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British Army

Volume 477: debated on Tuesday 4 July 1950

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Malayan Operations

16.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in the light of his experience in Malaya, he will consider the award of war gratuities to the troops engaged in operations in that theatre.

No, Sir. The primary purpose of war gratuities was to ease the transition from Service to civilian life for men who had been called up in war for undetermined and often long periods of service.

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether his Department regards this stab-in-the-back campaign in Malaya as police activity or as war? Surely, Malaya is one place where the cold war has become pretty hot.

That is so, but it does not really bear on the point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The men serving in Malaya are serving for determined periods.

Regulars (Recruitment)

18.

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the establishment of Regular soldiers which he hopes will eventually be attained; by how many Regulars is the Army at present short of that establishment; and what is the estimated number of Regular recruits that will in future be required annually in order to maintain that establishment after it has been reached.

The Army is not divided into separate establishments for Regulars and National Service men. It is the aim of my right hon. Friend to raise the present strength of Regulars as high as is practicable.

Does that mean that the War Office have no policy as regards an establishment of Regulars—that they have so far departed from previous policy that there is no establishment—and that they can only hope to get as many as possible?

No, Sir. It means that it is not practicable, or indeed sensible, to try to give figures for an establishment of Regulars with the Army, as it is at present composed both of Regulars and National Service men. What the position would be if the Army were composed entirely of Regulars, is a different and hypothetical question.

Is not there any kind of target for Regular recruiting at which the Government are aiming?

The target for Regular recruiting is a different matter from an establishment of Regular soldiers. On the question of a target for Regular recruiting, I do not think it would be sensible to say more than that we are anxious to increase Regular recruiting as rapidly as we can.

Will not the hon. Gentleman agree that if he has an establishment towards which he is working, that is the same as the target he wants to reach?

The words "target" and "establishment" are really not interchangeable in this context. We were asked in this Question for an establishment of Regulars. I pointed out that, as matters stand now, a figure of that kind does not exist. On the question which the right hon. Gentleman asked about the target for recruiting, I do not think that it would be sensible to announce a specific target figure at present. The position is that we want to increase Regular recruiting by every means.

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that if the country knew the figure that the Government wish to reach, it would be something to work to, instead of saying indefinitely that the Government just want a few more Regulars?

In view of the Minister's really astonishing reply, is not it a fact that the Treasury insist on establishments, particularly when the Regulars are on a slightly different footing from National Service men in the matter of pay?

No. There is not a separate establishment of Regular and of National Service soldiers, as I have already pointed out.

Does the hon. Gentleman remember that the Secretary of State, when speaking on the Army Estimates, deplored the shortage of Regulars and said that it was impossible to get on with training or to organise the Army as it should be organised as long as there was this shortage? Does his reply today mean that he is simply chancing it—if we get more Regulars so much the better, but if we do not, it cannot be helped?

No. My reply neither was, nor meant, that. It conforms entirely with what my right hon. Friend said on the occasion referred to. I have emphasised that we are anxious to increase the number of Regulars, and are taking, as the House knows, a good many steps to that end.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for War what was the number of men enlisted for Regular Service during the first six months of this year; what was the number so enlisted during the corresponding period of 1949; and whether he will state the total number of Regulars enlisted in 1949 and the total number which he hopes to enlist this year.

From 1st January to 31st May, 8,468 men enlisted for Regular service in the Army. The corresponding figure for 1949 was 12,260 and the total for 1949 was 23,769. On 20th March, my right hon. Friend expressed the hope that 20,000 men would enlist annually.

Does the hon. Gentleman consider, in view of the figures which he has just given, that there is any reasonable chance of attaining that number this year?

It is clear that it will be difficult to reach that number this year, but I do not think that it would be wise to put forward a revised estimate at the moment.

Will not it be quite impossible to reach that number this year unless the Government hurry up and announce the steps they are taking, which they have not yet announced at all?

Is my hon. Friend aware that all these Questions would have been quite unnecessary, and that he would have no difficulty in getting all the Regulars necessary, if only there were two million unemployed?

Yes, Sir. On that question, I have examined the figures of the number of persons endeavouring to enlist in past years, and there is a striking correlation between them and the number of persons unemployed.

If there is no establishment for Regulars, why is the number 20,000 chosen?

That is not a figure of establishment. It is the figure we hope to enlist this year.

Does the Minister realise that this Question has nothing to do with unemployment, and that until he pays the soldier more, he will not get anyone to enlist in the Army?

Ammunition Shelters, Nottinghamshire

21.

asked the Secretary of State for War the number of ammunition shelters now remaining in the Sherwood Forest area of Nottinghamshire; how many of these are empty; and for what purpose, when empty, they are retained.

There are 15,000 ammunition shelters remaining in the Sherwood Forest area of Nottinghamshire, of which 2,000 are empty. Empty shelters which are surplus to the depot's requirements are being dismantled and removed as fast as available manpower will permit.

Linsell Trial (Press)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for War which British newspapers and Press agencies were represented at the Linsell trial.

Only one correspondent of British nationality was present throughout the trial. He represented the British United Press. In addition Reuters were represented by a correspondent of British nationality from the second day until the end of the trial. As the court was, as customary, open to the public and the Press, there were numerous correspondents of German nationality present throughout the trial but it is not known what British newspapers or agencies, if any, they represented.

Can the Under-Secretary say whether it is the intention of the War Office to draw the attention of the agencies he has named, and also of the newspapers which published misleading accounts of the evidence, to the fact that these reports gave the British public and the British Army a false impression about British military justice?

Without any special measures, I do not think that they can fail to be aware of that.

Sentries' Duties

23.

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is satisfied that the personal responsibility of sentries is clearly understood by all ranks.

Yes, Sir. The duty of a sentry is to carry out his orders. It is important to ensure that the orders are clear, appropriate and lawful, and, as my right hon. Friend said in his statement on Wednesday last, the attention of all commanders-in-chief is being called to this.

In view of the wide publicity given to a mistaken account of the proceedings in connection with the court-martial of Private Linsell, is the hon. Gentleman not satisfied that something special ought to be done now to bring the attention of officers and other ranks to the exact position?

I think it was made clear in my right hon. Friend's statement on Wednesday last that he was taking steps to that end. Commanders-in-chief will be aware of the terms of my right hon. Friend's statement. Perhaps I ought to add that, in the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the contention of the prosecution was that the orders had not been complied with rather than that there was any question of the legality of the orders.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that soldiers also realise that it is their duty not to obey any order which is manifestly unlawful?

It is possible to imagine cases—it has been done in textbooks—where orders are given which are manifestly unlawful. There, the position is as described by my hon. Friend; but I do not think that any very useful purpose is served by pursuing these rather hypothetical questions.