Clause 2. — (Recall of National Service Men into Army Service.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Army Reserve Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th February 1962.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton 12:00 am, 8th February 1962

The hon. Gentleman will find out if he waits a moment.

The Bill is a result of an idea of the Prime Minister. It is the result of an idea born at the time of Suez. After Suez the right hon. Gentleman did not think much of armies. He did not think that the Army was much good in modern circumstances, so he decided that it should be cut down; that it should be the old professional Army which he remembered from his Edwardian days; and, above all—because, remember that this began as an economy move—that it should be a cheap Army.

The right hon. Gentleman did not act on advice, because all the advice that he received was against it. He had the resignation of Viscount Head. All the advice from the War Office was against it. He did not act on a review of the commitments of the Army. This is the extraordinary thing for, once the decision was blindly taken to halve the Army, nobody considered that there might be a consequent necessity to reduce the Army's tasks. The commitment was not considered, nor was there reallocation amongst the Services. Above all, there were no consultations with our allies or the Commonwealth. Indeed, it is difficult to realise the utter frivolity with which decisions are taken by the Prime Minister, and have been taken by the Government. But that is the manner in which this decision was taken.

The present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations was given the task. He was the almost ideal instrument. He combined both the will and ignorance that was necessary. His august father-in-law once described him as having a mind like a rat-trap. It was an extremely good description, because it is a powerful but unresilient mind. It fastened on to the proposition that conscription was to go and that there was to be a professional Army. The tasks were not considered; the needs were not considered, and the commitments were not considered. Not even our treaty obligations were considered. Instead, the actuaries were consulted.

And remember this: the decision to abolish conscription was taken before the actuaries were consulted. It was taken even before the sum was done, and before anybody knew what the answer would be. That is the way the Government took their decision, and we are now reaping the consequences. The actuaries arrived at a figure of 160,000, and so 160,000, plus the big bangs—the atomic weapons which were to be a substitute for troops—was decided upon. The Army has always ignored that figure.

Since then, a whole series of figures has been given. There was the figure of 165,000. I do not know where that came from. It was merely 5,000 added to the actuaries' figure, and was fought for by the then Secretary of State for War. In 1959, because recruitment had taken an upward turn, out came the figure of 180,000. The Hull Committee then considered the matter and, for the first time—long after the decision was originally taken—did so in terms of the commitments and tasks that the Army would be required to undertake. The Hull Committee came out with a figure of 200,000, on the basis that only 45,000 would be required for B.A.O.R.—which we know is not correct—and of 220,000 in other conditions. I know of no reason to depart from that idea of 220,000, given our present commitments.

Despite all this, as late as June, 1960, the present Minister for Commonwealth Relations was saying that the Government had never said that they needed 180,000; that the target set in the 1958 White Paper was 165,000, and that our target for our future Regular Army remained unchanged, at 165,000. But the target never was 165,000. That was a figure which had never existed anywhere except in the rigid mind of the right hon. Gentleman, The reorganisation of the Army was not based upon a figure of 165,000; it was based upon a figure of 182,000. The figure of 165,000 has never been anything else than a fictitious one.

Next April, when the Bill is to be brought into operation, the figure will be about 184,000. Is that pure coincidence? The Berlin crisis has nothing to do with the Bill. In fact, since the war we have been so far from a crisis. This is the first time since the war that we have not one man on active service. In Berlin we are performing little more than half of our treaty obligations which existed before conscription was abolished and which exist now. We are performing little more than half, and nobody anticipated that the situation would get better. Every indication was that it surely must get worse.

This Bill is designed to hold the figure of 182,000. That is how it works. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) pointed that out during the Second Reading debate. Let us look at the figures. When this legislation comes into operation—when the men who otherwise would be going out are impressed; that is, when the Army reaches roughly 184,000—we shall have about 159,000 Regulars and about 25,000 National Service men. Of these, enough will be kept to keep the figure at roughly 182,000. If recruiting goes on as is forecast, in January, 1963, the Regulars will come up to the 165,000 figure. Then this Bill will be required to keep the figure up to 182,000. And so it will go on, until the Regular recruitment, as anticipated, somewhere about the begining of 1965, reaches 182,000, which is the object of this exercise.

This is being done in the unfairest possible way. The hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) said that he would not call this conscription. Nor would I. The expression conscription "gives the impression of an element of universality; some sort of sense of fairness to deal with a national crisis. This is not conscription—this is press-ganging. This is just the arbitrary seizing of a small body of men who are helpless, and utterly ignoring their rights because they are few. Why is it being done in this way? Because the political figure was 165,000, but the Army figure was 182,000. It is because of the political refusal to face what had been the military decision——