Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 229,000, 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, 1965.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. James Ramsden)
This is the fourth year in which I have been at one or other end of the Army Estimates debate. I have always previously said at some point, and always with the assent of the Committee, that however much we may argue across the Floor about what sort of Army we should have, or the way in which it is run, the House of Commons is behind the Army in wishing it well as it goes about its daily tasks up and down the world. This, I know, has never been more true than today, when the Army is hard at work, and much of it tough and testing work at that.
I say this at the beginning of my speech because I want to end up this year with a word about the War Office itself. I hope the Committee will put up with this in the special circumstances of our approaching demise.
This year I am bringing to the Committee Estimates for the Army totalling some £523 million. This is about £37 million up on the current year, 1963–64. As the Committee can see from the detailed breakdown by Votes, there are two main reasons for this increase—higher rates of pay and considerably increased expenditure on equipment. I shall be referring during my speech to some of the most important items, including the equipment.
In any review of Army affairs today, it is clear that our chief preoccupation 1534 must be manpower. On 9th December, 1963, in the debate on the Army Act (Continuation) Order, I gave the House a fairly full account of the recent history of recruiting. We had a good recruiting year in 1961 and a remarkable one in 1962, and in those two years the other rank strength of the Army increased by over 20,000 to 150,430. This was not a bad result and the then Secretary of State, my predecessor, by his personal efforts made a notable contribution to it.
Then came the extremely disappointing year 1963. Taking as the standard of comparison the month by month averages of recruits from civil life during the five-year period 1959–63, we fell from 91 per cent. of the average in January, 1963 to 65 per cent. in April, 1963. These averages provide a useful standard of comparison because, throughout this period, the main terms of engagement on offer have not changed. Gradually, as the summer went on, there came a slight improvement. Recruiting in the last four months of 1963 rose to 84 per cent. of the monthly average over this period in January this year it was 86 per cent. The figures for February, which I received only today, are well over 90 per cent. on the basis of the comparison I have been using. So, to some extent at least, the position has been restored.
For this improvement we owe a great deal to the recount that the Army has given of itself in recent weeks. In the headlines and in the pictures of the Press and television the young men have been able to see for themselves what sort of people are in the modern Regular Army and what they have been doing and the efficient way in which they have been deployed and led. It is, first and foremost, the showing of our soldiers, that is now bringing would-be recruits to inquire at our information offices in greater numbers than we have seen since October 1962.
This is encouraging, but we are not yet out of the wood. Recruiting is still the greatest of my worries—or, rather, the greatest of the challenges which confront us. We have not had a good year. From 1st January, 1963, to 1st February, 1964, the other rank strength rose by only 1,830 to 152,260 within 1535 a total Army strength of 171,588. We are still nearly 8,000 other ranks short.
Bearing in mind the heavy commitments of the last few months, I would be foolish to pretend that these shortages are not a matter for concern Particularly unwelcome is the 9 per cent. shortage in the infantry. Overall, the position has improved a bit in the past year. The Royal Signals, the R.A.M.C. and the Army Catering Corps have been built up in strength. In the Royal Signals, the build-up in 1963 amounted to nearly a thousand men, though, of course, it will be some time before recent recruits are trained and can join their units. Over the Army as a whole, we have a much better balance.
But we must get the build-up moving faster. This will not be easy. We have an increased run-out this year as a result of the 6-year engagement introduced in October, 1957. Even to maintain our present strength we must recruit something like 19.000 men from civil life—some 1,400 more than we recruited in 1963. But we have got to do a great deal better than this. We have got to make good the shortages and especially build up the Infantry.
The basic theme of our recruiting efforts is to show the Army to the young men of today as it is. It is an Army with a vital rôle to fulfil, a rôle in peacetime never more clearly demonstated than during the past few months. It offers adventure, with a varied and continuing career, and it is an Army in which increasing efforts are being devoted to the welfare both of the soldier and his family.
Our aim in recruiting is to let the Army speak for itself. Our youth teams—78 of them now and themselves examples of what is best in the modern Army—seek opportunities of meeting their contemporaries in civil life and telling them and showing them about life in the Army. Our advertising lays stress on the personal experiences of serving soldiers. During the summer, their efforts will be supplemented by recruiting teams from units in this country and Germany. Teams like these had a great success in 1962.
This approach to recruitment has been devised as a result of much thought and thorough research. I am sure that this is the right approach, but, of course, there is one essential factor for its 1536 success. The Army must itself be satisfied with its lot. The maintenance of high morale and contentment among all ranks is the task I place at the very top of our priorities.
Weighing up the prospects there is, on the debit side, the higher run-out of 6-year men. On the credit side, the Army is justifying itself in the country's eyes by its own achievements. The British soldier is getting himself a good Press, which is doing him justice. For this I am grateful. The pay review has just served to emphasise that the bread and butter side of soldiering compares well with civilian life, and there are larger numbers now entering the field of potential recruitment with the higher birth rate of 1946–48.
Can we do anything to make the build-up of numbers certain this year instead of merely likely? A number of hon. Members have urged that we should make more use than we do of men from overseas in the Commonwealth, and I have already promised the Committee a fairly full explanation of how we stand on this question. In fact, we are already employing, colonial forces apart, a great many men recruited from overseas. They can be divided, broadly, into three groups.
One is the troops who are recruited locally, and are normally used only for local service. These include locally enlisted personnel in both Hong Kong and Malaysia, and a substantial number of Maltese. They total about 7,000.
Secondly, we have the forces who, though recruited locally, are used for service outside their recruiting areas. These include the Brigade of Gurkhas and that part of the Royal Malta Artillery which is in B.A.O.R.—a total of over 15,000. Both these categories are on special terms of service. Lastly, we do, of course, recruit men from overseas into normal units of the British Army—at present we have rather more than 2,000.
Now what is it we really want? Basically, our problem is not to raise further units but to bring up to strength the units which we already possess. For this to be done effectively, it means increasing the numbers in the third group which I have mentioned; that is to say, those we enlist into normal units of the British Army at home.
1537 We already have a considerable number of overseas coloured men from the Commonwealth, many recruited in the overseas recruiting drive of 1961 and others recruited in this country. They have been a success. There is no colour bar in the British Army and no social tensions in the barrack room or among the families, such as we all know can exist—indeed, they do exist—in civilian communities in some places. But we have to keep an eye on this. Where there has been bother, in civilian society, it has arisen because the inflow of immigrants has exceeded the ability of the established community to assimilate them without friction. We dare not run the risk of such a situation in the Army. It would do a great deal of harm to the Army, and therefore we keep a watch on the rate of coloured recruiting, I believe rightly. Nevertheless, I think that we could, without undue risk, allow the present number of coloured soldiers in the Army to go up a bit. We can do this I believe without another recruiting drive overseas, which would be expensive, and without, of course, in any way lowering our standards. We shall be doing this during the coming year.
I told the Committee before Christmas how we had expanded the output from junior soldiers' units of all kinds.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
As to that 2,000, is that coloured members of the British Army wherever recruited—that is, whether recruited here or in Jamaica, for instance—or is it only the ones who are recruited abroad?
§ Mr. Ramsden
They are the persons I was talking about from overseas and the Commonwealth recruited here into units of the British Army.
I was going on to talk about junior soldiers' units and was reminding the Committee that before Christmas I had said that we had expanded the output from these units from some 2,200 in 1959 to something near 5,000 in the coming year. These units produce soldiers of high quality and are at present over-subscribed. I should like to increase the output of these soldiers to 6,000 a year—that is, to get 1,000 more junior soldiers maturing each year to man's service.
There are two main ways in which this might be done. One is by building another junior soldiers' unit or two. The 1538 other is by increasing the rate of through-put, that is to say, shortening the courses of these units. Building is a longish term job and new units would involve fairly heavy commitments in the way of high quality instructional staff. Moreover, as the time for a rise in the school leaving age approaches there will be a tendency for young people to stay longer at school and the effect of this will be for the courses so to speak to shorten themselves. This, therefore, seems the sensible direction to go in, and we are now doing the necessary planning.
I would hope for a fairly steady rise in the output of boy soldiers towards the 6,000 figure. But this still does not provide for the young man who has been unable to join as a boy, or who at 17 is too old to join as a boy, but who has not yet reached the age of adult recruitment. Those who cannot now get accepted for junior soldier training have to hang about, as things are, until they are 17½ and can enlist as adults. There is a gap, so to speak, of at least six months, and often more, during which they either fill in time or abandon altogether the idea of joining the Army and find some other job.
I think it would be sensible to reduce this gap so far as possible, and I have therefore decided that young men aged 17 to 17½ who have the consent of their parents may be enlisted. They will be paid at the late of 9s. 6d. a day until they reach the age of 17½. They will have to conform to adult selection standards and will be accommodated and trained in the same way as recruits of over 17½, but they will not be sent to join their units until they are 17½.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
At the moment the minimum age in the Army Act is 17½, except in such cases as may be prescribed. What is to happen? Will the right hon Gentleman introduce an amendment to the Army Act to reduce the minimum age to 17, or will he use the prescription get-out and find an outlet that way? Perhaps he will be good enough to tell the Committee.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I have not brought the Act with me. I think that the hon. Gentleman has quoted it correctly. The minimum age is stated to be 17½. Exceptions may be prescribed, as they are at present in the case of the W.R.A.C. 1539 and the Gurkhas. In a Section, the number of which I cannot remember, interposed between those two provisions there is a provision for enlistment with the consent of the parent. It is under that provision that we now enlist young men into boys' service. It is under that provision that these young men will be enabled to join. We do not intend to prescribe under the Army Act in the sense the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not want to harry the Minister on this point. Perhaps his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will make this clear later. Are we to have a half-way house? At the moment one understands the division between boy and man service and the reasons why the minimum age is there. Are we to have a kind of boy/man, although I hate to caricature it in that way? As he is introducing a special rate of pay, what is the chap to be?
§ Mr. Ramsden
We are to have a halfway house, so to speak. The rate of pay of 9s. 6d. a day equates to the rate of pay being received by boys of comparable age in boys' units. The liability of those enlisted according to my announcement will be restricted in the sense that, until they reach the age of 17½, they will not go to Service units. I therefore think that this is a fair proposal.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
In other words, legally this category will be in the same position as boys under the Army Act have been previously?
§ Mr. Ramsden
When my hon. Friend starts by saying "legally", he rings a bell of caution in my mind. As I understand it, I have described the position of these recruits under the Army Act correctly, I will check it and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give the assurance that my hon. Friend wishes.
§ Mr. Wigg
To try to get this absolutely right, this is under Section 2 of the Army Act. It means that, if the person offering to enlist is living with both his parents, then the consent of both parents is necessary. It is on that that the Minister intends to proceed. For practical purposes, these boys will get the rate of pay they would have got if they were boys in an absolute sense. This type of recruit will keep all the safeguards which apply 1540 to boys at present—that is to say, he cannot be posted until he really comes to man's service. It is a kind of half-way house. Am I not right?
§ Mr. Ramsden
The hon. Gentleman is right.
I have spent quite a long time on recruiting, indeed rather more than I had originally intended. I do not think the Committee will mind, because for the Army this is the oustanding problem, and we have got to get it right.
How can we measure this task? As each recruiting year opens, a new age group comes into the field, a fresh batch of young men from among whom we have to find our recruits. In 1962 we got 17 out of every thousand in this first group, the year before 15, and this was in fact the average figure over the years 1958 to 1962. In 1963 we only got 12.
Thus there were well over 2,000 potential recruits in this age group alone whom our efforts failed to reach. Of the older men, the later age groups, the proportions recruited by the end of 1962 were similar to the normal levels of recent years. Thus the potential field for recruitment over the whole field last year was not much below the normal, and certainly cannot be held to be a major factor in last year's fall in recruiting. Yet we did not get the men.
They are still there and it is our job to see that we get them. It is a job which concerns not only the War Office and the recruiting organisation but every officer and non-commissioned officer throughout the Army—all the leaders. Because all of us, from the Army Council and Commanders-in-Chief downwards, must see that by the way we house, feed, equip, lead and generally administer the elder brothers of these men, who are already in the Army, we are offering a true prospectus of Army life to their juniors.
I have said something about manpower and last week I spoke about its effect on what the Army was doing throughout the world and how we were discharging our commitments. Today, I have had my attention drawn to a report of a speech by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). I told him that I would refer to it. I do not know that the report gives an accurate representation of what he said, but he is reported 1541 as saying that units have been sent overseas ill equipped and hardly more than half strength. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, as I said last week and as what I have said today has made clear, that there are shortages and, in particular, shortages in the infantry. There are battalions below peace establishment. But to say in the context of what the Army has been doing lately in Cyprus and the Far East that battalions are being sent abroad at little more than half strength and ill equipped is a travesty of the facts, and in a debate on the Army Estimates it is only right that I should say that to the Committee.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
Is that all that the right hon. Gentleman has to say? [HON. MEMBERS: "It is enough for you."] One of the consequences of the behaviour of the Minister of Defence the other night is that the restraints which we on this side of the Committee have put upon ourselves now have to be reviewed. We have information, and the Secretary of State knows that we have information, about the size of the battalions in Cyprus. I said last night that some of them were there at little more than half strength. Not very long ago, the then Secretary of State for War said in the House of Commons that the peace-time establishment of these battalions was 635 and that in the conditions which they had experienced in Cyprus it would be much better if they were at an establishment of 700. If the Secretary of State wants to refute what I said last night, he will have to tell us what the size of battalions in Cyprus now is.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we make it a practice not to give the strength of these units when speaking here. What I am saying is that to speak of units at the numbers at which they stand when we have sent forces to Cyprus and the Far East as being at little more than half strength is an exaggeration, a travesty of the facts. The Committee must accept this from me. I say this in the full knowledge that the other night I gave the figure of 660 to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) as being the peace establishment of an infantry battalion. I explained last week that battalions in Cyprus and the Far East in the 1542 prevailing conditions had not been brought up to war establishment—
§ Mr. Ramsden
—war establishment by the use of reservists. Therefore, we are taking this figure of 660 and it is not true in relation to that to say that we have been sending out units of little more than half strength.
§ Mr. G. Brown
"We are taking this figure of 660", while the figure which the previous Secretary of State for War said was required in Cyprus was 700.
§ Mr. Brown
That is even worse. If the present Secretary of State wants to say that the previous Secretary of State was wrong to say that it should be 774, that is up to him, but the figure of 774 was stated in the House of Commons. The present Secretary of State said here that because of recruiting shortages the great majority of infantry battalions were, in one degree or another, short of 660, not 774. I repeat, if the tactics of trickery are to be employed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, some of us will have to make clear what information we have.
I assert that there are battalions in Cyprus not a lot more than half of 774, which was the figure at which the previous Secretary of State for War said they should stand, There are battalions in Cyprus which may be no more than certainly two-thirds of the figure which the right hon. Gentleman gave the other night as being the peace-time establishment. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying that he refutes what I say unless he gives the figures and does not make an allegation. He should tell his colleagues not to play tricks and we will continue to be as reserved as we have been.
§ Mr. Ramsden
It was the right hon. Gentleman, not I, who made the original allegation. I considered that it was not right that it should be said—
§ Mr. Ramsden
—that we were sending battalions overseas at little more than half strength, because that is not true.
§ Mr. Ramsden
It is not true in that relation to the figure of 660 which I gave to the hon. Member for Dudley. It is barely true—I will have to check it and I do not accept that it is true—against the figure of 774. As I explained, this has to be measured against two things. One is the circumstances in which the troops are being used—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Agriculture was speaking about war-time conditions in Cyprus in 1959. The second is the task which it falls to those troops to do.
When the right hon. Gentleman says that we are sending troops abroad at little more than half strength, he implies that we are calling upon soldiers to do jobs which they are not at a sufficient and proper strength to do, and it was this picture which I wished to have put into true perspective.
§ Mr. Brown
Somebody has to withdraw. The right hon. Gentleman says that my statement last night was a travesty of the facts. He has just said that the figure I gave may be barely true of 774 and that he would have to check to find out. How can he assert that I have given a travesty of the facts when he has had to confess that he does not know whether what I said was actually true, barely true, or how far out? I do not want to give the figures and I do not want to force the right hon. Gentleman to give them, but until he is willing to give them, I have to say that I have information, and that he knows I have information, and that he knows that the figures are about what I say they are. He ought to withdraw his allegations about giving travesties of the facts. The soldiers over there know it and his own advisers know it. The only people he is trying to kid are the public outside. He accuses me of a travesty of the facts when he himself has to admit that what I have said may be barely true. That seems to be an absolute imposition on the Committee and in keeping with the line which hon. Members opposite are now following.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I have certainly not admitted that what the right hon. Gentleman said may be barely true. He 1544 drew what in this context is a red herring across the trail by introducing the figure of 774. The figure I gave was the peacetime establishment of an infantry battalion, and it was in relation to that that I measured his remark. That was the impression made upon me and I thought it only proper to do my best to correct it.
§ Mr. Wigg
May I try to get this right? I shall try to be as objective as I can and, as always, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to interrupt me if necessary. In the old Cyprus crisis, there were battalions at 635 and lower. On 3rd March, 1959, the then Secretary of State for War said that experience in Cyprus had shown that 635 was no good and that the figure required was 700. He said that we would raise the Army ceiling by 15,000, of whom 11,000 would go to increase the strength of units within fighting arms, and that of that 11,000, 7,440 would go to the infantry, raising the establishment of an infantry battalion to 774. I am sure that I take the right hon. Gentleman with me thus far.
What happened afterwards was that the War Office, or the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors—I do not blame him personally—introduced a new and lower establishment, but never told the House of Commons. When I was doing these sums, I was working on the basis of the figure I had been given, which was 774. The right hon. Gentleman now says that the figure is 660—I make no complaint about it—which is lower than the figure which the then Secretary of State said was the right figure. I concede the point that the circumstances in Cyprus today are completely different from what they were then. But let us move away from Cyprus, because there are troops in semi-active conditions and I do not want in any way to jeopardise their security.
Let us turn to the Staffords, who went into Uganda, and the Devons and Dorsets, who were brought to the alert. The Staffords went in 480 strong, minus a company, and plus a company of the Scots Guards. They went into conditions which they did not know they were going to meet. The Devons and Dorsets, who were brought to the alert, were 300 strong. I challenge the Minister on this: approaches were made, and 1545 it was seriously proposed—he knows that I know this—to take a company of the Coldstream Guards to bring them up to establishment. These are the objective facts. Personally, I do not think that anyone has any complaint, provided that the truth is told. The complaint is that the truth has not been told.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I was very frank with the House the other night, and I will follow what the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has said now. The Devons and Dorsets have not been sent overseas. They are in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The hon. Member can speculate about their future. They have not been sent overseas. In the debate last week he talked about the Staffords—about two companies having gone to Uganda with a company of the Scots Guards. If a battalion has a company detached, on duty, on board a frigate—and one company is probably all that a frigate can take—the battalion is left with two companies. If, within the theatre of that battalion, another job then arises which that battalion, less its one company, is called upon to do, it is sensible to reinforce it by another company from another unit. This was done in East Africa, and the operation was successfully conducted.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I now come to equipment. The right hon. Member for Belper also referred to this. The equipment subheads of Vote 7 for fighting equipment total £100 million this year, an increase from £80 million last year and nearly £70 million the year before. This reflects the extent to which the equipment programme is gathering momentum. These increases will continue. Ministers of Defence for the Army of the future, whoever they may be, will no doubt dwell increasingly upon this Vote, as the volume of new equipment coming into service brings to fruition the planning and development of past years. I hope that they will remember to say this.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
I am grateful for that reminder. Will the Secretary of State deal with the point raised 1546 in the debate, and which his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence totally dodged in his reply? Granted an increasing volume of equipment flowing to the Army and other Services in coming years, how does de Minister of Defence or the Secretary State for War propose to keep the total defence budget anything like within the limit proposed by the Chancellor in his Estimates of future income?
§ Mr. Ramsden
As far as I am concerned, the increasing flow of this equipment has been foreseen for many years, and has been provided for successively in the Estimates, including those which we now have before us.
Let us see what is happening about the equipment of the Infantry, who are in the thick of things at the moment. The new general purpose machine gun is already in service with a number of battalions in various parts of the world, including units in the Far East and in the Strategic Reserve. We made the first buy from the Belgians, who invented it. The Royal Ordnance Factories are making the rest and will start issues in about six months' time, first to the training organisation, then to battalions in B.A.O.R., with further issues to other theatres following. The point about this weapon is that it doubles the rôle of the light machine gun, the Bren, and the medium machine gun, the Vickers. It can do both jobs. This has been a real break-through in the fire power of the Infantry battalion. The many friends of the Vickers machine gun will note that it has outlived even the War Office.
For anti-tank defence the Infantry battalions will start receiving new weapons during the year. First, there is the 84 mm. section and platoon antitank weapon, Carl Gustaf, which was developed in Sweden. The first 100 have already come, and issues will start soon to the training organisation and to Infantry battalions of the Strategic Reserve. This will be followed during the year by widespread issues to units in the Far East, in B.A.O.R. and other theatres. Here again, the greater part of the ammunition needed will be manufactured in our Royal Ordnance Factories.
Then, there is the WOMBAT antitank gun, a development of MOBAT and British made. It is a 120 mm. gun, 1547 designed to be carried in the long Land Rover or the Armoured Personnel Carrier: it would normally be dismounted to fire, but could, if necessary, be fired from the Land Rover. It is lighter and more easily handled than MOBAT, and in addition mounts a 5" spotting rifle for greater accuracy. In the class of infantry anti-tank weapon, where we still rely on the well tried principle of putting a round up the spout, pointing it at the enemy and pulling the trigger, this is the latest thing. Beyond this we get into the field of wire guided weapons.
Here, if it comes up to scratch in the final trials about to be held, Vigilant, the wire guided anti-tank missile developed by the British Aircraft Corporation, will shortly come into service as a company weapon. On present planning first issues will be to the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment and 1st Battalion Black Watch, all in B.A.O.R.
These units will have the important task of assessing how this type of weapon can best be employed alongside the more traditional forms of anti-tank defence. This will be interesting, because aiming a gun and pulling a trigger is a very different technique from guiding one of these missiles steadily all the way to its target in the heat of action.
Perhaps I may digress here, since it is not strictly an Infantry weapon, to say a word about the heavy wire guided anti-tank weapon Malkara, which was the pioneer in this field.
§ Mr. Ramsden
No, Sir. When we established the need for this weapon, and its development had reached a certain stage and we contemplated a buy, in order to save time—among other things—we negotiated a contract with the firm into which was written the requirement that this weapon should come up to certain closely defined 1548 standards, especially relating to reliability. It is to this contract, upon which the eventual purchase depends, that the tests of which I am speaking are related, and we very much hope that the weapon will do what is expected of it. If that happens the purchase will proceed.
I had begun to refer to the Malkara. It has been issued to the Cyclops squadron of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, a unit of the Strategic Reserve, and was tried out under operational conditions in Exercise Triplex West last October. We ran into a number of teething troubles, which are being put right, and on the whole our experience was encouraging for the future of this sort of weapon generally. The fact that we have it in service means there is now, for the first time, a heavy anti-tank weapon on an armoured vehicle which is airportable. It can be flown somewhere and be ready to knock out armour when it arrives.
A further addition to the striking power of the infantry will be provided by the introduction of the 81 mm. mortar which has now completed its user and troop trials and is in prodcution. A start will be made with its deployment during the year, when it will be issued to a number of infantry battalions in B.A.O.R., and to infantry, parachute and R.M. commando units in the Middle East, Far East and Strategic Reserve.
§ Mr. Ramsden
No, Sir. Deliveries on the scale which were contemplated for this squadron have been completed. This is a first generation weapon, in the sense that there is another type of this wire guided weapon to follow, and that is now under development.
I was going to say that all this adds up to an impressive and immediate increase to the hitting power of the Infantryman. To move him around the battlefield we shall be getting this year the tracked armoured personnel 1549 carrier. This vehicle is primarily designed to carry a section of ten men, a commander and driver under good armoured protection, including top cover, over almost any type of ground. It will go mainly to infantry battalions in B.A.O.R. Production reaches full bore during the year and so far deliveries are well up to programme. After first issues to the School of Infantry for training, on present plans the 1st Battalion Royal Trish Fusiliers will get their vehicles in the early summer, and will be followed during the year by the 1st Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers and the 1st Battalion Black Watch.
We have also been paying a great deal of attention to the personal equipment of the fighting soldier. It makes a great difference to the life of the infantryman if he can sleep reasonably dry. So it is with special satisfaction that I can say that issues of a damp proof sleeping hag to units of the British Army in B.A.O.R. will start next month to be followed by issues to units of the Strategic Reserve. This should be as much of a comfort on training in the wet autumns of Germany as it would be on operations. Similarly, lightweight sleeping kit, developed by the Australians, will be issued to units in the jungle later this year.
I have concentrated on the infantry this year, but before I leave equipment I must say a word about Chieftain. Its troop trials were satisfactory and two production lines are being set up. In July last year we put on a demonstration on the range at Kirkcudbright to representatives of N.A.T.O. and Commonwealth countries. I thought that the atmosphere was like the July sales at Newmarket. We were confident we had a future winner, a real thoroughbred. The buyers stood around like buyers do, anxious to crab. Altogether, it was not the most impressionable of audiences. But when the tank's phenomenal gun destroyed a target that looked no bigger than a pin's head at the first shot at a hitherto unheard of range there was a spontaneous outburst of clapping.
The day produced another and unexpected object-lesson. When the tank crews lined up afterwards—they were men of the R.A.C., not specially selected—someone asked them how long 1550 they had been serving. None had less than five years and some over nine. This too, in a gathering which included the commanders of many short-service conscript armies, was not without its effect.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Easington)
I read in the Press recently that there was considerable difficulty in persuading foreign buyers of arms from the United Kingdom to purchase Chieftain tanks. I am a little troubled about that. Is it true?
§ Mr. Ramsden
My experience, and I am sure that it is the right hon. Gentleman's, is that it is nearly always difficult to persuade foreign buyers to purchase any equipment from any country but their own. We are doing our best, of course, with the Chieftain tank. My hon. Friend will say more about that when he winds up. In this case, we have the advantage that what we have to sell is an absolutely first-rate and unrivalled piece of equipment of its kind.
I was coming on to married quarters. Today, I wish to refer particularly to Rhine Amy. We have nearly a third of our At my in Germany and hon. Members who have visited Rhine Army know what a source of anxiety the shortage of accommodation there has been to us, and how often it has contributed to our losing good men.
Things are now beginning to look a good deal better. The current programme set out to cover a deficiency of 11,000 against a total requirement of 23,000 homes; by the end of last year 3,100 had been handed over by the end of this year it should be up to 7,500, reaching 9,500 by the end of 1965. On top of these figures there are 200 caravans in use in B.A.O.R. We also hope to have 300 mobile homes available by mid-summer, and all units do, of course, make great efforts on their own account, including some most ingenious improvisations from within their own resources and inside their own barrack areas. There are still some difficult places, but the accommodation position in B.A.O.R. is at last taking a real turn for the better.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the difference between a caravan and a 1551 mobile home, and why the number of these vehicles cannot be much more rapidly speeded up? I am thinking of the wives and families of the men concerned.
§ Mr. Ramsden
The difference between a caravan and a mobile home is that the caravan has wheels of its own and it can "up stick" and be towed to another site. A mobile home looks rather like a caravan, but provides rather better living accommodation. It is a recent development and it is transported on a flat to the site it will eventually occupy. We have to relate the numbers of these which we provide to the programme which we have in hand for accommodation of other kinds.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
Has my right hon. Friend looked into the substantial new developments which there have been in establishing prefabricated wooden houses, which have improved their standards in recent years?
§ Mr. Ramsden
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works, who does the housing for us, will, I am sure, take note of what my hon. Friend has said.
I want to say a word about other overseas theatres. At the moment, we are building married quarters in Gibraltar, in one of the Sovereign Base areas in Cyprus, in Aden, and in Hong Kong. We have in addition recently arranged for a further 540 soldiers quarters to be provided by a local developer in Singapore. These will be adjacent to our main barrack areas and will replace the scattered hirings we have at present. When all these quarters are completed we hope that they will, with the hirings we already have or can obtain, meet our requirements for married accommodation in those garrisons, under present plans for accompanied service; small adjustments may, however, be necessary, from time to time.
I want now to say something about the Territorial Army, and if I do not speak at great length it is because we have already had a debate covering some of this ground, and because I do not want to keep the Committee too long. I certainly hope that we shall hear from other Members of the Committee on this subject.
1552 It might serve as a lead-in if I recalled briefly to the Committee the latest news, so to speak, on the Territorial Army. They are recruiting well and are up from 107,800 in February, 1963, to 110,900 this year.
I announced in January developments in two of the rôles of the Territorial Army. Some units are to have fire-fighting training which is designed to equip them better for their home defence rôle. More Territorial Army units than heretofore will be required on mobilisation to supply individual reinforcements to units of Rhine Army when, after 1965, part-time National Service men are no longer available for this purpose.
I have seen a lot of the Territorial Army during the past few years, and I believe that there is still a good deal of misunderstanding about it, and not only outside its ranks. The reason for that is this. The Territorial Army is organised and trained on the plan of a field Army of the old style, into divisions, brigades, units of all arms and a support echelon, and so forth. That is how it is organised, and that is how we see it training.
Yet, when we think about the way in which the Territorial Army would be likely to go to war—some of it to provide "Ever-readies", some to reinforce B.A.O.R.—some to act at home in support of the civil power, a rather different picture emerges from the one of a large field Army slowly built up to war efficiency and mobilised for war in the old style. There is a paradox here. I believe that it is sometimes not realised how fast the Territorial Army has moved with the times.
What is the point of organising and training the Territorial Army in one way if it is really more likely to have to be used in a different way? There are, I suggest, four good and sound answers to this question. First, there is the question of training. Since we have to train men of all arms for the oversea reinforcement rôle, we must have the equivalent arms and services in the Territorial Army and they are best organised on the Regular Army pattern of brigades and divisions.
Secondly, the one rôle of the Territorial Army is to provide a framework on which general preparation for war can be built up, and it follows that it must 1553 be organised on the normal Army pattern if it is to be capable of fulfilling this rôle. Thirdly, the provision of divisional and brigade headquarters fits into the pattern of regional and sub-regional organisation for the administration of the country in emergency, and hence is the best method of ensuring proper support by the home Army to the civil Power.
Finally, and this is the vital factor, the existing organisation works well and suits especially the local affiliation and local loyalties upon which the traditions of the Territorial Army are built.
I have spent a lot of time on this, including a year on a committee during which we tested out the existing organisation of the Territorial Army against any way anyone could think of doing the job better. But, for the reasons I have given, we came to the conclusion that the basic principles of the Territorial Army organisation are sound, and will meet the needs of the future.
What are we asking them to do? First, to provide T.A. emergency reservists. The idea of a few men from each unit going off by themselves to do a job alongside Regulars in the Regular Army is a new one, but the T.A. has taken it in its stride, it is raising and training "Ever-readies", and I was particularly glad to agree recently that the T.A.E.R. should, in fact, be raised more on a sub-unit basis than as parties of specialists, because this will fit in better with the whole atmosphere of the T.A.; and we shall, of course, encourage links between the T.A. and their affiliated Regular units.
Next, we are asking the T.A. to supply increased numbers of reinforcements for B.A.O.R. Here again, we shall not want, at any rate from the teeth arms, whole units in this rôle. But we can promise the T.A. that if and when they have to do this job for B.A.O.R. those who go from a unit will be called up together and will go overseas together, with their friends. We cannot guarantee that they will be employed as a sub-unit when they arrive. It must be left to the receiving unit to fit in its reinforcements in the way it thinks best. There are, of course, problems over equipment and clothing. To equip and clothe the whole of the T.A with all the same modern equipment, held on the same scales as the Regular Army, would add up to a colossal bill.
1554 What we have to do is, first, to see that the T A. as a whole get adequate and sufficiently modern equipment to train with realistically—not necessarily the newest Army equipment, but good, and enough of it. Secondly, to see that those who may find themselves in Regular units are trained in the equipment they will find there, and that their personal equipment and clothing is right for the job. Exactly how this will be done is now being worked out, through commands, in consultation with the T.A. It is a big job, but we are determined to find the right answer. And the object of the whole exercise, as I believe the T.A. appreciates is that it should continue to have a more and more positive rôle in support of the Regular Army in as many as possible of the different aspects of modern war.
I told the Committee that I would end up with a word or two about the War Office. As regards this part of my speech, I have done something which is usually unwise. I have not taken any advice front the Department. If I had it would probably have preferred me to say nothing, but I think that this would be wrong. The War Office has been going for quite a long time and its passing from the contemporary scene deserves a brief comment.
There is a much quoted sentence to the effect that "there is an ineptitude about the War Office which it has never quite lost". It is not true, but one sees what is meant and I am sure that there are many in the Army, and perhaps out of the Army, who would endorse it heartily. However, the fact remains that few soldiers destined for high distinction have escaped at least one tour of duty at the War Office, enduring its frustrations, absorbing its lessons and learning how to use to good purpose this delicate and intricately attuned machine.
But the soldiers—and they would be the first to admit it—still more the politicians, are mere transient birds of passage in the War Office compared with the band of Permanent civil servants who are interwoven with the military at all levels and in all branches, and who have served the Army not just so to speak man and boy, but often father and son, or father and son-in-law. I say to the Committee, after quite a long spell in the Department as these things 1555 go, that it would be difficult to find in any concern of the size of ours anywhere a more devoted, more tolerant, more efficient or more human lot of people; and I say this advisedly, because their work reaches out far beyond the Army itself and touches the life of this country at many points—in education, housing, factories, industrial relations, exports, research, estate management, pensions, and claims for compensation. The list is endless. In all these fields, administration cannot be successfully carried on without a kind of fingertip sensitivity to human feelings and human needs.
The War Office, in short, is a very nice place to be in, and those who have made it so over the years will be sad when it is no more. One of the most distinguished of them, who was himself both Permanent Under-Secretary and later a war-time Secretary of State, once wrote these words, "From top to bottom, soldier and civilian alike, the War Office has one main aim—to see that the needs of the Army are met". These are good words. I quote them as a fitting close to this chapter. But they will also stand, the Army may be assured, at the beginning of the next.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
If I may, I would add one word to complement what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the War Office. It is "modesty". Unlike the Admiralty, it has not claimed that the morale of the Service depends upon its continued existence or the continued existence of that name. In point of fact, of course, the ordinary man in both Services, subject to be himself not being allowed to suggest new names—of which he could suggest several rude ones—could not care less what they are called; and this is unjust because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the War Office has performed a signal, though not generally realised or acknowledged, service to the men in the field.
I would also say that relatively, at any rate, we have heard a very much better story from the right hon. Gentleman than we heard from his two colleagues. Perhaps that is not a very high compliment. But we have not heard from him a tale of vast new and expensive ships which are unmanned, or of transport urgently required and 1556 not provided, because of nuclear follies. The War Office has very much the best record of the Services in its contribution to the real needs both of the country and the alliance for two reasons. One is continuity.
Prior to the right hon. Gentleman taking office, we had two Ministers of War. I am not saying that they were great Ministers. I do not think that, in a curious way, the Government have produced great Ministers. If, for instance, one compares the kind of effect which "Ernie" Bevin had on the Foreign Office; which Aneurin Bevan had on the Ministry of Health, or even my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) had on the Home Office, this has not been a Government of great Ministers. Nevertheless, in the defence field at least the War Office has been the right Department.
As Ministers, Lord Head and "Jack" Profumo served the Army well and, broadly speaking, upon the right lines; or at least as much on the right lines as they were allowed to do by a vacillating and altering set of Ministers of Defence. Because I regretted—though sitting on this side of the Committee—the disaster which befell the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in a personal matter, I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman pay a tribute to that predecessor. It is one to which I should like to add my voice.
The second reason why I think the War Office story has been superior is that it has not been "mucked about" by this deterrent nonsense. It has a real job to do. It has gone for that job, thought how to perform it, and that job has not involved posturing in a pretence. For these two reasons I think that we can congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on a relatively better story, but, of course, it is far from perfect. It would be extremely difficult to be doing worse than his two colleagues.
The right hon. Gentleman said that manpower is one of the key questions we have to consider. Frankly, 8,000 short in peace time would not be too bad, but it is not just 8,000 short, it is 8,000 short after having juggled the establishments. They were based on battalions of 776. When the men did not become available the establishments 1557 were juggled and became 660. It is on the 660 basis that we are 8,000 short. I suggest that on the present order of battle the shortage is nearer to 20,000 than 8,000. If we wish to continue without an Army reorganisation and maintain the present order of battle up to the establishment required for semi-war, semi-peace-time occupations such as Cyprus and Uganda, the type of intervention with which the Army has to deal, the shortage we have to think of is something nearer to 20,000.
Another aspect gives me a little anxiety. That is the degree to which we are dependent on the Gurkhas. I should be the last to make any kind of criticism of that great corps. I am more than delighted with the proposal to keep the third brigade in being. This is immensely to be welcomed. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies he will say something further on that, because I think it of the highest importance that all three Brigades of Gurkhas should know that there is continuity. This is particularly important for the British officer corps. We should remember that the Gurkhas are not only Nepalese: they have a British officer corps of the most dedicated and splendid officers.
It has always been the greatest possible difficulty to get into that corps. Pressure of recruitment and the range of choice which enables them to choose only the very best has been going because the future has been uncertain. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be in a position to reassure would-be Gurkha officers that this corps is going on. I have to express a little anxiety about the degree of dependence we have to put on three brigades whose homeland is so subject to Chinese pressure. Can we always be sure that they will be there or that we could in decency even ask them to be there in face of great pressures which might be placed on them? Although we may put total faith in their courage, we cannot put all that faith and certainty in the presence.
Faced with those difficulties, how are we to deal with the recruitment problem? My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and others, including the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), whose 1558 opinion I greatly respect and whose sincerity I do not question, believe in selective service. I reject that solution. I do so mainly because I do not think it would be acceptable to the British people. It is acceptable to the American people. Ii has been the custom there and, when something has been the custom, when they have had it for years, it may be acceptable. The British people, so far as I understand them—I make no exaggerated claims for that—are a people who take perhaps almost to an exaggerated degree the idea of fairness, the idea that it is all right if it is fair for all, but it is intolerable if one person is picked out. That, I believe, is a peculiarly British characteristic.
I believe that the level of resentment in the men who came out through the ballot for the Army when their friends did not would be different in comparison with the level of resentment which occurs in America. It is not resented there, but a chance press gang here, which is contrary to our custom, would create quite a different level of feeling. That different level of feeling would have two different effects. First, we would have to bend in some measure to the storm. We would have to grant them terms which both in time and money would be quite uneconomic.
I do not think that we could possibly impose on them a length of time—which certainly should not be less than three years and probably four years—which would be economic from the service point of view. I do not think that we could put more than 18 months on them, and 18 months means only six months' remunerative service. In fact, it is a great deal less because from that six months wt have to subtract all the people who are servicing and training them; and we should have to pay them at Regular rates.
I think that the effect of injecting people who so bitterly resented it, who thought that they had such a bad deal, would destroy the new volunteer morale we have created. We should have to resort to wholly uneconomic numbers for the men we required, we would injure Regular recruiting and destroy morale For these reasons I do not think that selective service is a runner to meet our difficulty.
1559 I turn, therefore, to recruitment. I am all in favour, and accept the suggestion, of lowering the age to 17. Boys are maturing much younger nowadays.
We need to do something to refertilise what has been our most fertile sphere of recruitment—the Service family. Not only the best recruits but, in the old days, certainly a very high proportion of recruits came from Service families. I do not only mean officer families, but families of all ranks who, generation after generation, sent their boys into the Service with which they had connections and in this case we are talking of the Army.
We will succeed in recruiting from Service families if we take certain steps. I have not been able to get any figures to illustrate this argument although I have asked for them. My impression is that the proportion of young men coming from Service families is today much smaller than it used to be because the Service families all have older relatives who feel that they were cheated by the Army and who are right in so feeling.
Those men were enlisted on terms which involved a pension, which was part of the remuneration for which they bargained with the Government. That Government are not fulfilling their obligations because when they control the coinage they cannot morally fulfil their obligations to individuals who did service with money, the purchasing power of which has been taken away. These elderly people, at the age when they are most helpless, have been suffering a steady deterioration of their standard of living.
There is not much connection between the absolute level of the standard of living and a man or family's happiness, provided there is a margin above subsistence, and I do not think that the rich are happier than the poor. However, I am certain that a declining standard of living, with everything having to go down on what one is used to, is a miserable thing, in the same way as a rising standard of living, even if it is a modest one, is a happy thing. What the Government have been imposing on these old servants of the nation has been a steadily declining standard of living.
How can we expect their younger relatives to join the Army while this is 1560 happening to them, particularly when the unfairness of it all is so clear? A major retiring today, perhaps at the age of 48, perhaps even younger, with a full earning capacity and a good leaving gratuity, receives twice, sometimes nearly three times, the pension of his older relation who needs it more because he cannot earn, who has rendered the same service, but who retired earlier. Flagrant unfairness like this must bite into them.
I have with me a number of letters giving pathetic instances, not only of the men but of their wives and widows. It must be remembered that these widows are the grandmothers, aunts and great aunts of the boys we want to recruit from the Service families. One letter is from a major's widow who, at the age of 75, is on National Assistance. Another is from a colonel's widow in similar circumstances. One after another of these letters reveal the anxiety these people are suffering. This affects not merely officers, but N.C.O.s and warrant officers, all of whom are treated in the same way. It is utterly unfair.
The honest solution would be to pay pensions at the purchasing value of the £ at the time the bargain was made. I agree, however, that that would be too expensive. Nevertheless, what we can do—and this would be less expensive—is to accept the principle of one pension for one service regardless of when it was rendered. That principle should be adopted. Perhaps I have no particular high personal ambition. I do not flatter myself that I have any great ability for a great rôle. None the less, if, next year. I find myself at the Dispatch Box with the opportunity to announce the adoption by the new Government of the principle of one pension for one service, whenever it was rendered, I shall feel satisfied that my career has been worth while. There is nothing nearer to my heart than this. It is justice and real good sense and I believe that it would make a major contribution to our recruitment problem.
The provision of housing is near to the heart of every young man going into marriage or recently married. Is it possible to provide a system of lending and repayment which will enable a man reasonably to buy a house during his 22 years of service; enable him to go into the Army and receive a loan sufficient to allow him to buy a house for 1561 which he will pay during those 22 years by a deduction which will leave him something reasonable? That would mean a level of cut-rate interest, but I do not believe that it would be an unreasonable one.
Would be possible to say to such a man, "Provided that you build your house within certain areas where we need houses then, when you are away, perhaps in Germany or the Far East, where married quarters are available, we will undertake to rent your house for the furnished accommodation we require so that during that period your interest and repayment rates, and perhaps a little more, will be paid"? If a scheme of that sort could be introduced it would be found attractive to many men. It is just one of the ideas I have in mind when all hon. Members aer pooling their ideas to improve the position.
The next major subject with which I wish to deal is colonial recruiting. The right hon. Gentleman told us about local enlistment and he spoke of people of colonial origin who have joined British units in the ordinary way. I do not dissent at all from his remarks. From my visits to various Army stations I have found his comments to be true. Nowhere have I found any colour prejudice. I equally agree that it is a matter of proportion and that it is also a matter of the background of the coloured soldier. If he has been to Britain, perhaps born and brought up here, with an English background, English schooling, English dietary habits, and so on, there is no difficulty in absorbing him I do not suggest that one could recruit people with a quite different background and inject them into the Army merely as ordinary members of units. I suggest, however, that there should be a third or fourth category; men locally enlisted on terms locally negotiated, but available for Service anywhere, not as teeth arms, or as entire fighting units, such as the Gurkhas, but as units which could render a manifold service, a service which the Army requires at various levels of organisation.
As I have said before, we should study the German organisation during the last war. The Germans succeeded in providing a very formidable and remarkable military effort. None of their units was anything like wholly German. Rommel's panzer divisions, possibly the most for 1562 midable military machine that was seen, were up to 40 per cent. Russian. They consisted of people conscripted from areas over-run but, by an intelligent sub-division of the functions within the units, it was possible to make these separate people—often not speaking German at all—capable of rendering the services required.
I have a strong feeling that with Hong Kong, Singapore, Malta and the West Indies available to us it would be more than possible to arrange units of this sort. They might be divided right down to strong sections attached to battalions, with much larger sections attached to brigade and divisional rear areas, able to do a whole series of jobs, and to take over from the others. This would need some fairly radical reorganisation, but it is something that requires examination.
It is certain that we could not have people more naturally talented in a technical and mechanical sense than the Chinese of Singapore and Hong Kong. They service locally a great part of the Army's mechanical transport, and if they be a security risk I should have thought that they would be a far greater security risk employed locally than abroad. The kind of jobs which the locally enlisted do in a particular area should be extended generally.
The rôle of supporting the civil power, of assisting the police, is no more a job of the Army than it is a job of the Navy or of the Air Force, and those two other Services ought to take a fairer share of it. I am glad to see that the Royal Air Force Regiment has done very well in Cyprus. The right hon. Gentleman told us in the defence debate that every frigate could put ashore a platoon to support the civil power, but I think that one might tell them to pull their socks up, and put ashore two platoons. A little pressure there would be desirable. Places like British Guiana seem to be more suitable as a naval commitment in support of the civil power than an Army one.
We have not heard very much about our reserves. We have peace-time and war-time establishments, but do we not have something that is between the two? Have we not jobs like Cyprus, for which a full war establishment is not necessary, but for which an inadequate peace establishment is insufficient? I understood that the "Ever-readies" were designed 1563 for just this rôle, and I am a little surprised that they have not been used. It is true that their recruiting has been most disappointing—it has reached only about one-third of what was hoped—but, at the same time, 5,000 is a quite formidable number.
Apart from this reserve, which I thought was devoted rather to that special rôle, there is the question of coming up to war establishment. Is the Minister satisfied that he has the reserves, that they know where they have to go, that they have the necessary warrants, etc., and that he can bring his forces up to war establishment if required? The right hon. Gentleman nods. I am glad to note that.
On the equipment side, I want to talk particularly about helicopters, because wherever I have been the Army's great demand has been for "choppers" I believe that the "chopper" is not only the command vehicle of the Army of the future, but its assault vehicle, too. We have seen the Carl Gustaf and the Vigilant coming along, as well as the Malkara, and I very much doubt whether "thick skins" will be any defence much longer.
Troops will have to rely for their security on their nippiness, their mobility, much more than on the thickness of their armour. The anti-tank weapon seems to have advanced so much more quickly and to have been disseminated so much faster at so much lower levels than has the tank. Therefore, in the sort of "fire brigade" war, and probably even in larger engagements, more and more will we find that it is the "chopper" that is both the command vehicle and the assault vehicle of the Army, and the "chopper" needs to be developed.
We have heard that there are 150 light "choppers" ordered—this is all that the Army provides for itself. We still have not heard whether it is to be the Hiller or the Bell—I expected that announcement today. Frankly, I express no preference between the two. The Bell is said to be more efficient at heights, so it would be better in Aden, or where one has to work in mountain country. I am told that the Hiller has the superiority at low levels. The one thing that I do ask is that the Army 1564 should be given the best vehicle obtainable at the right price; and that this should be the test.
I wish, of course, that there were a good home-made, home-designed helicopter—I would much rather see our energies directed in that direction rather than to the nuclear field, because I believe it to be more important and more remunerative—but, as we do not have the home-made article, let us by all means buy the foreign article. Let us buy the best, and let us have it produced where we can get the best deliveries at the right price from the most reliable and experienced company. Do not let us allow ourselves to be converted into a soup kitchen for an indigent aircraft industry. Our job is to get the right arms for the soldiers, not simply to support local manufacturers.
As for other vehicles, the Hughes helicopter is a good deal cheaper. I am told that it just covers requirements and additions could not be made to it. I am not certain that I do not regard that as an advantage. The extent to which a perfectly good weapon or vehicle, like the Champion, is found and then people hang more and more things on to it until it becomes a disaster has happened far too often. If we have something to which nothing extra can be added perhaps it is all the better. At any rate it is cheaper.
Why not have both the Hiller and the Bell. We need 150 helicopters. They will cost about £2¼ million, which is about one-twelfth of the refit cost of the "Eagle". Which is better for our needs? Applying the same argument that is going on to the slightly bigger "choppers" we come to the Scout and the Alouette. The Scout has not proved as reliable as the Alouette and it costs nearly twice as much. I should prefer to see us having double the number of Alouettes. Higher still in the range, the Government should have a look at the troop-moving helicopters. We could make a whole division airborne for the cost of a single Polaris submarine, and which, in the world of the real tasks that we are facing, is the more valuable?
Next is the question of procurement and delivery. We still have no transistorised communications. We are not even developing towards them. The 1565 system of procurement is such that no weapon can reach delivery under 10 years of the time that the requirement is put out. I cannot believe that this is right. Nor do I believe that we have to treat the modern soldier as a sort of juvenile delinquent intent on destroying every article that is given to him, with the result that it is necessary that everything should be built on a basis of indestructibility at the hands of its user regardless of the weight that the soldier has to carry. If we had to carry a little less weight, and he produced less of a repercussion when he dropped his equipment, he might be more careful with it and have more affection for it.
Most of these men have transistor radios of their own which they can carry in their vest pockets. Yet the suggestion is resisted that a transistorised radio properly prepared and fitted to the wavelengths is perfectly suitable for receiving short-wave communications. I have seen it worked by bookmakers. It is also now possible to have very small and light transmitters, but the moment these suggestions are submitted to the War Office the reply is "A man can break this". Weight is added and added to provide indestructibility and such is the load that the poor soldier has a natural hatred for the equipment before he starts humping it about.
I was glad to hear about the introduction of the sleeping bag. I suggested this in my speech on the Estimates in 1946. It was one which had been used in the Arctic, was well proved, extremely light and shaped to the body. Eventually, these things get through to the War Office, but it takes a very long time for such a simple thing as this to get round. Now, at last, it has come.
As for bases, what is the position in Nairobi? Here there is the curious dichotomy between two Departments. We had the War Office building a permanent base while the Commonwealth Relations and Colonial Office were creating a situation in which the base could not be used. It may be that with new negotiations it will be possible to stay there with new requirements on some new basis.
Is not almost the same thing happening in Aden? When I was there it seemed to me that two quite inconsistent policies were being followed—the 1566 Colonial Office apparently extremely anxious to see how quickly we could go and the War Office digging itself in for keeps. If we do not have a base in Aden it seems to me that we are out of the Middle East and the Gulf. I do not say that this is a good or a bad thing. It may well be that it would be better if we simply took the position that we are entitled to the courtesy due from a seller to a buyer and that who never has these areas will have to sell the oil and it is no longer a munition of war. I do not know, but as between the Departments one wants a decision.
I tried to make the point when I was in Singapore that its value to us is the moral value of being able to protect Malaysia. We do not want Singapore for any other reason. We are there to help and protect the Malaysians. Whilst there is that need we will stay there, but it is an altruistic mission.
It is Hong Kong that makes the least sense to me. Nobody suggests for a moment that the Army is there to defend Hong Kong from outside invasion. I do not think that anyone has suggested that for a very long time. The Army is entirely committed to internal security, and it is very unlikely that one would have an invasion without an internal security situation having been created first. When I was there, the water supply was on for four hours very fourth day. More than half of that water came from China. The Chinese were at great pains to let us have as much as they possibly could afford, even at the expense of their own requirements. But surely Hong Kong is in a situation in which we hold on diplomatically in so far as it serves—and it does serve—the interests of both sides. This is something to be recognised.
Hong Kong is an enormously rich community. I was told that capital was expected to multiply itself at least three times a year. I have never seen boom conditions like those prevailing there. Supporting the police is not the function of the soldier on a long-term basis. Occasionally, he may have that unpleasant task to do, but to maintain him permanently as a second row policeman is neither economical nor the reasonable thing to do. Surely Hong Kong should be required to raise the necessary police force which is needed as its secondary 1567 force. Here, the War Office should have something to say.
I turn now to the rôle of the Army generally. In B.A.O.R., we have seen a shifting situation. In other years, I have put this as the first responsibility of the Army and the priority rôle, but I think that the situation has changed. One expected that, as the nuclear stalemate developed, the nuclear protection would go with the strategic deterrent and, unless there were conventional means to meet conventional attack, the situation would become exceedingly dangerous. I think that that was a state of affairs which we all feared we should never be in a position to meet, but it certainly seems now that the danger has greatly receded.
It has receded for two reasons. First, the nuclear stalemate never really came about. The Russian advance in nuclear capacity did not occur as had been forecast. The missile gap which the Americans were so terrified of in 1959 and 1960 just did not materialise. In fact, the gap between American capacity and Russian capacity has enlarged enormously. The margin of American superiority is much bigger than it ever was.
This has two different effects. First, the fact that the Russians did not maximise their effort to catch up with the Americans in this field is very good evidence of their intentions. Secondly, from all our intelligence reports it seem clear that their Army is neither organised nor disposed for an invasion westward. It seems that the pressing dangers which one feared some years ago are not present at least in the same degree now. I should say, therefor, that B.A.O.R. can now be recognised and used as a part of our disposable reserve. We are entitled so to use it within our treaty obligations so long as the troops are only temporarily called upon. This, I think, need not now cause us so much anxiety.
However, I do not want it to be thought for a moment from what I have said that I am underrating the importance of our military presence in Germany. If Europe is to have any coherence, the sort of coherence and stability upon which both the long-term and short-term peace of the area depend, 1568 it must have a common task for which it binds itself together. This task must be defence. All history tells us that unity depends upon coherence resulting from the common task of defence. It must not be neglected. It must be real. B.A.O.R. must be a force which we can be proud of, equipped to show that we mean it and to show our sincerity in the alliance, for in this real unity of Europe, whatever other people may say, whatever posturings General de Gaulle may make, Britain is the real leader. This is one of our historic and important tasks.
Apart from that, there is the rôle in the world. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have all in their time, I believe, paid lip-service to this great rôle, the idea of a law of the world and of that law being enforced by a peacemaking authority bearing arms for the purpose. This is a great and wonderful conception, yet, when my right hon. Friend proceeds to say that, perhaps, the Royal Navy—and I add the Army—might contribute to this great rôle, just because it is election year a scream is made, appealing to the chauvinistic and jingoistic instincts of the Daily Express and its friends among the party opposite suggesting that we want to give away the British Navy.
I hope that hon. Members opposite are proud of their friends and proud of their Prime Minister who has been prepared to act as barker for the headlines of the Beaverbrook Press which he has not had the honesty to check by reports from his own Embassy.
But, having said that, I regard as the first rôle of the Army as well as of the Navy to act as midwife in a world in which struggling new nations are seeking to be born and, in all the stresses of the birth of new nations, trying to find a place in peace and to make adjustments which this unnatural, unstable but most dynamic set of relationships which we call peace demands, providing the opportunity and the time for the adjustments to be made.
This is the great service which we can render. The two giants have neutralised each other. For the first time, we are accepted, perhaps not only because we went to Kuwait at a critical moment of its birth, but because we left, because we have gone to East Africa and we have left, and, perhaps, because we 1569 are now seen in Cyprus as a Power that can work because its disinterestedness is recognised.
I find this the proudest, most benefical service which can be rendered to the world and humanity—the keeping of the peace of the world. It is the proudest task since the Fall of Rome. If it has come to us, I for my part am very proud of it. I am very proud indeed that my son has chosen the Army for his service, if that be its rôle.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Glyn (Dorset, North)
I begin by joining in the tribute paid by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) to my right hon. Friend for the masterly way in which he presented the Estimates. Both sides of the House very much appreciated the clear and helpful way in which he put them before us. Both sides of the House join in the tribute which the hon. and learned Gentleman paid to our Armed Forces and take great pride in the efficiency with which they put down, almost simultaneously, three dangerous mutinies in Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya.
We also very greatly appreciate the efficiency and eternal good humour with which they have dealt with the dangerous situation in Cyprus and the gallantry and efficiency wth which they have, for a long time, sustained the democratic Government of Malaysia against aggresion which is nonetheless serious for being unofficial.
It was the great speed with which they moved in Tanganyika, Uganda and Kenya which enabled them to perform these difficult tasks with almost no casualties, and with no British casualties at all. This ranks as a very great feat of arms. In congratulating the units which took part and the planners who arranged it, we must not forget Transport Command, which made these movements possible.
I now turn to recruiting, which is a very serious problem. We sometimes use a figure of 180,000 as a target. I believe that it is more correctly described as a ceiling, hut, however one looks at it, I think that we should all like to attain it. I hope that with a few years' more successful recruiting we shall have attained it and will then be able to be even more selective in the standard of 1570 recruits which are accepted. I am well aware that a large number of men are turned away as it is, but I should like to see the standard of our voluntary Army made even higher and progressively higher. When I was in B.A.O.R. recently I was glad to hear that the wastage of new intake from this country through men proving to be unsatisfactory was less than 1 per cent. I thought that that was a very encouraging figure.
I am sure that the factors which affect recruiting are, first, the successful use of our Army, of which we have had some good examples—I am sure that that helps a lot—and, secondly, good pay and allowances. The Army is in the process of having an increase. Another factor, in particular, is accommodation because an ever-increasing proportion of our Army is married. The proportion of married soldiers is higher than would ever have been believed before the war.
The provision of adequate married accommodation is a problem in this country, which must not be overlooked, and also in many countries overseas in some of which our security of tenure is doubtful. I understand the difficulty in weighing the natural desire of the Army to provide good married accommodation and the consideration of how wise it is to build permanent buildings in an area where we may not remain throughout their lifetime.
I wonder whether sufficient attention has been paid to the possibility of transportable prefabricated buildings. In Bahrein, about a year ago, I saw some excellent Shipston buildings—they were bungalows really—which had been moved from Ceylon and re-erected there. They were some of the best married accommodation. I looked at a number of them. The only complaint which I heard was from a sergeant's wife, who said that the accommodation was a little bigger than she needed. This is a complaint which one does not often hear about the Army's married accommodation.
These buildings have been moved, and they could be moved again. I suggest that they might be considered for overseas stations, although possibly they cost a fraction more than a permanent building. As they are good enough to move to any other station overseas or even to a station in this country for 1571 permanent use they should be considered.
I was glad to hear the good news about Territorial Army recruiting. This is the reserve Army with which I have been associated for all my adult life. This recruiting has been achieved almost entirely by what I would describe as "unit enterprise", and at very little public cost. This satisfactory recruiting for the Territorial Army is not an expensive item in the Army's budget. No one can ever be sure what is the future rôle of the Territorial Army. I can well remember what happened when the Territorial Army was doubled. Each unit was divided into two. This was planned in 1937 and was achieved in 1938.
Every commanding officer reported in writing—and it was accepted—that this convulsion would mean that no Territorial Army unit could be fit for service for a minimum of three years. In fact, a very great number of them were fighting within two years. This is an example of the proposition that we can never be sure for what we may have to use the Territorial Army. We Territorials have had a good deal of experience of this. Anyone who ventured definitely to say what use would be made of the Territorial Army in a future war would be taking a risk.
I think that it is still possible that the Territorial Army may fight as units in certain circumstances, not, perhaps, in a general war in Europe. However, when we think of our commitments all over the world and the number of Regular units which have been employed in stopping brush fires catching, what happens when we withdraw the Regular units? At present, we have a little in hand, but a situation could arise in which it might be necessary to embody the Territorial Army. I know perfectly well that if many of the better and more enthusiastic Territorial Army brigades were given the opportunity of raising volunteers to go overseas they would lose no time in taking it. This was done in the Boer War quite successfully, and it might have to be done again.
I particularly welcome the reference to close liaison with affiliated Regular units. This is a most important point, 1572 which I raised two years ago. I am delighted to see the good results which seem to have arisen from it.
I was glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Northampton say that he thought that the War Office had the best record of the three Services. However, he went on to say one or two things with which I did not fully agree. He referred to shortages, which he thought, might amount to nearly 20,000. With his legal knowledge, which I can claim only to a limited degree, he will know that figures can be presented in a number of ways, but we can, perhaps, agree that the permitted ceiling of the British Army and the Gurkhas was first announced at 190,000. Then the Gurkhas were allowed an extension. If we allow for 15,000 Gurkhas, the number of men in the British Army plus the Gurkhas must be well over 185,000. This means that the gap would be well under 10,000 and nothing like 20,000.
§ Mr. Paget
I said that I thought that we were probably not far short of a shortage of 20,000 if we maintained our existing order of battle. If our units were manned up to the level necessary for our existing commitments, about 20,000 more men would be needed. There may have to be a reorganisation of field units.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I think that I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman, but there is a 180,000 ceiling on the number that the British Army is allowed to reach. Were we to attempt to reach the establishment which the hon. and learned Member suggests we should go miles over that ceiling. Therefore, there can be no possibility of reaching it in peace time. We are not allowed to do so, even if we could. In talking about an establishment, we must talk about a peace time establishment.
It is this use of the other establishment which has caused some of the rather unfortunate confusion about the extent to which we are below establishment. We are below establishment. We have been told that in some cases the infantry are 9 per cent. below establishment. However, a deficiency of 9 per cent. in an establishment of 660 is about 60 ment. This is different from a deficiency of several hundreds in a battalion establishment, as was said in the defence 1573 debate. Now that this question of establishment has been cleared up, I hope that such alarmist suggestions will not be made in future. It does not help the Army that they should be.
As to selective service, I am in broad agreement with the hon. and learned Member. I was interested in his comment that three years' conscription was the least that was of practical use. That is the view taken by the Russians, and they are probably right. I agree that anyone who recommends a return to conscription must go for not less than 2½ years if the country is to receive anything like value. Those who are in favour of conscription or selective service, no matter by what name it is called, must face this fact.
As to Service families, I could not agree more with what the hon. and learned Member said and the need for pensions. I do not doubt that, with his eagle eye, the hon. and learned Member has noted on the Order Paper Motion No. 48. of which I am one of the sponsors, which has now been signed by about 100 hon. Members from both sides.
[That this House, bearing in mind that on 1st January, 1963, the fifth and the largest and most comprehensive of any of the post-war series of Conservative Pensions (Increase) Acts came into effect, and in view of the fact that the recent welcome improvement in the position of some service widows has further emphasised that the rates of public service and armed forces pensions are no longer regarded as being immutable, calls upon Her Majestys Government to review the present system under which these pensions and retired pay are determined, with a view to introducing a new procedure which would finally correct the many anomalies which still persist and reduce the disparity now apparent between the oldest and the latest agreed rates.]
I have not yet noticed the hon. and learned Member's name to the Motion, although, no doubt, after today, he will lose no time in adding his name to the others, the intention of the Motion being to correct the existing anomalies in Service and other pensions. I look forward to the hon. and learned Member's valued reinforcement on this Motion.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I will not comment on that beyond saying that I notice that the hon. and learned Member's name has not yet appeared on it.
I also have visited Hong Kong, as the hon. and learned Member has done, and I know what is done with civilians in the way of using them for a number of purposes, perhaps rather more by the Navy than by the Army. The difficulty with the hon. and learned Member's interesting suggestion is that the services given by those civilians are not particularly those required in the Far East. It would not be sound policy for British units to become accustomed to certain duties being carried out in the Far East by locally enlisted Chinese, who would have to be left behind when the units moved. When that happened, the units would suddenly find themselves with nobody accustomed to carrying out those services in a different climate and in different circumstances. A British unit must be viable anywhere.
If the suggestion is that the Chinese should accompany units, this possibility has been investigated but in most cases the Chinese are wholly unwilling to do so. The hon. and learned Member may be aware that the Navy has experienced this difficulty with Chinese laundrymen. There are difficulties in persuading Chinese to leave their homes for very long.
What tin; hon. and learned Gentleman said about B.A.O.R. now being available as a potential temporary reserve appears to mark a complete change in official Or position policy with regard to B.A.O.R. One of the objects of this debate is to enable the Opposition to state their policy; this is important, and the country needs to know it. The hon. and learned Member's suggestion, coming as a complete contradiction to what he has said on the Army Estimates in the last two years—that B.A.O.R. is now available to be drawn upon as a reserve—seems to me to be a striking change of policy. I will deal presently with the earlier policy statements.
Although I accept that B.A.O.R. could be used as a reserve, we have other reserves which were referred to 1575 by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence in the defence debate. We have in the United Kingdom a brigade group with elements of all supporting arms and a headquarters which is available immediately, besides the Strategic Reserve. We have a British component in the Commonwealth Brigade at Terrendah Camp, which I visited recently. This is, perhaps, rather less readily available, but, none the less, it comprises a battalion and a battery in a high state of training.
The hon. and learned Member spoke about the policy of keeping troops in Hong Kong. I suggest that they serve a useful rôle there as a Far East reserve which could be made use of quickly in an emergency in that part of the world. We have the historical precedent of what happened in Korea. It is interesting to find—I have just been looking it up—that at the time of Korea, when the British Army was more than double its present size, the total reinforcement which could be guaranteed by the then British Government, in 1950, was one brigade group. This is striking.
The facts are that on 28th June, 1950, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, offered British help. This took the form of naval vessels which were placed under American command. On 26th July, he announced that the 29th Infantry Brigade Group would be sent to Korea, where the need for ground troops had become acute. On 19th August, he ordered two battalions to Korea from Hong Kong. This, apparently, followed a personal appeal by General MacArthur, who was in serious difficulty. The two battalions from Hong Kong reached Pusan on 28th August. They were without artillery or anti-tank guns of any kind or workshops, all of which had to be loaned by the Americans, and it was not until November that the 29th Infantry Brigade Group, which had been promised on 26th July, reached Korea from this country.
That record makes it clear how very much better off we are today even with so many of our forces deployed all over the world. With an infantry brigade group here complete and available, and Transport Command to carry them, we are altogether better placed to deal with an emergency than we were in the sum 1576 mer of 1950, when our Army, on paper, was well over 400,000 men. This also shows the importance of Hong Kong as a centre at which to hold reserves for the Far East.
To return to the question of policy for B.A.O.R., over the last two years I have understood that the Opposition claimed to have an alternative and different policy with regard to B.A.O.R. and concerning the general deployment of the Army. In last year's defence debate, the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) stated in answer to a question that the policy of the Opposition was to take tactical nuclear weapons entirely away from B.A.O.R.
I will leave the nuclear side for a moment. In the debate on the 1962 Army Estimates, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton said that Socialist policy was to increase B.A.O.R. strength to 80,000. The hon. and learned Member and I had a little discussion about this. He expected to find the extra 28,000 or so by withdrawing troops from outposts, by which he meant what, we call, I think, garrisons in overseas bases. There were then about 40,000 men in this category and I pointed out to the hon. and learned Member that he would be withdrawing nearly three-quarters of them.
§ Mr. Denis Healey (Leeds, East)
If the hon. Member looks at HANSARD, I think that he will find that he is wrong in attributing to me the view that we should take all tactical atomic weapons away from B.A.O.R. What I have often said is that they should have been taken out of the front line. I hope that the hon. Member will withdraw that statement.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I have taken it directly from HANSARD. If it is not perfectly correct, I will, of course, accept the hon. Member's statement. He was asked three questions in one. His answer to the last two was "Yes" and he went on to dispute the first.
The second question was whether his policy was to withdraw nuclear tactical weapons from B.A.O.R. It may be that there was some slight misunderstanding about this, but what I have said has been taken from the HANSARD which I have referred to today.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I do not have it with me, but I will ensure that the date is given to the hon. Gentleman. If that is not the official Socialist policy, it is nice to know it.
But we had the statement in 1962 of the Socialist policy to increase the B.A.O.R. to 80,000 men. With the supporting arms, it would not be very much less than 80,000. This was again stated by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton last year. He said that the numbers required would be found by withdrawals from Cyprus and other bases in the Middle and Far East. Today, he has not spoken of withdrawal from Cyprus, or the Middle or Far East, but has talked of B.A.O.R. as a potential source of reserves. This is a very marked change in Opposition policy with regard to B.A.O.R. and the deployment of the Army.
In this year of all years it is absolutely necessary that the public and the House of Commons should know precisely the official Socialist policy in this regard. Have they an alternative policy? Do they accept the Government's policy? If they have an alternative policy, what is it? It is right that we should know.
I will say no more because many other hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who winds up for the Opposition will make it clear whether there has been a change of Socialist policy about Army deployment, and if there is, tell us what it is, and if there has not been a change, I hope he will confirm that it is as it was announced in the last two Army Estimates' debates.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I offer my congratulations to the Secretary of State for War on his speech. It was a clear-cut account of Army policy. The Army is fortunate to have him as a Minister, for he fights well for the Army's cause, and at the moment the Army needs somebody to fight effectively on its behalf. Certainly as far as I am concerned—I think the right hon. Gentleman knows this—I will do anything I can to help him with the 1578 execution of his recruiting policy, with which originally I did not agree, or in any other matter. My voice—indeed, my actions—will support him so far as they are of any use in the carrying out of a policy which will enable the Army to I do its job.
Having offered a note of congratulation. I now turn to a word of apology. I had a Question tabled yesterday. In all the years I have been in the House I have never missed a Question, but on occasions I have to sleep and I have other things to do, plus the fact that I have had a fairly busy week, and thus I was faced with the problem that I have never been able to solve, namely that of being in two places at once. So unfortunately, I missed the Question. I regret this because I had tabled it because it was important that the Secretary of State should be given an opportunity of replying in the terms that he did. Hs reply, I am glad to say, acquits the Army of accusations of neglecting its responsibilities.
I have uttered a word of congratulation and a word of apology, and having done the polite thing, I now turn to other things which I want to say.
The hon Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) spoke very agreeably. He, too, is interested in the wellbeing of the Army. But his information is, perhaps, a little academic, and he is a little inclined, naturally, to accept what is told him not only because it is agreeable from the Army's point of view, but perhaps because, just as a coincidence, it happens to support the cause of the Conservative Party. My spectacles are not quite so rosily tinted. I bring to bear the microscope of objectivity. I can fairly claim that. In all my speeches I have not cared very much at whom I happened to be mortaring.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
The hon. Gentleman might take a telescope to look at things objectively, not a microscope.
§ Mr. Wigg
I was not aware that I was looking at the hon. Gentleman, but if he tells me that in relation to objectivity the distance has to be measured in light years, I will not dissent.
The hon. Member for Dorset, North has fallen for a little piece of War Office propaganda when he talks about our 1579 reserves. It is very easy to come here and say that we have a brigade group with all elements at our disposal as though it was a ready-made force. What is it? The 51st Brigade, which was part of one of the right hon. Gentleman's strong punches, is no more; it has gone to the Far East. The Gurkhas have gone with it. That Brigade, for practical purposes—I do not know whether the Royal Scots are back in the country—has disappeared. The 16th Parachute Brigade Headquarters, an elite formation if ever there was one, is in Cyprus. At any rate, one battalion is in Bahrain and one in Cyprus, and that one is getting ready to relieve the battalion in Bahrain.
That leaves the 19th Brigade. How does the right hon. Gentleman get the units to cheer him up? He does it by keeping the Buffs which were earmarked for the Caribbean and holding them in 19th Brigade, and then he brings back the 2nd Green Jackets from the Caribbean and then he has his two Infantry Battalions for 19th Brigade. I do not complain but it is true. I do not charge the right hon. Gentleman with dishonesty. Whatever the public relations department of the Ministry of Defence does, I am acquitting the right hon. Gentleman of responsibility. It is true that the 19th Brigade is here as a balanced force in reserve. But how has it been done? It has been done by the old device of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
There is something in this that the hon. Member for Dorset, North does not understand. He is impressed by all this, and when he repeats the story to his constituents, backed by his great authority they, of course, accept it. But the story as it appears in the Pentagon or the war rooms of the Kremlin looks a bit different. They see the 19th Brigade, but they also see the gaps from where the units that comprise it have come. The Americans have a name for this technique; they call it "The Double Count".
§ Mr. Ramsden
The hon. Gentleman talked about robbing Peter to pay Paul. He must be more precise about it.
§ Mr. Wigg
If one has two battalions in the Caribbean—I believe they were the Grenadiers and the Green Jackets— 1580 and then he fails to replace the Green Jackets with the Buffs and then cuts down by one battalion in the Caribbean, irrespective of the needs, either one of two things must be true. Either one did not need two battalions there to start with, or the situation has changed.
§ Mr. Wigg
Ah, hon. Members will see how astute I am. I gave the right hon. Gentleman a bolt hole. This convinces me that he is not quite speaking the truth. No: I withdraw that. I will say instead that he is putting a little gloss on it. The advantage of reading The Winslow Boy is that one learns always to leave two exits and, leaving the light on one exit, then see which exit the victim goes for. The right hon. Gentleman has gone straight for the most convenient exit; he has gone for the bolt hole that the situation has changed.
I am prepared to believe that the situation has changed. But the situation does not always change to suit the Government. The laws of probability are against it always happening that a changed situation always occurs on terms which are acceptable to the Government. Let us start the story by taking as objective a view as possible by remembering that the order of battle originally required a figure of 220,000. If any hon. Gentleman doubts this let him read the speeches of a former Conservative Minister of Defence and Secretary of State for War, who said that the Government's original figure in 1957 of 165,000 was an actuarial figure which the Government might be able to recruit. Since then we have had statement after statement—I can give hon. Gentlemen opposite a list as long as my arm—putting the minimum requirement at 180,000.
One hundred and eighty thousand men are required to meet the immediate order of battle. If the Government continue the increasing commitment with a strength below that figure something must give. The right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) told us, during the debate on the Queen's Speech in 1961, what the position was then and it has not improved. He made a perfectly honest and honourable statement. He said that he would make no pretence but admit that the Army was out of balance. If an army is out of balance 1581 it cannot fight. One can improvise and get away with it—for a while. The Government have got away with it so far because we have not met a serious enough challenge. But is the Secretary of State sure that he will always continue to get away with it?
§ Sir Richard Glyn
The hon. Gentleman has touched briefly on five or more subjects since the two on which I wished to interrupt. I do not know whether he meant to but that is the case. What we were talking about was whether or not a brigade group in hand was available. I suggest that where a unit is does not make all that much difference. Troops can be moved fast these days. The essential question is whether the unit is committed or not.
Moving units from place to place does not mean that they are committed. There is the question of whether there is a brigade group in hand. I maintain that there is. The hon. Member writes in an order of battle for me and then says that it is wrong. I have not urged and would not urge any order of battle.
§ Mr. Wigg
I agree that the 19th Brigade exists and that, therefore, what the Secretary of State said was true. I am pointing out how the right hon. Gentleman got it. The hon. Member for Dorset, North says that it does not matter. I have great respect for him and I do not want to be impertinent. But does he really say that it does not matter where the units are? Does not he understand that when a unit occupies our rôle the Government make some attempt—often ineffectively—to keep it somewhere near its proper strength?
For example, the Inniskilling Fusiliers were, until recently, at Gravesend. Great political capital was made—and we on this side of the Committee accepted it—of the announcement that the Supreme Allied Commander was to form a mobile "fire brigade". We allocated this battalion and this aroused almost the same sort of cheers we hear when the Prime Minister comes forward with one of his usually nonsensical announcements.
It was a grand idea for a British battalion to be put into the N.A.T.O. "fire brigade". It was the genesis of an idea now to be applied in Cyprus. 1582 Here was to be part of an international force. Its strength, we were told, was 900. But that was not so. There were the elements of a regimental group—or, rather, like the one that was sent to the Cameroons It was a balanced force but its strength was not 900 men. It was an infantry battalion 450 strong plus services.
The kind of claim made about the N.A.T.O. mobile battalion may impress the 1922 Committee, but it does not impress the Americans, nor will it deter the Russians. If the Government are thinking in terms of the Alliance, what impression will it make to put the Staffords into Kenya 480 strong or earmark the Devons for an active rôle at 300 strong" The argument has been raging in this Committee all week. What is at issue is that the prestige and authority of the country depend upon the effective strength of our conventional forces and not upon a non-existent nuclear deterrent. What impresses is the strength of our battalions and their effectiveness on the ground.
If, therefore, the Government in order to strengthen 19th Brigade, leave a hole in the Caribbean or take a battalion out of Germany, it might impress the Primrose League or the ward parties in the constituencies of hon. Members opposite. But President Johnson, General Lemnitzer and Mr. Khrushchev will be unimpressed, for their intelligence services will tell them the truth.
The Government in the last few weeks have carried out an operation of not telling the British public the truth about the strength of our committed units. It is a confidence trick but it has only worked on hon. Members opposite. One of the necessities for being a successful confidence trickster is that one must "con" oneself successfully, and that is what the Government have done. The Government have "conned" themselves into believing that the country has the strength they claim in terms of troops and their effectiveness.
I am convinced that here we reach the reason why the Americans pull their punches and do not back us in Malaysia. I do not claim to be a foreign affairs expert. I do believe, however, that the Americans, broadly speaking, are in complete sympathy and harmony with us over the difficulties we face in the 1583 Far East because they believe that this is an area which must be stabilised if the Western World is to maintain its authority.
It may well be that the State Department holds the view that Dr. Sukarno should stay because, if he goes, someone worse will follow. We may hold the view that if he goes someone better will follow. But what the Americans are afraid of is that, if they back us with enthusiasm in Borneo, they will be left to carry the "can" for us. For we have 6,000 troops there to cover a frontier stretching 1,000 miles.
Again, we may ask why the Australians are not alongside us in Borneo. After all, on paper this looks like a vital commitment for them. But I am told by a very good authority, although I have not yet been able to check the Australian papers, that they are saying that Britain will hold Borneo to the last Australian. It seems that Australia is afraid to commit herself in Borneo because she may find herself left alone there in the end.
We have not the strength to maintain our position at every point to which we are committed by Government policy. The hon. Member for Dorset, North asked my right hon. and hon. Friends where they stand. They must answer for themselves. I will tell him where I stand. The decision to return to the Regular engagement in 1957 was taken for political reasons. It has not worked.
When I protested then, the charge was made that I favoured conscription. The same charge was made against my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). In 1952 he and I raised the issue of getting rid of National Service and laid down certain conditions which should be met in order to get an all-Regular Army. We argued then, as we argued many times later, that, if we had an all-Regular Army, it must be based on long-service engagements. I fought that battle from 1951 onwards, and in 1957 the Government changed their mind and introduced the long-service engagement.
The Government thus moved towards laying the foundation upon which one could build a Regular Army. But what has happened? They also planned and hoped that from 1957 till now—and this 1584 was constantly claimed—our commitments would hive off. But the opposite has happened: they have increased. Does any hon. Member think that our commitments during the next six months will get less? All the time they are tending to increase.
Therefore, the Labour Party, either in Opposition or when it becomes the Government, must face the situation with which it finds itself. Up to the present, the Government have maintained their position not through the working of a volunteer army but through the remnants of conscription. In 1962 they maintained the position because National Service men were held back for an extra six months. That was the point of the Army Reserve Act, 1962. They have the power now to recall National Service men. They can call 100,000 men back without notice. The Secretary of State of the day spelt it out with absolute honesty. He said:The Clause gives the Secretary of State power to bring them back for a period not exceeding six months. If we had to do this we should select individuals to fill vacancies in corps and by the categories of which the Army was short at the time. The sort of tension we must plan for often builds up suddenly, as it did last summer. It follows that it might well be impossible to give advance notice to those who would then have to be recalled."—[OFFICIAL RE PORT, 27th November, 1961; Vol. 650, c. 50–51.]By whatever name that is called, it is still selective service and the Government are using compulsion. It is that power which allows the Government to sleep easily. But they are afraid of the political consequences of using their reserves, as has been shown. In the Cyprus situation, with our battalions at their present strength, the "Ever-readies" should have been called up. These men were recruited and paid high bounties for that purpose.
I have friends in the Territorial Army and I am told that the Secretary of State provisionally took the decision to call back the "Ever-readies". They were, indeed, brought to a state of readiness. As it happened, he and I dined in successive weeks with the same unit and the officers there talked to both of us. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to deny what I am saying then I will give way.
§ Mr. Wigg
Then all I can say is that, after his dinner, he gave them a different impression from the one that he now gives me. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not fetch the "Ever-readies" back. Why not? He has been honest with us. It was because he was afraid of the international repercussions. Yet these 5,000 men were needed. They are being paid a bounty of £150 each to stand by. But, when things get a bit "dicey", he cannot use them because there might be repercussions.
This gives a clue to the future. We are all in this together. We all have a direct interest in this, even my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). We must do all we can to help recruit for the Army. We must assist by our actions and voices. We must do all we can to help the Secretary of State get his recruits. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington agrees.
Now that we have set ourselves on this path, we must all, on both sides of the Committee, quite apart from political considerations, help the recruiting policy to succeed. But we have the right to ask, in return, for a clear statement of what Government policy is. With respect, I now ask the Secretary of State what Government policy is—not now, but what it will be in 1965—because at the end of 1965, the 1962 Reserve Act will have gone and all we will be left with will be Class A of the Army Reserve and Class I of the Army Emergency Reserve, plus the "Ever-readies."
I should like to see an all-party approach to this. For I wonder whether the time has not come to put teeth into the Territorial Army. I wonder whether we should not now contemplate that call-up after Proclamation belongs to the days before 1914.
After 1965 if a really serious crisis arose, the Secretary of State would have to rely on Class B of the Army Reserve, the Army Emergency Reserve and the T.A. But if he cannot call up the "Ever-readies" because of international repercussions, surely how much more afraid will he be if he has to make a Proclamation to call up those reserve elements? I wonder, therefore, whether the time has not come when the whole of Class B should be liable to recall 1586 without proclamation. This is one of the practical things that I hope might emerge from a discussion of the reserve problem.
I am appalled by the standard of equipment of the Territorial Army. Has not the time come to consider the position of the Territorial Associations, strong, local bodies, which have done good work, but do they work well now? I suggest that, perhaps, in return for giving first-class equipment, we might get a category of men—like the Army Emergency Reserve—who would accept liability for immediate service in an emergency either as individuals or in units. In return, I repeat, they should get up-to-date training and equipment Indeed, I wonder whether the time has not come to have a smaller, more compact, highly trained and better equipped Territorial Army, with perhaps greater financial inducements and accepting a liability to recall without proclamation.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I agree that we have to look ahead and think in terms of building up conventional forces and that a responsibility rests upon those of us who are opposed to what is called the independent nuclear deterrent and who prefer conventional forces, but it seems to me, without going too far in the direction that my hon. Friend wants, that we might begin by considering the rôle of the "Ever-readies". I recall, as no doubt does my hon. Friend, that when the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor introduced the "Ever-ready" scheme there was great enthusiasm and it was thought apropos the name given to these Territorials that they might be used in the event of an emergency.
§ Mr. Wigg
I agree. I remember the enthusiasm. Indeed, I can give the HANSARD references, and I have for reference the papers giving details of the new scheme.
Obviously, I do not know the answers to these questions. What I am saying is that it is no good saying that we have formations here and there which we might be able to use. We have to look at the picture as a whole. We ought to pool our knowledge and experience in order to try to find a solution to our reserve problem. I have concluded that in the situation in which we now find ourselves, with the rôle of our reserves, 1587 costing us a fairly considerable sum of money, with a liability for recall only after Proclamation, we seem to be legislating for a situation which is not likely to arise. Much more likely is the situation described by the then Secretary of State for War at the end of 1961—the situation which comes up suddenly and in which chaps have to be found very quickly. The right hon. Gentleman can do that at the moment through a pre-Proclamation call-up, and he should look at the extension of that principle.
I remain unrepentant in my views on manpower. I believe that I was absolutely right and that the Government have taken unjustifiable risks, risks whose price has to be paid not by them but by the troops. I am delighted that things have gone so well. Please God, they may never have to pay the price. I say that for personal reasons, because I should like to make a bet that I have more relatives in the ranks of the Regular Army than any other hon. Member. So I am talking about things in which I am personally interested.
I want now to refer to equipment. This is a matter of paramount importance. I am very glad that the Minister of Defence has now come in, because it is the double talk about which I complain so bitterly. Let me give an example which occurred on television last night. I understand perfectly well the argument for the TSR2 as the Canberra replacement. This was an aircraft which was wanted by the Army and, I think, still is.
I am not now arguing the merits of the TSR2. I am saying that a modern reconnaissance aircraft was required by the Army to do a job, and if the Army was to have Blue Water, it had to have TSR2 and also what is now known as the HS681. They were esssential requirements for the Army. Originally the case for the TSR2 was the case of the Canberra replacement.
Suddenly, in the course of development, it occurred to somebody for political reasons—and let me acquit the Minister of Defence, for I believe that the Minister of Aviation was the villain of the piece—to promote the TSR2 as an essential part of the nuclear strike force. It was to be an essential part of the country's capacity to use the nuclear 1588 bomb. It was so presented to the public. Last November, we had rows in which the Minister of Aviation and the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro) were allied in which, I am very glad to say, I took a prominent part. For example, we had an Adjournment debate on the issue which came to a sudden end.
The truth is that the Government say two distinctly different things. Let me say, in passing, that I am not against the Army having a long-range reconnaissance aircraft. On 3rd March, the Secretary of State for Air interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and said:The figure of the deterrent in general…does not include the TSR2, because the TSR2 is not part of the deterrent, although it has a deterrent bonus."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 1163.]In other words, it is not part of the deterrent.
In all the controversy with the Minister of Aviation and his accolyte the hon. Member for Kidderminster we were told exactly the opposite. When we nailed the Secretary of State for Air down and he had to meet the argument across the Floor of the Chamber, and had reached the limits of his manoeuvring, and when he was forced, with his head banging up against a brick wall, to contradict the Minister of Aviation he was forced to tell the truth—an unusual experience for hon. Members opposite, who are usually far too slippery for that. We had driven the Secretary of State for Air right into a corner and he had to say that the TSR2 was not part of the deterrent.
§ The Chairman
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that it is the Army Estimates which we are debating.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
On a point of order. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation and indicated that he thought that it was unusual 1589 for him to tell the truth. Those were his words. Is that in order?
§ The Chairman
It would not be in order, but I had not taken it that way. The Committee knows what is in order and what is not.
§ Mr. Wigg
Thank you, Sir William. My point is that we believed that the TSR2 was built to fulfil its original rôle, that of an aircraft for the Army. That is what the Secretary of State was saying.
Last night on B.B.C.—and I have made my protest to the B.B.C.—we got another story. I have no doubt where it originated—in the public relations department of the Ministry of Defence. But the important thing is, what the public was told. This was on two programmes, the T.V. news and the radio news, and on T.V. it was done with a high degree of drama. There was a picture on television of the TSR2 being conveyed along the road with a wing uncovered but other parts all covered up which, it was said, were the secret parts. These were the words used:TSR2 is now expected to make its maiden flight in early summer, then join the R.A.F.'s nuclear strike force.Which is it—nuclear, or a weapon for the Army?
This is how the controversy about this country's Armed Forces is being carried on—double talk all the time. This afternoon we dragged out the facts about strengths. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is a highly intelligent man and he knows the truth of what I am saying. He knows it in his heart. He has the dilemma that he has to provide an Army to fulfil two rôles. One is the rôle in Europe, and the other rôle is that of the Far East and Cyprus and the Arabian Peninsula. Of course, the cost is enormous and he has to say one thing here and one there, one thing tonight and another thing on another day. What has been said about the TSR2 is a graphic example.
I will not strain your generosity too much, Sir William. Let us return to the picture of what the Army needs. The Army was to have Blue Water. This was a British weapon, a very formidable weapon, and the Army was also to have the TSR2 and the AW681. The American tactical weapons were to be 1590 phased out. Since that time the Americans have installed Sergeant in place of Corporal and are withdrawing that weapon. The Germans have Sergeant and as long ago as 1961 the Americans agreed to supply them with Pershing, a weapon far beyond the capacity of any of the American weapons supplied to us. So the British Army is left right out on the end of the limb. The weapon around which the Rhine Army was to be built and around which the whole concept of aircraft for the Army, both reconnaissance and fighter, was to be built was Blue Water.
I say at once that I am not a nuclear purist. I am a pragmatist, facing the world as I find it. But if the case for Blue Water was as overwhelming as I believe it was established to be, why did we cancel it? When we cancelled it, why did not the Secretary of State for War tell us what was to happen to Corporal and Honest John and the atomic artillery? Is the Rhine Army to be landed with those weapons for ever and a day? Are we to have a situation in the Rhine Army in which its strength is run down while the Germans build up to 12 full divisions alongside British troops, Germans equipped with the best weapons which the Americans can provide? What is our prestige in the councils of Europe if that happens?
I have the greatest sympathy with the Secretary of State for War in an impossible task. Now perhaps hon. Members opposite will understand why all this week I have raised my voice in protest, not for personal reasons but on behalf of the Army, not that I think that the Army has called me to this fight and cannot do without me but that I owe everything to the Army and acknowledge it and that I am here today trying to pay back part of my debt.
The Royal Air Force has a very powerful lobby in the aircraft manufacturers, and the Navy has a powerful lobby both in the House of Commons and in the shipbuilding industry. The Army has nothing but the voice of the right hon. Gentleman, and he is in as weak a political position as he could be. He is an honourable, straightforward and able man, but Blue Water was cancelled and there is no replacement for 1591 the obsolescent American equipment and our troops are sent to Cyprus and Africa under strength. All sides pay tribute to the Army's work—with our lips; what about our actions? How many hon. Members have joined with me in protesting against sending our troops in units which are under strength? What the Government do is to try to put the best face on it that they can, and when it comes to a public relations exercise, they are absolutely first class.
I acquit the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence. We have had a showdown this week and I have pulled out some of his tail feathers and I suppose that he thinks that he has got hold of some of mine. We will call that quits. He is not ultimately responsible for the condition of the country's defences. The person responsible is the Prime Minister. The man who has thrown the cause back by many years is the Prime Minister. At the time when this Prime Minister took office there was a build-up—it was certainly in the mind of his predecessor—towards attempting to elevate defence above party. Hon. Members may laugh and jeer, but I at least have tried to do just that. One of the first things the present Prime Minister said was that he would take defence into the cockpit of politics, and he has done just that. As I have said many times, there can be only one loser—the strength of the Services and the prestige of the country. I have a report, which I will read, of what this incompetent squalid little creature was saying at a lunch outside the House today.
§ The Chairman
Order. Did I understand the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) to use the words "incompetent and squalid little creature" of a right hon. Gentleman, a Member of the House of Commons?
§ The Chairman
If those words were used in referring to an hon. or right hon. Member, they must be withdrawn, and I call upon the hon. Member to withdraw them forthwith.
§ The Chairman
I hold the total expression to be unparliamentary, and I ask the hon. Member for Dudley to withdraw it.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
Further to that point of order. I was in the House yesterday evening, Sir William, when an hon. Member opposite referred to my hon. Friend as a slimy liar. He was not called upon to withdraw that remark. In view of what took place last night, I cannot see how my hon. Friend can be called upon to withdraw an accurate and impeccable phrase.
§ The Chairman
What happened yesterday has nothing to do with the situation with which I am now dealing. I ask the hon. Member to withdraw the expression he used.
§ Mr. Wigg
As always, Sir William, I defer to the Chair. I withdraw that expression. Whether I shall make a submission as to the validity of your Ruling at some other time is another matter. There are clear rules distinguishing what is said in the House and what is said outside it. I will read what was said today. The Prime Minister, talking of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Oppositon in connection with a discussion on television, on a major matter of defence, said:I am perfectly willing to confront Mr. Wilson on television. But when I want to, I shall send for him.What arrogance! What an insulting assumption! Is that the true language of the democrat? I am asked to defer to the rules of the Committee and to show respect for a man who holds the pre-eminent political position in this country and who, in order to make a squalid party point, uses that sort of language in respect of a Parliamentary opponent.
I suggest that I am entitled to describe that action and those words as squalid. The thought behind it is squalid. The presentation is disgraceful. Relating this to the question of defence, the most 1593 insulting thing that I can say of him is that the Prime Minister believes what he says. He really believes what he says about the deterrent, and about this country's strength. I can say—and if I am offensive, by heaven, I am trying to be—that this man believes every word of it. By saying it, and demonstrating that that is what he believes. and by saying the kind of thing that he has done of my right hon. Friend, he shows beyond question that he is not fit to blacken the boots of the dirtiest private that ever took the Queen's shilling.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Clive Bossom (Leominster)
I shall not begin by trying to be offensive. Last year in the Army Estimates debate the TSR2 was discussed by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), and I followed him on that occasion. I shall certainly not follow that argument today. He put some queries to my right hon. Friend this evening about the Army's order of battle and establishments, and I am confident that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to answer them later on.
I do not agree with the hon. Member that President Johnson and Mr. Khrushchev would not be impressed with what the British Army has managed to do in the past three months. I think that they would be very impressed. The hon. Member also mentioned Australia. I was there about six months ago, and I would have thought that the 10½ million Australians were in a very difficult position at the moment in respect of Borneo, because they have 100 million Indonesians breathing down their necks, and they do not want to give President Sukarno any reason to start something.
I also want to pay tribute to the Army. It has done a magnificent job in the last few months. It has been able to answer every call, and it has done everything that has been asked of it. Every peace-keeping operation has been speedily and competently carried out, and it is worth pointing out to critical hon. Members opposite that there was still a small force available in the United Kingdom even after all those troops had left our shores. Our "mobile fire brigades" went out to 1594 all those brush-fires and managed to stop them all from spreading.
It is easy for hon. Members opposite to say that we need more troops, better equipment and improved mobility. That will always be the case. But they should have to put forward many more helpful and useful suggestions about the way in which they would recruit and obtain these additional troops. I agree with much of what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about Service families and better married quarters. As for better equipment, it was announced by my right hon. Friend this afternoon that new equipment is continually coming out. In respect of mobility, for efficiency, speed and safety it would have been difficult to beat Transport Command. It was certainly spot-on throughout all these emergencies. However, I agree that we need many more helicopters in some theatres of war.
I welcome the new joining age, but we must employ new methods to bridge the gap between a boy's leaving school at the age of 16 and his being able to join up at the age of 17. Last year I put forward some ideas for helping mustard-keen, would-be recruits. One idea was that there should be a special "Army class" in secondary and technical schools Another was that we should have special training companies at depôts. The new joining age will greatly assist us, but there is still a gap of nearly a year, during which time we shall lose potential recruits.
Now I want to say a word about the Army cadet force. This country is indebted to the present cadet force officers and instructors, especially for the way in which they have kept the force so active and enthusiastic, with their very limited resources. I feel that the time has come when more financial help should be given. Many of these boys could be potential recruits for the Regular Army, and it is imperative that they should be given the right idea about the Army while they are in the cadet force.
I understand that there is no shortage of boys who are willing to join but that many more adult leaders are required. There is also a shortage of modern.22 rifles and wet weather clothing, and a growing shortage of United Kingdom camps. I therefore hope that my right 1595 hon. Friend will try to do more to help the force. What it really needs is more financial assistance.
We have talked a lot about Commonwealth recruiting. I trust that the Government will retain the eight battalions of Gurkhas, all at maximum strength, at all times. In the past I have pressed for a new agreement with Nepal, to go over the 15,000 figure. At the moment, let us recruit every Gurkha that we are allowed to, because the Gurkhas have proved that they are worth their weight in gold in the past few months. I hope that we shall also make more use of Jamaicans in this country. I welcome the policy, announced this afternoon, of allowing more Commonwealth recruits to join the Army, and I foresee no problems, provided these recruits are evenly spread over various regiments. Trouble will arise only if there are too many of them in one unit.
I realise that it is not the present policy to start new units, but I have recently been to Fiji and have seen what a magnificent bearing the local police have. I am wondering if we could not once more investigate the possibility of recruiting one Fiji battalion. It could be employed locally, or at any rate only in the Far East. These fine warriors would be best kept in one regiment. They had a battalion a few years ago. They would be a valuable asset, and would be very proud to serve the British Army.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton suggested that we should recruit Chinese from Hong Kong and Singapore as mechanics. I served in Hong Kong for two years and I agree that they make excellent mechanics and are very useful as Bechelon personnel. But there is always the security problem because, as I found from experience, most of these Chinese have relatives in Red China, and therefore it is only safe, I think, to have them in Hong Kong or Singapore where they have their own families. I would be loath to take them outside those two areas.
At home I hope that we can again step up television advertising for recruiting. We must continue to show short films like we had last year which concentrate on adventure and tough inter-Service training, especially in places like 1596 North Africa, Canada and Australia, as they all go to prove that the Army moves around the world. I think that at the end of every film there should be the slogan, "The Army will also prepare you for a civilian life by teaching you a trade". We have not impressed that enough on young men in the past.
In April, the three Services will literally come under one roof, and I am sure that the Army would benefit if the three Services had combined recruiting centres also under one roof. As soon as buildings become available we should press forward with such a scheme.
This brings me to actual service. I am not quite sure that we have the length of service, the terms and the conditions right. I do not believe that enough experiment has been tried out in alternative forms of engagement. I am sure that young, unmarried men would be willing to take on a short engagement, say, for a period of four years at a lower rate of pay than the ordinary soldier who might join up for a six or nine years' engagement on the condition that at the end of his service he would be given a large tax-free gratuity. This would help to launch him in civilian life. He would have a lump sum to put down towards a house, or a small business. I think that this type of "austerity engagement" should be tried out, or anyhow looked into much more closely. Again, I think that the man should end up his training with a short trade course so as partly to equip him to face civilian life.
I now turn to equipment. It was most heartening to hear the announcement this afternoon of the new equipment that is becoming available. But I think that we must continue to impress upon the designers that equipment must not be allowed to become too complicated, too sophisticated and too heavy because the emergencies in Borneo and East Africa have proved that mobility and flexibility are still of paramount importance. It also means that side arms must be light, tough and easy to maintain. The Americans have been experimenting on a light Armalite rifle which has a plastic butt and high velocity and which is ideal for jungle warfare. Our own S.L.R. self-loading rifle, although extremely accurate, is inclined to be too heavy for jungle warfare. I think that we should further experiment 1597 on the light Armalite rifle to see if we cannot produce a similar weapon for jungle patrols.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order, Sir William. I do not know whether it is for recruiting purposes for the brain drain, but is it in order for an hon. Member to fill in a passport application form during the debate. The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) seems to be doing that.
§ The Chairman
I had assumed that if hon. Members had documents they were notes for a future speech or that they were checking what they had already said. It would certainly be out of order to deal with things outwith the business of this Committee.
§ Mr. Shinwell
No. It is arising out of his speech. I hope that I have his consent to make an interjection. I am very interested in what he has been saying and I agree with most of it—the need for more men, the building-up of the Commonwealth units, better equipment and the like. Has he calculated what the additional cost will be as a result of all this, and does he imagine that we can afford to spend many millions more on conventional forces and equipment and still go on spending, as is stated, 10 per cent. on nuclear weapons?
§ Mr. Bossom
I would put it this way to the right hon. Gentleman. I feel that most of the things that I have suggested will not be much more expensive. Different types of weapons and things like that I do not think will be a vast expense. These are ideas which I am suggesting to the Committee to try to make the Army more efficient, but I do not think that the cost would be very much more.
§ Mr. Wigg
On a point of order, Sir William. It would, of course, be out of order for me to fill in a passport form while I was in Committee. I was not filling in a passport form; I was reading a passport form because in view of the Government's defence policy it seemed to me that I ought to make quite sure 1598 that my Passport is renewed so that I can get out while the going is good.
§ Mr. Bossom
That is very encouraging if the hon. Gentleman really means that he is going to get out.
There is another side of Army life which we have not touched on at all, but I do not think that it should be overlooked. It is leisure time and entertainment it the Army. In the past two years I have been fortunate enough to visit nearly all the stations in the Middle East and Far East. I should like to congratulate the Army Kinema Corporation on the job it is doing. It usually shows film; seven days a week and changes the programme twice a week. The cinemas are certainly well patronised and very popular. Could not the Combined Service Entertainment Committee explore ways and means of getting more live shows? Of course they will have no appeal whatever to the young and sophisticated Service man and his family unless they are absolutely first-class and the artists are stars. I am aware of the heavy expense of this and the difficulty of getting these people but I understand that no stars have visited B.A.O.R. since 1959. I know that in the Middle East lately there were some top recording stars such as Edna Savage, Dickie Valentine, Ruby Murray and David Whitfield, and I believe at the end of this month the highly amusing dual artist whom children love as Mr. Pastry and the grown-ups enjoy watching as Richard Hearn performing the Lancers, is going to Cyprus. But I feel that the troops in Germany need some type of light entertainment and if big stars could be persuaded to go out it would be a great help. I hope that the Beatles will be able to accept the invitation, which has lately been sent to them, to visit units in Berlin, and I only pray that no overzealous R.S.M. marches them off to have their hair cut, because that really would cause a major incident in Berlin. What would provide a tremendous morale booster would be to provide television for B.A.O.R.
When I visited units in Germany I was told of this need for television programmes. Few British families there speak German and even though they may have a German television set they do not understand the programmes. Such 1599 coverage in the evenings would be greatly appreciated. I fully appreciate the technical problems and the expense which would be involved, but as B.A.O.R. is today considered to be a home station I think it would make a tremendous difference to families in the Army and in the Royal Air Force stationed in Germany. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give further information on this subject.
Last year the former Secretry of State for War announced that German lessons would be given to members of units before they were posted to B.A.O.R. and that this would be followed by six-week courses when they arrived in Germany. This has worked out well. At least we have managed to break down the idea that all foreigners must learn English and that we need never learn any foreign language. Let us go a step further and give an inducement to officers and other ranks to learn the languages of other N.A.T.O. countries. I think that a knowledge of Italian would be useful and to be able to speak French would be a useful accomplishment in most parts of the Middle East. I know that there are good pay awards for interpreters, but I should like to see a lump sum paid to personnel who passed a fairly stiff examination and who were reasonably fluent in a foreign languge such as French or even Malay.
I have made various suggestions to the Committee and I hope that some will prove constructive and will be followed up.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)
I hope that the Committee will excuse me if I touch on an entirely new subject, which is very local. I do not wish to trespass unnecessarily upon the time of the Committee but I feel that a document which has come into the possession of every hon. and right hon. Member—The Misuse of a National Park; Military Training on Dartmoor is well worth consideration. It was prepared by the Dartmoor Preservation Association and I must declare an interest in that I am a member of that Association. The document sets out a problem in connection with the Army and the defence of this country which we all ought seriously to consider.
1600 The document was produced under the marvellous inspiration and leadership of the Association's chairman, Lady Sylvia Sayer, who was born and bred of Dartmoor stock. Her husband is a retired naval officer, a gallant officer of the finest type, Vice-Admiral Sir Guy Sayer. Her son is a naval officer. Her father was a general. She comes from the type of Service family to which reference was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) so that whatever Lady Sayer stands up for, at least she is through and through indoctrinated with the whole tradition of a Service family and she is a patriot of unquestioned type and ability.
I beg hon. and right hon. Members to read this publication which is fully documented, and I would be prepared to say that not one statement in it is likely to be refuted by the War Office. Dartmoor is about 30 miles wide from north to south and 20 miles from east to west. It has a mean altitude of 1,700 feet. Most of the real moorland is almost uninhabited. Most of the moor north of the Moretonhampstead-Tavistock Road is in the hands of the War Department. A good chunk of southern Dartmoor has been given over as a training ground for the Marines. What is left is supposed to be a National Park. Even that is frequently trespassed over by the Armed Forces so that to call Dartmoor a National Park is something of a misnomer. It is, first and foremost, a training ground for the Armed Forces of the Crown. To that extent a mockery is made of the term "National Park" and all that the expression is supposed to stand for. The War Office leases or owns training areas and ranges in the United Kingdom totalling 337,000 acres, or at least it did last summer, when the then Minister supplied me with the figures. The War Department controls 16,000 acres of Dartmoor's National Park against a total of 337,000 acres in the United Kingdom.
Hon. Members will readily see that Dartmoor represents less than 5 per cent. of the total area of land held in the United Kingdom by the War Office. I think that we must ask ourselves whether the War Department is making the best use of these 337,000 acres. I wonder. It is a great deal of land. In addition, the Royal Air Force has large areas of 1601 land, and the Admiralty has other land, although much less. Splitting up the 337,000 acres we find that in Wales there are 46,000 acres, but in England no fewer than 272,000. I suggest that that is a quite disproportionate amount of land in a comparatively small country to be at the disposal of the War Office. In Scotland the figure is 15,000 acres, less than the Army holds in Dartmoor.
Last Autumn the Minister visited Dartmoor and we were grateful to him for coming to see for himself what things are like there. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it rained heavily the whole of the day of his visit, and so the Minister was able to get a taste of the moor in its natural state. I hope that he learned some useful lessons. I understand on very good authority that he nearly stumbled over an unexploded bomb.
That is one of the dangers arising from the use of Dartmoor National Park by the Army. Unfortunately, about five years ago a lad of 16, walking on the moor with his father, also stumbled on an unexploded bomb. He lost his life. I do not want the Secretary of State to lose his life or to be injured, but I hope that it was a salutary experience for him and that it will cause him to listen to the appeals of those of us who have a real love of Dartmoor.
The area is full of prehistoric monuments. There is a picture on the back of this booklet of a splendid menhir, which has been there for probably thousands of years. It is pock-marked with shots from mortars and other weapons. Dartmoor is used more and more by youth for all kinds of open-air adventure and training. Thank goodness for that. Such experiences saved my life when I was young. I hope that they have helped me throughout life to have a sane and balanced outlook, although I think sometimes hon. Members opposite doubt that. Certainly I have derived the greatest pleasure from it.
I wish to make a short quotation from a speech by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh when he addressed the Central Council of Physical Recreation on 23rd May, 1963. He said:We go to all sorts of lengths to preserve cathedrals, castles, houses, pictures, and all kinds of an-made works of art. Surely we should at least do the same for the works of nature? We need only to take a little trouble to stop the absent-minded destruction of our 1602 national heritage. Some may say that this is all sentimental rubbish. … That way lies the affluent concrete jungle.What is needed is for the War Department seriously to consider this problem and face the fact that sooner or later it will be compelled to withdraw from this National Park and to draw up a plan for a phased withdrawal. I feel almost at the end of my patience in appealing to successive Ministers to do just that. I appeal to the Committee to give consideration to what is contained in this booklet and to support me in my appeal that full consideration should be given to a phased withdrawal from Dartmoor. It is the only part of South-West England where we have some real natural wilderness left. Even that is bisected 133 two arterial roads, one running north and south and the other east and west.
When the House passed the National Parks Act after the war it meant business. The National Parks should be a reality. We are getting to a time when there will be more leisure available for everyone. Someone has already referred to that aspect in connection with the Army. This can be a reality in the National Parks. I believe in open-air recreation. There can be nothing better for the youth of our land.
The Secretary of State said today that politicians were transient occupants of chairs in the War Office but civil servants remained. The House of Commons will have to take care that those civil servants are brought to a state in which they have to take decisions of their Ministers to see that Dartmoor is restored to the people. The people of this land fought in two world wars against an implacable enemy. I ask that we should permit the ordinary people to enjoy their birthright, Dartmoor.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I prefer not to follow the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) on the question of Dartmoor and its use for military purposes. I represent a constituency which is used for military purposes, but not in quite the same way as the constituency of the hon. Member.
I wish to bring one or two matters of general importance to the notice of the 1603 Committee and two matters of not such importance but which affect the morale of our soldiers. I first ask the Under-Secretary what has happened in regard to what I may describe as the two-tier method of officer service.
It may be remembered that in the Grigg Report it was said, when dealing with the pattern of officers' careers:in so far as it is possible, officers should be employed to ages which are normal for retirement outside. This means keeping them until something like sixty. We have been told that it is quite impracticable to manage this, but it is something which virtually every other large employer in the country does.The Report goes on to say:The difficulties over the retention to sixty of officers in the fighting arms are obvious enough, but the possibility of manning the administrative branches by officers transferred from more active employment in their thirties or early forties seems to us never to have been explored with sufficient vigour.I think that everyone will agree with that. It is a matter of congratulation for the War Office that the standard and number of officers coming into the Services from Sandhurst and Mons is first-class.
I should like to feel that this procedure—which was initiated with some degree of opposition—on the proposals of the Grigg Report is working well. Is is difficult for a man who has given good service as an officer to find himself having reached what one can consider as his "ceiling". If at the same time he is getting increased pay with changed responsibilities it may well be that this does not produce a very happy situation. I have hopes, however, that it will be successful, because I believe that it is an incentive to a whole life career instead of breaking off at a comparatively early age.
Another matter of general interest that I wish to raise is the question of men who have served their time in the Army and who for one reason or another, are going back to civilian life. I congratulate the War Office on the circular it sent out giving soldiers information about the way in which they can lay aside a certain amount of money with a view to purchasing a house. I understand that that has been successful in some cases, but it does not quite go all the way.
The problem, which is extremely inhibiting, arises because those who 1604 come out of the Services often have no rights in obtaining houses from local authorities. I hasten to add that the local authorities in my constituency, which in many ways, bear the brunt of some of the discharges from the Services, are extremely helpful, although there is always a limitation on what they can do because of the number of houses available.
I recall that five or six years ago a communication was addressed by the Secretary of State for War, through the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to local authorities indicating that an arrangement should be made to meet the situation of those coming out of the Services and requiring accommodation in civilian life. Despite the considerable efforts that have been made to provide accommodation, there are occasions when it is impossible to do so. In some circumstances the Army requires houses to accommodate Servicemen posted to the area and it seems that, sometimes, the local authority concerned is unable to do anything about it.
If a document of the kind I have mentioned was sent to local authorities expressing the Ministry's desire that they should consider, whatever the difficulties, the position of those who have left the Army, and are in desperate need of accommodation, a great deal might be achieved. To many people who have given good service the present position is most unsatisfactory and is worrying to them.
About two and a half years ago some officers were shot out of Ghana, if I may use that metaphor. They certainly had to leave at 12 hours' notice. They were put to considerable expense and difficulty and since then they have been trying to get some recompense for their losses. I have previously asked Questions about this, and I am happy to say that the Treasury is now considering, thanks to the efforts of the Under-Secretary, the reimbursement of these officers for their losses. Two and a half years is a devil of a long time for these soldiers to have been out of pocket, particularly since their expense was incurred through no fault of their own.
I hope that the Treasury, which for some time has operated a strong rearguard action in this respect, will now take more forward action with Ghana 1605 and say that these payments must be dealt with by that country, particularly since this country is having to reimburse these officers for their losses. It should be made clear to Commonwealth countries in no uncertain terms—in almost impolite terms, in fact—that they are responsible in these cases. I do not know whether this will arise in connection with Uganda or Zanzibar, but wherever it arises it should not take two and a half years for an officer to be reimbursed for these sort of losses.
While I join in paying tribute to what is being done about this matter now, I hope that it will be kept carefully under consideration, that the Treasury will see that the Army pays up quickly, and that the country does not lose on this rather shocking conduct to our officers.
I have a rather technical but important matter to raise and though the Under-Secretary has agreed to meet me to discuss it it is of sufficient general interest to mention to hon. Members. This is the case of a lady who has, unfortunately, fallen out with her husband. The husband refuses to live with her, but insists on retaining the children. The lady approched me and asked me to find out why her husband could draw the marriage and children's allowance yet not keep his wife. Since what was happening did not seem a particularly good proposition to me, I thought that the matter could be dealt with by withdrawing the marriage allowance.
I suggested that to the Secretary of State, who was then the Under-Secretary, and asked him what could be done. I pointed out that the lady was penniless, was in Singapore and that the officer concerned was living with somebody else and with the children of the marriage. I received a letter from the then Under-Secretary saying:An officer claims marriage allowance at his discretion and he is entitled to receive it so long as he expends it either on his wife or children.The letter went on:In this case although, according to Mrs. X, her husband is not supporting her, he appears to be supporting his children and, on that account, is entitled to receive the allowance. We cannot, therefore, withdraw it from him".In this case the officer was drawing the marriage allowance because he was keeping the two children, but while he was also drawing the children's allow 1606 ance he was not paying anything towards his wife's expenses.
Section 151(1) of the Army Act, 195, states:… Where the Army Council or an officer authorised by them are satisfied that an officer … of the regular forces is neglecting, without reasonable cause, to maintain his wife or any child of his under the age of sixteen the Army Council or officer may order such sum to be deducted from his pay and appropriated towards the maintenance of his wife or child as the Army Council or officer think fit.For a reason that I cannot quite follow, the powers that be have read that subsection as meaning that the officer can keep his children without doing anything about the keep of his wife.
The result in the case of which I speak is very tragic. The lady is out in Singapore. She is, of course, British. She cannot get back. Divorce proceedings are pending, and the whole thing is extremely unsatisfactory. I do not know what the true legal position is, but I should have thought that on the ground of common sense this lady would be properly entitled to the marriage allowance as long as her husband was drawing it.
I am sorry to have taken the time of the House to deal with matters that appear to be of small importance opposed to the larger issues with which we have been regaled—that is the only word I car use—by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). Quite frankly I believe that it is wonderful what our Services can do. We have never had enough soldiers at any time in our history and I do not suppose we ever shall, but the great thing about the Army is that it always rises to the occasion and I believe that it will continue to do that.
I am no Cassandra, and no prophet of doom. I have relatives in the Service, and the more I see of it the more I am satisfied that we have as fine a Service as we have ever had. I wish that the number of those in it was higher, but we must not lower standards. Whatever happens, I believe that the Service will acquit itself with honour.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I can quite understand the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) saying that the Army will always rise to the occasion. I only wish that this House 1607 would do the same when it discusses Army Estimates to the very substantial sum of over £520 million. There are very few hon. Members present. Out of respect to the Under-Secretary of State, I would say that the attendance at the kirk is very small indeed. We know that the attendance at these assemblies varies. As the Scottish verse says:The wee kirk, the free kirk, The kirk without the steeple, The auld kirk, the cold kirk, The kirk without the people.Here we have the kirk without the people. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman will have a much more enthusiastic congregation when he winds up the debate.
Recruiting was the burden of the Secretary of State's opening remarks. The right hon. Gentleman always treats us with a great deal of courtesy, even though we may sometimes be rather rude to him; I was once very rude to him, and I have regretted it ever since. But although the Minister gave us figures, he never really got to grips with the real recruiting situation, and never got down to the causes of the decline in recruiting.
Yesterday, I asked him questions about the recruiting position in Scotland. If I was correct in gathering from his reply that the position there is better than it is in England, I can only say that the situation in many parts of England must be very bad indeed. I asked for recruiting figures, in what I thought were typical counties in Scotland, for January of this year, last year and the year before. I was told that in my own county 13 recruits had joined the Army in January, 1962, 10 had joined in January, 1963, and six had joined in January of this year. The figure of six for January of this year covers five constituencies, including my own, Kilmarnock, and Ayr—a real cross-section of Scottish life. The figure for January, 1964, is half that for January 1962, and the average works out at about 1.2 per constituency, which seems to be a very low peace-time figure.
The reply I got yesterday seemed to suggest that recruiting in Ayrshire had been rather successful in past years. I think that it was based on a reply I 1608 received some few years ago, when the figure in my constituency rose from one to two—or two to four—and I was congratulated on a 50 per cent. increase. I cannot claim credit for that. I am not anti-recruiting, I do not go out of my way to attack the Army. If any of my constituents wish to join the Army I give them every assistance.
Although I hold views that are not in accordance with the policy of the Government, I do not take what some hon. Members would call an anti-patriotic attitude towards the Army. I remember that on one occasion one of my constituents asked me how he could join a particular regiment. I gave him full information, and went out of my way to find out about the pay, and all the rest of it. I am sorry to say that he bought himself out of the Army a very few months later.
My constituency is not a pacifist constituency in the sense that my pacifist views would not be shared by a large number of people. Hon. Members regard me, a pacifist, as something worse than a Communist, and Communists associate themselves with the Conservatives in dissociating themselves from the pacifists. Marshal Malinovsky would certainly not approve of me. I certainly do not influence my constituency in this connection.
I turn to other constituencies, where there are very orthodox people who believe that the Army is synonymous with patriotism. I find that in Perthshire in January, 1962, 16 men joined the Army. In January, 1963, there were nine and in January, 1964, there were four. This coincides with a time when there is supposed to be a tremendously patriotic upsurge in Perthshire, led by the Prime Minister who, for some reason or other, thinks that if there is a super-patriotic or chauvinistic mood in the country the Conservative Party will be able to cash in on it. But in Perthshire, in spite of the right hon. Gentleman's eloquence, recruiting has gone down from nine to four. I should like the Under-Secretary to explain these figures.
In Argyllshire, in January, 1962, one person joined the Army. Two joined in January, 1963. This was a sudden increase of 100 per cent. I do not know whether the Minister congratulated his 1609 right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when the one became two, but after the two in 1963 the figure in 1964 was nil. One cannot have any argument about that. I do not know how the percentage calculation would go on a nil.
Yesterday, I suggested some reasons for this situation, but I should like to have some explanation why, in Argyllshire, nobody joined the Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "Too cold."] It may have been, but if people join the Army they will have to fight in the cold.
§ Mr. Ramsden
As the Committee is probably composed, at least on the benches opposite, primarily of Scotsmen at the moment, and as I know how proud they are, rightly, of their military tradition, I should say, in relation to Perthshire and Argyllshire, that the Highland Brigade, which recruits in those districts, is fully up to strength and, indeed, is a little over.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is not a sufficient explanation, because during these months the right hon. Gentleman has been carrying on an active recruiting campaign in Argyllshire and Perthshire and, indeed, all over Scotland. In that case, he can be accused of wasting the country's money in carrying on a propaganda campaign for regiments which are already full up, but there are other regiments. If there was this tremendous reserve of fighting tenacity in Argyllshire and Perthshire it should certainly be represented in these rather strange recruiting figures.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
This is an interesting point and the Minister's reply has been equally interesting. Can we ascertain the percentage of the Highland Regiment actually recruited from the counties which have been mentioned? There has been some resentment because there are incorporated in the Highland Regiment people from outwith the country.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend knows the Highlands much better than I do and in time he may be able to explain why Argyllshire and Perthshire are reluctant to come forward to redress the balance in other parts of the country. These are very pugnacious parts. Was it not in Argyll or very near it that the 1610 massacre of Glencoe took place? They have had the clan tradition and they have had this tremendous pugnacity through the centuries. Now they ate less pugnacious and less interested in solving the Minister's recruiting problem than they have ever been in their history.
Talking about Argyll, I would point out that the most persistant advocate of selective National Service in the House of Commons during recent debates has been the hon. Member for Bute and North Aryshire (Sir Fitzroy Maclean). He is working in a sort of conspiracy with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) to advocate selective service as a solution to our promlem, and he lives in Argyll. Yet the total of recruits who joined to support the hon. Member was nil.
I am sorry that the hon. Member is not present to help us arrive at an explanation of this. The fact remains that it is an extraordinary state of affairs. I should like a survey or Gallup poll to be conducted on why these people do not join the Army. There was a theory, and I used to think there was something in it, that in a time of unemployment people were driven into the Army by hunger and the fact that in the Army there was a prospect of a living, but Scotland is one of the black unemployment spots of Britain and last year the position was specially bad.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yet with all that unemployment and poverty the young men said, "No, thank you, we would rather live on meagre unemployment pay than join the Army." I cannot supply all the answers in this respect, except to say that it may be that there is a different attitude towards the whole question of war. In Perthshire, for example, after listening to one of the Prime Minister's speeches that we must rely on the independent nuclear deterrent and that after his vi' it to Moscow we are past the brink and the cold war is over, a young man in Perthshire might ask, "Why should I join the Army for 10, 15 to 20 years?". The younger people do not understand why they should join the Army in these days and they are not coming forward as the Minister wishes to see them to swell the recruiting figures.
1611 One of the keynotes of the Minister's speech was that a young man should join the Army for the sake of adventure. This is also the keynote of a great deal of his recruiting literature. In that well-printed document Soldiers of the Queen, we are told over and over again that the great point about the Army is that there the young man can find adventure. That may be right, but a man can get adventure at home.
There is adventure in London in the police force. What with train robberies and the expectation that there is nowadays that every Friday we shall hear on the wireless that there has been another armed robbery in London, there is plenty of adventure in the police force at home. There is no need to go to Cyprus, Borneo or Germany for the sake of adventure.
We have heard a good deal about Cyprus. It has been emphasised that the soldier goes to Cyprus as part of a police operation. There are soldiers who regard the police as an inferior sort of body. When the first lot of soldiers were flown out to Cyprus, a sergeant who was interviewed said that he was enjoying the life in Cyprus very much, but was doing the job of—I shall not repeat the adjective—an "adjectival copper". That attitude seems rather strange to me, if the idea is that the Army is to be a police force in different parts of the world.
Somehow or other, inculcated in the rather curious mixture which makes Army recruiting propaganda, the wrong ideas have been put into the soldier's heads. It is wrong to think that the policeman is an inferior sort of person because he is not dressed in khaki.
There is a new conception of what the task of an Army should be in Cyprus now. We are told that we must hand the problem of Cyprus over to the United Nations. There is the new concept of the Army, the idea that there can be a sort of international police force and that Cyprus is not the job of the British soldier. I can quite understand that. The rôle of the British soldier is changing. Now that the United Nations is coming on to the scene and taking over these trouble spots, the Minister ought to be asking for fewer soldiers, not for more. But he wants more. In Cyprus, 1612 we are to have soldiers from many European nations. As the rôle of the United Nations grows and the concept of an international police force comes nearer to fruition, fewer British soldiers than ever before will be required.
I cannot see how any young man is likely to be attracted into the Army by the thought that he may go to Borneo. The climate in Borneo is not very salubrious. It is difficult to understand exactly what purpose the ordinary young man in Argyll has in going to Borneo. He is offered adventure in Cyprus, in Borneo, and, of course, in Germany and Berlin.
The argument used by the Soviet Government is that Berlin should be handed over to the United Nations forces. If this were done, there would be less need for British soldiers there. If we are to have approval of the idea of the United Nations and not the British Army taking over trouble spots, the next step in Government policy—there is time enough before the General Election—should be to see that we hand over our responsibilities in Berlin to the United Nations. This would help to solve the problem of that city.
A very large part of our Army is locked up in Western Germany. It was very interesting to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in what I thought was the best speech I have ever heard him make from the Dispatch Box, say that Western Germany was no longer a trouble spot, or, at least, that he would regard the Army there as a potential reserve from which we could take soldiers and dispatch them to other parts of the world. To me, this is a very reasonable idea. Of course, it will be flouted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, who is always telling us that we must increase our strength in Western Germany. I was very glad to hear my hon. and learned Friend lay it down quite clearly that Western Germany was no longer one of the places where we needed to concentrate a large number of British troops.
This is the opinion of Lord Montgomery, too. He is the man who knows most about Germany. He has been deputy commander of N.A.T.O. He has stated quite clearly that we no longer require a large number of soldiers, 1613 50,000 or more, to be kept in Western Germany, and that they could very well be used somewhere else. When Lord Montgomery talks like that—he has been in charge of the Western armies and he knows more about the workings of N.A.T.O. than anyone else—we should examine the question without prejudice.
I cannot see what the Army is doing in Western Germany if adventure is the idea. As far as I can understand, it is one of the most monotonous places in the world for the British soldier. The monotony is so bad that our soldiers fight with the civil population whom they are there to protect. I cannot understand why the Government rigidly adhere to this large number of soldiers in Western Germany. If we were prepared to cut the commitment, the Minister's problem would be largely solved.
I was glad to hear my hon. and learned Friend come out strongly against not only National Service as such, but selective service as well. His arguments were quite convincing to me when he said that selective service was a most unfair kind of National Service. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley was not here, because he has been a supporter of selective service. I await with interest his answer to the arguments advanced by my hon. and learned Friend.
It is now crystal clear—we have had it twice emphasised from the Front Bench—that the Labour Party will be entirely against conscription either as National Service or as selective service. This will be part of the election programme of the Labour Party. It is also the programme of the Conservative Party.
The last speech which I heard Mr. Profumo make from that Box was a very logical and convincing speech against conscription. Therefore, at the General Election, the two major parties will be saying to the young people, "We are against conscripting you. We are against any form of national service". That is very good. But then we hear that after the election, when one of the parties is in power, there is to be some kind of gentlemen's agreement, as my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Dudley calls it, under which the two parties will unite in imposing some kind of selective service on the people.
1614 To use a phrase which frequently crops up in the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, that will be "welshing" on the people. I do not know why he uses the word "welshing". I have remonstrated with him about it before. I objected once before to his using the word "welshing". I did my best to "scotch" him on it.
I do not think that it would do any harm if the Under-Secretary, in his speech tonight, came out with the emphatic affirmation that we are not going back to National Service. If the Government are not going back to National Service they must face the possibility of cutting the commitments. They must cut the commitments in such places as Hong Kong. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton spoke rather-enthusiastically about Hong Kong because, I believe, his grandfather was Governor of Hong Kong. He pointed out that, very obligingly, the Chinese supplied water for four days of the week. The water comes from the mainland. If the Chinese wanted to make things difficult for us in Hong Kong, all that they would have to do would be to turn off the water tap. There is no sign that the Chinese want to capture Hong Kong.
On the other hand, the Chinese know that Hong Kong is a centre from which they trade with the outside world, and that, sooner or later—perhaps it will not be very many years now—the agreement on Hong Kong will lapse and that we will haw, no moral, international or any other kind of authority to remain there. If the Government want to solve their problem and to bring home the soldiers in Hong Kong all that they have to do is to have a slightly more conciliatory pokey with the Government of China. We may not like the ideology of the Chinese Government, but to talk about going to war with a nation which has a population of 600 or 700 million is a complete absurdity and a military impossibility. It would be a gesture in improving our relations with this large potential market if we said to the Chinese Government, "We are prepared to take away our soldiers". I believe that that would result in a greater understanding with the Government of China and would help to ease the situation in that part of the world.
1615 If the Minister is out to increase recruiting in the present condition of this country, there is only a limited supply of manpower which can be drawn upon. In this very expensively illustrated magazine Soldiers of the Queen there is a list of different trades which one can learn in the modern Army. We are told, "If you want to be a plumber, the Army will welcome you". I do not want to see the plumbers going into the Army. I do not want to see the joiners, quantity surveyors, electricians, and so on, going into the Army. If men in these trades are taken away from the home front, it will add to our housing problem. I want to see the electricians, plumbers, quantity surveyors and all the other people mentioned specially in this brochure out of the Army and working on the home front.
We must make greater progress on the home front. If Glasgow is to have its slums for another 20 years this will help to foster Communism in this country. Therefore, I want to de-modernise the Army in such a way that it will result in all these different people working on the housing schemes, hospitals, roads, universities, and all the constructive activity needed if the parties are to carry out the promises which they make to the electorate. In trying to mechanise the Army, the Minister is attracting from British industry the key people needed if we are to modernise our factories. In trying to attract key people from British industry the Minister is creating difficulties for industry.
The Government must make up their mind to have a smaller and less expensive Army. The idea that we must have a large Army, as we had in the First and Second World Wars, must disappear. I see no possibility of the Minister solving his manpower problem. The propaganda appeal has gone. As long as we have the present outlook of the younger generation, the psychological appeal to join the Army has gone, too. That is the inevitable conclusion which must be drawn from the Minister's figures.
I believe that the basic idea is all wrong. The idea is that we must be prepared for a war with the Soviet Union. I do not believe that the Soviet Union wants to attack us. What it wants 1616 is friendly relations with the people of this country in order to attract to Russia the products of industry which it needs. Sooner or later we shall have to accept the view that we need a smaller and less expensive Army. If the Prime Minister's argument that the cold war is over and that we need to divert our national energies to more productive things is right, there is no real excuse for increasing the Army's strength.
Speaking on television, in Moscow, to the Russian people, the Prime Minister said, "Would it not be a good thing if we could halve our defence expenditure and devote to housing, education, and all the other things the money we are spending on armaments?" He was practising on the Russians his General Election speeches.
§ Mr. Hughes
What I cannot understand is that if the cold war is over and if we are to have all the wonderful things as a result of the Test-Ban Treaty about which the Prime Minister spoke, the Government should not be coming forward this year with a big increase in the defence Estimates. This year the figure is up to £2,000 million and nobody knows what it will be like next year.
If the Prime Minister had accomplished anything in the way of a major break-through in international diplomacy, we should this year have had a reduction, not an increase. I do not believe that we will get any fundamental change in these huge Estimates until we change our foreign policy, and we will know that our foreign policy has been changed when we see drastic reductions in the Estimates the last of which is presented to the House of Commons tonight.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
The House of Commons always enjoys listening, even somewhat at length, to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He knows, and we know, that there is an unbridgeable gap between his individualistic views, which we all respect, and those of a large number of other hon. Members, on both sides of the Committee.
1617 The hon. Member will forgive me if I do not propose to follow him in detail, particularly as he started with a reference to the Scots, and it is always a prickly subject to teach the Scots. I am perhaps a little closer to it than they may realise, because my Dutch forebear got here in the army in a year of glorious history for the English—1745. He was employed in the N.A.T.O. of those days in suppressing the Scottish uprising of that year, which is why the Scots have been cowed and submissive ever since.
To pass from that uncontroversial statement to the Army Estimates, I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is not present. I do not think that he will accuse me of discourtesy if, in his absence, I refer to his speech, because I have been present throughout almost the entire debate and the hon. and learned Member is obviously detained elsewhere.
I thought it surprising that in opening the debate for the Opposition, the hon. and learned Member made so little reference to the actions to which British forces have recently been committed, with particular reference to East Africa. I refreshed my memory this morning with the hon. and learned Member's speech in speaking for the Opposition on Thursday, 14th March, a year ago. The burden of his message to the House of Commons on that occasion was that Germany was the vital point of defence. He asked whether we were not progressively supporting interests which were not really germane to the use of force. Let me quote his exact words:Are we not progressively supporting interests which, in so far as they still exist, are not the sort of interests which can be maintained by force? They rest upon such things as the memories of honest administration in India, the good will of trade associations in Malaysia, a reputation for honest dealing in Hong Kong, and 'know-how' in the oilfields. It is these intangibles which are our interests in this area, and they are not supportable by force.That was the hon. and learned Member this time last year.
We now meet one year later. I do not remember that in Uganda, when we were appealed to, we replied, "You must rest upon the memories of our honest administration in Uganda". I do not remember that when we were asked back, in physical terms, into Kenya, we said, "Oh, no. You must 1618 rest upon your memories of our honest dealings with you". We were required to go back in force, which exactly disproves the argument with which the hon and learned Member concluded his speech to the Committee this time last year.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
In fairness to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who is not able to be here at this moment, will the hon. Member complete the quotation? My hon. and learned Friend was arguing as to the order of priorities. He was finding it difficult to maintain force everywhere. The thesis of his remarks was this:… is not the force with which we pretend to support them becoming a sham which would dissolve in a moment if it met any solid and determined opposition? We cannot be strong everywhere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 1586–7.]That was the point that my hon. and learned Friend was making. In fairness to him, the hon. Member might have included the rest of the quotation.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I certainly do not want to give any unfair excerpts from last year's speech by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, whose absence I regret as much as does his hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Morris). I was proceeding, without the hon. Member's assistance, to exactly that second half of the quotation, because the burden of the second half of the argument was that the force with which we pretended to assist those interests was a sham. That has been sharply disproved in the year since we last discussed the Estimates.
The fact is that for as long as we can foresee—and one would obviously dearly like it to be otherwise—we will be required to intervene effectively and swiftly with conventional forces, certainly in an increasing rather than a decreasing measure. I very much doubt whether when we were discussing the Estimates this time last year we would have believed that one year later our forces would have been committed in Malaysia, Cyprus, Uganda, Tanganyika and Kenya. One wonders sometimes where else they may require to be deployed.
1619 That means that we must look closely, and at times critically, at their numbers and equipment and their ability to move. Overwhelmingly, the lesson since we met a year ago is that the reason why our forces did not meet opposition was their ability to move fast. This is the lesson and we will forget it at our peril. I want to say a few words about it presently.
First, however, I should like to raise one or two questions about training, starting with the vital matter of the training of officers. I begin by referring to Sandhurst. On page 33 of the Memorandum there are set out in paragraph 129 disturbing figures, at least so far as they refer to the past, of the number of United Kingdom cadets entering the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. It states clearly that in January, 1963, the number was 402 compared with 439 a year before. To be fair, it goes on to make clear that there was a low entry in January last year and a record intake in September of 263, with a full entry in January this year.
It seems from these figures—perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will confirm this—that the trough at Sandhurst has been overcome. If so, this is very encouraging. In the recent past I have been one of those who have more than once drawn attention to the problem of numbers and standards at Sandhurst. It is encouraging to read in the same paragraph that half the entry in September had two or more A-levels. But are we satisfied, I wonder, that we have the course at Sandhurst right? It is a very difficult matter to get right.
As we heard earlier, the Royal Air Force has been reconstructing its course at Cranwell. I see the appalling problem of getting into two short years a semi-university course and the preparation for a military career, but my impression is that Sandhurst has been moving over quite considerably, as has Cranwell, to the academic rather than the purely military, and I should have thought that this was a tendency to be welcomed.
I also wonder whether we have made sufficient of, and given sufficient publicity to, the remarkable advantage at Sandhurst—as elsewhere, but we are today taking the Army Estimates—of being able, if one is able enough, to go 1620 on to a university. I recently had in the House a group of cadets who were watching our proceedings prior to going for a three-year arts course at Oxford. This is a facility which is absolutely novel in Army terms. I am sure it will pay a very rich dividend, but I am not sure that we have made enough of it.
I also draw attention to a contribution that Sandhurst and the Army Staff College at Camberley and the Army generally make in a field which I do not think the nation appreciates sufficiently—the training of people from overseas. It is a major contribution, particularly to Commonwealth countries, that there should be young cadets at Sandhurst, more senior officers at Camberley and attachments throughout the British Army—all done, I believe, superbly well. I am impressed beyond measure by the way in which the directing staff at Camberley take enormous trouble to ensure that their Commonwealth and other visitors are made welcome, taken into other people's houses and looked after properly during their period. This is a very great contribution to race relations. Nevertheless, it makes one wonder whether we are still generally recruiting enough.
I turn to an aspect of recruiting dealt with in paragraph 135 of the Memorandum—the recruiting of boys. The remarkable feature about this Report is that it is possible for my right hon. Friend to say that there do not appear to be any problems in obtaining enough boys of the required standard. I understood him to say that he proposed to take the figure up to an entry of 6,000. I am sure that this is a very good field for Army recruitment. Like many other hon. Members, I have had the advantage of seeing junior leader units, Army apprentice units, and so on, and I have often urged on the Government Front Bench that we should extend entry into the Army by this means. It is an excellent way of cementing young people into the Army. It is a very fine source of recruitment, and I still do not believe that we are expanding the figures as much as we should.
Coming to the whole problem of training, I notice how very wide an area the Army has been using—quite rightly, I think. For example, we are told that exercises have been held in the last 1621 year in France, Germany, North Africa, Cyprus, Aden, Canada and Australia. That is extremely wise, but we are also warned that the most important factor has been the continuing emphasis on air mobility training.
Here, much reference has already been made to the helicopter. I have not the detailed knowledge of these machines that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has, but I remember an agreeable day when he and I were guests of the Army Air Corps, when I was fascinated by the use of ground—rather like that of a bird—which the intelligent helicopter pilot develops. Here one comes at once to the conflict.
I tie up with something said earlier by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). If we are to have these highly mobile forces, which both sides regard as essential, we must make training facilities available. We cannot expect to be able to deploy a "fire brigade" really swiftly with untrained personnel. But the problem is that modern equipment is, by its nature, particularly disturbing to the peace and quiet of the countryside. This conflict will get not better but worse.
We had a very moving plea from the hon. Member for Falmouth and Cam-borne on behalf of Dartmoor, and, as it happens—I think that he knows this—there are not just one but two members of the Dartmoor Preservation Association in this Committee. I am the other, and I feel deeply about the beauty of that countryside, which I have known all my life. But I am equally quite certain that for people like him and me to take a limited view of the problem is not to match up to it in the 1960s.
I prefer to say that, in a perfect world, I should like to see the Army evacuate Dartmoor as a training area. I am certain that my right hon. Friend, as a countryman himself and whose visit was much appreciated, would agree. But when I went there recently to see the training area for myself again, I was very impressed with the care with which the Army authorities were seeking to preserve the countryside and not to do more harm than absolutely necessary.
I am well aware that the Preservation Association does not feel that enough is done, but my impression is that, as 1622 far as good will can achieve it, the Army is seeking to be a very civilised occupant of this training area. That said, it really is a very small area for so large a training commitment. It is inevitable that youg men—and most of them are young—who have no pretentions to the enjoyment of antiquities will do damage from time to time in such an area.
For instance, some one uninitiated could easily overlook a cistvaen—which, for the benefit of HANSARD, is an ancient burial ground. I am sure that all hon. Members will know cistvaens when they see them. It is very understandable, however irritating it may be from the point of view of antiquarians, that from time to time damage of this kind done. Incidentally, that makes none the less important the efforts of the Army authorities to try and ensure that such damage, if ever it must occur, is kept to the absolute minimum.
My own feeling about this differs only slightly from that of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, whose loyalty to the area is respected on both sides of the Committee. I do not believe that we can look at training areas merely individually, nor do I think we can look at them merely from the point of view of one Service. Training is increasingly becoming a matter of inter-Service co-operation, preparation and training. Therefore, we should consider our training areas from an all-Service point of view and not just from an Army point of view.
If I had any hopes on the subject of training areas generally it would be far more that we should set in train an inquiry into the use by all the Forces of all training areas in this country and, indeed, the facilities available outside, rather than merely concentrate on the Army's use of one particular training centre. I very much hope that this will come about in due course.
I propose to say no more, because many other hon. Members wish to intervene. One of the great problems of the Committee and of the House of Commons generally in recent months has been that, far from getting shorter, our speeches have become longer, longer and longer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not think I have trespassed unduly, but there are others who, though 1623 not necessarily today, have certainly gone on for an inordinately long time. I prefer to put my point across simply. It is that there are inadequacies in the training and equipment of the Service we are discussing tonight, but if ever a Service was able to come before the Committee having demonstrated to the world since we last discussed its affairs on the Estimates its ability to perform the functions for which it was created it is, I believe, the Army of today.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
I thought that the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) was greatly over-elaborate in his effort to score a point off my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), whom I now see in his place.
I do not think that many of us anywhere in the House of Commons foresaw a year ago, the kind of situations in which the British Army would be called upon to act as it has done recently in East Africa. The truth is that the remarkable call that came to the British Army in East Africa, which was responded to so well, came precisely for the reasons my hon. and learned Friend gave—because of the kind of reputation for good administration, fair dealing, and so on, that we had established during our period as the colonial Power in that area. It is also true that these calls on the Army have very considerably strained its resources.
I agree with the tribute the hon. Member for Wokingham paid to the Army in the operations which it has been carrying out. It has been a remarkable development in the kind of rôle that British armed forces may well be asked to play in the world we live in today. We are only beginning to appreciate the full, and in many ways rather revolutionary, political significance of what happened in Kuwait in the summer of 1961, when, shortly after its independence, Kuwait called on British troops, which had just left, to come back to defend its security.
I do not propose to talk about the military significance of that operation, on which I am not qualified to comment. The fact that British troops 1624 were called in to an Arab country so newly independent was a remarkable phenomenon. The British troops operated with great success in terms of preserving the political independence of Kuwait. One reason why they were called in was the confidence in the minds of the rulers of Kuwait that the troops called in would also leave when requested.
This has been the same sort of situation which we have had in recent weeks in the East African territories. I am not sure that there are so many other countries of our size who would be invited in by new African nations with the confidence that, when they were asked to go again, they would.
There are two outstanding features of these new kinds of operations which the British Army has been called upon to perform. First, there is the very great political significance of the fact that these new nations in Africa, struggling against a tremendous poverty of trained manpower of all sorts, should have the political confidence to ask us to come in to help to preserve their law and order and stability. This is of considerable importance in a number of areas.
Secondly, there is the remarkable skill with which the troops have performed what are immensely delicate operations, and I echo the tributes of many hon. Members, on both sides of the Committee, to the way in which they have carried out these extremely difficult duties. In British Guiana, for instance, in a situation far from easy, the mere presence of these troops and the way in which they have performed their duties has won them immense friendship from all sections of the community there, and that ought to be said.
I should like to draw from these remarkable events the lesson that British forces may have an important rôle to play in future as part of an international peace-keeping force. Yesterday, I had the privilege of chairing a meeting in a Committee Room for the Foreign Minister of Denmark, Mr. Per Haekkerup. He had come to explain the striking initiative which the three Nordic countries—Norway, Denmark and Sweden—have taken in the recruitment of volunteers for an international peace force under the United Nations.
1625 Mr. Haekkerup explained that these three countries are not simply making speeches about it, but were getting down to the practical difficulties of this concept. Each, after coming to agreement, is putting legislation through its own Parliament to enable its Service men, after completing their period of National Service, to register as volunteers ready to be on call at the request of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This is a fairly modest proposal. I think that the number of troops involved is less than 4,000, but these are small countries.
The point I want to make is that if these three Scandinavian countries can get together to take this important initiative, I would have thought that Britain, with the Commonwealth countries associated with her, might have thought of trying to take a similar co-operative initiative. The British troops who have done so well in the difficult circumstances in East Africa might have found things even easier if they had been part of a Commonwealth force.
The Commonwealth is potentially a very important element in the modern world. It is a multi-racial community of nations. If we could build a multiracial Commonwealth force around the basis of the British Army, which has established its right in recent events to operate as part of an international police force, and put it at the disposal of the United Nations when required, this would be the kind of lead which we could usefully make from this country.
That was the first point which I wanted to make in the debate. There is an increasing interest in all sorts of influential quarters in the idea of an international peace-keeping force. The Foreign Secretary made a speech about it at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva a week or so ago, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has been talking in similar terms during his recent visit to the United States. I hope that all these speeches will be followed by a positive initiative from this country.
Having made those comments about the tremendous possibilities of the British Army's peace-keeping rôle in the world, I turn to the less glorious campaign that the War Office has been conducting in the neighbourhood of my constituency during the past year. Like 1626 the hon. Member for Wokingham, I want to refer to the question of the Army's training arrangements, and to what might be called in my area the battle of the Monifieth Beach. I want to take up with the Ministers concerned the question of the restrictions upon access which now forms the subject of discussions between the War Department and local authorities, and to ask the Ministers to reconsider the matter.
The area to which I am referring is a rather beautiful and relatively unspoilt stretch of sea links, which runs along the north coast of the Firth of Tay between the Burgh of Monifieth and the burn called the Barry Burn. I immediately declare my strong personal interest in the matter, because my home lies on the edge of this area. I was brought up there, kind when I am in my constituency this is where I still live. In many ways this is the most important of the natural parks which are available to my constituents in the industrial City of Dundee.
During the last six or eight months both the hon. Member for South Angus (Sir J. Duncan)—in whose constituency this area is—and I have been making representations to Ministers about the proposal to erect a fence across the middle of this area, which is now used by the War Department for training pure poses. The proposal is that the fence should run right down to the high tide mark on the shore. The original suggestion was that the cost of this fence should be borne by the local burgh council—a small burgh which does not have the resources to meet this sort of cost. Since I entered into correspondence with Ministers on this matter the proposal has been altered, to the extent that no final decision has been taken on the question of who will receive the bill for the building of the fence.
It is the fence itself to which I wish to raise strong objections. Why has this proposal suddenly been put forward? I believe that the reason is that a year or two ago there was a fatal accident in another part of the War Department's land in this general area. That accident naturally caused local anxiety—but it occurred some miles away, in an area which is not used by the public for recreational purposes. I feel that the people in the War Office have used 1627 this fatal accident as an excuse unreasonably to extend restrictions in the area.
The danger area where the fatal accident occurred—there was an explosion of material which had been left behind—is to be fenced off. There is no disagreement on anybody's part about that. But I hope that the Ministers will consider the geography of the area, because I believe that they are being misled about local conditions. The area to which I refer is a different one. It lies to the east of the burgh boundary of Monifieth, and is bordered by the natural barrier of a stream, which runs on the west side of the encampment area. It is, therefore, very easy to cut off from public access the area where the real danger to human life exists.
I gather from the Answer which the Minister was kind enough to give me today that the part that I am talking about has been in the possession of the War Department since 1892. To the best of my knowledge it has been completely open to public access since 1892 and has remained open during two world wars. I can well remember swimming and walking in this area while on leave during the last war, and I find it appalling that an area that could remain open during war time—and this was beach open to invasion by the Germans—should now be partially closed after 20 years of peace.
I ought to make it clear that in this case I do not think that there is any kind of conflict between civilian use of this area for recreation purposes and military use for training as there is on Dartmoor, which was mentioned in the debate. In this case, I would have thought that it was rather the reverse. Until the War Department proposed this quite unnecessary fence I would have said that it helped the public to enjoy the natural amenities and that the sea links have remained unspoiled. I suspect that if the links had not been in the hands of the War Department they would have been converted into another golf course, of which we have a number in that area.
I yield to no one in my love of golf courses, but I think that the Secretary of State ought to know that it is much more dangerous to go picnicking, 1628 bathing, or walking on a golf course than it is to do those things at present on War Department land. It is also, I think, rather more agreeable to do these things on War Department land.
I return to the very odd question of why the War Department wants to erect a fence in this area, which has been open to anyone since 1892. The Secretary of State told me today that the practice has been that when firing is in progress on the ranges there sentries are posted to restrict access by the public. The posting of these sentries and their vigilance had successfully prevented any member of the public being injured whilst firing was in progress and I would have thought that arrangements which have worked so well all these years might now reasonably have been preserved.
I have tried, in correspondence with the Minister, to find out exactly the reason for this fence, and a variety of reasons has been given to me. To begin with, it was said that it was a cattle fence, although no one has seen any cattle around that part for a long time. This, therefore, puzzled us locally. Then it was said that the fence was to prevent the encroachment of Monifieth rubbish dump on to the War Department's ranges. It is an open question wether the Monifieth disposal department or the War Department produces the most rubbish in the area. The reason given is itself rubbish. The proposed fence would be quite a bit away from the rubbish disposal area belonging to the Monifieth Town Council. Finally, there is the question why this fence is to run right down to the high-water mark on the beach. I had a curious observation from the Under-Secretary tary, who has gone to immense trouble about this. He said that it would preserve access to the foreshore. It seems strange that access should be preserved by running a fence down to the high-water mark.
In some local negotiations it has been argued that the fence was needed to run on to the beach because there was trouble over children climbing on to the sand dunes and breaking down, or causing damage to, some of the War Department buildings on the edge of the dunes. I do not think that the person who produced that reason could have 1629 known the area at all. It is a pity if children are to be prevented from climbing round some of the finest dunes on the East Coast of Scotland. The truth is that each winter produces great changes in the level of the highwater mark in this area. There are a number of ruins of War Department premises to mark the fact that the forces of nature are a great deal more destructive than anything that the children of my constituents are likely to do.
I asked the Secretary of State to tell me how often the land is used for firing practice. I fully accept the need for the Army, to which I paid tribute earlier, to be trained in its job. The answer which I got from the Minister was the one I had expected. Last year the land was used on 55 days and on an average, five hours a day. That is 55 days out of 365 and for five hours out of 24. It seems a pity that in view of this limited use of the ranges there should be any question of physical restriction of access. If the fence goes up it is not quite clear how much freedom there will be to get through the gate on to the road. It is ridiculous to spend money building a fence which has not been required in exactly the same sort of circumstances during all the years which have passed. Certainly, it would be quite wrong to impose the charge for such a fence on the rates of a very small burgh.
I began by saying that I thought the public image of the Army in Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Cyprus was a splendid one and did Britain immense credit throughout the world. I plead with the Secretary of State in respect of the smaller issue which I have raised in the second half of my speech, and in view of the splendid public image which the Army presents all over the world, not to spoil that image in Dundee.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) who made an important point when he emphasised the immense political significance of the reception which the Army has received in its activities in the last few months. I am sure that he was right to remind the House of the importance of this fact. He has my sympathy regarding his dealings with 1630 the War Department over the sand dunes near his home. I have always found the War Office Ministers among the most helpful on the Treasury Bench, but there are occasions when I could wish that the War Office, as a Department, was a little more flexible in its approach to problem; of the kind raised by the hon. Member for Dundee, East.
I take part in this debate on the Army with some humility because there are many other hon. Members capable of speaking on that subject much more forcibly and with greater authority than I. I wish particularly to welcome what was said on the question of recruitment by my right hon. Friend in his admirable speech It seems to me that the publicity element in recruiting is by no means everything. It is important, but one should not place too much emphasis upon it. Equal emphasis should be placed on making the Army a worthwhile and attractive career.
I am not really convinced—I say this with some humility—that the spirit in the Army is as good as it is in the other two Services. I say that despite the excellent interventions there have been in the last few months. I still feel there is far too much "bull" in the Army. There is not in some regiments the same degree of flexibility between officers and other ranks as exists in the other two Services. Particularly in some regiments there are far too many servants, far too many batmen, far too much pomp and far too much luxury. The atmosphere in which some of these regiments exist bears little relation to modern civilian life in the 1960s. I know my right hon. Friend is conscious of the dangers of this exaggerated position, but it is of great importance that there should not be as great a gap as exists today in some regiments in the Army between the lower ranks and officers. The examples both of the R.A.F. and the Royal Navy might well be taken in some Army regiments today.
I want to deal with two matters into which my right hon. Friend might look by way of improving the human conditions which exist in the Army today. I am conscious in raising this that both are essentially small points, but they are circumstances which to the people concerned are of very great importance. 1631 These are questions which arise when a Service man is killed overseas while serving with Her Majesty's Forces.
§ Mr. Bence
Some years ago I paid a visit to Osnaubrück, Dissen and Bielefeld in Germany and met a number of non-commissioned officers and ranks in the Royal Engineers. I was surprised at the friendliness and association of officers and men. I did not meet any of the experience of which the hon. Member speaks, and I was there for three weeks.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I do not quarrel with what the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has said, but it seems that perhaps there are regiments where this spirit is not so good as it might be. I am open to conviction on this point and I would not wish to be dogmatic.
I was about to deal with the problems which arise when the death takes place of a soldier serving overseas. I have had some examples of this in detail over the last few years and I think it proper to bring it before the Committee. The position up to last year was that when a death occurred overseas there was great difficulty in Western Europe in bringing back the body of a deceased Service man. Following the statement of the then Secretary of State for War on the Army Estimates last year, this was altered and from Western Europe the body is invariably brought back or, alternatively, in other cases the relatives are flown out.
That is as it should be, but the position when a death takes place outside Western Europe is still somewhat uncertain. I draw the attention of the Committee to HANSARD for 14th March, 1963, and to the report on that occasion of Mr. Profumo's speech. He announced the new arrangements and went on to deal with the position outside Western Europe and said:Sometimes, certainly we would be able …I underline the word "able"—to bring the body home or fly out the relatives to the funeral anywhere in the world, but we could not guarantee to do this outside north-west Europe because of the difficulties which I have mentioned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 1568.]That clearly indicates to me that it was the intention of the then Secretary 1632 of State where practicable—I fully recognise the immense difficulties in many parts of the world—to make an effort to bring back the body of the Service man or to fly out the relatives. I put down a Question just before the Summer Recess and I understood at that time that on no occasion had a body been brought back from outside Western Europe. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies he will assure the Committee that this matter is being satisfactorily dealt with. I am afraid that his reply may not be completely helpful because in correspondence I have had with my right hon. Friend he has emphasised the great difficulties involved.
A constituent of mine was killed in Singapore some time ago. The body was not brought back, but his family was told that they could bring the body back at their own expense. That convinces me that it would have been practicable in these circumstances for the War Office to have brought back the body. I hope that I carry hon. Members with me when I say that the words of the then Secretary of State, who said that it should be done when they were "able"" to do it, must apply in cases similar to that which involved my constituent where the body could have been brought home. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will have another look at this matter. I would remind him that the United States Services always endeavour to bring back the body or fly out the relatives when there is a request to do so. In my view, this should be extended wherever possible throughout the world.
Another point of somewhat similar complexity, but of equal importance on the human side of Army affairs. In the event of a death taking place in the Army in this country an Army court of inquiry is set up and a civilian coroner's inquiry is also held. At the latter the family of the deceased may be represented. When the death takes place in Western Germany—and with 50,000 men stationed there it is inevitable, with the best care in the world, that deaths will occur from time to time—the position is more complex. There is an Army court of inquiry but not a civilian one. In those circumstances the next of kin is not permitted to attend or to have a 1633 legal representative present, except in exceptional circumstances. I understand that they family is not permitted to see the transcript of evidence.
I recognise that on security grounds and for internal Army reasons this is by no means an easy problem, but could not the War Office consider giving the next of kin more information when a Service man is killed in these circumstances? Would it not he possible to have a special report written for the family by the chairman of the court of inquiry rather than by someone in the War Office based on the original report? Even with the best of intentions slight differences of emphasis can creep in and I feel that families would be more satisfied if this sort of report, even in an abbreviated form, came direct from the chairman of the court of inquiry.
Would it be possible to have at least one person with legal training sitting on such courts of inquiry? It is not always possible for this to be done and I only mention it because there have been cases where the proceedings might have been more convincing to all concerned if a person with some legal training had been involved.
There is the equally important question of an Army court of inquiry being set up in the event of an occurrence other than a death—where, say, someone's reputation or accountability is involved. The officer or man concerned is, I understand, entitled to be present or to be legally represented. Once a man is dead, however, even though he might in some way be responsible for what has happened, he cannot normally be legally represented. We might look again at that situation. Something could probably be done, without legislation, to make it possible for the deceased to be represented by some officer from his regiment, or from another regiment, who could look after his interests before the court as in a court-martial. The representative would be able to keep in touch directly with the deceased's parents or family, and I am sure that that would be greatly appreciated. I am sure that with some ingenuity we could avoid the additional anxiety caused to relatives by the whole uncertainty of the nature of the inquiry when a husband or son has died overseas, perhaps many thousands of miles away.
1634 I recognise that these are both rather difficult points, but as many changes must be made in the modern Army in the next 10 years, I would hope that it might be possible to make these changes at an early date rather than later on.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John McCann (Rochdale)
I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely in what he has said about the problems that arise when Service man dies on duty. I hope that the hon. Member succeeds in his plea that the relatives of those killed when serving Her Majesty overseas should be flown out, or the body of the deceased brought home to the family. Some time ago my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) had a running battle with the War Ministry and it was tae pressure that he and hon. Members or both sides of the Chamber put on the Ministry that led to the bodies of those soldiers dying in Western Europe being brought home.
I want to deal with the welfare of the soldier while he is still alive, and particularly with the welfare of the soldier in Western Europe. Some time ago, I had the good fortune to visit, with the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood), the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers at Osnabruck—the battalion mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) I was tremendously impressed by the officers and men, and by the spirit of camaraderie that existed between them. The discipline was fairly strict, but not repressive, and what really pleased me was the almost complete absence of old-fashioned "bull". The men were extremely smart, but there was not the "bull" that we used to associate with smart regiments.
It is true that, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has said, life in the Army in Germany could be very monotonous, but I want to pay a compliment to the officers of the 1st Battalion under its first-class Commanding Officer—Lieut.-Colonel Wilson—who kept the men interested all the day. The exercises were realistic enterprising and interesting, and we found the men quite happy. 1635 That was while they were doing normal Army duties.
This visit followed one I made some years ago with the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), when we looked at Army housing, to which I now want to refer. On this visit, too, the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe and I looked at the various types of Army housing. It is really first-cass but, of course, there is not nearly enough of it.
I was pleased to see from page 36 of the Statement on Defence thatThe emphasis in Germany will continue to be on improving the general standard of barracks and on providing additional married accommodation …and N.A.A.F.I. quarters. It is reassuring to know that the block of flats to house 9,000 will be open by March, 1965. This means that 18,000 other ranks and 3,000 officers will be provided with quarters.
We had a look at some of the hirings which are being used now. March, 1965, is a tremendously long time away. Some of these hirings were not of the best. I was pleased to find that they are to come to an end, but when they do there will be a tremendous gap if they are ended too quickly. The Lancashire Fusiliers did a good job by getting a number of caravans on the site at Osnabruck, and I see from the Statement on Defence that in a temporary capacity a number of caravan-type mobile homes are being provided.
There were 80 at Osnabruck, well within the confines of the camp. They were fortunately placed in so far as the occupants were able to use an old barracks building to provide extra ablutions, a laundry and recreation rooms. A caravan is not an ideal home for a family overseas but it is better than paying £9 for a single room with a three-quarter size bed and in one corner, where one cannot stand up, a gas-ring to cook on. We expect our men to remain happy in these conditions. I should be glad to hear that it is intended to extend these temporary caravan schemes because, the caravans being mobile, if the Army moves the soldiers' families can go with them.
It was about leisure-time that we heard grumbles. We attended a questions session for a cadre of N.C.O.s and 1636 we were impressed by their ability to think for themselves. We found, unfortunately, that they did not get on very well in the local pubs, clubs and town halls. Some of the population of Osnabruck seemed still to regard them as an army of occupation and they rejected the hand of friendship which these excellent ambassadors were extending to them. This means that a great deal of the time, particularly of single youngsters, has to be spent within the confines of the camp. These young men who have entered a long-term contract have been accustomed to watching television at home in the evening. This is one of the things that they miss. They have German television but this is fairly useless to them.
I ask the Minister whether he could not consider providing some kind of television programmes for the evening entertainment of troops in Western Europe. Could not the Eurovision link be used in reverse to televise a football match pre-recorded for showing on a Saturday evening, so that the boys can sometimes watch their favourite team? Is it not possible to have, as it done already at Steamer Point in Aden, closed circuit television on which such things as "Coronation Street" and "Z Cars" could be shown?
This grumble about the lack of television entertainment was the only complaint made by these young men. They were as keen as mustard. Proof of their keenness was that when the colonel decided that there should be a march from Osnabruck to the new barracks in Warwickshire he was inundated with volunteers. He had great difficulty in selecting them for this great march which has just been concluded. In that march they did something to maintain the prestige of the British Army in Europe. We should make sure that some of the amenities which I have mentioned are provided for those who are replacing them.
Now, another subject. I expect that the Minister knows what it will be. Some of us on this side of the Committee and, I am sure, some hon. Members opposite are very concerned about the closing of so many Royal Ordnance factories when, instead of being closed down, they could form a valuable nucleus of skills in an emergency. In 1637 this changing world of power politics, no one can ever be sure when the emergency will come. The Royal Ordnance factories could be used for experimentation in the changing nature of weapons. Judging by the controversy we have had about the Bloodhound contract, they could provide a very valuable check against private contracts. The Government could use the Royal Ordnance factories as a good example of how the Industrial Training Bill should be implemented for the training of apprentices.
Unfortunately, the general tendency seems to be that all the work hitherto done in the ordinary way by the Royal Ordnance factories is being given to private firms over which we have no control whatever and the Royal Ordnance factories are being closed.
Yesterday, at Question Time, I asked the Minister about tendering, and I was told that the question of rocket motor tubes was a matter for the Ministry of Aviation. I accept this, but the Secretary of State for War controls the Royal Ordnance, factories. I put a very pertinent question: when it is decided to take a contract away from an R.O.F., does not the War Department, as the owner, ask why and make sure that there is a thoroughly satisfactory reason for it being done?
Patricroft Royal Ordnance Factory is claimed to be one of the most efficient in the country. I asked about it yesterday. In order that the Minister may appreciate the feeling in the factory, among both management and men, I will quote from the minutes of the Whitley Council Office Committee dated last December. The staff side, the manual side and the official side had got together to consider the Government's statement about rocket motor work. The manual side asked to put questions to the chairman, accepting that he might not be able to answer them, but the chairman said that he would have a go. Some of the questions and answers were as follows:It is understood that Patricroft costs are less than Bristol Aerojet"—this is the private firm to which the contract has been given—Is this true?1638 The secretary of the Ordnance Factory replied:We have no access to Bristol Aerojet costs, but our impression is that R.O.F. Patricroft is completely competitive with Bristol Aerojet on the type of rocket motor tubes we are manufacturing.(Q) If the work that has been shared with Bristol was transferred to Patricroft would this have the effect of reducing R.O.F. Patricroft costs?(A) The fundamental rule of spreading fixed overheads over a larger production must apply and R.O.F. Patricroft costs would come down.(Q) If there is only sufficient work for one concern instead of two, would it not be beneficial to the taxpayer to concentrate the work with the firm producing at the cheapest costs?(A) Superficially, this would appear to be true, but otter factors than production, i.e. research and development, would have to be taken into account in the overall evaluation of the proposals.This was the answer which the Minister gave me in correspondence. But then came the further question:Is it understood that R.P.E. Westcott and I.M.I. Kidderminster are engaged on research and development of a similar character to Bristol Aerojet. Is this true?(A) We believe it to be.Then it was asked,How do the Ministry of Aviation enter into War Office and naval requirements for rocket motor work?(A) By a policy decision taken at high level "—some years ago—the Ministry of Aviation have, for many years, acted as the central agency for design and procurement of G.W. stores for all the Services.Then this rather interesting question was asked:Does the proposal mean that War Office requirements for rocket motors will not, in future, be placed by them with one of their own factories equipped to do the work but will be handed over to Ministry of Aviation for them to place the work with a commercial concern?The management said:This would appear to be so from information released to date.In other words, the Ministry of Aviation will have the right to handle all War Office and naval contracts.
Later on it was said:We understand that in the past Patricroft have lost orders to Bristol Aerojet when the Patricroft quote has been cheaper.1639 The management said:We have no access to quotations submitted by anyone other than ourselves and are, therefore, unable to confirm or deny this, but we would be surprised if we were not competitive on orders we have lost.After another question, the 64,000 dollar question, was asked:Are Patricroft going to be asked to tender for this type of work in the future?The answer was:It would appear that this is not to be so and that we shall have no opportunity of quoting for work of this nature.The next question was:Isn't this an extraordinary state of affairs? It would surely be reasonable to allow us to compete on competitive terms even if the application of the 'preferred source' policy is not to be carried out.The management's final word was:We would certainly like to have the opportunity to quote for the work.I hope that this gives some indication of the tremendously strong feeling of the craftsmen and management at Patricroft concerning a job which they have virtually pioneered. They have done much of the research on these rocket tubes. They have reached the stage when they could be made in quantity, thereby reducing the costs. Yet they find to their disgust that the job has been transferred to a private aviation firm when all the kinks have been ironed out. I only hope that, the next time a contract is transferred, the Minister will try to prevent losing it because only by keeping contracts in the Royal Ordnance factories can we keep the factories at the peak of efficiency for times when we may need them.
It seems to me sheer common sense, with defence costs rising as they are, that it should be incumbent on the Minister and all the Services to buy in the best and cheapest market. On the evidence which I have presented, the Royal Ordnance factories are this market.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Brown (Tottenham)
During this week we have been engaged in debating the Service Estimates, the last of the series being those relating to the Army, which are now before us. Each has involved a heavy financial burden on the nation. I do not think that that 1640 of itself is important. Peace has to be paid for, and the primary purpose of Britain's defence policy is to secure peace. To secure peace for the people of our country is, in my opinion, the first duty of our Government, and in this respect we have been successful.
The second duty of securing the peace of the world is something which is not by any means within our power to achieve. We have no sovereign rights over the other nations of the world. We can only continue to play our part in the world's council chambers. This the Government have continued to do with, in my opinion, a considerable measure of success. I therefore think that we should accept the situation and from there pursue the matter to its logical conclusion.
That brings me straight to the subject of this debate. The defence of Britain in this nuclear age must involve the expenditure of very large sums of money. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in his speech, continued to take the line which has been the outstanding feature of every debate on the Estimates this week and which dominated the arena in the main debate on defence last week. He accused the party on this side of jingoism. That has been a feature of the debate. Everything possible has been done by hon. Members opposite to pin the basest of motives upon every aspect of Government policy in relation to defence.
Thirdly, we have seen the creation of as much confusion as possible, but, at the same time, great care being taken not to let the House of Commons know exactly what Labour's defence policy would involve for Britain. Fourthly, there has been the continual pressing of the old arguments, which we have all heard before, of Sir Stephen King-Hall, Mr. Cousins, and so on, that Britain has no need of nuclear weapons in the nuclear age but that conventional weapons—hon. Members opposite have not specifically mentioned bows and arrows in this respect—are all that Britain needs to win any possible conflict in the future or to deter a possible hostile power from waging war upon us.
When the hon. and learned Member for Northampton wound up his speech, he did so, I thought, on a partially acid and partially patriotic note. He implied 1641 that the Daily Express was not exactly a liar but did not get the true story, particularly in what it had said about the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown). The hon. and learned Member said that the Press were friends of the Tories and that the Tories should be proud of this. Reference was then made to the Prime Minister. That has been the theme of the debate all the way through. I am sorry if I have to say this, but I feel that I must, because in my opinion Labour's policy in relation to Britain's defence is just like honest John Bull's. It may be spelt a bit differently.
What were we told? In winding up, the hon. and learned Member said that Labour in Government would make Britain the real leader of the world and would see that Britain occupied the proud rôle of keeping world peace. I am referring to the speech this afternoon by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. How Labour intends to make Britain lead the world was never mentioned.
§ The Chairman
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but the debate is on the Army Estimates and the hon. Member's speech should be directed towards that subject.
§ Mr. Brown
The point I am leading up to, Sir William, is that if there is this continued insistence on the use of masses and masses of men and conventional weapons, of course the money, and huge sums of it, will be spent in the way that it is being spent. The point which I intend to approach from that is that if we faced the fact that we live in a nuclear age, we would save a great deal of money on our Estimates. These Estimates represent the cost of the overall defence of the country which was debated last week.
To go back to the point for a moment, because we are now talking about weapons, I remind hon. Members opposite that at the time of the 1959 General Election the straightforward argument was advanced by the Liberal Party that more than £200 million a year would be saved by Britain if she would renounce nuclear weapons. The Liberal Party said, to justify its case, that Britain should rely for protection on American nuclear weapons. I think 1642 that this is very much to the point of this debate.
At that time a friend of mine, the late Hugh Gaitskell, was in Tottenham having tea with me when the news of the Liberal Party defence policy became known. His immediate reaction was to condemn it. I have a note of what he said:How can they"—meaning the Liberal Party—possibly give up our nuclear weapons and still remain in N.A.T.O.' That would mean sheltering behind the United States deterrent.He went on about morality, which was rather beyond me, but I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by him. Nothing has happened since that time to make me change that opinion. Indeed, the very reverse has occurred. Irrespective of any morality, the world has become more and more aggressive every day since.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) recalled in his speech the debate in February, 1960, and jibed at hon. Members opposite, I suppose, saying that he was the only one who at that time believed that Britain should adopt a policy of abandoning her nuclear weapons. He also made a remark to the effect that he was made a bit of fun of by hon. Members opposite. I also remember the policy of the Labour Party at the 1959 General Election in relation to defence.
§ Mr. Brown
That policy has been largely forgotten by hon. Members opposite, and so I will remind them what it was. I quote from the policy statement:Labour fully accepts the duty to maintain the military defences of Britain. So long as the world is split into two hostile camps, we must contribute our share to the defence of the West through N.A.T.O. as well as fulfil our obligations to the Commonwealth and the United Nations.It went on:That is the reason why the Labour Party has, by huge majorities at two successive conferences, rejected the idea that it should at this stage commit the next Labour Government to renouncing the H-bomb irrespective of what other countries may do.They were brave words, but the ink had faded from them in under 12 months. Every right hon. and hon. Member 1643 opposite and every Labour Party candidate who fought the last General Election fought it on that policy, laying it before the country as a pledge.
Much has been said today about pledges. A lot of it was directed against hon. Members on this side of the Committee. The less I say about it the better, for it is painful. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I speak the truth and hon. Members opposite cannot get away from it. During the last two weeks the national Press has been united in posing almost daily the question, "What is Labour's defence policy?" It is an honest question. Last night's Evening Standard asked the Leader of the Opposition to spell out in the most precise terms how Labour would defend Britain if it won the General Election.
§ The Chairman
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but the whole question of defence policy is not in order. We are debating Vote A of the Army Estimates—the number of land forces. I hope that he will try to keep his remarks restricted to what concerns the Army in 1964.
§ Mr. Brown
In that case I will say no more at all, because, if the country is to be committed to defending itself in the manner suggested by the Opposition and laid down by party conferences over which neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the deputy leader has the slightest say, it is clear that there is no point in my continuing on this theme.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I hope that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. A. Brown) will forgive me if I do not follow him in discussing defence policy, for I should be out of order. I want to emphasise again a point I have made on previous occasions this week. As a member of the Estimates Committee, I find the presentation of these huge figures complex, whereas the presentation of the Supplementary Estimates for the financial year 1963–64 was very much better than in the previous year, there having been considerable improvements.
But considerable difficulties arise when one tackles the Estimates because of the changes in the structure of our 1644 defence organisation and other factors. I hope that Government Departments, especially the Treasury, will examine this matter to see if they cannot help us to wade more easily through these tremendous figures.
I want to concentrate mainly on the Royal ordnance factories. We no longer have one in Dalmuir. A sum of £107½ million for military supplies is asked for on account, but there is an estimate of only £2 million for the factories. These factories have been moved away from growth and development districts. That is extraordinary. The manufacturing processes have been lost to Scotland. They have gone to Leeds.
This problem should be apparent to everybody. It has not arisen this year. The drift of the population to the South has been taking place for decades. Our military, air and naval forces depend more and more on a wide industrial base. It has had some of that industrial base in the Royal Ordnance factories. As the Army began to use more mechanical equipment, we should have expanded the Royal Ordnance factories, not contracted them.
We all hope that our world competitive position will improve and that our manufacturers and industrial organisations will be able to raise their annual production by 4 per cent. We could help them to do so if we relieved them of much of the responsibility for keeping our Armed Forces equipped and gave the Royal Ordnance factories the responsibility of providing the Army with its equipment.
I do not want to reminisce and talk about Army contracts in a modern industrial plant. I could tell many stories. I related them here years ago. I will not repeat them. It was a grave tactical error to reduce the Royal Ordnance factories and pass to private industry a large proportion of the ever-increasing amount of work which must be done for the Army.
I am not criticising private industry. I believe that it does a splendid job in highly competitive conditions. I am sure that the ordinary citizen does not realise how competitive an industry must be to market a product today. Some people think that it is the easiest 1645 thing in the world to organise production, to produce a machine, and to turn it out of the factory gate. However, it is not so easy. I get worried when I hear the Prime Minister talk about trade, industry and progress as if it was a simple thing to manufacture and market products. I assure him that it is not. If he had spent as many years in industry as I have, he would appreciate that it is a difficult task. It is a highly competitive and risky business.
The Government have made a mistake. I had hoped that by now the policy of contracting the Royal Ordnance factories would have been reversed and that there would have been an expansion of our manufacturing expansion through these factories. This would be one way of increasing our industrial base, which unfortunately is beginning to contract. It is contracting in comparison with the expansion which is taking place elsewhere. On the Continent and in North America the industrial base is expanding faster than it is here.
I come to recruitment. I am as anxious as anybody in the House of Commons that our recruiting figures should improve. The exception is my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), though I have much sympathy with his ideas. If the majority of people in the world felt like him, the world would be a much happier place than it is, but, unfortunately, they do not. I support the policy of maintaining an adequate and well-equipped Army, which should be equipped with the best possible materials. But we cannot recruit, though we have raised the pay.
From my own experience I disagree completely with what the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) said about relationships in the forces. I have spent three weeks amongst officers and men in Germany. I did not go there as a Member of Parliament. I went there as an ordinary citizen, visiting a friend of mine who is an officer in the Royal Engineers. At the beginning of the First World War I was a cadet in the Royal Horse Artillery. I made many associations. I would never have believed that 50 years afterwards the gulf, or the iron curtain, between the commissioned ranks and the non-commissioned ranks would be broken down 1646 to the ex tent that I saw when in Germany.
It was terrific. It was more like an association in the Boy Scout movement. I spoke to an ex-German Army officer who rather resented this familiarity between thy; troopers and their officers—this was an armoured regiment of Dragoons. He was 40 or 50 years of age and things had not been like that in the German Army in his day.
These wonderful advertisements and well-illustrated booklets, designed to attract recruits, list series of trades—plumbers, bricklayers, all the trades under the sun—and suggest that young men should join the Army to learn a trade. I do not believe that a young man leaving secondary school and thinking of going into a trade would join the Army to learn it. When I first came to the House of Commons, I found that some parts of the country—Edinburgh was the best example—had a sort of historical relationship with the Services. There were connections with the Army or the Navy—I do not know whether this applied to the Air Force. I found that Edinburgh had always provided a tremendous number of recruits, many from families which had had a traditional link with a Service for generations, a romantic attachment to the Army and to certain regiments.
I wonder whether military mechanisation has helped to reduce the attractiveness of the Army. If I had a son and wanted him to be an engineer, I should never think of suggesting that he joined the Army. I should probably write to Rolls-Royce or the Bristol Airplane Company, of the British Motor Corporation, and if he wanted to be a marine engineer, I should try to get him into John Brown's, at Clydebank. I would never think of finding out whether he could join the Royal Engineers or the Royal Marines. I appreciate that if young people who join the Army learn a trade, it is valuable to them when they leave the Service, but the advertisements suggest that they should join the Army to learn a trade.
Hon. Members have spoken of adventure. No one has a greater respect for the British forces than I have. I have met many people from different countries and I once had the pleasure of bringing to the House of Commons three 1647 Germans who had served in the First World War. They told me some funny stories. I remembered with pride that my father served in the First World War, which ended just before I would have been seconded to the Royal Horse Artillery as a subaltern and sent to France where the expectation of life of a subaltern was then two days. One of these Germans told me that if there was ever a danger of being captured he always prayed that he would fall into the hands of the British. There is no doubt that throughout the world there is tremendous respect for British military forces.
I was glad to read in paragraph 105 of the Statement on Defence that a party of 50 Royal Engineers from B.A.O.R. gave assistance to Yugoslavia after the Skopje earthquake—
§ It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report progress.
That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after Ten o'clock and may be entered upon the proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour during a period of Two hours after Ten o'clock, though opposed.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]
§ Supply again considered in Committee.
§ Mr. Bence
The engineers constructed 244 prefabricated huts and joined with the welfare organisation "War on Want". Soldiers have done this sort of work from time immemorial, but the fact has never been properly noted. We are now living in an age when people should be told these things. Campaigns have been started urging young people to take up international work in the name of their countries, and to do things that they feel are worth while. Tragedy occurs all over the world, and there is no doubt that our modern Army units can assist. I hope that the War Office will lose no opportunity in making it known to the public that such work as this is being done by the Army.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) did not want the wonderful impression given by the British Army to be destroyed by the War Office, as a result of the events which occurred in Dundee. I can assure my hon. Friend that to those people who 1648 have served in the Regular Army there is a complete distinction between the War Office and the Army. People will accept what the War Office does in Dundee.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
People in Woolwich are favourably inclined towards the Army, but they cannot tolerate the War Office.
§ Mr. Bence
That is the situation in Woolwich, and that is the great centre of the War Office. I suppose that the Army would not be as good as it is if the War Office were much better than it is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East referred to the speech made by the Foreign Secretary in Geneva, and to the proposals of the three Scandinavian countries in relation to an international force. This is an excellent idea for the countries of the Western Alliance. I support this alliance without any qualifications. Such a proposal would enable the countries of the alliance to draw more closely together. They could commit their forces to helping each other. That is the purpose of an alliance.
Speaking at Geneva, the Foreign Secretary suggested that we would commit troops to an international force under the United Nations. There are already arrangements whereby British troops will be assigned to maintain peace in Cyprus and I give that my whole-hearted support. I agree with the assignment of divisions to the defence of Western Europe. We are organising our military forces and paying £527 million for it. Having raised an Army we see it being progressively assigned to international forces and in some cases put under international command.
I do not want the public to get the idea that by assigning sovereign defence forces, or part of them, to an international force established for the preservation of our Western civilisation and peace in the world we are giving away our defence forces. That would be a wicked thing to suggest. Anyone who put headlines in a newspaper or propagates that idea is doing a disservice to world peace. The defence of Britain can be secured effectively only by co-ordination and integration with the forces of our friends. When we think of the defence of our island we can do so only in terms of an alliance 1649 with friends who can make a contribution equal to our own.
I was never more hurt than by the frightful suggestion that a proposition to commit part of our defence forces to an international force should be used to frighten Britain with the idea that we are throwing away our sovereignty. That is a shocking think to suggest. We must accept the expenditure involved. The Estimates Committee will do its best to see that the money is not wasted. But do not let us make the task of defending our country more difficult or the task of creating a climate of unity in the West more difficult by crying from the rooftops that we are sending squadrons of the Navy or brigades of the Army to international forces and thereby throwing away our defences. To do that is to do a disservice to Britain and to Western civilisation.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)
I do not intend to detain the Committee for more than a few minutes because I believe very much in short speeches, even in Service Estimates debates, but I feel entitled to say something about the Territorial Army because I was lucky enough to serve in my county yeomanry regiment for about 14 years. I gave up serving in it only a few months before I came to this House.
I was delighted to read the statement my right hon. Friend made on 22nd January on the rôle of the Territorial Army in which he said that the T.A. will become increasingly more involved with the reinforcement and support of the Rhine Army. That was well received by my county regiment. I have been very surprised, as I think many others have been, by the high standard of efficiency which can be attained by our part-time Army. Anyone who has visited a Territorial Army in camp must have been extremely impressed by the enthusiasm and esprit de corps of the T.A. This is something of which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee can be very proud.
One of the things which impressed me most when. I commanded a squadron of the Territorial Army was the keenness and drive of the recruits. In their first camp these recruits, probably 17 or 18 years of age, had had very little technical training and all we could do was 1650 to start to teach them how to use a rifle. We formed them into assault troops. These assault troops in my regiment have made a tremendous reputation for themselves. I remember seeing these young lads with very little training carrying out night attacks and swimming across rivers and enjoying every moment of it. In these days when young people are naturally trying to find good outlets for the spirit of adventure, I cannot think of a better opening for them than a few years in a Territorial Army unit.
Of course morale is not everything and in these days training is becoming a very technical business. I therefore put in a plea, which I imagine is made every year on this occasion, for better and more modern equipment for the Territorial Army. When I joined the Armoured Corps, almost exactly 20 years ago, we had to receive some wireless training. The set we were using was called the 19 set. When I joined the Territorial Army some years later I was a wireless instructor and I found myself instructing 'with the 19 set. The Committee will be sorry to hear that when I left the Territorial Army, a year or so ago, I was still trying to teach the 19 set. These sets are not getting any younger. I always found it a difficult set to work and it is particularly difficult for Territorial soldiers.
My unit was an armoured car unit and all the exercises we carried out were entirely dependent on communications. It is a fairly expensive business running a large-scale exercise and a great deal of ground is covered. To get any value out of the exercise it is essential that communications should be maintained efficiently. I therefore, ask that modern sets should be quickly made available to the Territorial Army. When I take a taxi home tonight I shall be impressed by the wireless set, which always seems to work perfectly in a taxi. I think it time that we had the best equipment available for units of the T.A.
I entirely welcome the suggestion that the T.A. should be used to reinforce the Rhine Army. I was a 10th Hussar during the war. That is a regiment which looks after the Wiltshire Yeomanry. It has always been to me a logical and sensible plan that part of the Yeomanry should train with its parent regiment. I stress, however, that it would be quite useless 1651 to send out a number of individuals on this sort of training. I referred earlier to morale. Morale is built up, not on individuals, but on the regimental spirit, the squadron spirit, or the troop spirit.
It would be a wonderful idea if a whole squadron of the Territorial Army could be sent to train in Germany. That would have a tremendous impact on the morale of the squadron and would help to cement a strong link between the parent regiment and the Territorial unit. If the training is to be really effective, the Territorial unit must have received basic individual training first and that training must be carried out on the same equipment as that with which the parent regiment is equipped. This point strengthens the argument for having up-to-date and modern equipment.
I said that I would not speak for long. One thing my wireless training taught me is that one should be very short on the air. I sometimes wish that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) had attended one of our wireless training courses. His speech the other day on the Navy Estimates lasted for about an hour. It is time he was told he is using far too much air.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
I am tempted to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry). My memory is quite good and I think I can claim to have failed to get through on a 19-set more frequently than any other member of Her Majesty's Forces. I was also at one time commanding an assault troop. I have a vivid and extraordinary recollection of swimming the River Thames with a 30 lb. wireless strapped to my back, before the eyes, strangely enough, of Mr. Bernard Shaw.
No area of the country is more dependent on decisions made by the War Office than the Borough of Woolwich. I see with surprise that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Turner) is not present tonight. I would have expected, from the most mundane considerations, that he would have been here, particularly since he occupies a very marginal seat in West Woolwich. I regret that he is not here to support me in putting a number of important points to the War Office, points which 1652 are particularly important to the borough.
Will the Under-Secretary, when he replies, give an assurance about phase two of the rebuilding of the R.A. barracks in my constituency? This is a sorry tale. There was two years' delay not long ago simply through faulty estimating by the War Office, aided, no doubt, by a variety of capital cuts at the Treasury.
It is vital to Woolwich that the R.A. barracks rebuilding should go ahead without further delay, and so make available a vast area which will supply some of the finest building sites anyone could wish to have in the whole area. We have an urgent housing need, and I ask the Minister when a start will be made on the rebuilding. In particular, why has the Department not made available to Woolwich Borough Council the 13½ acres of building land promised to the council about a year ago?
Another cause of grievance we have in Woolwich against the War Office is the extraordinary condition of Woolwich Common. At Question Time today the Prime Minister was closely questioned about what the Government are doing for the aesthetic improvement of our countryside. I was tempted to ask the right hon. Gentleman to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for War to the shocking condition of Woolwich Common, purely as a result of neglect by the War Office. The contractor working for the War Office has simply tipped rubbish on to the common without any consideration of providing topsoil, let alone seeding for the coming spring.
I have known the Under-Secretary for a long time and—since spring is coming—have noted in him signs of cultivation of a cultured mind. Will he take a personal interest in this matter and ensure that before the spring topsoiling and proper seeding of the area of Woolwich Common is carried out and that the War Office does not make a disgrace of the area, in stark contrast to the great pride which the borough council has in its open spaces and the extraordinary care with which it looks after them?
My third point relates to the Royal dockyard. This, too, is a marvellous 1653 site for housing and for making a river frontage. If the War Office, with the agreement of the borough council, would release this site for development it would make in immense improvement in the whole appearance of amenities of Woolwich. What is going on at this vastly important site? I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West has now entered the Chamber, and I therefore slightly withdraw some of the strong, criticisms I made about his absence.
What is going on at the Royal dockyard now? I believe that for several years this extremely important and valuable site has been used simply for storage. If that is so, why have the stores not been moved to some other site, perhaps in the Arsenal, or in some other part of the country not vitally important from the point of view of the development of my constituency? And why was this not done many years ago? I ask the Minister to take a decision about the Royal dockyard outside the other decisions he must take about the Royal Ordnance factory.
It is, of course, with the Royal Ordnance factory that I am chiefly concerned. The great majority of Woolwich people remain completely unconvinced that if the R.O.F. had had a fair share of conventional arms and fair opportunities to tender for civil contracts, it could not have continued in operation, and done a great service to the country and to the borough. The Press reported the other day big production delays on War Office equipment. The reports said that a quarter of the weapons and instruments ordered for the current year by the War Office, and nearly a quarter of the ammunition and explosives, have not yet been delivered.
A sum of £11 million is involved, and this state of things speaks poorly of the efficiency of the Department of Supply at the War Office. What a commentary it is on the closing-down of the R.O.F., Woolwich! These are precisely the things that it is well-equipped to supply. If his Department cannot procure the supplies it needs on the proper dates, I should like the Minister to tell us why Woolwich is being closed down.
Another thing that is worrying some of my constituents, and which I want to put as fairly as I can, is the mem 1654 bership of the Royal Ordnance Factory Board. This board was set up in 1952, and its purpose is to advise on the efficiency of the Royal Ordnance factory. I was astonished to find that its membership includes two people who could be said to represent direct competitors of the R.O.F.
One of the great tragedies of our R.O.F. was its loss, a short while ago, of the great armoured personnel carrier contract to Sankeys. With that contract, I do not doubt that the R.O.F. would be continuing today. That contract was, as I say, lost to Sankeys, and I was astonished to find that on this board, set up to advise the Government about the efficiency of the R.O.F., Woolwich, was Mr. R P. Brookes, chairman of the group controlling Sankeys, and Mr. J. F. Shearer, a partner in the firm of accountants which works for Sankeys.
I say at once that I do not for one moment suggest that either of these people acted improperly in any way whatever, and I also recognise that the board does not advise on contracts. Nevertheless, it must be bad principle for the board to include direct industrial competitors of the R.O.F., Woolwich. That cannot be right. Even if the Government wish to have people experienced in this field, it would be possible for them to man up the board without having on it direct competitors of the R.O F. If the Minister has time, I should like him to refer later to this matter, which is worrying a number of my constituents.
Finally, the point of outstanding importance is the part being played by the War Office in the whole development of the 1,500 acres which now are waiting for planning and development on the old arsenal site in the Erith Marshes and the whole sweep of land just south of the Thames which is now becoming free for development. Everybody who has seen is agrees that it is essential that there should be a comprehensive plan of development for this area. The plan should lay down how much industry there should be, where it should be sited, how the road system throughout the whole area should be framed, how a vast overcrowding of our traffic can be avoided, how many new houses and flats should be built in the area, how the development should be related to 1655 Woolwich's own town plan and the provision of shops, offices and business premises, and how it should be related to the Woolwich town traffic plan as well.
Everything in this vast enterprise depends on what happens in the western area, the 600 acres which includes the R.O.F. Who is deciding this? This is a vastly important matter not only for Woolwich but for the whole of South-East London. Who are taking these planning decisions? Is it the planning authority, the L.C.C.? Not at all. Is it the Woolwich Borough Council? Not at all. It is the War Office that is doing this.
I quote the Under-Secretary of State for War on 20th December in the House when he said:For the rest, no comprehensive planning can be done until we have taken a decision about what Government activities, including defence activities, can usefully continue to be carried on there.There is to be no comprehensive development until the War Office has decided who is to get what, on a piecemeal basis. This is a ludicrous situation. The hon. Gentleman went on:The chairman of the review committee is the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for War, and the duties of the review will be to secure the right location for present and predicted Government activities at the western end, the future of the industrial buildings in the R.O.F. itself, the policy to give other Government Departments first claim on surplus land belonging to the War Department, the great need for housing land in London, and the possibility of other developments in the interests of London and Woolwich generally."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th December, 1963; Vol. 686, c. 1720–1.]This is what the War Office assumes to be its responsibility. This is a ludicrous situation. The War Office is well-equipped to suppress disturbances in East Africa. It is not well-equipped to do town planning in my constituency, yet in practice this is exactly what is happening.
The planning authority, the L.C.C., is not a member of the working party which has been set up to decide the key things about this development. There is a serious risk that the whole future 1656 development of the area will be jeopardised. There is a risk that the War Office will take what it wants, simply acting in its own interests, and will share out the rest of the swag to other Service Departments and to privileged friends and associates.
The War Office has the power now to grant the Admiralty land in this great area without reference even to the L.C.C. It is now arguing with the Central Electricity Board on where in the area a huge power station should be built. If I may address myself to the Under-Secretary, I would say: stick to East Africa. Stick to military affairs. Town planning is not a matter for the War Office. It is pure accident that the War Office should happen to be there. It is an old but a bad principle that a Government Department should be able to decide what activity should go on on this land when it does not want it.
This old and bad principle should be amended. I hope that a special planning body will be established for the whole area, to include not only the War Office but essentially the London County Council, the Minister of Housing and Local Government, the Woolwich Borough Council, the Board of Trade, British Railways and all the other interested parties to work out a master-plan for the whole area. It should be worked out not in terms of horse-trading with little lots of land going to various Service Departments. The plan should be thought out in terms of expanding the town in a big way, with the whole thing tied up with a new South London plan which is due to be published on 19th March.
We have the friendliest possible relations in Woolwich with the Army, but we are very critical of the War Office. We are not at all satisfied that the War Office is doing its duty as far as the borough council is concerned. I earnestly ask the Under-Secretary—and I warn him that if I am not satisfied with his answer I shall raise the matter again—to look into these questions and to see whether he can give satisfaction to my constituents.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I think the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) generated the right amount of heat about his constituency problem. However, I hope he will forgive me if I do not go too far into his constituency problem except to say that in my experience the War Office is likely to be at least as good on town planning as the L.C.C. is.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War on giving the Committee a very good account of his stewardship and the stewardship of his predecessors. I think it is generally agreed that the British Army today is in good heart, and those who have been responsible for it can take the credit which is their due. I was also glad to hear from my right hon. Friend and from the hon and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) the tributes, which they rightly paid, to the former Secretary of State, Mr. Profumo, for the work that he did for the British Army.
I wish to refer to the problem of what should be the level of our Army strength, and in doing so I wish to make one or two short points. The Soviet ground forces available in Eastern Europe, as they are deployed today, are far fewer than they have been in the past and are rather fewer than we suspected until recently. There are more troops in West Germany than there are in East Germany and in the zones nearby, and although it would be possible for the Soviets to concentrate troops in one particular area, they have not done so at the moment.
The type of Soviet armament deserves our attention. The main Soviet armament is the M.R.B.M.—the medium-range ballistic missile—of which they have, so I am told, 700 which are aimed at targets in Western Europe and whose rôle is to contain not only Europe but also the United States by threatening Western Europe.
I understand that the Soviets have fairly recently altered the command of some of their tactical nuclear weapons which are now commanded and integrated within the divisions, and not under a separate command as they have been until fairly recently. The strategy as laid down by Soviet publications, which one 1658 may read, used to be the use of nuclear weapons followed by a very rapid follow-up by ground forces to take advantage of the use of those nuclear weapons. But it seems some that the reliance on M.R.B.M.s and the way in which the tactical nuclear weapons have been integrated into the ordinary forces shows that this type of armament is defensive in nature, because it is not possible to occupy the ground with nuclear weapons, and the shape and command of the ground forces are such that they are also of a defensive nature.
It is sometimes said that we must fear some small probing attack from the Russians in Germany. I would point out that they have never yet tried it, although there have been occasions when it would have been much easier for them to do it than it is today, and there were times when they were in a much more belligerent mood. I do not see how they could risk the United States' reaction to a probing attack. What would be the purpose of such a probe? They do not want the ground itself. Presumably they would make a probing attack in order to split N.A.T.O. and show the Europeans that they could not rely upon the United States coming to their help.
However, I do not think that it is necessarily the case that the Soviets would wish to split N.A.T.O., because if they were to detach Europe, or a part of Europe, from the United States, there is absolutely no guarantee that Europe, or the part of it they had detached, would remain either neutral or pro-Soviet, and they might, therefore, have created two enemies, where only one exists for them at the moment, and might have created a state of uncertainty.
Furthermore, in so far as they detached Europe from the United States they would not be able to exert that influence and pressure they can do at the moment by threatening Europe, much less split it. They would not militarily affect the United States, so much farther away from them, as they would affect Europe. Therefore, for these two reasons, I doubt whether the Soviets consider it in their interests that N.A.T.O. should be split, and I conclude, from their weapons and their disposal, and from their own interests, as I understand them, that we can think 1659 that Soviet policy in Europe is to preserve the status quo.
I know that one of the arguments for large ground forces in Europe is that they permit us to have a controlled response, a graduated response, to whatever aggression is offered to us. I know that sort of argument would make a certain amount of sense in the vast spaces of the United States and Russia, but it really makes no sense whatever in the crowded areas of Europe—at least, it makes no sense to me.
Finally it is said that there could be some sort of mistake, whereby Soviet forces went blundering over the frontier, or satellite forces might, or some bomb or other might go off, and war would start. Personally, I think that a most extraordinarily remote possibility. In the first place, technically it would be very difficult. Secondly, I do not think that generally, if it did happen, we would be deceived by it. If an incursion into our territory by atomic explosion of some sort were to take place, preceded by no mobilisation, with no strategic objective in view, and no strategic objective gained, we would not be led to think that it was other than a mistake, and we should not, I am sure, rush to our weapons to retaliate in kind.
So I do not think any probing attacks are likely. I do not think a mistake would take place; or, if it did, we would recognise it as a mistake. I very much wonder, therefore, what the level of military ground forces in Western Europe should be.
I come to the question of the British Army of the Rhine. We find that the flower of the British Army is tied up there, using valuable exchange moneys which we can ill afford, training for an extremely specialised war which could be fought nowhere else in the world, with extraordinarily expensive sorts of equipment which could be used in no other area of the world. I wonder whether the level of forces which we are bound to maintain by Treaty is the level of forces which N.A.T.O. actually requires for its purposes. I think we can see now that our influence in N.A.T.O., whatever we may have argued before, depends very largely upon our ability to do the sort of things we have been able 1660 to do with our flexible Regular forces in these past two or three months.
Therefore, while not being dogmatic about this very difficult matter, I ask my right hon. Friend to keep the question of the strength of the British Army of the Rhine in the forefront of his thinking to see whether reductions cannot safely be made, of course in agreement with our allies.
We have had some discussion today about the merits of Regular selective or conscriptive service. There can be no doubt that the evidence of the last few months does very much justify those who wish to have a fully Regular Army. If we were to go in for some form of conscriptive service, because some great crisis forced us to do so, then, like the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, I would say that selective service would not be a runner. We should have to keep the men far too long, and the selection would be seen to be much too unfair. We should have to have a great many more men than the Army was short of at the time. If we needed 10,000 and sought to recruit them by selective service, before very long with training commitments and the loss of morale in the Regular Army, we should be asking for not 10,000 but 40,000. I do not think that this would be an agreeable or sensible way of finding the men.
I do not believe that conscription is unpopular in the country. I think that a large number of people, especially parents of families, and young men, too, believe that conscription is quite a good thing for the individual and would not resent it. But, of course, it is not militarily very desirable, and I hope that we manage to avoid it.
If we had to go in for some form of National Service, if some great event overcame us, conscription would be the method to use, I am sure; but we should not use it in order to fill small shortages of men in Infantry battalions or anything of that kind.
It is often said, in discussing the strength of infantry battalions, that they go abroad under strength. I wonder whether the fact is that the whole battalion does not always go. I suspect that a lot are left behind, especially when battalions go on what we hope are short trips, so to speak, to Cyprus and 1661 elsewhere. They probably leave the band behind. They leave behind various other people such as the regimental boxing team because the championship is coming along, and so on. In that sort of way, a battalion which is pretty well up to strength or, perhaps, full may actually go abroad with quite a few—one must not call them "odds and sods"—[Laughter.]—hon. Members know what I mean—people of the sort I have described left behind. Doubtless, they will catch up later on when the boxing championships are over, and so on.
Now, a word about the Territorial Army. When I was, by chance, in Cyprus last spring, I had the pleasure of seeing the 44th Parachute Brigade, which is mentioned in the Statement on Defence, at their training. I was told by the Regular troops who were training with them that, after 14 days—which was their allotted time—they were fully equal to the Regular troops who were with them. They may have been not quite so quick up the mountains, but they were older, more responsible men and in every way were militarily equal to the Regular battalions. It is very fine that they should get ready so quickly. This leads me to say that I believe that there is still scope in the Territorial Army for further recruitment of light or specialist troops which people like joining and which do not need the elaborate mechanical training which is necessary for the more heavily armed troops such as the Armoured Corps and so on.
The Territorial Emergency Reserve has been slightly disappointing, perhaps. I can understand that it is difficult to find men, but my impression is that it is the units which have put up a certain resistance to the putting of people forward. I think that there is an understandable reluctance on the part of commanding officers of Territorial units to let £150 of tax-free public money go to people other than the absolute top-notchers in their particular units. If they are required to produce people of various ranks and grades, they cannot give it to, say, the 15 or 20 best men of the battalion but they have to give it to the particular ranks and grades required. Some commanding officers are reluctant to see the money go to people whom they may not regard as 1662 absolutely top of their regiment. Therefore, the idea which my right hon. Friend put forward today of the "Ever-readies" training far more as sub-units and moving as sub-units has a great advantage and would, I think, overcome that difficulty, among others.
I say today, as I did last year, that I do not think that enough scope is given to the W.R.A.C., the girls in the Army. I am sure that there are a lot more jobs which they could be allowed to do, particularly in Germany. They are very good, for instance, as drivers of V.I.P. cars and in signal duties. There is, however, a certain prejudice against them which should be overcome. There are a good many things which they could do but which they are not allowed to do. Recruiting would be much better if they were allowed to go abroad more often, as they like to do. Furthermore, if they were to go abroad more often, they would be less likely to get married quite so soon and, consequently, they would give longer service.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
When the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) is in one of his less belligerent moods, he utters an occasional word of good sense. I am happy to follow him for this reason.
This must be about the first time when from the Government benches some doubts have begun to emerge as to the value of the British Army of the Rhine and the extent of our commitments in the European zone. That is to be encouraged, because for a long time I have felt that the rôle of the British forces in Europe is due for a complete reappraisal.
§ Mr. Kershaw
This is not the first time I have said it. I said it two years ago. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) intervened to tell me that I was talking the greatest military nonsense he had ever heard.
§ Mr. Lipton
The whirligig of time brings its vengeance. All I can say is that for much longer than two years I have felt that the whole growth of N.A.T.O., and, in addition, the British contribution to N.A.T.O., is due for reappraisal.
1663 My reason for saying that is that the time has come when, with our limited resources, we must make a clear assessment of priorities. We cannot do everything. In deciding what the problem is, we have two main commitments. One is our contribution to N.A.T.O. in Europe and the other is our Commonwealth obligations in South-East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and so on. The dilemma which faces us—and it is a dilemma of which the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for War must be only to well aware—is that we must either increase our Armed Forces on the ground or give priority to one or other of these two rôles to which I have referred, either N.A.T.O. or our Commonwealth obligations.
It is undoubtedly the case that our influence in N.A.T.O. is getting less. If, as has been made only too clear, we find it quite impossible to meet our treaty obligations and keep 55,000 men on the ground in Germany, it follows that it is useless to pretend that in present circumstances we shall ever be able to provide 55,000 men on the ground in Germany. We have been struggling hard to find those men. All kinds of pledges have been made—for example, that we intend to see that these 55,000 men are provided—and yet for a long time the Government have had to face the fact that, as things are, there does not seem to be any reasonable prospect within the near future of finding the men who are required if we are to meet our treaty obligations.
I know that this entails an admission perhaps of growing military weakness and the consequence that important posts in N.A.T.O. have to go to other countries which are making a larger and more effective contribution than we can. But I agree with what the hon. Member for Stroud said, that the Soviet military rôle in Europe is getting more and more purely defensive. If we attempt a calm appreciation of the situation in Europe, the likelihood of a Soviet offensive there is very much less now than it has ever been, and from a purely practical point of view it would be an act of complete insanity for any of the Communist countries to start offensive military operations in Europe at present.
1664 If we look at the world and try to forecast where a conflict is most likely to arise, we are inevitably driven to the conclusion that the possibility of armed conflict is much more likely in South-East Asia or the Middle East or Africa than in Europe at present.
If what I say makes sense, we are driven to the conclusion that if we have to choose between our N.A.T.O. and Commonwealth commitments, there is a very clear case for giving priority to our Commonwealth commitments. If we have to meet our N.A.T.O. commitments and our Commonwealth commitments at one and the same time and give both an equal degree of priority, what we need is 30,000 men a year more than we have at present.
Some 370,000 men reach the age of 18 every year, and if it were possible by some easy, simple device to pull 30,000 out of the 370,000 and put them in the Army, the problem from the point of view of the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for War would be very much simpler. But as it is, with our limited resources we have an Army under-manned and under-equipped in Germany, an Army which has to be prepared to dash off in many directions, sometimes simultaneously. That all builds up to the conclusion that there is a case for thinning our ranks in Germany, if not for completely withdrawing our troops. There might have been a case years ago for the British Army of the Rhine. In my opinion, there is a very much weaker case now for maintaining, or pretending that we shall ever be capable of providing, 55,000 men in Germany.
It is useless to use Cyprus or Malaysia as an excuse for taking troops away—troops that we shall never be able to send back to Germany. For all those reasons, I think that the time has come when we may be compelled, not only for military reasons but for economic reasons, too, to consider the withdrawal or complete evacuation of British troops from the European mainland.
What has distressed a number of people for some years past has been the dreary procession of Finance Ministers and Treasury officials going from this country to Germany and engaging in talks on the foreign exchange costs involved in keeping British troops there 1665 at a time when, apart from military considerations, economic considerations have to be kept in mind and when the balance of payments constitutes a serious problem. It is futile to engage in protracted discussions with the Federal Government in Bonn with a view to trying to persuade them, very often without success, to help us in our balance of payments problems. The time has arrived for us to give serious consideration to the complete withdrawal of British troops from Germany.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
I entirely disagree with the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). Our influence in N.A.T.O. has never been greater. The Government, the War Office, the staff officers and the troops have recently combined in some of the finest and most speedy "fire brigade" operations the world has ever seen. We have proved our capabilities in N.A.T.O. by mounting this sort of operation.
I agree with him in one respect, in that there is no reason why, from time to time, we should not use the "waiver" clause in the NATO Treaty, as it was used by the French during the Algerian campaign, if we should need troops for Common wealth operations. It is not a new clause and we should certainly be prepared to use it where necessary.
Quite rightly, all right hon. and hon. Members today congratulated the Secretary of State and the Army on the success of these recent operations. There cannot, I am sure, be a single hon. Member who has not at least one constituent involved in these operations.
I believe that the Emergency Reserve of the Territorial Army should be utilised as units. The men dislike going out on their own on operations with strange units. They want to go alongside the friends with whom they have trained and worked. We should make a strenuous effort to centralise the people who wish to join the T.A.E.R. so that, if called upon, they can go in units, even if only as a section, a troop or a squadron.
We should use the Emergency Reserve if we need it. We must take the political consequences and regard these soldiers as part of our reinforcements, which is what they are intended to be. 1666 In the long run we should lose nothing politically and eventually they would be regarded is part and parcel of our reserves.
Has the Army ever conducted a survey of the reasons why men leave? I believe that housing is one of the biggest factors. We must "get cracking" with the local authorities so that men leaving can go on to housing lists. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government told me the other day, in answer to my question, that he would send out guidance to local authorities to equate the housing lists throughout London. There should also be an added suggestion that men leaving the Army should not be put at the bottom of the list hut that their years of service should count. A Service man cannot live in one place long enough to qualify for the top of its housing list.
I suggested in previous years that the barrack sites of B.A.O.R. should be used for temporary housing for our families out there. In this way we would overcome the difficulties encountered by the German building industry and of getting local planning permission. I hope that every effort will be made to use all available sites in our barrack areas for more married accommodation, since this involves another big factor leading men to give up the Service.
I have no time to mention other points, except that I believe that the rôle of the Army now is dependent on the fact that we have preserved our nuclear shield, and are able to deploy our forces as and when we please, in any part of the world, without let or hindrance, and that we car never be blackmailed by any other nation as to where and when we should send our conventional forces in order to maintain peace throughout the Commonwealth or other parts of the world.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) for curtailing his remarks. He has been patient, and has waited for a long time. I am glad that he managed to say a few words before the end of the debate.
These Estimates debates frequently consist of long lists of recollections by hon. Members on both sides of the 1667 Committee. On this occasion we have not suffered from so many recollections, but even today three hon. Members have drawn our attention to what happened to them in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) reminded us of the days when he was trying to operate a 19-set, and the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) did likewise. We also had a vision of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East swimming the Thames, with Bernard Shaw looking on. The other recollection was that of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). As far back as 1946 he forecast the need for a new kind of sleeping bag for the Army. Those were the most vivid recollections I had of this debate—recollections of battles long ago being re-fought in 1964 on the Floor of the Committee.
It would not be entirely wrong, when hon. Members are being bombarded on all sides by shopkeepers with letters about retail price maintenance, to refer to the present Defence Estimates of £1,998.5 million as the 19s. 11¾d. budget. The impression has been given that every effort has been made by the Government to ensure that the total Estimates do not rise about the magic figure of £2,000 million.
This is the third year in which I had to do penance by winding-up the debate on behalf of the Opposition. Year by year it becomes more like a marathon. One rises at 11 o'clock, having waited all day. Looking back over the past debates, I find that the same problems have concerned us year by year. The issues raised in today's debate have been the same as usual—and almost the same hon. Members have taken part.
We have had the usual parade of weapons—many of which are still in various stages of gestation. They have been conspicuous over the years by the thunder of their fire power. But year by year we have been reminded that many of these weapons are still not with the units. At least we have been able to forecast and trace the development of these weapons. As my hon. and learned Friend has said, it takes about 10 years—it used to take eight—for a weapon which has been conceived and 1668 has been mentioned for the first time in the Estimates to reach the units on the ground.
The other hardy annual which is mentioned every year is the shortage of manpower. I sympathise with the Government. If I may be permitted to mix my metaphors, the policies of the Government have failed; they have failed to produce the goods in manpower. Ever shifting targets have been given to us. The number which the Government have is always the number that they want. Whether it be the size of the Army, the size of the "Ever-readies" or the forces required for any operation, what they have is what they need.
I want to make one major criticism, which applies to the whole range of our defence discussions, namely, the lack of information which would enable hon. Members properly to debate the subject. The House of Commons, it seems, is always the last to be told.
When I was first asked to wind up for the Opposition in a debate on the Estimates, I thought that as a new Member, a rather innocent daisy from Glamorgan, I should find it easy to obtain information. I could put down Questions and be able to obtain information either through the Secretary of State or from the Library. Then I should know the strength of units and where shortages were and we could grapple with the problems of the Army. I soon found, however, that in this field of events we operate in a vacuum and there is no real information available.
Far too often Defence White Papers and Estimates appear to be conceived and planned as a method, not for showing the maximum amount of information, but rather for hiding it and revealing the minimum. If it were not for my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who is a sort of walking encyclopaedia of the Army, there does not seem to be in this House any independent source of information to which we can go to find whether a unit is or is not up to strength. Usually my hon. Friend seems to be right when he makes a statement about the strength of a particular unit.
The point which was made by him in the defence debate and in the exchange between my right hon. Friend 1669 the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and the Secretary of State earlier today was about the large number of units which are under-strength. In the exchange earlier in the debate the Secretary of State refuted the allegation my hon. Friend made that battalions were being sent abroad at little more than half strength. In the end the issue resolved itself into the question of what was meant by strength. The Secretary of State had great confidence when the issue turned on whether the strength was 660 men, but when it turned on 774 men, he was far from confident. All he could say was that if my hon. Friend was arguing on that basis his allegations could be barely true and he would have to think about it. He was unable to refute my right hon. Friend when he said that there were battalions in Cyprus with not a lot more than half on the 774 basis.
The statement has been made from time to time that there are a large number of units of the British Army today which are far below strength. I think it was the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) who said last year that 30 of the 60 battalions of infantry of the line were seriously under-strength. I am not in any way attacking the British Army nor what units have clone in recent weeks. Indeed, I am very proud of what they have done and I have said so on previous occasions. It is a great tribute to us as a nation that we have been invited to send troops to Cyprus and countries in Africa and they have carried out their tasks magnificently, but it is hardly fair to those units if they had to be sent out under-strength, as we understand they have been. The Minister of Agriculture, then Secretary of State for War, said in March, 1959, that the then strength of 635 was not enough and, by implication—and he was talking about Cyprus at the time—stated that the proper peace-time strength should be 774. He indicated that it would be dangerous to have units of a lesser number.
The Committee will recall that last year we had a great deal of trouble with the Scots Guards. One of the main reasons for that trouble, which we all regretted, was that the strength was about 360 men; that is, 360 men with a full complement of N.C.Os. We had incidents bordering on mutiny. Although I hope 1670 that that situation will never be repeated, it must be realised that if units are sent out under strength—whether it be to do police or other duties—they will perform those duties effectively and efficiently, but before long the constant round of chores, guard duty and so on will wear any unit down. Under such circumstances, the War Office is taking a gamble on whether or not they will continue to do their duties efficiently.
I am proud of what has been done so far, but do not let us forget what happened with the Scots Guards last year, particularly since that trouble occurred because of the shortage of men. That is not just my idea, for the Secretary of State's successor himself said that that was the reason for the trouble. We must approach this problem with great care and, while we have been successful so far—and the Secretary of State said the other day that he wanted to be judged on results—the right hon. Gentleman must remember that in the main our men have been performing police duties. There has not been a substantial or prolonged war. If those units were called upon to take an active part in a substantial or serious conflict the right hon. Gentleman would be gambling severely if their numbers were inadequate.
Many issues have been raised in the debate and it is not possible for me to comment on them all. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton referred to the Gurkhas and assurances were asked for on the long-term future of the officers corps of various brigades. I hope that we will be given more information on this subject.
The Chieftain tank is one of the favourite subjects of hon. Members in these debates. It is also an old favourite of several White Papers we have had on defence. In 1962 we were told that the tank was in the final stages of vigorous trials. In 1963 we were told that acceptance trials would take place within a few weeks and that the units would have Chieftain tanks by 1965. Now, in 1964, we are told that the tank has successfully completed its trials and that two production lines are being established. To my knowledge not a word has been said about when the units may be expected to have these tanks.
§ Mr. Morris
It was said in the White Paper last year that it was hoped that the units would have Chieftains by 1965. That statement was repeated in the debate last year by the then Under-Secretary, but when I asked on that occasion what percentage of the units would have them he would not or could not give me the figure. I have studied that speech, and there was not a word in it about the question I then asked. In the absence of any comment about 1965 in the present Estimates, perhaps we can have some reassurance on the matter from the Under-Secretary. It was pointedly ignored by the Secretary of State in last year's debate, but I forgive him for that, as he had many things to think about at that late hour.
I was not in the Chamber when it occurred, but in an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Sir Richard Glyn) alleged that my hon. Friend had suggested last year that he wanted to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons from the B.A.O.R. My hon. Friend's recollection was that he had said nothing of that kind, but that he wanted to withdraw those weapons from the front line—not at all the same thing, as I am sure the hon. Member would agree.
I have taken the trouble to check the actual reference. On 4th March, 1963, the Minister of Defence said that ha understood that my hon. Friend was against the N.A.T.O. nuclear deterrent, and in favour of taking tactical nuclear weapons away from the front line altogether, and my hon. Friend agreed with that. Therefore, the only suggestion made by my hon. Friend was that the tactical nuclear weapons should be taken away from the front line altogether and not from B.A.O.R., as I understand was suggested.
§ Sir Richard Glyn
I immediately accepted the explanation that was put forward. Of course, they had never been in the front line—perhaps that is why the misunderstanding arose—or in any position other than where they are now. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would deal with this matter. Since it is confirmed that the Opposition's policy is to retain tactical nuclear weapons, is it their intention to retain the present tac 1672 tical nuclear weapons or are they not satisfied with them as they are? If the Opposition had the responsibility for the defence of the country, what change would they make?
§ Mr. Morris
To deal, first, with the issue of tactical nuclear weapons, it was not my hon. Friend who suggested that they were in the front line; it was the question by the Minister of Defence that suggested they were there. Secondly, I do not propose at this stage to enter into a long discussion of the hon. Member's questions. I am sure that he will find a suitable occasion to ask his questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East.
Helicopters have been referred to, and I think that we were warned that there would be an announcement on this subject today. That seemed to be the calculated leak, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us why the announcement has not been made in this debate. There is obviously a vital need for these vehicles, if I may use the term, and one wonders when the announcement will be made.
Many hon. Members on both sides have referred to housing. Probably the worst recruiting officers are dissatisfied wives and dissatisfied and retired soldiers, and that is why it is absolutely vital for the Government to do everything they possibly can to ensure that there is adequate housing.
While I am glad that a great deal of progress has been made in recent years and that the figures seem now to be going up, we remember the criticisms made two years ago by the Estimates Committee when it castigated the War Office for the delays and the fact that at that stage the Department was not able to keep up with the estimates it had made. I am sure that the whole Committee will agree that there is a long way to go before there is adequate housing. I am convinced that this is one of the most important issues in recruiting. If wives are separated from their husbands when they are sent to what is now regarded as a home posting in Germany and adequate housing is not available fairly speedily, it obviously will lead to immense dissatisfaction and it will be of no assistance to the Government in recruiting.
1673 As for providing facilities for the troops, there was great disquiet in Germany last year. Hon. Members will recall the incidents which we discussed in last year's debate on the Estimates. Today the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Clive Bossom) discussed the Army Kinema Corporation and the possibility of providing television for the B.A.O.R. The same point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. McCann).
Whether hon. Members like it or not, we as a nation have become greatly dependent upon television for a substantial part of our entertainment. When families are transferred to Germany, where it is true there is local television but of which they understand not a word, there is a feeling of being deprived of something to which they have grown accustomed in this country.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that an inquiry is being made into what might be done to ensure that there are better facilities for the entertainment of troops abroad, particularly in Germany. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also tell us whether something might be done to solve the problem of providing television and to meet the suggestion made that live shows should be sent over to visit the troops. There was a series of difficulties in Minden and other parts of Germany last year. Promises were made then that every possible inquiry would be made to discover what might be done to provide better entertainment and social facilities for our troops in Germany.
Among many other issues canvassed in the debate were the open spaces of Dartmoor and the topsoil of Woolwich. In the limited time available I do not propose to deal with them. I only note that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), after a sort of "recce" last year, when he asked a number of questions, is now demanding a phased withdrawal from Darmouth. Perhaps we can have the Under-Secretary's views on this issue.
This year sees the beginning of integration of the Services. We have discussed it for many years. One of 1674 the issues has been the staffing of the War Office. We were promised over the years that there would be reductions in that staff and there have been criticisms of the way in which reductions have been made. This issue has been further complicated now by the defence reorganisation.
I am sure that the British Army has a great rôle to play in the future and that the Army, with the other Services, will be called upon more and more to integrate, Service with Service, for this purpose.
We are very proud indeed of what it has done in recent months. We are very glad that even with our limited resources and the number of men that we have, we are able to perform our rôle so magnificently. I am sure the whole Committee will wish to send congratulations to our men in various parts of the globe, to thank them for what they have done and to bask in their reflected glory, in that we as a nation were asked to send our troops to places which were once our Colonies and which paid us the compliment of inviting us back to help them restore peace and order.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State and Financial Secretary for War (Mr. Peter Kirk)
As the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. J Morris) said, this debate, like all Estimates debates, has ranged over a very wide field, from the moors of Devon to the vales of Monifieth and from the dockyard at Woolwich to B.A.O.R. and all points east. I shall answer as many points as I can in the time at my disposal before 12 o'clock.
I think the most important point to get clear from the start is the question of manpower and establishments, because it is around that subject that the whole of the rest of the discussion about the strength of the Army revolves. Much reference has been made today by the hon. Members for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and for Aberavon to the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Agriculture when he was Secretary of State for War in the Estimates debate in March 1959. It might be of interest, therefore, to study exactly what he said, because I think there has 1675 been a slight misapprehension about this point. My right hon. Friend said:The Committee already knows of our decision to raise the Army's recruiting target from 165,000 to about 180,000.The suggestion that has been made throughout the debate, that the target has been flexible and that we have altered the target up or down according to the number of troops that we have got, has not been true in the last five years.
My right hon. Friend went on to say:By taking in about 15,000 more recruits the Army, and particularly its fighting units, will obtain a welcome increase in strength. I want to emphasise that this decision does not affect the structure of the Army as it was settled in 1957. The number of units and the arms to which they belong remains the same.Later my right hon. Friend said:In respect of the infantry, upon whom falls the greatest burden in the cold war, the plan for the 165,000 Army was drawn up on the basis of the majority of infantry battalions being at a strength of 635, which was the establishment of an infantry battalion at the time the re-organisation was decided upon. Experience in working with this figure has shown us that there are certain circumstances in which a higher strength would be better. This was most noticeable in Cyprus, when things were at their worst, and when units were at full stretch day and night. It was then necessary to keep battalions at a strength of over 700."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 3rd March, 1959; Vol. 601, cc. 229–30.]That statement was made by my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Agriculture, and it is from that that this mystical figure of 774 has somehow come into the argument.
I want to make it absolutely plain that the figure upon which we are working for establishment at the moment is 660, and it was this figure to which my right hon. Friend was referring this afternoon. It has been this figure for a considerable time. Although the former Secretary of State for War referred to the need for battalions of over 700 in Cyprus at the time when the last emergency was at its worst, I do not think anyone would suggest that things are exactly the same now and that we need exactly the same number in an infantry battalion. The infantry battalion establishment which is relevant to the argument is the three company peace establishment of 660 men, and it is wrong 1676 and confusing to bring in other establishments not currently in force.
What are the facts about the infantry units in Cyprus at the moment? We do not give strengths, but I can say that the weakest of them is just under 500 strong. This battalion is the one which went off at short notice and left over 100 men behind for various reasons. Even on the figure of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), of 774, half of which I work out at 387, he is a very long way off from battalions being sent to Cyprus at about half-strength, and on the figure we are working on it is very much above half-strength. It is curious to note that, even on the right hon. Gentleman's figure, the average strength of an infantry battalion in Cyprus is almost two-thirds higher than the figure we are working on anyway. I hope that this disposes of this argument for good and all.
Other points which were made on manpower were basically the question of B.A.O.R. and whether it was right to keep there the 55,000 men we are currently aiming at. We believe that we have a Treaty obligation to fulfil in this respect, and we intend to work towards fulfilling it. In this connection about reorganisation of B.A.O.R., I should like to refer to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House in November. He said then something about the way in which we hoped to phase in the reorganisation of B.A.O.R. to six brigade groups with the biuld up in numbers in B.A.O.R. We intended to do the one without prejudicing the other. It has, however, now become clear that the commitments recently undertaken by the Army in various parts of the world must affect the build-up in Germany in the short term. In the long term they may make very little difference. It depends on how long they last, but at the moment they must have priority. I do not think we need reproach ourselves too much about this. The Committee knows the importance of fulfilling our Treaty obligations, which is the foundation of our policy, but equally—
§ Mr. Lipton
Does this argument not mean that for the present and for the foreseeable future our priorities go to our 1677 Commonwealth commitments over and above those we have in Germany?
§ Mr. Kirk
Not for the foreseeable future, I think. At the moment, we hope, as I was saying, to carry through the reorganisation without reducing the troops. The combination of the reorganisation and the emergency coming at the same time have affected the situation. The reorganisation as announced by my right hon. Friend on 26th June is going ahead and we intend to withdraw an infantry brigade surplus to the reorganisation from the order of battle within the next few months. This will, of course, affect the rate of build-up in B.A.O.R. If, however, our world-wide commitments had permitted us, we would have had the reorganisation without even a temporary net reduction in the number of British troops, but this will not now be possible.
Despite that, however, as I have said, it is our plan so far as we can to make up the total to 55,000 to meet our Treaty commitment, though I am not at the moment, in view of this, prepared to say when we hope to be able to do it.
I was also asked a question about the Gurkha battalions. The position is the same as it was when I answered some Questions on this in the House in November; that is, that the planned rundown has been halted, the strength of the Gurkhas remains at about 15,000, and we shall be reconsidering the matter at a later stage.
§ Mr. Kirk
We shall, of course, come to a decision as soon as we can, but the hon. and learned Gentleman must understand that the length of our commitment and the size of our commitment in Borneo is not yet absolutely plain, and this is bound to govern the circumstances in which the Gurkha battalions are built up or not.
I ought to say a word about the Reserves, a subject raised specifically by the hon. Member for Dudley, who has 1678 sent me a note explaining why he cannot be here at this late hour. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we might, as it were, convert the T.A. itself into a kind of "teeth' Reserve, slightly more immediate than it is now, and that also we might do something to bring Section B somewhat nearer mobilisation. I got the impression that he was trying, in fact, to convert both of these into pre-Proclamation Reserves, almost doing away with the Proclamation altogether. Of course, the T.A.E.R. the "Ever-readies", is, in fact, a teeth Reserve of the kind the hon. Gentleman has in mind, and we are trying to build it up as much as possible. Perhaps, in this connection, I ought to clear up a slip made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) in suggesting that the bounty was tax-free. I should hate the impression to get about that it was tax-free and for people then to discover that it was not. This is already a cause of a good deal of friction among people thinking of volunteering for the T.A.E.R.
The T.A E.R. has been building up in the last few months. It is a very long way short of what we should like it to be, but it is available and it will be used if necessary. In addition, there has been the recent passage of the new Army Reserve Act, which has lengthened and broadened the whole scope of Section A, another pre-Proclamation Reserve. This also meets a point made by the hon. Member for Dudley.
In connection with the subject of Reserves, I should like to mention one development on the reinforcement of B.A.O.R. in the event of a grave emergency. In answer to a Question on 22nd January, my right hon. Friend referred to the increased contribution for which, from 1965, we shall look to the T.A. This year and next year, while the T.A. is working up to this, we shall still, as before, want a number of part-time National Service men as individual reinforcements. There is nothing new in this, but, since we have no longer a fresh supply of National Service men starting their part-time service and, hence, available to take the place of those men who are finishing, we are having to alter the current posting instructions to existing part-time National Service men with a long period of part-time service still to perform. In other words, a number of 1679 these men who at present have instructions to report to T.A. units on mobilisation will now receive amended instructions telling them to report on mobilisation to reinforcement units or other T.A. units with a B.A.O.R. rôle on mobilisation.
This is very much a short-term measure, and the total number of men likely to be pre-posted in this way will not exceed 10,000. Those affected will, however, receive fresh mobolisation instructions, and, before these are issued, I thought I should make clear to the Committee what was involved. This measure in no way alters the liability of those part-time National Service men, nor does it affect in any way the likelihood of their being called up. It is nothing to do with the pre-Proclamation liability which some National Service men still have. It is solely concerned with where they would go in the event of general mobilisation following a Proclamation.
Some points were made about the Territorial Army, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) asked me about the possibility of entire squadrons or battalions of the T.A. training with their sister units in B.O.A.R. We are still working out the precise scheme for training with B.A.O.R., to which my right hon. Friend referred in January, and I hope very much that my hon. Friend's squadron will be able to exercise there in the near future.
A number of hon. Members spoke about recruiting, and I should like to take up one or two of the points which were made. In the first place, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) raised again the question of colonial recruiting. This time, I think, he had in mind whole units or sub-units or even sections coming from various parts of the Commonwealth. I must say that that is not really what we need. We have got all the units we need. What we need is to bring them up to strength. If one creates new units, one has to create new headquarters, a new structure of command, and so on, and the whole situation becomes a little more elaborate. My right hon. Friend's method of gradually raising the limit and letting a few more 1680 in will probably be a better way of doing it and will probably afford an easier way of absorbing them into the Regular Army.
The hon. and learned Member referred also to the question of pensions, in particular the old conflict between parity, on the one hand, and immutability, on the other. The difficulty is that all public service pensions are based on service rendered and on rank or, in the case of civil servants, the rate of pay preceding retirement. We cannot, however, consider Service pensions in isolation. The whole of pensions must be considered right across the board, including civil public service pensions also.
It is a general rule, as the hon. and learned Member said, that once awarded, a basic pension is not made to match alterations in the rates or conditions of future awards. The last Pensions (Increase) Act was the sixth since the war. We must all sympathise with the difficulties which past inflation has brought to retired Service people, but I do not dispute that, even with the latest pensions increases, many of those who retired long ago will have pensions which buy less than when they were first awarded.
The Government have consistently taken the view—I do not think that any other is defensible—that essentially all public service pensioners are faced with the same problem. As Sir James Grigg's Committee on Recruiting clearly recognised, there is no logical halfway position between our present policy and that of bringing all Service pensions up to present-day rates. We certainly could not bring existing Service pensions up to present-day rates without doing the same for public service pensioners, which would cost something like £75 million a year. We do not think it right to ask the taxpayer to insulate public service pensioners from every effect of inflation, however much sympathy we may have with them in the situation that has arisen.
For those reasons, I do not think that it is possible to raise pensions over the whole field. We have, however, in the last Pensions (Increase) Act, specifically gone slightly further than in the previous Acts and tried to compensate for future rises in the cost of living. We hope that 1681 in that way we can achieve a compromise between parity and immutability.
§ Mr. Paget
We on this side take the view that Service pensions are in a quite different position to Civil Service pensions, because a Service pensioner retires so much earlier. Consequently, there is much longer time for inflation to take effect. We do not have Civil Service pensioners who have been on pension for 30 years.
§ Mr. Kirk
I take the point, but I still do not think that it can invalidate the general point that it would be extremely difficult to do this for Service pensioners and not do it for pensions right across the board.
I was asked questions by both my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) and my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) about housing for soldiers leaving the Army. This is a perpetually difficult problem, as many hon. Members are aware. About five years ago, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government circulated all local authorities drawing their attention to this problem, but the local authorities, quite reasonably, pointed out that they had their own housing problems and waiting lists and their own people to look after. We have, therefore, tried through the "Save while you serve" scheme to encourage soldiers to save up to buy their own houses when they leave. I am glad to say that the scheme is going remarkably well. A large number of soldiers are taking it up and are saving with a view to ensuring that they have a house when, eventually, they leave the Service.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Clive Bossom) raised the question of the length of engagement. We are keeping an eye on possibilities of introducing other terms of engagement, but it is a good idea to let the present ones work out. It is interesting to note that one of the objects of recruiting is to get as many men as possible to sign on for nine-year rather than six-year engagements and that we have had considerable success in this way.
When we first introduced the six-year engagement in 1957, most recruits joined for an initial six years rather 1682 than nine years. In 1958, the numbers taking the short engagement were more than three times those who joined for nine years. During the last three years, however, an increasing proportion have chosen nine years initially and recently more men have chosen the nine-year than the six-year engagement. That is encouraging, because it means that we will not, we hope, be faced in the future with the immense run of the kind we now have at the end of six years.
I can also assure my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster that we shall be keeping up television advertising. We hope to increase it in the course of the next financial year. It seems to have very considerable effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) was quite right in thinking that the trough in recruitment to Sandhurst—I am now talking about officers—has passed. The situation now seems to be that the Royal Military Academy is taking in as many people virtually as it can.
I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster raised the question of leisure. This is one of the problems to which we have perhaps devoted too little attention in the House in the past. I was grateful to him and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Aberavon, for the tribute which they paid to the A.K.C. This is a body which achieves a very great deal without ever attracting to itself very much publicity. As my hon. Friend said, it provides in very many cases a seven-day service, sometimes with two changes of film a week.
However, there remains the very difficult question of television. In the course of the last Estimates debate, the then Secretary of State referred to the problem, and we have not been idle since then. Both my right hon. Friend and I have taken considerable personal interest in how we can get a television service in B.A.O.R. I regret to say that I am not in a position tonight to announce anything definite, but I can say that the problems that confront us are very considerable and not by any means purely financial ones either. The air waves in Germany are extremely full. It is a question of finding frequencies which we can use for the purpose. We have been having consultations with the German federal postal 1683 authorities, and we hope to reach some agreement with them to enable us to run our own television service for our troops in B.A.O.R. It must be realised that the Germans are under very heavy pressure from their own people to provide more television, and, understandably, this may take some time to work out; but I think we have made some progress, and I hope we shall make more.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster also mentioned the question of languages and suggested that we might encourage people to learn other languages. We do. We have a very full scheme in operation already. For the languages of N.A.T.O. countries we give awards which range from £500 for a first-class interpreter in Turkish to £25 for a colloquial speaker in German, French and Italian. Special financial provision has been made to increase the demand to undertake colloquial tests arising from the introduction of a special rapid course. I saw many soldiers taking it when I was in the B.A.O.R. a month or so ago.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) raised two rather difficult questions—the repatriation of bodies from abroad and representation at inquests. I have been into both of these quite recently. I am sorry to say that I can still see no way of providing next-of-kin representation at Army boards of inquiry, which must of their very nature remain secret, and, therefore, a representative of the next-of-kin really could not tell anybody anything about it if he came. Nor can I see any way of getting round the difficulties of repatriating bodies from areas other than North-West Europe.
Turning to equipment, the situation with regard to wireless sets is not quite as simple as the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to think. It is not just that we are afraid that soldiers will drop the sets. It is that even a transistor set for the Army would have to be a good deal bigger than it might appear because it must be able to both send and receive. A commercial transistor radio can be very simple when it is receiving along fixed lines. It need be designed only to pick up the very powerful transmissions of national radio stations. But our radios must be 1684 much more sophisticated. For that reason I do not think there is much chance yet of producing a really light transistor set which will meet the case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster may be interested to know that we have got 100 Armourlite rifles on order and will try to find out whether they will suit us.
On helicopters, the hon. Member for Aberavon expressed some surprise that there was no statement today, and said that there had been a calculated leak that there would be. If there was a calculated leak it was not from this side of the Committee, because my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation said at Question Time yesterday that he was not in a position to announce a decision on helicopter requirements for the Army this week but hoped to be able to do so very soon.
The statement in last year's Estimates about the Chieftain tank was remarkably accurate. It will be coming into service with the Army next year, and we hope to have equipped most of Rhine Army with it by the end of 1965.
Now I turn to the Royal Ordnance factories. There is not an enormous amount I can add to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. McCann) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) on the reason why, unfortunately, we have had to close down R.O.Fs. I can perhaps help by making one or two points in reply to the hon. Member for Woolwich, East.
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know some figures of redundancies. So far, 207 industrial workers have left the Woolwich factory. Thirty have gone to other War Department employment, 61 to other Departments and nine to public bodies of various kinds. Of the established people who have transferred or left, 31 retired on pension, 14 retired on frozen pensions, 25 resigned with terminal grants and five resigned for other reasons. Of the unestablished, 32 resigned. No one has yet had to be discharged, so we hope that the run-down can continue in an orderly fashion.
Various points were raised about the Arsenal itself. I do not see anything discreditable in having people who are, to 1685 a certain extent, in competition, being appointed to sit on the Advisory Board. If they did not know something of the work involved there would be no point in appointing them, and as they do not advise on contracts there is no point in interfering with them.
The important question of land was raised. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East referred to the land in Woolwich. Not only the barracks but the whole of the garrison area there is to be redeveloped. We are pressing ahead and, when the scheme is complete, several sites will no longer be required for military use. These will be disposed of in the normal way, by public auction, unless the local authorities have an overwhelming case for acquisition by compulsory purchase.
Some 16 acres have been put up for disposal and 6½ have actually been sold or are in process of being sold to the Woolwich Borough Council, which is also interested in the other 9½ acres. During the next five years or more, another 26½ acres will be made available for disposal. Other parts of the garrison may appear to be unused. This is inevitable as units are moved about during the various phases of redevelopment.
The hon. Member expressed great indignation at the state of Woolwich Common, and I agree with him. I pass it regularly. It is in a shocking state. It will not continue like that for very much longer, however. Action has been taken to level the area and arrangements have been made for the importation of soil. We are turning the common back to grassland. Of the total of 35 acres all but six acres have been seeded, and these will be seeded by the end of next month if the weather holds out. I hope I have pleased the hon. Member.
The problem of Monifieth is not as simple as the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) made out. It is not only the fact that people might be fired on or trip over something that is involved, although in March last year there was a fatal accident in which a War Department employee and his son were killed and people have been injured by picking up thunder-flashes and other things.
The annexe is at the other end of the range, and we must consider the sand 1686 dunes, which shift from time to time. If people wander into the area, even past sentries—that has been known—we stop firing. However, I will go into this again and, if I can, I will visit the site and see whether we can settle the matter.
Finally, on the land side, I refer to Dartmoor. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham spoke eloquently about the damage which the Army does to Dartmoor. With the greatest respect, however, I must say that I cannot accept that the document which has been sent to all hon. Members is an accurate statement of the case. There is a very long history behind this. I will not go into it, but I have made a very careful study of all the allegations in the document, and if any hon. Member cares to raise any of them with me I will deal with them.
For example, there have been no infringements of the safety regulations. There have been no firings on days previously advertised as non-firing days—one of the allegations made in this brochure. Training exercises outside the established training areas are carried out only alter consent of the owner-occupier has been obtained. Further, the Minister of Public Building and Works, who is responsible for ancient monuments, confirms that there has been no complaints of damage to scheduled monuments in the area.
As for the damage done to the Langstone Menhir, I have verified that the damage was done during the war by a single member of the Home Guard, armed with a rifle, and had nothing to do with the War Department in later years. I cannot accept the document as being accurate. Other bodies work with the War Department, and I regret that the Dartmoor Preservation Association refuses to co-operate with us in making it possible for both the civilian and military use of the moor to take place at the moment.
I have answered as many questions as I can, and I promise to write to hon. Members on any other points which have been raised, and hope to be able to satisfy them.
In conclusion, this is the last debate on Vote A that we shall have for the 1687 War Office, which goes out of existence in about four weeks. I have probably had the shortest tenure of office of all in this post, because I came in only four months ago, and will presumably go out with the War Office shortly, carried out like the rest of the furniture. But in the short time that I have been here I have learnt to appreciate the great efficiency and zeal of the members of the War Office staff—civilian and military—and also to appreciate something which people sometimes forget—the way in which the civil and military sides work so happily together. I hope that in the larger organisation to which we are shortly all to be transported this same teamwork between the permanent and temporary staff will be able to continue, and will be extended on an even greater scale in the other two Service Departments.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 229,000, 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 1965.
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow;
§ Committee to sit again Tomorrow.