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Commonwealth Forces

Volume 480: debated on Wednesday 8 November 1950

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asked the Minister of Defence what steps he is taking to coordinate the training and operational planning of the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth and Empire.

The closest contact is constantly maintained with members of the Commonwealth through the military liaison staffs in all defence matters. So far as training is concerned, many members of the Commonwealth Armed Forces attend courses in the United Kingdom, and in addition a number of officers from our own forces have attended courses in other Commonwealth countries. In most Commonwealth countries the training manuals are basically the same as those in the United Kingdom.

Would the Minister consider the possibility of Commonwealth forces actually training together? We were transporting whole divisions by air at the end of the war, and I think we are inclined to be rather static.

As the hon. and gallant Member is aware, we have air personnel now training in Canada. We expect that next year we shall have members of the Royal Canadian Air Force training in this country. To operate this on a wide scale is not practicable at the present moment.


asked the Minister of Defence what steps he is taking to raise Colonial forces so that the strain on British manpower allocated to defence can be reduced.

I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to the statement I made on this subject during the Debate on 14th September.

In view of the fact that India used to keep three or four divisions before the war in a fairly high state of operational readiness, would the Minister consider the possibility of having at least two Colonial divisions in such a state, in order to obviate having to raise forces continually from this country to send out at short notice to the Far East?

The Indian Army was raised after a long period of time, and it was a very well-trained army. It would take a considerable time before we could train Colonial troops up to that level.

Will my right hon. Friend deal with this grave question very carefully, in view of the political ferment which exists in many of the Colonies?

Of course, in this matter we naturally enter into consultation with the Colonial Governments concerned.

In view of the high qualities displayed by West African and East African troops in the late war, has specific consideration been given to the raising of additional units from the Royal West African Volunteer Force and the King's African Rifles?

It seems to be assumed from some of the questions that we have no Colonial forces. We have.

Before taking any action in this matter, will the Minister wait until opinions can be expressed in some of the West African legislative councils which are now in process of being brought into being?

There is no question of raising additional forces in the Colonies without the consent of the appropriate government.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that if he had taken the trouble to raise volunteer forces in Africa four years ago, they could be used now in Malaya, and the British garrison in Malaya could be where it ought to be, in Europe?

With great respect, I would say that I prefer the advice of my military advisers to that of the hon. Member.

Is not one of the really difficult problems in the matter the shortage of suitable British officers and N.C.O's.? Would not the right hon. Gentleman consult with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether some way can be found to pay British officers and N.C.O's. in such a way that they are not liable to United Kingdom Income Tax?

We have had this matter and other matters under consideration, and I want to tell hon. Members that our minds are not closed on this subject; but undoubtedly there are practical difficulties.