The Opposition have arranged this debate because there is considerable anxiety among the public, including the parents of the men concerned, about conditions in the Rhine Army. When such a situation arises Parliament should lose no time in discussing the matter.
I hope that one result of today's debate will be to bring a rather better proportion into the whole question. Some events have been disturbing, and there is no good in concealing that. They suggest rather deeper-lying causes than those for which some people have been looking. To my mind, the chief of these rather disturbing events were the grave charges and very severe sentences in connection with the incidents at Hilden Camp and the court-martial of last March. This suggests that there are deeper-lying causes of the trouble, but I cannot say more about that, since the matter is sub judice.
Some of the public concern is exaggerated, and this has caused resentment among a number of soldiers in the
Rhine Army, as all those hon. Members who have received letters from them know. I want to quote one that I received from a Regular soldier, because this voice of the Rhine Army should be heard as well as the other voice. He says:
I think that more news coverage should be given to everyday life and events in Germany and so give the public a chance to learn the true facts about how the average soldier lives in Germany. We should like our people in Britain to know that, on the whole, we live decent, respectable lives and do not divide our time between maiming the local population with beer bottles and rescuing them from flood disasters.
But if concern has been exaggerated, the Secretary of State himself is not without blame. I am sorry to say this, because in many ways he has been a good Secretary of State. He has got round the Army a great deal, and I am glad that he is going off fairly soon to see the Rhine Army. None the less, in recent weeks he has shown himself a little inclined to get flurried under pressure, and to take hasty and ill-considered actions which have not allayed but have rather increased public alarm.
There are various examples of this, but the chief one was the sudden imposition of the midnight curfew which he announced on 26th June. I do not say that it is wrong to have such a curfew. I am not sure that it was ever right to have all night passes—and other N.A.T.O. forces have a curfew of this kind. But if this change was to have been made it should have been made calmly and normally, and not as an isolated, precipitate action announced to us in a dramatic statement in the House of Commons. This is not the way of doing this sort of thing. This created the impression that something was so badly wrong that rather desperate immediate remedies had to be taken, to which the maximum publicity had to be given.
The measure announced by the Secretary of State seems to have been particularly inept and ill-thought-out. He said that this was not a punishment, and that it was only to protect our troops. It certainly looked like a punishment. It was aimed only at the Army and, in the Army, only at unmarried private soldiers. Why do only unmarried private soldiers need protection? Why do not married private soldiers need it, or N.C.O.s or officers, or indeed, the Royal Air Force? This was the main ground on which the right hon. Gentleman rested the decision which he suddenly announced.
The distinction between the Army and the Royal Air Force in this respect seems to border on the ludicrous. There is at least one quarter which is shared by airmen and soldiers. They will be in the same cafés, and as midnight approaches the unmarried private soldiers will have to leave, whereas everyone else will stay. This will lead to mockery. It is the sort of thing that produces anger and resentment.
My chief objection to the way in which the Secretary of State acted was that ha made it look as if the Army as a whole was in the wrong. This he should not have done. He should stand up for the good name and repute of the Army—correcting things that are wrong, but not getting flurried under a little pressure—even if he thought that it was an unfair attack. He should not have got flurried and tried to protect himself against the attack by taking actions which did not do good to the repute of the Army.
However, I am glad that he is to visit the Rhine Army. I hope that he will refrain from theatrical gestures when he is there, and will look closely at a number of problems which required to be looked at in that Army, some of which I will now draw to his attention.
Some of the things which he should look at are cases where Government action has had a direct effect upon morale—although I do not want to overplay their influence. If one goes round the Rhine Army, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have done, and as I did not long ago, one gets the impression that there is a feeling among the troops that the Secretary of State has broken a number of pledges. Even though not all of them may be serious, this has had a bad effect, and has caused much disgruntlement.
For instance, it is widely believed in the Rhine Army that a promise was made that new uniforms would be provided two years ago, but the men are still going about in the old battle-dress. They are less well dressed than either the United States or the German soldiers. The feeling that they have been promised something and that nothing has materialised has caused a certain amount of disgruntlement and annoyance.
Nor should the Secretary of State underrate the effects of the Government's broken promise about pay, and the deferment of half the promised increase of pay which the Government were contracted to make. It may be that the Army has officially welcomed this, but that is not the impression one gets if one goes around among the soldiers themselves. This has had a greater effect than Ministers have admitted.
One or two other factors which affect morale are also under Government control, and the Secretary of State should look into them. One is the effect of the serious undermanning of units in Germany. It is well known that if units are badly undermanned it has an effect on morale, for a lot of different reasons. I do not believe that one unit in Germany is up to the ordinary establishment of units in peacetime, let alone a 100 per cent. establishment. Some are very much below establishment. This will become worse when National Service ends. It has a depressing effect on the Army in Germany, as does the very slow delivery of new equipment coming through. These are matters for which the Government are responsible, and which have contributed to some depression of morale and spirits in the Army.
But there is a fundamental matter which the Government and the Secretary of State must look into and which the Government have neglected. They must bear the main blame for this. The basic problem arises from the fact that never before in all our history have we had a large peace-time Army in a foreign country for which we have no political responsibility. This is something new. It creates problems which the Government have been very tardy in grasping and tackling. Two sets of problems arise which are clearly related. One is the question of relations with the German population. The other is the question of the internal organisation and management of such an Army.
The question of relations with the German population raises very big matters and I want to make only two comments on the subject. One is that it is very easy to overplay the tension. The German national Press has been far less excited about these incidents than have our own Press and it has sometimes expressed amazement that our Press has been so excited about them. The other point I want to make is this: any question of relations with a population around an Army is a two-sided matter. It depends on the Germans, too. This becomes perfectly clear if we contrast and compare the general position in West Berlin with the position in West Germany. There are other factors, but one of the factors which make the situation in West Berlin so much better than in West Germany relates to the attitude of the people in the two places. This must be clearly seen and understood.
There is one other matter which is two-sided. It is the question of getting a proper understanding among our own troops and among the Germans of the real purpose of the Rhine Army. The German authorities certainly ought to do more to help spread around the idea that B.A.O.R. is just as much there for the defence of Germany as the Berlin garrison is there for the defence of Berlin. They have not done this. They have rather washed their hands of it. The Government should bring this closely to their attention and also the things which should be done and have not been done in the encouragement of Anglo-German contacts and of committees, which must be two-sided. They cannot spring solely from us, and the German authorities are not blameless in these matters.
But we, too, have duties. Hon. Members who have been there find that ordinary men in the Army have very little idea why they are in Germany. It is easy to say, and there is truth in it, that this should be dealt with by Army education. More could be done, but Army education cannot do anything unless policy is considered and this is a matter which raises the need for clarity in Government statements. I hope that the Minister will say something clearly for the guidance of the Army in this educational work. We must get away from the relics of the idea that this is an Army of occupation. This idea hangs around not only in the minds of our own men, but in the minds of the German public as well. This must be got rid of. It needs a big effort to get rid of it and to make clear that our Army is there as part of Western defence. We must also get away from the idea that the Army is there as a sort of political gesture and has no real military purpose, because if trouble started nuclear weapons would be fired at once and the whole thing would end in a few minutes. This idea gets around. It is attacked in many quarters in the Rhine Army, but it has created cynicism among young officers which spreads through to the men.
The nub of the question which we ought to tackle today is the question of the internal organisation and management of this kind of peace-time Army in a foreign country. Problems arise here from two causes which I do not think, the Government have properly tackled. One cause is that Germany is treated as a home station. This may be administratively sensible—I am not sure about that—but it is psychologically wrong because the Army is in a foreign country and its whole social environment is wholly different from the environment at home. This sort of betwixt and between position in which the Rhine Army finds itself must have an effect. That is the reason why there is a greater court-martial rate in the Rhine Army than at home or at proper overseas stations which are treated as overseas stations.
The second cause of the problem, and it goes together with the fact that this is treated as a home station, is that this is very largely a married Army. This raises special complications and difficulties for an Army in the position in which the Rhine Army is situated. This fact presents a great challenge to the Army in two ways. One is that it has immense civil responsibilities which armies in the past have not had. It is not generally realised that there are as many wives and children in the Rhine Army as there are men. The Army has to look after about 100,000 people. It has to discharge, besides the normal military duties, the civil duties of the local authority of quite a fair-sized town.
I am not saying that nothing has been done. I was much impressed by much that I saw. The schools are good and so is the organisation of school buses. For some reason, which I have never understood, the flats, in outlandish military language, are called multiple hirings. These fiats are going up fairly fast. There are sports facilities and cinemas. They are not bad, though neither are wholly adequate. One thing which impressed me very much was the trooping arrangements from Gutersloh to Gatwick. I took the trouble to travel by this route when coming home and I was very impressed by the whole organisation and the great difference it makes to men coming home cheaply and getting their friends out there.
There are, however, great shortages. There are shortages still of married quarters due, to some extent I admit, to delays by the Germans in giving planning permission. I had the impression, however, that Her Majesty's Government were very slow off the mark in building married quarters. I was also under the impression that the gravest shortage in married quarters concerns married privates and that far greater progress has been made in providing married quarters accommodation for N.C.O.s and officers. This is not very good for morale.
Together with the fact that this is treated as a home based Army in a foreign country and is very largely a married Army, there is a second challenge to the Army which I think has not been met at all and is the basic cause of the malaise in the Army. This is the gap which has been allowed to open between the married and the unmarried, and the unmarried are primarily private soldiers in barracks.
Some barracks are good and some are very bad. The Elizabeth barracks at Minden, where the Cameronians are quartered, are amongst the worst of the lot. They are very like a prison to look at. Some priority should be given to the building of new barracks, and not only to married quarters. This should be done not only for social reasons, but also for military reasons. One of the things which worried me was the way we are tied to barracks which are deployed in the wrong way. When new barracks are built the Army will be able to put them where it wants them from the point of view of being properly deployed for its possible military tasks.
But as regards unmarried private soldiers in barracks it would not be right to say that the main problem arises from bad buildings. It arises from boredom —simple boredom. This is a basic problem in the Rhine Army, particularly for unmarried privates. I went into this very carefully. The reason for it is that we have an Army that keeps office hours in Germany. Let me say that I was very impressed with the officers on duty. I thought that they were absolutely first-class. I was very impressed by the n.c.os. I doubt that we have had a better batch of N.C.O.s in the Army. I want to say this clearly because I do not want to attack the men.
The root problem which the Government must tackle is the gap between the married and unmarried in barracks. Every day at five o'clock one sees officers and married N.C.O.s leaving the barracks. They leave the unmarried men behind in the barracks, particularly at the weekend when they leave at about five o'clock on Friday and come back on Monday morning. This is all right. They have got families. They have got occupations, cars and ways of amusing and entertaining themselves, and this is perfectly right. The Army should have all this. But they leave behind in barracks private soldiers with nothing or very little to do.
This is perfectly all right at home in Britain. Private soldiers in Britain are in their own habitat. They have lots of things to do. They speak the language of the country. They mix with people and go to "pubs". To leave soldiers on their own during the weekend is all right in this country, but it is no good in Germany. In fact, it is very dangerous. True, there are cinemas, and, although they are not everywhere, they are well organised; there are changes of programmes, and so forth. There is tombola. But these things pall with the men.
Young men are left in barracks with nobody very much responsible for them. It should be remembered that, in effect, for them there is no television, because all the television is in German. They can receive it, but they cannot understand it. Therefore, all that is available at home is lacking out there. There is nothing much for the soldiers to do except to go drinking in the cafés. Some people say that cheap drink is the cause of the trouble. I do not believe it is. I think it is cheap drink plus boredom that is the cause of the trouble. Boredom drives a man to drink and makes the effect of the drink worse. Therefore, I say it is the boredom and not the cheap drink which is the real cause of this trouble.
What the Secretary of State has to consider here is the need for officers and N.C.O.s to accept a greater responsibility for their men during these hours of neglect, particularly during the week-ends which, for unmarried private soldiers in the Rhine Army, are one long yawn. This is something that matters to the Army, and responsibility must be taken. Initiative must be taken for organising voluntary activities of all kinds. I am not saying that it is not done at all. It is done in some cases, but not in others. Where it is done things go very well, but where it is not done a lot of trouble occurs.
It is particularly necessary that officers and N.C.O.s should take this responsibility at this moment, for two reasons. One reason is that large numbers of new young recruits are going out there. They are having their first experience of the Army and of a foreign country, and they can easily become rather bewildered in these circumstances. There is a special need for this to be done at this time of changing over to a Regular Army, with these youngsters going out there. Secondly, there is a special duty on officers to do this whilst the equipment and the facilities for the men are still rather seriously lacking.
One reason why the men cannot properly occupy and amuse themselves is very often that the facilities are lacking and what facilities exist pall very much. What are needed are garrison facilities away from the camp. Off duty, men want to leave the camp. They want to go into the garrison town. Of course, the facilities provided must be fitted to the men. Not every man wants a hobby and uplift. He wants all sorts of other things which the Government can better provide. A good central N.A.A.F.I. club in Minden would do a lot to reduce the troubles there. There is a lot to be said for decent, ordinary British-type "pubs". If N.A.A.F.I. or some such body cannot provide these, I do not doubt that the brewers would. I do not see why this suggestion should not be considered.
There should be live entertainment. I do not believe that there is any live entertainment from home. It would make a lot of difference if there were live entertainment from home, instead of soldiers always having to go to the cinemas. We should look into the possibilities of either the B.B.C. or the Army providing some sort of television programmes, on closed circuit, or in whatever other way it can be done. These are a few suggestions that I wish to put to the Government. Hon. Friends of mine who have been in Germany more recently than myself to see the Rhine Army will, no doubt, make a number of other suggestions.
I should like to sum up. I have spoken briefly because many hon. Members want to speak in the debate. I would say that the incidents and discipline have been considerably exaggerated, but some grave things have happened that we cannot ignore and which are symptomatic of a more deep-rooted malaise in the Army. We are very critical of the Government for not grasping and tackling the specific nature of the problems of an Army for which they are responsible, an Army which is in a new situation and as to which there is now a lot of experience of why certain troubles and difficulties arise. They have not tackled this problem. They have not made really clear why the Army is there, or considered what sort of management is needed for this sort of Army in this extremely difficult circumstance, and I must say that we are very critical of the Secretary of State himself. He is the Minister mainly responsible for all this, except, of course, the Royal Air Force.
I agree with very much of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I think that there is one point that he has overlooked. There are good and bad units. I believe that it is the unit itself which has the marked effect. I think that it is a question not of any Government, but of the unit and the commanding officer of that unit. The better the unit, the less trouble there is. Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree?
I agree that there are good and bad units and that it turns mostly on the officers. There are only good and bad officers, not good and bad units. None the less, I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that we have to take into account also the whole context of where an Army is and its circumstances, and that for this context the Government are responsible. At any particular moment the relations will be better or worse according to the nature of the unit. But the Army as a whole has a problem, and the Rhine Army has a special problem that has never existed before. The Government are responsible for facing that problem and for helping the units to cope with it, and the Government have failed, on the whole, to discharge that responsibility.
The Secretary of State is mainly responsible for this. I think that he has been guilty of errors of judgment, of flinching a little under pressure, and of rushing into precipitate actions which have given the impression, at any rate, that he was for the moment putting his own immediate political difficulties ahead of the thing for which he is primarily responsible, namely, the good repute of the Army.
I shall be very brief. I want only to deal with the wider issues that concern me, and, gas the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and the Committee know, my night hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will wind up on the matters of detail Which concern B.A.O.R.
First, I should like to deal with the question of pay, because this is entirely my responsibility. As it is a tri-Service matter, it falls entirely to me. I do not consider for a moment that this is a serious element in a failure in morale in B.A.O.R. The facts are that the Grigg Committee awarded 14½ per cent. in the most favourable circumstances to the private soldier. Without wishing to take any credit to myself in any way, I do not think that they did too badly in the present context of wage restraint to get 14½ per cent., paid in two equal instalments. I do not think that the question of pay is at issue.
However, I am not in any sense trying to minimise this problem. The right hon. Gentleman put this part of his argument perfectly fairly when he said that it is a problem of an Army in a foreign country. I think that the first thing that the British Army in Germany is entitled to is a reasonable measure of support. The letter that the right hon. Gentleman read out set out the position very clearly. I should like to start by making it plain that from the Government's point of view the overwhelming majority of officers and men in the British Army of the Rhine are doing a first-class job and are bearing a very heavy responsibility. This is the first thing I want to deal with, because this is defence policy. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman raised it, and I agree with him.
Perhaps we do not say often enough that the Rhine Army is not in Germany merely as a garrison Army. It is there for one purpose, and one purpose only, and that is to fight for the integrity of N.A.T.O. Europe if it were so called on to do. This is its job. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, because he has just visited this area, it is a vital part of the N.A.T.O. effort on this critical Central European front. It is there to maintain peace and to defend the alliance. I cannot think of a more honourable or more important job that an Army could do.
Strangely enough, this is very well understood by the West German people and their Government—perhaps naturally, as they are nearer to the front line than we are. Perhaps this is why, on the whole, opinion in West Germany has found it very difficult to understand what a lot of the fuss has been about. However, be that as it may, all I say is that the British Government have had no representations of any kind from any German authorities about the behaviour of British forces. None at all. We do not want to get into arguments about the Press, but I think it only fair to the Press Ito say that it has, after all, reported many very good examples of very good relations between the British forces in Germany and their German opposite numbers.
Some incidents must occur. It would be not only surprising but almost miraculous if they did not. Why? What we are trying to do is to keep more than 51,000 tough, highly trained fighting men in Germany. They are kept at a very high state of combat readiness. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman gave quite enough weight to this in relation to some of the boredom, if he likes to call it that, and some of the difficulties under which these men have to live. Under the orders of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe they are required to be at a very high state of combat readiness.
I did not mention everything, but it struck me that where there was more training there was better morale and that it is not because the troops have to do a lot of training that morale is bad. There are not proper facilities.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, because it enables me to be a little more clear.
I agree that, if the men are out on training, they are happy; but the problem is that one cannot keep all of them on training all the time. When an Army is standing by, week after week, knowing that it may be called upon at very short notice to do a very responsible job —I shall talk about that in a minute— there is bound to be a certain amount of friction. I am not minimising the problem. I am merely trying to set out the broad picture of what these men have to face.
I shall not go into the details of cases. I do not seek to minimise them, nor does my right hon. Friend. External cases, so to speak, of difficulty with the Germans are not great in number, All I say about the internal level of convictions, and so on, is that it compares very favourably with the crime statistics in Britain.
Will the right hon. Gentleman emphasise that a little? One would suppose that there was no trouble of any sort at garrison towns in the United Kingdom. Does he recall what happened at a camp in Shrewsbury? Are there no courts-martial in this country? What is all the fuss about?
The right hon. Gentleman, as a former Minister of Defence, takes the kind of broad view which, I hope, I am trying to take. If it is set in a broad context, he is perfectly right. I was taking it a little further and saying that, if one compares the level of crime, to call it that, in the Rhine Army with the police statistics in this country, the comparison is still not unfavourable to Rhine Army.
This is important, and I feel that the right hon. Gentleman is passing over it much too lightly. He uses such expressions as "if one compares". I think that the result of any comparison would be very good, but why not give us the comparison? It would put the case in favour of Rhine Army. How many of these courts-martial in Germany would never have been held had the crimes been committed in this country because the cases would have gone to the civilian courts?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. My right hon. Friend will he giving some of the statistics. I wish to be brief, because I know that many lion. Members want to sneak, and I wish to deal with the two main points which the right hon. Member for Smethwick raised. both of which fall to me.
It is obviously one of the important points in the debate. If what the right hon. Gentleman says is correct, and there is nothing wrong with Rhine Army as compared with the Army in Britain, why suddenly impose a curfew on private soldiers at this time and give the impression to the whole of Rhine Army that they have been let down because Ministers have not the "guts" to face the Press?
That is not the case at all. My view about the curfew—I very strongly support the action which my right hon. Friend took—is that it was high time that we brought the Rhine Army into line with the general custom in Europe. During the dangerous hours after midnight, when odd people are to be found wandering about the place looking for trouble, the only ones exposed to that sort of problem were the ordinary private soldiers in Rhine Army, and this, I think, should have been stopped in their own interest.
The right hon. Gentleman claimed that units being under strength was a factor affecting the morale of the British Army in Germany. The fact is that B.A.O.R. is not much under its treaty strength at the moment. This is, in part, due to the Army Reserve Act which my right hon. Friend got through the House, with great courage, against the determined opposition of the party opposite.
Not at all. We do not want to get into that argument which has been rehearsed in the House time after time. Hon. Members on the back benches opposite who have studied these things, as, I imagine, right hon. and hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite have, know perfectly well what our position is under the W.E.U. Treaty.
Perhaps I can take comfort from the fact that this was all discussed at the recent Paris conference of Western European Union. I said perfectly plainly what we were prepared to do— and what we were not prepared to do —which was that we would come up to our present treaty obligation of 55,000 men as soon as we could. Those hon. Members from both sides of the House who were present will, I think, agree that this was received very favourably by W.E.U.
The claim that B.A.O.R. is to some extent seriously under strength or seriously deficient in equipment just does not hold water. I have never been able to understand, and I do not understand today, how the Opposition could square their support for N.A.T.O.—which, I am sure, is genuine—with their unremitting opposition to the Army Reserve Act which sought to help N.A.T.O. at a time of crisis over the Berlin situation.
B.A.O.R. is ready and well equipped to fight. I shall now say a little more about its purpose in this sphere. I agree with the right hon. Member for Smeth-wick that this is not sufficiently known. Everybody understands what our soldiers are doing in West Berlin. Everybody understands that they are doing a wonderful job under great tension. What people do not understand is that a similar responsibility rests on the whole of Rhine Army. The Berlin situation at present, which the House is to discuss later, is always delicate. It may be quiescent at the moment but it might at any moment again become critical.
I make quite plain that, if this were to happen, it is the British troops in West Germany who would be in the forefront of any measures which might have to be taken to safeguard our interests and those of N.A.T.O. This is the burden resting on them. This is the sort of state of readiness they have to maintain. With this continuing feeling of burden and tension, it is very understandable if they kick over the traces occasionally.
Rhine Army is not only facing this terrific challenge and bearing a great burden for us all in this country, but it is in the most difficult phase of its change-over from a conscript to a Regular force. When this change-over is complete, we shall have a far more efficient and effective Army. During the change-over period, however, there are special difficulties and strains on officers and men as units change gradually from the concept of a conscript force, where one does tend to have a sort of "five o'clock office hours" approach, to the concept of a Regular Army, where one has the family and team spirit very much more. It is because of this that, naturally, I have looked with some anxiety at the criticisms of the British Army of the Rhine which have been bandied about. This is why I have thought it right to set out briefly but, I hope, plainly what its duty is—and I can think of no more important one.
The troops of Rhine Army are not only deserving of but are entitled to the support of the British people at home for the job they are doing. They are not greatly under strength or under-equipped. They stand ready to defend a key sector of the N.A.T.O. front. In their relations with the German people and in their record of internal discipline and behaviour, they compare favour- ably, in my view, with other armies or, indeed, with anything in our civilian life here in Britain.
I do not for a moment say that the Opposition were wrong to raise this matter. I am very glad that they have, because I hope that the sense of the debate in the House will be—as I know the right hon. Gentleman feels and as I feel passionately—that these men are doing a first-class job.
They have their problems and difficulties. I am not trying to minimise them. Nor will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will have a lot to say about what we hope to do to make life easier for them. But do not let us forget their main purpose, which is to fight for N.A.T.O., to preserve the peace, and to stand ready day in and day out to do that. It is not an easy task and I hope that the House will recognise that as the debate proceeds.
It is always pleasant to find the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence coming to the House of Commons, particularly since in a previous debate some of my hon. Friends doubted his veracity. Of course, I did not support that view. However, my charge against him is much more devastating: it is that he obviously believes every word that he says.
The right hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag again this afternoon. He said that the decision taken by the Secretary of State for War about the curfew was with his approval, as if the Secretary of State for War and the Minister of Defence are responsible for the discipline of the Rhine Army. This is an entirely new doctrine. I should have thought that the person responsible for the discipline of the Rhine Army was the Army commander and that, if at any stage it became clear that the Army commander was failing in his duty, that was a matter for the Army Council. Surely it is a completely new departure for Ministers to come to the House of Commons and to tell us, with the least consciousness of what they are saying, that they are responsible for disciplinary measures of this kind.
It was made clear in the Secretary of State's announcement, which I know the hon. Gentleman read with the care and attention which he pays to all these matters, that this was General Cassels' recommendation. It is perfectly right that my right hon. Friend and I should say in the House that we strongly support this action because we are responsible to the House for it.
I let the right hon. Gentleman get away with that and regard it as just one of those Freudian slips, but it is not the first time that this has happened. When General Cowley gave his lecture and let the cat out of the bag about the Government's nuclear policy, it was the right hon. Gentleman who came to the House and said, "We shall see that this never happens again", as if he were responsible for what General Cowley says and not the clearance given by the Secretary of State for War.
The truth is that neither the country nor the Government have made up their minds about what the standard of discipline and comfort should be. We could handle the problem like the Americans. They take their G.I.s into the armed forces and try to recreate in the American Army the conditions which the young American man finds at home. They give him the same sort of food that he has at home on Sundays and present live shows regardless of expense. A definite drive is made to recreate home conditions in off-duty time.
We have never done that in this country. In the latter stages of the war, the policy decision taken on morale, particularly in those areas where boredom was likely, was that men should live under Service conditions but should be given leave as often as possible to enable them to go home. Broadly speaking, I think that that was right. I think that the Government would fail if they took the line advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and imagined that they would solve this problem by introducing the British "pub" into the Rhine Army.
The fact is that these men are living in a foreign country. I may be forgiven, despite my grey hairs, one or two reminiscences, because I speak with some degree of authority. I served in the First Rhine Army and with the occupation force in Turkey. Four of my best years were spent in Bagdad. We had no amenities, not even an electric fan, but we did not suffer from boredom, and we should have resented it if our officers and N.C.O.s came round and tucked us up and kissed us good night.
The right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the Rhine Army does as important a job as any force in the world, and I think that it does it extremely well. If any responsibility rests anywhere, it is not on the young men serving in the Rhine Army, and not on the Army commander. The responsibility rests with the Government and that is what I intend to try and prove. I hope that it has been established beyond a shadow of doubt that neither the Secretary of State for War nor the Minister of Defence are responsible for the discipline of the troops. They are not commanders sitting in the House of Commons. That responsibility rests with the commander on the spot.
Let us get this B.A.O.R. problem into focus. It started with the row at Hilden. The first charge made against the Secretary of State was that there had been secrecy and that an attempt had been made to hush this matter up. On the Friday before the Recess, the Secretary of State made a statement in the House on which I asked him two or three supplementary questions. The first question was obvious. These men had been under close arrest since the end of January and the trial was not convened until 21st May. What had happened to these men? Were they under close arrest? Could they communicate with their families and M.P.s? Could they make preparations for their defence? The Secretary of State's answer was "Yes".
The 64,000 dollar question was whether an application had been made for the trial to be held in camera, and we were told that no application had been made. Although the Secretary of State may be Charged with wanting to "put it across the Press", he told the truth when he said that the Press had missed a trick. It had missed a trick. Of that there was not a shadow of doubt. No charge rests with the Secretary of State nor with the Army for what happened at Hilden. No charge rests with them in respect of what happened with the Cameronians at Minden.
Minden is a particularly difficult station. The Cameronians have acquired a very high reputation over the years. I always thought that they were, to use an Army expression, rather a bible-punching lot. They were always regarded as stern covenanters. If that had been said about the H.L.I., it would have been a different matter.
When one visits or talks about certain regiments, one thinks of their past history. Perhaps it is not true, but I always thought of the Cameronians as being a God-fearing regiment. It may be that that applies only to the Cameronians of the seventeenth century, but that was the impression in my mind. When I think of the H.L.I., I think of someone getting hold of the ball and banging it into the crowd.
I join issue with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and with the Prime Minister on this matter, and the Prime Minister really ought to know better. He said that he had great sympathy with what my hon. and learned Friend said in the House, which shows that the Prime Minister has a marked predilection for fiction against fact, because it is not true that before the war Regular troops behaved in this way as a matter of course.
I have looked up the statistics and searched my memory and consulted other people on this point. I can remember one major bust up". That concerned the Army reservists at Aldershot in 1920. I remember it because of two things. First, I had had an operation the previous day for appendicitis and the hospital was so full that these fellows were carried in on stretchers, Secondly, I had backed the winner of the 1,000 Guineas, but the orderly with whom I had put on the money was under arrest, and I was much more concerned about my winnings than about his well-being. These facts are indelibly impressed on my mind.
Apart from that, I deny that the records show that Regular troops behave as the Prime Minister would like to think. It is clear that the Minister of Defence has some sympathy with what he calls "kicking over the traces". I am an ex-Regular soldier, and I have more regard for their reputation than that. I regard what has been said about them as an affront. Regular troops of high quality do not behave in this way, not because of their officers, but because they are held under control by their N.C.O.s. This is one of the things that may have gone wrong and, if so, time, let us hope, will put it right.
It may be that those in the sergeants' messes in the Army as a whole are a bit too young. A certain amount of authority comes, not only from the stripes on a chap's arm, from the crowns on his sleeve or from the pips on his shoulder, but from his long service and good conduct medals and perhaps even from his grey hairs. If the right hon. Gentleman will undergo the discipline of reading what was said in the 1956 debate when the Government were defending themselves against the charge that they should get rid of conscription, that was the defence put forward by the then Minister of Defence and by the present Leader of the House. It could not be done because it would diminish the quality of the N.C.O.s.
Let me deal with another aspect of the problem which has been hardly mentioned today, namely, that the troubles in the Rhine Army came about because of resentment by National Service men against the Government's proposal that they should serve an additional six months. I have taken the trouble to compare courts-martial convictions as with the strengths and this is what 1 find. In 1960, the Rhine Army had a total strength of just over 48,000. Of these 59 per cent. were Regulars, who accounted for 79 per cent. of the courts-martial. In 1961, 71 per cent. of the strength were Regulars, who had 87 per cent. of the courts-martial. For 1962, I give the comparison between the three stations which are comparable for the reason that a man who commits an offence is charged before a military court and not before the civil court. In the first quarter of 1962, the Rhine Army had an 81 per cent. Regular strength who had 94 per cent. of the courts-martial. In Hong Kong, 87 per cent. of the strength were Regulars, who had 100 per cent. of the courts-martial; and in Singapore, the 92 per cent. who were Regulars accounted for 100 per cent. of the courts-martial.
Therefore, looking over the last three years, one sees beyond any shadow of doubt that the problem—it is not a great one, although the position is not as good as it was pre-war by a long way—is a problem fundamentally of the Regular Army and the quality of the Regular Army.
My next point is this. This is something that blew up at Hilden and then re-enacted itself at Minden. If it is thought that the Rhine Army is at fault, I should point out that the unrest is not something new. I spoke last year in the debate on the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech. Nobody took much notice of what I said, but I do not grumble at that. I raised the question of what had happened with the 17th Training Regiment, R.A., at Oswestry, where 50 men went down to the town and tried to smash up the place. Most of them got a good hiding for their trouble. When 29 were brought before the court, however, 14 of them had civil convictions. One man had 13 civil convictions, including a Charge of killing, and the commanding officer apologised to the court. I have dug out the copy of the Oswestry paper which I got at the time. The commanding officer said that he could not for the life of him understand how those men had got into the Army. Only one of them had declared that he had a civil conviction.
That sort of thing is happening on a wider scale. I want to be very careful at this point, because the Secretary of State for War acts in a judicial capacity in connection with some of the men who have been charged. Petitions have been made to him and they go to the Army Council and, perhaps, to the Court of Appeal. Some of these fellows in the Rhine Army also have records. This is nothing new. The very able correspondent of The Times on 13th March, 1961, wrote an article on the high rejection rate of recruits and he pointed out that 20 per cent. of the recruits going into the Infantry Depot at Winchester were in selection group 5 —that is to say, they were illiterate.
I have done a little homework in this matter and perhaps I can help the Committee. The Army is, as inevitably it must be, a projection of society as a whole. It ought to be able to attract some of the higher skills and intelligences to which a modern army, depending as it does on intricate equipment, must have access. The Americans faced up to this problem. If hon. Members opposite consult their hon. Friend the Member for Malden (Mr. B. Harrison), he will tell them about a very expert American report on this subject. The hon. Member went to America and saw how the Americans handle this problem.
I have looked at the recruiting figures for a corps for the five months of this year and they total 447. When I break them down as against the national S.G. rate, I find that the corps got 15 out of 447 S.G.ls against the national average of 43. In other words, the corps got less than half the national average. Not one could be surprised about that, because this grading includes many people who go to universities or who will enter the professions. Therefore, to get 15 is fortunate, because they are potential officers and will do well. When it comes to S.G.2, S.G.3+ and S.G.3—, the Army gets more than its share. It does better than the civilian average and gets 106 against 90, 107 as against 90, 114 against 90 and 64 as against 90.
The price that has to be paid—and the Army pays it—for the Government's decision to have an Army of 165.000 men is that the Army has to take any S.G.4 or S.G.5 on which it can lay its hand. Therefore, on that account, when 143 men go forward in their educational test for their Army certificate of education Class 3, only 13 pass. This produces an enormous problem, and a very costly one, of training these men to be of some use.
If one looks at the training problem in the Army to see whether it has been handled properly, there is only one place to go and that is to the Brigade of Guards. The Guards depot is tough. It is efficient. It is also humane and it is fair. I would sooner be tried by a Guards officer than by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), because he would not be emotional in his approach. I have no reason to pay lip service; I am trying to speak the truth.
As part of its training programme a year ago, the Guards depot had a "do". A note on the little programme that was issued to people said that 500 recruits to the Brigade of Guards were undergoing training in the depot and that a staff of 500 were employed to instruct and administer them. That is to say, the ratio was one for one. One of the things that we have been told by both Front Benches is that if we get rid of National Service, we will get rid of a vast training machine.
In its attempt to get 165,000 men, and if the Army must take S.G.4s and S.G.5s, if it uses television as it now does to the exclusion of everything else, the result is to turn the Army at home into one vast recruiting machine. Officers are now judged, not in terms of their capacity to train, not in terms of their capacity to lead, but in terms of their capacity to recruit. As long as a man can walk—it does not matter if he wets the bed or has been a delinquent —no matter what he is, as long as he can get about on two feet, in he comes.
There is something else that the Government have done. If hon. Members take the trouble to read the annual reports for the Army, they will find published there the most exhaustive analysis on the reasons for rejection of recruits as between the point of enlistment and the point of confirmation, There was a probationary period—it was not used that way—in which references were taken up. Everything had to be weighed up, including a man's personal behaviour and whether he looked the kind of person who would make a soldier. All these things were looked at and there was a very high rejection rate.
What does one find at the present time? Never mind what the Secretary of State for War tells the House. He does his best to give the House information, but sometimes his conclusions are a little misleading. The truth is this wastage is still running in some arms at over 20 per cent. This is because the standard has been, I will not say deliberately lowered—it does not work that way; honourable men do not do that sort of thing. The drive to get recruits is increased at all costs and the result is that there come into the Army people who are virtually almost untrainable. If hon. Members do not care to accept my word, the report in The Times gave a careful and cautious analysis of the visit made to the depot at Winchester where 20 per cent. of the men in a crack regiment were S.G.5. That means that they are semi-illiterate. That is all there is to say about it.
There is another factor about the Rhine Army. I was surprised that my right hon. Friend did not mention this. It is important particularly as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned strengths. The size of the Regular Army was fixed not at 165,000 but at 182,000, which was regarded as a minimum figure. It was only accepted by the Army on the condition that the strength of the Rhine Army should be 45,000. It was to be 45,000 out of 182,000. Now it is to be 55,000 out of 165,000. Of course, that cannot be done without straining numbers to the limit and, then, when we have done that it is only to find out, as others have found out in other realms of human activity, that Gresham's Law applies—that the bad drives away the good. That is what makes me so pessimistic. This recruiting drive has so lowered the standard that in 4½ years time from now when the present National Service Act reservists have gone the crisis will come. Then what happens?
I do not wish to detain the Committee very much longer. As I said before, the Army is an important, indeed a vital, part of any society. I was converted to that view long ago. I have looked at what happened in other countries and I am glad that we have been spared their experiences. Their armies have come into politics. Ours, to its undying credit, has kept out of politics. One has to remember that what happened at Dunkirk and in the earlier part in North Africa was not an accident. In my view, military disaster is not something that happens of itself overnight; it comes at the end of a long period of national decline. An army is a microcosm of society as a whole. It is an expression of the vitality of that society and of its discipline. That is the approach to the matter from which I must urge the Secretary of State never to depart. The only way that we can get an army to serve the needs of this country, and, in-deed, of the world at large, is to have one based on a high conception of duty.
I am going to end by again paying a tribute to the Brigade of Guards. I started on this matter with an absolutely open mind, and I have made a breakdown of the wastage. Taking the same arm of the Service, the Foot Guards and the infantry regiments, the wastage in the Foot Guards is 7·2 per cent., which is the lowest of the lot, against an overall average of 12·3 per cent. The wastage during the first three months—life is tough in the Guards' depot—was 13 per cent. as against a total infantry wastage of 19·4 per cent.
An army based on discipline and a conception of duty and service would, I think, set an example which this country needs. If the Army is failing in its duty, it is not the fault of the Army but of the Government Front Bench.
I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has said, but I find myself in slight disagreement with his last words. I entirely agree that the Army is a fundamental part of the nation. I think that the hon. Gentleman's pessimism concerning the future of the Army was slightly unjustified when. for the sake of his argument, he chose the finest Regular unit to illustrate what an Army should be. I also think that even if the figures of wastage in the first weeks of men joining up are high, it does not follow that the Army is in a serious position.
Of course, if we have an intensive recruiting campaign it is natural that we attract a number of recruits who are not suitable and who would not otherwise have even thought of joining the Army. The fact that we turn them away is surely not proof that the Regular Army is full of morons. In fact, by doing that we avoid enlisting men who are not suitable to serve. Therefore, I do not think that that argument stands up. On the contrary, the fact that so many are turned away is in itself a proof that the Regular Army is equipped with people of higher intelligence than the average of those who apply to join.
I wish this afternoon briefly to apply myself to one point. I welcome this debate and I congratulate the Opposition in getting the matter debated. In my opinion, the matter started because of a Press campaign against B.A.O.R. I believe that there is no doubt at all that this has taken place. There are sug- gestions in the Press that the Army had been seeking to conceal the fact that courts-martial were taking place, and there has been a great deal of publicity about all kinds of indiscipline, suggesting that recently matters have become worse in the Army of the Rhine.
As to discipline, I agree with what the hon. Member for Dudley said, that perhaps the quality of N.C.O.s mess these days is not quite what it was. But there is no statistical evidence to suggest that discipline in B.A.O.R. is any worse now than it has been in recent years. I have to get my figures done for me, unlike the hon. Member for Dudley, who does them for himself. I have an Answer from the Secretary of State, which he gave me yesterday, which shows the percentage of those convicted in courts-martial. During the last five years the figure of courts-martial in B.A.O.R. has remained absolutely steady. It is no higher now than it was five years ago. This certainly suggests that discipline is not getting any worse. I believe what was suggested by the leader in The Times of 12th June that those responsible for the recent indiscipline are the men kept back for six months under the Act recently passed, is utterly untrue.
The hon. Gentleman may be making one mistake. He talks about convictions, but he will realise that when he says that he is not talking about persons, the point being that a man may be charged with a number of offences.
The hon. Gentleman corrects me. I may have made a slip. It is the numbers of men, not the convictions recorded, to which I referred. I would mention, in passing, that the units with sometimes the higher crime rate are not necessarily the worst when it comes to action.
The spotlight which has been switched on by the Press has certainly given the impression that B.A.O.R. is a collection of drunkards. This is very bad from the point of view of recruiting—how bad we shall not be able to say until some months have elapsed.
Why has the Press done this? I say that it has done it entirely out of pique in order to cover up its own incompetence. I have been given to understand that the method by which courts-martials have been made known to the
Press was this. Up to ten months ago the Army Press liaison officer was in the habit of ringing up each correspondent to tell him that a court-martial was about to take place. A great deal of time and money must have been spent in doing this. About ten months ago, a change of liaison officer took place. The new one has, I understand, discontinued this system. It is now the practice to post in the British Embassy in Bonn a notice about courts-martial. I notice that the leader in the The Times of 12th June says that these notices were
posted in out of the way places.
How out of the way is the Embassy in Bonn? This is utterly untrue and ought not to have been written.
There was a system whereby Reuters' correspondent in Bonn used to go every two days to look at the notice. I understand that the correspondents were in the habit of lunching together in the Press Club where they got briefed by Reuters' correspondent. Last spring, Reuters' correspondent was posted elsewhere. The newspaper correspondents did not notice that they were not being told about the courts-martial and none of them went to the Embassy to find out why. They missed the news of the Hilden mutiny and the Minden "battle", as they have come to be known, and they tried to blame the Army for their having missed the story.
They had indeed missed a trick and they had not even realised that the tricks were taking place. It is perfectly clear that there has been no attempt made to conceal and the remark in the leader in The Times of 12th June that there should be "no furtive washing of dirty linen" by the Army was utterly unjustified and should never have been written.
I would like to reassure my hon. Friends who are, naturally, anxious to speak, that my intervention will be of short duration. In my view, this is much-ado-about-nothing. That does not mean that the Opposition have no right to raise an issue of this kind or any other if there is disquiet. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, if there is alarm in the country—I do not know that there is, though I have no doubt that in families where soldiers who, as a result of the recent fracas, were sentenced to long and short-term detention, there might be some despondency—it is only right that the matter should be discussed.
It is not the business of anyone on this side of the House to defend the Government, but I am bound to say that I see no reason why it is necessary to divide the House on an issue of this kind. I could understand it if it was the intention of the Opposition to point out that only yesterday the Secretary of State for War made an announcement in the House of a very alarming character. It was most disquieting. At any rate, if his statement was not made in public in the House it was announced in the OFFICIAL REPORT, namely, that we are expecting to spend the vast sum of £89 million this year on the Rhine Army. That might be something to fight about, but certainly not on an issue of this kind.
I agree that there are some "bad hats" in the Army. There are some "bad hats" in industry and in the universities——
—and in the Government, as my hon. Friend says, though he is responsible for that observation. I do not vouch for its accuracy.
What sort of people do we want in the Army? Do we want professors and bishops and people of that sort? There is a lot of silly talk about the Cameronians. I know something about the Cameronians from the old days; the old type of Cameronian. I saw them on the Clyde many years ago—usually "under the influence", despite the fact that the pay they were receiving did not justify the expense they were incurring on large consumptions of alcoholic liquor.
It is rather different nowadays. They are paid well, very well indeed, and I am not complaining about that. They are transported to West Germany, where the opportunities and facilities are available for purchasing liquor at very low prices. Most of the men live a somewhat monotonous existence and it is inevitable that they partake of alcoholic refreshment, sometimes in excess. Some of them do so. If they go off the rails, what is there to worry about, even if occasionally—and I am not justifying this—a private strikes an officer or an N.C.O. which is, of course, a very heinous offence and a gross misdemeanour?
After all, might it not be the sort of thing that happens in industry; that a worker will assault a foreman or a manager if there is resentment about promotion, or for some other reason? What is the situation? A number of men engaged in a fracas. They assaulted Germans. They assaulted each other. It was a perfect Donnybrook and they were sentenced to detention as a result of courts-martial proceedings. There was nothing wrong in that. It was quite constitutional and normal. The only trouble was that the Press got hold of it.
One must be careful when discussing the Press. Obviously, we politicians must be exceedingly careful, because if we furnish the slightest indication that we are criticising the Press, everyone knows what will happen. They will not mention us in their newspapers. That would be not only a blow to our vanity, but it might have the effect, in due course, at the next election that is coming along, of unseating us in our constituencies. Nevertheless, I would say this about the Press. I wish sometimes that they would mind their own business. But we must be reasonable about it. The Press must write about something and must publicise the news. What is news? I am not quite sure that that is grammatical, but my intellectual hon. Friends will correct me if what I have said is wrong.
If soldiers act correctly and conduct themselves with the regular etiquette expected of them, that is not news. If they kick over the traces and a few of them get drunk, spiflicated, blind to the world, and run amok—and if they see a German in the offing and, for some reason or other, not easy to explain, perhaps they dislike the German—who knows What will happen? I said that it was not easy to explain, but is that so? It must be remembered that these soldiers are in a foreign country. They know that their presence is resented. Do not let us be mealy-mouthed about this. There are many Germans who dislike their presence. They know that. If there is a bit of a Donnybrook it is, perhaps, natural in view of these circumstances.
Let me make it clear that I want to defend the British soldier, and not only because I have been associated with the War Office for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who is so expert in these matters, spoke about the standards of the men. I rather gathered that he was speaking not about their physical standards, but about what I might call their mental or intellectual standards. I was Parliamentary and Financial Secretary, War Office, over thirty years ago. I recall having to engage in an investigation into the literary standards of the recruits then corning in and being staggered to discover that 10 per cent. of the recruits who had been enlisted during my period of office had the intellectual standard of Children aged 10. It varied throughout the country. While I do not like to say this, it is true that the best standard came from Scotland. From East Anglia, they were really shocking. I do not know the reason for this and I have no doubt that that has all changed.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I point out that, as usual, he is excellent on day-to-day things, but his knowledge of history is a bit "wonky". His research as Financial Secretary was concerned not with their selection grouping, which was not introduced until twenty years later, but with their educational attainments. The right hon. Member will admit that the two are quite different.
That may be, but my hon. Friend knows this as well as I do, because he was my Private Secretary when I was Secretary of State for War. We visited garrison towns in Germany and I poked my nose into various rooms where the occupants were engaged in educational procedures. I might add that I did this in spite of attempts to keep me out. I found the instructors making the most extraordinary mistakes.
For example, I remember one occasion when I was being shown around by a general. I asked what was in one of the rooms, and he said, "Nothing very important. Some young fellows are being taught something". I went into the room and discovered that the lecture was on constitutional matters. Why they were being educated in constitutional matters I could not understand, nor did I ask for an explanation. But there on the blackboard was written, "Salaries of Ministers. Prime Minister—£10,000. Cabinet Minister—£7,000".
I said to the gentleman who was showing me round, "I did not know that I had been given an increase in salary since leaving the United Kingdom". He replied that he could not understand what I meant, and I then told him that my salary was not £7,000, but only £5,000—though, of course, I had hopes for the future. That is the sort of thing that was being taught, and it struck me as most extraordinary.
I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker). He suggested several solutions to the problem. One was to provide more married quarters for private soldiers. How much would this cost? Besides, how long are our troops to be stationed in Germany? Are they to be there for ever? The Germans, too, want accommodation. We have a similar problem in this country, and even though the Germans want more houses it is proposed to build more barracks and use labour to provide more amenities for our men. This sort of thing will not do. We must consider both the cost and the social consequences.
There are other proposed solutions. It has been mentioned in the Press, and I believe in the House, that we ought to provide the British type of public house for our troops in Germany. But the men can drink anywhere. They do not require the British type of public house to indulge in alcohol, and this suggestion is, therefore, just nonsense.
There is, of course, one simple solution—take the men out. To do so would save £89 million. It would cost something to keep them in this country, but certainly not £89 million. This is the best solution, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider it. It is a simple solution. It presents no difficulties. There will be no trouble about providing barracks, nor about providing married quarters or British-type "pubs", because we have everything here. We have all the amenities in this country.
If it is proposed to build barracks, let us build them in this country, because there are here a number of unemployed people who would be only too glad to be employed on building barracks. For example, we would be only too glad to build a barracks in my constituency and take up some of the unemployment in the area. Do not let us have this silly, pettifogging, piffling stuff about British-type "pubs", more barracks, and so on. That is not the way to solve the problem.
Finally, let us make up our minds to say quite clearly that far too much has been made of these incidents. There has been too much of a hullaballoo. There has been far too much extravagant language and exaggeration. But even if the men do go off the rails, it is our duty to defend them, and that is what I am trying to do.
For once, I must agree with at least the beginning of the understanding speech of the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I have visited the British Army of the Rhine on many occasions, both officially and in a private capacity. I have visited my own regiment during the past few years.
I feel that our troops are not entirely at fault. As has been rightly stated by both sides of the House, the British Press has for once overplayed the present situation. If one reads the German Press, one finds that no such comments have appeared in the newspapers there, and these incidents have not been given the great publicity as they have been in this country.
I do not believe that the Germans really mind too much about some of these incidents. They would far prefer to have stationed there tough, highly-trained fighting troops rather than "cissy" ones. I have spoken to Germans both here and in Germany, and I think that they understand the behaviour of these young soldiers.
I think that with some notable exceptions the fault lies with the officers. I am sure that there should have been more contact and liaison with the Germans by our officers, because during the past fifteen years they have not made enough use of the opportunities available to them to contact either the civilian population or the German officials.
As has been said, it is likely that our troops are to be stationed in Germany for many years to come. I therefore think that there ought to be a directive from the top laying down that our officers should learn German as part of their training. Often there has not been much need for liaison with the civilian population. But during the flooding at Hamburg this was particularly noticeable. It would have been extremely useful if, during that time, many more of our officers had been able to speak and understand German. I hope that there will not be a repetition of the Hamburg flooding, but it certainly would be extremely helpful if our officers were able to understand the local population and officials.
I think that for once we can learn something from the American Army. The Americans take immense trouble to brief and educate their troops before they go to a foreign country. The officers give talks to the troops, and booklets are issued on such subjects as how to get on with the local inhabitants. They go to great lengths to explain the customs and ways of the country in which they are stationed. They do this even when they come to Britain, and much more so in Germany. We should emulate the Americans.
I repeat that some of the fault for these incidents lies with our unit officers. They have not liaised enough with the Germans. They have not made a sufficient effort to understand the German way of life, and, therefore, have not been able to pass on the information to the troops under their command. I am sure that this can be put right, and I have every confidence that it will be in the near future.
I do not wish to follow the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) about whether British troops should or should not be in Germany. I agree that bringing them back here offers an attractive solution to the problem, but, as long as they are there, there is a responsibility on the Government and on the German authorities to make life as tolerable as possible for them.
I was there for only a short time, but I am satisfied that the British soldier in Germany is neither better nor worse than he should be. I agree that far too much has been made of the difficulties with which our soldiers have to deal. At the same time, however, I am satisfied that there is the problem of morale. My impression was that officers felt that what they were doing was a bit unreal; that they were playing at being soldiers. They did not believe in the story they told, or their function. I felt that that had in some way gone down the ranks and that the men felt the same.
While it is, of course, a little difficult to have political commissars in the army of a democratic country, I felt very keenly that some effort should be made to explain to the soldier exactly why he was in Germany. Perhaps it would not be a bad thing if the German authorities also did a little to explain to the German population why the British soldier is in Germany.
While I was in Germany I came across a number of obvious complaints. No matter where it was—at B.A.O.R. headquarters or at corps or divisional headquarters, even at regimental headquarters—these problems were understood and realised.
It is all very well to say that we do not want to build houses there. The troops want housing. I noted at the time that the housing position was in a horrible mess. We were told that the problem was not one of cash, because cash was forthcoming, but that it took two or three years before planning permission could be obtained from the local German authorities. This seems to me to be a point which the German authorities might tackle to speed up things. The married quarters that we saw were very good indeed. But there were very few married quarters for the private soldier, and this should be looked into.
The barracks were a mixed bag. Some I visited were very good and the soldiers were very happy about them, but I saw the Elizabeth Barracks in Minden and the N.A.A.F.I. accommodation within the barracks, and the only word with which I can describe them is "deplorable". It is little wonder that the Cameronians have taken the quickest road out through the gate and into the town when they have finished, for there is nothing attractive to them in the barracks.
The recreation problem is well enough appreciated by the officers. We were told that the problem was one of boredom and that it was one of leisure. We were told about the uplifting activities which were available for the soldiers. We were told that there were facilities for hobbies, and also language courses and so on. I inquired what kind of language course was provided —whether a grammar book and a note book were needed and whether the men had to do home work. Those concerned at the highest levels did not know, but they did not think so. When I got further down, I found that that was the method of teaching German. I can tell the Minister that if that is the method by which he expects to teach German to the Cameronians, he might as well stop. It struck me that compulsory German might be a very good thing if done during working hours. It might also solve some of the communications problems between the Scottish Regiments and the English Regiments.
Another problem which I had in Germany was to make a number of people aware that it was the British Army and not the English Army. Perhaps this was my prejudice coming to the surface. However, Scotsmen in the Army resent it being described as the English Army, particularly by officers. It might be thought that this is a niggling point, but I thought it was very important and said so in no uncertain fashion.
What kind of recreation is to be provided for these young men of 18 to 20 from Glasgow, Lanarkshire and so on? I should like to see them taking courses and enjoying hobbies. The facilities provided are very good. I asked a number of young men what they wanted to do. The trouble about playing football is that it occupies only 11 a side and so not all can play. I was told that the facilities for swimming were not very good, but occasionally they went swimming. What then?
It was put very well by an officer, who said that one of the major problems was, of course, lack of girls. This problem is not confined to the Cameronians, who have always had a great deal of initiative in solving it any- where else. But I was told by a soldier —perhaps this is a clue to the situation —that if a German girl had the courage to become friendly with a British soldier, in certain parts of certain towns she would be ostracised by her own people and thus became a social outcast. Consequently, German girls were not prepared to speak to British soldiers. This was borne out by what happened recently when the Cameronians organised a dance; when the British soldier asked the German girl to dance, the answer was "No." This may arise from different social customs, and it may be difficult to get across to the man from Glasgow, where he can go to a dance and dance with any girl in the hall.
My right hon. Friend might use his imagination a little. I think that it is in this direction that the problem might be solved.
There is a lack of accommodation in the barracks at Minden, and it struck me that one of the solutions there might be to have a N.A.A.F.I. centre in the middle of the town to which the married men from all the regiments around Minden could go. It would at least take the Cameronians away from a rather notorious night club where the only girls who are prepared to speak to Cameronians are available.
I think I saw two members of the W.R.A.C. there. They are conspicuous by their absence. This may be an idea, and perhaps the Minister will say something about it. I believe that about 50,000 German civilians are employed by the Army doing many jobs which members of the W.R.A.C. might well do.
As to the relationships between the troops and the Germans, I do not think anyone should exaggerate the situation, but at the same time it should not be minimised. I spoke to soldiers from all formations right up to Minden. While their experience varies a good deal, all will say that their relationships with the German civil population are not the happiest. Some of them frankly say that they consider the German civilian population to be hostile. On the other hand, I am bound to say that when one presses the soldier for reasons, they are not always forthcoming; he is not able to put into words his feeling that the Germans are hostile, though he knows they are. But hostility to troops in barrack towns is not unknown, even in Britain.
Even in Dunoon, as my hon. Friend says. I think it is natural that the civilian population should feel resentful of foreigners, foreign troops particularly, being in their country.
I want to say a word or two about the Press.
Before my hon. Friend goes on to that, I should like to say, having listened to his speech, that I served in the army of occupation in Germany. Although that was 45 years ago, and although it is true that I am inclined to be anti-German, because of their background, I am also familiar with German historic development through reading Wheeler-Bennett's book, and I have not been better treated in any country in any part of the world than I was by the ordinary Germans when I was in their country.
I could not disagree with what my hon. Friend has said. I accept his point of view. I have no personal complaint, but I should not be telling the truth if I said other than what I have said just now. I examined and questioned soldier after soldier on this point. Always we got the same answer. This was the feeling of the troops. I must explain also that when we pressed them for reasons why they should feel this way the explanations given were not very adequate; but the feeling persisted. There it is. I feel that perhaps the German authorities themselves were partly responsible. They had not done enough through their Press to explain why the British soldiers were there.
All our fellows, particularly those who have been retained for six months, could provide a solution: they want to go back home. One of the reasons for their resentment was the extension of their service there by the six months. They felt that that was most unfair, and that some other solution should have been found.
But the Press really worried me, and it was also worrying the Cameronians. When I was in Minden they were very angry about the Press, for obvious reasons. Because of all this floodlight of publicity on the Cameronians, I feel there were restrictions put on the troops. They could hardly go out of the barrack gates but they met Press men. No wonder we got headlines about the fact that the troops broke up the Press men's cameras. They could not go into a "pub" but they were being bothered by the Press people. I feel very angry about the Press, and I do not feel in the least bit inhibited in saying so. I feel very angry indeed.
Well, perhaps I could not have a seat safer than that of my right hon. Friend. In any case, this is how I feel.
But I am bound to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with the Press also. I had some experience of Army public relations officers, and really, if we wanted to create a war, I would suggest we leave it to the Army's public relations officers. I had a personal experience of this. I shall not recount it to the Committee. I do not want to get anyone into trouble; but it made it quite clear that they have not the slightest idea how to deal with civilians of any kind at all. They treat them as though they were all in the Army. When I was spoken to as though I was in the Army it did not take me long to disabuse their minds. That was the kind of public relations work, and it was bad.
It was also bad in London, because whether or not the Press "missed a trick" I do not think the Secretary of State did very well to say so. I think that if he wanted the Press to feel angry that was the very thing to say. Then when the Cameronians put on a show, in full regimental uniform, with the pipe band, and with all the German folk there, along with the mayor and councillors of Minden, and the German Press, a ban was put on the British Press, and this, of course, was calculated not to help public relations. I felt that the public relations work of the Army was at a very low state indeed.
Another effect of the Press publicity was what I felt were the very savage sentences being imposed after courts-martial on the Cameronians and other soldiers in Minden. I do not want to go into details. They were reported in the Press. The soldiers there felt that, because there was this publicity, the Army was determined to make an example of someone, and the Cameronians were the victims, and the Lancashire Regiment also. If this was so, I think it was all wrong. I think that everything should be done to make it appear that, whatever a soldier has done, he is fairly treated, strictly in accordance with Regulations.
I have one or two suggestions to make. First, I would suggest that immediately the soldiers be taken out of the Elizabeth Barracks and found decent quarters. That is the first thing for the Cameronians. Secondly, I found that the soldiers, although they were very interested in the television, had some difficulty in following the German programmes. They can get a British programme only when Eurovision is on. Is it not possible to have either closed circuit television for the troops or a link up in some way with British television, or canned television? This would keep the soldiers a bit happier at least one or two nights in the week.
At Osnabrück the central N.A.A.F.I. in the town was a great attraction and the soldiers used it, particularly the married soldiers and their wives. The same thing in Minden would save a great deal of trouble. The question of live shows has been raised, and this is something which I think the Government ought to look at.
There are one or two other things. For instance, it struck me that it would be a good thing if some of the soldiers' folks occasionally had facilities to visit them there, having a short holiday—not at the Government's expense, I am not asking that; but arrangements could be made for them to see their soldier sons at work, for the soldiers to have an open day. I should like to see Highland games organised in Minden. That would certainly be a big attraction for the German population, and it would certainly be a relief for some of the boredom for some of the Scottish troops.
I had a long talk with quite a large number of Cameronians, and I resented very much the criticism in the Press about the soldiers. They are ordinary, everyday working-class men. There are good and there are bad, but, because there are one or two bad eggs in the regiment, it is completely wrong to label the whole regiment as a bad one. I found that that was resented, and some of that resentment is reflected in some of the things I have said.
I used to listen to speeches made in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) with respect and amusement, but after the one he has made today one is inclined to look forward to the next for amusement rather than with respect, for to advocate the withdrawal from Germany of the British Army of the Rhine is a splendid example of magnificent irresponsibility. The real question at the present is surely not the withdrawal of British forces, but whether or not we in this country are in a position to reinforce the British Army of the Rhine.
The Rhine Army has been in all our newspapers for the past few weeks, and this would have been a rather good thing if consideration had been given to the role of Rhine Army and to what Rhine Army does between Mondays and Fridays, rather than to what some of those in Rhine Army happen to do on a Saturday night. It is hardly important, and I agree that the incidents which happened have been widely exaggerated. If one compares the attitude of the British Press towards what happened with the attitude of the German Press, one gets the whole thing in perspective. The Germans live with three-quarters-of-a-million allied soldiers in Germany, and have done so for the past fifteen years. Incidents of this sort are to be expected and are accepted as such.
The fact that the House was in recess throughout the period of these incidents helped the Press in that the Press was more enthusiastic in following up these stories. I suppose that at the root of the problem is the young unmarried Regular soldier who has little to do after 4.30 p.m., who has no girl friend and who can buy spirits at 3d. a shot in the barracks. I know that it is the Army's view that it is not a good thing that the Regular soldier is able to buy spirits at 3d. a shot, and I wonder whether it would not be wise for the Army to stop this custom inside the barracks.
If it is a problem of the young unmarried Regular recruit, aged 18 or 19, it is asking for trouble if, from 4.30 p.m. he has nowhere to go and no girl to take out, but can start drinking at 3d. a glass, and, if he wants to go out of barracks, which is only reasonable, finds that the only place to which he can go is a shady café which is there to serve the Germans who work on the canal system which runs through Minden.
I am not in favour of the curfew which the Secretary of State announced last week. I consider that there is a chance that by having a curfew at this stage the incidents may be concentrated between 11.30 p.m. and midnight. The other disadvantage of having a curfew at this time is to lower the morale of Rhine Army. This view which was expressed to us when we were in Germany when we asked about a curfew. If the whole Rhine Army is to suffer for the sins of a handful, it is hardly a method for raising morale.
Rather than have a curfew at this juncture, I suggest that the Army should stop selling spirits at 3d. a glass within the barracks. Secondly, and far more important, they should throw out of the Army not only the kind of soldier who gets involved in these incidents, but also the sort of soldier who, in the view of his commanding officer, is likely to be involved in this kind of incident.
Is my hon. Friend seriously suggesting that when a man has committed no offence at all, but merely in somebody else's opinion might commit an offence, an engagement which he signed for a number of years, with pension rights at the end of it, should be terminated?
Yes. I spoke in Minden to a commanding officer of a regiment closely involved in these troubles. He said that that morning he had drawn up a list of 18 men who he fully expected within the next six months would be involved in this sort of incident. If he knows that they are likely to be involved, then it seems rather foolish to wait for them to come before a court-martial in order to have them discharged from the Army.
It is only common sense, for if the role of the Army is not only to stay in Germany, as most people expect, but also to prevent war, to recognise that our relations with the Germans are extremely important. Unfortunately, this is the sort of incident of which we shall see rather more than less, and the reason is the Government's decision to turn over to a all-Regular Army. It was said to me in conversation by an officer in the B.A.O.R. that he estimated —I underline the word estimated—that one-third of the recent Regular recruits who arrived in the Rhine Army had police records in this country. if we are to use all the media of mass-communication to extract recruits from a society which enjoys over-full employment, it is not surprising that there is an admixture of best and worst, and we are getting a considerable number of the worst into the Regular Army.
The civilian record of a man is not disclosed at the time of enlistment. I do not think, therefore, that it is an act of responsibility for my hon. Friend to publish an estimate that one-third of these men have criminal records. No doubt he has been given that estimate, but it can be based on nothing but surmise, and I do not think that it serves the purpose which he has in mind to say, or does any good to publish with the authority of an hon. Member, that it is his opinion of the state of previous convictions among Chose enlisting.
I admitted that it was a surmise, but it was a view expressed to me by a serving officer in B.A.O.R. and it is a view widely held within B.A.O.R.—that the standard of recent recruits 'has declined, not only in behaviour, which is obvious, but in skill in handling the work which goes on in a highly complicated army. People in B.A.O.R. are concerned about the standard of their recent recruits, and to pretend otherwise is to put one's head in the sand.
Is the hon. Member aware that this problem has existed for centuries? When asked what his soldiers at Waterloo were like, the Duke of Wellington said that they were the scum of the earth. I should like the hon. Member to give his reasons why a soldier who has a record of criminal convictions should be excluded from the Army. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) quoted the case of a man who had a record of killing. Surely a man with a record of killing is exactly the sort of person who should be welcomed in the army.
I thoroughly disagree. The role of the Army in Germany is not offensive. One hopes that the fact that the Rhine Army is there with the N.A.T.O. forces will prevent the outbreak of war. I assume that we all agree about that.
To reinforce the point, we have to live with the German people for the next fifteen or twenty years at least, if present circumstances continue. In the Army's own interest, therefore, it should be specifically concerned with the type of recruit which it is getting, and I am making a point for which there is wide support outside the House —that if we extract people from a society which is enjoying overfull employment in order to get them into the regular Army we shall get the best and the worst. Surely no one can disagree with that statement.
The solution might well be to reintroduce some form of selective service. This is a view which has wide support in the Rhine Army, and it may be a sensible way of raising our forces to a reasonable level in Germany. It comas oddly from the Minister of Defence and the Government, in their defence policy, when they claim, rightly, that Britain has responsibilities over and above many of her N.A.T.O. allies in defence and yet she is the only N.A.T.O. Power to have no conscription. This simply does not add up. There is widespread concern within B.A.O.R. both as to its strength, leaving aside the question of quality, and as to the equipment which it has at present.
I am in considerable agreement with the views which the hon. Member is expressing, but does he not agree that it is an outrage for my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to associate the dictum which the Duke of Wellington made in quite different social circumstances with any section of the Services in living memory?
I thoroughly agree with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
A question often asked in the Rhine Army is, "When shall we be brought up to full strength?". This is more important than what happens on Saturday nights. At a Press conference a few months ago at which I was present, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence told defence correspondents that the Norstad forward strategy was the one which was correct and said that in future Britain would support it.
The question one immediately asks, not only here but when visiting the Rhine Army, is how long it will be before the Rhine Army is in a position to move up forward. The Minister of Defence has not answered that question in any way, in exactly the same way as he has not answered another point. namely, if B.A.O.R. is to go up from 51,000 to 55,000, as he announced recently, when will it go up to 55,000? Estimates have been made that the Army will go up to 55,000 men before Christmas. Another estimate has been made that we will not be strong enough to move forward for three or four years.
My hon. Friend has got hold of the wrong end of the stick It is not Rhine Army's decision when it moves forward. It is General Norstad's decision. I want to get the record straight. What I have said all through is that we support General Norstad's concept of a new forward strategy. How it is implemented, when it is implemented, and what steps have to be taken to implement it are matters entirely for the Supreme Allied Commander. When he is ready to issue the necessary instructions, he will no doubt do so and I think that we shall find that B.A.O.R. can conform to them.
In a speech to the Institute of Strategic Studies earlier this year General Norstad said that he had asked the Commander of the Central Army group to move up forward. The reply of the Commander of the Central Army group was that he could not move up forward because of the weakness of the Northern Army Group, the Rhine Army being the third strongest part of the four corps which go to make up the Northern Army Group.
If that is the expressed view of the Supreme Allied Commander on this issue, it makes me wonder who is right. Nobody can deny that for the past three years a tremendous argument has been going on about what the Americans consider to be the force levels which are desirable in Central Europe and the opposite view taken by the British, French and German Governments
General Norstad has requested, and will request later this year at the triennial review, that the three States I have mentioned each increases its conventional forces in Central Europe. The Germans have already been unofficially asked to go up to 16 divisions in the Bundeswehr. Herr Strauss has said that because of shortage of labour this looks to be highly unlikely. The French are not moving their troops from Algeria to N.A.T.O. but rather to Alsace-Lorraine. The British are thinking perhaps in terms of 64,000 to 75,000 men. But our let-out is that we expect our allies—the French and the Germans—to make a similar contribution in terms of conventional forces. If they do not, we will not go up to 64,000 or 75,000, which will be the request made by the Supreme Commander at the triennial review at the beginning of next year.
There is concern amongst the British officers at N.A.T.O. that Britain's influence within N.A.T.O. is declining and has declined. This decline is related to our smaller contribution to the land forces in Central Europe. This belief is held not only among British officers in N.A.T.O. It is also held among British officers in the British Army of the Rhine.
So much is made in argument about B.A.O.R. of its nuclear strategy. At the moment, the only way in which B.A.O.R. could hope to operate successfully in a limited war would be to saturate the battlefield immediately by the first use of tactical nuclear weapons. There is no other way in which a force which is under strength—each division of the three is responsible for 1,000 square miles of Germany—could hope to hold up even a medium-sized Soviet advance in Central Europe. There is no other way but immediate saturation.
Has my hon. Friend also reflected that this great responsibility of the British divisions may be because they have been given too much ground to hold in proportion to their strength, as compared to their allies who are much stronger on the ground?
That is an extremely valid point. Everybody to whom I spoke agreed that, if there were a Soviet attack in Northern Europe, it would move over the Westphalian plain into the sector held by the Northern Army group. The Central Army Group is stronger in divisions than the Northern Army Group and is in an area which is more easily defensible. It therefore seems likely that the Central Army Group would extend its front northwards so as to squeeze the Northern Army Group into a smaller sector. That is one way by which the Rhine Army could successfully hold the line of the River Weser. Another way would be to bring over the three divisions which constitute the Strategic Reserve, and station them in Germany.
As the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) said, there are more women and children in B.A.O.R. than there are British soldiers. If B.A.O.R. is ever to be deployed to face a crisis situation, it is planned that the wives and children move out westwards at the same time as our troops deploy eastwards. The confusion that this would cause in terms of traffic movement would be beyond belief. Would it not be wiser to move out the families from the Rhine Army and in their place bring over the three divisions of the Strategic Reserve, thus having four divisions in B.A.O.R.? At the same time as this is done we should rotate the troops in Germany more frequently than every three years, as at present.
I was interrupted when dealing with the saturation of the front line with tactical nuclear weapons. If this is all that B.A.O.R. could do at present to resist a threat, it is strange that nobody then moves on to stage two, which is this. If we can hold up an advance or adventure of this kind only by the immediate use of tactical nuclear weapons, it would be all right if we had the power to use them at that point, but we have not got the power to use battlefield nuclear weapons. The power to use tactical nuclear weapons remains firmly in the hands of General Norstad. It is inconceivable that he will be prepared to agree to the immediate use of battlefield nuclear weapons, even if it is the only way in the British Army of the Rhine at this moment is able to prevent a Soviet advance.
If we are to wait for four years before Rhine Army, and, therefore, the Northern Army Group, is strong enough to move forward and take up a forward strategy, then over that four-year period the Government are taking a gamble. They are gambling from weakness, first, that the enemy will not exploit this weakness, and, secondly, that the resentment that this comparative weakness causes amongst our allies will not become a serious political problem. I only hope that the Government can pull off the gamble.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Critchley) will forgive me if I do not follow him in too great detail on the tactical arguments that he has used this afternoon. That is not the main point I want to make during this comparatively short debate. However, I agree with a large amount of what the hon. Gentleman said.
I was with the hon. Gentleman in the B.A.O.R. only a week or two ago. I was horrified to see the way in which some of the units within our divisions are muddled together because they are placed simply on the basis of where barrack accommodation happens to be. In my view, provided that it started after half-past four on a Friday afternoon and before eight o'clock on a Monday morning, a Russian division could form up on the Rhine before our divisions could form up on the Weser.
We are having this debate primarily because of the fuss that has been going on since the Friday before Whitsun about B.A.O.R. I say quite deliberately "the Friday before Whitsun", because it was on that Friday morning in the House that the Secretary of State for War made his fantastic, ridiculous and unnecessary statement that the Press had "missed a trick". I am sorry that he is not here now, but he is probably getting ready to reply to the debate.
That was a really ridiculous statement for the Secretary of State to make. If an ordinary back bencher makes such a statement it does not matter unduly, but for a Minister to get so worked up on a Friday morning in this House as to make such a statement was quite wrong. That statement, and the quite ridiculous reaction there has since been from the Press to his taunt, is primarily the cause of the trouble there appears to be at present in the Rhine Army, and is primarily the cause of this debate.
The Minister said that the Press had missed a trick, and although I think that he should not have said that, and that it was a grave mistake to have made that statement, it is probably perfectly true. My impression is that there are two reporters who are usually stationed with the Rhine Army and who, so I am told, always make a practice of looking through the information about courts-martial.
By pure chance, both of them were on leave in the United Kingdom at about the time when the notices of this court-martial were posted. I am told that other reporters tend to rely on those two. I do not think that there is any doubt that the notice was put up a greater number of days than is statutorily required under court-martial procedure.
The reporters, having missed a trick, as the Secretary of State put it, decided to get back on him by taking it out of B.A.O.R. A number of questions must be asked about the activities of the Press and television camera crews in Minden during the last few weeks. I want the Secretary of State to tell us whether or not some of the statements made about them in B.A.O.R. are true. If they are, there may be a need for the Press Council to make inquiries, in addition to any inquiry that the Minister is making.
When I was in Germany I heard two things. The Secretary of State must know whether they are correct. First, I was informed on two occasions that the civil authorities in Minden had informed the British Army authorities just after Whitsun that they anticipated no trouble whatsoever in the town on a particular night unless British television camera crews stirred it up. That story is going round B.A.O.R., and we should be told whether or not such a statement was made to the Army authorities. If so, it appears that the presence of television camera crews there have made the situation much worse than it otherwise would have been.
Another story that is going round, and which was told to members of the delegation, is that one man was drinking in a bar in Minden when he was approached by a young and attractive blonde charmer who, apparently, bought him a drink, talked to him, and invited him back to her hotel room. I do not know what he expected when he got there, but I am told that a television camera crew and interviewer were waiting for him, and that he was asked about his unit, about the Rhine Army and about conditions in Minden. If that did happen, it is disgraceful, and a general condemnation of British television.
I do not know whether it involved an Independent Television crew or one from the B.B.C., but did that incident happen? If so, what action does the Secretary of State intend to take to see that this activity on the part of television personnel is brought to the front, and to ensure that it does not happen again? I am quite sure that a great deal of what has appeared in the newspapers and elsewhere about B.A.O.R. has been worked up primarily by the Secretary of State's ridiculous statement, which has, somehow or other, upset the Press and television people who, in trying to take it out of the right hon. Gentleman, are causing a lot of unnecessary trouble for B.A.O.R.
One must look at the conditions of the troops in Germany. Many of our troops are stationed in Westphalia, and my impression is that the average West-phalian does not like soldiers. He is not worried whether they are German soldiers, or French or American soldiers, or members of B.A.O.R. There appears to be an anti-military attitude in Westphalia. One of my hon. Friends says that that is good, and I am inclined to agree with him. Nevertheless, our troops are there, and tend to suffer from that attitude.
From what one sees of how troops of all nations use the training facilities in Germany, it is a wonder that the civilian population puts up with them at all. For instance, I went over a fairly large bridge across the Weser. It was being wired up for demolition as part of an engineering exercise. I found that the engineers had set up their advance head-quarters in the back garden of a house overlooking the bridge. With them was a company H.Q. of the Welsh Guards who were with the unit.
Nobody had inquired whether they could go into the back garden, and this, apparently, is normal procedure. An order covering the area had been made and the troops were entitled by law to enter property. The headquarters were set up, and the people in the house woke up at five o'clock in the morning and found them there. I wonder what would be the attitude of the average British citizen if he looked out first thing in the morning to find his back garden occupied in that way?
On the other hand, I have to say that on one occasion a barn was requisitioned in a similar way to accommodate a lorry. When the driver of the lorry touched one corner of the barn it fell down and the owner warmly shook his hand and thanked him because of the compensation he would get from B.A.O.R. The civilian population do have some compensations under the present system. Nevertheless, when people have to live in a country along with three-quarters of a million of their own and other troops, it is not surprising that they should be rather "fed up" and suspicious.
I am disappointed that we have not so far had from the Secretary of State or from the Minister of Defence any real support for our troops in B.A.O.R. We have not heard from the Government any strong argument supporting our men in Germany. We have not been given nearly as much information as I expected at the beginning of the debate.
We were told by the Minister of Defence that perhaps later in the debate the Secretary of State for War would give some information. We were also told by the Minister that the figures of courts-martial were quite comparable with those in British Army units stationed elsewhere. He said that they compared favourably with the situation in the civil population. That is probably true, but why have we not been given details? Why have we not been told that many of the 50 courts-martial held in B.A.O.R. each month are for civilian offences which, if they had been committed in this country, would probably never have gone to court-martial——
I have not seen those figures, but this debate will receive far more publicity than any Written Answer. We should have rather more publicity given to this than can be expected from a Written Answer published at the back of HANSARD.
When the average person thinks of a court-martial, he thinks of something dreadful— something lined up to try someone for mutiny or, at the very least, to try an officer alleged to have defaulted with mess funds. The average person does not normally think of a court-martial as being set up to deal with something which, in this country, would be dealt with in a magistrates' court. That fact must be got home to the Army and to the civil population in this country.
In my view, one of the main troubles in B.A.O.R. is that some years ago the Government took the decision to abolish conscription without facing the changes necessary to keep in Germany, not a large, conscript Army but a medium-sized Regular Army. They apparently took that decision without realising then —or they woke up to it too late— that a conscript Army did not need provision also for wives and children, but that, with a Regular Army, provision of family accommodation was necessary.
I am told that in a garrison town with 2,000 other ranks, 280 are waiting for accommodation for their families. I am also told that at present it is most unlikely than an officer of the rank of captain or below at Rhine Army Headquarters— and there is naturally a preponderance of officers at the Rhine Army Headquarters— will obtain married quarters for his wife and family during the whole of his two to two-and-a-half years' service at headquarters.
The need for accommodation of this kind in a Regular Army, as against a conscript Army, should have been seen by the Minister of Defence and the Army Council long before now. We are told that plans are now in hand to make sure that an adequate amount of accommodation is provided, but it should have been provided last year, not next year. The need for it is there now, and the Government should have foreseen that need. That is why I hope that the Committee will register the strongest possible protest against the Government at seven o'clock.
There are also far too many barracks that have not been modernised. When we took them over in 1945, many of them had been built in the early 1930s. No doubt the majority of the troops who saw them would say that compared with those at Salisbury Plain and Catterick they were absolutely wonderful. No doubt, many of them are a great deal better than some of the barracks in this country at the present time. But when a man in the Regular Army has to expect that he will spend half of a twenty-one years' engagement period in Germany, we must make sure that he is getting good living accommodation there and that these barracks are modernised.
About half of these barracks do not come up to modern standards. Would any hon. Member like to use a 15 foot square wash room with tiled kerbs, two hot water taps and two cold, and a few slightly bent, rusty aluminium basins? That may have been all right in 1945 but it is not the sort of accommodation we should be prepared to provide for a Regular Army that has to spend a large number of years in Germany.
Then there is the question of uniforms. Less than 50 per cent. of the troops in Germany have been issued with the No. 2 type uniform. It is the type of uniform which has been talked about in the House for a long period, but I think that about only half the troops in Germany have it. Those who have it take a great pride in it, and soldiers, N. C. O. s and officers told me, that those who have it wear it when they go out in the evenings. Those who have only their battle-dress immediately get out of it into civilian clothes.
There are only about 40 suits of the No. I dress available in most units and these are used for the guard of honour. They are issued to men of the right size, the guard of honour is laid on, and then the 40 suits are taken back and put in the quartermaster's store. This is not the type of thing that makes for the true régimental spirit and a well-appointed and efficient Army in Germany.
There is a great deal more I would like to say, but as there are others who wish to speak in the debate, I conclude by saying that I certainly shall be prepared to vote against the Minister tonight.
I feel that this has been a most valuable debate It has been valuable very largely because, on both sides of the Committee, the British Army on the Rhine has received the support and defence which it deserves from political representatives in this country. I am very glad that the Committee has had this opportunity. I only wish— and if it were so we should not be divided— it had received equal support from the Ministers who are responsible for it.
We have had an extremely interesting speech from the hon Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Critchley). I regret one observation which he made. That was his guess as to how many of the recruits joining B.A.O.R. had a civil conviction. As to whether that civil conviction was any other than for a motor cycle parking offence is a pure guess, and I do not think that one can speculate on it. I hope that he will not feel that I am disparaging him when I say that by far the most interesting part of his speech was when it called forth an intervention by the Minister of Defence of a really alarming nature.
As so often happens when the right hon. Gentleman intervenes, he indicated an almost total misunderstanding of the problems. He said that the implementation of forced strategy was a matter which did not concern him, but General Norstad, and that when orders for its implementation were put forward B.A.O.R. would doubtless comply with it. That really shows that he has not the faintest idea what that policy is or what it involves. B.A.O.R. is not in a position to comply with it.
General Cassels knows that it is not in a condition to comply with it and, indeed, has said so in public. It cannot comply with it because the facilities are not there on the ground to make it possible, and, so far as I can see, nothing is being done to make it possible. If the right hon. Gentleman is as ignorant as this as to the purpose of B.A.O.R. it is understandable that the men serving in B.A.O.R.— officers, n. c. o. s and privates— should be equally worried and confused. This is one of the great difficulties.
It is very difficult to maintain the morale of an Army which does not understand what it is there for. Is the Army there to defend Germany? With its present dispositions it is patently incapable of doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) pointed out, it is easier and quicker for the Russians to deploy on the Rhine than it is far B.A.O.R. to reach its advance positions on the Weser. If the Russians were to move one Friday night, they would be on the Rhine before we had even assembled. That is the condition of helplessness of that force in its present dispositions.
The right hon. Gentleman says, "Rubbish". He should go out and have a look because, once again, he has demonstrated his appalling ignorance of the problems involved.
Nobody out there suggests that B.A.O.R.—I shall not mention a time— could get to its positions under a matter of days. Does anyone suggest that if the Russians decided to move it would take them days to cover 100 miles or so to the Rhine? It is absolute nonsense. We are not in a position to stop them and that is very largely so because of our failure to comply with our obligations.
We have been far too anxious to get consent to have under three divisions instead of the four we promised. We have been pressing for that instead of pressing for the ground facilities to do the job that our troops are in Germany to do, and that is to defend Germany. That is the problem. Is it to be wondered at that when we meet them, soldier after soldier says, "We are not here for any purpose except as a political gesture". When the Army is treated like that one has sympathy for that sort of observation.
If they are not there to defend Germany but for garrison duty only, why are steps not being taken to make a garrison life possible for them? We are told that the Secretary of State for War will tell us how things are to be made easier. Believe me, the Army is not asking for things to be made easier. Things are too easy in the Army. It has hours and hours and days and days of successive boredom, and that is what the Army is complaining of. It wants more activity, more vigour, more to do — not things made easier. It wants things made harder and more energetic.
That is generally what an Army wants if its discipline is to be maintained. The surprising thing is how well it has been maintained in spite of the fact that it has been allowed to feel itself purposeless, and has been selected quite arbitrarily and, as everyone agrees, quite unfairly, for a further six months' conscription. These men, in an Army which cannot understand its purpose anyway— and understandably cannot understand — are selected for this special treatment. It is amazing, under these circumstances, how good the discipline, how good the morale, and how good the relations with the German population have been.
The only complaint that I discovered — and this is almost confined to Westphalia, where there is natural surliness and an anti-military tradition—was that when the troops went into a caée Germans were inclined to move to the other end, and when they went down the street Germans sometimes left the pavement. But that was the height of the complaint. One could find house after house into which the troops were invited as guests of German families. We have allied troops, the Americans, based here. I wonder whether their relations with our people are as good as are the relations of our troops with the Germans. The situation is surprisingly good in Germany.
I come now to the Cameronians. This is a very fine regiment with an extremely good record and an exceptionally good commanding officer. I was very impressed indeed by Colonel Kettles. The public relations officer, as most of my hon. Friends have pointed out, has taken a battering and he looked very like the time and motion study man in the film, "I'm all right, Jack." Some hon. Members may remember the impression there of a hammering having been taken.
Colonel Kettles, on the other hand, had stood up to tremendous pressure and attack by the Press. He was unshaken. His nerve was perfectly steady and he never deviated from the defence of his troops and his regiment. If the Secretary of State had stood as firm as Colonel Kettles we should not be dividing the Committee tonight.
It is the Government's case, as expressed by the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for War, that the discipline of the Army is all right and that the relations with the Germans are all right. Yet, because of a Press campaign— which, according to their case, is an unworthy campaign and one without substance— they have quit under pressure and have let the Army down.
The Government have imposed a general punishment. They have said, "Because some men have misbehaved, the whole of the school shall be kept in." That, in substance, is what the midnight curfew amounts to. It is no use pretending that it is not a punishment. If it is not a punishment, why pick on B.A.O.R. alone? And why just pick on the privates of B.A.O.R.? The Secretary of State is not doing anything to the N. C. O. s. This curfew does not apply to them. He is not doing anything to the officers.
The officers are responsible for discipline. In my day, at any rate, if there was a breakdown in discipline, and if anyone were kept in because of it, the officers responsible were kept in. But in this case it is only the privates who are kept in. Indeed, it is only the privates of the Army. It does not include even the privates of the Royal Air Force.
If the Secretary of State wants to have a nice private riot not involving Germans, this, I should have thought, was the way to do it. I can almost visualise the Giles cartoon in which privates of the Royal Air Force are pointing out the clock to privates of the Army in a German estaminet. That is the sort of thing which will happen. It will happen because the Secretary of State, whose job it is to defend and support the Army, has quit under the pressure of a Press campaign.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who, as usual, gave us a most informed and excellent speech on this matter, has pointed out strongly that the discipline of the forces is the responsibility of the commanding officers and not of the Secretary of State. But the Secretary of State's job is to support the Army. If those responsible for discipline— the commanding officers— require their troops to be in at certain times, then, obviously, they should have authority to do so.
But the Secretary of State at this juncture, after this unfair and unjust campaign that is his own case— announces that the privates of B.A.O.R. are no longer to be considered as responsible people, that they and they alone— not the Air Force. N. C. O. s or officers— are to be treated like children and brought in at twelve o'clock. Really! What does he feel that will do to the discipline of the Army?
We have had a very interesting debate and I join with my right hon. and hon. Friends in saying that I think it is a very good thing that we have been given the opportunity of discussing these affairs. It seems to me that two principal questions emerge from the debate. First, is there anything really wrong with B.A.O.R.? Secondly, are we doing enough for our troops while they are in Germany?
From the beginning of the present controversy I have said that I do not believe that there is any serious cause for concern about B.A.O.R. as a whole. I do not want to minimise the various incidents which have taken place recently. In themselves, they are disturbing and each has been, or will be, very fully investigated and dealt with. But I refuse—and I have said this all along—to draw from these various incidents any general conclusion that the morale or discipline of B.A.O.R. is lower than we ought to expect.
The vast majority of officers and troops in B.A.O.R. are doing a really magnificent job. The facts are that the incidents which have received so much publicity have taken place over a considerable period of time and in quite different sections of B.A.O.R. None the less, there have been a number of suggestions, both in this Committee and outside, that the standard of discipline in Rhine Army has fallen. If there is one thing that is certain, it is that the state of discipline in a force of 50,000 or more troops should not be judged by three or four incidents.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) said, the figures speak for themselves. The standard of discipline in B.A.O.R. compares favourably with most other major commands, especially when we make allowance for the fact that in the Rhine Army, because of the Bonn Convention, civil offences are tried by courts-martial. In fact, the number of convictions has been dropping. Perhaps I can give one or two figures.
Convictions were 17·6 per 1,000 troops in 1960, 16·4 in 1961, and 14·6 in the first quarter of this year. Even so, about two-thirds of all those offences are either civil offences or arise from absence without leave, and there is a predominance of that because, as the Command is so close to the United Kingdom, more people get leave, and, as hon. Members know, there is a fairly strong temptation to go back to the unit a little late. The movement of the figures is in the right direction, and it is a movement at a time when there is increasing concern, not only in this country but all over the Western World, about the high crime rates in various populations.
Quite apart from those statistics, my confidence in the discipline of B.A.O.R. rests on the reports which I have received from the Commander-in-Chief and other senior officers who know the Rhine Army well, and I judge, from what we have heard in the debate today, that hon. Members who have recently visited B.A.O.R. would agree that, in general, there is no serious deterioration of discipline there.
It has been suggested that part of the trouble has been caused by our recruiting campaign, and that we have been taking in all applicants as recruits, irrespective of their character or history and that we have deliberately lowered our standards. There is no truth in this and the facts do not support this sort of theory. Our standards have been applied just as rigorously during the past eighteen months as they ever were applied before. In fact, last year, a year of great pressure for recruiting, we rejected more than 2,000 recruits on character grounds alone.
We are, of course, up against the practical difficulty which, generally speaking, faces all employers. We have only the man's word for his previous record in civil life. There is always a danger of recruiting some "bad hats". There has always been this danger. I do not want to join issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Critchley), who made a most interesting speech, but I must say that it is not right to come to the Committee and quote the sort of statement which has been made to him and which is not based on facts, and it is even worse that anybody should go to him with that sort of statement, of number of men in B.A.O.R., or in any unit, who have previous convictions; because I assure the Committee that there is no way of finding out what previous civil convictions a soldier may have, unless he is tried by a court-martial for that particular crime in military circumstances.
I must make this quite clear. Accusations have been made. It is a basic principle of British justice that when an employer is taking on somebody, he does not ask him about these things, and cannot get the Criminal Records Office to tell him. We in the Army should range ourselves with other employers and the Civil Service and the other Services and face this. It means that we may take in some "bad hats" as well as good people.
That is what happens. It would not affect the hon. Gentleman's constituents, but it is what happens. When a man volunteers to join up, he is asked to say whether he has any previous convictions.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what I mean. If the intending recruit signs a statement to say that he has not any previous convictions, and if he is the right sort of man and has the right intelligence, and so on, we take him on, and if he goes straight thereafter, why should he not be a very good soldier? What right have we, or the hon. Member, or anybody else to pry into his past?
The right hon. Gentleman is getting on fine, but he must not depart from the truth. There is an intervening process. When the man is asked whether he has any civil convictions and he says that he has not, he is also asked to give references. Then he arrives at the depôt and there is, or should be, or was, a period between his attestation and confirmation. That is where this has gone wrong. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that these references are taken up and that these inquiries are made, as an employer would make them if he were looking for men of high quality? Is the gap between attestation and confirmation sufficiently wide for these inquiries to be made?
I should like to pursue my own argument because it was in relation to the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that I took up this point. If we were scraping the bottom of the barrel, in the way which is sometimes suggested, to get these troops, by now there would be certain marked signs that this was happening. Yet, to give one example, of all those men who have been court-martialled for these much-publicised recent incidents, every one was recruited before 1960, that is to say, earlier than our concentrated recruiting campaign took place. If our recruiting campaign was allowing a lot of low-grade material, more than usual, to get into the Army, we could expect to see that reflected in a proportionate increase in discharges from the Army at a later period.
But this is not the case, although, as the Committee knows, recruiting figures have consistently and dramatically mounted in recent times. In fact, the number of soldiers discharged after getting through the recruit training stage has fallen below what it was two years ago, and this has happened at a time when the Regular strength of the Army has been steadily increasing.
Without going into details at this stage of how long there is between the time a man comes forward and when he is accepted, I can give the hon. Member for Dudley the undertaking that wastage, even at recruit training stage, has gone slightly down, although, of course, the number of recruits has gone up enormously. I quote that to the Committee only as a picture of the way in which things are going.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) and, perhaps even more fiercely, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) have criticised me for the part which I have played in all this controversy and quite properly, for I am responsible. But perhaps the Committee will allow me to put things into perspective.
As the hon. Member for Dudley said, in the week before the Whitsun Recess there were widespread accusations in the Press that the Army was trying, and trying deliberately, as an act of policy, to hush up courts-martial in B.A.O.R. As there was no truth whatsoever in this, none at all, I felt compelled, in the interests of the Army, whatever the outcome might be, to explode this myth. In my explosion I did not act quite as harshly as the hon. and learned Member did, for he said that he thought that all this ought to be referred to the Press Council. Although he criticised me for what I said, I wanted merely to try to tell the truth of what happened.
Thereafter, the Press became very agitated and there followed a great deal of publicity about the brawl in Minden, which had taken place early in April. I ought to say, in reply to the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson), that all the disciplinary action over the Minden incident had taken place and had been completed before this Press explosion occurred, and that it would be wrong in any way to blame the severity of the disciplinary action on the commanding officer having been frightened by the Press campaign. This happened before— except for a particular court-martial case in which there is a query, an appeal, which I should not like to go into as I am in a judicial position. This all happened long ago and was not done in the heat and burden of the moment.
Quite apart from the fact that, of course, all the disciplinary action had been taken already, I quite agree with the hon. Member for Dudley that it would have been wholly wrong for me to have attempted in any way to have intervened at that stage. These matters were for the Commander-in-Chief and supporting commanders. They were disciplinary matters and even though there was much public clamour at that time I had no intention of taking any action myself and I went away on holiday. This does not appear to me, to use the words of the right hon. Member for Smethwick, as if I was flurried and under pressure. I went away and I think that was the right thing to do.
I want to say something now about the television programme. I apologise for having left the Chamber for a few minutes during the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds). I have now seen for myself the I.T.V. programme to which he referred. I made a special point of going to see it. It has also been seen by a number of officers of Rhine Army. In my view, the programme was biased and also irresponsible. My Department has written to express its concern about it. I cannot confirm or deny the reports which the hon. Member had from Minden about the way in which it was carried out. I cannot make comments on that.
I say that it was biased and irresponsible and I hope that the hon. Member will accept that from me. I do not know whether he has seen the programme, but if so, he would no doubt take the same view. I was away at the time and General Cassels quite properly agreed to see the Press and, in doing so, to put things in their proper perspective.
Surely it is the business of the right hon. Gentleman to be able to confirm whether or not a lady was used as a decoy and the other specific charges which were made in regard to this? Is not an inquiry being made? Are we not entitled to know that?
The hon. and learned Member, being learned, knows about the legalities of these things. An inquiry is being carried out. It will go through the normal channels of an ordinary military inquiry into various accusations, which were made on that programme. If anything arises out of those accusations, and it is found to be true, proper military discipline will be brought into play.
The hon. and learned Member says that this is my responsibility, but I hope that he will not go wrong on this. It is not my responsibility. If any of those accusations were true and officers had been fighting— I want to be careful, because an inquiry is going on— and if any of these things led to officers requiring disciplinary action, such action would be taken.
It is also not my responsibility to be able to say whether a young lady was making certain statements in a "pub" at three o'clock in the morning. The whole programme started after midnight and was not filmed until three o'clock in the morning. Inquiries are going on. I did not make this accusation. It was the hon. and learned Member.
I want to finish. I hope that the hon. and learned Member will allow me to continue.
One thing was perfectly plain when I returned to this country after a week's holiday. It was that there was some public concern in general about a matter which had not previously been understood, namely, our Army regulations, which had been framed only last year, which permitted soldiers to be out of camp all through the night. I ask the Committee to understand that information which came to me from all sources showed that there was mounting concern about the dangers to which soldiers in B.A.O.R. were being unwittingly exposed by being allowed to wander at will 'in the early hours of the morning. Soldiers' families were worried and the relatives of would-be recruits were obviously concerned. It became apparent that a considerable number of the cases where soldiers had got themselves into trouble since the introduction of our new system had occurred in the early hours of the morning.
At the end of June there occurred another and unrelated incident at Schneverdingen. There was one at Putlos, but I cannot give further details of that. On my present information it looks as though no Germans were, in fact, involved; if that is so there may be further disciplinary action arising out of that case. General Cassels and I discussed matters and decided that it would be a wise and sensible step to tighten up the rules a little at this stage and go back to our earlier regulations. There was no hasty action nor any question of punishment. It was simply felt that our experiment in freedom had shown more disadvantages than advantages for B.A.O.R.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick referred to a dramatic statement I made in the House. Normally speaking, this would have been announced from Rhine Army Headquarters, but I think that one thing has been forgotten. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton had a Private Notice Question on that day—when the House reassembled—about the latest developments in B.A.O.R. I did not feel that I could reply to it without informing the House of a decision which I knew was to be implemented that very night. If I was wrong in doing that, I am sorry, but it seemed to be the right thing to do.
This has been called a new curfew, but it is not a new curfew. All we have done is to go back to the system which existed exactly a year ago and to bring our Rhine Army broadly into line with other armies stationed in Germany. As the Committee knows, it has been our policy to try progressively to bring the Army into line with civil life. In 1959, we removed the requirement for booking in and out of barracks in all commands other than B.A.O.R. The reason we did not do it there until last year was that we recognised that B.A.O.R. was a rather special case, as there are unusual facilities for drinking at late hours. In practice, the new regulations have not affected the average soldier very much because the normal man is usually in by midnight anyway. What appears to have happened is that we have exposed to temptation and danger just that element of the Army who are liable to get themselves into trouble.
Towns like Minden and Hilden have a lot in common with Smethwick and, perhaps, Northampton. The right hon. Member and the hon. and learned Member will know that very little goes on in those towns after midnight— at least I imagine that they know that. It is the same in these towns in Germany, with the one major exception that there are no licensing hours in Germany. One can go on drinking all night, and drink is strong and cheap. There lies the principal temptation for those who may be out without purpose in the early hours of the morning.
I am sure that commanding officers will be able to go back to the old system without any inconvenience to the average, decent soldier. A system of passes will be perfectly well arranged, but the way in which that system operates for corporals, lance corporals, sergeants, married soldiers and unmarried soldiers, will be a matter for the Commander-in-Chief as he thinks right.
There is this question of the difference compared with the Royal Air Force, Much play was made of this by the hon. and learned Member. I hope that he will look up facts a little more. He suggested that we are doing something while the Royal Air Force is doing something else and that there will be fighting and bad feeling; but the Royal Air Force changed its rules in 1946. From that time onwards there was no impediment to Royal Air Force men going out all night and it was not until 1959 that the Army came into line. There was no bad feeling during all that long period when the Royal Air Force was, so to speak, out of step with the Army. Why should there be any today? There are far fewer Royal Air Force personnel in Western Germany than there are soldiers and generally they are not stationed, as the Army is, on the outskirks of large garrison towns.
I turn to the other main question, whether we are doing enough for the troops in Germany. The right hon. Member for Smethwick spoke about building and, of course, that is important. We want married quarters and I have no doubt that the right answer for the married man is to get his family out to him. Already, there are over 3,000 officers and 9,000 other ranks in married quarters. There are a further 200 officers and nearly 3,000 other ranks living with their families in Germany in other forms of accommodation. In fact, that is 76 per cent. of those entitled to be with their families.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick suggested—or I thought that he did—that perhaps the officers may be getting a better deal than other ranks. That may be so and I will tell the Committee why. Men are allotted married quarters on a points system which is made up of two main things, the length of time a man has been away from his family or length of service, and it stands to reason that the more senior the soldier, by and large, the more time he has served.
Hon. Members who have visited B.A.O.R. will, I think, agree that considerable progress is being made under the multiple hiring system. But there is a shortage of land and the German building industry is under very heavy pressure. Those are among the difficulties which we are having to face. We have provided about 200 specially constructed caravans. That represents a short-term bridging operation, but I can tell the Committee that those living in what are really splendid caravans seem to be glad to take advantage of this way of being united with their families.
I will go into that with the hon. Gentleman. It is not an easy matter, because hard standings have to be provided and a lot of other things and I do not want to start what might be called a "caravan Army". We will see what can be done, but we must keep a proper balance.
The aim for the single men in barracks is to try to get their barracks as comfortable as possible and to improve the welfare conditions. Already, we have done a lot. Last July, we started a special programme of improvements to barracks, embracing about 50 barracks and involving an expenditure of £ 2 million. I should like to assure the hon. Member for Paisley that the barracks of the Cameronians at Minden will be included in the programme and so will the barracks of the Lancashire Regiment at Hilden.
Boredom has been referred to and I can understand the effect of it. To deal with this is easier said than done, but I accept what hon. Members have said about the difficulty experienced by soldiers in B.A.O.R. in utilising their spare time. Every major unit has a junior ranks' club, which includes a corporals' room, a canteen, a tavern, a games room, billiards and table tennis. These clubs are usually run by members of the Women's Voluntary Service and anyone who has seen the clubs will agree that splendid work is being done. Good quality drinks are served at reasonable prices.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham referred to the sale of strong drink. This is, of course, a controversial subject, but I think it better to allow men to drink wholesome strong drink—if that is the right way to describe it—in a place of their own, rather than that they should obtain drink in undesirable places where although the drink is just as cheap, and just as strong, the conditions under which they drink and the company in Which they might mix would not be the sort that hon. Members would advocate.
I should always include whisky, but not perhaps the sort of "whisky" which the hon. Gentleman drinks in his part of Scotland.
I have been asked whether we might try to provide good British beer. We used to provide keg beer, but for some reason the demand fell off. The N.A.A.F.I. is prepared to do something about this. When I go out to B.A.O.R., if I find that there are difficulties about these or any other matters, I intend to deal with them and to do my best to see that they are put right
N.A.A.F.I. clubs used to be very popular. I agree that they provide centres where people might gather out of barracks. But, curiously enough, the popularity of these clubs fell off and the financial loss was very heavy. For example, in 1960 one N.A.A.F.I. club took only £ 3,800 for the whole year and the N.A.A.F.I. made a loss of £ 3,500 on the deal. This comes from the "divi" which goes to the men, the rebates, so we have to be careful. But if changing circumstances in B.A.O.R. are leading to a new requirement for this sort of thing we must consider what can be done.
There are 40 cinemas in B.A.O.R. and the programmes are changed four times a week. There are two performances a day—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too many".] I am told that they are all very cultural films. I have been looking at the question of television. There are all sorts of difficulties in addition to the cost of providing a programme. Recently, I have put in motion a renewed examination of this project and we are following up all available lines. Although there are a great many difficulties I shall continue to explore the possibilities to see what can be done. I quite understand that if we could get more English television it would make a great deal of difference.
The problems are much the same in relation to live entertainment. Attendances at live entertainments fell off in B.A.O.R., but if I can get something going such as is required to meet the needs I shall be very glad. I have been asked, also, about female companionship——
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had forgotten that. He has been enumerating all the amenities and he has indulged in a certain amount of propaganda, to which I do not object. But can he now come to the pièce-de-résistance of the matter? What about the W.R.A.C.? Can he inject a large number of the W.R.A.C. into these centres? I think that that would solve the whole problem.
I doubt whether I should be able to provide the kind of pièce-de-résistance which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
There are practical limitations to the number of members of the W.R.A.C. who may be stationed in B.A.O.R. Part of the difficulty arises from accommodation and administration, and we have also been hampered by the fact that the numbers in the W.R.A.C. have been limited. I am happy to tell the Committee, however, that in recent months recruitment has considerably increased. Whether that is because of an expectation among the recruits that they will be able to go to places like Minden, I do not know. But, with the improvement, I hope to achieve an increase in the number of the W.R.A.C. who can be sent to B.A.O.R. in the coming months. However, there must be a limit to the number, because we must remember that Rhine Army is an operational Command and that only a certain number of members of the W.R.A.C. can be used.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick and my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Olive Bossom) spoke of the responsibility of officers. This is a very important point. I can assure the Committee that the Commander-in-Chief is very much alive to these problems. There is one lie that I must nail. It is not true—and this is part of the responsibility of officers—to say that the majority of the soldiers do not know what they are doing in the Army. That is an over-simplification and an exaggeration.
There will always be some soldiers, however well officered and wherever they may be, who do not know what they are doing. There will always be some soldiers who, when asked by Members of Parliament what they are doing, will rive answers which lead the Members of Parliament to believe that they do not know what they are doing. Probably these men do know, but they enjoy watching the look on the face of the Member of Parliament. I want to stress that it would be wrong to believe that there is no purpose in the minds of soldiers in B.A.O.R. To think otherwise is wholly wrong and I do not want that idea to be allowed to continue.
One consequence of the sort of publicity which the Army has been getting in the last few weeks might well have been a drop in the number of recruits, and that would have been very serious, especially at this important stage in the build-up of our new all-Regular Army. I have, therefore, been looking at the figures with unusual interest and I am happy to say, and to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and other hon. Members, that so far no such ill-effects are apparent. I am sure, at least I hope, that by now if recent events were to have any effect, we should be experiencing the effect.
Last year, the total figure for recruiting was 25 per cent. up on 1960. This year, that is to say, by the end of last week, recruiting from civil life was 49 per cent. up on 1960 and 33 per cent. up on last year. Last week, there was an increase of 58 per cent. over the corresponding week last year. I hope that this information will be encouraging not only to the Committee, but to the Army, for it is the reputation of the Army which is reflected in the number of people wishing to join its ranks.
In B.A.O.R. we have a force which is unique in the military history of our nation, an Army over 50,000 strong deployed for more than seventeen years in a foreign country. It has changed from a conquering Army to an Army of occupation and then to a component in an allied shield. In this period Western Germany, too, has changed enormously. This vast enterprise, which we sometimes take for granted, is bound to creak and rumble a bit from time to time. There are bound to be more troubles as times goes on. One need only look at the local newspapers week by week to see that people in this country misbehave themselves and I therefore hope that hon. Members will understand if this sort of thing happens in B.A.O.R.
It is a great tribute to the Army and to its commanders that its standard of behaviour and morale is so consistently high. We, for our part, must do all possible to fortify and sustain these men in the task they are performing, not only for their own nation, but for the free world as a whole.
|Division No. 240.]||AYES||7.1 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Harper, Joseph||Parker, John|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Paton, John|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hayman, F. H.||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Healey, Denis||Peart, Frederick|
|Baird, John||Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bence, Cyril||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Probert, Arthur|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Hilton, A. V.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Benson, Sir George||Holman, Percy||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Blackburn, F.||Houghton, Douglas||Randall, Harry|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics. S.W.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Reid, William|
|Bowles, Frank||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Boyden, James||Hunter, A. E.||Rhodes, H.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Janner, Sir Barnett||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N|
|Callaghan, James||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Ross, William|
|Chapman, Donald||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Cliffe, Michael||Jones, Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jones, jack (Rotherham)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Crosland, Anthony||Kelley, Richard||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Kenyon, Clifford||Small, William|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Deer, George||King, Dr. Horace||Snow, Julian|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lawson, George||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Diamond, John||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Dodds, Norman||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Steele, Thomas|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||Lipton, Marcus||Stones, William|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lubbock, Eric||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Evans, Albert||Mclnnes, James||Swingler, Stephen|
|Fernyhough, E.||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Fitch, Alan||Mackie, John (Enfield, East)||Thornton, Ernest|
|Foot, Dingle (Ipswich)||Manuel, Archie||Warbey, William|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Marsh, Richard||Weitzman, David|
|Forman, J. C.||Mayhew, Christopher||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mellish, R. J.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Millan, Bruce||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Milne, Edward||Wigg, George|
|Ginsburg, David||Mitchison, G. R.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C||Moody, A. S.||Willey, Frederick|
|Gourlay, Harry||Moyle, Arthur||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Mulley, Frederick||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Grey, Charles||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby,S.)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Oram, A. E.||Woof, Robert|
|Gunter, Ray||Owen, Will||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Padley, W. E.|
|Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Paget, R. T.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Mr. Redhead and Mr. McCann.|
|Hannan, William||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Allason, James||Biffen, John||Brewis, John|
|Arbuthnot, John||Biggs-Davison, John||Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Bingham, R. M.||Brooman-White, R.|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Brown, Alan (Tottenham)|
|Barter, John||Bishop, F. P.||Browne, Percy (Torrington)|
|Batsford, Brian||Black, Sir Cyril||Bryan, Paul|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Bossom, Clive||Buck, Antony|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Bourne-Arton, A.||Bullus, Wing Commander Eric|
|Bell, Ronald||Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Boyle, Sir Edward||Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Hollingworth, John||Prior-Palmer, Brig. Sir Otho|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hopkins, Alan||Profumo, Rt. Hon. John|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Hornby, R. P.||Pym, Francis|
|Chataway, Christopher||Homsby-Smlth, Rt. Hon. Dame P.||Ramsden, James|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hughes-Young, Michael||Rees, Hugh|
|Cole, Norman||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Cooper, A. E||Iremonger, T. L.||Renton, David|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||James, David||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Costain, A. P||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rippon, Geoffrey|
|Coulson, Michael||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Robertson, Sir D. (C'thn's & S'th'ld)|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)|
|Crawley, A. M||Kershaw, Anthony||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Cunningham, Knox||Kimball, Marcus||Roots, William|
|Currie, G. B. H||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Russell, Ronald|
|Dance, James||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Sharpies, Richard|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Lindsay, Sir Martin||Shaw, M.|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Litchfield, Capt. John||Shepherd, William|
|Doughty, Charles||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Drayson, G. B||Longbottom, Charles||Smithers, Peter|
|du Cann, Edward||Longden, Gilbert||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Loveys, Walter H.||Speir, Rupert|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Emery, Peter||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Stodart, J. A.|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||McAdden, sir Stephen||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J||McLaren, Martin||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Farr, John||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain (Enfield, W.)||Taylor, Frank (M'ch'st'r, Moss Side)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||McMaster, Stanley R||Temple, John M.|
|Foster, John||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Maddan, Martin||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Fraser, lan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Maitland, Sir John||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|Freeth, Denzil||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D||Marshall, Douglas||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Gammans, Lady||Marten, Neil||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Gardner, Edward||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Touche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Mawby, Ray||Turner, Colin|
|Gilmour, Sir John||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Mills, Stratton||Van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Miscampbell, Norman||Vane, W. M. F|
|Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell|
|Godber, J. B||Morrison, John||Walder, David|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Walker, Peter|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg. Cdr. R||Nabarro, Gerald||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir Derek|
|Green, Alan||Neave, Airey||Wall, Patrick|
|Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Gurden, Harold||Noble, Michael||Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard||Webster, David|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Whitelaw, William|
|Hare. Rt. Hon. John||Orr Capt L. P. S||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Page, John (Harrow, West)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Wise, A. R|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Pannell Norman (Klrkdale)||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Person Frank (Clltheroe)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Hastings, Stephen||Percival lan||Woodhouse, C. M|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. sir Lionel||PickThorn, Sir Kenneth||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Pilkington, Sir Richard||Woollam, John|
|Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Pltman, Sir James||Worsley, Marcus|
|Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Pott Percivall||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hlrst, Geoffrey||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Mr. Chichester-Clark and|
|Hobson, Sir John||Price, David (Eastlelgh)||Mr. Finlay.|
|Holland, Philip||Price, H. A. (Lewlsham, W.)|