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Vote A Number Of Land Forces

Volume 497: debated on Monday 10 March 1952

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 555,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953.

1.44 a.m.

I should like the Secretary of State for War to reply to some of the questions I put to him earlier. I asked him specific questions about the number of officers in the Brigade of Guards who had held regular commissions. Would he answer that question or, if he cannot, give an assurance that he will do so if I put a Question on the Order Paper?

Would he also be good enough to tell me how many divisions he anticipates we shall have this day twelvemonth, and would he also inform the House of the present establishment of the 5th Brigade? I should have thought on these points, as he himself pressed for information on some of them last year, that he would be in a position to inform us.

I said Regular engagements. How many officers have served on Regular engagements; that is to say, started by service in the ranks?

It is obvious that nobody, even if he were clairvoyant, could have that information on him. The hon. Members asks that question to underline his class-conscious attack. I have told him, and he has said I am sheltering behind it, that General Harding, who has had more operational experience than anyone today, is experimenting to see how it works out. If he says that is sheltering, I tell him that I have never heard such rubbish in my life.

Exactly. It is because I made it a year ago that the experiments are going on.

If 1 could 1 would not tell the hon. Member, because for security reasons it would not be desirable.

A year ago we were subjected to the right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic. He took the total number of Vote A, divided it by 20,000, and said that was the number of divisions we had, and there was a big surplus. All I want to do is to apply the right hon. Gentleman's own wisdom to the problem. We have 11 now. That leaves a bigger surplus than last year. Does he anticipate that this time next year he will have combed the tail so that the 11 will have gone, or that the total will come down and lower Vote A?

All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that since he and his friends left the War Office, the fighting strength of the Army has increased by seven battalions.

What we want to know is not the establishment but the strength of these battalions. What is the breakdown? If he cannot answer these questions, and say what is the strength of these battalions and the breakdown of the 10,000, his figures are bogus.

The hon. Gentleman has stated that my figures are bogus. They are not bogus. The seven battalions are now forming, and, therefore, their strength is altering from day to day. If we make a total saving in the Far East, in Germany, Trieste, Austria, and this country, does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that anybody can break down that 10,000 into how many corporals, how many sergeants, how many privates? Every question that the hon. Gentleman has asked me has displayed his crass ignorance about the Army.

If I am ignorant, it is easy to demolish my argument. If the right hon. Gentleman anticipates saving 10,000 men, he cannot get away with the argument that he is transferring them from tail to teeth unless he tells us what arms they are going to. He knows that these seven battalions are paper battalions. That is another bogus thing he is trying to put across the country. If I am wrong let him tell us what they are. At no single point where his figures can be checked has he given us the material to check them. Yet he had the audacity, after we on this side had taken the lead in pressing for more information, to join in the hue-and-cry last year.

The Committee is being asked to pass Vote A, yet he will not tell us the most elementary thing to enable the House and the country to check what, after all, is said to be a major result of a change of policy. Unless the right hon. Gentleman can give us at least a breakdown of the 10,000 by arms of service and unless he can say categorically that these 10,000 men are not coming from combatant units, then the House must draw its own conclusions.

I wish to raise a matter of vital interest to National Service men not only in Scotland, but in the rest of the country. Last week I put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman which was answered in writing. The Question asked the Secretary of State for War if he was aware that dictatorial methods were being used in some units of Her Majesty's forces to induce National Service men to sign on for extra service, thus making them Regular soldiers with liability to be drafted to Germany, and that if they failed to comply with this threat they would be drafted to serve in the Far East; and if he would issue instructions to commanding officers to end this practice.

This matter arose out of a statement which received great prominence in the Scottish Press, following a statement made by the President of the Lanarkshire branch of the National Farmers' Union, in which he produced a definite case of a soldier and his unit and the full particulars, which he asked to be forwarded to the National Farmers' Union for investigation by the War Office. The person who made this complaint is a prominent Conservative in the county of Lanark: his name is Mr. Robert Pate, of Muirsland, Kirkmuirhill.

This statement has had great publicity in the Scottish Press. It should be fully investigated and some assurance given that National Service men are not being bullied or threatened to be sent to the Far East if they do not agree to join the Regular Forces. This was the reply I received in writing from the Secretary of State:
"No dictatorial methods are in use and no instructions have been issued that they should be used. The hon. Member, however, may have in mind the recent case in which the posting instructions to certain National Service men were altered and their unit, in informing the men of their new postings to a unit going to the Far East, pointed out that they might continue to serve with their own regiment if they were to undertake a re-engagement."
The Secretary of State adds:
"I have looked into this case and think that the unit acted in good faith in trying to let the men have all the facts on which to make their choice."
In that final sentence there is a frank admission that in one unit this threat did take place and pressure was brought to bear on the National Service men to join up for three years in this way. When this statement was submitted to the Scottish Command by the "Glasgow Herald" this was the footnote: "Absolute rot" was how Scottish Command described it. "No pressure is brought to bear on any National Service recruit at any time."

But here is an admission by the Secretary of State that it has been done in this particular unit, and I have received as a result of this appearing in the paper at least three letters from different parts of the country, from different units, that pressure is being brought to bear on National Service men to sign up for a three years' period—otherwise, they will be drafted to the Far East.

I want some assurance from the Secretary of State that this pressure will not be used and that National Service men will not be threatened in this way.

On this Vote I want to get some information on the Royal Army Chaplains' Department. I see that it says in the report:

"Chaplains are appointed by denominations according to the number of troops of each denomination and are attached to formations and to certain establishments."
I remember that some years ago, in the old Parliament, we had several long debates on the abolition of the compulsory church service, and I was wondering whether the Secretary of State could tell us whether attendances at church ser- vices in the Army have gone down or have increased since the abolition of compulsory attendance at church.

I should like to know what rank these chaplains hold. Are they commissioned and do they use the officers' mess, or do they associate with the lads downstairs? I think that is important, because if these men are to be the spiritual advisers and guides of the ordinary lads they have got to know what the ordinary lads are doing and understand their lives and outlook.

Why do we get chaplains 1, 2, 3 and 4? There are four different classes of chaplains. Has that to do with length of services or length of sermons or what? Do the Established Church and the Nonconformists share the main offices? I see there is a Chaplain-General and a Deputy Chaplain-General. If the Church of England get the Chaplain-General, do the Nonconformists get the deputy position?

I also observe that the chaplains are appointed according to the number of troops of each denomination. I hope that a little more scrutiny and care is observed than used to be the case in the old days, when a man would say that he was a Primitive Methodist or a Presbyterian. Perhaps the sergeant-major dealing with the matter could not spell either of those words, and he would shout. "Put him down as C. of E." That was to the advantage of the Church of England perhaps, but was hardly fair to the Nonconformists.

I am rather surprised at the value placed upon those who are responsible for the spiritual well-being of the men in the Forces compared with those who are concerned with their physical well-being. Whereas a lieut.-general of the R.A.M.C. gets £3,729 per annum, the Chaplain-General only gets £1,956 a year. The brigadier who looks after the horses, the head of the Veterinary Corps, gets more than a chaplain.

I should also like to know how many unemployed people are carried on Vote A. I see a rather interesting note in the Estimates, which says that field-marshals when unemployed are placed on the half pay list. How many of these unemployed field-marshals are carried on the list of men we are voting for in Vote A. I understand that their salary is £4,191. On half pay, they get just over £2,000. Yet I find that all the V.C.s between them never have got, and never will get, £2,500 a year. The unemployed field-marshal, therefore, if still on Vote A—that is what I am not sure about; I am seeking information—and who no doubt has another job on the side, gets at half pay more than all the V.C.s who are living in the country put together. The Secretary of State might well look at these matters and let me know about the unemployed field-marshals and whether they are on Vote A.

The hon. Member for Ayrshire, South (Mr. Emrys Hughes) asked me about the notice regarding postings. As I said in my letter to him, I am satisfied that the unit sent out that notice in good faith.

I think it was the Queen's Regiment. The hon. Member ought to know—he has a copy of the order.

The position in the unit was this. The men were on leave. Their posting order had come through and they were to be posted to a regiment which in three or four months' time was due to go to Korea. While they were on leave, a notice was sent out from the regiment stating to what regiment they would be posted and the fact that it was bound for Korea.

A third item of information, which is what the hon. Member thinks might amount to coercion, was included that any man who took on a Regular engagement would not be posted. That was nothing to do with the arrangements by the regiment but is an actual practice, that people at the depot who undertake Regular engagements would go to the Queen's Regiment. That fact was stated.

It may be argued that the juxtaposition of the fact that they would go to a regiment that was going to Korea, and the added fact that if they took on a Regular engagement they would go to the Queen's depot where they would be trained, amounted to coercion.

But supposing the officer who had sent out that notice had merely said, "You will be posted to a unit which in three months' time is going to Korea" and had not mentioned the other fact, an hon. Member might have come to the House and said, "Why was it not pointed out to these men that they have the alternative course of taking a Regular engagement?"

I am aware of the kind of interpretation which may be taken on these things. I said in my speech, and I say again now, that we are going to be, and shall have to be, very careful to see that in the enthusiasm for recruiting men into the Regular Army no undue pressure is brought to bear on the National Service men.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) asked me some somewhat intricate and technical questions. Since church parades in the Army ceased to be compulsory, attendance at them has gone down. The chaplains are selected on a percentage basis of the denominational figures. I think that that is the right way to select them. They are officers, and they use the officers' mess. They give invaluable service to the Army, and I do not think there is anything wrong with them. The service they gave in the war was quite magnificent.

I come now to the much more intricate question about where the half-pay field-marshals feature in the Estimates. In the time available I have not been able to find out, but I guarantee to send to the hon. Member tomorrow a statement as to exactly where the half-pay field-marshals come in the Army Estimates, and I hope that that will content him.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved,

That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 555,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953.

Resolved,