HC Deb 16 December 1968 vol 775 cc880-906
Mr. Speaker

The House will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the first two Motions—Defence (Army) and Defence (Royal Air Force)—are to be taken formally and that the House wishes to move straight to Motion No. 3, Run-down of Forces and Reserves. If that is the will of the House, I will proceed to put the first Motion. The Question is—

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

I thought that it was by the will of the House that the first two Motions should be taken formally. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am ascertaining the will of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Army Act 1955 (Continuation) Order 1968. a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th October, be approved.—[Mr Healey.]

3.48 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I strongly object to the taking of the first Order, Defence (Army), on the nod. There are precedents for a debate. It was repeatedly decided by your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, in debates in which the former Member for Dudley (Lord Wigg), myself and others took part, that this draft order could be debated and that we could raise on it matters of recruiting and of discipline.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The last thing this Speaker wishes to do is to deprive an hon. Member of his right to speak on a Motion before the House. The hon. Member is perfectly in order.

Mr. Hughes

I do not know whether my opinion is shared by hon. Members on both sides, but I believe that before the House passes this important Order we should have an opportunity of discussing it in the wider aspect than in the narrow aspect provided in the censure Motion of the Opposition. That would narrow the debate, in which many of us wish to raise wider and more important questions. In the past, it has been ruled that, while we are not entitled to discuss the wider aspects of defence and foreign affairs on this Motion, we are entitled to discuss military discipline and recruiting. I want, first, to raise a question of military discipline and to ask the Minister for some information.

A statement by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was reported in the Press last Friday about a projected visit by him to the British Army of the Rhine. It appears that the right hon. Gentleman had a grievance in that he had been invited to visit the British Army of the Rhine, but that this invitation had been cancelled and that this was a challenge to free speech in the Army. I hold no brief for the right hon. Member. I am sorry that owing to the late arrival of my plane I was unable to give him personal notice that I intended to raise the matter, but it raises a question of discipline of the Army. I want to know, in the first place, why the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was invited to address the Army of the Rhine. I should have said that that in itself was a challenge to military discipline. Suppose there happened to be coloured soldiers in the Army of the Rhine—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I want to hear the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) on the visit of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) to the Army and how it cuts across the Army Act which we are putting into force by this Motion. I cannot do so if hon. Members continue to talk.

Mr. Hughes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Like you, I believe in discipline.

This is a sufficiently important question for me to ask for a statement by a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence. What are the circumstances in which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was invited to address the Army of the Rhine and why was the invitation cancelled? In view of the controversial part which he has played in affairs, it seems to me regrettable that he, above all people, should have been invited to address our officers and our soldiers. I understand that he and Mrs. Powell were invited to Germany, the explanation given being that he was to speak on important defence questions.

I have no quarrel with the statement that the right hon. Member is interested in defence, because early in the year he was Shadow Defence Minister. But he has ceased to hold that post. I cannot understand why one private Member—he had become a private Member be cause he had gone to the back benches—should have preference over another. I do not see why the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West should have any more preference than the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) or even the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, myself. If there is to be free speech in the Army of the Rhine, and if Members are to be invited to discuss these matters, then other hon. Members with different points of view are entitled to put them.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

On a point of order. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the House has often been in difficulties in bringing within the rules of order those subjects which hon. Members wish to discuss in connection with the Army. It was for that reason that we on this side of the House tabled a wider Motion. Would you, Mr. Speaker, for our guidance, say how what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is saying falls within the rules of order?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) had strayed for one second beyond the bounds of order, Mr. Speaker would have called him to order.

Mr. Hughes

I do not intend to stray for a second, or for a split second, beyond the bounds of order, Sir.

I wish to know what would be the effect on the discipline of the troops of a speech made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. There are coloured soldiers in the Army of the Rhine. If a coloured soldier were invited to ask questions of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, he might ask some very pertinent questions, such as," Why have coloured people in the Army? Are they here to defend you when you want to repatriate us to Jamaica? ".

I view with alarm the prospect of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West wandering from garrison to garrison in different parts of the world making speeches on these issues. Sup pose that he goes to address the Gurkhas? He might very well cause a mutiny among the Gurkhas. They might want to repatriate him.

We should be told by the Minister how Members are selected for these purposes and whether there is to be a free-for-all.

I turn to the matters raised in the draft Order. In another place, a full statement was made by the Government spokesman on the question of enlistment and recruiting. It is not right for Members of the House of Commons, when they wish to discuss Orders and a Government statement, to have to read a statement made in the Upper House by the Government spokesman for the Air Force. I hope—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have protected the hon. Member against the House. We are on the first Order, not the second Order. He must leave the Air Force out at the moment. The hon. Gentleman has insisted on his right to speak on the first Order, which is about the Army.

Mr. Hughes

I have had to get my information from the statement made by the Government spokesman for the Army in the House of Lords, where the question of recruiting has been discussed in detail.

We understand from the military authorities that the recruiting outlook for the Army is very gloomy, that the numbers of recruits needed are not coming forward and that the situation is a little worse than it was last year. I wish to know whether that is so.

We have had a very important amateur recruiting campaign in Scotland. There has been an attempt to save the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I should like the hon. Gentleman to help me. Once this debate is out of the way, we are to discuss Motion No. 3, which covers some of the points which the hon. Gentleman is raising now. We do not want two debates on the same subject.

Mr. Hughes

I agree. I waive my right to speak on the third Motion. I will not try to make a speech in any sub sequent debate. I am sure that that will relieve hon. Members and the pressure on the House.

I cannot see any sign of a recruiting boom in Scotland. A petition has been signed—and I understand that it is to be presented to the House—by ex-officers and others who want to save the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It was signed by 1 million people. What has been its effect upon recruiting in Scotland? Has it helped recruiting in Scotland? I understand that a tremendous effort was involved in obtaining these 1 million signatures. Women and children signed the petition. If 1 million people have signed a petition calling upon the Government to save the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, why are not the recruiting figures higher?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am anxious to help the hon. Gentleman, who I know is anxious to help the House. Motion No. 3 deals with the run-down of Her Majesty's Forces. What we are deciding at the moment is whether we shall have an Army, whether we should renew the Army Act. It would be better if the hon. Gentleman kept himself to that and saved himself for the debate on that Motion.

Mr. Hughes

As I have said, I have no intention of encroaching upon the time of the House later. But these matters were discussed in another place and I think that I am entitled to mention the problem of recruiting as it was discussed in another place.

I should like to know whether the Minister proposes to make an effort to discover whether any of the people who signed the petition can help to bring soldiers into the Scottish regiments. If 1 million people signed the petition, surely some recruits will result from it. Or were these merely people who thought that by signing the petition outside castles in Scotland they were helping recruiting? As one who has watched this campaign with a great deal of interest, I should like to know the effect of the petition.

I understand that in my constituency signatures were obtained in a very curious way. I am told that they were obtained in public houses, on Saturday night.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Whether the the signatures were obtained in a dubious or an honest way, the hon. Gentleman must come to the Motion.

Mr. Hughes

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I am trying to deal with the argument as it was debated in another place.

I do not think that the Army authorities have been helped by this monster petition. I believe that collecting the signatures of tourists to Scotland outside the castles of Scotland has had not effect on recruiting.

I leave the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and I come to the broad question of recruiting. Undoubtedly, recruiting is declining. The question whether we have an Army surely depends on whether we get recruits. If the recruits are not coming forward, we will not have an Army to discipline. There fore, we should be discussing the whole question of the cause of the fall in recruiting.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I wonder whether it would help the hon. Member if he were now to resume his seat and hear the debate, and then take part in the debate after he has heard the observations from both Front Benches, because he is touching on a debate which is to follow on the third Order.

Mr. Hughes

Debate No. 3 is in the queue. I study my military and Parliamentary strategy, and I have come in at the front of the queue. If the hon. Member is still in queue No. 3 I cannot help it. He should study his strategy.

I turn to the facts about recruits. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but according to the statement we have 9,041 fewer than we need. In the total intake of 11,000, the fall-off is 15,400. We are told that the rising proportion of young men who are marrying early must have an adverse effect on the number of recruits. I want to know why, in a Government document, the Minister objects to citizens marrying early.

The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)

We do not object.

Mr. Hughes

If the Government do not object to it, the fact is that the more they marry early the fewer recruits will be obtained for the Army.

Apparently, the position is so bad that the Government are trying to speed up the recruiting of boys. I do not believe that the recruiting of boys is desirable. In his statement, however, the Minister says that the recruiting of more boys is the bright spot in the whole picture. I want to know whether that is so. The whole question of how many recruits we need for the Army depends upon what kind of an Army we need.

Mr. Speaker.

Order. Let me help the hon. Member. In this debate we are deciding whether we have an Army. The hon. Member must confine himself to whether the Army Act should be renewed.

Mr. Hughes

I am arguing Mr. Speaker, that if the recruiting figures decline at this rate, in 1975 or 1976 we will not have an Army. I cannot under stand why this is not relevant. It depends what size the Army is to be. The Government have told us in the Army Estimates that we need 224,000 men.

I turn, however, to probably one of the great authorities on military affairs, and that is Lord Montgomery. I listened, as I always listen, respectfully to Lord Montgomery, who is a member of another place. He says that the size of Army that he would recommend is a short, efficient Army of 180,000.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

On a point of order. May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that while we understand how anxious you must be to protect the rights of any minority in the House, the House itself is in danger of forfeiting its own much-valued rights of calling to account the Government Front Bench on measures which a majority of Members of the House consider to be of principal importance to them?

May I sincerely ask you, Mr. Speaker, how much longer it would be before you are likely to accept a Motion, That the hon. Member to be not further heard?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must never mix points of order with points of politics. His opinion of the Government has nothing to do with a point of order. The size of the Army has nothing to do with the subject on which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) should be speaking. The hon. Member must con fine himself to the Motion on the Order Paper, which is whether the Army Act, 1955, should be continued for the year. He would assist the House if he did so.

Mr. Hughes

I am as keen on protecting the rights of this honourable House as anybody else, and, of course, I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I do not bow to the amateur strategists on the benches opposite, who do not study their Parliamentary strategy.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

They do not know anything about it.

Mr. Hughes

I shall not take long, but I say this. The numbers in the Army may decrease to nothing, and in that case we will not need these Orders. We already have a sufficiently big Army, according to the opinion of one of the highest military authorities in the country.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If we have, that is a matter which will arise on the third Motion and not on this one. Can I help the hon. Member, who, I know, knows what I am saying? On this Order, we are deciding whether we renew the Army Act, 1955.

Mr. Hughes

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I do not want the Army Act renewed until we get a satisfactory answer to these questions—and I presume that that is in order.

I have been in these tortuous Parliamentary ways before. Sometimes we have to advance, and sometimes we have to retreat. I am quite prepared to retreat when the commanding officer gives the word. I am about to retreat, Mr. Speaker, to a better strategic place in the rear.

I say, therefore, that we need a fuller statement from the Minister about how many recruits are needed and why we are not getting the recruits. In the other place, it was said that we were spending £3 million last year on publicity, trying to get into the Army the soldiers who never came. I am obliged to the House for listening so patiently. I have put my point of view and I hope that we will get an answer from the Minister.

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

It certainly is not my intention to trespass on the subject matter of the third Motion, but there is one point to which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) alluded, in passing, which is of fundamental importance and which we should seek to raise with the Minister of Defence for Administration, who is on the Front Bench. If I may have his attention for a moment, I am sure that he will know to what I am referring—that is, the issue of teenage Service men, which has been going on to my know ledge for well over 18 months.

I am sure that the Minister will recall the discussion which I had with him in April, 1967, together with a deputation of members of the Parliamentary Civil Liberties Group, on this extremely important and anxious subject of teenage Service, men who, in many instances, are being asked to sign on for as long as 12 years at an age when they are not fully equipped to make such a fundamental decision.

When we saw the Minister, he said that he would consider our representations carefully, particularly in the light of the Report of the Latey Committee, which he had not then received. If I may remind him of the points we raised with him, they were, first, the possibility of extending the statutory rights of discharge for teenage Service men from three months to a longer period compatible with the manpower requirements of the Services.

Secondly, we wanted to discuss the causes of dissatisfaction among teenagers, bearing in mind that there appeared to be less difficulty with apprentices who received a technical training, which could be of use to them later in civilian life. The third question was the right to obtain discharge at the age of majority; and the fourth, the moral and social implications of unilateral agreements—i.e., attestation made under the age of 18, and particularly by young boys of the age of 15 or 16.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know that the hon. Member would not like to get out of order. We are deciding whether we have an Army or not. Will he link his remarks to that question?

Mr. Lubbock

As I understand, the position of these boy recruits is governed by the Army Act, and particularly by those provisions of it which relate to their discharge after the period of six months of service, or, as we suggest, at the age of majority.

The Minister of Defence for Administration took his time in considering these representations which were made by the Parliamentary Civil Liberties Group. Having first of all given us to under stand that he would be making a statement in the House before the Summer Recess, he did not do so until fairly late in the autumn, when he eventually made a statement which went only part of the way to meet the case we put to him. He agreed with us that there should be an extension of the period within which a young boy can decide he is not suited for military service, but he would not accept the most fundamental of the reasons we put to him, that a young man should have the right to opt out of the Service on reaching the age of his majority.

Now that we have the Latey Committee's Report and have had full opportunity of giving it consideration, and are making the age of 18 the age for making legal decisions in other aspects of our national life—

Mr. Speaker

With respect to the hon. Member, we are not discussing the age of entry into the Army. We are discussing whether the Army Act, 1955, shall be renewed.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

On a point of order. I should like to have your guidance, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Member for leaping to the defence of his hon. Friend, Mr. Emrys Hughes.

Mr. Hughes

My point of order, Mr. Speaker, is that you are giving an important ruling which I should like to have clarified. The hon. Member, like myself, has been reading the statement on the defence Orders in the other place. In the other place it was ruled that we could discuss the question of boy recruiting. Is it your ruling—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is the most experienced Parliamentarian in the House. He knows that the rules of this House are quite distinct from those of the other and that what is in order in the other place is not necessarily in order in this House.

Mr. Lubbock

I would not wish to contravene your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, in any way. If it is not proper for me now to discuss whether teenage Servicemen should have the right to opt out at the age of 18, in addition to that they already possess under the Army Act to leave the serve after the first six months, then I would not attempt to do so.

However, there is one other point connected with this whole problem of teen age Servicemen, and I think it will be in order, and that is, how it affects discipline in the Service which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire says we have traditionally been entitled to discuss on the Army Act.

There are two ways in which large-scale recruitment of boys may have deleterious effects on the discipline of the Service. First of all, we have the young men who, after being in the Service for a short while, decide they are not suited for that kind of existence and go absent without leave, or worse still, desert for long periods. This must have a harmful effect on the morale of the other Servicemen, particularly of those in the same units. I cannot see how any one can deny that proposition. There fore, if the Minister is leaning more heavily on boy recruits to make up the numbers in the Service, as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire alleges, this is a very serious matter which must be examined by the House before we allow the Army Act to continue.

Secondly, to the extent that these boys do not desert, but continue to serve in the units to which they are posted, that, too, must have a harmful effect on discipline and the general morale of the Service.

These matters are unconnected with the matters we are to debate on the third of the three Motions. Therefore, while I agree that that third Motion is of great importance, and while I accept what the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said about the rights of most other hon. Members who wish to discuss it, I hope that we shall have thorough and complete answers from the Minister to these questions of teenage Service, and that we shall have them before we proceed.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member knows that he has spoken in one of today's major debates on behalf of his party.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)

I do not intend to detain the House more than a couple of minutes, but since this matter has been raised, even if in what is now the somewhat unorthodox fashion, on the first Motion, which is technically subject to debate, like any other Motion which appears on the Order Paper, I wish to add my voice in support of what has been said, although I do so from another point of view.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), as we are very well aware, has raised this matter from a pacifist and technical point of view. He is not willing to approve the Motion till he receives satisfactory answers. The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has raised it from the Liberal benches from the point of view of personal liberty.

I have considerable sympathy with both hon. Members. I am not a pacifist. Let me make that clear. I believe that the country needs armed forces, unfortunately. Till the world becomes more civilised we cannot do without them. So I am not raising this matter from any sort of pacifist angle. However, if, by the exigencies of the time and the need for defence, we are driven to recruiting boys to the Army, to enlist youngsters of this age when they are not in a position to exercise proper judgment as to what is the contract they are undertaking, then I shall reserve my right to speak here and say that this is bad policy in the national interest.

I say so for this simple reason, that it has always been accepted under the common law of England—I do not wish to encourage any lawyers in the House, who will obviously agree with me on this—that young men under the age of 21, as it is now before we pass new legislation, no minor, can make any contract which is not for his own benefit, and if he does so he can set it aside when he reaches the age of majority. I am not speaking theoretically about this; I am speaking from practical experience in all kinds of civil contracts for in demnities and damages.

In addition to the more indirect questions which have been put to my right hon. Friends, I want to know in what sense the youngsters of 16 who, rightly or wrongly, enlist for Army service are distinct from ordinary citizens who have the right, of which I have just spoken, to change their minds when they come of age.

In the propaganda and publicity which is being used by the military authorities for getting recruits it seems to me that nobody knows that a youngster of 16 who, for his own good reasons, joins the forces is thereby surrendering his civil rights which he would ordinarily in other respects possess as a citizen.

This is a very important distinction. I would not like it to go out from this House that because of a lack of vigilance on the part of hon. Members, or because of the sophistries sometimes used in these debates by those who have a vested interest in hiding the truth, we can have a situation in which children are taken from school into the Army without having any opportunity to reconsider their position when they reach the age of discretion. This is something which I deplore. It has just happened. It is a form of administration whereby military law is applied to people to whom it ought not to apply.

For my right hon. Friends, and per haps for hon. Members opposite who always, on these occasions, pose as military experts on all kinds of matters on which they do not know the answers, it may be very inconvenient to have this little debate now before the main one, and I therefore do want to prolong it further.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

An important constitutional principle is involved in this matter. We are being asked to do something more than merely approve an Order. We are being asked to estabish and carry on the Army for another year. That being so, it is the right of every back bencher—a right which we would not want to see eroded—to make his views known on this issue; and if an arrangement has been concluded between the two Front Benches to enable the Opposition to debate a silly Motion of censure when we could be discussing many more important subjects, then I make no apology for adding my voice to this debate.

After all, I was not a party to what ever arrangement may have been concluded, I was not consulted about whether such an arrangement should be made. It will not do hon. Gentlemen opposite any harm, therefore, to listen awhile to back benchers on this side of the House expressing their views on this important matter. They may find what we have to say extremely interesting.

Until 1879, the continuance of the Army was by the Mutiny Act. Then, in 1881, we had the Army Act, and that had to be renewed annually. It was also subject to amendment each year. The situation gradually became so impossible that by 1952 a Select Committee was established to investigate the whole matter. For example, there were 920 amendments to the Army Act, 1881, on one occasion—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There have been many amendments when the Army Acts have come up for renewal at various times in history. I hope that we shall be spared most of them and that the hon. Member will come to the Instrument under discussion.

Mr. Lipton

Having mentioned that there were 920 amendments to that Act on one occasion, I had intended to abandon the matter there.

The situation now is that the Army Act is renewable only once every five years and, therefore, it is not possible to amend it within that period. That makes this debate more important than ever, and the right of hon. Members to speak on the subject. This right must not be allowed to fall into desuetude.

I am not in the least interested in the verbal slanging match which will take place across the Floor of the House on the Motion of censure. That sort of discussion is regarded by the electorate as irrelevant to the needs of the country, a misuse of Parliamentary time and a misuse of the power which the Opposition owe to Parliament and the country. I wish to inject some rationality into the debate.

It may be to the advantage of the House if I make the position clear. It will be within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that when we were discussing the Army Act (Continuation) Order in 1957 you gave an important Ruling on procedure. You said: It is important that we should try to get the position straight. This is the first time that this procedure has been resorted to for the Army Act and I am anxious not to lay down any rule which is wrong. The way I look at it is that, broadly speaking, the subjects which are covered by the Act are those which, in general, are discharged by the departments in the War Office of the Adjutant-General and the Quartermaster-General—what the soldiers used to call 'A' and 'Q' matters. Therefore, in my judgment, matters applying to the General Staff, operational matters, the strategy of the Army and even foreign affairs in connection with the Army, are completely out of order on this debate. There are, of course, borderline questions and I should hesitate in advance to lay down a rule about them. In so far as the Act makes provision for recruitment and for the terms of engagement of the Regular Army, and in so far as it can be shown that these conditions militate against recruiting or harm recruiting or are successful in attracting recruits, I think that that would be in order. I shall, therefore, confine myself strictly to the Ruling which was given in that debate. In other words, we are entitled to discuss "A" and "Q" matters, recruitment, terms of engagement and cognate subjects. I do not wish to embark on another sphere of this subject, but I might add that a Ruling was given by Mr. Deputy Speaker in that debate of 1957, in which he said: … in my view, it is in order to discuss amalgamation, and I am going to allow it".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December 1957, Vol. 579, c. 230–56.] In accordance with that Ruling, it would be technically possible in this debate to discuss the amalgamation of regiments.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Now that the hon. Gentleman has discussed what is and is not in order, I trust that he will come to the speech which he wishes to make.

Mr. Lipton

I wanted to protect my self as far as possible against being ruled out of order in the remarks which I in tend to make, Mr. Speaker. In other words, I wanted to erect my defences so as to minimise the risk of being shot down in flames later.

As we are entitled to discuss recruiting, it is worth pointing out that this is currently the most difficult problem facing the Service Departments. How a censure debate will help a rational discussion of this problem, I fail to understand. I suggest that it would be advantageous to have a Select Committee of the House dealing with the problem, which is a purely factual one relating to the best methods of getting men to serve in such forces as this House decides are necessary for the nation's safety.

The recruiting figures are interesting, because whereas, in 1966, the Army got 19,500 men from civil life, in 1967 that figure had dropped to 15,440, while, according to official figures, the trend has continued, with the result that the in take for 1968 will probably be about 11,000. On 1st April of next year we will probably have 9,500 fewer men than we need in the Services.

This is a serious situation and it should be possible for some kind of all party organisation to discuss the problems involved. The Services can still offer many attractions with a range of career opportunities which did not exist some years ago, but what we are now doing is deciding what the rô le of the Army is to be in the 1970s. Those who have studied the numerous White Papers on the subject will be aware that it takes five and sometimes 10 years for a policy to achieve fruition. There are all kinds of long-term factors which do not run in our favour. There is no political capital to be made out of them and there are no votes in them.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) said, in years gone by the principal source of recruits was from among young men aged 15 to 19. The numbers of this section of the population are falling. There are now more than 200,000 fewer men aged between 15 and 19 in this group than there were in 1966. Due to circumstances entirely outside any political control, factors which have nothing to do with whether the Labour Party or Tory Party is in power, there are 202,000 fewer men in the age group which was the principal source from which we were able to derive recruits. This tendency, this diminution in that section of the population, will continue until 1973.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue this in too much detail. We are discussing whether we renew the Army Act. Some of the issues which the hon. Gentleman is raising will arise on the Motion ahead of us. I hope that we can get to it.

Mr. Lipton

I tried to make it as clear as I could that I was not very interested in that Motion which has been put down by the Opposition. I do not conceive it to be my duty to facilitate the Opposition in their desire to move their Motion of censure. No doubt their time will come, but they will just have to wait until the House has disposed of the Order now under discussion. However, I did not intend to pursue this subject any further.

I want now to refer to some other matters of a non-political nature which affect recruiting. The school-leaving age has risen. Boys now leave school with higher qualifications and wider ambitions and that fact, too, constitutes an obstacle in the way of recruiting the kind of people needed. Under the Industrial Training Act, boys still stay longer in full-time education with all the kinds of facilities now available to youngsters which constitute an inducement to stay in civilian life rather than join the Army.

Attractive conditions of service are now offered by the Services and it should be possible by a more careful process of selection at selection centres to get better value from recruits. Until now, we have waited until a recruit has been allocated to a regiment or corps before deciding for what he was fitted. I am glad to note that the Government are to see that that process takes place at the selection centre, which will ensure that we get more value out of recruits at an earlier stage.

It is encouraging to note that the prolongation rate is fairly good. It reached more than 50 per cent. in 1967 for the six-year men compared with 42 per cent. in the previous year. These are the men whose services we want to prolong and who will make the task of maintaining the Army much more worth while.

Officer recruitment is about holding its own. Wonderful opportunites are now available to young men who want to take commissions and, although there are shortages in the Royal Army Medical Corps and one or two other professional corps, generally speaking the situation with officers recruits is not too bad. It is encouraging to note the co-operation of the Confederation of British Industry in respect of the short-service commissions enabling young men on the completion of a short-service commission to find jobs in civilian life more easily than would otherwise have been the case.

One disquieting feature of conditions in the Army at present is the many soldiers absenting themselves without leave. The figures show that these A.W.O.L.s have constituted an increasing proportion of the total number of courts martial convictions since 1964. My feeling about this category of case is that much could be avoided if commanding officers of units and N.C.O.s knew a little more about man management. Much depends on the common sense and wisdom of individual commanding officers and senior N.C.O.s. Good leadership leads to self-discipline and in the end reduces the number of soldiers absenting themselves without leave.

Having, to the best of my ability, established the right of hon. Members on an Order of this kind to have their say, irrespective of arrangements between the two Front Benches about Motions of censure, and so on, I resume my seat and thank you, Mr. Speaker, and the House for the patience which you have shown towards me.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

On a point of order. I am anxious, Mr. Speaker, not only to understand your Rulings, but to appreciate your comments. When my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) concluded his speech, you said—and I took note—that he had made a major speech on behalf of his party. I speak subject to correction and I would be the last to wish to misquote any words of yours. I am not certain what is the implication or significance of that remark. Whether this is a major debate is not a matter for me to interpret. It was certainly, I know, the wish of the two Front Benches that this would be a minor and purely formal debate, but we on this bench were not a party to any such discussions or arrangements.

I very much hope—indeed, I respect fully beg to assume—that the implication of your remark was not that any hon. Gentleman—or, indeed, any party to which any hon. or right hon. Gentleman belonged—should be in any way disadvantaged because he did not choose to treat a particular debate in as formal a sense as both Front Benches sought to obtain.

Mr. Speaker

Order. One of Mr. Speaker's jobs is to ration out the debates as between parties in the House of Commons. If two debates were to take place, as at present appears to be the case, Mr. Speaker might have to decide that the Liberal Party could not have a place in each of the two debates.

Mr. Thorpe

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Naturally, I respect your Ruling, but is not the implication that those hon. Members—who may not be Members of the Liberal Party, but back benchers of any party—who do not choose to accept or abide by any particular agreement made between the two Front benches might find themselves disadvantaged in their rights which they seek to exercise in this House?

Mr. Speaker

It is much simpler than that. If hon. Members exercised their right to speak in one debate it might be unlikely that they would be called in the second debate if other hon. Members wished to speak in it.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is extremely disturbing. With great respect to you, do I take it that your words implied a threat to the Liberal Party that its spokesman might not be called in a subsequent debate because one of its members chose to take part in this debate? If that is so, it is extremely regrettable that Mr. Speaker should choose to imply a threat to any minority party.

This debate was initiated by a member of the Labour Party, but one heard no threats to the Labour Party because he initiated this debate. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that the House does not under stand that you are really impliedly threatening not to call a Liberal Party speaker in a subsequent debate because of this happening.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer. He knows that a threat is made before some thing happens. This was a remark after something had happened.

Mr. Hooson

Further to that point of order. I do not know why the comment had to be made unless it was a threat. This is not—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot bandy points of law with the hon and learned Gentleman. He probably knows that this Speaker is the most jealous protector of minorities for very many years. When he makes a comment, he does not make it as a threat. I commented on the fact that we had already had one debate and that we might have an other, and that it might be impossible to include in each of those two debates members of a minority party. Mr. Bence—on the debate.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I have never concealed my view that a standing Army is desirable. I do not agree with my hon Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that we should dispense with our Armed Forces. In the world as it is, we must, with the rest of the nations, have the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. We in this island are faced with a very difficult choice. Modern warfare is a technical matter. It is now not so much a question of massed armies, but a highly technical exercise, and to have an efficient Army we must recruit a very large percentage of highly-qualified technical people.

A Government, whatever their ideology, have to find the point at which we can have adequate technical and scientific recruits for our industrial base and, at the same time, find recruits for our Armed Forces. It is not for me or for any other hon. Member without a great deal of information to decide where that point lies, but we all know from our newspapers that industry is crying out for the same kind of technicians and the same kind of expertise that the forces want. We have to defend our country, but I am told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we must get our balance of payments right.

As far as I can see, as a member of N.A.T.O. it is far more important that we should recruit and educate more and more scientific and technological men for our industrial forces. That is where we need the manpower—the managers, the technicians, the expertise. We must also have a nucleus of them in the Armed Forces. I do not think it likely that war will break out, but I am sure that we play in N.A.T.O. a bigger part commensurate with our industrial standing than any other nation. Over the past 20 years, we have probably contributed more per head to the defence of the free world than any other nation. Now we are told that within the next few years we must pay off massive inter national debts.

An engineer in the Army does not pay off debts, but an engineer in industry, in telecommunications, and the like, does pay off debts. Our prime job is to pay off these debts, so that it is the function of the Government to reduce our Services personnel to as low a level as possible. The more men we get into industry, into the scientific and techno logical aspects of industry, the greater the reserve they will form if the need ever arose for an enlarged British Army. It is a tradition of Britain always to maintain only a very small standing army. Throughout the age of the pax Britannica we had a very small standing army—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the War Office's recruiting literature special stress is laid on its wish to attract experienced engineers, electricians and other skilled men into the Army?

Mr. Bence

That is perfectly true. There is a recruiting drive. A good deal of publicity is given to the fact that young men going into any one of the three Services will receive training that later will fit them for industry. I know of one young man who joined the Army to do his National Service, went to Alder-shot and was trained, and who says today that he owes a great deal of his present success as much to the training that he received in the Royal Engineers and the officers cadet school as to his grammar school.

There is no doubt that the training is first-class, but that has a double edge, because if we attract men into the forces to get a good training, and they enter on a short-term engagement or commission and then leave we are not so much recruiting them to the Armed Forces as continually passing them into industry. I certainly have no objection to the Army setting up apprentice training schools where these young men can be trained. Industry benefits from that training very much later on and the general body of taxpayers pays for it. They come back into industry where their skill is needed. But that is not maintaining a big standing Army—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue this line too much in detail. We are discussing whether or not we renew the Army Act. The hon. Gentleman must talk about that.

Mr. Bence

But of course, to maintain an Army on the basis of the Army Act, we need recruitment, and this difficult problem of recruiting and keeping men was beyond Ministers of Defence in the previous Administration. My right hon. Friend has done much better than all his predecessors because he has held the job much longer than any of them, which is a great compliment to his capacity and ability. He is tackling this problem better than it has ever been tackled before.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are not discussing the virtues or vices of the Minister of Defence, but whether we renew the Army Act. The hon. Gentleman must speak to that.

Mr. Bence

I would have liked to say much more about the success of the present Administration in recruitment and giving up responsibilities all over the world to balance industrial and military requirements, but I will end with a compliment to my right hon. Friend on the way that he has carried out his job.

4.51 p.m.

The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. G. W. Reynolds) rose

Mr. Speaker

The question is—

Mr. Lipton

On a point of order. Are we not to have a reply from the Minister to this debate?

Mr. Speaker

If we were to have had a reply, the Minister would have risen.

Mr. Reynolds

Further to that point of order. I did rise, Mr. Speaker, but your eyes were already on the Order Paper. You were reading the Motion.

We have had a short debate on this matter, similar to other debates during the period 1960–64, when the then Oppo- sition put down Motions and hon. Members sitting on that bench, although with rather different views, carried on a debate similar to the one that we have had today. There is nothing unusual in this. In fact, I anticipated that it would happen—

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

On a point of order. I am very anxious, be cause it was suggested earlier that hon. Members speaking in this debate might extinguish their right to speak on in a later debate. We will want to hear answers from the right hon. Gentleman about many other important matters later and I hope that he will not be deprived of this right.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Goarlay)

That is not a relevant point of order.

Mr. Reynolds

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) raised points about Army recruiting, which, he said, was not particularly good at the moment. I will say something about that in our third debate today, but my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) gave the actual figures and the reasons why we think recruiting is not going too well. I admit that. There was one thing which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire said, that we were recruiting more boys, which is not quite correct. From January to September, 1967, we recruited 5,266 boys into the Army. This year, over the same period, we recruited 4,978, rather fewer, but in the third quarter of this year, we recruited rather more than in the third quarter of 1967. So it looks as though recruiting of boys is picking up rather earlier than the recruiting of men.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the campaign, with 1 million signatures, to save the Argylls and wondered where all the signatures had come from. I have just returned from a visit to Katmandu, where I saw a motor car bearing a sticker on the back which said," Save the Argylls". I do not know how many of the signatures might have come from the occupants of that car.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend remember the famous poem about the green-eyed idol of Katmandu? Did that sign the petition?

Mr. Reynolds

I would not have thought that that was physically possible, but, if it were, I have no doubt that it would have been tried.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not give us in Scotland cause to put stickers on our cars saying," Save the Gurkhas ".

Mr. Reynolds

We need 16,500 adult males recruited into the Army this year and it looks as though we will get only about 11,000, so things are nothing like as good as we would like.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) gave his version of what occurred in the last 18 months over the question of boy recruiting from the visit which he and others made to me prior to my statement to the House. I do not dispute what he said. I can only repeat what I said at the time of that visit, that, morally, I would not defend this system, but that in terms of meeting our defence needs, I can see no alternative to it.

I also said that we were considering this matter further, but I am not prepared to give him any idea of a date when I may be able to make a further report to the House. The last time I did that, because I was about three months late in giving that report, he has never lost an opportunity since of reminding me of that fact. So he will get no estimate, by hook or by crook, from me of when I can make a further report.

My hon. Friend the Member for West-houghton (Mr. J. T. Price) said that some people did not think it right that a contract of this nature should be entered into by people so young, since this was completely at variance with the normal law of contract. He is quite correct, of course: it is completely different from the normal law of con tract. But this is not, in legal terms, a contract, but an agreement entered into under the provisions of the Army Act which the House is today being asked to continue—

Mr. J. T. Price

I apologise for having left the Chamber for five minutes. When these boys are recruited, from whatever source, does any consultation take place with the parents or guardians of the boys? This is an important aspect of the question, which I could not explore in detail, because I wished to obey Mr. Speaker's desire that we should make progress. But I pursue it now because I want to know whose authority, apart from that of the child leaving school, is ever sought when these enlistments take place.

Mr. Reynolds

The consent form signed by a youngster of 15 or 16 on joining the forces has to be counter signed by his parent or legal guardian. To give some idea of the time available for consideration both by the parent or guardian and the youngster himself, I would point out that there is usually a gap of about two months between the preliminary stages, of recruiting a youngster and the date that the final forms are sent. He then goes to H.M.S. "Ganges", or whatever establishment is selected, and then—this applies in the Army and all other Services—in the first three months, if the boy is seen to be completely unsuitable, he will be sent home. So there is plenty of time, and the parents' consent has to be obtained—

Mr. Lubbock

The Minister may have made a slip of the tongue. Has not the period been extended from three months to six months now?

Mr. Reynolds

I was talking about the two months while the necessary enrolment is done and there is another three months during which the Service itself will sort people out, and perhaps reject them. What the hon. Member is talking about is the six months' service during which the youngster has the right to purchase his discharge for £20. That is slightly different.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire raised one other matter with regard to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), dealing with the discipline of the Army. The decision in question was taken entirely by the Divisional General, Major-General Crum, without any consultation with the Ministry of Defence, because there is no need for consultation on whom he decides to invite to divisional or other conferences.

Major-General Crum invited the right hon. Member to address the Fourth Divisional Conference in Germany in a few months' time, and the right hon. Gentleman accepted. However, after he had made a certain speech which caused furore in the House and the country, the Divisional General, again entirely on his own discretion and consulting no one in the Ministry, decided that, in view of that speech, it would be better to with draw the invitation. He therefore wrote to the right hon. Member withdrawing the invitation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West wrote back to Major-General Crum returning his letter to him with the avowed threat of publicity if it was not reconsidered, and asked that it should be reconsidered straight away.

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman refused to accept the withdrawal of his invitation from the Divisional General, the latter then got in touch with the Ministry of Defence, asking for advice on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State then wrote to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, saying that the General had withdrawn the invitation and that he had the support of Ministers in the Ministry of Defence for his action. That action is, of course, the original invitation and its withdrawal. Ministers were not actually involved in either decision, but they support the action taken.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Since what has gone before might be slightly misleading, is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us think that it is a good thing that senior Army officers should invite politicians of all shades of opinion to talk to them?

Mr. Reynolds

This is something which is often done. When in opposition, my right hon. Friend himself often addressed meetings and conferences of this nature.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

If the Government accept it as a good thing that politicians should address Her Majesty's Forces, is it not a very dangerous precedent for the Government now to say that a certain politician should not go because he has made a speech which is considered controversial?

Mr. Reynolds

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to what I was saying, he would have heard me make it clear that Ministers were involved in neither the original invitation nor the withdrawal of it. The decision having been taken by the person responsible for issuing the invitation, he has the support of the Defence Ministers.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

The Minister said that the Secretary of State endorsed this action on the part of General Crum.

Mr. Reynolds

I also explained that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West had refused to accept the withdrawal of the invitation. The General then asked the Ministry of Defence what he should do. It was decided that, as the individual concerned was a right hon. Member of the House, it would be better if the General's decision was conveyed to him by a Minister and if he were told that that decision had the support of Ministers.

Mr. J. T. Price

May I pursue the point one stage further? These revelations become curiouser and curiouser to my simple mind. Is it now stated as Ministerial policy in the House that any high-ranking officer can invite whom he pleases from the House to address troops? Have not the troops got votes which they register under special arrangements? Could not the situation arise where, immediately prior to an election, the officer concerned could display his own prejudices in the matter by inviting his pals, as they might be from the other side, to address the troops and influence their votes? Is not this a serious matter?

Mr. Reynolds

I cannot accept that there is any such danger. These are divisional conferences for officers in the division. They are usually arranged any thing up to six, eight, on even 10 months before they take place. It would be a very knowledgeable divisional general who was able to forecast the decision on the date of a General Election so far ahead. This practice has been going on for many years. I do not believe that there is any indication whatsoever that the sort of thing my hon. Friend fears has ever occurred or will ever occur.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Army Act 1955 (Continuation) Order 1968, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th October, be approved.—[Mr. Reynolds.]