In subsection (2) of section eighty-three of the Army Act (which makes provision for appointments to a corps and for transfers) the word "unless" shall be omitted, and there shall be inserted the words—
"Provided that a soldier appointed to any corps or regiment of infantry may be transferred without his consent to any other corps or regiment within the same group if:"
and at the end of the subsection there shall be inserted the words—
"For the purpose of this subsection a group shall mean any of the groups of corps or regiments of infantry notified in Army Orders or Army Council Instructions."—[ Mr. A. R. W. Low.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."The object of this new Clause is to provide that those who have been attested or re-engaged since the date put into the Army Act last year should be compulsorily transferable only within the infantry from one group to the other, but should not be subject to compulsory transfer from one corps to another. As I understand it, last year this Committee amended the Army Act to allow for compulsory transfer to take place from one corps to another, and one of the reasons adduced by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary when putting forward that Amendment was that they thought they must have power to transfer from regiment to regiment within the infantry in order that the group system might work. I have tried to provide for that in this new Clause. I realise that I have mentioned only one of the reasons put forward last year. I have tried to provide that the old provisions shall be so amended that it will be lawful to transfer soldiers from one regiment of infantry to another regiment of infantry within the same group. The groups are, I believe, already published in the Army Council Instructions, or are at any rate well known. What this new Clause is designed to try to avoid is soldiers enlisted to the Army in, say, the Royal Armoured Corps being compulsorily transferable to R.E.M.E., the Royal Corps of Signals, or even into the infantry. It is also designed to try to avoid soldiers enlisted into a regiment of infantry being compulsorily transferable to the Royal Corps of Signals, R.E.M.E., the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery, or anything else against his will, although he can be compulsorily transferred into another regiment of infantry within the same group. We had a discussion on this last year, and I do not want to go over all the arguments again. However, I would remind the Secretary of State of the very strong points made about the morale aspect of compulsory transfer. I was, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, not a Regular soldier, and I can perhaps not address the Committee at first hand; but I do know, from frequent discussions with hon. and gallant Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee, how very important is the morale factor in building up the Regular Army, and how very important to the morale of a soldier is regimental tradition and the feeling that he is in that regiment or corps for life. There has been an inroad into that as a result of the group system which has been introduced into the infantry. We must accept that for the time being; I appreciate that at present it is impossible to get over it. But I do not see that we need accept any larger inroad into that principle. 4.0 p.m. Secondly there is the recruiting point of view. It is important if recruits are to be encouraged to enlist in any regiment or corps of the Regular Army that they should, when they go into the corps or regiment, know that they are there for life if they should so wish. They should not feel they are open to compulsory posting against their will into a branch of the Service for which they did not enlist. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is a great deal of importance in that point from the recruiting point of view. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman's attitude is going to be to this new Clause, but one objection might be that the War Office are so short of recruits in some branches of the Service at the moment that they require this power to transfer men compulsorily in order to fill up the branches of the Service which are short. If that is the reason which the right hon. Gentleman is going to bring forward in opposition to this new Clause, I hope he will consider carefully what he is doing. He is really using the argument that he must have the power of compulsory transfer in order to fill up the gaps in Regular recruiting, gaps which are caused by the conditions of service, pay and other things, about which we are not concerned this afternoon. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will carefully consider the great disadvantages which I have briefly described from the moral and the recruiting point of view before he says that there is an overwhelming advantage in retaining the power of compulsory transfer which he now has, having taken it last year. Very briefly I have tried to put the important points. This question is of the greatest importance, and we in this Committee must be familiar with it because we have debated it before.
As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, this is an age-old battle between the senior administrative staff officers and the more junior executive officers. In two world wars, it is alleged, the system of unit recruiting on a county basis broke down. I am prepared to admit that that is true up to a point, but I should like to put very strongly the view of the more junior excutive officers as against the arguments put forward by the senior officers. I am very happy indeed to support the Motion proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low), who has had an extremely gallant record as a junior fighting officer and has also held a very high staff appointment. For him to move a new Clause such as this, proves conclusively there is much to be said in its favour. I have a haunting belief that a great deal of cross-posting, which took place in the war, was done without due thought at higher levels and was more in the interests of speed, tidiness and economy of effort than for any other very tangible reason. I am fully aware of all the arguments put forward against all persons from one geographical area being in one unit. That has now been overcome by the group system, and I am convinced that transfer should not take place outside the group system. I am adamant on that.I want to conclude by giving the sort of example which I, personally, saw happen not once but many many times during battle. I should like the Committee to picture for a moment a not very pleasant day on the Italian front. There is snow on the ground, it is raining hard and a number of men are in small slit trenches up to their waists in water, and they have been there for 10 or 12 days so that they are very tired indeed. In the middle of the night a draft is sent up to them to replace casualties. This draft has been culled from other regiments, even from other divisions. They go out in pitch dark and pouring rain, and are put under the command of officers and N.C.Os. who are complete strangers to them. They are asked to attack at 6 o'clock in the morning. That is asking too much of any man. I can assure the Committee that that is a fact, because I have repeatedly seen it with my own eyes, and I realise the danger of it. Unless this Clause is accepted a principle will be introduced in peacetime which has never been accepted before. It has been operated in war for reasons which I do not accept, and if it is introduced in peace the final situation will be, in the unfortunate event of another war occurring, even more disastrous than it has been in the past.
I do not wish to repeat everything that was said the last time we debated this matter a year ago. During that Debate both the Secretary of State for War and the Under-Secretary of State gave us one or two assurances as to how it was proposed to operate this power, which it had been decided to retain in time of peace. Today we are entitled to ask for a statement of policy on how this power has been operated and how it has worked. The right hon. Gentleman last year in the concluding words of his speech said:
I feel that all of us are anxious to be assured that it is necessary to retain this power. During the war a great many of us resented it very deeply, as has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer), but we realise that there was then a necessity. Both the Secretary of State for War and the Under-Secretary of State last year told us that it was essential to retain flexibility, and that, therefore, this power ought to be retained in time of peace. How long is that to go on? After all, the grouping system is not entirely popular throughout the Army, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows. We are not contesting that at all, but we are submitting that the group system allows sufficient flexibility, and we are prepared to accept that for the coming year, although we do not bind ourselves for future years. We must be satisfied that, before this cross-posting out of groups and in between groups continues, it is necessary, but we are not satisfied at all that it is. Last year the right hon. Gentleman doubted very much if it would be deleterious on recruiting. Perhaps he will tell us today, whether, in fact, there has been any effect on recruiting as a result of this cross-posting. It is equally important because of the wastage which it has caused. We should be told how many officers and other ranks have left or have applied to leave the Army because of cross-posting. We should certainly be given some indication whether or not men who have been in the Regular Army since the war have resented this so much that they have sent in their papers. If that is so, we should consider very seriously whether this should be continued for another year. The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend were very guarded in what they said. They said that they were approaching this most carefully and would only use this power in the last extreme, and would, if possible, avoid using it at all. We are entitled to know how often this power has been used. Has it proved effective? Is it really necessary in the coming year, or has it just been left in because there has been no pressure in the intervening period for it to be left out? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) would have liked to support the Clause very strongly, but, unhappily, he is absent through illness. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that last year he made a very effective speech on this point and the right hon. Gentleman said that he would bear in mind the points that were raised in that Debate. My hon. and gallant Friend was speaking from the experience of the war years and, of course, what was the experience in the war years is accentuated in time of peace; and there certainly is resentment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us a full statement about what has happened during the last year."We have to use our men to the best advantage. Does the Committee take exception to that? Surely not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1948; Vol. 449, c. 513.]
This is a most necessary Clause. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) mentioned senior staff officers. I think that he was referring to senior administrative staff officers because it was such officers on the lines of communication who found this system of dealing with men, to whom they referred in their jargon as "bodies," very much more convenient than dealing with men as men belonging to definite units. There is no doubt that this system is to some extent necessary for the group system but I believe that in the last war and certainly in the 1914–18 war it was often operated quite unnecessarily.I shall give an example to show how the system operated in the 1914–18 war. In a division which I had the honour at that time to command were certain battalions which after some rather heavy engagements suffered considerable casualties. We had come out of the line and I was riding round one day when I saw what was obviously a draft from the base standing outside the headquarters of one of my battalions. I decided to have a look at the draft and talk to some of the men, and I got off my horse and inspected the draft and asked the men where they had come from. Some of them were not very young soldiers. I found that they had come from a battalion of the Worcester Regiment and that every one of that draft of more than 100 men belonged to the Oxfordshire Light Infantry, another very distinguished regiment. They had had their badges taken out of their hats. Many of them were Regular soldiers and had been wounded and had come back again, and they found themselves transferred to another regiment, a very good regiment but not their own. They were strangers in a strange land, and, to use a vulgar expression, they were "as sick as mud" about it. There was certainly not much morale about that draft. What I have described was not an uncommon occurrence. 4.15 p.m. Something else happened at that time which was even more remarkable. A large draft arrived for a battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the same division, and it was found that all the men belonged to a territorial battalion of the Warwickshire Regiment in the same brigade. They had had the badges taken out of their hats. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment required a draft and in due course got one and the men were all transferred to a new regiment by a stroke of the pen at the base. I was able to get that undone. It was simple. By corresponding direct with G.H.Q. at once, I had the transfer cancelled and the draft posted to its own regiment. That was the sort of thing that went on. It saved somebody trouble. People would say, "We have so many bodies. Let us send them along." Something of the same kind happened in the last war also, and these cross postings were often undone by arrangements between the units concerned. A regiment would get a draft of men belonging to another regiment and, as a result of correspondence or personal touch, those men were sent where they belonged—the men were jolly glad of it—and other men were obtained in their place. It does not look as if the cross-posting system was very intelligently worked. It was brought to my notice by a distinguished senior officer that in the Second World War cross-posting meant very great hardship for the men concerned. They landed, say, in North Africa, belonging to a certain regiment, with all their mails addressed to them as belonging to that regiment and their comforts arranged through that regiment's association, and for two or three months after having been transferred to some other regiment they lost touch with their mails—which meant with their families at home—with their comforts and with everything else. They were nobody's children and wanderers in strange lands. These things are worth taking into consideration because it upsets the morale and spirit of the soldier to treat him as a "body" and post him anywhere. It also causes difficulty in cases where men have strong connections with a certain regiment. I have had letters from old soldiers who particularly want their sons to join their old regiment. One has sometimes been able to get that done by writing to the War Office, but there have been many cases of men with very strong regimental or county connections who have been sent somewhere else willy-nilly, which has nearly broken their hearts and the hearts of their parents. The Clause will mitigate these disadvantages, and I hope that it will be given favourable consideration.
The effect of the new Clause is to restrict the power of compulsory transfer to transfers from one regiment within a group to another regiment within that group. Though I do not want to make this a discussion merely on verbal matters, I ought to point out that the moving of a man from one regiment to another regiment in the same group is not, strictly speaking, a transfer and that we should have that power independently of the Amendment which was introduced into the Army and Air Force (Annual) Act last year. The Clause would therefore leave us with something which we have already. Passing the Clause would put us back in the position which existed before the Amendment inserted in the Army Act last year was accepted. The real issue is the merits or demerits of the power of compulsory transfer which was taken last year. I think the Committee would wish me to discuss the matter on the merits of that real issue.What were the reasons and, indeed, what still are the reasons for this power of compulsory transfer? The hon. Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) mentioned one undoubted reason, the problem of the balance of recruiting, particularly between the less technical and more technical arms, and he warned us quite rightly against laying too much stress on that reason; it may well be that if one finds a deficiency in recruiting in certain arms, one ought carefully to consider what there is in those arms and in that service which causes that deficiency. However, I am not satisfied that even if one made the most careful investigation into the reasons why men volunteer or do not volunteer for this or that arm, one would necessarily discover the answers with such certainty that one could solve the recruiting problem solely by better publicity, by changed conditions in this or that branch of the Service. There is an unbalance between the supply of recruits into different arms and branches of the Service and the demand for their service, which still remains as one valid reason for taking this power of compulsory transfer. However, I agree entirely with the hon. Member for North Blackpool that it is by no means the only reason, and that we could not rest the case on that alone. I would merely ask the Committee to remember that there is an unbalance between the supply of and demand for volunteers in different arms, and that this furnishes one reason for this power of compulsory transfer. A further reason lies in the fact that compulsory transfer was the rule during the war because we were in a state of emergency, but there are now in the Regular Army men who have a reserve right, when the emergency comes to an end, to go back to the corps to which they belonged originally if they wish to do so. There are probably more than 10,000 men with that right, and one cannot say for certain in advance whether, when the emergency comes to an end, they will wish to exercise that right or not. It remains, therefore, a large uncertain factor which might—and there is no means of telling whether it will or not—add greatly to the unbalance between the different corps. That is another reason, though again not by itself a complete reason why we asked for and obtained last year this power of compulsory transfer, to rectify unbalance that might arise from that cause. To my mind, however, there is an even more compelling reason. It lies in the unpredictability of changes in the art of war. We have all seen in the comparatively recent past great changes in the methods by which war is won, and every one of those changes, every new invention in the military art, alters an Army's demand for men in this, that or the other arm or branch of the Service. Consequently we must see that we are capable of moving men within certain limits as scientific necessity may require. Can any hon. Member tear aside the veil of the future and tell us what scientific inventions will occur in the next five or 10 years which will affect the rôle of the artillery for example? Will those inventions be such as to make it desirable for a modem Army to have a greater or less proportion of its men in the artillery than at present? There is really no certain way of answering that question for several years ahead, and if we attempted to assume that no such changes might occur, we need make no such provision against these unforeseen possibilities but we would be imposing stagnation on our Army. We would be requiring it to live as if the process of scientific invention were not going on. In effect, then, we are saying to the man who joins the Army today, "You will recognise something which was not true in the days of your father and grandfather; that is to say, you are going into the Army when the whole art of war is highly technical and where not even the wisest counsel can foretell what changes there will be in its technique during your period of service. Inevitably, therefore, if you want to give of your best to the Army you must be prepared for at least the possibility that you will be required to serve in future years in a different way from that which was your original intention." We also say to him, "We shall endeavour, so far as is humanly possible and consistent with the general efficiency of the Army, to enable your desire to be fulfilled, but you must recognise, since you live in a scientific age, that it may not be possible to fulfil it." Is not that something which affects the civilian as well as the soldier? The civilian today knows that he may be required to acquire new skills more frequently in a lifetime than his father or grandfather might have been required to do because he lives in a scientific age. Now the Regular soldier, I know, has every reason—and I have a suspicion that this is the point in the minds of hon. Gentlemen at this moment—to ask for greater security of tenure in the regiment or corps to which he belongs than has a civilian any right to expect in his civilian job. Despite that, the soldier cannot be divorced entirely from a scientific development that affects the whole of human society and every field of human activity. So really what is at issue is this. The Army has relied a great deal, and quite rightly, on old and traditional loyalties; on the desire of a man not merely to serve his country but to serve it in a certain way, to serve it among men of his own choice, to serve it in a regiment with which maybe his family has been associated. We shall do well to make the most of that strong sentiment of traditional loyalty, but we should do wrongly if we adhered to that to such an extent that we prevented the Army from taking full advantage of the developments of modern science. That is what is in issue at the present time, because it is the scientific changes in the technique of warfare that oblige us to say to the soldier, "Much as we respect your traditional loyalty, you must have in mind the possibility that we shall not be able throughout the whole of your service to keep you in exactly the regiment or the corps you desire." We are saying no more to him than that. We are merely saying, "This is one of the possibilities, not one of the probabilities or likelihoods, but it might happen to you and we are obliged to make that clear from the time you join the Army." I would go further and say that not only is there this necessity for the soldier of today to recognise what we ask him to recognise, but that increasingly he is recognising it. Not long ago we made an inquiry among a number of sergeants and warrant officers of long service who had sons at the age when they might consider going to an Army apprentice school or entering the Army on boy's service. We put to them the question, "What regiment or what arm or branch of the Service would you like your son to join?" The answer in every case was, "The one in which he will be able to give the best service." Some of them went on to say that they hoped the one in which their son would give the best service would be the one in which they themselves had served. All, however, without exception, made that a secondary consideration to the fact that the boy should enter that regiment, arm, or branch of the Service where, according to his particular abilities, he could give the best service. 4.30 p.m. I do not think we should have got that unanimity if that question had been put some 20 or 25 years ago. In those days the emphasis would have been much more on an almost automatic assumption that the boy should enter the particular regiment, arm or branch of the Service to which his father had belonged. I do not want to put too much stress on a particular experience but I think that suggests that, not only is there this inevitable necessity which I have described, but that it is recognised by the soldier of today. That is not unnatural, because, after all, this power of compulsory transfer has been with us as an emergency power for a considerable number of years. In answer to a question which was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), we really have no evidence to suppose that this fact of compulsory transfer is a cause of resignations from the Army. Resignations are caused by a great variety of considerations. I have tried to outline the reasons why we take this power. I should like, in conclusion, to say something about the use which has been made, or which it is proposed to make, of this power. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) drew a very moving picture of the position that might arise on active service—
It had actually arisen.
—if this power is unwisely used. Similar experiences were contributed by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys). Really, what was it that those hon. and gallant Gentlemen were arguing against? Not the possession of this power by the War Department, because I do not believe anyone would really contend that in time of war any War Department could fail to ask for and obtain this power of compulsory transfer. That is something we should need to have in time of war. What the hon. and gallant Gentlemen were really arguing against was its inefficient, stupid and unimaginative use in time of war. That is not an argument against the power being there. The real question is, how is it used, to what extent, and with what degree of imagination and regard for the feelings of the men—not bodies—who are to be moved. We have fulfilled, both in the letter and the spirit, the undertakings that were given when this matter was discussed last year. What I have to say next will show that, perhaps, it has been easy for us to do that because we have not so far used this power to transfer a single man.Hon. Members will realise that that is not altogether surprising because the number of men who, by virtue of the very powers we took would be liable to have them used on them, is so far very small. Whenever we had taken these powers it would have been most unlikely that any extensive use would have been made of them in the first year; we have, in fact, not used this power at all. We have, however, laid down an Army Council Instruction governing the use of this power. It makes it clear, first, that the power is to be used, or its use suggested or recommended, only if there is real necessity; second, that the men who are liable to be affected by it shall have the reasons for what is to be done set before them; third, that they shall have the right to state in writing their objections to being so transferred; and fourth, that the proposed use of the power, together with the objections of the men in question, shall come under the personal consideration of a member of the Army Council. Hon. Members may feel one way or the other about our having the power, but I think they will agree we have done our best to fulfil the undertaking we gave to the House last year and to take every precaution to ensure that the power should be efficiently used. The case, therefore, which I put to the Committee is that the request we made last year, and which, in effect, we are asking to have confirmed this year, arises from an inevitable necessity of mid-twentieth century life, a necessity that appears in every sphere of activity and from which the military sphere cannot be exempt. Second, not only is that necessity there, but it is increasingly recognised by the men in the Army themselves. Third, while, because of that necessity, we ask for the power, we are by no means unmindful of all the considerations so powerfully advanced by Members of the Committee, and we have already demonstrated our intention to exercise the utmost caution in its use and we shall bear all this in mind so long as we have these powers.
I intended, on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, to put the case for the new Clause, but the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State, as he was fully entitled to do, came in front of me. I now want to put one or two points to the Secretary of State himself. May I pay a tribute to the way in which the Under-Secretary endeavoured to put what, I think, is a weak case? I shall say why it is a weak case in a moment or two. Before I do so, I should like to make this observation. This is one of these fascinating little Debates which arise on what most people thought was going to be a dull afternoon in a thinly-filled House of Commons; fascinating because the issues involved are—this is the point I want to put to the Secretary of State himself—really fundamental to the whole spirit and morale of the British Army.I should like to call attention to the speeches made by my hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) and Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys), who were speaking front a wealth of experience and very distinguished war service in the two wars, and called attention to the injury which is done by cross-posting. Incidentally, perhaps I may tell my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing that the reason I called his attention to the fact that he was not seconding the Clause is that it is a very valuable right of Members of this Committee to move an Amendment without being seconded. Certain hon. Members in some quarters, however, are not always aware of this and rise to say, "I beg to second." It was for that reason that I called attention to this ancient right of the Committee. I should like to mention a case somewhat similar to that which has been put by my hon. and gallant Friends. While I do not claim that the branch of the Service in which I served for many years throughout the 1914 war—the Yeomanry—has any special merit over that of any other branch of the Service, it does happen to be a branch in which there was strong esprit de corps. One thing which gravely injured recruiting, at any rate for the Yeomanry—and I think many of my hon. Friends would agree that this applied also to recruiting for other branches of the Territorial service—after the 1914 war was the way in which, quite unnecessarily, Yeomanry regiments in particular, and Territorial regiments in general, were filled up with recruits who had no connection whatever with the counties from which those Yeomanry and Territorial regiments came. I apologise for having to say this to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is the fact that to some extent the Yeomanry regiments were class regiments, in the sense that those who belonged to them were farmers, traders and others from particular towns and country districts. That was why they were called Yeomanry. Those regiments, however, were filled up with men from the large towns who had nothing in common with those who formed the bulk of the voluntary members of the Yeomanry regiments. To some extent the same thing applied to the Territorials. As one who was a former member of the Territorial Association in my county after the 1914 war, I can vouch from my own official experience that one of the reasons why men would not join the Territorials was because of the way they had been—I cannot use the proper phrase, but hon. Gentlemen will perhaps guess what I mean—bothered about in the course of the war; by the manner in which their regiments and yeomanries had been treated in this matter of cross-posting. I am afraid I must tell the right hon. Gentleman, although he is no doubt already familiar with it, that exactly the same fear exists in the minds of Territorials today. One of the reasons men are not joining the Territorials is their experience in the 1914 and 1939 wars. I am sorry to tell my hon. and gallant Friends behind me and other hon. Members that there is a strong feeling in the minds of Territorials—and always has been—that this is done by the Regular soldier who contends that the idea of the Territorial having a regimental tradition is all nonsense, that he is only a part-time soldier and has to be treated like everyone else in the Army, as the War Office lay down. That is all very well, but when we have only 70,000 out of an establishment of 150,000 in the Territorial Army, the War Office and everyone else must have regard to their feelings. I come to the defence made by the Under-Secretary of State. He endeavoured to make a sympathetic speech, although I am afraid—and I hope this will not be regarded as an attack on him—the effect of his speech will not be to relieve the apprehension which exists in the minds of many Service men, but rather to increase it. He began by saying that at present there was an unbalance in the various units of the Army. I cannot understand how that unbalance arose because, presumably, it was at the time of recruiting, and I understand that the Government took power under the National Service Act to send a man to any unit to which they wished to send him. Surely there should be less unbalance in National Service than there was in the old days of Regular service. Is not that so?
The noble Lord is quite right, but we have to depend very largely on the Regular elements, and there has been some unbalance.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his sympathetic reply, but it is difficult to see why there should be more unbalance today with National Service than in the old days of voluntary service. One would have thought it would have been less. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that we must reserve the right in this emergency. I do not know what he means by "emergency." We are trying to build up the Army for the purpose for which it is intended. Why should it be an emergency four years after the war?
The noble Lord misheard or misunderstood. I spoke of reserve rights in emergency and I was speaking of men transferred under emergency powers during the war who will have reserve rights, when the emergency comes to an end, to go back to their original corps. Because of that, we have an unpredictable factor which will crop up and against which we must take some precaution.
I am sorry if I put the matter clumsily. I understood perfectly what the hon. Gentleman said. I want to know why there is this emergency today, four years after the war is over. We hear too much excused on the grounds of emergency and this is four years after the signing of the armistice with Germany.The hon. Gentleman went on with what was obviously intended to be an appeal to the Army to disregard the arguments raised by my hon. and gallant Friends, powerful as they were. He said that, after all, in this emergency the average Service man could not object to being compulsorily transferred from one unit to another because the same was happening to civilians. But there is no compulsion in the case of civilians. I should be out of Order if I discussed that at length, but there is no compulsion except in the case of mining and agriculture and one other trade. A man is not told that he will be compulsorily transferred from one industry to another, except to a limited degree. In any case, the analogy is false because in the case of the Army they are enlisted men and cannot object, whereas, in the case of civilians, even in the case of a man who wants to leave agriculture, there is an appeal to the Minister of Agriculture, and I believe the same happens in regard to mining. 4.45 p.m. The hon. Gentleman said that not a single man had been transferred, but the Government still wanted to retain the power. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and I, discussing the matter on this Front Bench, were interested and somewhat concerned by a phrase which the hon. Gentleman used. The phrase was "the unpredictability of changes in the art of war." The hon. Gentleman went on to say, in an eloquent passage, that no one knew what would happen in the next year or two and that there might be a complete alteration in the methods of waging war. Is that really a valid argument for this practice? It seemed to have a rather sinister meaning, otherwise it would seem almost meaningless, because at all times the art of war has been changing, from the days of bows and arrows to the present time. That is no reason for refusing the comparatively small concession for which we ask. What, in fact, are my hon. and gallant Friends asking in this new Clause? They are asking for something which goes to the very heart and substance of the whole British Army system, which has been built up on pride of localities. That is the reason for the names of many units like the Coldstream Guards, and many others which could be mentioned. A man joining an infantry regiment expects to be allowed to serve in that regiment, which is recruited from the district from which he came. Not only is there the pride of locality, but a man joining another unit might do so because of civilian associations. In these days, for example, he may wish to join the Tank Corps because he had the association of and training as a mechanic, and so on. While I am willing to accept that the Under-Secretary of State speaks with all the authority of expert opinion behind him, and while I am willing to accept a certain amount of the argument he used, I am not convinced, and I hope that this matter will go to a Division. I am still not convinced that the War Office appreciate the wealth of the argument of my hon. and gallant Friends, nor that they realise that we still cannot get men to join in a sufficient number and that there are a great number of unwilling conscripts. Although I cannot discuss that matter at length, I believe very firmly that one of the reasons is the uncertainty of the military life to the man who joins the Army today and the fact that he does not know whether he will continue in the branch of the Service or unit in which he would like to serve. That applies particularly to the young conscript. Supposing a young conscript, reasonably keen about his military service, goes to the training depot and is informed that he will be drafted to X battalion. He goes there and makes friends; then, in about three months' time, he is sent to an entirely different unit. Can we wonder that be becomes an unwilling conscript? It equally applies to the Regular soldier, and one of the difficulties of getting Regular soldiers is the practice to which reference is made by this Clause. I thought the Under-Secretary did not give the appearance that he was on very firm ground. I think he used the phrase —I did not take it down, so he can correct me if I am wrong—that he "had no evidence" to support the point made by one of my hon. and gallant Friends that one of the causes of the calamitous drift away from the Regular Army, especially of senior N.C.O.s and junior officers, was this uncertainty of military life resulting from the cross-posting which is dealt with in this new Clause. I think that if he inquired into the cases a little more fully, he would find that there is evidence to that effect—a great deal of evidence. I should probably be ruled out of Order if I said more than a sentence on this point, but as this matter has been mentioned I think I might make this suggestion. I would like some inquiries made, and I would gladly put down an arranged Question, to be answered after Question Time, as to the reason why so many officers are leaving the Army at present. We ought to know. We are entitled to think that one of the reasons is the provision in the Army Act which this Clause seeks to remove.
I should like briefly to support the points put forward by my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), and particularly so because I feel that this matter affects recruiting much more than is recognised, both to the Regular Army and the Territorial Army. Reference has been made to the attitude of the Regular Army towards the Territorial Army in matters of this sort. I had the great advantage as a Regular soldier to command a Territorial unit, and I very soon learned something of the fierce pride which Territorials have in their local associations. As the war went on I was appalled by the way in which the War Office dealt with "bodies" in the matter of cross-posting. Various examples of this have been given today.I want to give an example to show the sort of depths to which the War Office descended in such matters. It is such an appalling example that hon. Members may question its validity. There came a time just before I gave up commanding my unit when I was told to send 200 reinforcements to another regiment. I did not like doing so, but I recognised the necessity. Two hundred men went to a certain regiment, and at the same time I was told to send 12 officers to another regiment. Just by chance I happened to be speaking on the telephone to the commanding officer of a similar unit in another part of England, and he told me that that morning he had had to send 200 men to one regiment and 12 officers to another regiment. It so happened that I had received his 12 officers for my 200 men, and he had received my 200 men for his 12 officers. The long and short of that story is that we got on to the War Office and pointed out the facts. Here is the appalling aspect of the story. All that they said was: "Oh, if you feel like that, we will post the officers back to their own men." They did not say, "We have done something wrong; we are horrified by what we did, and we apologise." Their attitude was, "Oh, if you feel like that." That was the basis of the approach of the War Office to this question of posting "bodies" during the war. The Under-Secretary of State said that so far, they had had nothing of this sort. Of course, the test does not come at a moment like this; the test comes subsequently. If we can do anything this afternoon to express our opinion on this matter it is worth doing so. I do not believe that recruiting will ever improve until there is the clearest recognition by the War Office and by the authorities of what a man's associations mean to him—the association of his regiment, the association of the part of the world from which he comes. the association with the men and the officers with whom he serves. Until that is clearly recognised we shall get no improvement. I hope this matter will go to a Division. I believe that it is fundamental to the interests of the Army, and I very strongly support all that has been said in this regard.
I had not intended to speak, but I have listened with great interest to what has been said, and it is, of course, of very great importance. Speaking from four years' experience, I should not say that the War Office was the most imaginative of bodies. That must not be taken to denigrate the strenuous efforts now being made by the present Secretary of State for War to humanise the Army. I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said about the class basis of the yeomanry regiments, because I served with a regiment which was officered very largely by gentleman farmers and people like that, and the rank and file consisted almost wholly of Northumberland and Durham miners. If I mentioned the name of the regiment everyone would know that it was much the best that served in the First World War.Drawing on my experience with the Northumberland Hussars, I should like to quote one example of what tradition means and how tradition comes about. A regiment takes part in an engagement, possibly suffers very severe casualties, and that engagement becomes a legend which makes it a credit to serve in that regiment. There can be no doubt that such events influence men towards joining a particular regiment. I know that most of my mob—that is how we used to describe ourselves—always felt that we should like to be in the Black Watch. Of all British regiments, in my view there can be no doubt that the Black Watch is the one which has an immortal tradition, and it would be very difficult for me to think that the Black Watch had any difficulty in attracting recruits. Of course, tradition accrues in other ways. I remember during the battle of Vimy Ridge when the Fort Garry Horse, the Canadians, and ourselves were engaged in sorties each night and trying to relieve each other of nickel bits and stirrups which in those days were very prized possessions. Of course, happenings of that kind, although sometimes regarded as slightly discreditable, become legendary. Then there was the day when it was decided that my own regiment, which had served since October, 1914, should be broken up. As any man who has had experience of this will know, it is a terrible feeling. We were given three alternatives. First, we might become a flying machine gun squadron; that was not a very healthy occupation in those days. Then there was the alternative of going into the Military Police, and thirdly there was the chance of joining the Royal Flying Corps, on the ground. With respect to those branches of the Service, the last two alternatives, of joining the R.F.C. on the ground or the Military Police, were two fairly safe forms of soldiering. The significant thing was that we all wanted to stop with our own regiment which was going to be engaged in a type of warfare much more hazardous than we had experienced in the past. The tradition and comradeship which is carried on down the generations in soldiering is of paramount importance. While I do not think that the Opposition are justified in forcing this matter to a Division in present circumstances, I believe that if at an early date, we could do away with the risk of men being posted away from regiments of their own choice, it would undoubtedly assist recruiting.
I am one of those who greatly regret that it has been found necessary in time of peace to start the grouping system. I think it has done and is doing a great deal of harm to the Army. I cordially agree with what the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has said, that the British Army has depended very largely for its successes all through history on its traditions. Those who have studied the military history of this country in the pages of Sir John Fortescue's great book realise how that tradition has saved us in many a hard encounter in different parts of the world.The basis of our military strength is what is called the "spirit of the regiment." I know there is a school of thought in the Army today which believes it is possible to institute a spirit of the Army; they say that if there is a spirit of the Navy and the Royal Air Force, why cannot we have a spirit of the Army? It may be that in time we shall get that, although it is my belief that we never shall. My own belief is that the Regular Army owes everything to its territorial associations, and traditions. I belonged, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and the hon. Member for Wednesbury to a yeomanry regiment. The hon. Member for Wednesbury said that if we knew his regiment we should know that it was second to none, but I say that it would be second to one, and that was the spirit of the Territorial Army and I hope it still is. I am sure that the great difficulty about recruiting today is due to the fact that men are no longer certain of being able to serve with their friends. It is all very well to say, "I belong to a light infantry group," but what has a man from Durham got in common with a man from Shropshire or Somerset? He is in a strange country, and he does not understand their language and they do not understand his. I do not believe that system will ever be a success. I am quite certain that officers and N.C.O.s who want to make their regiment their home for life will not be satisfied with being kicked about from pillar to post. The Under-Secretary says that there is no proof whatsoever that the resignations among officers that are reported to be taking place at the present time are due to that uncertainty to which I have attested, but I can assure him from friends of mine who are in touch with the Army that the constant complaint among officers is that they no longer know to which regiment they belong or where they may be sent. A boy I know quite well was sent out recently to one of the battalions of his regiment in Burma. He was told that his particular battalion was to be kept on, but that the other battalion was to be scrapped. He had not been there three months before his battalion was scrapped.
Do I understand the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that a boy had gone out to Burma to join his battalion?
Yes, and the boy is well known to me because he is my adopted son.
I understood the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that the boy joined his battalion. Did he not mean "mission," because we have no battalions in Burma?
At the time he joined his battalion we still had troops in Burma. The battalion was scrapped and he and a great many others were cast adrift and found themselves in other regiments in Malaya. We cannot expect that family life and esprit de corps which is the tradition of the Army to continue if we do this kind of thing. It may be necessary for the time being, and it may be necessary in this scientific age to shift men from one group to another, but the real evil seems to me to be that there is not enough security in a soldier's life today. I am sure that sooner or later we shall realise we are running great risks, and that the chief reason for recruiting being so bad is that the men no longer feel they belong to a particular regiment the majority of whose personnel come from the county in which they live.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) has on many recent occasions come down on the side of the angels. I hope very much that his speech commended itself to the right hon. Gentleman. If it did not do so, then I invite the right hon. Gentleman to consult this week's "Tribune," where he will see an article written by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) characterising the hon. Member's speeches as "earthy common sense." The Under-Secretary put me in a state of some confusion by insisting, at the beginning of his remarks, that this new Clause does not make the necessary alterations to the Army Act to achieve the result that is required. He left me with the impression that the Opposition would have power to do what we wanted to do, even if this new Clause were accepted. I should he grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would explain how that is, because my hon. Friends on this side have sought to move a substantive Amendment to achieve the end they wanted. If the Government are going to do what they want by some side wind, it is only fair to tell us what it is.I draw attention to the limited character of this new Clause. We have had some graphic speeches from this side, calling attention to what happened in both wars when recruits were sent up from infantry regiments to join other infantry regiments at the front. It might be thought that this new Clause was designed to remove that situation altogether. But we have studied the convenience of the War Office and expediency to the point of saying that there shall be an absolute compulsory right of posting on the part of the War Office between groups. Therefore, the new Clause is not designed exactly to deal with the kind of situation delineated by my hon. and gallant Friends, although they have very graphically painted the picture of the principle that is involved. The Under-Secretary sought to justify what the Government are trying to do by three main arguments. He drew attention to the unbalanced situation, chiefly in the Regular Army, and to these 10,000 persons who at the end of the emergency, whatever that may mean, may require to transfer to other arms. Finally, he raised the question of the change in the art of war. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us a little more about this unbalanced state of the Army, and whether it is confined to the Regular Army. Would not the right hon. Gentleman admit that the best answer to the unbalanced state is a better recruiting drive, to enlist people to those branches of the Army which are short of men? This is not a question of an emergency and of quick movement—I will say a word about it in relation to changes in the art of war in a moment. We have a good deal of time and many things can be done by persuasion, propaganda and recruiting to readjust this unbalanced state of the Regular Army. Then I do not understand why the Government should bring into this argument the 10,000 men who are an unknown factor. As I understand it, the Amendment which was inserted in the Army Act last year specifically exempted from compulsory transfer men who re-enlisted or who re-engaged before 1st July, 1948. I say that the Minister has no control at all over the 10,000 men he referred to why they should be brought into the calculation I cannot understand. But if they can be brought in, is not the answer to ask these men what they want to do? It is easy. The Adjutant General's department has their cards filed in a great index. A lot of buttons can be pressed and out will come the 10,000 cards. The men can be asked what they propose to do; and I commend that course to the Minister. Finally, there is the argument about changes in the art of war. The basis of the Under-Secretary's belief in this matter appears to be an existing state of emergency, and the great strides forward which have been made in the art of war. He says that will continue at the pace of the past few years. That is a wrong attitude to adopt. As I conceive it, the art of war leaps forward at an increasing accelerated pace during war itself; when the war is over the pace in the change of technique, is very much slower. The Minister is carrying forward into the future the kind of conception of changes in the art of war which were derived from experience during the last war. On the contrary, I believe there is a good deal of time in which to exercise persuasion over a period to get these men into the right branches of the Service. I do not believe that we shall suddenly discover a new technique which will require the transfer of thousands of men compulsorily from one arm to another. There is a good deal of time to recruit for the right branches of the Service as scientific development continues, and to exercise persuasion—time in which to ask men whether they would like to change their branch of the Service for something else. The Under-Secretary said that the Government had not used this power during the past year. Then why legislate for it? Is there any prospect of wanting to compel men to change from their branch in the Army in the coming year? If there was not last year, why should there be this year? Is the emergency graver than it was six months ago? I doubt it.
The number of men who will be liable for transfer under last year's provisions will be larger as a result of the passage of time. I explained that in the first 12 months it was unlikely that we could or should have made extensive use of the power.
Even if the number of men is larger this year than last, it cannot be so much larger and if not one man was transferred last year, then why now?Why do not Members opposite apply this principle of compulsory change to some of their own professions and trades? The Secretary of State has great experience of the mining industry. What would happen if the Coal Board suddenly ordered a reshuffle of checkweighmen, fillers, winders or cutters? Would not that give rise to a very serious situation? Do not trade union regulations require that every man should stick closely to his own job, and not transfer to another? Right hon. and hon. Members opposite accept the principle of separatism in their own professions and trades, but when it comes to the Army men are required to forgo their wishes and are moved about like pawns in a game at the bidding of an Adjutant-General who has no idea of the importance of regimental tradition and morale at the time of contact with the enemy. I hope the Minister will pay attention to this matter, and will try to make a more conciliatory speech than was made to the Committee by the Under-Secretary.
The noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), in amiable fashion, has stated that the principle we are now discussing is fundamental to the British Army. In one sense I am in a great deal of agreement with him. It is fundamental to the success of the Army that we should deploy our forces according to circumstances and requirements. At the same time, I would not join issue with hon. and gallant Members opposite in their assertion that so far as is practicable—and it is desirable that it should be practicable—we should retain the esprit de corps, the traditional loyalty and territorial attachments which are an integral part of the Army. There is no quarrel on that score.I have, however, listened to some very queer, if not fantastic, arguments from the Members opposite. First, I would direct attention to a fact which I should have thought was familiar, that not every unit in the Army has a territorial connection. Listening to Members opposite one might assume that every unit had such an association, that every regiment and unit was married to a particular locality. That, of course, applies only to certain regiments, not to all units, and certainly not to groups. Hon and gallant Members opposite have agreed that the group system is inevitable in existing circumstances. To fortify what I have just said, I would direct attention to the position of the Royal Artillery which, of course, has no territorial connection, and to the R.E.M.E., which constitutes a very substantial part—some people believe too large a part—but nevertheless a very necessary part, of the British Army. In addition, there are the Signals, and nobody will doubt the importance of the Signals branch in the British Army. Moreover, in reply to the right hon. and gallant Member for North Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Sir C. Headlam) who said that the men in Durham did not like to be transferred to a regiment in Shropshire, and vice versa, I would tell him that even in the Durham Light Infantry there are men who are not indigenous to Durham. No doubt the same observation would apply to Shropshire. I am told, for what it may be worth, and there may be some substance in what I have been told, that even in the Black Watch, the historic Scottish regiment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans) referred—I was very glad he made the reference to it because one of my sons was himself an officer in that regiment—there is a very large number of Cockneys, which no doubt leavens the lump. It must not be assumed that every man in the Irish Guards is an Irishman. Hon. Members must be careful in these statements, and must try to understand what the actual position is.
The right hon. Gentleman must realise perfectly, when he speaks about the Durham Light Infantry, that it is a Durham regiment and that nine out of ten people who enlist in the Army in the County of Durham join that regiment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Well, they used to. The position may be quite different now. I do not know why hon. Members said: "No." How do hon. Members know? I know, because I live in Durham. The majority of young men who join the Army or who used to join the Army in the old days in Durham, were Durham men. It may be different now, and in war time it is still more different.
I have no desire to quarrel with the right hon. and gallant Member, and certainly I should not traduce the Durham Light Infantry, a very gallant and historic regiment. I hope that I have disposed of this quaint conception that every unit in the British Army has a territorial connection. I must now attempt to dispose of another fantastic conception, for which I am afraid the noble Lord opposite was responsible, although only partly, since contributions were made by other hon. and gallant Members on this subject. It is that this matter affects the Territorial Army. It has nothing to do with the Territorial Army at all, and the Territorial Army is not affected. [Interruption.] Some hon. Member opposite interjects, and says: "In wartime." I shall deal with that point at a later stage.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to me. I am sure that he will not mind my saying that I was using the argument of cross-posting in the Territorial Army in wartime. My whole endeavour was to try to find a measure of agreement between us, but the right hon. Gentleman seems to be trying to prevent any measure of agreement existing between the Financial Secretary to the War Office and ourselves. I do not think it is good that there should be a Division on this matter.
I very largely agree with the noble Lord. If there is any possibility of reaching a measure of agreement I have no desire to prevent it. I shall be very glad if we can avoid a Division, but if we have to face one, we shall do so with our customary fortitude. The point made by the noble Lord was—and I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong—that cross-posting affected recruitment for the Territorial Army. I have heard of all sorts of other reasons why recruitment for the Territorial Army has been affected, but this is the first time I have heard that cross-posting during wartime prevented men from joining the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army is closely attached to the particular territory from whence its regimental name is derived. No difficulty whatever arises in that connection.
The right hon. Gentleman invited me to correct him. I used the argument which was used by one of my hon. Friends, who gave specific examples during the 1914 war of cross-postings which I thought were totally unnecessary and which affected recruiting for the Territorial Army after that war. I said that I was anxious to know whether cross-posting was doing so today. I was using it as an argument against cross-posting.
Apart from units such as those in the Artillery, Signals and Anti-Aircraft regiments, the territorial connection, so far as the Territorial Army is concerned, is retained. I give that assurance to the noble Lord. As to the illustrations which have been furnished to us, naturally I accept what hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite have said, because they speak out of their experience, but it surprises me a little to hear that in wartime, if a particular unit happened to be surrounded, and in danger not only of defeat but of destruction, officers and men in that depleted unit would reject reinforcements because the cap badge was not the same as that of the unit itself. I am surprised to hear that. I would have supposed that a depleted unit in those abject and distressed circumstances would have been only too glad to accept reinforcements from whatever quarter they came, and irrespective of the particular regiment.
The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps admit that the situation just referred to is an exception. Quite clearly, exceptional circumstances demand exceptional measures. In the circumstances which I cited and to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, it was the general rule. We heard it every month and every year.
It may well be that the cross-postings were too frequent, and were undertaken without careful consideration and without imagination.There is another matter to which I must direct attention. I hope that I can dispose on this occasion of the argument that has been adduced over and over again in connection with Regular recruitment. What do hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite say? Indeed, it is their trump card in the submission of their proposed new Clause. They say: "This cross-posting, if it is applied, will have an adverse effect upon recruitment. Already, because there was cross-posting during the late war, recruitment for the Regular Army has been affected." What are the facts? They have been stated over and over again. I have stated them, and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has stated them. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has stated them, and they have been stated over and over again outside. The fact is that recruiting for the Regular Army during the inter-war years, from the end of the first world war until the end of 1939, was very favourable indeed, I am speaking globally, and not as regards particular arms. Hon. Members opposite must not deny that because the facts are against them. I gave the figures only a few nights ago in my speech on the Estimates. They show pretty conclusively that the recruiting figures compare favourably with those in the inter-war years.
The figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave in the Debate included the bounty men. If he subtracts the figures of those men from those of men enlisting on normal engagement, he will find that the normal engagement figure is exactly what it was before the war.
Every time we dispute statements by hon. Members opposite they come up smiling again with some new argument. They now admit that recruitment figures for the Regular Army since the end of the last war are at any rate as good as, certainly not worse, than, in the inter-war years. Now we are told by the hon. and gallant Member that that does not take into account the number of men who engage for short service. The fact is that they are Regular recruits. Although I should naturally prefer these men to enlist for longer service, nevertheless they have enlisted as Regular recruits in the British Army.
May I ask a question?
We are dealing with the subject of recruits. I understand that the hon. Member is not offering himself.
Do not the figures for recruits which the Secretary of State has given to the House, include those for the women's Services?