HC Deb 30 May 1962 vol 660 cc1336-9
12 and 17. Sir J. Smyth

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) what part Gurkha troops will play in the new model, voluntary, long-service British Army.

(2) whether he is contemplating any changes in the role of Gurkha troops at present being employed as part of the British defence forces.

13. Mr Scott-Hopkins

asked the Secretary of State for War, what are his plans for the future of the Brigade of Gurkhas; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Profumo

During the Army Estimates debate on 8th March, I told the House that the commitments which are set out in the Defence White Paper required further study before any final manpower ceilings could be determined, and that this included among other things a review of the Brigade of Gurkhas. I confirm that no decisions have yet been taken. The general issue is one which will have to be considered in the context of the future size and shape of the all-Regular Army. Much will depend on the progress of Army recruitment and on the future of Greater Malaysia. Therefore we do not propose to take any decision on this matter until next year.

Sir J. Smyth

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he realise that the Brigade of Gurkhas has been definitely told— and I have checked this very carefully indeed— that it may expect a cut of up to 50 per cent. in its strength in the near future, and that this is causing great concern and resentment in the Brigade of Gurkhas and also in the Nepalese Government? If there is nothing in this suggestion, I should be very grateful if my right hon. Friend would absolutely contradict it, because I can tell him that it is having a very bad effect and that it would be very stupid indeed to cut off such a wonderful supply of manpower just at this time.

Mr. Profumo

I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend, who has great associations with the Gurkhas. I hope that what I have said will reassure not only the House but the Brigade of Gurkhas in the knowledge that we have taken no decision and shall not take any hasty decision.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

As the Gurkhas are some of the finest fighting troops in the world and we may well need them in the future in South-East Asia, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no cut in the Brigade of Gurkhas in the foreseeable future until we are quite certain that we can reach our own recruiting target in this country?

Mr. Profumo

I entirely agree with all that my hon. Friend has said about the Brigade of Gurkhas, their prowess and connection with the British Army, and their great traditions. I cannot go further than the Answer that I have given to the Question. My hon. Friend will see that it is fairly wide. I give the undertaking that the look that we are having at this problem will be very thorough indeed and that we would not take any action which would contravene what my hon. Friend has just stated.

Mr. Paget

Will the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about this and indicate that any reconsideration will not be in a downward direction? We have had conscription reintroduced and, with the recruiting programme going better than was expected, we are still short of our treaty commitments. To suggest that we are going to get rid of some of our best volunteers, now that we are going in for a volunteer Army, seems a little fantastic.

Mr. Profumo

I cannot go further than I have already gone. I have given the House an undertaking that nothing will be done this year and that we are looking into the matter in the context of what has been said by me and by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence in connection with the Defence White Paper.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the success of the latest White Paper policy must depend on our having troops that can be used in any part of the world should the need arise? Will he explain to the House a little more clearly whether or not one of the difficulties over the future of the Gurkhas may not be the fact that they cannot always be used where we should like them to be used?

Mr. Profumo

That is one of the problems that we are having a look at with regard to the future. Up to the present time, we have not had to use the Gurkhas outside the Far East in peace time, where they have been very fully employed. This is one of the problems that we are examining.

Sir J. Smyth

Would my hon. Friend agree that we have used Gurkhas when we have been up against it in almost every part of the world? There is nothing at all in the suggestion that the Gurkhas can be used only in certain parts of the world. They are most ready to be used anywhere the need is greatest, and, goodness knows, we have need of them in many parts of the world today.

Mr. Profumo

I can give my hon. and gallant Friend the undertaking that so long as we have need for the Gurkhas we shall do nothing to disturb their entity. I am telling the House that, among many other things, we are having an examination of the future size and deployment of the Brigade.

Mr. S. Silverman

If we are to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's answer to supplementary questions that he agreed with what his hon. and gallant Friend was suggesting, would he tell us exactly in what operations in South-East Asia it is proposed to use Gurkha troops? Will he bear in mind that if it has anything to do with the present dispute in Laos, he would not have the support of the House for using Gurkhas or any other troops there?

Mr. Profumo

I think that the House knows what I moan. The Gurkhas have performed useful functions in Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore. I have not said anything at all about Laos. I am saying to my hon. and gallant Friend, who has a deep and abiding interest in this matter, that we are not considering tampering with the Gurkhas who have played a brilliant part in the past to their own great glory and to the benefit of this country.