Oral Answers to Questions — Minister of Defence (Speech)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th November 1960.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 14th November 1960

asked the Prime Minister whether the speech of the Minister of Defence about defence and manpower, at Devizes on Friday, 4th November, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

asked the Prime Minister whether the statement by the Minister of Defence at Devizes on 4th November, 1960, that the Army must manage to meet our world commitments on a strength of 165,000 or below, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I have been asked to reply.

Yes, Sir.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Does that mean that the pledge given by the Government in paragraph 48 of the 1957 White Paper—that if the figure of 165,000 is not reached the Government would retain some form of compulsory military service—still holds good? Further, will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell the House and the country what the planning figure for the Army is? Is it 165,000, or is it 182,000?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I will attempt to answer both questions. The answer to the first part of the hon. Member's supplementary question is that there is a Question on the Order Paper—No. 68—put down by the hon. Member himself, and I would not be in order in answering that Question in answer to his preliminary supplementary question—

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This Question was put down to the Prime Minister and, without my being consulted or even being told, it was placed on the Order Paper to the Minister of Defence.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

As far as I can see, no question of propriety is involved in the matter.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any answer there. All I know is that he originally put down the Question to the Minister of Defence, and it was quite in order for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to transfer it to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence—it is essentially a matter for him.

To answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I cannot do better than refer him to the 1959 White Paper, which said: While the Government are satisfied that their present plan for the all-regular Army is soundly conceived, they consider it desirable to ensure that its strength shall not fall below the planned figure of 165,000. At the same time, recruitment above this figure to 180,000 will be welcomed, since it provides against fluctuations in recruitment.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is aware that Lord Head, when he was a Member of this House, told us that the figure of 165,000 which was fixed by the Government was related to no military consideration at all but was fixed arbitrarily because it was the number which the Government actuaries thought might be recruited. Now it is not going to be recruited, can the Government tell the House and the country what the planning figure is? Is it 165,000 or 182,000?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

On the first point, there is no question of this not being reached. It is estimated that this figure will in due course be reached and will be the basis of the Army recruiting. Anything above that up to 180,000 will be a welcome bonus which will be extremely useful in the recruiting field.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Has the Leader of the House read a leading article in The Times, called "Think of a Number", containing scathing criticisms of the Government's defence policy? The argument is that the Government's defence policy is in complete chaos. If another obligation for taking on the defence of the new deterrent bases is undertaken and if the Russians descended upon Holy Loch to capture Polaris, we have not the soldiers to defend it.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I do not know if the hon. Gentleman is governed entirely by leading articles in The Times. Some of us have to be governed by wider considerations than that. I thought the first leading article was unjustified and the second leading article, on Saturday, was too pessimistic as to the possible rate of recruitment and the date by which it could be reached.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Government expect to get a minimum of 165,000 by the date they chose, namely, 1st January, 1963? Do they expect to do so or not?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I would say that the answer to that is quite justifiably "Yes, Sir."

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

May we come back to the point which the Leader of the House said he could not answer? My hon. Friend's supplementary asked whether, if the recruiting figure fails to be reached, the pledge in paragraph 48 of the 1957 Defence White Paper still remains the policy of the Government. Is it not incredible, if the Minister has been briefed to answer this Question, that he has not been briefed with the answer to that supplementary? Should he avoid giving the answer to us by saying, "This Question was transferred to the Minister of Defence and therefore I cannot"? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman in a straightforward manner: does that pledge still hold good or have the Government retreated from it?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

Certainly the pledge in paragraph 48 of the 1957 White Paper holds good. I can say that without regard to the propriety of answering later Questions.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the thoroughly unsatisfactory reply, and in order that the Army may know how far the Government differ from what the Army knows to be the facts, I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some of us have Questions relating to the same matter down to the Minister of Defence on Wednesday. If the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) proposes to raise the matter on the Adjournment, may I have your assurance that that will not rule those Questions out of order?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

I do not think that the hon. Member will get an Adjournment before that day, so the matter will not arise.