the chief headsman of the particular areas.
These Africans should be aware of what they are fighting for. I want to quote from part of a speech by the Prime Minister of the Gold Coast. Kwame Nkrumah, at the third meeting of the 1952 session. He said:
If the Minister for Defence or External Affairs were replaced by a representative Minister one implication would be that the Gold Coast was prepared to take over immediately full responsibility for its own defence. The main burden of our defence is borne by the armed naval, military and air forces of the Commonwealth. We possess a very small military force, and contribute only a portion of the cost of it.
The implications are obvious. These people are prepared to take their place in the defence of the Commonwealth and Empire. They are prepared to put their share into the kitty and to play their part in the matter of Imperial defence. We ought not to think merely of Vote A in this Imperial, Metropolitan Parliament, and of raising four, six, or eight battalions. We ought to take a wider view of the African people playing their part alongside us not as Colonial Dependencies, but in line with New Zealand. Australia, and the other sister Dominions.
I also want to quote from the "Sunday Times" of this last week-end. I was unhappy because I did not hear the Secretary of State for War mention this when he spoke about raising battalions for colonial defence. If I had not seen this quotation I was going to suggest this very thing—the matter of a conference between the West African, or East African. people and the War Office. The "Sunday Times" says:
Referring to the forthcoming defence conference between representatives of the West African and British Governments he said…
and the "he" was the Acting Financial Secretary for Nigeria, Mr. Baker-Beall:
Nigeria must be prepared to meet a reasonable share of increased military costs. These had risen by 90 per cent. since her annual contribution of £750,000 was agreed four years ago.
I do not think we need worry too much about asking these peoples to play a larger part and to supply more men for imperial defence. But if, and when, we get these larger numbers we must be sure that the colour bar has gone, and will never come back. Twelve months ago I was speaking to the G.O.C. of the West Africa Command, at Accra, and he praised highly the quality and calibre of the Gold Coast and West African soldiers. He was sending his best young men to Sandhurst to be qualified for the full Queen's commission.
I look forward to the day when we shall have African officers—this may shatter some people who are living out there—and white sergeant-majors. Even more, I suggest that we might integrate some of those African officers into our Army at home. It is interesting to think of Gold Coast officers with the Queen's commission commanding "Geordie" miners out of the pit in the Northumberland Fusiliers, for example. If we have a multi-linguel Commonwealth we must face up to some of the consequences. In the old Indian Army there was a mixing of races and types; so why cannot we have the same thing in the future English Army?
The second argument in favour of a much larger contingent of Africans in the Army is the need for a young, emergent nation really to feel, and to let other people know it feels, that it has become emancipated. The Army is a means of social advance for tens of thousands of young men as well as a place where they can learn such things as soil chemistry, the use of fertilisers and mechanisation of farming. They are taught many things that they will need if and when they go back to village life. They can become leaders of urban life and members of local councils, and provide almost that "shot in the arm" for a society which needs that kind of uplift.
Why cannot we enlist African women? Why not have an African W.R.A.C.? We need women for hospitals and in the wider sphere inside the Army. One of the sad things is the position in which African men hold their women. We can emancipate these women and make their lives brighter and fuller by enlisting them in this way in the Army.
The Secretary of State told us that there was now better food, discipline and exercise in National Service, and that between 4 lb. and 8 lb. had been gained by young men who had enlisted. How much more could that benefit Africans. I do not want to advocate a full-belly policy, but there are tens of thousands, perhaps up to 100,000 men, in our African Army who could be turned out much better physically and could be sent back to village life to do their jobs more effectively. Is there any political opposition to the idea that the African Army might be what the Indian Army was? It is said that the War Office are not too happy about this idea.
In the past we did not arm our colonial peoples because we obviously feared some kind of insurrection. This view may be held by some people in South Africa; by people like Malan, but I do not think that it is held in Kenya, or other parts of Africa. Could I ask if there is any inhibition at all on the other side of the House against having 50,000 to 80,000 or more, if we can get them, of these young men for the future African Army?
May I just touch upon what may be the objections to this? We may be told at the Dispatch Box later that the scheme would cost money. When the subject was mentioned last year, it was stated on behalf of the Government that to have one division in West Africa would cost £10 to £12 million, or perhaps even more, for housing and accommodation for these soldiers in whatever may be this future base. We were told that it would cost money; money which would have to be found by the United Kingdom taxpayer. But surely it must be agreed that any money found would be well spent and would pay good dividend.
Furthermore, do we really pay so much? Vote A shows that the Colonial Governments pay something more than we do in this matter of upkeep of the Colonial Forces. The figures are here in the Estimates, and I would quote them but for the fact that hon. Members have them and I do not wish to weary the House. I think that something in the region of £13 million is contributed by the Colonial Territories, and much less by the mother country. Of course, one realises that some Colonies could not pay more. Gambia and Nyasaland could not pay a large subvention towards added colonial Forces.
The last point which I wish to make is the need for getting good officers and n.c.os. in the initial stages to look after and train these battalions; but, given the inducement, I think we could get many good men to go out to Africa to undertake this task. But I think they would have to have better tax allowances and particularly better housing than at the moment. I remember that when I visited Kaduna, in Nigeria, last year one of the largest complaints made to me was that of the living quarters. I was told that they were not very good. Another complaint which can be foreseen, and which we shall have to face up to if our European soldiers are to be contented, is the matter of leave and getting home. One criticism among wives is that they have to come home by sea with their families and that they cannot get an early seat on an aircraft. All these are things which have to be faced up to; but, if they are, then I feel that we should get the right men; men of adventurous spirit, or, if I may use the expression, guts, and even of idealism, for building up this colonial Army in Africa.
One suggestion I would make to those who may say we should not get them quickly enough is that, since I think we have to leave the Canal Zone by 1956—or earlier, some people believe, if we can reach agreement with General Neguib—then why not begin judiciously by taking selected officers and n.c.o.s out for this future African army? Buildings to house them? Well, the Minister of Housing and Local Government has been talking a lot lately about our future export industry in houses. Why not begin by exporting some houses to West Africa?
In conclusion, I think that all here will agree that it would be a good thing if we could get these increased numbers of African colonial soldiers with us in the future, to act as a strategic reserve, both in East Africa and for the wider Indian Ocean basin, as a cadre, core or basis for building up in the future when we may need larger Forces in the event of any emergencies. I am convinced that the need of this country is the opportunity of the African Colonies.
We have just listened to an exceedingly interesting speech from the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson), made with great sincerity and with great knowledge of local conditions. I have been a soldier for many years and I am particularly interested to hear from the benches opposite such an admirable statement of the excellent work done by the Army. For many years I have been told that they were a reactionary, backward, Blimpish, and thoroughly rotten outfit, particularly the officers.
Now, apparently, the first thing we want for the backward peoples is that they should go into the Army. Today, if anyone wants to learn about fertilisers, he must go into the Army. If anyone wants to learn anything for his country, he must go into the Army. What is it that has suddenly changed the Army from the Blimpish, backward thing it was a year ago to what it is today? I should be interested to hear. [An HON. MEMBER: "Socialism."] Six years of Socialism have done a vast amount of harm to this country and to the world, but that is hardly an excuse for saying that today the Army is better than ever it was before.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rugby because I am particularly interested in the question of raising an African Army. There is a great deal of commonsense and sound judgment about the suggestion though it is not as easy as it sounds. Of course, 80,000 men could be found easily in Africa, but what does that number represent in officers and n.c.o.s? The hon. Gentleman suggested taking them out of the units now in the Canal Zone. What would happen to the units in the Canal Zone if all those officers and n.c.o.s were taken away?
The fact is that the limitation of raising new forces is the limitation of obtaining officers and n.c.o.s and without them we shall get nowhere. At this juncture, and for many years to come, they must be white officers and n.c.o.s There is no question about that. It is no good pretending that the African in East or West Africa is capable of running an Army on his own at present. The more enlightened of them would themselves admit that, although some of the wilder ones with a little education think they are able to do it straight away. There is a grave danger that by encouraging this advancement too quickly we may get a top-heavy thing composed of a vast number of native soldiers without the proper n.c.o.s and officers to train and control them.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some encouragement on this question of a Colonial Army in whatever part of the Colonial Empire it happens to come, because I believe now that the great Indian Army has been flung away—flung away, I say Mr. Deputy-Speaker—[An HON. MEMBER: "That is Blimpish enough."] The hon. Gentleman says that that is Blimpish enough, but he must remember the great gap left by the lack of the Indian Army in the defence of the Empire.
It is not what I would have done. It is what has been done. We have to find something to take its place. I believe that, cautiously built up, trained and organised, Africa provides the answer. But it is no good rushing it. It is no good thinking that it can be done in a moment. It is no good thinking that we can do it without the white officers and n.c.o.s The important thing is: where are we to get them from?
We shall not get them from Mau Mau at all. The hon. Member is talking about Mau Mau. I am talking about building up Africa in the way that the white man has tried to do up to now, which is an example of excellent justice and rule such as the world has never seen anywhere else, in spite of all that is said.
I hope that the very interesting speech to which we have just listened will be dealt with by my hon. Friend when he replies. Although we recognise the difficulties, particularly the danger of rushing too fast at the start, here lies a possible solution to a great many of our difficulties, and I hope that my hon. Friend will have something to say about it or that, if it is not possible to do that at the moment, possibly a White Paper or something showing how the idea can be developed might be given to us a little later.
I do not want to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel GommeDuncan), but I want to take up a point which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) and which I raised last year in the debate on the Estimates; that is, the question of the scrappiness of the instruction in the Army.
I suggested last year that we should take steps to harness the new teaching techniques which have been, and are being, worked out in the universities and the institutes of education. I understand from inquiries which I have made that the position this year is just as scrappy as it was last year. In some units it is very good indeed, but in other units the standard of instruction is really third-rate.
There are still men who are being bored to death by dull and semi-efficient instructors. The result of this is two-fold, and we cannot afford either of the results. The first result is that it wastes time, and the second is that some men go out not having reached the highest degree of skill and efficiency. With our limited manpower and our limited resources, we cannot afford either of those things. We cannot afford to waste any time, and we cannot afford to have any men who are not fully trained.
Last year, the Under-Secretary of State was kind enough to write to me after the debate and tell me of the steps that were being taken in the Army to improve the standard of instruction. I am grateful to him for taking that trouble, but I am perfectly sure that there are lots of commanding officers throughout the country today who still do not realise the importance of this factor. It seems to me that if a man is not instructed properly in the early stages of his training, that will condition the whole of his service.
The problem in our Armed Forces is, I believe, very similar to our problem in our economic difficulties. The problem is to make the maximum use of our limited resources by trying to make ourselves 100 per cent. efficient. In seeking to make ourselves more efficient, we have not only to cut out waste of time and manpower in instructing, but we must also cut out waste of manpower in every other way.
We have heard a lot in the last fortnight about combing the tail, and the more often the tail is combed the better, but lots of really grotesque things are still happening throughout the Army. We heard from one hon. Member today about officers' servants. I should have thought that in this age, when it is almost impossible for anybody to get any domestic help even for essential needs. there should not be such an institution as officers' servants.
Does not the hon. Member realise, first, that every officer's servant is a fully-trained soldier, capable of fighting, and, secondly, that the object of an officer having a servant is that he should be turned out ready to look after his men instead of sitting behind to clean the stuff. which he would be doing otherwise, instead of looking after his men? That is the whole object of servants looking after officers.
In addition to that, I see all over the place in London and in my home city comparatively junior officers being driven about in motor cars. I cannot see any reason why any officer should not drive his own car. Why should he have a driver to drive him about? [Interruption.] It might be dangerous, but most of these young men drive cars in civil life, or could very quickly be taught to drive them. I suggest that the present arrangement is a waste of manpower.
Those are only small things, I know, but there are lots of other things as well. In many ways the Army wastes millions of man-hours every year. There are grotesque examples in the running of some units. I had an example in my family, only a few weeks ago. On a farm owned by my brother a tank knocked down a gatepost. He complained to the commanding officer. The commanding officer sent 12 men under a sergeant to re-erect the gatepost and they spent the whole morning doing the job.
I believe that if everyone in the Army in command of men would apply to his command the sort of practice which reduces waste to a minimum in industrial undertakings and that if, in addition, the War Office would set to work to make instruction really efficient, a definite contribution would be made towards reducing the period of National Service. I put it no higher than that. I believe that a contribution could be made, because let not the Government imagine that the country is willing to carry on indefinitely with a two-year period of National Service. To most people throughout the country it is absolutely abhorrent and should be reduced at the earliest possible moment.
I want to say a word about one of the most efficient time-wasting institutions in the British Army—the Guards depot at Caterham. I speak with some personal knowledge here. It is a place where intelligent young men go in at one end and come out at the other as tailors' dummies. They are converted from intelligent young men into tailors' dummies——
They are converted from intelligent young men to tailors' dummies by a system which is more stupid and more brutal than anything the Prussians ever had. I will give some examples. At the height of the Battle of Britain recruits in the Guards depot were not issued with or allowed to handle rifles for four weeks until they had learned to slow march.
They are still doing it. Quite recently a squad in the Guards depot was back squadded and had to do a considerable amount of training all over again because in the passing out parade a wretched recruit said that the Duke of Wellington was the regimental lieutenant-colonel. Three hours are spent in the Guards depot laying kit out for inspection. At the end of the three hours, if everything is not correct in alignment, both on the bed and down the barrack room, the sergeant or trained soldier gets hold of the end of the blanket and throws the whole lot off and the wretched man has to start to make it all over again.
All this is in addition to what hon. Members opposite know as the "shining parade." For two hours a day the men have to sit on their beds and shine. If everything is shined already they have to shine it still further and they are not allowed to speak. They are allowed to smoke a pipe, but not cigarettes——
A trained soldier in charge of the barrack room is supposed to instruct them in regimental history. This may have been good fun for guards officers in the 1890s, but it is absolutely unforgiveable today. There is a good reason; it is because the officer class in the Brigade of Guards is a closed shop.
Yes, and hon. Members will hear about it a lot more until it is put right. It is interesting to note that some of the most vicious opponents of the closed shop in Durham are the strongest supporters of this closed shop.
Officers of the Brigade of Guards are a very small section of the community, and, by and large, the least intelligent. The Brigade of Guards is the last citadel of privilege in the British Army. I think, and I say this having carefully considered my words, that it is all the more regrettable that the Brigade of Guards is so closely connected with the Sovereign. It would be an excellent idea if officers from the Brigade of Guards were seconded for a tour of duty with some of the county regiments, and some of the excellent officers in the county regiments did a tour of duty with the Guards.
The Guards depot today is the supreme example of the mentality which an hon. and gallant Member opposite described as "Blimpism." It is a mentality which uses, or misuses, men as though we were at the dawn of the century instead of in the second half of it. I suggest that what we require is a highly efficient democratic Army in which any boy can rise to the top——
I count myself fortunate in being called to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Central (Mr. Short). Whatever he may say about the Brigade of Guards, and I have no idea with what knowledge he speaks, the fact remains that the Guards depots produce the best disciplined troops in the whole world. They are also the best fighting troops because of the basic depot training which the hon. Member so despises.
I am rather fed up with this ill-informed criticism which we hear year after year, generally from the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and also this year, I am sorry to say, because it is unworthy of him, from the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) in the shape of a lurid article in the Sunday Press. Anyone who has fought alongside or as a member of a Guards unit in battle knows full well that the very things which the hon. Member has criticised have produced those qualities which have stood us. and him, and everyone else in good stead in the past.
What is more, in spite of the ridicule which the hon. Member has poured on the depot system, guardsmen are immensely proud of their regiments and immensely proud of the training they receive. They look with sorrow on troops who have not had the benefit of the same sort of training, and they acknowledge that it stands them in very good stead when war-time comes. Even the hon. Member for Dudley was generous enough to admit last year that they are the best troops in the world.
It is absurd to imagine that we can have such successful troops in action unless their leaders are also efficient. I have a good deal of experience of officers of the Brigade of Guards. They are not stupid, and they have nothing whatever to be ashamed of. They are every bit as good and probably better than officers of other units. In order not to upset my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) perhaps I had better say as good.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can resolve what has always been to me a difficulty. I do not dispute the tribute he pays to the extraordinarily formidable fighting qualities of the Guards, but is he saying that it is necessary to expend three hours laying kit out, and two hours shining it, in order to acquire these qualities? Exactly the same sort of argument was used by the Duke of Wellington as a reason for retaining flogging. You had flogging and the men were magnificent fighters, and if you took it away they would not be magnificent fighters. Might not the hon. Gentleman be mistaken in saying that we must keep discipline exactly as it is today?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that tribute. It is quite true. I want to deal with man-power more generally and the difficulties of voluntary recruiting, starting with the Regular Army. There is no doubt that the three-year engagement has been a tremendous success, but there is the imponderable aspect of who is going to stay on after the three years are over. Anyone on National Service would be mad not to sign on for the three years and get all the advantages, but the question is whether he is going to sign on after that.
This matter is a constant worry to regimental commanders and regimental adjutants, and no doubt to the Secretary of State. There is very little that can be done to instil this "military bug" in a man's mind. The task has not been made easier by the fact that there is a far larger proportion of foreign service now, with all the lack of stability that implies. A man has no idea when he is going, where, or how long for. For instance, a Guards Brigade was sent out to the Middle East 18 months ago. The men had no idea whether it was for two months or two years. Naturally, being guardsmen they bore it well; but it is a serious disadvantage, particularly for the married men.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) seemed to be apologising for talking about small points. I do not think there is any need to apologise. These ordinary, small things and small grievances are very important and, cumulatively, may make all the difference between a man deciding to sign on and his deciding not to do so. If they could be removed and the Army made more attractive, recruiting figures would be better and the men might sign on for longer than three years.
A friend of mine—and I think that this was an imaginative thing to do—asked the whole regiment to write a short paper giving their views on recruiting difficulties and the reasons for them. He had some very interesting replies, particularly from the other ranks. These are some of the comments which they made.
First of all, they said that the existing pensions scheme was inadequate. They pointed out that men left the Army at an awkward age—40 to 45—and obtained jobs as commissionaires outside restaurants, flats and cinemas, and that they found it difficult—I am talking of n.c.o.s—to command good jobs at good salaries. They felt that a contributory pensions scheme to supplement the Army pension would be popular with the men and would make it much easier for them to look after their families after they had retired from the Army.
The second point they made was that the clothing allowance was inadequate. The guardsmen or private soldier receives 1s. 8d. a week clothing allowance. I think the National Service man receives only 8d. But the cost of a pair of socks in the Army today is 7s. 5d. A man has to save for a month to buy one pair of socks.
I shall come to private enterprise in a moment.
The same socks can be bought in a stores in the Strand, selling surplus equipment, at three pairs for 11s. 6d. These men say to themselves, "This is rather a lot. Are the Army trying to make money out of it?" Why is it that socks are more expensive in the Army than to the man who walks down the Strand to buy them? Not everyone can shop in the Strand. The chap in Germany cannot, so that there are many thousands of forced customers for the Army in Germany. They resent that very much.
The clothing allowance was fixed at a time when socks cost approximately the amount which my hon. Friend quotes, but the allowance still continues even though, thanks to this Government, the price of many articles of clothing has fallen. It is not true to say that the quality of the socks which can be bought at three pairs for 1 ls. 6d. is the same as that of the socks for which a charge is made, against the clothing allowance, of 7s. 6d., and for which the real price would be something between the two figures which my hon. Friend quotes.
I would not cast doubt on what my hon. Friend says, but, as I anticipated such a rejoinder, I inspected the socks this morning and they were so similar that it was difficult to distinguish any difference between them at all. The quartermaster-sergeant who showed me the socks said he had worn both types and had noticed no difference. Perhaps we need not pursue the matter any further.
Another point made was the state of some of the larger barracks. I am glad that my right hon. Friend referred to this, for the state of some of the larger barracks is appalling. My right hon. Friend acknowledged that some of them were built during the Crimean war and he even used the word "slums" in connection with some of the conditions—and he is quite right. I am thinking of well-known barracks like Wellington and Chelsea and Tower of London, in some of which I suffered for a time; and they are much worse now than they were in those days.
The reason which the War Office always give for these conditions is "No money for any improvements." I know of a regimental tailor who sat all through this hard, cold winter in a little room with no form of heating at all because the Army could not afford to buy him a stove. I am told that it takes 14 months to get a stove at Wellington Barracks. If so, it is not very clever, because there is not very much money involved. In spite of this constant excuse that there is no money, no less than £8,000 is about to be spent on painting the outside of Wellington Barracks white for the Coronation. That is not very good. These places inside are practically sepulchres. It now seems they are to become whited sepulchres. It is only to impress the American visitors to the Coronation, and it is extremely irritating to the private soldier and guardsman whose own living conditions are left absolutely untouched, always because of the excuse that there is not enough money.
There is another thing I do not like very much. I know that this will be brought home to me as coming from the Brigade of Guards. They do not like some of the petty restrictions. They feel that some of them could be relaxed. I sympathise very much with them. They feel they could do with a little less chasing and harrying. Why have a parade for a parade, they ask. Hon. Members will know exactly what I mean. That is exactly what happens. Why not trust the men to be on time? Tell them the time of the parade, and if a man is late, punish him afterwards; but to have them on parade half an hour before they are required to do anything is a little exaggerated. That point was made by an officer, not by a guardsman.
There were no major complaints in these question papers about pay. That was rather interesting. There was only one complaint about pay, and that came from the officers' mess sergeant, and he was not complaining about his own pay, or the men's pay. What he wrote was, "I cannot understand how the officers can afford to exist." That point was confirmed in the officers' papers!
My next point is about dress, because the men loathe this battledress for walking out, and they dislike khaki, and have no tremendous enthusiasm for blue. But they would simply adore wearing scarlet. The Army feels at a disadvantage compared with the other Services in the matter of dress. It feels itself to be the sartorial Cinderella of the Forces. There is no doubt, I think—and I have said this before in the House—that a gay uniform does get the girls, and that is an important psychological feature. After all, that is what any young man wants to do; it is natural. Moreover, a gay uniform gives greater pride in his appearance. It gives a man greater pride in his regiment. It probably means he behaves better outside, because he is anxious not to let down his regiment, or the smart uniform he is wearing.
Does my hon. Friend realise that before 1914, at Aldershot, the girls used to pay the soldiers to walk out with them, and that the rate in those days for an evening, which the girls would pay, was 2s. for a guardsman and 2s. 6d. for a Highlander?
I am most grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for his confirmation of the importance of a gay uniform. The girls' preference for the Scotsmen may have had a different origin. Anyway, I hope that we shall be able to get away from this complaint of having the battledress for walking out, because I am sure it is bad for recruiting, and bad for morale.
Just a word about the officers. Recruiting for officers is not very easy either, and the reason is simply and solely that many people really cannot afford the Army now. Like politics, it is an extremely badly paid career. Their standards, like ours, have to be kept up. Officers' standards are expensive standards. Pre-war, in the days when some of those officers had unearned incomes, they could manage; nowadays, when they have not those unearned incomes, they cannot afford those standards. Like politics, the Army is now a full-time job, which it was not always before the war. I do not think that the officers are paid a full-time rate for their job, just as we in politics are not. That is something which could be remedied, and I hope it will be. These are some suggestions for matters of personnel, and which, I hope, will be helpful in relation to the manpower problem.
I want to turn now to the Home Guard. The statement of the Secretary of State, in November, was an admission of failure. He could not get 900 men per battalion in the Eastern Counties. I warned him that he would not. I did that privately, whereas the hon. Member for Aston, did it publicly. Perhaps it would have been better had he done it privately. The Secretary of State's admission of failure was a fairly complete one; it was not just a modification, but a fairly drastic cut from 900 to 300 men per battalion. It was dictated by necessity. Volunteers were not forthcoming. I welcomed the statement which the Secretary of State made then, not because I wanted the scheme to fail—I desperately wanted it to succeed—but because there is a well-known military principle, which I believe it would be useful to accept as a political principle, that it is seldom wise to reinforce failure. Hon. Members opposite who may be contemplating further nationalisation schemes ought to bear that in mind.
The Home Guard failed, and is still failing, to attract volunteers. Men do not see the necessity of service. They do not want to be inconvenienced until war seems imminent. Another reason is that the ordinary chap no longer likes voluntary organisations. Many men have said to me, "I will not volunteer because I know my mates will not." Again, the majority of people do not like military discipline. When the need arises, and they are properly trained and well led, these men are the finest troops in the world, but there must be an immediate, pressing need. There have been only 39 recruits, only just 10 per cent. of the reduced strength, for a Home Guard unit I know of in Hertfordshire. Neighbouring battalions are not much better, despite the efforts of battalion commanders and company commanders, who have organised public meetings, letters to the local Press, personal canvassing, and so on.
Those who have joined are confined to the more than usually patriotic and to those with a natural keenness for soldiering. But, having said all this, I agree that the Home Guard is necessary. It is essential to save the Regular and Territorial troops from doing guard duties, and from having to take anti-sabotage precautions and help with Civil Defence. Should war become imminent, these duties will all need to be done at the very time when the Territorial Army is mobilising, and to be done later, when that Army is overseas. I do not think it would be realistic to have the answer to the problem merely on paper. That would not allow enough time to enrol key personnel in time of need, and to prepare a defensive scheme which would avoid chaos on the outbreak of war. We must not assume that the next aggressor will give us the breathing space which we had in 1939. So we have these two facts—a Home Guard is necessary, but its numbers are inadequate. How can we reconcile these two facts?
We have to try to achieve our object with the material available. It can be done. The men who have joined are of extremely high quality; one expected that and it is so. They are potential leaders, officers and n.c.o.s. Why not train them as such now, and make our preparations for the more general mobilisation which will take place when war becomes imminent? When we get a real threat, volunteers will pour in, as they always do. The ranks will be filled. Until then, we must train existing personnel as leaders for the men who are coming in later.
This would be tremendously encouraging for those who had already joined, because they would see prospects of promotion, and of doing a very useful job. That would be good for their morale and be a stimulus to recruiting. I have the impression very much that those now in the scheme think it is a flop, and there is nothing more demoralising than to work for an unsuccessful organisation. Financial economies would also follow. The storeman clerk at £6 per week could look after a whole battalion instead of only one company and an adjutant-quartermaster at £700 a year could look after three battalions instead of only one.
I hope that my suggestions will be considered, because I think they would be of practical use. They should also receive the endorsement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who said in March, 1951:
I am not suggesting that we should immediately reform the Home Guard as we had it in the last war. What I suggest is that the essential organisation should now be set on foot. Commanders, down to company commanders, adjutants and quartermasters, and all the key personnel, should be enrolled now and should know what their duties are. Once this has been done, they should be empowered themselves to take the names of men willing to serve so that, should an emergency arise or be threatened, they are all at once available. That is my suggestion, and I add, of course, that the arms should go out to the depots to he available should the need arise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 718.]
That is very much in line with the sort of thing I am suggesting and I believe it would be the best solution.
I do not know what we shall do otherwise. The only other alternative would be to cancel the call-up for agricultural workers and make them join the Home Guard instead. I do not personally advocate that. It might not be good politics, but it is common sense, because in war they will not he allowed to fight in the Regular Forces. They will be needed on the land and if hostilities broke out they would be needed in the Home Guard. Why not start them where they will ultimately have to stay?
I would say a word about the Territorial Army, to complete the picture. As in the Regular Army, there is a shortage of senior non-commissioned officers, who must come from volunteers. There is no real shortage of officers, and the private soldiers are provided by the National Service element for the time being. What can be done to encourage volunteer recruiting of the type of man who will eventually become an n.c.o.? I do not believe that there is any sovereign remedy, but a large number of small things together may contribute to it. Take recruiting posters. Could they not be less general and more local? Could they not have some such words as, "Your nearest depot is …" and then give the address? Cannot individual regiments advertise themselves, instead of having a general Territorial Army advertisement? The Territorial Army is so essentially a regimental organisation that it would be helpful. It would also be helpful if there were more bands and bright uniforms. Men enjoy the glamour that military music and smart uniforms inevitably produce. Human nature being what it is, I think it would be most foolish to disregard this sort of "peacock" element in our nature; and the value of giving a chap something to wear which will make him a little more romantic in the estimation of his girl friend should not be forgotten. A man will join the Army to wear scarlet and march to a military band and impress his sweetheart; who would never join to peel potatoes and fire a rifle.
As another suggestion, why should be not make use of bombed sites and other open spaces so that the public can see the men at their training? I am quite sure that that would help to create interest and prove to be a good stimulus to recruiting. Then, why not let us do something to improve the drill halls? Some of them are about as antiquated as some of the barracks like Wellington and Chelsea. There is often no space for drill and no proper accommodation for company stores. There are seldom adequate canteen facilities.
I know of some where there are no canteen facilities.
Then there is the question of uniform upkeep allowances for officers. At £4 a year, it is not over-generous. It costs 10s. to have a battledress cleaned, and there are socks and boots to be replaced, and one cannot go far with £4 a year. The private soldier gets no uniform allowance, and his battledress has to last for four years. But, if he goes to camp, and attends all training week-ends, his uniform may not last for four years. I do not think that the pay of the permanent staff is over-generous. A regimental quartermaster-sergeant at camp gets the full Regular Army rate; but he gets it only at camp, although he is full-time all the time. He has to be. But he gets only £6 14s. a week, although in the Regular Army he would get £10 a week, plus allowances. Further, why are instructors from the A, B, and D Reserves paid 7s. 6d. a day in addition to Reserve pay, whereas the Territorial Army warrant officer only gets 3s. a day for the same duty?
All these are rather small points, but they do add up in the minds of many Territorials to the feeling that the object, from the War Office point of view is to get a Reserve Army on the cheap. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Treasury; not the War Office".] I agree that it is the Treasury in the final reckoning, but the fact is that that is just what we are getting. All I ask is that we do not make it too cheap. In the long run it might be a false economy. The backbone of the Territorial Army is, and has always been, the volunteer, and men with a fine sense of duty and good spirit will always go on volunteering, whatever the circumstances.
I do say, however, that we should not take too much advantage of that really superb spirit of selflessness and sense of duty to one's country. Let us always be fair to these men; if we can let us try to be more than fair. Let us be generous. Because, whatever we do, we shall always be in their debt and the State, whatever it does, can never match the generosity of these men who give so much of their time and trouble and energy and enthusiasm for the benefit of their country and of us all.
I hope that I shall not embarrass the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) by saying that what he said about the Home Guard is much in line with what the Opposition said at the time of the Home Guard Bill. I hope that more time will be available to deal with that subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) dealt with some matters of detail of the same kind, and was greeted with raucous laughter and jeers from the other side; but the hon. Member who has just sat down agreed with many of the things which he said. I should like to refer to the cogent speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). Not many hon. Members have addressed themselves to the subject matter of his speech, which was a valuable contribution to the debate. While I disagree profoundly with the point of view of my hon. and learned Friend, I believe that the choice he put before the House was perfectly correct.
He pointed out that this year we abandoned the defence programme, including the Army programme, to which most hon. Members paid lip service a year ago; that in the Defence White Paper the Government had been compelled, because they found it too great a burden upon the economy, to cut the rate of expenditure upon equipment. But the Government were bringing forward, in particular for the Army, precisely the same manpower budget and the same commitments as had previously been agreed in connection with a very much larger and more expensive defence programme. My hon. and learned Friend pointed out the contradiction between a reduced rate of expenditure upon equipment and stores and the maintenance of the same draft of manpower and the same commitments, regarded by the Service chiefs previously as only maintainable with a much more expensive programme of equipment.
I take the view that the two-year period of National Service, which is the most crucial issue confronting us in these Estimates debates, is also too great a burden upon the economy of the country, as was the programme of equipment which the Government have been forced to abandon. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that if we cut down the defence programme in one sphere, we are forced, in order to maintain a proper balance between manpower, materials, and commitments, to cut it down also in other respects.
One hon. Gentleman opposite talked about the members of the party opposite speaking in unison. I should like to know whether the present Secretary of State for War—whose absence we much regret and who, we hope, will soon be restored to health—is still able to speak in unison with himself. There are many hon. Members who can recall how the Secretary of State for War preached quite a different view about National Service and the approach to the manpower question when he was on this side of the House. It is time we recalled, particularly in connection with the Army—for whose benefit the National Service scheme is retained—the reasons why the National Service scheme and the two-year call-up were ever introduced in the period after the war.
I recall that the National Service scheme was justified previously on both sides of the House on two grounds. The first was the necessity in any future emergency of having large, trained reserves, particularly for the Army. Nobody—particularly not the Secretary of State for War and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, who spoke on these matters in previous Parliaments—supposes that the two-year period of call-up is necessary for the purpose of producing large-scale reserves for the Army. In fact, a few years ago the Secretary of State for War said that he preferred six months. It is on the record that he advocated in the House a six months' period of conscription for the purpose of producing a large trained reserve for the Army.
The second ground on which the National Service scheme, and in particular the two-year period of conscription, was justified, was because of the lack of Regular Forces. It was because after the war of the decline of Regular voluntary forces and the difficulty of raising Regular recruitment in conditions of full employment that it was thought necessary to carry on the National Service scheme for a period of years. But the present Secretary of State for War was outstanding, year after year, in advocating that this was an unfortunate necessity and that the National Service scheme should go as soon as possible, as soon as Regular recruitment could be raised; that as soon as the number of reservists for the Army could be increased the National Service scheme should be abolished.
While the Secretary of State was introducing the Estimates this afternoon, I refreshed my mind on some of the speeches that he used to make in the 1945 Parliament, and I recall particularly a speech which he made towards the end of 1947, when he said:
I am not certain that I would at present entirely jettison National Service, but I would perhaps call on every man for a short period
of, say, six months, or less, in which he would be given the fundamental training common to all three Services, with instructors called from all three Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1947; Vol. 445, c. 2028.]
It is no good hon. Members saying that all of that can just be thrown into the waste paper basket because of the Korean war. It had nothing to do with the size of the commitments. It was the fundamental principle behind the approach of the present Secretary of State for War and of a large number of Members, that the National Service scheme should only be prolonged and was only justified because there were insufficient Regular Forces.
In fact, in those days the present Secretary of State always advocated the idea that the best Forces for this country were Forces composed of long-term volunteers and highly-trained specialists—those were, I think, his actual words—and that, therefore, the National Service scheme was a mere stop-gap.
Now we find, in this Army Estimates debate today, that quite a number of Members opposite regard the five-year extension of the National Service scheme as inextricably connected with the two-year period of call-up. One hon. and gallant Member said that he interpreted it as meaning a definite five years' extension of the two years' period of call-up and to many hon. Members the two years' period has become practically sacrosanct.
Let us examine some of the facts. Since the extension of the call-up to two years, there has been a large-scale increase in the number of Regulars in the Forces. Since that extension, which was said to be for a temporary emergency, there has been a substantial increase in the number of reservists, and in the scope of training for the reservists; but none of this is now mentioned by present Service Ministers as having anything to do with the National Service scheme.
I should have thought, from the principles on which the National Service scheme was based, that these increases in the numbers of Regulars and reservists would be immediate arguments for the reconsideration of the National Service scheme, but it now appears from the arguments of the Ministers that, irrespective of Regular recruitment or the number of reservists, the National Service scheme must go on and the two-year period of call-up continue.
Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for War will tell us what is the Army's view about Regular recruitment. It is quite clear from what the Minister said that the view of the Army chiefs is quite defeatist about Regular recruitment. Otherwise, the Government would not ask for the five-year extension of the National Service scheme and hon. Members would not presume that it would be a two-year call-up.
Either Ministers have changed their views and now think National Service and the two-year period are no longer regrettable necessities but good things in themselves, or they are not hopeful of the future of Regular recruitment and think that two years' conscription will be required for a very long period. We should like to know which of these alternatives is the case. Is it still the view of Ministers in charge of the Army that they are trying to get an army composed of sufficiently highly trained, specialists and long-term volunteers so as to do away with National Service altogether, or has that policy been abandoned?
If it is the policy to get sufficient Regular recruitment and sufficiently large numbers of reserves so as gradually to reduce the period of National Service until the National Service scheme can be abolished, what is the view of the Ministers at the War Office about the future of Regular recruitment? Are we to take it from the fact that the Government says that we must have a five-year extension of National Service at least—and that many hon. Members think it will be a five years extension of the two years' call-up—that it means Ministers have abandoned the idea that they can get sufficient Regular recruits to be able to reduce the period of National Service in the meantime?
Ministers should address themselves to the fact that on all sides, when the period of National Service was increased to two years, it was regarded as an emergency measure. The present Secretary of State for War should recall that five years ago he regarded National Service itself as an emergency to be abandoned as quickly as possible. He was very boastful then about the possibility of getting Regular recruits. We understood from him that we had only to raise the pay and do a few other things to get sufficient volunteers to abandon the scheme. Now we hear nothing about that, nothing about his view of National Service in principle, and of the numbers of Regular recruits it is necessary to get to cut National Service—nothing, in fact, of the relation between the manpower budget and the reduced equipment budget and the commitments which the Army have to undertake.
This is a very crucial issue, and no one can deny that. while the attempt to produce more arms than the economy of the country can stand is a heavy burden, large numbers of people are of opinion that the two-year call-up is a heavy burden, also, and too great a strain on the country's manpower. When now, almost exclusively for the sake of the Army, the Government ask Parliament to continue this scheme we should have a clear statement from the Government as to whether they have changed their policy about conscription and now regard conscription as having come for ever. If they do not, what is the relation now in the Army between the rate of Regular recruitment and the number of conscripts required and for how long are they required. It should be possible for the Under-Secretary to tell us.
Supposing Regular recruitment goes on increasing and we make an estimate based on the improvement in Regular recruitment this year and that continues in 1954, what effect will it have on the number of conscripts the Army require and the period for which they require them? It should be possible for him to say that, with a certain improvement in the Regular recruitment, National Service could be reduced by a number of months.
I hope that we shall get a realistic statement of the views of those in charge of the Army about the future manpower budget; that it will be seen that the whole defence budget becomes unbalanced if the equipment programme is cut without a cut in the manpower budget. In view of the pledges given, people expect that Ministers will review the manpower in the Services and the schemes for regular recruitment so as to achieve the earliest possible reduction in the period of service.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) in his very interesting arguments about National Service. The question has been discussed exhaustively today and on other occasions. I wish to deal with the tail which has been combed by a number of hon. Members, and to suggest one or two more hairs which might be combed out of it.
Many hon. Members may have had experience of the odd types who creep into the war establishments of formations for one reason or another and I hope that the Under-Secretary can assure us that attention is being paid to the establishment of formations which will operate in the field. I can remember a number of these odd creatures, including the "G3 Chemical Warfare," who continued to exist, doing all sorts of odd jobs long after their original function had ceased. There were "Intelligence Officer, Liaison," and "Intelligence Officer, Enemy," and just "Intelligence Officer," being used for all sorts of jobs long after their original usefulness had been lost sight of.
It is easy for any commander of whatever rank to justify a demand for more staff. It used to be said that the 2nd lieutenant or the lance-corporal were the lowest form of life in the British Army, but I think the G3 Chemical Warfare ran them fairly close.
There is a considerable growth in the Services which one notices in the changes of function in the R.A.S.C., R.A.O.C. and R.E.M.E. I am aware that the more complicated equipment used by a modern army demands a greater tail, more units based in the line of communications, and so on. But I sometimes wonder whether the Services, when they are competing for the manpower requirements which they consider necessary, ever bear in mind the tremendous calls on manpower that their demands involve.
For example, there is a new system of supply of vehicles in the field. I understand that the policy is to be much more that of replacing vehicles rather than repairing them in the various workshops at different levels throughout the lines of communication. This will mean a greater concentration of vehicles and a much greater manpower problem in providing additional R.A.O.C. units. I sometimes wonder whether we are becoming too vehicle minded—too road-bound. I am aware that an Army must be capable of rapid movement, but too many vehicles on the road defeats that very purpose. If you see any ordnance unit with its vast supply of reserve vehicles, you can imagine the problem it poses to the staff of any formation in war.
I know that some progress has been made with the standardisation of vehicles. I hope that that will be pursued energetically because if we could standardise the load-carrying vehicles alone we would have an immense effect not only in base depots, but it would reduce the work right through, down to the smallest unit which has a storeman. One of the great problems in the last war was the millions of spare parts that had to be carried for all the different vehicles in use.
During the debate a lot has been said about the Territorial Army, the Home Guard, and the Reserves in general, but I have heard nothing so far about the Army Emergency Reserve, a very valuable one for which there have been far too few volunteers. The National Service man can opt when he finishes his training to go into this Reserve. It only involves two weeks' training a year, and there are no other drills at all. May I plead with the Under Secretary to examine one or two matters in connection with this Reserve? Training facilities are supplied by the Regular units with whom the reservists train. These units do their best to meet these demands, but it is not always easy for them to give the many units which go through their hands all that is required, especially as regards ammunition.
In my experience, most of the National Service men who finish their training, especially in the corps, turn out to be appalling shots when they reach the Emergency Reserve. I hope that I shall not be thought too reactionary, but I feel that the reservists must he able to handle their weapons well, and the standard is deplorably low. They cannot improve unless we find sufficient ammunition for training, and I plead with the Under-Secretary to arrange with the Regular training units, and, indeed, the Territorial units, for them to be given sufficient ammunition for use on the range. It is only by actual shooting on the range, rather than by lectures from the Weapon Training Manual, that the standard can be raised.
Second and third year units should be given the opportunity of training under more realistic conditions than in ordinary barracks. I suggest that they might occasionally be given an opportunity of going to Germany and training with one of the formations engaged in exercises. It would give them far more valuable training than they would get with a static training unit at home. These units of the Emergency Reserve are expected to be in a condition of training so that they would be available quickly in the event of war. They would be called up within a very short time, and expected to function efficiently. Unless they have adequate training on an adequate basis they will not be able to fulfil that function.
We cannot expect to do much with a unit in two weeks every 12 months, so the greatest possible help should be given to them, more so than the Territorial Army units, which have the opportunity of meeting far more frequently. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary believes that enough publicity has been given to this reserve, because the number of volunteers is far too few. We have a tremendous scarcity of well-trained and good n.c.o.s. That is a problem running throughout the whole of the Army today. If we cannot attract that type of man into the reserve Forces it will be very difficult, whatever else we do, to have well-trained Forces.
I am very sorry indeed that the Secretary of State for War is ill and has had to go home, and I join with other hon. Members in wishing him a speedy recovery. Apart from my natural feelings of sympathy, I wish very much that he were here because there are one or two things which I wish to say to him and I would prefer to say them to his face than to say them in his absence.
I thought that his speech this afternoon was a confession of failure. In saying that, I am not altogether relying on what he said when he was on these benches but rather on what he set out to do as Secretary of State for War. I am quite sure that when he spoke from these benches he honestly and sincerely thought that his party would be able to solve the problem of recruiting by raising pay. I think he overlooked the hard fact that it is not the increase in pay which has done the trick, but the differential. As soon as it was decided—I think wisely but belatedly decided—by my right hon. Friend to introduce two rates of pay, one for the Regular and one for the National Service man, obviously the young man faced with the duty of doing two years with the Service would think twice before he accepted 4s. a day when he could get 7s. a day by taking on the obligation of a third year.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman put all his eggs in that basket, but he also played around with the terms of service. I have dealt with the latter point before, and I do not apologise for dealing with it again. It seems to me absolutely vital to have a fairly lengthy period of Colour service if we do hope to get competent n.c.os. and warrant officers—and I am thinking not only in terms of competence in their physical and mental attributes, but competence arising from a fairly lengthy service and wide experience of the handling of men and the day-to-day problems of their command.
Looking at what has happened in other countries, it seems to me that no country has yet succeeded in harnessing this problem of the long-term warrant officer and n.c.o. with that of the considerable number of men conscripted for service. Certainly, up to 1914, the German Army succeeded in doing it only by paying a terrible price in terms of forgoing the growth of democracy in Germany. I will not weary the House with this subject for more than a moment, but it is interesting to look at what the Germans did with this problem—and I suppose they did it successfully from their point of view. To every man who undertook an engagement of some years they gave a guarantee of a job when he left the Service.
In the long run, of course, it meant that all the officials in Germany—dustmen, sanitary inspectors, police officers and the like—consisted of long-service Regular German soldiers; and it is, of course, true that the attributes taught by long service in the Army—obedience and honesty—are not necessarily the best ground in which democracy will thrive. I have always held the view that democracy failed to flourish in Germany because of the existence of the official class.
Equally, we have broken the link between the military families and those we hope to get into the Army. One of the present difficulties in recruiting both officers and n.c.os. arises from the fact that in the past those who have served in the Forces have not been given the kind of deal which they ought to have had. These people tend to say to their sons, "Go into other professions and look for other jobs." Thus the link with the Armed Forces is broken. I do not apologise, therefore, for mentioning the Secretary of State's shortcomings.
My next point is to draw attention to the way in which we have treated retired officers, n.c.o.s, and warrant officers. I want again to draw attention to the debate we had on the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess. We got a thoroughly dusty answer from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, and we have had nothing better from his noble Friend in another place. The House has a right to expect that the Government will not only do something for the young men who are coming into the Forces now but, in the interests of the Army, in the interests of the country, that they will try to give a square deal to the retired officers who served in the years before the war and who are left to exist on a rate of retired pay which is based upon conditions in 1919 and the succeeding years.
This is not exclusively the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War, but he is faced with the fact that his recruiting policy has failed. He is looking for the reasons. As I say, in the past he blamed failure in recruiting on the low rates of pay. Well, the rates of pay have been put right; temporarily, he has got an increase in the number of recruits, but it has already tended to tail off. Before I deal with the alibi he introduced today, I want to pinpoint what I think is the major defect in the Government's policy, and that is their failure to give a square deal to officers, warrant officers and n.c.o.s who have given a lifetime of service to the Armed Forces and who, after all, are the best recruiting agents.
Let me turn to the right hon. Gentleman's new alibi which appeared for the first time today. [An HON. MEMBER: "Excuse."] All right, excuse. He blames it on to the cold war and the period of overseas service. I notice that a number of his hon. Friends have already fallen for this bait, because several have talked about soldiers being required to serve longer periods abroad now than they were before the war. All I can say to that is: complete and utter nonsense. Before the war the average recruit joining the infantry for seven or five was very lucky indeed if he did not go abroad in the first year of his service; if he did not go in the first year, he went in the second; and once he went abroad not only did he serve for the whole of his Colour engagement abroad but he was held to serve an extra year as well. Invariably he was held to serve eight years instead of seven.
That was a quite common and accepted experience. Everyone expected it to happen, and it did happen. The idea that a Regular soldier, before the war, served abroad for only three years is complete nonsense. He went abroad. Nobody worried about it. To have suggested for a moment one would get leave would have caused one to have been regarded as a sort of music hall comedian. It would have been thought a sort of music hall joke if, as one disembarked at Bombay, one had said one expected to see England again in fewer than five or six years.
As to married quarters, I am all for having the best accommodation the Government can give, but I must make a point here. I think I am an authority on this matter because, after all, my three daughters were all born in married quarters. I have spent more time in married quarters than anybody else in the House, I dare say—indeed, longer than all the rest of the House put together. Nobody worried very much about us in those days. The idea that a young soldier should marry was rather discouraged.
The Secretary of State seems to have forgotten what the legacy is. We have here a legacy from the past. I am not at all sure that one wants to turn the Army into a profession in which a man is rather encouraged to marry young. I am not at all sure that the new Regulations are any improvement on the old. At least, under the old Regulations one knew where one stood—or where one did not stand. Now, of course, young men are encouraged to join up, get married, and expect subsequently to get married quarters.
Of course, the married quarters are not there; and when there are married quarters they are, as has been said this afternoon, inadequate. The Secretary of State must base his policy on realism. The short-term recruiting advantages of last year were very short-term, and in two years from now he will find re-engagements much fewer than the 33⅓ per cent. that he wants. The encouragement of married quarters and jam today will have no effect unless the Secretary of State does something more fundamental, less spectacular, and very much more long-term than he is thinking about at present. There is no short cut to a solution of this problem. It has been growing since 1920. There was failure between the wars to give the Army a square deal—to provide married quarters then, and decent opportunities for promotion. The seeds were planted then, and we are reaping the reward.
To solve this problem we have to get down to fundamentals. The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) raised the question of regimental tradition. I think it is valuable, but it has never had the value, which he seems to think it has, for the other rank. Such men could not opt for the Oxford and Bucks, the Berkshires or the Hampshires. [HON. MEMBERS: "They could."] I am sorry that hon. Members opposite are out of date. They are 30 years out of date. Before the war there was a system of zone recruiting. A recruit who wanted to join the Oxford and Bucks could do so if the regiment was open: but if it had just been squadded up he would find it was closed to him. He would be told that he could join the Berkshires or Hampshires. There was no regimental tradition for the other rank. Before hon. Members say that I am wrong they should consult the pre-war Regulations. They will find that particular regiments were closed according to their strength. A man could only get into a regiment which was closed if he could prove a family association with it.
Hon. Members must also remember that there are many good sections of the Services which are not tied to localities. For instance, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, the Royal Army Medical Corps. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Guards."] An hon. Member suggests the Guards, but that would not be completely true, because the Scots, Welsh and Irish Guards were associated with particular areas. A man who joined the Cavalry before the war, entering the 14/20 Hussars, might find himself in the 15/19 Hussars at the next trooping season.
There is no competent soldier with a reputation to lose who will not deny that one can fight a war and maintain the "tribal system." The system of local associations is bound to break down in war-time. There must be an overwhelming case for it if it is to be maintained in peace-time. We cannot run the Army on that basis.
I have been 35 years in the Army and I think the hon. Gentleman is mixing up the geographical association with the regimental tradition. He was citing the Royal Artillery, than which none has a greater regimental tradition. There are other regiments with county and geographical traditions which are equally strong. Surely he must recognise that.
I agree that there is a great tradition in the Royal Artillery, but even there a man or an n.c.o. can be cross-posted from battery to battery. Before the war men were so posted all the time. The idea that a man could join a particular battery, however eminent, is mistaken. He might want to join a crack one like A battery or K, but he would find himself in A battery in England this year and posted to India next year. When the battery was coming home, he might find himself sent to Africa.
With the commitments of this country we need a corps of infantry. We have gone some way towards it in the establishment of the group system. What is our overwhelming military problem? It is the same as it was before the war and as it was before the First World War. We have current commitments and international obligations which involve the possibility of lengthy and large-scale operations on the Continent of Europe immediately after mobilisation. Therefore, we have a conflict between short-term and long-term obligations. Clearly, the Army cannot best be organised upon a regimental basis.
What happens at present when a regiment moves? Not only all the men, but all the kit, the silver and the equipment move. I wonder whether the War Office have worked out in terms of tonnage what it takes to move a complete infantry regiment, and what it would take if they moved only the personnel. I would have thought that in Malaya, where we have 23 battalions taking part in the cold war, we ought to have a sufficient number of units to fulfil all the military and police requirements of those battalions. What we should do, as men need to be replaced, is to move men and not their equipment and all their heavy baggage. That type of organisation would be flexible for both police operations and long-term commitments.
In two or three years' time, as I see it, not even the present Secretary of State will be able to disguise from the House and the country that his recruiting policy has completely failed because he has put all his eggs in one basket. If there are any eggs left they will be addled. At the same time, he will not be getting the re-engagements that he wants. We shall find that we have no long-service warrant officers and n.c.o.s because of the habit of enlisting for three years. The bad will have pushed out the good. There will be no 9, 7, 5, and 3; there will be only 3. If I do not mistake my guess, the young men of today, who can do simple addition, will realise that they have taken 7s. per day instead of 4s., and at the end of three years they will go.
What happens then? I do not know. It can only mean one thing; that we shall have conscription for a period of two years permanently in this country; and even when we have conscription permanently for two years we shall not be getting the military force we want because we shall have many on the ration strength, so to speak, but a great deficiency of senior, experienced, n.c.o.s and w.o.s, without which no Army is fit to fight.
Now I turn to another aspect. The right hon. Gentleman made a great song and dance about shortening the tail and sharpening the teeth of the Army. Well, we have had a year of that process and, according to him, we have one-third more of a division. We have seven extra battalions, but I thought he was a little coy this afternoon when I questioned him about the extent to which the regiments were up to strength. He said that those in the Far East were up to strength. Some of the less essential ones had to take the rap as a result.
I questioned the right hon. Gentleman about the Middle East, and he did not seem to know just what was the position there, but stated that some would be up to strength, and some would not. Could I ask about the 16th Parachute Brigade in the Middle East? I understand that this is on nothing more than a cadre basis. What is the actual number of units in the Canal Zone, and are they all up to establishment at present? My information is that not one unit there is up to establishment. Therefore, if the Secretary of State for War has formed seven battalions at the expense of the strength of units over a very wide scale, we have nothing but a weakening process.
I want to push the question of the combing of the tail a little further. Last year, I asked about the 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division; because, in 1951, the Secretary of State told us that this particular brigade had 14 officers and he thought that to be very wrong indeed. I asked last year how many officers the 5th Infantry Brigade had got, but the right hon. Gentleman did not answer the question. Can we be told whether the Secretary of State has been able to comb the strength of this brigade in order to reduce the number from 14 to a considerably lesser figure?
Again, in 1951, speaking of this brigade, the right hon. Gentleman said:
At one command headquarters I have a personal friend, a major-general, General Staff—no names, no pack drill—and he has a B.G.S. (Operations), B.G.S. (A. and Q.), General Staff Officer Class 1 (Operations), G.S.O. 1 (Training), G.S.O. 1 (A. and G.S.O. 1 Q). Then there is the G.S.O. 2 level and the G.S.O. 3 level. Quite a family tree."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, col. 817.]
What has the Secretary of State done about that problem, which he thought was so bad? How much has really been the tooth sharpening as a result of his policy? I should like him to answer me this specific question. What is the extent to which the seven battalions which have been formed are up to strength? If, for reasons of security, we cannot be told the figures, could we be given the percentages so that the House may know if they are up to establishment or not?
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) referred to Reserve training. One of the most important things that will arise during the next few years is the question of the higher training of Reserves. I said in the defence debate that as far as I was concerned I would settle for a reduced period of training and an increased period of Reserve service, because it seems to me that as we move towards our Reserve ceiling, towards the point in the middle of 1954 when our Reserve strength will be in the neighbourhood of half a million, we must pay considerable attention to the higher training of these reservists. Thousands will be in almost exclusively Reserve units. I should have thought that 15 days was not enough. It is certainly not enough to do what the hon. Member for Wycombe wanted when he referred to those on the Army Reserve training in Germany.
One of the great arguments for a lengthy period of training is to be able to take the men to Germany to train with the units in which they may be called upon to serve. It is part of the National Army plan, as I understand, that men serving in units when things happened to go wrong would provide the screen behind which mobilisation would take place. The degree of efficiency of the Reserve units will be the thing upon which the safety of this country depends. Therefore, the House must this year and, in succeeding years, pay increasing attention to the question of Reserve training.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) is of the opinion, which I share, that a case has been made out for a reduction in the period of service. Short of being able to get our way, we hold the view that an inquiry ought to be held—not as others have been held, not an inquiry into the use of manpower, but an all-party, independent inquiry by a committee appointed by the Prime Minister, which would enjoy public confidence, into the workings of the National Service Acts as such. This country is attempting to do something quite stupid. It is trying to have a great Army, a great Navy and a great Air Force, and we cannot have them all. We must put our money on what we think is the winning horse—and I am quite sure it is not the Navy. I am quite sure that belongs to the museum. Naval power has been supplanted by air power. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] It may be air plus Army. Anyway, I am certain that if we go for all three, we shall lose on all.
Some of the experiences between the two wars are extremely significant. Take, for example, what happened in Iraq from 1920 to 1927. General Haldane, I think, had something like a division and a half when he suppressed the Arab revolt in 1922, but by 1927 the last battalion of infantry—the King's Liverpool Regiment, I believe—was withdrawn from Baghdad. From that time onwards the Air Force took over the control of Iraq and did it with great success, without the use of ground troops except, I think, for one armoured car company belonging to the Air Force. That was the shape of things to come.
It seems to me that we have reached the absolute limit in terms of expenditure of money and manpower as far as the Army is concerned. If we want to spend more on air power, we must make up our minds where we are going to take it from, because the economy of the country cannot stand any more. What we have to do in these debates is not only to count the shekels which we pay out, but we must see what we get in return. What I am afraid of is that we are building up a Maginot Line of our own, no greater than the Maginot Line of before the war, with vast numbers of men serving for two or three years and spread all over the world; and then one fine day, if things go wrong, we shall find that not only have we spent all our money but, what is infinitely worse, we shall have wasted it.
I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) at great length—I think we all see in him a future Lord Cardwell, who reorganises the Army for us once a year—but when he starts to reorganise the Navy in the middle of the Army Estimates debate, a Member for Portsmouth has a right to object.
I want particularly to touch on the question of the 22 years' service that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained this afternoon and which appears in the Memorandum which has been before us for some days. This new 22 years' service, with options every three years, has proved, we are told, a great success. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate, he will explain exactly at what periods the men may exercise their three-yearly option. If it is not explained and is not well known in the country, there will always be arguments as to whether it should have been done the month before or the month after, or whether six months' notice or a month's notice must be given before a man takes his discharge at the end of three years. I hope that my hon. Friend can give us this information today.
I do not feel that we shall have the same success with this 22 years' service as was anticipated by my right hon. Friend who produced the scheme. After a man has been in the Service for three, six or nine years, he has been separated from his family through, possibly, the shortage of housing overseas or he has been out on active service, and he will come back and discover that life at home with his wife is very sweet.
After about three terms of three years, he has got to the stage where he decides whether he will continue serving to do his 22 years and get a pension or will come out after serving nine years. If he comes out after nine years, he is still under the age of 30 and is in a position to get himself a job in civil life. If he stays on until he has done his 22 years, he will be getting near the age of 40, and to a man of that age, after 22 years in the Army, the average civilian employer begins to say, "What can you do to earn your living? Why should I employ you? "If he is a tradesman it is perfectly easy; he can find employment anywhere at any time. It is the ordinary regimental soldier with a wonderful ability for organising things who is seldom considered as worthy of being taken on by an employer after he is 40. There are not enough good jobs in clubs or cinemas, or at the doors of this House, for all those who will be retiring at 40 and want another livelihood.
The way to keep these men in the Army until they have done their 22 years is to increase their pension. The pay of the soldier and of all the Services has been considerably improved in the last three or four years, but the pensions of the other rank has not kept pace with his pay. In my constituency, where I see soldiers and sailors regularly every other week-end, people who have been in the Service say it is the pension which is worrying them. When they joined the Service they felt that they would get indifferent pay for some years but that they would get something built up for their retirement, a little nest egg for when they were old.
They resent—I do not think there is justice in their resentment—having to pay Income Tax. That is chiefly because, in the past, the rate of pay of the soldier was so small that he did not pay Income Tax on his pay and did not realise that there was such a thing as Income Tax until he got out into the wicked world. Before the war, as a major with a wife and two children, I was paying only £5 a year Income Tax. The ordinary soldier does not realise that there is such a thing as Income Tax for anyone except the rich. When he comes out of the Service he thinks he will get a job which will bring him £7 or £8 a week which he can add to his pension; but he finds that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has stepped in and his pension has disappeared into thin air, together with some of his wages.
The soldier should be told at the time he enlists that his pay will be on a certain rate and when he retires in due course as a private or W.O. he will receive a certain pension but that all the pay and the pension will be subject to the rate of Income Tax ruling at the time he retires. I am sorry to labour the point, but every week men come to me and ask, "Why do we have to pay Income Tax on our pensions?" I have to explain to them that even the civilian pays Income Tax on any pension which accrues to him and there is no difference between Service man and civilian in that respect.
Another reason I think the soldier will not make this 22 years' service a great success is that he has been told by his father of various things which happened in the Service in the past. These things have not all been to the credit of the Service. For example, he may be told that during times of crisis the Army invariably has its pay cut. It always was so in the past and I would not be surprised if it were the case in the future. When there is a rise in the cost of living the Army has always been the last to follow suit and give the soldier a rise.
The example will be quoted to me of how the Opposition did raise the pay, but I would point out that they did very little about raising the pay until the crisis in Korea made them want an Army once more, after they had almost completely disbanded it. To get the men back they had to raise the pay. They did not give it because they wanted to, but because it was the only way to get the soldiers back into the Army. I hope that this Government will never lower the soldier's pay in time of crisis, because he has not too much now. Although I think he is fairly paid in the present circumstances of the country, the pension is the thing I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to watch.
As another example of the sort of thing the Army can do, I would quote an experience of my own. In 1931 I transferred to a technical corps because I was too "broke" to continue in the Gloucestershire Regiment. I was to receive 5s. a day after doing an 18 months' technical course. That may not seem very much, but after I had received it for less than a year there was one of the periodical crises and my 5s. disappeared. I wasted part of my life going through that course, and was never able to get back to my old regiment. Part of the 5s. was eventually paid back, but after the last war all technical pay was washed out and the infantry and technical corps all got the same.
There are officers who retired before 1951 who are still waiting for an answer from the Treasury. Because we have remained silent on this matter for a few weeks I hope it will not be thought that the issue has been lost sight of. It is not being raised today because I understand the matter is being discussed at a higher level, but I put in this "probe" as a reminder that it has not been forgotten.
Last year, when subsidies were taken off, the Chancellor said that long-service Regular pensioners, and others on small incomes, would get an increase to help them to meet the increase in the cost of living. Most of the old soldiers, sailors and airmen thought that their rather meagre pensions would be increased. I sat on a Committee upstairs and I raised this matter. I was informed that a Royal Warrant would follow the same course as the 1952 pension increase. Several months later the Royal Warrant was produced, but in it there were three tests, a means test—to which I do not object—a health test, and an age test.
A civilian does not have to undergo either an age or a health test, and it surprises me that the Chancellor should imagine that a soldier of, say, 49 years of age, on a small pension, would want to wait until he is 60 before getting an increased pension. If these men are unemployed, as many are in my constituency, it is now that they are hungry and not when they are 60. These men expected to get the increase automatically after the means test if it was shown that their income was low and they were entitled to it. I ask the Under Secretary to look into this matter, because if we have any further rise in the cost of living these pensioners will be hard hit.
I want to bring to the notice of the Under-Secretary a difficulty confronting officers who have to go overseas at short notice, and then sometimes with promotion are brought back again at shorter notice. There are any number of officers who write to me about the money they lose when they import cars on change of station. Civilians are in the same difficulty, too, but they do have a choice, and often when they are put to this sort of expense their employers pay the difference. But if a major serving in Germany is suddenly promoted and sent home before 18 months are up, he finds himself faced with the expense of the Purchase Tax on his car. Soldiers are not well enough off to pay £200 Purchase Tax on a car for which they have scraped and skimped to buy.
I should like to thank the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence for what they have done for Service widows. On the last two Army Estimates, and on the Navy Estimates last year, I pleaded for those admirals' and colonels' widows getting only £95 a year, and I am glad to know that the vice-admiral's widow for whom I pleaded last year is now getting £220 a year, which is a very reasonable rise. I hope that this generous treatment which sometimes comes out of the Treasury will be pushed for all it is worth by the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State to see that the Services get justice.
We have had a very full and varied day so far, beginning with the Secretary of State unfortunately becoming a casualty soon after the proceedings opened. I am sure that we all wish to congratulate him on the way in which he presented his Estimates, particularly knowing that he was suffering from a high temperature and had to leave immediately after his speech. We moved from gloom at some points to utter darkness, to hilarity and sometimes farce. I do not think that anyone could claim the debate has been without the incident and life which we expect from these debates on the Army Estimates.
Before I come to deal with some of the points that have emerged, I should like to say on behalf of those of us on this side how glad we were to hear the Secretary of State pay his tribute to Field Marshal Slim. We who have had the opportunity of working with him know how much his skill and experience have done for the Army.
I want to begin with one or two unrelated points, and the first of them is a rather small one in one sense, but one which does cause a great deal of grievance and feeling among old soldiers, and I really mean old soldiers. I have always felt rather guilty about the question of campaign pensions. I have always hoped something would be done, and I would like to ask the Under-Secretary whether these are still being deducted when some other form of pension or National Assistance is given. These pensions were small enough to begin with, and were intended to be some recognition of an extra burden which had been borne, and it is rather derisory to take this small amount away.
The next point is in connection with the Home Guard, which, I notice the Secretary of State completely left out of his speech. I was surprised at that because I thought he had taken some pride in the formation of the Home Guard, even although it was against the warnings from this side of the House. I would like to correct a misapprehension existing in the mind of the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Ian Harvey), who said that we had tried to sabotage the Home Guard. We have done nothing of the sort. The position which we adopted was roughly the position adopted tonight by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher), and it was that this was not the right time to form the Home Guard.
We said it was the right time to have a nucleus earmarked, to have commanding officers earmarked, to keep registers, to form cadres—which my right hon. Friend did before he left office—but was not the time to try to enrol a Home Guard, partly for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Hitchin—that the enthusiasm we created earlier would soon be dissipated when it became realised that the scheme was not a success and that there was no immediate necessity for it. We thought that the only way to get impetus behind a scheme of this sort was to introduce it when a war seemed imminent to people generally. If a war were to break out, it would have seemed imminent for at least three or four weeks before hand; and we felt that that was the moment at which to try to enrol a Home Guard.
I went a little further than that. The hon. Member is advocating a paper scheme, but I went a little further, because there are disadvantages about a paper scheme when the crisis occurs.
I think we differ in a very small way about this. What hon. Members choose to call a paper scheme is a matter of opinion. I think commanding officers and adjutants had been earmarked for the battalions, so that it would have been rather more than a paper scheme; it would have been easy to put flesh and blood on to the skeleton when necessary.
The result of this pathetic little episode has been that, instead of having a Home Guard which it was estimated, last year, would have a strength of 170,000, we have a Home Guard of 26,000, and a Home Guard which, as is admitted on all sides of the House, is losing enthusiasm and interest and which will not serve the purpose for which it was originally formed. We still maintain that it was a mistake to have undertaken the scheme and we think it is a pity that the Government do not have sufficient honesty to admit that it was a mistake, to scrap it and to start again with something more sensible. If the present scheme is continued, all the life which remains behind it will be dissipated.
I want to make some comments on the.280 rifle, because I thought the Secretary of State for War did not leave a satisfactory situation after my right hon. Friend had asked several questions about it. We were not very much further informed than we were before the Secretary of State spoke. I want to reinforce the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart). As I understood it, the situation which had been reached before the Labour Government left office was that there was no difficulty about the cartridge case at all; it had already been arranged that the cartridge case was interchangeable with that of the American round. What was not interchangeable was the calibres of the rifles themselves.
I do not think that we have done very well if, after two years, all the Government can tell us is that they have got as far as having interchangeable cartridge cases, because we were as far as that two years ago. As the Secretary of State said, what still remains to be decided is what the calibre is to be. But that was the cause of all the trouble in the first place. We all knew that two years ago. There seems to have been no improvement in the situation at all.
As we understood it, it was not possible to have the calibre which the Americans wanted and, at the same time, produce the results which had already been produced by the.280. I am sorry to take up the time of the House on this point, but it is one of tremendous importance. If we had a larger calibre, then one of two things must happen. Either we had an altogether unacceptable muzzle blast and flash—which was unacceptable for obvious reasons, for use by night and even by day—or we had a recoil which was uncomfortable, to put it at its mildest. That is a recoil which does not exist at all in the present.280 rifle. It was simply not scientifically possible to produce a rifle with a larger calibre than the.280, which had all the qualities of the.280, which did not have this recoil or this exaggerated muzzle flash. Of course, quite apart from that, it means having a heavier rifle, and the loss of the lightness.
I think it is disgraceful that the Government should have waited for two years and yet have been able only to tell us they have got as far as we had got before, and that was to have an interchangeable cartridge case with the Americans. What we have done is to sacrifice the possibility of the British Army being armed with this superb weapon for the sake of trying to get a standardisation that is impossible. It is a tragedy because this country cannot let its Armed Forces rely on large numbers; it has to rely on quality. Every soldier we have has to he able to feel he has in his hands a weapon with which to take on the undoubtedly much larger numbers that he will find opposed to him.
I think it is a great pity that the British soldiers in Germany today cannot feel they have a weapon in their hands—as they could have been having this summer if only the Government had not been so dilatory about it—with which they could take on any number of advancing Russians should war break out in Germany.
This particularly applies to Korea, as my right hon Friend says, where there is actual fighting at the moment.
I would wager anything that if that rifle were in our men's hands in Korea the Americans fighting alongside them would be offering any amount of dollars to get hold of it themselves for their personal use, and that that would end the controversy as to which was the better rifle. I hope that the Government will now stop tinkering about with this matter and will go ahead with the manufacture of this weapon, because it is an absurd argument to say we cannot do so because we could not possibly make the ammunition for it in time of war. That is the argument that has been advanced by the Government.
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, having been in the position that he was, would have known that the reason we did not go on with that rifle was that we could not have the production behind us. In war, of course, the Army gets rid of rifles in the most fantastic way, and there must be great production behind us. We in this country could not possibly manufacture rifles on that scale. We might have to get rid of aircraft. tanks, or some other production. Unless we had American production behind us for that type of rifle we could not possibly go in for it. That was the only reason.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not understood the problem. Where does he think our present rifles come from? They are manufactured here. We have no difficulty about manufacturing rifles and small arms in this country. Rifles wear out and have to be replaced even today, and it is quite a simple matter to manufacture rifles. It does not require a vast scale of production at all. I do not think that our economy is so strained that we cannot even manufacture rifles. I think that is a most absurd argument.
I should now like to leave that subject —I could argue about it all night with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but there are other topics to discuss as well —and deal with the question of officers and manpower shortage. The Secretary of State has rightly expressed to us his anxiety at the shortage—the continuing shortage—of officers in the Army today. I should like to suggest that he should make very serious and energetic attempts to try to draw officers from a wider field than that from which they are at present coming. I see an hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite becoming agitated already. I am not saying this because I am suggesting that there is any prejudice in the Army in a general way about the selection of officers.
I am basing my remarks on an interesting article in "The Times," in February. "The Times" is not a revolutionary paper. In that article the last pass-out at Sandhurst was analysed. It worked out that about 170 of the officers passing out had come from schools in the South of England, and 46 from the North. That was one curious division which I think the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) pointed out in the House at the time. Another division was of even greater interest. It was that 162 of those who passed out had come from schools represented at the Headmasters' Conference, in other words, from those schools generally recognised as public schools. Sixty-nine only had come from other schools. In fact, 70 per cent. of all the officers passing through Sandhurst since the war have come from public schools which are members of the Headmasters' Conference. What this amounts to is that whereas there is a great potential of talent in the other schools, which is shown by certain grammar schools and secondary schools which continue to send boys to Sandhurst, there is no general feeling in the North of England or in most schools outside the public schools, that the Army is a possible career for their boys who hope to get on in life and perhaps to become officers. It is not certain why this is the case. It may be that there has been no tradition of entering the Army from these schools or areas, or it may be the result of prejudice. I think one of the reasons is, and I say this in all seriousness to hon. Members opposite, that there is still a feeling, particularly in schools outside the public schools, that the Army is still a closed preserve: that one has to have a private income— saying that one does in most regiments—and to come from the right sort of background to be accepted in the officers' mess, and to get on.
A lot more has to be done if we are to get the 3,000 officers of which the Army is at present short, the right hon. Gentleman tells us in the Memorandum to the Estimates. That is a tremendous number. We are not going to get them without making every effort to persuade those who run schools outside the Headmasters' Conference that this is a good career for their boys. There is another thing which I think also has an effect, though I hardly dare mention the subject because it seems to bring a rush of blood to the head in some quarters. There is that corps d'elite in the Army, the Brigade of Guards, which gives a wrong impression about the Army to many people who do not have much connection with it.
Perhaps the hon. Member, who made a charming speech earlier, will contain himself, and I will allow him to intervene if I have said anything which is not true.
It is true, so far as I know, that no officer has received a regular commission in the Brigade of Guards since the end of the war who was not at a public school or educated privately at his parents' expense. It is also true, as the hon. Member for Dudley pointed out, last year, that no officer in the Brigade of Guards has received a regular commission, apart from quartermasters, who served in the ranks of the Guards on Regular engagement. This means that there is a corps d'elite, a body of troops which has a high, fine record, commanded by persons who must only be drawn from one narrow section of the community, and that one can only achieve a commission in that corps d'elite by birth or wealth, or a combination of both. We are saying to men who are ambitious that they cannot get into that corps unless they have the right background either monetarily or socially.
The hon. Gentleman is advocating greater publicity for those who do not recognise the advantages of an Army career. Surely he would help that cause by acknowledging that Sandhurst is open to all and that it is not a question of privilege. Anybody can get into it.
I do not follow the relevance of that interruption, because the point I was making was that however possible it might be to get to Sandhurst there are many people who feel that because of their background it is not open to them to become officers in the Army—mistakenly, I believe. Pre-war prejudice lingers on to some extent.
It is also an indisputable fact, which I never heard controverted, that the Brigade of Guards and one or two other regiments—but we will not widen the area too far tonight—are closed preserves on a privilege basis and are not a basis of merit alone. It may be that a large number of officers in the Guards are highly meritorious, but that is not the reason why they got their commissions. One can get a commission in the Guards without being particularly meritorious but not, however meritorious one is, if one has not the right background in the first place.
I suggest that hon. Gentlemen who support the Brigade of Guards—and who, I must say, are a little more patient tonight than they sometimes are—should do what they can to persuade the Brigade of Guards that the present situation cannot indefinitely continue and will be swept aside sooner or later in a way they will find extremely uncomfortable, unless they do something to set their own house in order and make it possible for people to get commissions in the Guards on merit alone, when they will find that criticism will very much lessen. It would help recruiting generally for officers in the Army because those who are young and ambitious would feel that there was no part of the Army they cannot get into by merit.
I was not in the Brigade of Guards, although my father was. My own observations are based on what I have seen myself as instructor at Sandhurst during the war, and I believe that the same policy was followed before the war and is now followed again. There are no colonels who take more trouble over the selection of their officers, to make sure that they are worthy of the commission, than in the Brigade of Guards.
I can speak from my own experience when I say that these officers are chosen on merit. No officer who is not making the grade at Sandhurst, where he is judged by his peers—and they come from many other schools than those which the hon. Gentleman dislikes so much——
I think I grasp the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point.
What I think he is trying to say is that, from within a small group from which selection is possible, they select the best. I have never disputed that, but what the hon. and gallant Member says is rather like saying the present Government contains all the best men in this House. That is not true; what it may contain is some of the best men in the Conservative Party, although there is some division of opinion in the party opposite even about that. Those responsible for selecting officers for the Brigade of Guards take enormous trouble to get the best from the very small group from which selection is allowed; but one of my major complaints is that they restrict the group to such a small number in the first instance.
I should like to go a little further into this question of the shortage of officers. When the Secretary of State sat on this side of the House he was very fearsome about the terrible way in which the previous Government got officers stuck in the War Office and other undesirable and worthless places. That is a summary of his words, and not mine. Today, we have 1,073 fighting Army officers in the War Office; that is only 50 fewer than last year, and if the Secretary of State really meant what he said in 1951 about what we should have, there would have been fewer than 1,073 fighting officers at the War Office today.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke during a debate on the Army Estimates in 1951. He told us how the size of the War Office staff of senior officers was regularly mounting, and he spoke of the evils that flowed from it; how senior officers wanted more senior officers under them, and how they all wanted clerks and desks, and he became poetical and witty in a way that only he can. He said:
There is some excuse for an increase, but not of this size. Directors, major-general—today, 22; in 1938, 15; directors, grade B—today, 12; 1938, none; Brigadiers—today, 6; 1938, none; deputy directors, brigadiers—today, 25; 1938, 5; deputy directors, colonels, today, 10; 1938, none; full colonels, today, 12; 1938, none—though I am coming to that—grade one staff officers —today, 172; 1938, 50."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 816.]
He added that up to 259, but we know that arithmetic is not his strong point, for the fact is that the total is 247.
I thought that when the right hon. Gentleman got to the War Office there would be a tremendous slaughter of these high staff officers who were sitting in their comfortable offices; that we should see a wholesale removal into active theatres, where they would have been more useful. But it is interesting to look at the figures for this year; for, whereas in 1951, the total was 247, today for the same grant it is 271. So much for his enthusiasm for the policy of scouring out the higher levels at the War Office. I do not say that he should have done so, but it is surely wrong to add 24 generals and brigadiers to the higher levels.
I would like to make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman; I actually made this when I was at the War Office, but it did not get very far at that time. I am sure it will appeal to him now. It is that there should be no Grade 3 staff officer of military age capable of serving in a field unit in the War Office. What is the point of a fit Grade 3 staff officer sitting in the War Office? Sometimes we are told that he gets to see another part of the Army and it is useful to have a little knowledge about the War Office disseminated among the units at large. I do not think that it is useful and those of us who have been Grade 3 staff officers, particularly at high H.Qs., know that the work could be done by a chief clerk, by a G.2 who worked a little harder or by an officer from the women's side of the Service of an equivalent rank. I can see no justification for having in the War Office 250 Grade 3 staff officers who ought to be in field units. If we applied ourselves to this and used more of the officers who were retired as G.3s we should be able to deal with that situation quite quickly.
The problem of raising the Regular content of the Army, both in officers and men, is certainly one to which I do not propose to try to offer any permanent solution tonight. It is a problem which will remain with us for a long time and I do not see my way clearly through it. I think that the new scheme for three-year recruiting, which was agreed to before the Labour Government left office, is showing good results and we should wait and see how that develops, as the Secretary of State suggested this afternoon.
Of course, there is always the question as to whether or not one should pay officers and other ranks more, but it has always been the case that the officers and other ranks of the Army have been paid not according to what they are worth—they have never been paid that—but what the country can afford at any given time. I do not think that any officer or soldier in the British Army is worth less than an American officer or soldier, and I should like us to be in a position to pay them as much, but we know that we can never do that and that payment will always be governed by what we can afford.
Meanwhile, I think that the Secretary of State ought not to resort to rather superficial methods of apparently increasing the size of the Army which are not genuine increases. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley touched on this tonight. He referred to the question of increasing the size of the Army from 10 1/3 divisions to 11 1/3 divisions apparently by producing seven more new battalions. In his Memorandum the Secretary of State says that the Army is short of 3,000 officers and 5,000 other ranks. I would not mind betting that, if we take an average in the battalions of the Army of today, most of them have no more than 700 other ranks in each battalion, and if we multiply that by seven, it is 4,900, or the seven battalions which the Secretary of State says he has produced since he came into office. But he says he is short of 5,000 other ranks and that is where they are.
This is not good enough. We can make any number of battalions by halving the strength of the battalions and other formations, but it does not mean that we have increased our strength. It is a shadow. It is the same as putting pieces of cardboard in exercises to represent tanks. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman should try to get away with that one because he has not really increased the effective strength of the Army. He found that the problem which he thought was so easy when he was not in office, of reducing the size of the divisions, was a great deal harder when he got into office. In fact, there is not very much he can do about it so long as we agree on the present size of the division.
I will touch briefly on the question of National Service. I do not think that we are committed indefinitely to having a two-year period of National Service. It is quite conceivable that with the adjustments which will come from the alteration of our dispositions in the Middle East, over a period of 12–18 months it may be found possible to reduce conscription perhaps by three months, at any rate for a start, although I do not think that at this moment, with our present commitments, it can be done. I should like to consider one or two other questions relating to the use of the Army in a wider sense. At present we use the Army (a) as a police force to keep order in various parts of the world, and (b) as a deterrent force to warn any potential aggressor that if he attacks us he will be resisted. I should like to touch particularly on this second category, because if the Army is to be a good deterrent it must be an effective fighting force if we should be attacked.
I wonder whether we have not closed our minds a little too soon to thinking about the correct size and shape of the Army. I refer particularly to the size of the division. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East spoke of the exercise which is to take place later this year and which may reveal something of what warfare under atomic conditions would be like. One thing which I am certain it will show is that we cannot expect to have a division, as constructed today, with 5,272 vehicles able to move up and down the roads in anything like the kind of way that was done during the last war. I think that that would be absolutely impossible.
The only reason that we were able to have vast concourses of vehicles in Normandy during the last war without them all being utterly destroyed was that we had complete air superiority. It would have been insane to have put that number of vehicles into the bridgehead at Normandy if we had not had complete air superiority—and even then we only just got away with it.
If anybody thinks that if war breaks out we can disport a division with 5,272 vehicles, 1,277 of them three-ton lorries, up and down the roads and use it as an effective fighting force, he is living in cloud cuckoo land. The first dropping of an atom bomb would disperse that lot of vehicles quickly, and at once we would find that the roads were laid waste to a very greater extent than in the last war.
It would be much more difficult to use vehicles in the way that we did in the last war, and we certainly would not have air superiority at the beginning of the next war if it should come within the next few years, because, as we know, there is the preponderance of potential enemy aeroplanes to our own. I would not even like to say what the ratio is, but the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence has a fairly good idea of it, and it would certainly not give us anything like air cover for the number of vehicles which we would be disposing.
I ask whether we cannot consider reducing the number of vehicles. We were always over-insured on vehicles in the last war. I think that it was the no-doubt wise feeling of Field Marshal Montgomery in certain situations, but it was partly due to the mentality which he shed forth that we always had a heavy over-insurance. I am quite certain that one could ruthlessly strip the number of vehicles in an infantry division and it would fight just as effectively as before.
The hon. Member accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War of finding things more difficult now that he is in office as opposed to when he was in opposition. Not one single word or factor that the hon. Member is mentioning is new. Would he be good enough to tell us what he did when he was in office as opposed to now that he is in opposition?
We cut the number of vehicles in the infantry divisions quite a lot, but they need to be cut more. It is rather pathetic that the party opposite always have to govern by reference to what the Labour Party did when in office. They seem quite unable to put a foot forward in any direction without seeing whether we did it first. If we did not do it, of course it cannot be done.
We do not want to prolong the debate too long.
There is another point I should like to make about the size of the division. It came up in the discussion on the.280 rifle. We are a small nation which has to live and to fight, if it has to fight, by quality. It seems extraordinary that we should have committed ourselves, over a period of time, to what is one of the largest divisions in the world as though we had a vast mass of manpower behind on which to draw—which we have not—instead of having smaller and lighter divisions. I should like us to have experiments to see whether we could dispense with corps headquarters altogether, I have never been in corps headquarters so have naturally thought them a superfluous organisation—that is a deliberately exaggerated view, but I think that we could certainly experiment in order to cut one link in the chain. [Laughter.]
The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) laughs, but I am sure that with his military experience even he would be equal to commanding an army without corps headquarters interposing. In the last war it was frequently the fact that Army commanders had such poor information that they by-passed corps headquarters with special information units. There were too many links in the chain—
I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) for his assistance. It is absolutely true and the laughter from the other side of the House and the comment that the Germans lost the war discounts any pretentious military knowledge whatever, because at least the Germans have one claim to fame in the world and we all know how well they did against very superior numbers on both fronts.
Another reason why I suggest that we should really consider whether we have got to the last word in the size of a division and could not do with a smaller division is because a smaller division would bring us more into line with the divisions on the Continent and the gruppentents to be formed at some future date in the European Army. Whether we like the European Army or not and whether we finally enter it, or whatever association we have with it, it would be much more sensible to have a division which was nearer in size to divisions in that Army than one which is so disparate as is ours today.
While on the subject of the European Army, one wonders why the Government never give us any information on what is going on about it. We are not allowed to have any information in any debate on foreign affairs and never in a defence debate and we do not get answers to Questions at Question time. I suppose it is quite hopeless to expect the Under-Secretary to say anything about it tonight, but I understand that the French Government have proposed to us that we should declare that our four divisions at present in Germany shall remain in Germany indefinitely and be associated indefinitely with the European Army and work in co-operation with it.
If we make such a declaration they would see that we had a seat on the Council of Ministers with the power to intervene and to vote whenever matters arose which concerned our interests; also, we would have a similar seat on the Commissariat running the Army in a more detailed form. Speaking for myself I do not think that is an unreasonable bargain, but we have not been told the facts by the Government. We have never been told what answer was sent by the Government to those proposals.
Whatever we may think about this question, the British public are entitled to know what proposals have been made about the European Army and what was the reply. I understand that we have replied that we do not want to accept the French proposals; that we have done nothing whatever about the present European Defence Community nor made any proposals to form a fresh one should the present proposals collapse. I think it time we were told about these matters by the Government and that more initiative was taken by the Government.
Finally, I wish to touch on the question of arms and equipment for the reserve divisions of the Army. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) read out some alarming statements he had found in the Memorandum to the Estimates. But there is an even more alarming statement in the White Paper on Defence. It states, at the end of paragraph 5:
There was also good reason to doubt whether, even after the plan had been completed,"—
this refers to the £4,700 million rearmament programme—
the cost of maintaining the forces which would have by then been built up and of keeping them equipped with the most up-to-date material would have been within the country's resources.
In other words, it is not now intended, as I see it from the White Paper —and I think we are entitled to know the facts in this serious matter—to supply the 12 reserve divisions being built up under the rearmament programme with the arms and equipment they were to have originally. We are building up 12 reserve divisions which will not be properly equipped. That is what the White Paper means unless the Government can give us some other explanation. The plan which was to give us 12 reserve divisions, capable of being landed on the Continent or elsewhere fully armed and equipped within a matter of days after the outbreak of war, has apparently been shelved.
The Under-Secretary should inform us of the position about these resrve divisions. If they are not to be armed and equipped as was originally intended why have them at all? Within the limits of the present rearmament programme it would be wiser to make certain that the reserve divisions are properly equipped before going in for more futuristic weapons. It is no use having reserves unless they have a fair chance if war begins.
I feel very much as does my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) about the British soldier—I say the hon. and gallant Member for Brierley Hill, because he is just as much entitled to be called that as any hon. Member who held a Commission. He described the British soldier as the best in the world, the most patient and the most cheerful, and deserves the best weapons. It is wicked for the Government to create a situation in which the young British soldier may be sent into the horrors of a modern war with inadequate weapons. They have completely dodged telling the country that they are, in fact, proposing to have 12 reserve divisions, some of which may not be adequately armed, even although they may have to be used in the first few days of war. We want to be told much more about this so that the country may judge what the Government are doing.
We on this side of the House feel that the British Army has done more than its duty since the end of the war. It has proved itself to be still the finest fighting force in the world, and if it is given the weapons to do its job it will never fail us in the future.
I must start by asking for some measure of indulgence from the House because illness is no respector of persons or Parliamentary programmes, and only quite recently, today, in fact, I had to take over from the Secretary of State something which he would have done far better than I can hope to do. Everyone will say that the Secretary of State, in addition to being an excellent Minister, is also a master of camouflage because there must have been very few who recognised, from what I considered to be an excellent speech, that he was running a rather disturbing temperature. He asked me also to say that he was sorry not to be able to see the debate out, and that he hopes the House will forgive him.
I have accumulated, as I have listened to the debate, a very large number of questions, and I have been thinking with a certain amount of envy of the jingle in Alice in Wonderland, in which the old man says:
I have answered three questions, and that is enough.
Said his father: Don't give yourself airs, Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you downstairs.
However much one would like to reply in that way it would be unparliamentary if not undemocratic, so I will go through the debate, answering the more important points. The other points will be considered, and hon. Gentlemen will get an answer to their points in writing.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) asked about the recruiting in the five colonial battalions. The answer to that is one infantry battalion of the Malay Regiment, one battalion of the Malayan Federation Forces, two battalions of the Malay Regiment volunteer forces, and the equivalent of a battalion from units raised in Singapore, West Africa and elsewhere.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) replied effectively to his hon. Friend, who said earlier that the A.A. defences were lamentable. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were not lamentable. They are not lost from view in the share of weapons which they should get.
Then a question was put to me on the reductions in divisional and brigade headquarters, and the proportion of officers to other ranks. The proportion is one officer to 15 other ranks. Both formations are, in fact, suffering from the cut that has taken place.
The next important point I would like to come to is about the.280 rifle which was put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). It was also raised by the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt). The kernel of the question, as I think is realised, is the cartridge. The hon. Member for Aston and his colleagues realised the great importance and value of standardisation, if only it could be achieved, and, after the last conference with the United States, which reached no conclusion, we decided to go ahead with the production of a new and, as far as possible, ideal cartridge, plus bullet, along with our friends in Canada and Belgium. A considerable amount of progress has been made. I would point out that even if the steps which the hon. Member suggested had been taken immediately we came into office, there would not have been a single.280 rifle in the hands of a soldier in the British Army at present. There would not have been one in 1953, and it is doubtful whether there would have been in 1954.
Trials are taking place this summer with the new cartridge. We shall then proceed to produce the best rifle to fire that cartridge. If our colleagues in the United States wish to come in with us, it will be easy for them to do so, for in any case the calibre will not be greater than.300 and will probably be.280; and a fairly simple adaptation of the breech of the rifle or the automatic gun will make it possible for the Americans to join in. That is as far as I can go at present. We recognise the very important point contained in this question and we are pushing ahead with the work at present.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West, asked about the cotton battledress. I think he meant the combat clothing to be used in Korea. That is being made and is partly cotton, and it is to be issued as and when it is suitable. It is not suitable for all climates, and is certainly not suitable except under operational conditions. It has been put into production. The right hon. Gentleman asked about storage for the vehicles and other equipment which we are receiving. I am glad to say that the situation is more balanced and that the provision of storage is starting to keep pace with the production of this equipment.
I do not intend to dwell for long on the part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he asked how we could get some relaxation in our commitments. He embarked on a speech which he has often made before and which, I venture to suggest, does not make matters easier at a time when we are trying to reach a satisfactory arrangement in Egypt. We already know very well what his views are; they can be argued, and it is an arguable case, but what I think is not arguable is to go on making the same speech on the same point over and over again at the present time.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Colonel J. H. Harrison) asked whether we are satisfied that we are getting value for the large number of civilians of which the Army is partly composed at present. The best assurance I can give him is in the remarks made by my right hon. Friend when he pointed out that no fewer than three committees or working parties are at present engaged in examining these sorts of problems. I have no doubt that they will even turn their eyes to the comparatively humble occupations of the clerical and typing staff because, after all, it is there that great numbers of people are employed.
My hon. and gallant Friend also asked whether volunteers to the Territorial Army would be placed at a disadvantage, by comparison with those who had not volunteered, in connection with possible liability for the Reserve which it is proposed to introduce. I can tell him that they will not suffer any disadvantage and that their time as volunteers with the Territorial Army will count towards their liability.
Now I come to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop). He was concerned mainly with the question of education in the Army, a subject in which I have taken quite a bit of interest. I certainly think, as he said, that it is very important. He wanted to know whether it is being carried on as effectively as possible. He asked questions about children's education. He said that the primary education was good, but was a bit doubtful about the secondary education, and then he asked about the National Service men having opportunities to take further education courses, and so on.
On the latter point, I have seen such classes; I have been to these classes of National Service men and other soldiers and I have seen them at their work, and, indeed, there is no barrier put in their way if they desire to study. So much to the contrary is the case that their star pay depends on their educational standard. So does their promotion. I cannot devise at the moment any system more calculated to urge them to pass an educational standard than that.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right there. I was just going to give some figures thereon. I have had the following figures supplied to me. For the period April, 1951, to March, 1952, there were 27,670 third-class certificates awarded; 13,639 second-class; 3,850 first-class; and 10,519 candidates gained passes in one, two, three, or four subjects. I think that if he examines those figures—and I am prepared to go into them with him after the debate—he will find that that is not an unsatisfactory proportion to have achieved.
Then the hon. Gentleman put the question about illiteracy, which has been rather occupying the public eye. The greatest compliment there that could have been paid to us was paid by his hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) who said he regarded us as being authorities on this, and could he send—his wife, I think he said—along to see how it was carried out? We are extremely anxious to go ahead with this work. We have a number of these preliminary education centres. I agree that they cater only for the moment for the Regular soldier because we have not been able to expand them sufficiently to go further, but I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that we must first of all look after the Regulars; but I hope in course of time, with more funds, we shall be able to expand the Service so as to take more.
Then there was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. Mott-Radclyffe) in which he emphasised something with which I fully agree —that the Army has been built on tradition, and largely regimental tradition. I think he said also regional tradition—a sort of territorial conception. It is true we have introduced a group system which divides the infantry up into groups of battalions which have some territorial connection. Within a group soldiers can be transferred; outside the group they can be transferred only with much greater difficulty. The group system is a half way house between a complete return to the old regimental conception and the corps conception for which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley was asking.
Then there came the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), which I had the greatest difficulty in following because there were parts with which I agreed wholeheartedly and parts with which I disagreed most violently. But there were some things in his speech tonight with which I found myself in complete agreement. He started by saying our National Service men and other soldiers in Korea were absolutely first-class.
He then said, and it was also true, that we have a serious responsibility in voting the Estimates, and in examining them. I would point out that we would have a more serious responsibility if we did not vote them, but left the situation in a vacuum. He also said that we must win the war of ideals. With that I agree. We believe that in the end truth will defeat the lie; but one has to defend the fountain of truth until that truth has overcome the lie. That is why we must have the shores of these islands, and the frontiers of our allies, protected.
He then spoiled what was otherwise a good speech by talking about the Army's endless appetite for men, the modem Moloch. I think it has been made clear that we only want National Service men within the limits of what is necessary after we have got a Regular Army. Another hon. Member asked whether we have departed from the conception that the ideal would be a complete Regular Army. No, we have not departed from that ideal; if we could face our commitments with a Regular Army we would like to do that.
Then there was the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. T. T. Paget). In it there were points on which I must join issue with him. He kept talking as if we had abandoned the defence programme. He has only to look at the amount of money voted every year in the Estimates to see that each year the amount has been growing. What has happened is that the cadence of it has been altered. There has been a greater time lag.
At first, it was said that the defence programme would be spread over a longer time. Then cancellation took place. About one-third of the equipment was cut; contracts were cancelled, and armament firms were left unemployed.
It may be so, in certain instances, as weapons change, or the conception of the need for them changes. But the general rearmament programme is going on from year to year at an increased rate of expenditure.
It is going on as quickly as your hon. friends at that time decided. It is exaggeration to say that a programme which has been altered or extended has been abandoned. It would be undesirable that it should reach any of our allies that what we were going to do has been abandoned. We are bearing a great burden, and a greater expenditure in every one of the Estimates presented to the House.
The hon. and learned Member raised the question of larger bodies of men within these shores, and ridiculed the mobile columns. It is always easy to bring ridicule to bear by attaching a spurious name to them. But the columns are serious fighting units. I have seen some of them, and they are not all composed of cooks from the kitchen. The whole intake to Eaton Hall and to Mons Officer Cadet Schools goes to swell these mobile units.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) complimented us on improvements in publicity and asked what was being done about ground defence in this country. I think it is important that the conception should not go out that there is no need for anti-aircraft weapons.
To begin with, he mentioned searchlights. Until radar equipment is more effective than it is now, searchlights will be necessary for low-flying aircraft. Light and medium anti-aircraft guns are still very necessary in present circumstances. It is true that guided missiles are being developed and may be a force that in the long term will alter the conception of defence, but it would be quite wrong at the present time, and a great pity, for Anti-Aircraft Command to think that the anti-aircraft gun is finished and done with.
In his speech, the hon. Member for Fulham, East referred to exercises to be held in this country on the effect of atomic weapons. It may have a great many repercussions and influences. The hon. Gentleman said he would want to have more information about this; so indeed would I. We had better wait until we have the exercises to see what the effect will be. Some of the matters in which training will take place will be how to protect oneself against blast, gamma rays, and the various other deleterious effects of atomic weapons. Let us first see what comes out of these exercises; then we shall be able to judge more clearly what the repercussions will be.
The hon. Gentleman asked about colonial troops. I wonder whether I have given him the answer he expected. It has already been supplied. He also mentioned the.280 rifle, which I have also dealt with. Then he asked me about some minor questions which I will not answer just now. I should like to go into them with him when the debate is over.
Then there was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Gough), in which he mentioned the strategic reserve and indicated that it should be provided for by withdrawing the Parachute Brigade and supplying air transport. The question of air transport will fall much more appropriately in the debate on Thursday. I suggest that he puts his question forward then. He also inquired about the mobile columns, and about what happened last year. I think he said that he had seen the exercises and had made inquiries, and had come to the conclusion that the exercises and the degree of training were good. Small arms training is, naturally, a most inportant part of the training of any column which has to do fighting, and it is not lost sight of.
He went on to outline a rather visionary scheme, and I am afraid I could not support him in it, in which he mentioned the merging of the voluntary element of the Territorial Army with the Home Guard. That would alter the whole conception of the Home Guard as a part-time, living-at-home, defended-locality form of Force. The Territorial Army is intended, if the need should arise, to go abroad; the Home Guard is the very reverse.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) wanted larger Colonial Forces. His speech was adequately answered by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). The real trouble is that officers and n.c.o.s are required all over the world. We have been supplying a number to the units that are being used in Malaya, and that has been a biggish drain on us already. This aspect of the matter is the bottle-neck. We are as anxious as is the hon. Member to see the very valuable reservoir of military power to which he referred extended.
The hon. Member asked also whether there was any political opposition to increasing the size of the African army. The answer is that I know of none out there, and there is certainly none at home. My hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for Perth and East Perthshire, in fact left me with nothing to answer with regard to the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Rugby.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) spoke—I do not see him here at the moment—on instruction. But he is an expert on instruction, and I did tell him last year, when he raised this same point, that we are doing all we can to raise the standard of instruction. There is something in the theory that those being instructed now are highly critical; they have a higher standard of education, and the higher that standard on the part of the instructed, the higher is expected to be the standard of the instructors. We have teams of inspectors going round to see that the standard is as high as possible.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) then spoke on one of his favourite themes—the officers of the Brigade of Guards—and here I really must join issue with him. It just is not possible to have thoroughly good men and thoroughly bad officers. That does not work, and if, as he says, the Guardsmen are first-class fighting material, he cannot at the same time say that their officers are bad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher) gave us some interesting hints on how to improve recruiting figures, and they will be noted; I promise him that. He spoke about the bad condition of some barracks, and we fully recognise that some are out-of-date. In the coming year we are going to make some sort of effort to improve them, but, as we all know, finance is desperately short.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) spoke, like many others in this debate, about the two-year engagement, and wanted to be assured that we did not abandon that conception of the Army whereby the more we can increase the Regular content, then pro tanto the more can we reduce the demands on the National Service men, both in numbers and in time. But the Regular recruitment figures at present would not allow of what he wants.
There has been reference throughout the debate to tail combing. This old phrase keeps cropping up, but I would draw the attention of hon. Members to the fact that the three committees or working parties which have been set up recently by my right hon. Friend are concerned to see that we are not wasting manpower. A continuous battle is going on against that. One of my hon. Friends spoke about standardisation; but I must point out that it takes two to standardise; there are others to be persuaded and convinced that they should participate.
The hon. Member for Dudley said he considered that the Minister's speech was a confession of failure. I regard it in a very different light. We still have to come to the acid test in regard to Regular recruiting. We shall know in a short period of time how many of the present short engagements will become longterm engagements so that we do not have a rapid run-out.
As my right hon. Friend said in his speech, he appreciates perfectly the importance of a fairly high percentage of n.c.os. having a good deal of service behind them. In fact he estimates that something like 33 per cent. of Regular recruits must stay on for six years, and of those about half will need to stay for nine. So we are at one about the purpose. It is only a question of how we are to achieve it, and no one can yet assess whether the scheme has been a success or failure. All I can say is that the first part of it has been a success.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the strength of the 16th Parachute Brigade. I cannot give him strengths. It is contrary to precedent, particularly in theatres of that kind, but we have been having difficulty in keeping these units up to strength. I cannot give him the strengths of the seven new battalions about which he was concerned, but we are not in the least disappointed. When someone said that we were making no progress at all in respect of the number of units which were battleworthy, I should like to draw attention to the total strength of the Army, as shown in the Defence White Paper in Annex 1, on 1st December, 1952, and 1st April, 1953; the total strength went up from 446,000 to 454,000. Then, if the hon. Gentleman will realise that at the same time we have cut the divisional slice—in other words, the tail of the Army—it must show that there are new battleworthy units because we cannot have both sets of circumstances and not throw up new units.
Yes, I can say that there are some of the seven battalions which are up to strength, and I can say that all the units, with the exception of the 16th Parachute Brigade in M.E.L.F. are up to lower establishment for other ranks and just below it for officers, so the picture is not as gloomy as the hon. Gentleman painted it.
Next came the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ports mouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). He asked first about the conditions under which a man who began a 22 years' engagement could break away. He can break away at the end of each period of three years but must not break away so as to have the effect of doing a total amount of service shorter than that for which his original contract would have made him liable. That is to say, if he signs on for seven years he cannot break before nine; if for five, he cannot break before six. So that he cannot benefit from the conditions of an existing contract by coming into the 22 years' engagement and then breaking it. But, subject to that, he can get out at the end of every three years on giving between six months' and one year's notice.
My hon. and gallant Friend said that in times of crisis the Army had the reputation of always suffering a pay cut, and that that kind of story went down from father to son. I should like everybody to try to scotch a rumour of that sort. He has only to point to what has happened. It is to the credit of both political parties that we have been through a number of periods of crisis between 1946 and 1951 and at no time was there ever any pay cut in the Army. While we are not in a crisis now, we cannot say that we are feeling extremely comfortable in the economic field, but there certainly is no question at present of a cut in the Army pay.
My hon. and gallant Friend asked about pensions, which really is a question for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence because it concerns all three Services. His question about Purchase Tax on soldiers' and officers' motor-cars is one which he must address to my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
The hon. Member for Aston asked me a few questions that I have not yet answered. I will reply to them as quickly as possible. As regards. first, campaign pensions, these we inherited. We made no change from what has gone on for a very long time. But I remind the hon. Gentleman that these campaign pensions, which are cut when a higher scale of pension is allowed to the pensioner, were originally intended to "keep the wolf from the door." As is said on page 167 of the Estimates, they were designed for those in need. With the more generous pensions which are available to the country in general, that desperate need is now pretty rare.
The hon. Member asked about selecting officers from a wider field. That is exactly what we aim to do in the new school at Welbeck Abbey, and in providing technical commissions via the military college at Shrivenham. We are struggling very hard to get all the entries possible into Welbeck Abbey, and I am sorry that my country—Scotland—has lagged badly behind in the applications for the first course. The applications for the first course have gone extremely well. We are having a course of 50 this year, and we have had 200 applications, but we hoped for many more from the North. The further north that we go, apparently, the more difficult it is to get entrants.
The hon. Gentleman in this matter—it is not often I can say this—has set a very good example; and I hope that others from Scotland will come and make use of the facilities that we are throwing open at Welbeck Abbey. The hon. Gentleman, however, is perhaps a little late for Welbeck Abbey. Whether it is right or wrong that the Brigade of Guards is a "closed shop"—I have always admired the Brigade of Guards enormously —why should that make other people shy of entering another unit? I simply cannot understand that, and I do not believe there is any substance in what has been said.
The hon. Member for Aston asked about cutting the War Office staff. I completely failed to follow his figures. He will see from page 64 of the Estimates that my right hon. Friend has achieved exactly what he promised to do: that was, to achieve a 10 per cent. cut in the staff of the War Office. I have looked at the figures of the higher ranks and of the lower ranks, and it seems to me that the cut is pretty equally divided.
I do not see why the hon. Gentleman should have failed to follow my figures, because I read them from HANSARD exactly as his right hon. Friend gave them in 1951. The Secretary of State then dwelt specifically on the fact that there were a large number of very senior officers at the War Office and said that there ought not to be anything like that large number. In the groups which he gave, the right hon. Gentleman said that the number was 259, whereas it was 247. Today, in exactly those same groups which the right hon. Gentleman criticised for being so large, there are now 271. That is the point I was making. The right hon. Gentleman was very upset that there should be all those major-generals, brigadiers, and so on, at the War Office, and said that they ought to be removed.
If the hon. Gentleman looks through the Vote, he will find that there are reductions in the numbers of brigadiers, etc. I do not think we can argue any more over that. The figures are there for everyone to see. Our pledge was that we should reduce the War Office staff by 10 per cent. and that has been done. That is not too bad an achievement when we consider the expansion which has been going on in the Army and, indeed, with the starting of the Home Guard.
The hon. Member mentioned the size of the division. It is true that the question of transport has worried us, as it worried him. Three years ago a committee was set up to go into the question of reducing the amount of transport in the divisional organisation. A number of reductions have been made; the trailer system has been introduced; and investigations are still going on.
The hon. Member wondered whether we could do away with corps headquarters altogether. I think he will know the conception, which started a long time ago, of how an army or similar body of men could be commanded. It is that there must be a superior officer commanding not more than three or perhaps four—for instance, the lance corporal commanding three men, the platoon commander commanding three sections; and there are not more than four companies in a battalion and three battalions in a brigade. I agree with the hon. Member if we had three or perhaps only four divisions but when we hay seven, eight, or nine divisions we must have corps headquarters.
The hon. Member asked if we should not have smaller divisions. What we have to watch is that if we have too small divisions we shall once again have an uneconomic proportion of tail to teeth because there are certain services and certain staffs we must have, however small the division. If we start reducing the firing-line component of the division too much we shall start getting too high a proportion of tail to teeth again. It is a question in which a careful balance is needed.
That flows from some delay in production. It is not an abandonment, and it is most important that the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton should not be overstated. It is not a question of abandonment but it will mean a greater delay in the arrival of some of the equipment to the various parts of the Army.
I am sorry to press this point but it is very serious. If the hon. Gentleman is correct in what he is now saying, what does the statement in the White Paper mean where it says, in discussing the completion or otherwise of the rearmament plan of £4,700 million:
There was also good reason to doubt whether, even after the plan had been completed, the cost of maintaining the forces which would have by then have been built up and of keeping them equipped with the most up-to-date material would have been within the country's resources.
If that does not mean that we are not going to complete the original programme even if we take longer, what does it mean?
It means that we are going to complete the original programme although there may be weapons which may not be as modern as they otherwise would have been had they been supplied at an earlier date.
We must leave it at that point. We have ranged widely and there have been a number of points of agreement. One of the points of agreement—I am sure that every hon. Member in this House will share my views and the views of hon. Members opposite—is that the National Service man and the British soldier, whether in the Canal Zone, or Korea, or at home, is as good as ever he was, and is doing a first-class job for his country.
Before my hon. Friend sits down, may I ask about a hospital which was mentioned on 15th July last? His right hon. Friend said the project was under review, and I had hoped we might be told whether the first bricks would be laid this year.
I wish I could tell my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that I cannot, because I do not know one way or the other. All I can say is that this hospital—I think it is in Northern Ireland, at Lisburn—is one of the earliest priorities of all the medical requirements we have on our books. But whether the first bricks will be laid this year or not I do not know. I will let my hon. Friend know by and by.
Perhaps I should begin by saying how glad we are to have the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence with us, even though his manner appears to be rather sullen and dejected. Perhaps that is a hang-over from the Defence debate last week. Certainly his manner now is very different from the almost hysterical joie de vivre with which he tackled these Service Estimates when he sat on this side of the House. I would say to the Leader of the House that we are glad to see him sitting with us for a while though, if I may say so, he is looking rather out of training for late nights. But the night is young, and this debate is likely to go on for some time yet. So if he cares to leave us and take a rest we shall be glad to see him back in the Chamber later.
Before getting down to the subject matter of the Estimates, I would say a word to the Government Chief Whip, who I see is anxiously manoeuvring with a view to getting——
Well, like all good things, in the course of time all these points will be seen to be perfectly relevant to this important debate. Surely it is worth while drawing the attention of hon. Members on both sides of the House to the apparent anxiety of the Government Chief Whip to muster sufficient troops to secure the Closure, but I would warn him to make——
If I may now proceed, I am sure I shall be within the rules of order when I say we regret the reasons for the absence of the Secretary of State for War and that we should have liked to have had him with us. We congratulate the Under-Secretary on the painstaking reply he has given to the debate so far as it has proceeded. As he said himself, "some have greatness thrust upon them," and it is not his fault that the policy of his Department is such that he found great difficulty in giving satisfactory answers to many of the points raised by my hon. Friends.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Fisher), and I thought that many of his points were forward looking. It was a great pity that in some of his more progressive observations he came into conflict with the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). I hope that the private quarrel which started here between the Brigade of Guards and the Highland regiments will not be pursued outside between the regiments.
Like the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), and some of my hon. Friends, I want to say something about the tail. There are also two other points I should like to mention. The first is the contentious question of National Service. This has been covered very fully, and I will content myself with saying that I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. M. Stewart) said. I will not say anything more about the other contentious subject of the new rifle and ammunition, except to say that after the return of the Prime Minister from America at the end of January this year there appeared in "The Times" of Friday, 6th February, an announcement from the War Office that, following the visit of the Prime Minister, there was agreement between the United Kingdom and the United States that each should retain their existing rifles, and that the development of the new ammunition would continue "at a high research priority." That was an official statement. But anyone who read "The Times" of Saturday, 7th February, with great assiduity would have found tucked away two or three lines to the effect that the agreement to which the statement referred was reached during the visit of the Prime Minister in January, 1952, and not the previous month as stated.
What follows from that is that either the public relations officers at the War Office are so stupid or behindhand that it takes them 12 months to get round to the Prime Minister's visit to the United States of a year ago, or what is more likely, that the rather cagey statement of the War Office of 6th February had to be covered up by a denial on 7th February. I leave it to the Under-Secretary to think it over and decide which was correct.
These Estimates are always interesting reading, not only for their relevance to the subjects under discussion, but also because, much as Ministers try to avoid it, they do very often cast a shadow of coming events. I think the general public would, for example, be well advised to read Vote 6, Subhead A. It is stated, in the explanatory note on the opposite page:
a large part of the provision made here is for the purchase of suitable foodstuffs from the Ministry of Food.
Later it is stated:
Home Service ration scales are kept under review in order to maintain as far as possible general equality in food consumption between the soldier and the comparable civilian.
In other words it is established that the bulk of the money spent on food by the Army is for the purchase of suitable foodstuffs from the Ministry of Food, and that
the ration scale is designed to keep the soldier roughly in line with the civilian. If we turn to the figures, we find that the food and ration allowance in the coming year is going up by more than £5 million. The Minister said today that it costs £67 a year to maintain a soldier and £67·3 to maintain a sailor or an airman. He explained that the slight difference was due to the greater period spent overseas by the other two Services.
The Minister should have given us further enlightenment, however, for the figures show that more than £5 million extra will be spent in the coming year on 554,000 soldiers, which works out at nearly £10 per head per annum or no less than 4s. a week. Since this is comparable with the expenditure for a civilian, it means that in the coming year, through the machinations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Food, the average family of four will be called on to spend another 16s. a week on their food.
The facts are there for everyone to read. If it is to cost another £10 a year to feed a soldier, then it will cost another £10, or about that sum, to feed a civilian outside the Service.
Tempting as it is to pursue other interesting aspects of the Estimates, because of the lateness of the hour I will confine myself to Vote 4, dealing with pay and allowances of civilians. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for War and their colleagues have always claimed that there has been a large tail to the Army, a situation which they would remedy when they took office. What are the facts disclosed by Vote 4?
Incidentally, may I suggest that it is high time that Vote 4, which shows the number of civilians employed by the War Department, was accounted for in the same way as Vote A? It is the practice of Secretaries of State for War to mesmerise hon. Members and the public by placing before them the magic figure of Vote A, which must be approved by the House before the Army can take action. This year there are 554,000 men on the strength. Last year it was 555,000 and a few years ago it was 467,000. But nowadays there is a considerable civilian content in the Army, and reference has scarcely been made to it. What is the good of talking about the uniformed content which must be provided by the House when, afterwards, the War Office can alter the number of civilians up or down and thereby affect the total number of people employed by the War Department? The total number employed this year is no less than 739,117. How many hon. Members or members of the public realise that that is the highest total figure for the last four years? The total number of uniformed men and civilians in 1950–51 was 675,490; in 1951–52 it was 718,272; in 1952–53 it was 724,526; and this year the figure has leaped up to 739,117.
We on this side of the House, of course, agree with the policy of civilianising—if I may use the horrible word—the Army, and make no objection to the number of civilians employed——
What I am saying is that in these modern times there is no significance in having only Vote A, which is the total of the uniformed strength. What we should have is the total of the civilian strength as well, and the two totals should be added together——
—because the civilian strength is complementary and supplementary to the uniformed strength. In other words, if the uniformed strength increases, more pay clerks, chaplains, and so on, will be required. Similarly, if we replace the uniformed men in R.O.A.C., R.A.S.C., R.E.M.E., by older men in civilian clothing, then we are supplementing the fighting strength. That is a policy with which we agree, but what I say is that the time has come, instead of hiding that civilian element, to state what it is.
I have dug out the figures and added them, and checked them with a comptometer to make sure that my figures are right, but I am not sure my figures are 100 per cent. accurate even now. But if we have 554,000 on the uniformed strength and 185,117 civilians, there are 739,117 altogether. I wonder how many Members of the House or members of the public have gone to the trouble of making that calculation, and have made a similar calculation, as I have, for the previous four years. How astounded they would have been to have found that the total strength this year is higher than last year or the year before or the year before that. It is a fact that is not easily apparent.
Before the Under-Secretary of State interrupted me, I had got to the point of talking about this reduction of the tail that the Prime Minister himself talked about. He came to the House and said we had got to have more teeth and less tail. He was echoed by the Secretary of State for War. What are the true facts in relation to this tail? The Under-Secretary of State will surely agree with me that the hard core of this tail is the civilian element.
We have been anatomical for a good part of this debate. It was not I who started the phrase "combing the tail," which I think is an ugly phrase altogether; but we have started talking about the tail, following the Prime Minister, and so I suppose we must keep on with that nomenclature. However, I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that a large part of the tail is civilian. If a uniformed man is working in a mill he can be given a rifle and sent off to fight the enemy if the enemy has broken through, but we cannot do the same with a civilian working as a mess steward, or a girl typist in a headquarters. So the basic tail must necessarily consist of this civilian element.
The Prime Minister always criticised the Labour Administration for having too big a tail in the Army. He gave us to understand, when he was in Opposition, that when he come to office he would do something about it. The Secretary of State for War echoed his words. What are the facts? I have gone to the trouble of making this investigation. We find that in 1950 and 1951 there were 208,490 civilians employed by the War Department; in the following year, 1951–1952, that figure had been reduced to 191,272; in the following year, 1952–1953, what happened?
I break off to point out that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State put their names to these Estimates in February, 1952. The hon. Gentleman will, however, agree with me that the figures were worked out during 1951 and were, therefore, reached under a Labour Administration. Since they came to power only in the October there was little they could do about it. The Labour Administration reduced the figures from 208,000 to 191,000 and then reduced them to 69,526 for 1952–53. Year by year the Labour Administration consistently reduced the civilian element which formed the tail of the Army, and about which there had been complaint.
What happened this year? One might expect that work to have continued, but one finds instead that the civilian element jumped from 169,000 to 185,117. In other words, without comment from the Minister this afternoon, or from the Under-Secretary tonight, there has been an increase of 9·5 per cent. in numbers in the civilian element. The cost of that element has gone up by 17·5 per cent. If any director of a business had to announce a 17·5 per cent increase in labour costs there would be a row; but the War Office gets by without mentioning it.
The whole of the hon. Member's argument is based upon a fallacy, which I cannot accept, that the signatures in February, 1952, were put to figures imposed upon us. There were not. They were for the Estimates 1952–53, the first full year.
I do not mind which way the hon. Gentleman takes it. He is claiming credit for 1952–53 although he had only three months in which to get the Estimates arranged. These figures are being worked on throughout the year, and it was the Labour Administration who were helping to reduce the figures in the Estimates which were being prepared. There was little which the Conservative Administration could do about them when it took over.
Let us, however, take the hon. Gentleman's argument, that his Administration were responsible for reducing the figure to 169,500 in 1952–53. In 1950–51, there were 476,000 men in uniform, and there was a civilian element of 208,490 to minister to the needs of the Army. In the following year there were only 191,272 civilians to minister to the needs of 527,000 in uniform. The uniformed strength had risen by 60,000, yet there were fewer civilians. For the year in dispute, 1952–53, although the Armed strength went up from 527,000 to 555,000, the civilian element was reduced from 191,000 to 169,000.
This year, under a Conservative Government, when the uniformed element is reduced by a nominal 1,000, the civilian element leaps up 9·5 per cent. That needs a little explanation. The Secretary of State said this afternoon that various eminent gentlemen were being appointed to make investigations. These figures show already that there is something wrong in the make-up of the Estimates.
I turn to a much more serious feature, a statement made by the Secretary of State in his otherwise excellent Memorandum. We find there a distortion of fact and an effort to present a rather different picture to the public from the real situation. Whether it is deliberate I do not know. On page 13, we find:
By the end of 1953–54 the Army will be employing some 12,000 more civilians than it was employing in 1951–52, an increase of roughly 6 per cent.
Those figures are wrong. The difference of 12,000 is not an increase in the civilian strength but the difference between the increases in the total strength. If the Minister cares to check the figures, he will find that the total strength in 1951–52 was 718,000 whereas in 1953–54 it will be 739,000, which is roughly a difference of 12,000.
For his own information, I would point out that the difference between the strength of the civilian staffs in 1951–52 and in 1953–54 will be the difference between 191,272 for 1951–52 and 185,117 for 1953–54. In other words, there will not be an increase in the civilian strength but a reduction of something like 6,000.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is taking the total Vote A calculation when he is doing his additions and subtractions. Of course, it is not the strength. It is the maximum strength that one might have in that year. The actual strength might vary considerably from the 555,000 or the 554,000.
I am suggesting that the hon. Gentleman is making his calculations wrongly. Without the Estimates over a number of past years it is difficult to sort this out. If the hon. Gentleman is using the Vote A total he will be badly misled, and the figures of my right hon. Friend are probably correct.
I was only using the totals included in Vote A, to help the Under-Secretary out of his trouble. I will repeat once again that in the Memorandum, on page 13, it says:
The Army will be employing some 12,000 more civilians than it was employing in 1951–52, an increase of roughly 6 per cent.
The figure of civilians for 1951–52 was 191,272, and the civilian element estimated for 1953–54 is 185,117. That is not an increase in the number of civilians by 12,000 but, in fact, a reduction of some 6,000. That is the point which I want the Under-Secretary to grasp. His figures are wrong, and I hope they will be put right.
Can I ask why the Government should take 1951–52 and compare it with 1953–54 and say there is then an increase of about 6 per cent.? That suggests to the public that there has been only a modest increase. Why not take 1953–54, with 185,000 odd, and compare that with last year, with 169,000 odd, which represents an increase of 9·5 per cent. in the number of civilians in his Department?
Surely the figures for 1953–54 represent the maximum permitted strength? In that case, the hon. Member is arguing a complete fallacy, and simply wasting the time of the House. Those are not actual figures, but the maximum permitted.
I do not for a moment challenge your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but could you indicate the Standing Order on which you base your intervention, because the Motion before the House—" That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair "—is sufficiently wide to allow an hon. Member to decide how he raises a matter. If you now give as your Ruling that it is within the competency of the Chair to express views on the merits of a case, we are opening the door very wide.
I am not expressing views on the merits of a case. One hon. Member has the Floor of the House, and another hon. Member must await his opportunity to make his speech.
Further to that point of order; you intervened a few minutes ago, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on the subject of the content of my hon. Friend's speech, but, with respect, I think he was strictly within the rules of order. I was going to raise the question when my hon. Friend had finished speaking, but I thought that the motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair" was sufficiently wide to permit an hon. Member to decide how a point should be raised.