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New Clause—(Candidates For Commissions)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1947

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Where persons are during their terms of whole-time or part-time service selected as candidates for commissions in his Majesty's Forces, it shall not be made a condition of their acceptance as such candidates that they shall perform additional whole-time service after the completion of their terms of whole-time service except in accordance with regulations made by the Service Authorities under this Act.—[ Mr. A. V. Alexander.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.42. p.m.

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

During the Committee stage of the Bill the Opposition moved the introduction of a new Clause to the effect that regulations should be introduced providing for the attainment of commissioned rank by selected men during or immediately after the expiry of their 12 months' service. I promised then to consider whether some suitable Amendment could be put on the Order Paper to meet the situation as it was submitted to me then and this new Clause is submitted in fulfilment of that promise. The reduction of the whole-time period of service to 12 months has naturally given rise to the question: Can officer training he completed in the time, or what other arrangement is proposed? Of course we should hope to get some candidates from among National Service men suitable for training as regular officers, but those selected for training for regular commissions will of course, make a fresh contract and thus be enabled to undergo the full course of military training which would be essential to prepare them for regular commissions; and they would be released from their engagements if they afterwards failed to gain such a commission. But in general, National Service men who wish to become officers will be thinking in the main of obtaining commissions in the Auxiliary and Reserve Forces. They will not want to do more full-time service therefore than is absolutely necessary, and will be anxious to get back to their civilian professions or trades. We are seeking to meet that situation as well as we can.

It is anticipated that in the case of the Army these cases will be very largely met. Nearly all the men will be selected from National Service men for training for commissions of that kind. We think we can complete their training within a year except in a few of the more technical cases. While we have not yet reached detailed and final decisions in the case of the Royal Air Force, they tell me that probably the great majority of the branches of that Service will be covered in the same way. Of course in the Royal Air Force there are specialist and technical commissions for which it would not be possible to complete training in that time and that is one of the reasons why we shall wish to lay regulations. The same applies, of course, very largely to the Royal Navy. I think we have met the situation by providing that a man shall not be required, as a condition of his obtaining a commission from among National Service candidates, to serve more than the standard whole time period as a condition of getting his commission unless regulations are laid. I quite understood the point which was pressed that in the case of a Bill of this kind which deals with National Service for a considerable period in peacetime, the House would need to be informed of the general conditions governing commissions under National Service, and therefore I propose to lay regulations for the selection of candidates for commissions of that kind before the House and they will be able to follow the normal Parliamentary procedure and raise in the House any points on which they are not satisfied. I think I have met the point of view that was put forward and I hope the Clause will be passed right away.

3.45 p.m.

I am not clear, from what the Minister of Defence said, how the Navy is to come into this. I think the whole Clause is for the benefit of the Army, although a few kind words were said about the Royal Air Force, and finally about the Navy, to assure the House that they have not been overlooked. But let the House understand that no person, after one year's service, with one possible exception which I will mention later, can be expected to get a commission in the regular Navy. A year's service will be of assistance towards that knowledge which every officer must have. It will be a great help in developing those officer-like qualities which he will need later on, but to say that he will get, or can be anywhere near, getting a commission in 12 months, is fooling the House.

I have not said anything of the kind. What I said was that the case of the Royal Navy was very much like that of the special and technical branches of the Royal Air Force, and therefore we should need special regulations.

I hope the Minister will tell the House more. I am a little bewildered. There are conditions in which, after a year's service, a man keen on officer rank can achieve it. He can join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and from the ranks of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve he may get a commission. That is one way of doing it, but to get it straight away is not possible.

The Minister shakes his head. I am glad he indicates that that will not be the case. There is a type of commission which might be given. We are talking here about a man or boy of 18 years of age, but many others will come in at a later stage in life who may have achieved great technical knowledge in radar, or something of that sort. They may be given a commission, not in the R.N., but in the Reserve, or as we called it during the war, the Special Reserve, distinguished by a green stripe. There is certain technical knowledge for which general naval service is not necessary, and a man possessing such knowledge might be given a commission. However, I will not press the point. The Minister is evidently doing his best, and no man can do more than that. But I think everybody is still very bewildered as to how any one in the Naval Service can imagine that he will get a commission, until some period of time has elapsed, and some experience has been gained after one year's service.

The hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Captain Marsden) should remember that a great number of naval officers who did great service in the last war, had much less than a year's service. In fact, I think I am right in saying that at one time, more than half, indeed, more than three-quarters, of the officers serving in His Majesty's Navy had been commissioned with less than a year's service. Therefore, I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member's remarks can be taken as wholly correct. On the other hand, I agree with him that a single year would not bring any one up to the tremendously high standard required of a regular R.N. officer. We must, however, remember that the whole object of this conscription Bill is to create a reserve, and that reserve cannot be expected to be quite up to the standard of the full-time regular Force. I wish to make this suggestion, which I believe is important, from the point of view not only of the Navy but of the other Services concerned. This reserve will not be of much use to us unless we also have a reserve of officers. A large reserve of privates is something, but it would not be entirely satisfactory. I suggest that full use should be made of the cadet organisations to bring people up to the standard where they can be trained as officers, and that a system should be instituted, whereby people can go through the voluntary cadet organisation, which will provide great encouragement for the recruitment of these cadet organisations. Provided that they get a proper recommendation, they can then go straight into O.C.T.U. and spend their year of training there. Officers' training corps have in the past brought lots of young men up to the standard at which they were fit to be trained for officers. I believe that if the cadet corps were expanded and used upon that basis, they would bring forward the officer material, the people who are keen—

This new Clause deals with the method of selection of candidates for commissions in the Forces under this Bill and not the general question of how commissions are granted.

As I am speaking after the hon. and now learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), I should like to take this opportunity of extending to him my congratulations, and those of some of my colleagues, on die event which took place this morning. I wish to ask the Minister whether he envisages that officers who are commissioned by regulations made under this new Clause will be commissioned in the auxiliary Forces and will later be allowed, if they so wish, to transfer to the regular Forces. If so, will regulations to provide for that be made in accordance with the last line of this new Clause?

The right hon. Gentleman intimated that some of the officers created under this new provision would probably desire to serve in what I might call the Territorial Force Would he indicate whether he intends that officers for the Territorials shall be provided in this way, or from what source does he anticipate that those officers shall be provided? I should have thought that perhaps the majority of officers for the Territorials in the future would come forward this way very satisfactorily.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, in line 1, to leave out from the beginning, to "it," in line 2, and to insert;

"The service authorities shall make provision for the attainment of commissioned rank either during or immediately upon the expiry of the term of whole time service by persons called up for service under this Act and selected as candidates for commissions in His Majesty's forces and."
I hope that, even at this late stage, the right hon. Gentleman will consider the propriety of asking himself whether this Amendment is not an improvement upon the Clause to which the House, at his suggestion, has just given a Second Reading. The main question seems to be quite clear, and without wishing to be controversial I think we may regret that we have not had any discussion upon it earlier. We had no discussion at all on the Second Reading. Although the topic was introduced by one or two speakers on this side of the House, Ministers were then apparently unprepared to deal with it. The question is surely this: We are now to have a semi-permanent conscript scheme. I take it that it is ministerially intended to be really permanent, because of what the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence told us about his courage in introducing a conscription scheme in what he described as a more or less normal peacetime. If such a system is to work, it will mainly—certainly largely—depend upon the question of whether the Force which is provided, is or is not properly officered. Therefore, it seems to me plain that from the first, the House and the country should have known how it was intended to get officers for that Force, and how it was intended that conscripts should reach officer rank.

I am not very much impressed by the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman suggested just now—and also I agree an hon. and gallant Member on this side of the House—about the more technical branches in the Army, about the Navy and about the flying crews for the Royal Air Force. Of course, it is true that for those branches, it is not to be expected that a man shall learn everything and reach the level of a competent officer within 12 months. That does not necessarily mean that he is not fit to be commissioned at the end of 12 months, because hitherto, before the war, men have reached commissioned rank in all those departments without any previous whole-time service at all. That is what has happened in this country under the voluntary system—men got Territorial commissions, Reserve commissions and equivalent commissions in the Navy without having had any whole-time service.

Turning to foreign parts, it was certainly true in both France and Germany before 1939 that a man had a smaller whole-time service if he was going into the officer reserve than did those who were going into the reserve, as other ranks or ratings. Even in those cases I do not think that the difficulties are insurmountable. The main thing is that it should be made plain in the Statute, and not merely introduced afterwards by administrative action by the right hon. Gentleman and the Service Ministers. It should be made quite plain in the Statute that the normal method of getting a commission on the Reserve should be that one gets one's commission just at the end of one's conscript service.

If that is not done there will be two great disadvantages. The right hon. Gentleman told us, I think it was at an early part of the Committee stage, that one of the advantages of cutting down conscript service from 18 months to 12 months was the number of labour hours thus saved. I ask him to consider that in getting civilian life going again, in getting our productive capacity going, increasing it and so on, the most important class of people will be the best young men as they are now emerging or have been emerging in the last year or two from the schools. Therefore, any advantage there is in cutting down the interruption of the civilian careers of people who are not going to rise above the rank of private, is very much grater indeed in connection with those who are fit to be commissioned. It ought to be made plain in the Statute that such young men will not have their ordinary civilian professional careers interrupted for longer than would be the case if they remained in the ranks.

If not, there will be two disadvantages. One is that the Services will get fewer of the best young men in their reserve of officers than they ought to get; the other is that the officering of civilian life will be delayed and will, to some extent, get the best men coming to it a year or two later than they intended to, and more or less disgruntled. Those are the disadvantages we wish to avoid. We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for going some way to meet us, but we are still not clear that he has done all that he ought to have done. We still ask him to consider this Amendment. Along with it—I hope this is not out of Order—I ask him to consider the question of young men who, by a more or less formal pledge, have received, or are on the point of receiving, commissions, the more or less formal pledge being "If you have a commission in this regiment, you are expected to stay x years." I am quite sure that that system, if allowed to go on, will have very bad effects, especially very bad social effects. I am quite sure that something of that sort has been happening, and is still happening. We ought to have assurances about that.

I shall be very glad to meet the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) as far as possible, but I think that if he will read in print what I said just now in moving the Second Reading of the new Clause, he will see that most of the points he has made have been met except in those cases where candidates are selected for commissions in the more technical and specialist sides of the Services The statement I made was that in the case of the Army, the great majority of men selected from National Service candidates for commissioning in the reserve forces will be able to complete their training within 12 months. No question of extra time arises. I have said that probably it will not be possible to complete training for certain specialist and technical commissions, and that we will lay regulations governing the process under which selection will be made in those cases, so that the House will have an opportunity of considering them and raising any point which arises. Therefore, I think that the great majority of the cases which have been in the minds of the hon. Member and his hon. Friends who have been interested in this matter, have been met He says, of course, that the provision should be made plain in the Statute. On that point, I would say that the position is made plain in the Statute except in so far as the detailed regulations governing those who will be selected for the more technical and special commissions are concerned These will have to be covered by regulations and can be checked up on in the House. All the other part will be put into the Statute by the new Clause. Therefore, I think I have met his point.

If I may reply to the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low), and the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart), I am certain that the very large proportion, especially in the Army, of the officers who will be required for the reserve forces of the future—and we shall be building up very large reserves—will have to he found from among those who will be selected from the National Service candidates in the course of their normal training. If there is any question with regard to ultimate transfer from, say, the auxiliary to the regular forces, I have no doubt it will be arranged that that can be covered by the regulations to be submitted to the House. I should very much prefer that, when we are dealing with the selection of candidates for regular commissions, we should try to arrange that they make a decision whether or not they are to be regular officers during their period of training in the ranks so that we can decide then whether they show the officer-like qualities and general ability that the authorities think will be necessary in giving what is a very great honour, the opportunity of a very great career as a regular professional officer in the Services. Nevertheless, if it is found necessary to arrange for transfer, I have no doubt that any such provision could be covered in the regulations. I hope that with this explanation, hon. Members will feel that in the main the spirit, at any rate, of what the hon. Member for Cambridge University had in mind, has been met.

None of us on this side of the House would like to appear ungracious to the right hon. Gentleman who, undoubtedly, has done his best since the Committee stage to meet us on what we consider to be a most important point. Some part, at any rate, of my disquiet as to the actual wording of the Amendment was removed by the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I should like the opportunity, which he suggested, of reading in detail the report of his remarks, but it seems to me that he laid down, much more clearly and definitely than we have had it up to now, the principle that, wherever possible, these people would get their commissions during their 12 months' service. The cases in which we all admit it would be impossible for them to do it, seem to me to be relegated by the right hon. Gentleman to the exception rather than, as appeared before, proving to be the rule. All that I think my hon. Friend desires now by his Amendment is to ensure that the emphasis which the right hon. Gentleman gave to this question in his speech, which is ephemeral in character, should appear in a permanent form in the legislation. I hope my hon. Friend will agree when I say that it has now come to a matter of wording. I think that there is no difference in spirit between the right hon. Gentleman and ourselves. If before this is discussed in another place, the right hon. Gentleman would see whether some other form of words could be introduced which, while not altering the substance in any way, would give greater emphasis to the fact that a year would be the normal method, and a longer period, by regulation, would be the exceptional method, I think that would go far to meet us. In those circumstances, I would advise my hon. Friend not to press his Amendment.

Perhaps I may, by leave, ask one question. I am sorry if this is confronting the right hon. Gentleman with a difficulty, but I do not think it is. May we take it that the Amendment is contrary to what the Secretary of State for War—I am not in the least making a point against him here—said at an earlier stage, when he was inclined to think that a high proportion of these young men getting commissions would have to be held, in order to deal with the next intake of conscripts? May we take it that the remarks which I attributed to the Secretary of State for War do not indicate what is now the official view?

I think the explanation by the hon. Member is quite right, although I would not accept that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War gave that impression. It may have been somebody else.

Amendment to the proposed Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause added to the Bill.