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Vote 9—Miscellaneous Effective Services

Volume 655: debated on Thursday 15 March 1962

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding £9,930,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous services, including grants in aid. which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1963.

I should like to raise one or two points. First, under Subhead C, I am glad to see that the sum spent on publicity and recruiting services is increasing, but I trust that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will ensure that every penny spent in this way is well spent and that we see some dividends from it. I am sure that the which has been spent already has been of great value in increasing recruitment.

Subhead J causes me anxiety. There is reference to a figure of £783,000 which the Army is paying in compensation for damage. I assume that this must be mostly in the United Kingdom. This is a very large sum, particularly when the number of exercises carried out in this country is not enormous. I should imagine that most of this compensation is paid for wanton damage. We have had cases in my constituency recently where members of Army training units, particularly those on young Junior Leader Regiment courses have gone out on initiative training to various parts of my constituency, especially on Bodmin Moor, and have done wanton damage to old and historic buildings.

My hon. Friend has written to me about this. He has taken the matter up, and I am pleased that it is being dealt with. This has happened time after time. Young soldiers have done an enormous amount of damage. Unfortunately, it is not confined to young soldiers; I wish that it were. I hope that my hon. Friend will keep a close watch on expenditure under Subhead J and will ensure that not a penny is wasted and that the strictest orders are given to commanding officers to the effect that the men under their command should treat civilian property with respect when they come across it in training.

Under Subhead K, there is reference to miscellaneous educational and technical training charges. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the way that the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst is being run and on the valuable work which is done there. I am disturbed, however, by the figures on page 237 of the Estimates. Apparently, there are 1,029 military and civilian staff at Sandhurst. From memory, I think that there are 800 cadets there. It seems to me that 1,029 people to look after and train 800 or 900 cadets is rather excessive. I hope that my hon. Friend is satisfied that the number of staff there is not excessive and that all is well.

Finally, under Subhead O, may I ask who goes to the National Army Museum at Sandhurst? How many civilians visit it? I am delighted that £3,000 should go to it. I am in favour of keeping it in being, but is there enough publicity about it and do enough people know about it?

7.15 p.m.

I wish to refer to Subhead C, but for entirely different reasons from those of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). I think that the warning which he gave that money should not be misspent is well justified, since a great deal of money on the publicity services of the Army has been misspent and misapplied.

It is a menacing and sinister fact that the Army, through its publicity services, has flagrantly intervened in Wales in the political debates of the nation. Before supporting the Vote, which, I observe, proposes an increased expenditure of more than £20,000 on the publicity services, I seek an assurance that this practice of political intervention, which is as abhorrent as it is unconstitutional, will cease. In view of the tarnished reputation of France today as a consequence of Army officers meddling mischievously in the politics of the country, we are warned of the dangers of any publicity service embarking on political adventures.

It is well known that we have, most regrettably, in my view, had some Panzer forces in Wales. A great national debate has taken place, and undoubtedly will take place again if they come again. It is to the political issues surrounding this matter to which I wish to draw attention. This would not be the place, nor would it be in order, to argue the merits of their coming. All that I seek to do at this stage is to establish that there is a political issue and then to establish that the Army's publicity services have directly intervened in it. Suffice it to say that there is a great divide on the question throughout the nation.

The Conservative Party and the Government have urged that training facilities in Wales should be given as a military necessity for N.A.T.O. On the other hand, the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress, at their annual conferences, have made it unequivocally clear that they regard the coming of the Panzers, under officers who supported the unspeakable horrors of the Nazi régime, as an insult to the memory of millions who died to preserve liberty and democracy from the German menace.

I do not wish to develop this point. I merely state that it is a political issue. The Labour Party conference rejected the Government's view. It believed it to be a mockery to suggest that the training of young German soldiers in Wales under ex-Nazi supporters is anything but a most distressing act. Indeed, the conference considered that it is a gross provocation to the peoples of Poland and Eastern Europe, whose memories of the hell of the German occupation can be only too easily evoked.

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I should be grateful to him if he could show how what he is saying is related to the Vote which we are discussing.

I am obliged, Sir Harry. The Army, through its publicity services, has one job and one job only—to keep right out of political matters.

I now wish to deal with the time prior to the arrival of these Panzer troops and then with when they arrived. It is known that on this occasion, after having first ensured that Welsh journalists, including even those on newspapers with the smallest circulations, were taken to Germany on a softening-up operation, where they were well wined and dined, as a preliminary to the arrival of the Panzers, an Army public relations office was set up as near as could be to the gates of this isolated training camp.

As I said in a letter to The Times, the office
"was manned not only by public relations officers of Western Command, but drew in officers from other commands. It had attached to it at least one civilian public relations officer, a high-ranking officer to serve television and Press photographers, and an ex-journalist noncommissioned officer, not to mention the English-speaking German officers who were readily made available."
What were they there for? We want to know by what right they were there and to what purpose this battery of public relations officers assembled in this isolated spot.

The War Office, after the events that took place there, made a statement through the medium of The Times. The War Office spokesman, as reported in The Times of 11th September, 1961, said:
"… any public relations staff at Castlemartin were there purely for passive reasons—the passing back of information to the powers-that-be. Their job, he said, was not to whip up support of any kind."
That statement by the War Office spokesman was rather belated. What did this battery of public relations officers do? Did they passively sit down in isolated Castlemartin to report on the song of the birds and the nature of the fauna there? Of course not. We all know what occurred.

Many Welsh Members consider that the intervention of the Army public relations officers there was nothing short of disgraceful. That is why I raise the matter now. Far from being passive, they directed an invitation to the Press giving a full schedule of the programme for the Germans while they were in Wales. They indicated the many occasions during the three-week training period when the Press would be given full facilities for interviews and photographs. This they distributed right through the Press in Wales, and in case it was misunderstood they made clear in a circulated statement that it was specifically intended that the Press should be welcome.

How welcome they were was speedily indicated on the day following the arrival of the Germans. Before any of them had been permitted to go out of the camp it was arranged through the Army public relations services that a hand-picked group of German Panzers should be sent to the nearby town under a German officer, with an Army public relations officer, for the exclusive benefit of Press photographers.

As I said in my letter to The Times:
"The hapless German conscripts were given orders to do all the Press photographers asked of them, and, needless to say, Panzers were soon propped up into artificially affectionate poses with local girls."
There is no doubt that the pubertal romanticism of silly, adolescent girls was calculatingly and deliberately stimulated by irresponsible Army publicity officers.

Young and bewildered Aryan blonds who had just set foot in Wales were taken out on this curious escorted tour and were commanded to link with suitable Celtic (teen-agers in Pembroke so that photographs could be taken of the loving welcome being extended by girls who had only just set eyes on them.

The Army public relations officers, in deliberately sponsoring these photographs, put into issue the honour of Welsh women, the overwhelming majority of whom regarded such behaviour with disgust. For what purpose and by what right did the Army public relations services, paid for by the taxapayers of Wales, among others, so traduce our womenfolk?

The Army, in its high pressure enthusiasm to sell Germans as if they were brands of detergents or soap, began to draw in its horns when it was seen what was happening. We saw the situation which arose after people had demonstrated lawfully and with discipline against the arrival of the Panzers. We had some of these teen-age girls outside the camp screaming, "We love Panzers" and jeering at demonstrating South Wales miners. People may agree or disagree on whether the Germans should be there. It is, naturally, a matter which causes profound emotion, but it is no part of the Army's task to try to intervene to sell Germans to Wales.

We give the warning that if there is any further intention on the part of the Army to intervene in this political battle, which will come about once again if there is an attempt to bring Germans into Wales, all of us who think as I do will make quite certain that the Army, as well as the Government's policy, will become involved in a grave political issue. This country has learned to make quite certain that the Army is subordinate to Parliament and is completely insulated and isolated from any political controversies that concern the nation.

I trust, therefore, that we shall have a much more satisfactory reply today than that given by the War Office spokesman who had the impudence to suggest that the rôle of the Army public relations officers was absolutely passive when they embarked on the venture which I have tried to describe.

I should like to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ponty-pool (Mr. Abse) in his remarkably eloquent speech. I know how close this issue is to his heart. I want to keep within the bounds of order but I think that it will be agreed that it is difficult not to convey the impression that one is anti-German in connection with this matter. I want to put the Committee perfectly at rest on that point by saying that in the last year of my service in the war I spent my whole time with German Luftwaffe forces. I spent a year, day-in-day-out, working in close touch with them. I would point out, in spite of the publicity, that these young Germans who came to South Wales last year had no responsibility for the terrible acts which were perpetrated by their predecessors. They are just victims of the present maelstrom of European and world events.

I rise also to tell the Under-Secretary and the Committee that many Welsh Members feel as strongly about this matter as my hon. Friend has implied and has himself shown. I shall not repeat the evidence which I read in The Times and which my hon. Friend quoted. I was not present in Pembroke that morning. If I had been I should have been proudly marching with hundreds of my constituents. I feel strongly that the money which is being spent on Army publicity, and which we are now asked to increase, should be spent much more wisely than it was spent on that occasion. Calumny has been heaped on many of my constituents. They have been called everything under the sun, but there were among them on that occasion elderly ladies and men, including trade unionists, of the highest character.

Yes, and there was nothing anti-German in their feeling. Naturally, amongst elderly ladies who had lost loved ones in the forces there was some emotion, but this was not an anti-German demonstration. We are not blaming these German troops in any way. We are merely trying to pinpoint the blame on the Army publicity service and the way it acted in this matter.

7.30 p.m.

At the moment, the Foreign Ministers are meeting in Geneva to try to bring about a solution to the problems facing the world. If publicity like this is perpetrated by people in the Army, I believe that it will make it a great deal more difficult for the Government to find a satisfactory solution through their foreign policy. The basic task of the Army publicity service is to bring about peaceful relationships between two entities—in this case, the Panzer forces, which regrettably had to come to Wales, and the Welsh people. If this is what it achieved in what was a peaceful demonstration, then I say that it failed dismally and that its failure is not a happy augury for the future. The Secretary of State must look closely into the way in which this service was used to ensure that there is no repetition of this unfortunate event.

I do not wish to go into the merits of the case, and I appreciate that many hon. Members opposite feel deeply on this subject. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) that the object of the Army publicity service, whatever one feels about German troops coming here, is to try to ensure smooth relations in what could only have been a very difficult situation. I am sure that the service did its best to make the exercise as smooth as possible and tried to smooth down the objections which arose.

I join with other hon. Members in being glad to see that a larger share is being given to publicity, because we all realise that if we are to get the required number of recruits we must use every form of publicity. The Army publicity service is showing a very new look in its methods of publicity, and I welcome the expenditure for the purpose.

I have one question to put about hospital treatment. In Subhead D hospital charges are referred to. I can understand expenditure to meet the charges of civil hospitals abroad and the Royal Medical College, but I am at a loss to see where our Service men should be treated outside the National Health Service in this country. I can understand that, in some remote parts of the country, the Army might have to use non-National Health Service personnel to treat troops, but I cannot envisage this happening frequently.

I understand that the Army makes no payment for treatment under the National Health Service. I hope that cases of payment for medical treatment are rare. We have a perfectly good State service which should be used on every possible occasion.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) for raising the question of the activity of the publicity services of the Army during the controversial matter of the German troops being trained in Wales. I believe that the man who should be in the dock is the Secretary of State. He has open to him avenues of publicity, both in this Committee and in the country, through which he can advance the views of the Government without using Army publicity services to suit party political aims.

It is a very serious charge that we level against the Government tonight. It is that the Government have deliberately resorted to these underhand means of using the Army publicity service—which was intended to bring recruitment to the forces and to convey an image to the British people of what life in our own Armed Forces is like—to strengthen the Government's political position concern-in e the training of German troops in Wales.

The Army's publicity arrangements were used to cast discredit on the people who demonstrated in Pembrokeshire. Statements emanated from Army officers, and were published in the Welsh Press, which should not have come from those who are in the Armed Forces of the Crown. The charges made against those who took part in the demonstration should have come from the Government Front Bench and not from the people employed in the Army publicity services.

The Secretary of State must realise that he does the Army no good by allowing the publicity services to be used for political ends, for he will create hostility where there is none towards our forces. We realise that tonight we cannot raise the whole question of the training of German troops in Wales, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman that, if he is to follow the same policy with regard to the thousands of Panzer troops who are to be brought to Wales this year, then he can expect trouble both in the House of Commons and in the country—and I for one will do my best to stir trouble up, because I believe that he has no right, on a controversial issue of this sort, to be using the privilege of the Army publicity services to advance a particular political view.

I realise that there are those on both sides of the Committee who believe that German troops ought to train in Wales. I do not share that view, but whether we share it or not, hon. Members on both sides will agree that the right hon. Gentleman has embarked on a very dangerous policy, for the issue is not whether we approve or do not approve of the training of German troops in Wales, but whether we approve or do not approve of the use of the publicity services of the Army to defend Government policy on issues of this kind.

I earnestly hope that the Secretary of State will not underestimate the strength of feeling in the Principality on this matter. The Welsh are a people who believe in hard hitting when there is controversy. We do not mind taking blows as well as giving them, but we like to know whom we are to hit, and we are not accustomed to going for the Army authorities. We debate these issues in this Committee, but, if the right hon. Gentleman pursues this use of the Army publicity services there will be speeches in Wales by Welsh Members criticising individual members of the Armed Forces who make statements on controversial issues. This is surely the last thing that either side of the Committee would want to see.

The debate has been useful in giving an opportunity to the Government to realise that a major blunder was committed on this occasion.

I listened with great interest to the speeches of the hon. Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), both of whom objected to the policy of German troops serving in Wales—a policy which the hon. Member for Pontypool said was rejected by the annual conference of the Labour Party. Of course, it was still approved by the Parliamentary Labour Party, as I understand it—

Order. We can discuss the publicity matter, but we cannot go into question of policy of one party or another.

I only wished to correct a mis-statement of fact, which I think the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. Coulson) might like to have corrected. In fact, the official Labour Party abstained on that occasion; it did not support it.

If the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is correct, then I am wrong and I apologise, but it is always difficult to know which is the official Labour Party policy.

The hon. Member for Pontypool must excuse us if, on occasions, we are apt to laugh or smile. We are not considering this a humorous subject, as he seems to indicate, but the hon. Gentleman underrates his own powers of oratory if he thinks that there was not at times touches of humour in what he himself was saying. Perhaps he will excuse us for that.

Publicity by the Army publicity services at the time when German troops came to Castlemartin last year was not political interference by the Army publicity services at all. It is well-known to all who have investigated the problem that our troops in Germany in B.A.O.R. would have been put to considerable difficulty in their training routine and in the area available to them for training if these German troops had not been allowed to come to this country.

The hon. Member for Pontypool knows as well as I do that the training facilities for the Army in Germany are very restricted, and that there are also political reasons on the other side, but not of the sort he referred to.

Sennelager, which was refered to by one hon. Gentleman, is leased to the British Government, or to the British Government and one or two other Governments, to train troops there, and, in fact, if German troops had been in Sennelager in large numbers we would have been forced out, along with a number of the forces of our N.A.T.O. allies. That would have meant political pressures from the West German Government to bring the lease to an end, and we would have been in considerable difficulty.

In fact, by allowing German troops to come here we were protecting the interests of our own Army, particularly B.A.O.R., by allowing them to train there—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now getting rather wide. We cannot talk about the merits of German troops coming here. We can only refer to the publicity in connection with it.

I accept your Ruling, Sir Robert. All I wish to say is that this matter of the use of the Army publicity services was not interference in political matters at all, but was, in fact, protecting the interests of the Army, which is one of the purposes of the publicity services.

Am I to understand that because he considers it politically expedient for the Army, or opportune because it was Government policy, the hon. Gentleman therefore sanctions the use of public funds by the Army publicity services to put across Government policy? Is that what the hon. Member is suggesting? If not, I am sure that I and many others have totally misunderstood his speech. This is a very dangerous doctrine.

I was not suggesting that, and if the hon. Gentleman had been listening carefully, I do not think that he would have thought that I was suggesting that it was politically opportune for the Government to take a particular attitude. T was saying that political pressures might have been brought by the West German Government to force us out of Sennelager, unless we had provided adequate facilities for German forces in this country.

7.45 p.m.

The Committee owes a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) for raising this matter, in what I thought was the unanswerable case which he made. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. Coulson), who has just intervened, has only further proved the case put by my hon. Friend, because he has suggested—though he did not go as far as this—that the reason why the Government allowed the Army publicity services to engage in the kind of activities in which they did engage was because it was politically expedient because of what was to happen in Germany. If that is the defence of the Government's policy, it seems to make the position even worse, maybe, than it was originally.

Great feeling has been stirred up on this question. I was not able to be there myself, although I would have liked to have been, as I was at another demonstration elsewhere. If I had not been at another demonstration, I should have joined many of my friends from Ebbw Vale. In fact, many of my friends from Ebbw Vale went there, and did their best, despite difficulties caused by others, to prevent a very ugly scene when various missiles were being thrown, and it was one of my friends who said, "Do not be provoked; wait until you see the whites of their eggs." This shows the great restraint that we exercised in such a demonstration.

Very serious feelings were stirred up, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) said, and one of the reasons why it is so regrettable that the Army publicity services should have been used in this way is because of the campaign which has been provoked, in my view, in the most shocking manner, against those who were using their perfectly democratic rights to protest against a policy which they thought was wrong for the country as a whole and for Wales—the decision to bring German troops there at all.

We have had a campaign run by the usual agencies, and, I am sorry to say, backed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly), suggesting that everybody who demonstrated against the Panzers coming to Wales were Communists and that they were being paid for by Communists. Many of those I know who went there never have been Communists. They paid their own fares to Pembroke, and they wanted to send the bills to the hon. Member for Pembroke and invite him to pay them for having said that they were being paid by Communists. Of course, they were not.

There was widespread feeling, and this is the main reason why the Government permitted the Army publicity services to get into this difficulty at all. Perhaps the Government did not realise how deep was the feeling. Perhaps if the Opposition Front Bench had voted against German troops ever coming to this country at all, as the Labour Party conference subsequently voted and declared that to be the official policy of the Labour Party, the Government would have had a better warning, but, even so, they could have discovered the fact that all the official Labour organisations in South Wales had opposed the idea of German troops going there—the Regional Council of the Labour Party, the National Union of Mineworkers and most of the other Labour organisations in Wales, which had opposed it, not on the grounds of race or anti-German feeling, but on the grounds given by my hon. Friends and others in this House when it was debated.

It was certainly not run on racial grounds; indeed, many of those conducting the campaign were among those—

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Member to describe the campaign against bringing German troops over here?

On a point of order. Is the hon. Member in order in describing the campaign against bringing German troops to this country, as he was doing, by every Labour organisation and disaffected element in South Wales?

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman, who, so far, I think has been trying to relate his arguments to the use of the Army publicity services. If he goes too far, I shall pull him up.

Thank you for your Ruling, Sir Robert.

It was precisely because I was trying to indicate—and this is possibly the most charitable explanation of why the Government got into difficulties—why they allowed the Army publicity services to do what they did. Perhaps they did not understand properly the strength of the division of feeling about it in Wales and elsewhere and did not realise what they were doing. Maybe the Government were misled by the absurd and quite false charges made in some of the newspapers in Wales and elsewhere that this was a Communist stunt; and when my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke lent his support to that kind of charge possibly the Government were further misled.

They should not have been misled. They should have studied the matter and realised that they were using the publicity services in what was an extremely hot political issue, and by so doing caused greater difficulty. One hon. Gentleman opposite, who tried to defend what had happened, said that the publicity services were being used to smooth relations for the German soldiers who came here and to make things easier for them.

If that was so, I can see the justification for it, because all those who were engaged in the campaign protesting against Panzer troops coming here were not saying that they wanted to inflict any personal humiliation or injury on individual German soldiers. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), who said that that was not part of the campaign. That was part of the misrepresentation of the campaign. If the idea was to smooth relations, there was no need for photographers to do it. There was no need for television cameras. There was no need for advice to be given to the German troops on how they should comport themselves in front of the television cameras. There was no need for all that if the intention was to smooth relations and provide welfare facilities. It was something different from that. All that happened was exploited in a manner which I think the majority of people in Wales regarded as utterly disgraceful.

We are not debating the main issue tonight, but, unfortunately, German troops will again come to Wales. I hope that on the next occasion the Labour Party Front Bench will state its official policy on the (matter. When the next lot of troops come, will the Minister make sure that there is no recurrence of the events which occurred on this occasion in the use of the publicity organisation? Will he give us an assurance that if we have the French paratroops here the scenes we saw in Wales will mot be repeated, with the publicity services being used to provide television programmes and photographers to boost the French paratroops? If the Government want to use their publicity services for welfare purposes, let them do so, but they must not use them for propaganda on an issue which has big and important political complications.

Would the hon. Gentleman agree with what I said earlier, that whether they are French paratroops, German troops, or any other troops visiting this country, the public are interested in them? The public like them to have publicity, and like the various exercises to be publicised, and this, in the long term, is in the interests of the Services throughout the country. The hon. Gentleman went rather wide in his speech, but would not he also agree that by having the Germans here we have done our troops a good service by allowing them the use of ranges in Germany?

I will not go into the hon. Member's second point, because I would be out of order if I did so.

On the first issue, about the public, we are the representatives of the public. That is why we are here. It may be a novel idea to the hon. Gentleman, but that is so. We are the representatives of the public. We are having this debate today because my hon. Friends who represent Welsh constituencies are saying, "This is what we interpret public feeling to have been", and all the evidence that we have had proves it. As I said, every Labour organisation in the Principality has gone on record in this respect, and they represent the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know what the public in Wales think, we have been telling him.

I want to add one or two words to what has been said, not because I consider that the case has not been adequately stated, or that it needs any elaboration of any kind. I take leave to say, I hope without any kind of patronage, that the case has been most admirably and convincingly put, and I join my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) in congratulating and thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and those who supported him, but especially my hon. Friend, for having raised this question and for the way in which he put it.

I intervene for two reasons only. First, because all those who have spoken on this side of the controversy have been Welsh Members, and I want to make the point, which I am sure is well understood, that this is not a purely Welsh grievance. The political neutrality of the Army is essential. It is fundamental to our whole constitution. If we once get the Armed Services, or the police force, or any other body which is under Government control and paid for by public funds intervening in matters of political controversy, then we shall have a situation which is fraught with danger not merely to one side of a political opinion, but to every side of every political opinion that can ever arise in our affairs.

It is, therefore, a matter of fundamental importance not merely that the Army should not be used on one side or other of a question in which there are deep and passionate political differences of opinion, but that it should not even seem as though it were being so used. I am sure that the Committee accepts this as a principle which we can all support, whatever our political views may be.

My second point is that I happened to take an active part in the House of Commons when the question that we cannot discuss now was decided by the House, that is, whether or not this adventure should be accepted. All that I want to say about it—certainly nothing about the merits—is that no question of any kind of racial antagonism or anything of that sort ever existed. We all realise that the young German boys who came to South Wales, and the others who may come at some other time, have no kind of responsibility for all the things that rouse the emotions that lie behind this question. Many of them—I suppose most of them—were not even born when Hitler came to power, and I suppose that some of them were not born even when the war came to an end. No one thinks of causing them any personal embarrassment.

I am not attacking it, defending it, or doing anything about it except stating it. What is involved is a political question on which there are wide differences of opinion, and the point that is being made today is that that being so, what the Army might do in a welfare direction to make things easier, to smooth the path of people who may be reluctant and unwilling guests on our territory, is well done and nobody will object to it. But if it is done in such a way as to encourage people to think that the Government are using the Armed Services and public moneys to take one side as against another on a matter where there are passionate differences of opinion, this ought to be exposed to the Committee, and the Government ought to take particular pains to make absolutely, abundantly, and overwhelmingly clear that they had no such intention, and give a clear undertaking that it will not happen again.

I was opposed to German troops being brought here to be trained. I am not going to enter into any controversy that there may be about it, but the country was divided on the issue. In those circumstances the use by the Government of the Army publicity services to defend the line they took becomes a matter of great delicacy, because, after all, the people who oppose it pay taxes on the same basis as those who support it. The Government have no right to use so delicate an instrument as publicity for the Armed Forces to support their point of view in a domestic political controversy.

The basis of our democracy is that the civilian and not the soldier is responsible for national policy. Once the soldier, the sailor or the airman—or, for that matter, the policeman—appears, as a man in his profession, to be supporting the political action of the Government in connection with a matter of political controversy, it will not be very long before we find that the whole basis of the liberty that has been secured to us by the historic attitude towards our Constitution has been frustrated.

I did not have the advantage of hearing the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), although I was told by a subsequent speaker that it was eloquent. I regret that I was not here to hear it, because whenever I can I always go to hear eloquence. I am not going to get further involved in the controversy than to say that this is a matter of very great importance for our constitutional liberties; it is a supreme test whether or not a Government are really democratic. If the Government are democratic, they stand up for themselves. We know that they get considerably knocked about in these days, but there is not yet any need to call in the Armed Forces to put over their case for doing stupid things.

8.0 p.m.

Time is getting on, and although there are many points that I would have liked to raise, I do not intend to go into any detail on them because we have other Estimates to deal with. Complaint has been made by some of my hon. Friends about the rôle of the War Office publicity men in South Wales. Indeed, very serious charges have been levelled. I do not want to go further into the issue, but in view of the very deep feelings which are held by several of my hon. Friends—and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who first raised the question—I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to answer the various points that have been made.

I note that under the previous Vote there is an increase in the number of Army information officers from two to fourteen. There may be a causal connection between that Vote and this one. In view of what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), speaking with the authority of a former Home Secretary, that this is an issue of great delicacy, I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us about the rôle performed by the publicity men of the War Office in South Wales in those days in the autumn just prior to the demonstration.

It might suit the convenience of the Committee if I dealt, first, with a few points raised by my hon. Friends and then said a word about the activities of our public relations officers in connection with the visit of the German forces to Wales, which subject has formed the substance of our discussion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clap-ham (Dr. Alan Glyn) asked about National Health Service expenditure. I can tell him that the expenditure incurred on treatment in civil hospitals is small, and concerns only a few cases where special treatment is required. He also asked about the relationship of the staff at Sandhurst to the number of cadets under instruction. I can assure him that the figure of 1,029 includes staff who look after the estate and also the married quarters. As my hon. Friend will know, both are considerable. The number of instructional staff is much smaller than the number of students, as would be expected.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) spoke with great feeling. I recognise the deep sincerity which animated all those hon. Members representing Welsh constituencies and, indeed, English constituencies, who have addressed themselves to the question of the publicity given in connection with the visit of German soldiers to Castlemartin. I respect the feelings expressed by them, and I was glad when the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) went out of his way to affirm—with the support of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)—that none of these feelings have any connection with, or owe their origin to, any animosity towards the German soldiers involved. I was glad when that point was made.

These soldiers are our allies in N.A.T.O. When we give them facilities in pursuance of our obligations as a N.A.T.O. ally and they come to this country to use our training areas, the Government have a responsibility for doing all they can to see that their position, when training here, is properly understood, is not misrepresented, and does not give rise to incidents.

When there is a danger of misunderstanding, and of the strength of feeling leading to incidents which we would all recognise as undesirable, it is the more necessary that we should do something—as we sought to do in this case—to put the visit of such troops in proper perspective, and to make known to the public what it is all about. These German troops were using our training areas, owned and held by the War Office. To a certain extent they were under our administration. We were responsible for seeing that the public were not misled about the sort of people they were, and why they were there.

Complaints have been made about the way in which our public relations officers carried out their job. Their job is to see that the Press get all the help it wants in connection with its presentation of news to the public and to make available, as far as possible, the material which the Press wants. The visit of the German forces was sponsored by the War Office, and it was quite proper that our public relations officers should help the Press to obtain the material which it obviously needed. This is quite common practice in many aspects of the work of Government Departments today, and it was the clear duty of our officers employed in that connection to help to give the Press these facilities.

Does the hon. Member include in that proposition the suggestion that it was proper for the War Office to spend public money on defending the decision to bring the soldiers here for training? We quite understand that the public relations officers were perfectly justified in their relationship with the Press, but this was a matter in respect of which one side said that there was a wrong political decision, and the other said that there was a right political decision. That is the very thing that is being complained about. I am sorry if the Minister does not appreciate that. It looks as if he has not begun to understand the objection to what was done.

It is difficult to understand where the one exercise—which I think is justified, and which the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne would accept—ends, and the other begins. I understand the distinction. I think that we all understand what was meant by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) when he said that this was a delicate matter, so that in the execution it is possible for the distinction to become blurred. I think that the Committee will accept that.

I was proposing to conclude by saying two things, the first in reply to the right hon. Member for South Shields. I think that his argument—I agree that this is a delicate matter—that the Army must not become involved in matters of political controversy can lead one to very far-reaching conclusions which I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself would accept. It could lead to the conclusion that the Army could not become involved in the prosecution of a political policy to the point of war, which is absurd.

I do not think that is an exaggeration. One must be careful how far one follows that argument. It could lead to the conclusion that in no sense should public relations officers of any Government Department be allowed to explain anything or any situation to the Press. I mention these things to bring the Committee along with me in realising the real difficulty which here faced us.

I realise the point at issue and the deep feelings in Wales. I hope that if the circumstances arise again, all concerned—I include those who, on some occasions, allowed the strength of their feelings to get the better of them, and, therefore, increased the scope of the job which there was for the public relations people to do—will have learned from what happened, and that we shall have no recurrence either of the events which the public relations personnel had to counter, or of any other trouble of which there has been complaint in the Committee today.

As one who, so far, has lived all his life in South Wales, I am most disappointed with the reply of the Under-Secretary. Obviously—I say this with all respect—the hon. Gentleman has not come within a thousand miles of appreciating the shock which was felt in South Wales when this propaganda for the Armed Forces occurred before the German troops arrived in our dear country.

I headed a deputation from South Wales which attended the War Office before the German troops arrived. The deputation represented at least a quarter of a million organised workers in South Wales. We drew attention to the miserable, wretched attempts being made to create, by propaganda from the War Office, the necessary congenial atmosphere in which these youngsters could be received.

Let me repeat what my hon. Friends have said already. We have nothing against the German people as a people. In fact, within a short distance of where these Panzer lads were brought we have a considerable number of Germans engaged as miners, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). So let us disabuse our minds of that idea. I speak as one who has vivid memories of two world wars. I have no inkling of who was responsible for them, but that is not a question which we may discuss on this occasion.

Can the War Office appreciate that we object profoundly to the fact that the resources of the State, backed by the Government, should be used for nothing more than sheer, misleading propaganda? It may interest the War Office to know that this propaganda did far more harm than good. We object to that, and if what we have heard is the answer of the War Office and the Government, I am sorry that I shall have to counter it by saying that if any visitation of the same kind is conducted in the manner in which the last one was, the War Office will realise that it has been playing the fool and that the people of Wales resent it. I hope that from what has been said in this debate the War Office will learn how foolish it has been.

8.15 p.m.

I think that the Under-Secretary has left the matter in a rather unsatisfactory state. He referred several times to the deep feeling which he said he understood there was in Wales. But I think that the most important part of his remarks revealed that he has misunderstood the grave constitutional problem which is involved. I should like to discuss this problem removed from the particular instance which has given rise to this short debate and to direct the attention of the Committee to other possible circumstances where a similar situation might arise which would have nothing to do with the visit of German troops.

Consider the proposed visit by a force of French paratroopers. It is beginning to give rise to serious arguments as to the political desirability of such a visit taking place at the present time, because all political discussion is related to place and time. I admire the people of France as much as anyone in the Committee and many of my friends take the same view about France and the French people. But they have expressed serious doubt about the wisdom of the forthcoming visit. If the Army were to use public relations officers, as was hinted by the Under-Secretary, for the same purpose as in the past—to put this visit in the best possible light in the eyes of the public—they would be instructing Army officers to interfere directly in a political disagreement which existed at the time. That, constitutionally, would be completely illegitimate, and I submit that it is not in the best interests of our Armed Forces.

I agree with the Under-Secretary about the dividing line being one which roust be investigated carefully in each case. Nobody could dissent from what is a commonsense view. But I submit that equally it is the duty of the Minister to decide where is the dividing lime. This is a political matter of the greatest delicacy and no one can deputise for the Minister. What disturbed me about the reply of the Under-Secretary was that he seemed to show little understanding of the essential constitutional provision that the policy of the Government which is implemented through the Army must be defended in the House of Commons by the Minister, and must not and cannot be defended by public relations officers in the service of the Army. It is the hon. Gentleman's job to convince those who disagree with the policy at the time that the Government's policy is correct.

We have been told that the number of these officers will be increased, and I welcome that. I am in favour of everything that can be done to make our forces appear in the proper light in the eyes of the nation. But it would be doing a disservice to that purpose, and make it far more difficult for many of us to justify the increased expenditure of public money in this respect, if there were the slightest doubt that some of that money would be spent in justifying the domestic political or foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The hon. Gentleman must seriously address himself to that point. It is not enough for him to say that the dividing lime is a difficult one. The only solution is for him and the Department, where there is the slightest danger of doubt that Army officers may be interfering in a political argument and trying to make propaganda for the political view of the Government of the day, to instruct them to desist, and to order them to confine themselves only to the essential task of Army public relations officers, which is to encourage a good appearance of our Services in the public eye. He must see to it that controversial political matters relating to home or foreign policy are not put on their shoulders.

The Under-Secretary and his Department should not underestimate the significance of this matter. In my constituency, and in many neighbouring constituencies, there is always a very real feeling that the Armed Forces must not only be, but must be seen to be, completely and utterly neutral politically. People in my part of the country are always keen to support the recruiting campaigns, and great harm would be done to the Department's aims if those people had any doubt about that principle of the neutrality of the Armed Forces in political matters.

I apologise to my hon. Friend for not being able to be present at one stage of this debate, but I understand that he replied to my point about Sandhurst. I would ask him to give the assurance I sought about compensation for losses, damage, etc. under Subhead J; and to reject the theory put forward by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) in so far as it applies to our own forces. If that theory were to be carried to its logical conclusion, one could say that political controversy has arisen already over conscription, and other matters. The job of the Army publicity services job is to put forward the Army in the best possible light—

I said so. I was very careful to say that, because I want to make it quite clear that I fully support the work of the information officers in making a success of our recruiting campaign. What I had in mind were matters of international policy and political controversy.

The Minister rather overstated his case when he argued that this action was necessary in order to keep the Press informed. I can quite understand that the publicity section was entitled to give the Press some facts about the arrival of the German troops, the time of their arrival, and their numbers, but what my hon. Friends from South Wales objected to was the propaganda slant that was used, apparently with the assistance of the publicity department.

Can one believe that our Press needs all this help from the publicity department of the War Office? This was a human story in which Fleet Street, the B.B.C., the I.T.V. and, so I understand, the German Press agencies, too, were interested. Does the Minister suggest that the people who earn their living by writing stories of that kind needed the assistance of the War Office? I submit that this is a case where the War Office publicity department has been a little too zealous, and I hope that now that this has been impressed on the Minister, the result will be that the publicity department will not take over functions that properly belong to the Press, the B.B.C. and I.T.V.

I am sorry that the Under-Secretary could not go a little further to meet me. I am extremely suspicious of all public relations officers, whether they support a Government, a local authority, or some commercial firm. They seem to be able to dress up the naked truth so attractively that some limit should be put on their activities. The proper place for dealing with disputes of the kind that have been referred to is the Treasury Bench.

The Committee should remember what happened this afternoon. The Prime Minister said, "I want to make a statement, Sir," and then told us that the Home Secretary, in addition to being responsible for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, is to devote his energies to settling quarrels between two Cabinet Ministers whose interests in an acute matter might be slightly different—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has tremendous Parliamentary experience, and I suggest he is going a little wide.

I am speaking in illustration of what can be done, Dr. King. The Secretary of State for War could have said at the Dispatch Box, "Sir, I should like to make a statement." He would have had just the same opportunity for amazing the House as had the Prime Minister this afternoon.

It is not the duty of public relations officers to defend the Government in matters of political controversy. It may be their duty to explain a policy that has been agreed and is no longer a matter of political controversy—although, even there, they should step with very great care. I regret that we did not get a recognition tonight that the key to our democratic freedom is that members of the Government have to defend themselves in matters where acute political controversy has arisen. Such controversy arose in this case, and I hope that the trouble that resulted will be a sufficient warning to Governments not to try to repeat such action too often.

Question put and agreed to.


That a sum, not exceeding £9,930,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of miscellaneous effective services, including grants in aid, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1963.