§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the first Motion to be moved, I should point out that we have made a practice for several years of taking the first two Motions— on the Army and the Royal Air Force — formally. Then we proceed to the Adjournment and,on the Adjournment,if it is the general wish of the House,we discuss defence, which includes the Army,the Air Force and the Navy.
That the Army Act 1955 (continuation)Order 1969,a draft of which was laid before this house on 28th October, be approved.—[Mr. Hattersley.]
That the Air Force Act 1955 (Continuation) Order 1969,a draft of which was laid before this House on 28th October,be approved.—[Mr.Hattersley.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr.Harper.]
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for Administration (Mr. Roy Hattersley)
Traditionally, this debate, following as it does the Army and the Air Force Acts, offers the Government an opportunity to report to the House on the current recruiting position. The House will be aware that during the life of this Government this will be the first of these occasions on which the Secretary of State for Defence has either not spoken in the debate or been heard know that he is at this time in America and that he is at this time in America and that he has asked me to convey to the House his apologies for not being here today.
I Now come to the traditional task of dealing—I think at some length—with the current recruiting situation. In the financial year 1968–69,about 29,000 menjoined the forces—a figure appreciably below our target. It is possible to suggest a variety of reasons for that short fall,and amongst the most convincing are a number of demographic and sociological factors which are certainly working against us.
The forces have always drawn a preponderance of their recruits from young men between the ages of 15 and 20. Now the actual number of Young men of this 627 age is declining and will continue to do so until 1975. In 1963, there were 1,469,000; now there are 1,168,000; and in 1974 there will be only 997,000. We have in consequence, if we are to meet our recruiting target, to attract into the Services an increasing proportion of young men within that age group.
Yet there are other factors which work as disincentives as never before. Young men in this age group are more likely to continue in full-time education than has ever previously been the case. They are now offered, in private industry, training opportunities which were once available to them only in the Armed Forces. The national tendency to marry younger is a strong disincentive to joining the forces; so, I fear, are the occasional doubts in the minds of potential recruits as to the importance of the job that the Services do. These doubts have been encouraged by the arguments which have surrounded recent Defence Reviews. I emphasise that they have been encouraged by the arguments rather than the decisions.
As a result of those reviews we have Armed Forces whose tasks are real rather than imaginary, whose role is primarily related to the defence of Western Europe, and, within Europe, Great Britain. They are better-trained and better-equipped than they have ever been in peacetime. Any objective judgment of the tasks which the Services now perform must convince the young man who contemplates a Service career that life in the forces offers him two things; first, opportunities rarely available in other professions; second, a crucial part, a visible, tangible and, I believe, publicly accepted part, in the creation of a secure and stable Britain.
Fortunately, I believe that the role of the modern Armed Forces and their central importance to the nation is increasingly accepted. Recruiting figures during this calendar year as a whole show an encouraging increase. At the end of January, we could claim only that, during the previous year, we had recruited a little over 28,000 Service men. During the 12 months that ended on 30th September, the annual figure had risen to 32,000—a year which began badly ended well. Indeed, if the monthly recruiting 628 figures which we achieved in the spring and summer can be maintained, we shall meet our annual targets.
I suppose that anyone who has read today's newspaper accounts of summer recruiting, as I see the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) has, must wonder how this can be possible. The simple answer is that disappointing August figures were followed by figures in September which showed a spectacular success. In August, we recruited 3,083 men into the three Services—200 fewer than in August last year. In September, we recruited more than twice that number, 6,385–1,500 more than in the same month last year. The Navy recruited three times as many men in September as in August. The Army recruited 1,200 more men in September, 1969, than in September 1968.
Of course, between those two dates, a number of things have happened. The Army has played a spectacularly successful part in preserving peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Arguments about the Defence Review have subsided and the Army has introduced an extension of its three-year engagement. A radical alteration in Service pay was announced which I believe will encourage men on such short-term engagements to renew their service, so that the figures for renewal of service are remarkably encouraging. What is known as the prolongation rate and in the Army is calculated as the number of men on six-year engagements who sign on for a second term increased from 36 per cent. in 1966 to 50 per cent. this year.
I said that one of the factors which I believe has played a part in renewed recruiting was the announcement of a new pay deal, but I have never believed, and do not believe now, that the level of recruitment to the forces is or could be fundamentally changed by the pay that the forces receive. But pay levels do have two important relationships with the recruiting picture. In the first place, there are men who are attracted to Service life because of its nature, because of its quality, because of the opportunity it provides, but are discouraged from joining because of the pay levels. Second, a crucial element, in my view, in recruiting, is the potential Service man's judgment of the status of the forces in the public 629 mind and their importance in national life. The willingness of the community to pay the Service man a decent wage is, therefore, bound to influence his decision.
The military salary, I believe, meets these recruiting needs, as well as offering the Services prospects of levels of pay which equity and justice demand—
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
(Hendon, North): Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the figures, we should be grateful to know how it is that the August figures were given to the Press and to the House only yesterday, yet the September figures have come forward today for the first time in the hon. Gentleman's speech. Why was there so much bunching? Why did we not get the August figures sooner than two months later?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I concede at once that it is unfortunate that the August figures were delayed, but this was for reasons which are in no way sinister—reasons concerning the work load in the Department. I offer the hon. Gentleman my apologies for that situation right away and I hope that he will accept that there is no other interpretation to be put on that than the one that I have just given him.
I was going on to say that it would be wrong to suggest that, with the introduction of the new pay scheme which I mentioned, recruiting problems would be over. They may be reduced, but many other disincentives to recruitment will remain, although we will continue to attempt to meet them by our continued substantial recruiting effort, which not only demonstrates the advantages of Service life but also shows the importance of the work which the Services do.
We shall continue to examine terms of service for which potential recruits may be engaged. Already, the Navy has introduced a new engagement structure in the seamens' and electrical mechanics' branches. A nine-year engagement can have a four-year break, although the man who opts for the shorter liability naturally receives a lower level of pay. The response to such schemes will determine future policies in all three Services, but we are well aware that such schemes place on us a special duty to ensure that the man who joins the Service stays in it for longer than his initial engagement.
630 Hon. Members who have visited the Services since the National Board for Prices and Incomes reported will, I am sure, have shared my experience of the forces' attitude towards that report. Their attitude is, frankly, sceptical. Their inclination is to wait and see. Of necessity, they were told the general outline of the new pay scheme without being given precise figures of the pay which individual Service men would receive. In consequence, they have a cautious response, one which I understand and which, as a Yorkshireman, I approve of, but we also made other promises when we announced the acceptance of the report.
We told the Services that the new scales would be in operation from 1st April, 1970. I am now happy to report to the House that the complex work of job evaluation is going ahead on time and there is no reason why that April deadline should not be met. I still do not know and cannot say what rates of pay will be introduced next April. We shall not know the details of that until the N.B.P.I. produces a further report next February. I can, however, I believe, demonstrate that the Services will be doing much better as a whole than would have been the case had we not abandoned the Grigg formula, the method by which their pay has been calculated for the last nine years.
I admit at once that the comparison which I am about to make is something of a simplification. For one thing, the Grigg formula, dependent as it was Jn comparisons with earnings outside the Service, would have produced increases in 1970 which I can only predict. For another, Governments in the past—my Government in 1968 and that of right hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1962—have staggered the Grigg increases. But putting the possibility of staging aside, it is reasonable to estimate that the increase which Grigg would have produced since 1966 is between £75 million and £80 million. That calculation is based broadly on the assumption that the index of average industrial earnings would change between July, 1965, and July, 1969, at the rate of about 25 per cent. That assumption, 1 repeat, would produce a Grigg increase of between £75 million and £80 million.
In 1968, under the new formula, the total wage bill of the Armed Forces was increased by £27 million. In 1969, it 631 was increased by a further £20½ million, the cost of the interim recommendations of the N.B.P.I. in its last Report. It has been estimated that an additional £52½ million will meet the cost of implementing the military salary concept, which is the system under which single and married men are paid the same rate for doing the same job. This is £100 million—
§ Mr. Hattersley
Of course, if we give single men the emoluments of married men—I expect that this is the point which the hon. Member is about to make—they will pay more tax, but increases under Grigg were also taxed and so the comparison is entirely fair.
The House will recall that the Prices and Incomes Board recommended, and the Government accepted, that new rates of pay for the forces should be determined by methods of job evaluation and that these new rates should be further enhanced by what the board calls the X factor, a factor designed to compensate men for the special difficulties of Service life. Whatever increases emerge from job evaluation and the board's assessment of the X factor, they will have to be added to the wage bill.
The Government have made provision for 1970–71 of an extra £30 million above and beyond the cost of the military salary for the purpose of improved Service pay according to those two elements. As a result, between 1966 and 1970, because of the new formula, the Services' wage bill will have been increased by £130 million as opposed to, at best, the £80 million which would have flowed from the simple application of the Grigg formula.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
For the sake of clarity, will the hon. Gentleman repeat exactly what, in his and his Department's estimation, will be the increase flowing in the coming year from the new job evaluation and the N.B.P.I. report with the new rates following the introduction of new scales of military salary?
At the same time, can the hon. Gentleman explain that it is his Department which is doing the job evaluation and the N.B.P.I. which will make the recommendations? Presumably, the marry-up 632 will not take place until later in the year, leaving only a very short time before the introduction of the improvements for the Armed Forces to assess what is happening.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Cross-examination on the work of the National Board for Prices and Incomes raises awful memories for me, but I will do my best to answer the hon. Member's question as calmly as I can.
Two elements are involved. The first is £52 million for the military salary concept. The second is £30 million for the X factor and the job evaluation. The latter is being done in my Department in co-operation with the N.B.P.I., with whom, I assure the House we are working in the closest co-operation because, like the hon. Member, we understand the difficulties that will arise if these two operations get out of phase. Only by this close co-operation can we meet the April deadline, which we certainly intend to do.
I turn to another aspect of recruitment. As the House is well aware, a large proportion of all Service men join the forces before the age of 18. Seventy per cent. of the total intake into the Royal Navy is by boy entrants; 30 per cent. of the intake of the other two Services is made up in the same way. Their importance to the Services is even greater than these simple figures suggest, because it is to these young men that the Services look for a large proportion of their senior non-commissioned officers.
The terms under which these boys are engaged continue to cause great concern. Before I discuss, however, what some hon. Members believe to be an issue of fundamental liberty, let me try to put the picture in perspective. We recruit 12,000 young Service men every year. Most of them live happy and successful lives. A few regret bitterly their decision to join. They feel themselves totally unsuited to Service life. Most of this group discover their unsuitability within a few weeks of joining, and leave. Others are discharged as unsuitable later in their Service life.
I repeat that the group whose attitude is characterised by bitter regret is small—perhaps, statistically within the total force, a tiny group. There is, however, a larger group who feel a temporary 633 or, perhaps, recurring dissatisfaction with their job and want to change. The feeling of wanting to change jobs between the ages of 15 and 18 is one which is not unknown in civilian life, but the difference is that in civilian life people are allowed to make the change. In the Services they cannot do so because the Ministry of Defence must regard the maintenance of force levels of a size sufficient to meet our defence commitments as its overriding obligation. Under that paramount obligation, however, we are, naturally, eager to reconcile the needs of the Services with the legitimate wishes of these young men.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock
(Orpington): The hon. Gentleman has just said something rather important which I wish to under- line: that it is not uncommon for young men in civilian life to want to change jobs between the ages of 15 and 18. Will he confirm that we have never demanded that they should have this right in the forces, but only that when they reach the age of 18, the age of majority laid down by the Latey Committee and accepted by the House, should they have the option of making a decision, and not before then?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I understand very well that that is the hon. Member's view, but I was not addressing my point specifically to him. I was talking in general about the position of boys in the Services. I want to address a point specifically to the hon. Member presently, because I under- stand his proper and continuing concern in this matter and I am more than anxious to meet the views which, I believe, he properly holds.
Boys in the forces cannot change their jobs in the same way as is possible in civilian life because the primary obligation of the Ministry of Defence is to make sure that manning levels are adequate to meet our needs. It is, how- ever, our continuing enthusiasm to reconcile the demands of civil liberties with the need to maintain forces at an adequate level. It was in an attempt to reconcile those conflicting objectives that, two years ago, my predecessor announced in response to the recommendations of the Latey Committee that young men entering the Services would in future have six months instead of three months in which they might freely change their minds.
634 My predecessor also announced that when the age of majority was reduced to 18, entry of young men below that age would always be dependent on their parents' consent. He expanded that statement when he later met the Parliamentary Group on Civil Liberties and said that he would examine other suggestions as to how the engagement structure might be changed.
I have to tell the House that all the evidence at my disposal as a result of that examination in no way justifies a fundamental change in the obligation that young Service men must accept, although, I am glad to be able to report, we have been able to reinterpret the earlier relaxations in a slightly wider form. There are, of course, those who urge a leap in the dark, who ask me to agree to a relaxation in the hope that the levels of our forces will remain unaffected. That is not the sort of risk which any responsible Minister of Defence could take.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson
(The High Peak): Am I right in interpreting my hon. Friend's statement as a blanket rejection of the Latey proposals? We know that he has accepted two, but there was a third, that within three months of a young man reaching the age of majority he would have the right of release. Do I take it that my hon. Friend is rejecting that third Latey proposal?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Not for the first time, I am suffering from the tendency to give way too often. I was going on to try to meet the point that my hon. Friend has raised, but let me put it to him as a direct answer to his question.
I am saying that the second Latey proposal—that young men should have the opportunity to leave the forces at or about their 18th birthday—is a risk which I do not feel it justifiable to take. I am going on to say, however, that there are other people who have urged, as well as a leap in the dark, a general relaxation and who claim that the general act of making engagement structures more flexible would in itself build into the system a compensation against future losses. They say that more flexible terms of engagement would encourage an increased number of boys to join the Service.
Some, of course, would drift off. I suspect that some would drift back, but 635 there would be a net loss. That is a net loss which, I suspect, my hon. Friend and, no doubt, others would argue would be more than compensated for by the increased numbers of young people who would join the forces when they knew that they would not be committing themselves irrevocably for a long period.
If we adopted that system, there would, of course, be a substantial wastage of trained personnel. The creation of a trained adult Service man would be a great deal more expensive than it is today. For my part, however, I would not allow that financial problem to prevent a movement in that direction, but I would need to be convinced that things would work out in the way that these predictions suggest. Indeed, in the case of recruitment of young men, I believe that a strong case can be made for a general examination of their terms of reference, their organisation and the obligations they undertake.
I am, therefore, setting up a committee, which will include civilian as well as Service personnel, to examine these entire questions. The exact terms of reference of the Committee have not yet been decided, but I can say that the committee will report to me and I shall report to the House. I warn the House now, however, that whenever the committee's report leaves a question in doubt I shall come down on the side of safety; whenever there are two interpretations as to the outcome of a likely change, I shall feel it my duty to choose the alternative which ensures that the forces remain as large and as competent as we need them to be.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg
(Barking): I welcome my hon. Friend's announcement of the committee, but how does he reconcile what he has been saying in the last few minutes with what he said just before, that only a very few of these entrants regret entering the Services? Why is there any risk of a mass exodus?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall try to do better.
There is a tiny proportion who bitterly regret it, in the most extreme form. They 636 are either discharged as unsuitable or they leave during the early months of their service. The problem is not a problem of bitter regret. It is a problem of occasional dissatisfaction. It is the loss of the boys who become dissatisfied—as they might become dissatisfied with industrial apprenticeship and shove off as a result—which is the real problem about which I seek to know more.
We are certain to hear in the debate of the review of reserve forces which fundamentally altered the shape of the Territorial Army. Those changes have been consolidated over the past year. I can report to the House that recruiting for these forces has been more than satisfactory. Strengths—disregarding the old Territorials, the TAVR III, who have been disbanded—have increased from about 40,500 at the end of last year to about 47,000 at the end of September. Half of these additional recruits transferred from the TAVR III during the period of its disbandment. But I do not believe that that transfer simply represents a movement from one Territorial force to another of equal value.
Our analysis of reserve force policy must be made according to the same rigid criteria of realism and practicability which we use to judge the sense and value of defence policy as a whole. The new Territorial organisation has produced volunteer regiments which are capable of fulfilling a rÔle to which the old Territorials could never even have aspired. They have been equipped, as promised in the 1965 White Paper, in such a way that they can carry out their tasks in support of the Regular Army. Their equipment is comparable in terms of vehicles, communications and weapons with that of the Army itself. They can, in an emergency, be slotted into our Regular defensive deployment. They are in a genuine sense a part of the Regular Army, and no one who has seen them could conceive that they could not, if circumstances demand, fight side by side with the Regular Army itself.
This summer, it was my privilege to join the Highland Volunteers at their summer camp. They already knew the role which they would perform in a N.A.T.O. emergency. They knew where they would be stationed. They knew the Regular forces with whom they would fight side by side. They have seen the 637 ground which it would be their task to defend, and they are supremely capable of carrying out that task.
I tell the House frankly—I think that it must be said—that this is a far cry from the larger but less well trained, less well equipped, and less well organised old Territorial Army. Its rÔle was either uncertain or known by the Government of the day to be a task which not only could they not perform, but one which they were not likely to be asked to perform. The vision of the recently mustered—
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon
(Hexham): The hon. Gentleman says that it was a task which they would not be likely to be asked to perform. Is it not a task which they were, in fact, asked to perform in two world wars and which they performed very satisfactorily?
§ Mr. Hattersley
There was a task which they were asked to perform in two world wars, and I shall in a minute pay tribute to that task and what they did. But what we owe to them is to recognise that that task is no longer appropriate. I owe it to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I think, or his right hon. Friend, who was responsible for this force six years ago, to say that, by the way it was organised, by the support which was prepared for it, and by the role which it was prepared to perform, I cannot believe that he would have contemplated putting it into action in any practical sense, for that would have been a most irresponsible thing to do to a force which was not only badly trained but over-age and badly equipped.
§ Mr. James Ramsden
(Harrogate): I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box speaking for his new Department, but he is venturing into deep and controversial waters. I say only that I do not in the least accept what he says, and I now let him get on with his speech.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Like all wise Ministers making their first speech in a new Department, I read the previous debates. When my predecessor made similar charges, but much more documented than I have had a chance to do, the right hon. Gentleman intervened to say that he did not accept a word of it, but he did not 638 develop that non-acceptance during his subsequent speech.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I went on to say that, if the Government spokesman repeated those assertions, I should exercise my right to send to the War Office and obtain the papers, which it would be great fun to do. It has not been said again, but I issue the same warning for the benefit of the present Minister.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The right hon. Gentleman has that right, and many of us would like to see him exercise it. Perhaps, even without the benefit of the papers, he can tell us how many of the force which he claimed to be 115,000 strong he thought were sufficiently well trained, sufficiently well armed, and, for that matter, of an age group to make them fit to take part in the sort of undertaking which I have described as the role of the new volunteers.
I repeat that their role was uncertain or known to be one which they could not perform. The vision of a recently mustered and inadequately prepared militia defending the United Kingdom with traditional weapons against a conventional invasion is one which, I repeat with all sincerity, I regard as a heroic picture. I play my part in offering tribute to those men who were prepared to make such a contribution 30 or 60 years ago, but it would be ludicrous to pretend that there could be any real likelihood of such a force being called upon today to perform a similiar task.
To pretend that without that sort of reserve, ready to fight in the streets with conventional weapons against some sort of hypothetical invasion, this country would be defenceless is to deny all the premises on which the collective defence of Europe is based. It is to imply that the general Western strategy for the defence of this Continent is based on a series of misconceptions.
It is flattering to some groups to pretend that such a role is still possible, but the theory has one basic weakness, that it is not consistent with reality.
§ Mr. Rippon
Why do Her Majesty's Government alone among all the countries of Western Europe take that view? Do they say that the view which the Minister has now expressed is wholly acceptable to our N.A.T.O. allies?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The question is not whether other people regard what I have said as acceptable and logical, but whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman does.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Since he does not, perhaps he or one of his right hon. and hon. Friends would care to hypothesise the situation in which a force of the sort we have been discussing, the force which existed after 1964, could have played a cogent part in the defence of this country. I do not believe that such a hypothesis can be anything but wildly improbable. [An HON. MEMBER: "In Ulster."] Certainly not in Ulster.
I have already said—it is pertinent again to the point which I am now making—that I hope that young men contemplating a career in the Services feel confident that they are preparing to play a real rather than an imaginary military role, and I hope—I must put this to right hon. Gentlemen opposite—that not only will potential recruits look to the Services in these realistic terms but that they and their hon. Friends will begin to do so, too.
I suppose that, in the light of that reference to realism, we are bound to hear a great deal today about the concept of overstretch. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) has been courteous enough to warn me and my hon. Friend, who hopes to catch the eye of the Chair later, that he intends to deal with exactly that problem. If the term means anything, it means that too little is spread too thinly over too great an area. I hope that we shall hear no criticism of overstretch from right hon. and hon. Members who want to stretch our resources even further than they are spread today.
British defence policy is now concentrated on Europe. It is concentrated there not because that is a cheap or easy option, but because we make the realistic assumption that that is where our principal effort needs to be.
There is, perhaps, an understandable temptation to ask that our defences are organised, or at least seen to be organised, in such a way that we can meet, or at least claim to meet, any conceivable threat; but if we concentrate our efforts 640 on preparing for the unlikely, it is more than probable that we shall be less than competently prepared for what is our realistic task.
As a result of successive Defence Reviews and the concentration of our forces in Europe, we now have 30 battalions in the United Kingdom. In June, 1964, we had 19. As a result of this concentration, the manning position in B.A.O.R. has improved to the extent of 3,500 men. We are, in short, more able to fulfil our N.A.T.O. commitment, more able to respond to the unforeseen emergency in Europe should that occur.
Today, we have 10 battalions in Northern Ireland, and we have not yet had to call on our forces in Germany. In 1958, the Cyprus emergency required the withdrawal of two battalions from B.A.O.R. In 1964, during the South Arabian conflict and confrontation in Asia, a battalion had to be withdrawn from Germany. Had we faced the Ireland emergency when we also retained these overseas commitments, we would have been left with no other option but to withdraw from their N.A.T.O. role forces far larger than the continued security of Western Europe would warrant.
We have already made clear that one battalion is likely to be needed from B.A.O.R. during the early part of next year to relieve a battalion now serving in Northern Ireland, but I emphasise that their task will be relief rather than reinforcement. It is also possible that additional relief battalions will prove necessary if the emergency continues to require. troop levels in Northern Ireland at about their present size, but this is a function of the very special, indeed, perhaps unique, nature of the Northern Ireland operation. Units in Northern Ireland are on short unaccompanied tours limited to four or five months' duration. Under the conditions in which they live, and because of the special situations in which they operate, it is essential that they should be rotated quickly.
The possibility of major units leaving B.A.O.R. for service in Northern Ireland is much more a problem of rotation than of net shortage. It certainly highlights the particular conditions under which our troops operate in Northern Ireland, but does not indicate, as some hon. Gentlemen have suggested, basic weaknesses of our defence policy.
641 I have said that the operation which is now being carried out by British forces in Northern Ireland is unique in a number of ways. There is one way in which I am sure the whole House will agree that that operation is typical. British Service men have conducted themselves in a fashion which is a credit to the Armed Forces in particular and to Great Britain in general. All of us must have regretted during the summer that some foreign newspapers carried pictures of rioting in United Kingdom cities, but all of us must have been proud to know that many of the stories accompanying those pictures told of British soldiers accepted by both sides in the riots as impartial friends.
Most of the troops now stationed there arrived in Northern Ireland during a period of extreme tension. They were assigned to a task which none of them would have chosen. Despite great provocation and some danger, they have been a major force in our attempts to establish peace and security in Northern Ireland. In general, they are accepted by the Northern Ireland population as their Army, working on their behalf. The troops are known to be working in the best interests of the Province, and to be doing it under the most difficult conditions.
There are two major difficulties. The first is the psychological tension that soldiers must undergo in the peculiar circumstances of guarding bridges and key points, patrolling streets and living in "on-duty" conditions, and yet seeing all about them an apparently peaceful city not dissimilar from their home towns. There is a particular paradox from which no soldier can fail to suffer; to be living in conditions for himself of perpetual "alert", although he is surrounded by sights and sounds and people who seem to him to be very typical in many ways of the peaceful United Kingdom in which he was brought up.
The second particular problem which soldiers find concerns the areas in which the troops are working. Company bases, by their nature, have to be in areas of potential tension, and the areas of potential tension are singularly short of decent property. Indeed, there are those who would argue that this shortage of decent property is one of the factors that 642 have made them areas of tension. Be that as it may, the certain outcome of this situation is that we have found it virtually impossible to find sufficient good quality property in the areas where we need to set up our tactical bases. Some are better than others. Some are certainly not good enough for long-term occupation. It is my hope that those troops who are using particularly decrepit property for their company bases will be found alternatives before the winter sets in.
It may be that, as the situation stabilises, we can simply abandon use of some of the worst emergency accommodation. It may be that, as the situation changes, Twynham huts can be erected on open ground which is not at the moment ideally suitable to the operation. But the process of improvement which we have already made to all accommodation since our troops arrived in August must continue.
The problem of battalion camps is not so difficult. It is, however, vitally important, for a soldier who returns to his base camp after eight days at a tactical post, eight days in which he has done literally nothing but eat, sleep and patrol, needs the best rest conditions that we can provide.
At battalion level, the extra garrison has in part been accommodated by doubling up in barracks. We have also expanded into hutted camps and barracks which had been previously abandoned. There has also been some additional requisitioning of properties. We have also erected 37 Twynham huts. As there was no necessity to requisition battalion camps in the heart of troubled areas, we have been more selective about the property used for this purpose.
The House knows that H.M.S. "Maidstone" is now in position in Belfast Harbour. She will provide battalion accommodation at a higher level than is at present available at all base camps. But H.M.S. "Maidstone" is only one way in which we have tried to improve conditions.
The Ministry of Public Building and Works has undertaken an immense programme to build cookhouses, lavatories and washing facilities on to, near to and within requisitioned property. I give 643 only three brief examples. Within the St. Lucia Barracks, in Armagh, there has been a complete overhaul; there are new cooking facilities, new lavatories, new washrooms and a completely new heating system. In the Newpark factory in Antrim, cooking facilities to meet the needs of 500 troops have been installed and an armoury and ration store have been built. In dozens of private properties both in Belfast and Londonderry where troops are stationed in company bases there has been a programme of improvement and adaptation. Water, heating and lighting have been provided, doors have been hung and windows replaced.
No one can be satisfied with all the conditions under which the troops in Northern Ireland are living, but enormous improvements have been brought about. I know that on both sides of the House there is unqualified admiration for the way in which General Freeland has commanded the British troops in Northern Ireland. I am sure that we should also express equally our thanks for what he has done during the last three months, with the help and the willing cooperation of the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the civil authorities in Northern Ireland, to improve their physical conditions. I hope, as my final word, that the House will accept my assurance that we intend that progress should continue.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden
(Harrogate): I agree with the Minister's first words, namely, that it is useful—and this has become increasingly apparent—to have a rather more general debate on the Adjournment on these Orders, rather than to confine ourselves to the somewhat narrow range of matters which arises directly upon them. The hon. Gentleman took full advantage of the latitude which was allowed him and ranged very widely, and not a little provocatively, over the whole gamut. That was brave of him and perhaps speaks well of the interest and animation which he will bring in the future to Service debates.
I shall later have some criticism of him to make, but in view of the comparatively recent advent of the hon. Gentleman and of the Under-Secretary to the Front Bench, they may perhaps be excepted from any culpability that I shall 644 assign, except in so far as they are members of a Government who, as I shall seek to show later, have failed lamentably in their organisation of our defence policy.
I welcomed, as I am sure did the House, the details which the Minister was able to give about recruiting. We would all endorse what he had to say about the worthwhileness of a Service career to any young man who finds himself attracted to it. We were glad to hear about the promising September figures. But we must bear in mind—and I shall return to this matter later in my speech —that this is the first sign, though a welcome one, of an upturn after a quite long period of extremely disappointing and damaging results.
The House also welcomed the Minister's assurance that the pay increases would be implemented in April. But there would have been a great deal of alarm and despondency if he had told the House that they would not be implemented in April. The view of the Opposition is that if these increases had been phased in earlier the bad recruiting over the last 18 months or so might to a large extent been mitigated.
The House will also welcome the announcement of a committee to examine the problems of boys' service and well shall look forward to hearing greater detail perhaps when the Under-Secretary winds up.
I shall not today, since I do not want to take too long, debate with the Minister the Territorial Army. I am glad that recruiting has improved, but would remind the Government that although they may have 47,000 or so now as against 45,000 last time they made an announcement, if my memory serves me correctly they need very nearly 60,000 to man the order of battle. They would be wise not to plume themselves too much about the Territorial Army until they have the men they require. The fact is that under the present organisation of our reserves they cannot put the Rhine Army in the field without a fully manned and complemented order of battle in T.A.V.R. This must be remembered.
Like the Ministers opposite, I recently had the privilege of visiting Northern Ireland and of seeing something of our troops there. I want to say how the situation strikes me in connection with the 645 argument which has developed in the last few years about the general direction of the Government's defence policy.
The picture is nothing but good as regards the troops and the conduct of the operation. The situation is improving and is encouraging. But as for the impression left with anybody who has followed the defence debates of the last few years of the cumulative effect of the development of Government defence policy, the picture is very different. I personally find grave cause for concern in what I saw, as I will amplify a little later.
In the context of the argument about defence, the present emergency in Northern Ireland is of very great interest. It amounts to a test case since it is the first emergency that has arisen on any scale during the tenure of office of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was an emergency which arose unexpectedly and was largely unforeseen.
We have consistently argued that the Government have made too little provision for the unforeseen in their plans for and the disposition of our forces. It is also interesting since it is an emergency which has made heavy demands on the infantry. We have argued—and I have argued in particular with a certain amount of experience of difficult conditions—that the Government have been in danger of cutting too deeply, and they may cut deeper still, into our stock of infantry battalions.
I agree with the Minister that the conditions in which the troops are living are greatly improving of late weeks, but they are still no picnic. There has been a lot of self-help and improvisation in improving tactical living quarters and making the posts which the men must occupy on sentry more comfortable, especially in bad weather. The Ministry of Public Building and Works, with its contracting operations, has achieved a good deal.
The hours of duty are less long than originally, but even so they are long and arduous enough. Morale is very good, as one would expect, and as one nearly always finds when one has the privilege of visiting what are the finest regular troops anywhere in the world. I have no doubt that it contributed to good morale when the troops sensed the support given 646 to them from this House, and by public opinion in general, and by the Press when, regrettably, and under extreme provocation, they were forced to open fire some weeks ago. They sensed that public opinion realised the distasteful duty laid upon them and sympathised with them in the discharge of their duty.
I repeat that morale is excellent. The new accommodation in H.M.S. "Maidstone" to which the Minister referred will further improve matters. Although there is much to be done—and I hope that the Under-Secretary, in his reply, will say something about the possibilities of improving the state of accompaniment, perhaps by the provision of additional married quarters—I found the picture on the whole reassuring, as I am sure the House will be glad to hear.
I would make particular reference to the lengthy passage in the Minister's speech about pay. It is right that the House should spend a little time considering the special "Northern Ireland" allowance, or hardship allowance as I think it is called. It was initially welcomed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition because we on this side of the House were glad to hear that something was being done to improve service pay. But the principle behind the increase deserves examination.
So far as I know, it is without precedent to make an allowance for service in any specific theatre. I seem to remember Lord Thorneycroft, when he was Secretary of State, regretfully having to refuse to make a special allowance to troops in Cyprus. Once set, it appears to be a difficult precedent to follow in future with any degree of fairness. There were a few raised eyebrows at the idea of a special payment for what, after all, is in the normal run of a soldier's duty, even though carried out in a difficult theatre and in difficult conditions.
Perhaps what went wrong was its presentation. It was presented to the House by the Secretary of State largely as a hardship allowance to make up for difficult conditions of service and duty. But they do not only occur in Northern Ireland. I think that the real justification was that those serving in Northern Ireland on unaccompanied tours do not get the separation allowance that they would if they were serving in other 647 theatres, since Northern Ireland is treated as a home station. There was an argument on those grounds. I am not sure that it was necessarily a conclusive one, and a precedent has been set which may be awkward in the future.
It may be argued that all this will be swallowed up in the new military salary and will be taken into account when the X factor comes into operation. That may be so, but this will raise its problems, too. On the experience in Northern Ireland, it does not look as if it will be easy to evaluate the X factor throughout a given theatre of operations. In Northern Ireland, the hardship allowance does not go only to those who are on duty in the streets. It goes to everyone in the theatre, including Royal Air Force and naval personnel who would be there, anyway, in the normal course of their duties.
I think that the Ministry of Defence has got itself into rather deep water over this, and we hope to hear more about it from the Under-Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the extra hardship allowance has not yet been received by a single Service man in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Ramsden
I did not know that. Perhaps the Minister can confirm or deny it. There is no doubt that they are to get it from 1st August.
The first unit which I was able to visit in Northern Ireland was a composite one. The 1st Battalion the Royal Green Jackets had just handed over to a composite force consisting of a combination of the Royal Air Force Regiment and a battery of the Light Regiment of Royal Artillery which, I understand, normally is part of the United Kingdom Mobile Reserve. That means that the roles previously being discharged by three infantry rifle companies are now being discharged respectively by a battery of light gunners and two squadrons of 33 Wing, Royal Air Force Regiment, all under the command of the Wing Commander, Royal Air Force.
I am sure that they will do the job well. The fact remains, however, that the primary role of the R.A.F. Regiment 648 is airfield defence. There is no doubt that an infantry battalion would have been preferred in such a role if one had been available.
We have argued that the Secretary of State was bound to find himself short of infantry if he persisted in his policy of cuts, and we have been told fairly contemptuously often enough that what we on this side have been recommending is the retention of a large number of infantry battalions for which there could be no conceivable future role. In the context of an emergency such as this, it seems relevant to our argument to find the infantry role having to be discharged by a composite force made up mainly of other arms.
The passage in the hon. Gentleman's speech about the additional availability of 30 as against 19 battalions in this country now would have sounded rather better if more of those battalions were available for service where they are needed at present. In the normal course of deployment and reliefs, I understand that this composite force would have gone into Belfast on to the peace line. Instead, the 1st Battalion Royal Green Jackets was redeployed there. They had only just arrived in their tactical location and were setting about their duties with their customary efficiency. I was extremely grateful to them for putting up with the inconvenience of a visitor at such short notice.
I do not want to give strengths of battalions. I do not think that it is fair to do so. When I was on the benches opposite, and right hon. and hon. Members opposite were in opposition, they used to scold us for sending under-strength battalions overseas. They used to allege strengths, hoping that the Government would correct them by bringing out the real strengths. Governments cannot and should not try to do that, so I shall not do it. But the Secretary of State told us the other day that it takes a platoon of 25 men to man an infantry post satisfactorily.
That implies a need for three rifle sections of about eight men each. The House should know that the platoon strengths of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Green Jackets in Northern Ireland are not big enough to make possible this satisfactory level of manning. They have less 649 than eight men per section. They will manage, of course, because they are experienced and efficient soldiers. They were not complaining, but the fact is that manning at this level imposes extra and unnecessary strain.
It is one of the consequences of a prolonged period of bad recruiting such as we have had over the past 18 months, for which hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot escape their share of responsibility. 1 find it the more regrettable and surprising because my own experience in the days when the emphasis was on regimental recruiting was that the battalions of the Green Jacket Brigade were consistently at very high strength, usually over four companies. That is confirmed by the fact that, over the years, they have been consistently deployed in theatres where high-strength battalions were needed for active operations.
It appears that, of late, regimental effort in recruiting has been dismissed as rather an anachronism, and we are told that people joining up do not much mind where they go. It is a pity when regimental effort is belittled, and it may be that there is a lesson in the experience of how battalions like those of the Green Jackets have fared recently. If there is, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take it to heart.
The brigade in Belfast is 39 Brigade. It is part of the regular Northern Ireland garrison. But it has been extensively reinforced. It is a part of Strategic Command—that is to say, it is within 5 Division—but admittedly, it is part of the more static portion of the Command. It has been reinforced by five battalions from 3 Division, which is the United Kingdom Mobile Force. Subtracting from 3 Division the five battalions which have gone to Northern Ireland and taking off the one further battalion which I understand is assigned to the A.C.E. Mobile Force, one is left with a bare brigade for deployment on any other commitment which may fall to our Mobile Force. In addition, there are possibly two battalions of the Parachute Brigade, if there are two left, and possibly some gunners.
I will return to that point, but when one appreciates the inroads which have been made on our mobile capability in 3 Division by the situation in Northern Ireland, when one appreciates that we 650 still have numerous residual commitments in the world, and when one bears in mind the length of time that it looks as though our forces will have to remain in Northern Ireland, the strength of our additional commitment to N.A.T.O. about which the Secretary of State has said so much and the Government have plumed themselves so much begins to look very much less impressive than it did at one time. Additionally, we must bear in mind the serious inroads made on training when battalions which ought to be occupying themselves in preparation for a mobile role are redeployed on the kind of emergency which has cropped up in Ulster.
Since I have mentioned our commitment to N.A.T.O., perhaps I might add this. We are told by the Secretary of State, and we have been told again today, that in the event of further troops being required for Northern Ireland they would come from the British Army of the Rhine. Today, the Minister confirmed that some reliefs, not reinforcements, were definitely coming from the British Army of the Rhine. Incidentally, reinforcements are not required at the moment. I have no criticism of the force levels in Northern Ireland. They have enough there now.
I do not think that anybody on this side would have any complaint if and when troops do come from the Rhine Army to Northern Ireland. If they do not exist anyhewere else, they must come from there. But I draw the attention of the House to the political implications of this reliance on Germany for reinforcements. We were faced with the position that if we had wanted more reinforcements we would have had to go to Germany for thm. But the Secretary of State's position now is very different.
If we had had to make withdrawals at the time of confrontation we could have pointed to our heavy involvement in the Far East and in the Middle East and to the troubles in Cyprus and Guyana and said to our N.A.T.O. allies, "We are deployed all over the world shouldering defence responsibilities which are in the general interests of the European trading nations." We could have said that because it would have been true, and it would have been accepted.
But the Secretary of State is in a very different position now and, I think, a less 651 comfortable one. He will have to make his withdrawals from the Rhine Army against the background of one brigade already withdrawn and stationed in this country, against all the talk that we have heard from the Government about N.A.T.O. now being the main priority of their defence policy, and, worst of all, at a time when one of his main political objectives is to dissuade our allies in N.A.T.O. from thinning out and reducing their contributions to the alliance.
Why has this situation come about? Because of the determination of the Government, despite continuous warnings from these benches, to persist in constructing an order of battle for our defence forces which, as we suspected and have repeatedly said, leaves a totally insufficient margin for the occurrence of unforeseen emergencies. This is what has been done, and we are now reaping the fruits.
Another thing which surprised me and which will be of concern to the House is to know why, notwithstanding the 11 extra battalions in the United Kingdom, to which the Minister referred today, and the reduced commitments worldwide of which the Government boast, there is apparently, in the context of the Northern Ireland emergency, great difficulty about the arrangement of reliefs and the rotation and deployment of units generally. There is great difficulty about the handling of what is called the arms plot by the staff and the turbulence that always results from such difficulties.
Why should this be? I will tell the House. It is not on the basis of any complaint made to me. It is obvious what is happening when one goes and sees for oneself. As a result of the Government's new deployment worldwide there are now far fewer accompanied stations, fewer places where units can be deployed and have their families with them. Moreover, it is present policy to have fewer accompanied tours and to send larger numbers of units overseas without their families because it is cheaper to organise deployment in this way. The result is that great difficulties arise when units come home in the expectation of having some time with their families after a period abroad unaccompanied only to find that they have to go off again to somewhere like Northern 652 Ireland. There are family problems, compassionate cases, and difficulties with the weaker marriages which tend to break down, and so forth. We have large rear parties left behind and small strengths deployed on the ground. This is one of the consequences which have flowed from the Government's revised deployment.
One unit in Northern Ireland has had 10 months unaccompanied out of the last 18 months. That is not the worst. The Hampshires, who are coming back soon, have been unaccompanied for about 20 out of the last 21 months. This is very bad. We cannot expect to maintain and build up recruiting if these conditions obtain. I hope that the Under-Secretary will have something helpful to tell us about improving the state of accompaniment in Northern Ireland. It is important if we are to be there for some time.
So it is not true, as the Secretary of State pretends, that a reduction in known commitments automatically reduces a state of overstretch. There are other factors at work. I have mentioned one which the Government have chosen to ignore, despite continuous warnings.
I do not subscribe to the view that our forces never will be overstretched and never ought to be overstretched. Lord Watkinson, when Minister of Defence. used to say, with a great deal of truth, that if there were not some periods at which the forces as a whole were operating at full stretch then we had got too many and we were not organising ourselves properly. This is bound to hap pen sometimes. It happened in our day As a matter of history, at that time the forces were never better recruited.
I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will give us one or two reassurances about the present position, and in particular about the position of the United Kingdom mobile force in the Strategic Reserve. I recollect the conditions in 1963 and 1964 when numerous commitments were on foot. We never reached the position where we could not put a brigade of the Strategic Reserve fully mobile into the field. We always had a mobile brigade left in reserve which could have been committed to a fresh operation had one blown up.
We are entitled to ask for an assurance that this is still the position. Do we still have uncommitted and available at least a brigade group of the Strategic 653 Reserve which is not involved in the emergency in Northern Ireland? Could we still now put one in the field? I hope that the Minister will give us that assurance, because we have commitments other than that in Ulster.
There is nothing whatever wrong with our troops in Ulster, either themselves, or the way in which they are being led and commanded. Their morale is good, and they are succeeding in their objective, but it is only too apparent that this new unforeseen commitment, coming at the culmination of a process of cuts and disbandments, has faced the Ministry with difficulties for which it was not prepared, difficulties of the kind about which we have consistently and continuously given them warning.
The hon. Gentleman said today that one could not provide against every contingency, that one could not have an infinite margin. It is true that we cannot have an infinite margin—nobody can afford that—but there must, none the less, be a margin to provide for the unseen. We on this side of the House believe that the Government have cut the margin too fine, and that before they implement any further plans to reduce it still further and to run it down they ought to pause and think again about the lessons which I hope the present situation will have brought home to them.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg
(Barking): In the last few months we have seen a number of expensive full-page advertisements placed in the newspapers by the Ministry of Defence. It is a matter not susceptible of absolute proof, but it is interesting to speculate whether the very welcome improvement in recruiting figures which my hon. Friend announced has anything to do with or is in some way a response to those advertisements.
I have always been rather sceptical about advertisements for the Army, the Navy, and so on, particularly the old-fashioned type of advertisement—" Join the Navy and see the world ". The advertisements to which I have just referred have pursued a completely new theme which may have surprised some readers of the newspapers, the theme of peace. They have emphasised the peacekeeping role of the Army and the Navy; and it may be—I throw this out simply as a possibility—that the idealism of 654 youth—which still exists despite all that we hear from disgruntled elders about the behaviour of teenagers—is more attracted to the forces the more their role is seen as a peace-keeping role rather than as a war-making one. Certainly they have been fulfilling a peace-keeping role admirably in Northern Ireland. Incidentally, the point about pay which was made by one hon. Gentleman opposite is perhaps not a very serious one. No doubt they ought to be receiving it, but if they have not yet done so it will be back-dated to 1st August so that they will get a bit more afterwards, anyway.
Our troops have been pursuing a peacekeeping role in Northern Ireland and in various other parts of the world—sometimes as part of a United Nations force —and anybody who has seen the admirable and wearisome job done over the last few years, for instance, by UNICYP, the United Nations force in Cyprus, to which we make the biggest contribution, will know that that is an extremely valuable role for the forces.
It is in that connection that I should like to make a point about pay, which the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) dwelt on a good deal. Certainly all of us realise the importance of good pay and conditions for the forces. Whatever the complications may be of the new arrangements, I agree that they must be in force by the deadline in April. That is essential. We must not break faith with the forces on that deadline.
It is only fair to the Government, however, to remind the House that there was a pretty substantial increase in pay only three or four years ago. I recall that, by great good fortune, I was travelling in a naval frigate in the Indian Ocean a few weeks before that pay increase was announced, and I had to submit to one of those rather alarming "Any Questions?" sessions at which there was a free-for-all questioning by the ship's company. Naturally one of the first questions was, "When are we going to get an increase in pay, and how much is it going to be?". I did not feel in a position to commit the Government or anybody else, and I said that I had not the faintest idea but that there ought to be one pretty soon: and, because I did not want to raise their hopes, I added that I should be surprised if it were more than 3½ per cent. Actually it was much more than 655 that and it was paid very soon afterwards, so I was delighted.
I want to mention pay in the context of the United Nations forces, to which we are now committed to make some contribution—and a very good thing too. So far as possible, we ought to try in future increasingly to equalise to some extent the pay and allowances of the various contingents in a United Nations force. As is well known, the United Kingdom contingent generally gets very much less than most other contingents. For instance, in UNICYP our troops get far less than the Canadians, the Danes, the Finns even, and so on. I am speaking of last year, when I was last in Cyprus; the actual contingents may have been changed to some extent by now, but I think that our chaps probably still get far less than the contingents from other nations. One can understand the Canadians or the Americans getting more, because the rates of nay of the forces are related to the cost and standard of living in the home country, but I still think that our troops, when they are in a United Nations force, ought to get a special allowance which will bring them up to the average of other contingents.
This discrepancy is taken in a very good-humoured way by our troops, but it seems to me that it is a bit hard. I remember seeing dinner being served in a UNICYP canteen one Christmas Day. It was a very good dinner indeed. The drink served (at that moment) was a glass of milk, but as each United Kingdom soldier came along in the line he was denied a glass of milk. It was a rather ridiculous little discrimination. As each Canadian, Dane, or Finn, came along he received a glass of milk, but the British soldier was told, "No milk for you, your Government do not provide for it". This seems rather mean and paltry. It is only a small example of the kind of discrepancy which ought to be increasingly remedied as we send more and more troops to serve with United Nations forces.
While I am on the subject of Cyprus, perhaps I might ask my hon. Friend to tell the House when he winds up the debate, whether there are at the moment any plans for the future of the British Military Hospital at Dhekelia. This is 656 a splendid hospital, as I know from personal experience. It is beautifully designed. It was built only a few years ago, and it is magnificently staffed; but owing to the run-down, it is almost redundant. Two or three of the top floors are empty. I think that there have been some informal discussions both with the Government of Cyprus and with the Americans, and that the Americans are very much interested in the future of this fine building.
It is possible that it could be a teaching hospital as the centre of a new university campus—perhaps partly financed by the Government of Cyprus, partly by ourselves, and party by the Americans—to which students could come from all over the Middle East, rather as they have been going for years to the American university at Beirut. This would be a valuable way of assisting the détente that has been slowly making progress in Cyprus. It would encourage people of different national origins perhaps young people from Greece and Turkey—to mingle as students in a friendly way. We might even find students from the Lebanon, Israel and other nearby countries getting together in this way. This could be a long-term contribution not only to education in the strict sense of the word but to relaxing tension in the Middle East.
I do not know if the Minister can comment on the possibility of such a project now, but the Government must be thinking of what to do with this magnificent hospital since it is no longer as fully needed for its original purpose as when it was built.
When my hon. Friend told us about the improvement in recruiting figures I was hoping—his remarks encouraged us to hope—for some concession for boy Service men. I appreciate the difficulty and I welcome the announcement that he is to set up a committee to look into the whole background of the subject. However, I still cannot help remembering two things that were said by Ministers representing Service Departments who have since changed their offices.
The predecessor of my hon. Friend the Navy Minister said in a debate on this subject, in effect, "We do not want to keep unwilling sailors in the Navy." Our late hon. Friend, Mr. Gerry Reynolds, 657 whose premature death is regretted and deplored by the whole House—he was a good man and a good Minister—made the remarkable statement that the compulsory 12-year service for a boy joining at the age of 15 was "morally indefensible" but that it had to be kept because of the risk of a mass exodus should it be relaxed.
I still think that there is some discrepancy between my hon. Friend's statement that very few are seriously discontented and that the great majority settle down, and the apprehension of a mass exodus if there were an option, as the Latey Committee recommended, at the age of about 18. We are not morally entitled to keep them in the Navy or Army compulsorily without giving them that option. I do not like a Government I support defending an action which they say is morally indefensible.
As the Minister seemed half to admit, the knowledge that they could get out if they found Service life unendurable might tend to encourage rather than discourage the recruitment of teenagers. Because of the publicity that has been given to various cases that have arisen, and through the activities of the National Council for Civil Liberties and the activities of hon. Members on this matter, these teenagers know that they are stuck in the Service for a long time unless they can go through the difficult process of getting a discharge or release. I believe that many more would be likely to join if they knew that an option existed. Possibly it would have to be a form of discharge by purchase, remembering that this already exists for compassionate and other cases.
In this connection I pay tribute to the Navy Minister and Army Minister, and his predecessor, for the personal care and consideration that they have given to the individual cases that hon. Members have brought to their attention. I am emboldened to think that a concession by the Government in this matter would tend to encourage rather than discourage recruitment by the fact that on balance—perhaps I should exclude hon. Members who represent naval towns like Portsmouth and Plymouth—each hon. Member gets very few of these cases compared with the total numbers in the Services —perhaps half-a-dozen a year, if that. I do not believe, therefore, that there 658 would be a great rush out of the forces if this option were granted at, say, 18.
It is not easy to get people out when one takes up their cases with one of the Service Ministers. I have had to take up more cases from the Navy than from the Army and more from the Army than from the Royal Air Force. There are probably more men of various ages who want release from the Navy and Army than the R.A.F., but I do not know the reason for this. One can but speculate; it may be partly because the R.A.F. is, or seems to be, a more modern and technologically better equipped service than the older Services.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson
There is a simple explanation and it was touched on by the Minister; namely, that there is a smaller percentage of boy recruits into the R.A.F. than into the Navy.
§ Mr. Driberg
I was, however, speaking of Servicemen of all ages, not only of boy recruits. I believe that fewer men of all ages, proportionately to the numbers in the Services, are trying to get out of the R.A.F. than out of the other two Services. This may be partly because of wife trouble—long periods of service abroad—but, then, many airmen have been stationed in Singapore and other far-flung places.
I suspect that few men try to get out of the Royal Marines, which has notably the highest morale and esprit de corps of any of the Services. Even the number of cases concerning young Service men that have been taken up with my hon. Friends by the National Council for Civil Liberties—a number running into two or three figures—represents only a tiny percentage of the total number of men serving in the forces generally.
Often, not always, one finds that persistent absentees and deserters—who must surely cause more trouble for the military authorities than they are worth —are mentally and emotionally unstable. Indeed, I imagine that, for most admirals and generals, the knowledge that anybody wants to get out of their Service would be prima facie evidence of total insanity.
Cases of this kind usually require interviews with psychiatrists. In every such case that I have handled, the recommendations and reports of the Army or 659 Navy psychiatrists have invariably been totally contradicted by reports from civilian psychiatric consultants whom my hon. Friends who represent the Army and Navy have been good enough to allow my constituents to see also. I must not make any general charge against the Service psychiatrists, of course. No doubt they do their job creditably in many cases, but in the case of such constituents of mine as have been interviewed by them it has been a total waste of time, because their approach and attitude have been those of officers vis-à-vis other ranks, rather than of qualified doctors, which is what they are, vis-à-vis patients. When these Service men get to the civilian psychiatric consultant, there is a much more thorough and much better-balanced interview. At least, that is what I have found to be the experience of my constituents. Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friends for arranging these interviews with the civilian consultants, because they have usually led to the release of the men concerned.
I regret that my right hon. Friend's predecessor presented the six-month concession to the House in a way which was slightly misleading to many people outside the Services, although not to those inside, because he did not mention age at all. He merely mentioned boy soldiers, and not everybody in civilian life knows the age at which a soldier ceases to be a boy soldier. But that is by the way.
He also used the old and familiar argument about the wastage of trained personnel. Of course, it is true that, if a boy has been trained for three years, say in electronics, his experience in electronics is lost to the Navy or the Army; but his knowledge, gained admittedly at the expense of the Services, will be of value in civilian industry. Why not? Surely we want as many well-trained specialists as possible working in industry. Good luck to the Services if they provide that training. There is nothing much to be upset about if they do sometimes lose it to civilian industry.
One final point, on which also I should like a reply from my hon. Friend: next year, there will almost certainly be a General Election. For the first time we are giving the vote at the age of 18. What arrangements are being made to enable Service men from the age of 18 660 upwards to vote? Is any effort being made to see that they are on an electoral register in the Services or at their homes, and that they have the chance to cast a postal or proxy vote? I am sure that arrangements must be in hand.
Further to that point, in view of the apathy and the political ignorance which we know to be widespread among young people and among some older people as well—will anything be done in the way of basic non-partisan education in Parliamentary democracy before these young people, in particular the soldiers of 18, come to vote? Some of them may not bother to vote, but others will. It would surely be a good idea to revive in a modest form something like the wartime A.B.C.A., the Army Bureau of Current Affairs—[Laughter.]—which did an admirable job during the war.
I note that hon. Members opposite laugh at the idea of political education for the young. They do not want the young to be politically educated, since they will not then vote Conservative, naturally. None the less, however they may vote in the end, it would be a good idea if they knew something of the elements of Parliament, Government, democracy and what it is all about, because at the moment many of them do not know and do not really care.
I end by repeating that it is not morally possible to defend a policy which a Minister has himself described as morally indefensible. That must mean, sooner or later, an option at 18.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart
(Beckenham): I share the rather altruistic enthusiaism of the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) that all those in the Armed Forces should record their votes at the next election, because I have very little doubt as to which way the majority of those votes will be cast—
§ Mr. Goodhart
I was saying that the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm was altruistic because, having met many Service men in the last couple of years, I am sure that the great majority of those votes would be cast for the party for which I stand.
661 Like the two Front Bench speakers, 1 also have seen something of our Armed Forces in Ulster. I was there a few days after the tragic riots in Londonderry and Belfast in August. It was inspiring to feel the way in which the atmosphere of terrible fear on both sides of the barricades had been calmed by the presence of British troops, but it was also dispiriting to be led past burned out houses in a British city by soldiers carrying submachine guns. It was an experience which one had had in Asia and Africa but not in a British city. I found my spirits daunted by that experience.
But in the last couple of months I have been perturbed by the stories coming from Ulster of the strain on our soldiers and of the overlong hours of duty which some of them have to undertake. Of course I accept that internal security duties are wasteful of manpower, but although the situation in Belfast is certainly sad, it is not overly complex from the point of view of technical internal security.
The Secretary of State has rightly pointed out that it takes 25 men to man a three-man barricade day and night, but at the moment I wonder whether a barricade policy makes sense. I appreciate that it is easy to make suggestions when one is not responsible and is far away, but I cannot help wondering whether our forces really are deployed as sensibly as they might be, and whether a more mobile military presence in the back streets of Belfast might be less irksome for all concerned. After all, militarily, we may, alas, be involved in Ulster for a very long time. I hope that our tactical deployment will show the intelligence, ingenuity and flexibility, as the situation changes, which is necessary.
Meanwhile, there have been two outstandingly important domestic events for our armed Services since we had our last season, as it were, of defence debates. First, there has been the widespread introduction of the three-year engagement into the infantry, the artillery and the Royal Armoured Corps. I have for some years advocated the introduction of this shorter engagement, and it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that between March and August—and now, we hear, September as well—the gain in short-term recruiting has more than outdistanced the fall in long-term recruiting.
662 I wonder why the August and the September figures of recruitment were held up, in the case of August, until yesterday, and, in the case of September, until today. The Minister said that the reason was pressure of work. I can think of no work in the public relations section of the Ministry of Defence more important than presenting to the House and the country a clear picture of what is happening in recruitment. It seems astonishing that the figures should have been delayed for so long, because of, we are told, pressure of work. But still, I welcome the increase in recruiting which has been caused by the introduction of the three-year engagement period, which seems to me to be tar more in line with, so to speak, the ethos of modern youth, who appear, alas, to be so much more nomadic in instinct than we were when we were young.
I notice that in August, which by any standards was a calamitous month for recruiting—even by comparison with August 1968, itself a calamitous month —what really happened was not a fall in adult recruiting but a sharp falling off in junior recruiting. The Minister rightly underlined this afternoon the importance of junior recruiting for all the Armed Forces-70 per cent., as he said, in the Royal Navy, and 30 per cent. in the Army and the Royal Air Force. One can readily understand the inhibition which the Ministry of Defence suffers when it comes to the question of the Latey Report and the question of young men withdrawing easily from their engagements in the Armed Services.
I am surprised at the friendly reception which the Minister's announcement about the establishment of yet another committee has had in this House. I do not understand what it is that this committee is to investigate. Surely, all the facts are well known within the Ministry of Defence itself, and all that is required is a political decision one way or the other. I am suspicious about the reason for the establishment of this committee. I suspect that it will have a very large quorum and a membership of individuals living in remote parts of the British Isles, and I suspect that it will be encouraged not to report before the next General Election.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Ivor Richard)
The hon. Gentleman's natural cynicism brings me to my feet. Perhaps I can understand his cynicism, in a way, because that is an easy remark to make in a debate of this sort. But I assure that it is quite wrong that we know all the facts. The one fact not known is how really genuine is the desire of people at the age of 17 or 18 in wanting to leave the Services. One just does not know. It seems to us highly desirable, therefore, that a genuine and independent attempt should be made to find out.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I can understand, perhaps, the Minister's perplexity on this point, but I cannot understand how a committee will be able to adduce evidence of it. I presume that if one still needs information about it after all these years there could be interviews by experienced case workers or social workers going into the barrack rooms and speaking to those concerned. How a committee is to be able to investigate individual cases I still find somewhat perplexing.
The main domestic event for the Armed Forces since our last series of defence debates has been the publication of the Prices and Incomes Board Report on pay. Basically, it recommends a substantial movement towards a military salary. I have substantial doubts about whether this is the time to move in that direction. There is a great deal of fascinating information in the report itself. On page 81, for example, we learn that 26 per cent. of junior officers in the Army estimated that their income was 10 per cent. more than it actually was, and, moreover, a very substantial number of senior officers and senior N.C.O.s in all three Services estimated that their real income was 10 per cent. higher than it actually was. Perhaps some people will be sadly disillusioned by the introduction of a military salary.
The Minister was frank enough to admit that the proposals of the Prices and Incomes Board, which were foreshadowed in the Army Estimates debate last year, had been greeted with profound scepticism in the Services. There are various reasons for this. First, those in the Armed Forces realise that the introduction of a military salary will, if anything, sharpen the perpetual battle between the Ministry 664 of Defence and the Treasury, and they recognise that in its battles with the Treasury, certainly in the last five years, the Ministry of Defence has lost almost every round. Even if at the beginning the military salary looks pretty good, they have their doubts as to whether, after the reviews that follow, it will look quite so good at the end of two years or six years.
There is also the taxation problem, which is rarely mentioned by Ministers or in the Prices and Incomes Board Report. I was in the United States when that country made a major move towards a military salary for its forces, and it was then estimated that 50 per cent. of the increase in pay would be clawed back immediately in extra taxation. Naturally, this question worries those in the Armed Forces.
Next, there is the question of complexity. The move towards a military salary is supposed to be a move towards simplification, but I suspect that, as in so many moves supposed to bring about simpler procedures, in the long run it will lead to a much more complicated system. There is the whole "X" factor—the question of what is dangerous service and what is not, and all the problems in pay and accounting that will arise from that. I suspect that in future whenever a force goes into action it will have to fix its accountants at the same time that it fixes its bayonets.
One also wonders how much the charges will go up. We have been told that the salary will involve substantial increases in pay; we heard at the beginning of the debate that they would total £53 million. Is that a net or gross amount? Various charges will go up as well, so will the soldiers, sailors and airmen be £53 million better off at the end of the day or will a substantial proportion of that amount be clawed back in the increased charges?
I was depressed when the Minister of Defence for Administration, in his first appearance at the Dispatch Box in the place of the late Gerry Reynolds, whose premature death we all very much regret, should have shown in his reference to the reserve forces the same inflexible thinking that the Secretary of State has shown so often. There was the reference to the visit he had made to a Highland reserve unit, and how its members 665 knew exactly where they would go in a N.A.T.O. emergency, how they were going over to B.A.O.R., and how they were already familiar with the territory they would have to defend if a conflict broke out. But the whole point of the argument about reserves is that one cannot foretell the way in which a conflict may arise with such cerainty that one can say, "This unit will go there and defend this spot against an attack from that direction." There is uncertainty, and that is why next Wednesday we shall have the Second Reading of the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill. The emergency in Northern Ireland was unexpected, so one found a need for more reserve forces to deal with a problem that had not been foreseen. This does not apply only to Ulster. Throughout the defence structure—
§ Mr. Richard
Since what the hon. Gentleman is now saying may be important, and may be read outside the House, I hope that he will make it clear that there is no question of the Ulster Defence Regiment being used for the sort of internal security duties the Regular Forces are now engaged on in Ireland. No doubt he will also want to make it clear that the whole object of the force is, as the Hunt Committee recommended, to provide a force in Ireland against a threat which Lord Hunt described as being of an armed guerrilla type. It is important that that should be made clear.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am grateful for the Minister's clarification, but I am not so sure that one can draw an absolutely rigid line between sporadic guerrilla fighting in the countryside, say, and the throwing of petrol bombs outside a police barracks.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr
(Down, South): I think the Minister will agree that it says in the White Paper that the new defence force will not be used for riot duties but will be available to relieve the existing garrison forces which are to be used in supporting the police in riot duties. Therefore, my hon. Friend's argument is very relevant.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am glad to have my hon. Friend's support.
The point I wish to make is simply that in this complicated and dangerous world we cannot be certain where the threat will come from. We have had an example of that in the past few months 666 within our own islands. In those circumstances, the Government's action in the past five years in reducing the Territorial Army from the 115,000 men that it was in 1964 to the 47,000 we can muster now is one of the worst blemishes on a record which is wholly lamentable.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) will understand if I do not deal with all his remarks. But I was interested in his comments on the announcement that my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration intended to set up a Committee to examine the whole question of reluctant young Service men, and I was grateful to him for obtaining some elucidation on the precise purposes of the Committee.
I would like to devote all my speech to this one question, and particularly to endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg). I do not think that a sufficient number of hon. Members are aware that this country is alone in allowing young men to commit themselves at 15 to a contract which determines their lives for the next 12 years. I, and I am sure many hon Members on both sides of the House, certainly on the Liberal benches, regard this as a violation of human rights. It takes place in no other country. Hon. Members may reply that there is conscription in other countries, but conscription does not take place at so early an age.
I regard this as a contravention of the Infant Relief Act, 1874, which, the Minister will no doubt point out, is based on the doctrine that "an infant is of immature intelligence" and that he lacks discretion under the age of 18 and thus is not in a position to commit himself to a contract. It is therefore no wonder that the late Mr. Reynolds described this system as "morally indefensible". Indeed, if anything that is an understatement. It hardly surprises me that this matter is of so much public concern.
That public concern begins with the blandishments, the seductions, which are offered to young people. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking is not in the Chamber because he commended the focus of some of the advertising and I wish to take issue with him 667 on that point. May I draw attention to the I.P.C. publication Eagle. 1 do not suppose that this is bedside reading for the Minister, but if he has any occasion to look at the form of copy which appears in this comic paper, which is directed to adolescents and certainly to young people aged 14, 15 and 16, he may be surprised.
Let us consider the promise. The advertisement states,Mike Boswell's never bored nowadays ".We all know that nowadays many young people in the Services are unsettled and bored. What is the promise? It is,Mike Boswell's routine at work includes weapon training "—how exciting—map reading "—he probably learned it in the Scouts—football, basketball and athletics. All this is aimed at teaching him to lead men in tomorrow's Army ".The more sensitive boy is assured,He paints, too—it's all part of his army life.He is assured that the remuneration will be considerable. Indeed, he is told,He gets enough money to enable him to save at least £30 a term. And he gets treated like a man. It's part of the training ".That statement in the advertisement, which I regard as morally reprehensible, hardly squares with the reality. Perhaps it does for the majority of Service men, but I am sure that it is the experience of many Service men that that description is a mere fiction. I should like to draw my hon. Friend's attention to the opinion of two reluctant Service men on the form of advertisement which appears in the Eagle. The first letter which I quote is from a young man who deserted from the Navy. He writes,At this impressionable age I was only concerned with getting away from home and the whole romantic image of going to sea… Obviously I accepted the need for discipline, but, while my friends ashore were leading adult lives, we were still treated as boys, with what seemed petty and pointless restrictions, and no opportunity to think for ourselves.Another reluctant Service man writes,Ask any psychiatrist or anyone else for that matter who understands the mechanism of the mind if an unsophisticated adolescent, intoxicated with propaganda, is fully equipped to make such an astronomical decision as to surrender nine years plus of his life to something wholly foreign and unfamiliar. The death sentence is a mere 15 years.668 Hon. Members should be aware that young people aged 15, 16 and 17, particularly if they come from a working class background, have no understanding of a time scale. I say this because before I came into the House I was a sociologist and I taught educational sociology. I am well aware of the work done in this field by Professor Epstein who has demonstrated systematically that the thought patterns of working-class boys differ considerably from those of boys of the middle-class in that a working-class boy thinks "existentially". He has no sense of time or of career or of future, unlike the middle-class boy. That is one reason why middle-class boys do much better at school than do working-class boys. My hon. Friend should be aware that young boys of 15, 16 and 17 have an inadequate comprehension of their destiny over the net nine to 12 years.
We should also consider the reasons why young men join the Services. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his decision to set up the Committee and I am delighted—if 1 correctly interpret his intervention—that the Committee are to undertake a more systematic inquiry than we have held so far. I hope that the Committee will investigate—there is some evidence on the point—why young men at 15, 16 and 17 join the Services. No one can deny that one of the reasons is parental tension and a desire to leave home. A second reason is probably dictated by the circumstances of individual children. I should like my hon. Friend's Committee to consider, for example, the number of orphans who enlist into the Services at an early age, and I hope that his Committee will also inquire closely into the encouragement and the kind of advice given by the various institutions which are responsible for orphans. One hears stories which suggest that far too glibly these institutions suggest that the careers of their charges should lie in the Armed Services.
A third reason, which I mention with some feeling, is that many young men are pressurised to join the Services by parents, particularly fathers, who have had distinguished and satisfying careers in the Armed Services. I say that with some feeling because my father was an officer in the Royal Flying Corps and I 669 know the pressure to which I was subjected when at the age of 18 I was conscripted into the Air Force. I wanted to be a Bevin boy, but it was made clear to me by my father that if I volunteered to work in the mines I should never again cross the threshold of his house. I know how deeply many parents feel on this matter. I was not strong enough to resist. I went into the Service and I regretted it and loathed every minute that I spent in the Service. In retrospect, I wish that I had been stronger in character, had stood out against my parents and had worked in the mines. I am sure that 1 should have found the experience far more meaningful than I found the two years which 1 wasted in the Services. I hope that my hon. Friend's Committee will look into that point.
My hon. Friend will agree that there are a multiplicity of motives which lead young men to join the Services. Are they appropriate? I hope that his Committee will direct their attention to that question. My hon. Friend may very well find that the motives and reasons, such as I have attempted briefly to outline, do not point to a Service career. I should like to feel that young men are not subjected to these pressures. I hope that his Committee will also recommend that it is incumbent on the Service authorities to ensure that when a young man enlists for 12 years the terms of his service are spelled out.
I have received from the Ministry of Defence the attestation paper. I am sure that many of my right hon. Friend's advisers will have studied this document and done their best to simplify the phraseology and the syntax. Nevertheless, I put it to him that the terms of this document cannot be fully comprehended by a young man of 15, 16 or 17.
Many young Service men are under the mistaken impression that they can buy themselves out. As we are to have new regulations, I hope that there will be a new system of induction and that the terms will be precisely spelled out and that when a young man signs on, he will be put in a room for ten minutes and told to read and digest the document, and asked to make a précis of it so that it can be seen that he knows what he is letting himself in for.
670 One senses from reading this document that Service men, certainly younger Service men, have no proper appreciation of its meaning. When a young man commits his life to the extent of 12 years, as so many of them do, he ought to be made privy to the commitment which he is undertaking. He should be aware of his rights and the fact that he may contract out after three months or six months; it should be made clear that he has no automatic right of purchase, and many Service men are under the mistaken impression that they have such rights.
They should also be acquainted with their limited rights in respect of protest. In this context I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a letter written by a Captain R. P. Clayton to a sister of a reluctant Service man. He said:… the aggressive attitude taken by the National Council for Civil Liberties in their rather misdirected efforts to assist him has, in fact, lost him sympathy and has indeed made it more difficult for those who are in a position to help …
He needs a great deal of help and encouragement from his family if he is to give up his unsettling association with the National Council for Civil Liberties, regain his health and re-establish himself in the Navy. It is outrageous that a serving officer should write that kind of letter. The National Council for Civil Liberties provides an excellent social service in that it assists Service men, many of whom are not clear about precisely what their limited rights are. That form of intimidation should cease.
Similarly, the intimidation of Service men in respect of writing to their Members of Parliament should cease. I hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that Service men who wish to purchase themselves out of the Service do not prejudice their position by contacting the Council or a Member of Parliament.
In this context I must draw my hon. Friend's attention to what must have been a belly laugh by Miss Sparrow, the recipient of Captain Clayton's letter, when she picked up her Guardian on 7th November and read a Services advertisement saying:We've plenty of things that we need changing in this country, and we cherish the right of protest that Speakers' Corner exemplifies. Speaking freely is our way of changing things. But there's one cause of protest that doesn't exist here: the stifling of protest itself.671 Do you perhaps take freedom of speech for granted?"
That is a very subtle approach and it may be effective with some readers of the Guardian, but I am sure that some Service men, and certainly Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, would have read that with considerable cynicism.
I turn to another matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking and urge on my hon. Friend the need to introduce an independent element into reviewing the applications which his Department receives. My hon. Friend hinted more strongly than I am inclined to do that Service officials, the faceless men, are not as sympathetic as they might be when reviewing cases. My hon. Friend instanced reports of a Service psychiatrist differing from those of a civilian psychiatrist. But it is not only Service and civilian psychiatrists who differ. Medical officers of health differ, and I should like to exemplify that by quoting the case of a young man, whom I shall call Mr. X, because, I gather, he is now on the run.
He has been examined by a Service doctor and by a civilian doctor. The two opinions in juxtaposition make my point very well. The Service doctor:This young man is suffering from a slightly slipped disc which would clear up with a course of exercises. He was pronounced fit four service and there was no necessity to cancel his draft.The civilian doctor:This patient is in my mind not fit for peace time active service in one of H.M. Forces. He seems very introspective and much concerned with himself. In my own experience as an Army M.O., I have seen quite often that even the smallest physical inability can be the source of a course of unstable physical trauma and a very damaging effect to his surroundings. In my view this man should be discharged from H.M. Forces on medical grounds.When my hon. Friend makes his decision in this case, he will doubtless be privy only to the opinion of the Service doctor. Obviously, he could not challenge that opinion and he will make the decision against the man.
If there were opportunities for independent examination, for independent review, the kind of evidence which I have cited of a contrary opinion—which of course would be open to challenge—could be put to the test. We would all feel that the system was far happier and more just. 672 Many People fell that the Services have a somewhat distorted view of compassion.I must tell my hon. Friend that many reluctant young Service men are of the impression, as is the National Council for Civil Liberties, that letters from mothers are completely ignored. I am horrified by this. Naturally, mothers have feelings and mothers know their sons very well. It is a matter of regret if such letters are automatically discounted. This is a general view and I sincerely invite my hon. Friend to say something on this matter and to say that the letters of mothers to Members of Parliament supporting the claims of sons should rot be ignored.
I realise that my hon. Friend has a problem. I was depressed when I picked up my Daily Telegraph this morning and read of the recruiting figures. I was delighted by the more encouraging figures in September. It would be irresponsible if those of us who are urging a relaxation of the system did not suggest some alternative. I wish to touch only in passing on two matters.
Does my hon. Friend think that he has done enough in the way of substitution? Before the debate, I took the trouble to ask the Library to work out the ratio of persons in civilian employment attached to Her Majesty's Forces to enlisted men, and to do that through the countries of N.A.T.O. I know that we have been extremely successful in substituting civilians for enlisted men, but I wonder whether more could be done.
Secondly, perhaps my hon. Friend could look more sympathetically at the applications by Service men who wish to terminate their service if they undertake to enlist in the Reserves. I may be speaking in ignorance here, it may be that this is already done. I feel that many Service men would accept a period in the Reserve if they could secure their release.
I welcome the setting up of the Committee although I felt that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) made a valid point when he said that we already know a great deal about the problem. I hope also that the Committee will be empowered to commission research and that this will focus attention on some of the questions I have raised. I trust my hon. Friend will endorse the comment of his predecessor 673 and agree that this is a morally indefensible system. It is a form of bondage that we, if we genuinely subscribe to a free society should abolish with all possible speed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I would remind the House that many hon. Gentlemen wish to speak. Reasonably brief speeches will help.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)
I greatly respect the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson). I searched throughout his speech for something with which I could agree. I hope he will forgive me if I say that the only thing with which I really felt myself in sympathy was when he told us of his father who encouraged him to go into the Services rather than to enlist in the "Bevin Boys". I hope that he will forgive many of us on this side of the House if we appear to concentrate on getting good material into the Services rather than on facilitating the release of the misfits whom he has in mind.
Mr. John Mott (St. Ives)
Does my hon. Friend really believe that the misfits, and I speak as an ex-Regular soldier, are helpful to the Services? That is the logical conclusion of what he said.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I accept what my hon. Friend says. I am merely saying that tonight I prefer to concentrate on the manpower shortage.
This is a very suitable subject, because I dare say that the majority of us on Sunday attended Remembrance Day services. My constituency of Salisbury is a garrison city, embracing the largest Army training-ground, Salisbury Plain. It has Bulford, Larkhill, Porton, the Joint Welfare Establishment, Porton Down, and many other places whose names are included in the vocabulary of the Services.
I have represented Salisbury in this place for slightly under five years. That is five Remembrance Day parades. It has been extraordinary to see the change. I remember that when I first went to these parades there was always the Commander of Strategic Headquarters, which is in my constituency, or the Lord Lieutenant on the dais in the market place, taking the salute, and there would be a sizeable marchpast. In the space of those five years it has been like snow 674 on the face of the desert. The Regular soldier has disappeared. He is not available.
Instead, we have the British Legion, all credit to it, a few veterans of the First World War, the Old Contemptibles, we have a party of Dunkirk veterans and a handful of gallant ladies. Last Sunday I spoke to one lady who had driven an ambulance in France in 1914. But the Regular soldier has gone. I do not imply any criticism; the Regular soldier must be where he is most needed. What I am saying is that it serves to remind us—because this pattern is repeated up and down the country—what a very rare sight a Regular soldier in England is.
I have great sympathy with the Government over the Irish problems, dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden). The conditions facing our troops are very difficult and demanding. I find myself in some disagreement with my right hon. Friend when he says that the position was unforeseen. He may be right, but I was in Northern Ireland several times before the war and I remember being taken to parts of Belfast and shown areas where the cobblestones had been concreted over. This was not just routine road maintenance. It was to take the violence out of rioting.
My right hon. Friends says that it was unforeseen, I do not know. I suspect emergency has never been very far below the surface there. The trouble has boiled up again this summer. We have 10 infantry battalions there and fully stretched they are. I see no early prospect of their withdrawal. I do not say that the problem could have been foreseen, but I claim that it serves to illustrate how perilously narrow is the margin today.
The Minister pointed out that the Army suffers nothing in quality at the moment. This particularly applies to Strategic Command, which I know well, and where the staff officers are of the highest calibre. If another emergency in some other theatre were to blow up in these winter months where we would go for soldiers, I do not know.
§ Mr. Ramsden
My hon. Friend says that he disagrees with me, but he is helping my argument because if the emergency could have been foreseen it 675 makes the Government's position all the more culpable.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. If we look at the percentage of the population of this country recruited into the Regular Army and compare it with France, Italy Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands, we find that the figure is derisive. In terms of manpower we put about half the effort into N.A.T.O. that our fellow members of the alliance do. We have fewer soldiers in Germany today than in 1964. What was it that the Secretary of State for Defence said only recently in Munich? He said that N.A.T.O. is outnumbered, outnumbered on the central front, in infantry formations in the ratio of two to one, in armoured formations by nearly three to one and in the event of mobilisation the disparity increases.
What is our answer to that? I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said in Munich. Those nice old words—" Our stress will be on the strength of our conventional forces "—this it was that figured in the Labour Party's election manifesto in 1964. Some stress! How hollow that sounds today. The Government's reply to the situation over N.A.T.O. is to reduce our forces by 25 per cent.
There are still a good many Members who served here in the 1930s and they will not need reminding of the events at that time, of the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the rearmament of Germany—
§ Mr. Hamilton
I regret that I did not hear that intervention.
Those were times when we were parlously weak and were unable to influence the course of events in Europe. The war came and, by the grace of God, we somehow survived it. But we swore that we would never be so unprepared again. What was the strength of our Regular Army in 1936, which for us was a moment of supreme weakness? The answer is that we had 50,000 more in the Regular Army than we have today. We should keep that very sobering thought in mind.
676 I turn briefly from the general to the particular. I ask the Minister to take careful note of what I am about to say, because the treatment of members of the Services has a direct bearing on the vital question of recruitment.
Last summer I raised in the House the case of a Regular officer of much brilliance who had given his adult life to the Army and whose career at the age of 39 suddenly crashed in ruins because 17 years previously he had been taken prisoner with his regiment in Korea. At that time very little gratitude was extended to him. In fact, no hand was stretched out to help him, and he, his wife and four young children sailed from Southampton to Australia.
But injustice remains injustice, whether it was last year, this year or next year. I therefore made a special request to the Secretary of State for Defence. I asked that Lord Radcliffe and his four colleagues be invited to reconvene for a day to consider the disability which a young soldier once captured by Communists must suffer, regardless of the passage of years, of subsequent conduct and of whether there were colleagues in the same regiment in captivity who could testify. I made my request on 2nd August last year and I still await a reply.
Discussions took place within the Ministry of Defence, and the views of the Minister of Defence were forwarded to the appropriate interdepartmental committee. This much I was told. But the months have passed. I was asked to be patient, and I was patient. In March of this year the Secretary of State wrote to me saying:I hope to be in a position to reply fully by the end of April".April came and went. In October, the Secretary of State wrote to me saying:I fully expect to be able to answer in two weeks or so ".But again the time limit has passed.
I am still hoping that the Secretary of State will invite Lord Radcliffe to consider this matter. Clearly, it cannot rest as it is. I am concerned today at the treatment accorded to my constituent. But his situation is not unique. It could arise again elsewhere. Any hon. Member could be visited this weekend by a member of the Services in an identical position whose career may suddenly be ruined.
677 Why does my request remain unanswered? Why the indecision? Why the delay in inviting the views of the Committee on Security Procedures? Are not these men of the utmost distinction —Lord Radcliffe, Field Marshal Templer and the three others? Can there be a tribunal of more independent objective judgment? Is not mine a wholly reasonable request? Could there be a comparably satisfying solution to the problem and, if so, why the hesitation?
I would have expected the Secretary of State for Defence to welcome the earliest possible vindication of the actions of his Department. But perhaps after one and a half years I may be forgiven for wondering whether there is something which is better withheld from Lord Radcliffe, a slight irregularity perhaps which Lord Radcliffe and his committee might not approve.
I wish merely to place the situation today on the record and to beg the Secretary of State for Defence to put an end to such uncertainty.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins
(Preston, North): I do not want to deal in detail with the main theme of the speech of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton), because I am chiefly interested in developing the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg). However, I thought that the hon. Gentleman was a little unfair about the Labour Party's defence policy of 1964. That policy was aimed at developing the conventional forces and not wasting money on the further development of nuclear forces. France has tried to go ahead with both and has failed with both. She does not have a credible nuclear deterrent. On the other hand, her conventional forces have suffered.
I am not sure what the hon. Member for Salisbury has in mind, but if he is thinking in terms of expenditure we still spend as a proportion of our gross national product, a great deal of money on armaments. We spend more than, for instance, any continental country—in fact, more than most countries in the world. We probably come after the United States and Portugal.
§ Mr. Atkins
I am thinking of the Western world, because we do not know with certainty what the Russian costs are.
The hon. Gentleman may have in mind the fact that British forces are now more concentrated. A major difference between the two front benches is the question of an east of Suez policy. It is arguable whether to concentrate our forces and withdraw them from east of Suez makes them a more credible force. It is not for me to say whether the more we extend our forces the weaker they become. I know that when we debate these matters with hon. Members opposite there is a lot of experience among them—a lot of "glittering brass ", if I may put it that way. But I repeat what I said in a defence debate last year.
Lord Montgomery has said in another place that the numbers of our conventional forces are too great and that we should concentrate on a highly professional force with smaller numbers but very mobile, in fewer bases, particularly in this country, and that we would thereby have a stronger conventional arm than we have today. He was speaking in terms of forces of about 150,000. That is a view of an authority. I would hesitate to express it as my view because I am inexperienced in these matters, but, coming from Lord Montgomery, it is an opinion which needs to be heeded.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking for introducing the question of the reluctant young Service man. I agree with so much that he said that there is little for me to say, so my contribution will be brief, but I wish to substantiate his case by dealing with a case I was reminded of by a letter I received only two days ago. I think that all hon. Members will agree and to some extent it must be a compliment to the Armed Forces that there are very few reluctant young Service men. My experience of complaints has been even less than my hon. Friend's. I suppose that on average I have received one a year. Nevertheless, we in this House are concerned with not merely with numbers but with the distress of individuals, however humble they are.
I have heard from this young man's father. He has been expelled from the forces, sent out in disgrace. His father first raised this matter with me about a year ago. The young man was always 679 deserting. He deserted many times and was caught and taken back. I raised the case with the Minister, but the report from his officers was that the young man was potentially good Service material. They thought that his objection to the Army was merely temporary and that he was influenced by his mother and father and friends, but would soon settle down in the Army and do well. However, he continued to desert and eventually he committed some crime or other which enabled him to get out. Now his father is in great distress. Because of his record, this young man finds its difficult to obtain employment. He has no unemployment pay and he does not even have adequate clothing. He left the Army quickly and has no civilian clothes. If his reputation has suffered, so has the reputation through his treatment of the Army.
It is claimed that very much money is spent on training young people especially in technical training in the Armed Forces, and that is true. If too many young Service men leave after that training there is a loss to the Army even if there is not a loss to civilian life. Nevertheless, I wonder, what the loss to the Army is of keeping a reluctant young Service man with the military police following him all over the country. This might happen either, nine or ten times in a year. It also has a bad effect on the morale of his unit. In this way more harm would be done to the Army and more cost incurred to the Army than if in such a case the young man were released.
I understand that there is to be a more flexible system of recruitment and the optional period during which a young man can consider whether he should stay in the Army has been lengthened from three to six months. I urge the Minister to try to make a system of interviewing more liberal. It seems that too often young men are declared to be suitable material when they are not suitable. It seems that the system of devaluation of the military potential of the reluctant young Service man is less generous than it used to be.
When a young man is discharged from the Army, after having failed to get out in any other way, the effect on him and on his family must be terrible. Although this may seem a small problem in numbers, I hope that the Minister will give it his 680 attention. If we continue with the same system more and more young men will feel forced to commit crime so that they can get out of the forces. It I mention methods which are used for getting out of the Army I do not think I shall be causing any danger. It is well known that today there are undesirable means of getting out, such as drug taking, an addiction to Communism, or homosexual activities. Things of that nature enable a young man to get out. Some of these practices are increasing enough already without the help of the system.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
Was there not an even more undesirable way a few years ago—making oneself a candidate for Parliament?
§ Mr. Atkins
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of all the practices I have mentioned, I think that I should be right to keep that one quiet, in view of the approach of a General Election. Without pretending that this is an enormous problem as to numbers, it is nevertheless a great problem because of the hardship and distress which is caused to individuals.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins
(Derbyshire, West): The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Ronald Atkins) has again touched on an issue which has been occupying the minds of most of his hon. Friends. He has put it in a more reasonable and balanced way than perhaps the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) did. I think that it is agreed on both sides of the House that the Services do not wish to continue to take in misfits. They cause trouble and are best out of the Services. The problem is to identify them and to decide at what stage they are misfits.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is setting up a committee to deal with this question. There is also the safeguard in the six months' period at the start of the young man's service, when he can decide whether he is to stay in the Army or not. Perhaps the committee will have some wise ideas on how to identify this element and get it out of the Services before too much damage is done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) mentioned another injustice. These are some of the issues which may explain the difficulties 681 we have had in recruiting, but they are not the only ones. There is the injustice felt by the misfit who wants to get out of his unit, but there are other factors which have made the recruiting figures look extremely sad and sorry. I welcome the fact that in September we did rather better, but we are still not recruiting anything like enough to make up for the shortfall or to enable us to fulfil commitments.
This has been emphasised in what has gone on in Northern Ireland during recent months. Almost everything that needs to be said on that subject has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) and I wish to make only two comments. I have a personal interest, as I have a son serving with the Army there. He has been there since August. Conditions for Service men have not been good. The Minister was right in saying that they have not been good. They are better than they were, but there is a long way to go if the size of the force, 10 battalions with auxiliaries, is to continue to do the job throughout the winter months.
My second point, purely in passing, concerns the extra pay promised by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State to the troops serving in Northern Ireland. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate. An awkward and strange precedent has been set, but this has been announced by the Secretary of State and I am sure that he will honour his undertaking. The only point I made in my intervention was that it has not yet been honoured. I am quite certain that it will be honoured and back-dated to August, and I suggest only that this should be done rapidly and before Christmas.
§ Mr. Hattersley
May I put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest? An instruction was given to paymasters on 24th October. It is not a matter of the hon. Gentleman's certainty that my right hon. Friend will honour the obligation. Grateful though we are for that certainty, the obligation has been honoured.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I am delighted to hear it. From a telephone call yesterday I understood that up to that moment it had not yet been paid to any ranks.
The situation in Northern Ireland shows clearly the over-stretching of our forces. 682 Recruitment has gone down, although it is better now, but we are still short, and cannot continue in this state of overstretch. We have our commitments overseas in other theatres and indeed I shall argue shortly that they should certainly be continued beyond 1971 although on a reduced scale. But if an emergency such as Northern Ireland can over-stretch us to the extent it has, we shall be unable to fulfill them even now. The Minister of State pleaded in defence that this emergency was unique, but every emergency is unique; there is no such thing as one emergency being unique. Look at Kenya, Malaysia and elsewhere. I do not believe that the pay increase about to be made in April will necessarily improve recruitment sufficiently to fulfil our obligations. The hon. Gentleman's calculation of the increase was £82 million, including the X factor. Although this is quite sizeable, it still alone will not be sufficient.
Most of our Strategic Reserve has been committed to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State for Defence, in answering Questions on the use of our Strategic Reserve in Northern Ireland, seemed to deny that the parachute battalions employed in Northern Ireland were those which had been committed to N.A.T.O. Strategic Reserve. He later corrected this in a Written Answer to a Question which I put down. The Strategic Reserve which he has assigned to N.A.T.O. hardly exists; it is not there to be used should an emergency arise within the N.A.T.O. area as most of this Strategic Reserve has been committed to deal with the emergency in Northern Ireland.
Although the hon. Gentleman spoke of concentrating here at home and in Europe he is still not able to fulfil our obligations because of the position into which he has got our forces. That is the main charge which I make against the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend. This is a "nuts and bolts" debate, whereas we should be criticising the Secretary of State and his colleague for putting the defence of the country into a state where it cannot fulfil its obligations so that even the State itself could be at risk should an emergency arise.
I do not deny that the Services are well armed, that morale is in most cases reasonably good, that the troops are well trained, but that they are insufficient I 683 am certain. It is not their fault. The hesitations, the cuts and the changes that have taken place since the Secretary of State took over four and a half years ago are the main cause of the low recruitment figures. Another cause is that young men like adventure and serving overseas. They do not now have an opportunity for doing this, and will not in the future. I do not argue that we should retain forces in the Far East so as to give young men the opportunity of serving overseas, far from it, but if the two coincide, all to the good, especially where it serves our best interests. Perhaps a moral can be drawn from the fact that the emergency in Northern Ireland started in August and the September recruiting figures bounded up.
I do not want to repeat all the arguments about the Far East. But during the Recess I, with some of my colleagues, went to Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. I am convinced that the situation in the Far East, Singapore, Malaysia and that area is not as stable as would appear on the surface. There is a threat of subversion from the North where, for example, there are 1,000 armed Chinese on the Malaysia-Thai border. I believe that the theory that with a possible American withdrawal there will be gradual absorption of other countries through Communist infiltration is a distinct possibility—the dominating theory, in fact. In Singapore and Malaysia, for which we have certain responsibilities, and which are members of the Commonwealth, the situation is of the gravest danger.
I will not weary the House with all the consultations which we had when we were there they were extensive and I am more than grateful for them. As a result of those consultations I believe that the policy of complete withdrawal by 1971 and the taking over by Australian and New Zealand combined forces whilst we ourselves maintain a general capability to go out there, is completely insufficient.
The political leaders in Malaysia and Singapore are extremely unhappy about this. We cannot physically do this—acclimatisation is only one of the difficulties—and the political leaders of the two countries firmly believe that, if we withdraw completely by 1971 and merely 684 give a promise of continued interest, Australia and New Zealand will be incapable of and indeed refuse to fulfil that role, even on a much smaller scale, in which event East and West Malaysia and Singapore will be a prey to subversive influences. Both leaders said that without the physical presence of this country and our Commonwealth partners, Singapore and Malaysia would be incapable of withstanding the slightest puff of hostile wind. What an enormous loss that would be.
We shall later be debating the cost of this and how it can be done and I will not weary the House now, but they are great and profound issues. In all sincerity I believe that our withdrawal and our continued insistence on withdrawal by 1971 will do the greatest disservice to the people in those countries and to our own interests there. I do not believe that the cost will be anything like as great as the Secretary of State has claimed—£400 million. My best estimate for a combined force with our Commonwealth partners, is about £30 million.
I want now to speak of the Gurkha Brigade in Hong Kong. I had the pleasure of seeing it in the New Territories. All the Gurkha battalions are to be concentrated in the New Territories by the middle of 1970. These are splendid troops. I have no need to go into their quality now. But the Secretary of State cannot hope to maintain the Gurkha Brigade in the New Territories of Hong Kong if there is no other station on which the Gurkhas can serve. To hold the four battalions of these excellent fighting troops in the New Territories permanently—for ever more and a day, amen—means that the Brigade will literally die away.
I hope—indeed, I am sure—that the conditions of their barracks will be improved. This is not a problem in itself, but merely a question of spending more money. But it is the mere physical fact of the Gurkha Brigade being there, having to stay there for ever. If only there could be an alternative station for them —with one battalion serving, say, in Malaysia perhaps at the Jungle Warfare School, or in Singapore or Brunei—with the battalions being interchangeable—that might be sufficient. But it would give an interest and useful alternative rÔle.
685 There is also dissatisfaction, which I found to my surprise, amongst other ranks concerning what is happening in the Kingdom of Nepal in relation to the Gurkha pensioners from the days when I was in the Gurkhas and who are now living in their homeland. Their standard of living and the value of their pension had not been maintained and there is a good deal of grumbling within Nepal among these ex-soldiers who served us so well and truly. Surely this can be looked into and put right.
Basically, my charge against the Government is that they have not kept our defence forces in a state where they can fulfil their obligations either at home or overseas. One cannot bribe men to join the Services. One has to give them something worth while to do. The Secretary of State has failed to do this. I hope that, as a result of debates like this, we can show the Government and the country what mistakes the Government have made and the danger in which they have placed the country. We surely cannot look forward to having them in power much longer because our lives and livelihood are in danger because of them.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)
I do not believe that we could have afforded to have right hon. Members opposite in power much longer, for they would have wrecked the economy. The proposals they have made for substantially increasing public expenditure have given me no confidence that they have learnt any lessons since they went into opposition.
My hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration said that the solution of the Services' recruiting problem can only be marginally affected by increases in salary, and I think I agree. He also said that one of the factors giving rise to improved recruiting was the status of the Armed Forces in our public life. With that judgment, I wholeheartedly agree, because he then proceeded to give the August recruiting figures followed by the September recruiting figures, indicating a 100 per cent. and more improvement.
The reason for this improvement was that, between the two sets of figures, we had the military security operation in Northern Ireland. which showed the British Army in an extremely favourable 686 light. Our troops there have been doing a first-class job. As I have had to visit Northern Ireland with a certain amount of regularity over the past two or three months for various reasons, I do not wish to speak in the debate without placing on record my admiration for the way the Army has handled a very difficult situation in Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere.
When the troops arrived, they immediately helped to still the griping fears on both sides of the barricades in the affected areas. Subsequently, as a result of the way they have carried out their duties, they have given everyone involved in the Northern Ireland problem, and who wishes to see it solved peacefully and satisfactorily, time needed to work—and time was one of the factors in very short supply at one stage in that unhappy country.
But it should not be assumed that, just because the operation has gone well, it has gone smoothly and without any problems or troubles. That is far from being the case. Hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that the conditions in which the troops have been living for the past two or three months have been lacking in the amenities they are entitled to expect. I know that my hon. Friend has been out there and will make every effort to ensure that the conditions in which the troops are expected to serve will be considerably improved before the onset of winter.
There is another side to the operation. It is admitted by most people who have ever undertaken the task that sentry duty is one of the most tedious duties ever invented by the military mind for its minions. A good part of the operation for the troops has consisted in the unglamorous task of standing at street corners, laden with military equipment, in all sorts of weather, trying to while away the time until the relief comes along.
Hitherto, such operations have been conducted in other parts of the world, it must be remembered. I cannot speak from experience, but I have no doubt that being abused in Arabic or Adeni is unpleasant but certainly preferable to being abused in English which one can understand and in Northern Ireland there are people who have not been above doing that to our troops there. Indeed, 687 some of our troops have actually been under fire there, and they have conducted themselves with great restraint and devotion.
There is another problem. I believe that the Army's desire to behave as a neutral was accepted by the great majority of the people in Northern Ireland, but on both sides there was a small minority who regarded the Army's neutral posture as being one in which the Army did its best to be beastly to the other faction. That led to problems as well.
However, the operation had been conducted with considerable efficiency. I was in Belfast during the most bitter rioting in Shankill and was vastly impressed by the way in which we were able to build up a picture of how the situation was developing as a result of regular and reasonably accurate reports from the Army Command to our little post. Without the Army performing this function, I do not believe that we would have been able to build up a picture as successfully as we did because there did not seem any other channel in existence through which the same information could have been conveyed with the same accuracy.
In defence debates, I have always shown interest in what is called "Opmac".
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark
(Londonderry): While expressing my admiration for the troops, as the hon. Gentleman has done, may I ask whether he is aware that among the privations they suffered was leafleting and persuasion by, among others, a Member of Parliament who tried to ask them to desert and join in supporting the cause she supported?
§ Mr. Moyle
I have no personal knowledge of that occasion. If it happened, it is another example of the way in which our troops have carried on under considerable provocation.
I turn to the "Opmac" side of the situation. My hon. Friends know that I have always been interested in this side of military activities since I have been taking part in these debates. As the situation develops in Northern Ireland, it is to be hoped that tension will be reduced. Obviously, at this stage of the proceedings, it is too much to expect that General Freeland and his officers 688 will want to take on any more commitments. But if tension is reduced, it is probable that the Northern Ireland garrison will remain in somewhat greater strength than it has had in the past, and it seems to me that there is a role for the troops to play which has not yet been much in evidence.
The Army will be more successful in carrying on its functions in Northern Ireland if it builds up contacts with the whole community. It is possible for a Catholic child in Northern Ireland to spend a great part of his life without ever making friendly contact with a Protestant child, and vice versa, though it would be wrong at this juncture to discuss who is responsible for the situation or the wisdom of it.
Against that, it must be borne in mind that the Army usually has considerable resources in terms of sporting equipment, and so on, to provide facilities, instructors, training in adventure and that sort of activity. If those resources could be directed to the youth of Northern Ireland on a non-sectarian basis, the Army could make a considerable contribution to community relations during the period immediately following the present emergency.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised this point, because I meant to but did not have time. The Army has, in fact, begun to do this, and it would help the House if we could hear something about the finance which it is proposed to make available to support these projects.
§ Mr. Moyle
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I was aware that the Army was beginning to undertake this work, but I wanted to give it a favourable wind and point out that in the circumstances of Northern Ireland there is a shortage of institutions and bodies with sufficient trust to put forward this sort of sporting or adventure-based approach to the problem of community relations. It seemed to me that the Army was ideally cut out for the rÔle.
I want to add my comments to what has been said from this side of the House about the problem of young boys who enter the Services for training at the age of 15 and are committed to very lengthy contracts of service as a result. I have 689 listened carefully to the arguments of expediency put forward by my hon. Friends on the Front Bench on behalf of the present practice of the Services. Much as I want to be fair to them, I am forced to the conclusion that the Services rely on a strong position which an historical situation has given them to hang on to a solution which is administratively convenient and saves them having to think too deeply about the recruitment of young people.
For a number of years, I was partially responsible for recruitment and training in a large industry. Nothing which my hon. Friends have told me has led me to believe that the problems faced by the forces are different in essence from those faced by employers of labour in industry generally.
We used to go to schoolboys of 16 and convince them that our industry was a good one in which to make their careers. If we succeeded in putting across the message, these young lads were taken on the strength of the firm. They were trained and, for four or five years, they were sent on sandwich courses at technical colleges. They were paid wages, supplied with equipment and given considerable financial support to ensure that they achieved technical qualifications. To that extent, we met the forces. But when boys qualified, they had a moral commitment and nothing more to serve the industry for two years. That was the most that we felt that we could urge upon a young man in civilian life.
The numbers that we recruited were directly geared to forward projects of the numbers that we thought we would want. Very often, those young men would decide that they did not want to continue in the industry which had spent considerable sums training them and which was offering them a career, not until the age of 27 but, if necessary, until they were 65. There was no way in which we could hold them, if they wanted to go. As an industry, we lost the money which had been invested in them, but the country gained. We had to be satisfied with the situation. If we wanted to hold young men, we knew that we would have to adjust our terms and conditions of service.
No problem faced by the Armed Forces in this regard is different from those in large numbers of British industries. In a 690 few years, I am confident that we will look back in horror to the time when young boys could be taken into the forces at 15 and forced to serve 12 years. I believe that we shall still have Armed Forces, with senior N.C.O.s and warrant officers who will still be some of the best trained in the world.
I cannot see why we hang on to an archaic method of recruiting for the Armed Forces which is admitted to be morally wrong. The sooner that we get down to solving the problem, the better.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I intend to confine my remarks almost entirely to the topic of recruiting. I shall do so briefly, because most of my points have been covered.
At the same time, I take this opportunity of associating the Liberal Party with the remarks which have been made about the conduct of our troops in Northern Ireland, which I am sure everyone has watched with the greatest admiration.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle). Having acompanied him last year on an all-party delegation to the United Nations, I formed a high opinion of his views and perspicacity. I do not disagree with anything that he said about Northern Ireland and the recruitment of young men to the forces.
I said that I would confine my remarks to recruiting, and I intend to concentrate on the recruitment of young Service men. We welcome the Minister's statement about the setting up of a Committee to inquire into the problem. I also welcome the Minister's obviously humane attitude to the recruitment of young Service men.
I should like to ask two questions about the Committee before going any further. First, from whom will the Committee hear evidence? Has that been decided? Secondly, when the evidence has been heard and the report has been written. will that report be solely to the Minister or will it be published for hon. Members of this House? These are two important questions which the Minister might like to enlarge upon in his reply.
The figures about recruiting given today are, in a way, reassuring. The increase in September has been a surprise to some 691 of us. But I wonder whether it is a permanent improvement or simply a temporary one, emanating, as was suggested by several hon. Members, from the publicity which the Army has got from its activities in Northern Ireland or from the prospect of higher pay.
It is obvious that to improve recruitment we must do three things. First, we must raise Service pay and improve conditions. Secondly, we must have short engagements. This matter has been dwelt on already. The principle of committing a man, whether he be a youngster or somebody joining at a more mature age, to a period of 12 years' service is enough to put anybody off. Even the most ignorant youngster will realise that he is likely to change his mind in 12 years. I suggest that three years is long enough. Four years is too long. There should be breaks at three years before recommittal to another term of service.
I have great personal feelings in the matter. In 1940, at 13 years of age, I committed myself to a naval career. When seven years later I tried to get out in accept a university place which I had been offered, I was not allowed out. A very kind commanding officer said that he did not think there was the slightest chance that an officer in my category would be allowed out. I say to those other ranks in the Services who feel strongly about the matter that there must be many young officers who feel just as strongly that they would like to have done something else and find they cannot get out. I decided to make the best of it. I spent the rest of my time getting as wide a variety of service as I could, and I do not particularly regret it now. This is a real problem. I remember the bitterness that I felt about it, particularly during the six months or so after I was offered the university place and was unable to accept it.
I turn now to recruiting advertisements. There is a great deal of dishonesty in these advertisements. For the Navy the sea always looks blue. Life in the Navy apparently consists of lying on beaches beside girls in bikinis, playing football in Malta, and generally having a splendid time. The advertisements completely ignore the long and wearisome periods which most sailors at one time or another have to spend stuck in dockyards or in filthy weather swinging round buoys, 692 doing rather unglamorous routine—or even square-bashing, because in each of the Services there are spells doing just that.
I suggest, if it is not already the practice, that when a youngster—though I am against the idea of anyone under 18 years of age committing himself to a Service career—comes to join up, he should be given a child's guide to exactly what his terms of service are and what his contract means. Could he not be given this child's guide to take away and read, so that if he decides to sign on and, six years later, finds that he does not like what he is doing, he can look up and see what he was promised and cannot turn round and say, "I was told that I could opt out at 21", or whatever it may be? A child's guide is what is needed, particularly when there are literally children entering under 18 years of age. I think that they should sign a form declaring that they have read this child's guide so that they know exactly what they are letting themselves in for.
The Minister made an admission—perhaps not in this debate, but his predecessors have in others—that one reason why there is opposition by the Government, which I can understand. to doing away with recruitment of youngsters under 18, or giving them an option to come out at 18, is that this would be tantamount to admitting that young men and women enter the Services for the wrong reasons. The hon. Gentleman also hinted that this would damage the overall recruiting figures. He gave 12,000 per annum as the number of boy entrants to all three Services. How many of these youngsters drop out in the first six months before reaching the age of 18 years? Has ony investigation been done on the attitude of 18-year olds who decide to stay on in the Services? What makes those youngsters stay on as opposed to those who decide they have chosen the wrong career? Are these the kind of questions which the committee will try to answer?
I have formed a strong conviction over the years which I will put into effect concerning my own children, if possible. In my view, the longer it is possible for any youngster to postpone making a final decision about what he or she will do for a life's career, the better. Obviously 693 it cannot be put off indefinitely, but within reason the longer that decision can be postponed the better, and the more likely he or she will make a wise choice when the time comes.
Brief reference has been made to the wastefulness of training misfits for the Services. It is generally agreed on all sides that those who do not fit into a Service life are better out of it. The six months concession, although most welcome, is still too short, because most Service men are still undergoing fairly basic training in the first six months. I think that it should be extended to a year, because the realisation that they are in it for good or that they have made a mistake comes later than six months from the date that they join.
The cost of training cannot be argued with conviction. If this Government and other Governments have been willing to allocate money for university courses to put doctors and scientists through their training without tying them down at the end of their university courses to any form of Government service, could it not equally be said of money spent on training young Service recruits. If the country at large will benefit, there is no reason why the Services should hold on to them and say, "We cannot afford to let them go because we have spent all this money on training". The country at large will surely benefit if their training is of any value. Obviously retention in the Service of misfits and dissident Service men will be bad for morale as a whole. I believe that the result of making the terms and conditions of service more flexible will, on the whole, be of benefit. We can only hypothesise on this, but my view is that if we make the terms of recruitment more flexible we will get an increase in the numbers of recruits, not a decrease.
We need a little more honesty in our recruitment policy, not misleading advertisements which attract youngsters. only to regret it later. It is perhaps irrelevant, but I remember, when I joined up at 13, that among the influences which made me decide to join the Navy, apart from the war, was the sight of a Service gas mask and tin hat which I then found extremely attractive. There was also the fact that I had recently been to see a film called "Sons of the Sea",where naval cadets, between getting up to exploits on incredibly blue water, tore around the Devon countryside in little 694 red sports cars beside attractive blondes. I thought that this was what life in the Navy was all about. In addition to a little more honesty in recruiting policy, and humanity, which I believe the Minister has, towards those who have joined and then regretted it, the only other ways in which we improve recruiting are by better conditions, by short-term engagements, by paying the men more, and by employing modern attitudes of personnel management and internal communications between those in the Services.
It may not be possible now, but it should be an aim in the future that no man, whether an officer, an N.C.O. or an other rank, who has served a full term of 10 years in one of the Services should be allowed to go into civilian life without a proper qualification. The Services are under a very real obligation to ensure that these men and women have the full opportunity to get qualifications, which will compare favourably with those held by people of their own age, with any of their contemporaries who have spent similar periods of service with a commercial concern or with industry. They should not be at any disadvantage.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee
(Reading): I apologise that I was not present at the beginning of the debate to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister had to say, particularly about boy soldiers. When I decided that I wanted to speak it was because I wanted to assist my hon. Friends in expressing disquiet at the present state of the law on this matter, and at the apparent likelihood that the Government would allow it to continue in its present form.
By now my hon. Friend must be getting a little weary of the subject, and I do not think that he will attempt to avoid replying to it. There are certainly enough of us here to ask the questions again he does. I endorse everything that my hon. friends have said about this. It is all absurd anomaly which ought to be pt t right at the earliest opportunity.
I find a certain wry satisfaction that, stage by stage, the Ministry of Defence is beginning to adopt the Tribune Group's defence policy. We no longer wave flags east of Suez. It took quite a long time to get this across, but the policy has been adopted, three years late. Better 695 late than never. Secondly, we are making some attempt, albeit rather feeble to make the Germans pay proper support costs for the Rhine Army.
Next, with the exception of the Persian Gulf, we have ceased to use military forces to shore up decayed feudal authorites around the world. For that mercy,much thanks. However we have not gone much of the way towards abandoning nuclear weapons. As a nuclear disarmer, I would like to remind my hon. Friend that the Prime Minister talked to parliamentary candidates, myself and himself included, some time before the 1964 General Election,about the so-called British, so-called nuclear, so-called deterrent. Yet we are still manufacturing Polaris submarines and navigating them around the world at enormous cost,to the conviction of no one.
It is incumbent upon those of us who criticise defence policy and who, like myself, have never voted for the Defence Estimates since we entered the House-and I have no intention of so doing as long as we manufacture nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction of the kind produced at Porton-to make clear where we stand when we are not pacifists. With my late and dear friend Emrys Hughes, we knew perfectly well where we stood. He was a pacifist. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House respected him for his point of view. Those of us who are not pacifists are under an obligation to make it clear where we differ and also where we think it necessary that there should be Armed Forces.
I applauded the sending of military forces to Gibraltar recently and have some sympathy with hon. Members opposite who have felt from time to time that a somewhat similar show of force in the Falkland Islands would not be inappropriate. The main point is that if we accept, as most of us on this side of the House do, that it is absurd to maintain forces east of Suez, what is there left for the forces to do?
The internal security situation, as exemplified by Northern Ireland, is one of the remaining legitimate functions for a military force which has abandoned all pretensions to be a nuclear power. For a very short time, and this is only a marginal aspect, so long as there are a few dependent territories, mainly small islands 696 scattered around the world, we cannot avoid the obligation of providing military forces for internal security, on a very small scale. It could hardly be otherwise, because most of the territories are minute. This commitment is rapidly running down, and, I presume, will be coming to an end in the early 1970s.
The remaining reason for having Armed Forces is that we should retain influence in the world, to play our part, defend ourselves or others against potential enemies. I differ on practically everything that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) had to say on this and particularly with his "domino" theory. If we are not concerned with ideology for a moment, if we put on one side the question of who are the enemies and accept for the sake of the argument that there are countries whose existence is inimical to our existence what contribution can a State of this size really hope to make? I do not say none, as some of my pacifist friends might.
I want to refer to some correspondence in The Times this summer under the heading, "Should we have shot Hitler?" Hon. Members will remember that it engaged the columns of The Times for some weeks. There was a general consensus that if we had done so in 1937 or 1938 it is at least arguable that the course of events in the following years would have been very different from and possibly very much better than they were. As a nuclear disarmer, but not a pacifist, I have never been able to understand why it is right to send young men to their deaths in battle, yet apparently not right, according to international law, to kill those responsible for sending them there.
It came out in the correspondence that there are legal objections. It was said that there were specific objections in military law to the selective killing of named persons behind enemy lines. I not know how that squares with the famous but abortive attempt on Rommel's headquaters in 1942, because I thought that the object of that exercise was to kill named specific German general.
To carry it a stage further, does this principle apply political leaders? I was fold by a Army intelligence officer
697 some years ago that during the Second World War there was a tacit truce that we were not to engage in assassination attempts on enemy leaders. I do not know whether it is true, but it is certainly curious that all the attempts on the life of Hitler during the Second World War that we know of were carried out by Germans; and so far as I am aware no attempt was ever made on Winston Churchill's life at all—I was going to say by any outside body.
Why should this principle not apply? Is there anything wrong in the idea of training one's troops for the purposes of the possible assassination of foreign rulers? Have we in a democracy anything to lose by it? In a democracy political leaders of whatever party are easily replaceable. There is machinery of government for replacement. If anything happened to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister tomorrow no doubt it would be a devastating loss, but it would not do irreparable harm. And if anything happened to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition I have a feeling that somehow the Opposition would survive and manage to find somebody who could replace him.
It is, of course, quite another matter in a dictatorship. As the late Lord Attlee said a few days after Stalin's death, "When a dictator dies nobody knows where he stands, or how he stands. or if he is going to stand at all". If that be so, is it not a reasonable inference that in one respect we democracies are in a far better position if we are to maintain our influence and to defend ourselves against potential enemies if we were to train our soldiery for the purposes of political assassination?
There are three categories of persons of whom I am aware to whom such threats would be legitimately applicable. The racialist rulers of Southern Africa, the re-Stalinisers on the other side of the Iron Curtain and, though much less important, various "Banana republic" bosses. However, never mind who, since we are not so much concerned with ideology as with military method.
Is it practicable? There was an interesting example in recent times when something of this kind happened: when Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped and spirited halfway across the world and put to death, 1 think very rightly, by the 698 Israeli authorities. It shows that frontiers are no protection for anybody these days. It shows that a determined band of persons can abduct and kill people from the other side of the world. The concept may seem bizarre and, to some people, conditioned to conventional ideas of warfare, scandalous.
§ Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)
The last thing I want to do is to prolong the flights of fancy of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee). So that I may bring him back to the subject which the House is supposed to be discussing, may I ask him to consider what penalties under the Army Act he would apply to any member of Her Majesty's Forces who refuses to engage in one of these idiotic ventures?
§ Mr. Lee
The same penalty as a soldier under military law who refused to carry out any particular assignment. The hon. Member laughs, but I do not see why he should find this suggestion so peculiar. Why should it be right for soldiers to die in battle fighting each other, but not to die for killing political leaders?
There have been several examples where the course of history has been remarkably changed by political assassination. I think of Julius Caesar, Henry IV of France, William the Silent, of Lincoln, and possibly the most remarkable of all, the Archduke Ferdinand. Is it not reasonable to argue-hon. Members opposite do not seem to think so-that if either Hitler or Stalin or both had been killed years before they died the world would have been a better place without them?
I can give an example rather close to my own experience and in my own family. My father-in-law was a member of the English Civil Service and was in Burma on the day when Aung Sang and the entire Burmese Cabinet were gunned down. Fortunately, my father-in-law was not in the same room. I do not defend that particular assassination on grounds of morality, because it may very well be that the particular leaders concerned did not merit it. All I am saying is that it is a practical proposition. It is something that can be done. I do not see why the concept of the idea which seems to have been maintained for a very long time that it is wrong to kill the leaders of nations should prevail.
699 If we were to accept this change of the concept of what an armed force is for it would be right to say that the reduction in our Armed Forces which has been going on belatedly under this Government could be speeded up and carried much further forward than is envisaged even by the most optimistic hon. Members on this side of the House.
If the idea of an armed force is that it should be a comparatively small band of men who are able, not just as "ever-readies", to be called for the purpose of getting across the world to engage in conventional warfare in various parts of the world, but even for the purpose of crossing frontiers to abduct leaders and for their assassination, then I think that we would be able to carry the reduction of our Armed Forces very much further and relieve our economy.
Certainly, it would be a far more convincing threat and far more likely that the various tyrants scattered around the world would take notice of that method than they do of a small nation of our size possessing nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction which everybody knows we would never dare use.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
I do not know whether I should seriously attempt to follow the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) in his thoughts about producing a regiment to be known as the R.R.P.L.A., the Royal Regiment of Peace Loving Assassins, to be sent around the world. Jobbing backwards, I do not know at what stage the world could have known that if either Stalin or Hitler were to be killed life might have been easier but I doubt if he would have received a vote in this House before the war if he had sought to bring about such an act as he described.
I wish to say how depressed I am with the whole of today's debate. We have had little attention on the other side of the House, apart from the Front Bench, to the needs of this country in defence. I am also depressed at the new Minister of Defence for Administration, who has caught very rapidly the inflexibility of his own Secretary of State. He has also caught his right hon. Friend's complacency in the way he dismissed the idea 700 of there ever being a need to defend our shores. I suppose he feels this way now that the Government have cut the Territorial Army, done away with Civil Defence and the Fire Service, thus getting rid of 100,000 willing volunteers who were available to defend these shores. There was also complacency on his part about N.A.T.O.
The Minister mentioned the possibility of perhaps having to remove some forces from B.A.O.R. Only a week or so ago I was in Brussels at the N.A.T.O. Assembly at which the Secretary of State lectured other nations for suggesting that they might wish to withdraw forces from the land in Europe.
What surprised me more was that the Minister did not today even mention the R.A.F. I can understand why, of course, since on matters connected with the R.A.F. he is in great difficulty. One need only look at the position of strike aircraft to appreciate that as each year goes by the extent of the damage still being done by the cancellation of the TSR2 becomes more and more evident.
I do not know if hon. Gentlemen opposite have read the R.U.S.I. publication "Crisis in Procurement: Case Study of the TSR2". I found it illuminating. It proves that much of what my hon. Friends were saying at the time of the cancellation and afterwards was true. Certainly we could never reconcile the figures which were given by the Secretary of State with those available elsewhere. It is clear from the R.U.S.I. document that the costs were presented in the most unfavourable way and that had they been presented in a different way a different decision could have been reached.
All this is perhaps not strange. for we have learned how adept the Socialist Government are at presenting figures to suit their case, favourable or unfavourable according to the circumstances. But the savage dismemberment of the jigs and tools connected with the TSR2 into small pieces was the most extraordinary action on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The Government were determined to ensure that this aircraft could never be resurrected by a later Conservative Administration. No doubt they were anxious about that at the time because the then Labour Government had a majority of only three or four. Probably 701 they thought that before long a Conservative Government would be in power and would wish to bring the aircraft into service.
I wonder if hon. Gentlemen opposite now have pangs of conscience since the Budget Day announcement of 1965. They should have if we consider what has happened since. Not only did the TSR2 go, but the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, which was to be the backbone of our Air Force, disappeared. The Socialists then cancelled the F 1 l 1, which we were to have to supplement the AFVG in the short-term. Now we see a multi-role combat aircraft being explored by various European nations as well as ourselves, and the authors of the R.U.S.I. publication refer to it by putting, after the initials "M.R.C.A.", the phrase, "If it ever materialises". Such is the confidence in this aircraft materialising and such a state of affairs is natural following the string of cancellations on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. John Lee
While the hon. Gentleman has given a list of cancelled aircraft, he has not said what his defence policy would be. At what or whom would he aim?
§ Mr. Goodhew
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument he will have his question answered. I was dealing with some of the matters which have been ignored by the Government, in particular the R.A.F. and its equipment.
A multi-role combat aircraft is recognised as a requirement of the R.A.F. The trouble is that the Service must soldier on with old Canberras and Vulcans until the late 'seventies when, it is hoped, the M.R.C.A. will materialise. Does the hon. Member for Reading consider this to be a satisfactory state of affairs? He may say that we do not need a long-range strike aircraft. If he does we part company immediately. The Government, however, believe that there is such a need, and that is why they are hoping to produce the M.R.C.A.
By the beginning of 1968 the TSR2 could have been in service, even on the Prime Minister's most pessimistic prognostications. Instead, we will not see a replacement until the late 'seventies. Perhaps it is right to say that the Left wing, the members of the Tribune Group, 702 opposite were responsible for the cancellation of the TSR2 in view of the very small majority the Government then had. Even now, with a large majority, we are seeing how they give in to the left-wing on matters like trade union reform. With a majority of three or four the Government were no doubt even more vulnerable to some of their supporters.
The cancellation of the TSR2 was undoubtedly the most irresponsible and disastrous decision to have been taken by the Secretary of State, and that is saying something, because he has many irresponsible and disastrous decisions to his credit, if one should not say to his debit. As I said, the R.A.F. must soldier on with ageing Canberras and Vulcans into the late seventies, and that is assuming that the M.R.C.A. does not go the same way as the AFVG and the F111.
I would like to hear something about the Harrier. We read disturbing reports about this fine aeroplane which many of us have seen operating. How are operational squadrons of this aircraft forming? One was to have been in existence by the end of this year, with a second to be assigned to N.A.T.O. in 1970. Are these dates to be kept or will the whole matter slide?
Is research being conducted into a super Harrier? We are told that this aircraft is not powerful enough to operate from ships. If we had had the P1154, which was also cancelled by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the position would have been different. Is any development taking place along these lines?
I would also like to know about the Phantom squadrons which were supposed to come into being. There was to have been a squadron of naval aircraft for maritime defence by the end of this year. Will this be in existence?
What about the Buccaneers? There was to have been a squadron of these in being for a first maritime strike role. And then we come to the Nimrod, the Belfast and the Hercules. We suddenly read that the vast majority of Hercules aircraft are being withdrawn to have their fuel tanks changed at a cost of hundreds of thousands of £s. This will be a major task, because these fuel tanks are built into the structure.
According to reports, this work is having to be undertaken because the Treasury 703 would not allow an expenditure on an additive costing a few pence per gallon to prevent icing up and the formation of fungus and other forms of corrosion. Did the Secretary of State allow himself to be bullied by the Treasury into saving a few pence only to find himself faced with tremendous expenditure for replacing these fuel tanks?
Pembrokes still stagger around the sky magnificently in R.A.F. Germany as communications aircraft. There have been disturbing reports about some of these aircraft being grounded because their main spars have gone. If so, will they be replaced? Is anything similar coming along?
I must mention the Victor Mark Its which are lying about in my constituency at the Handley Page plant waiting for an order to be confirmed for them to be converted into tankers. The only information I have been able to gain from the Minister of Technology was contained in a letter dated 28th October in which he said:We have also given the company certain assurances about their acceptability for carrying out design and development work on the Victor Tanker conversion, if this requirement is confirmed, and we are in touch with them about an initial contract.I have a strong constituency interest in this matter, in addition to knowing that these tankers are badly needed. I would, therefore, be grateful to hear that this order has been firmly placed, as reported in the Press. Everything I have described has had its effect on recruitment to the R.A.F. We learned in the White Paper on Defence earlier this year that recruitment was nearly 600 down compared with 1967, from 5,161 to 4,584. The main shortfall, we were told in the White Paper, occurred in aircraft mechanics weapons, aircraft mechanics electrical and electrical mechanics instruments. If we are short of these sort of people we will not keep our aircraft flying. I understand that we have only 1,035 craft apprentices against a requirement of 1,642, with only 137 cadets at universities against a target of 201.
All this is a reflection of the uncertainty caused by the Secretary of State's policies, by this continuing defence review which has gone on year after year. 704 When I read that the right hon. Gentleman is to go to Germany in January to be made a member of the Order of Jokers, I wonder who thinks this is funny. On reading my Concise Oxford Dictionary I see that a joker is alsoa clause unobtrusively inserted in a bill or document and affecting its operation in a way not immediately apparent.On that basis the right hon. Gentleman is a true joker.
The Services took some time to discover just what was written into his policies, and I dare say they feel very much less happy about the right hon. Gentleman today than they did in 1964. Indeed, where the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has failed to procure mutual disarmament with other countries, the Secretary of State has carried out a massive programme of unilateral disarmament of which Lord Chalfont would haw: been proud.
I propose, now, to say a word about the Simonstown Agreement. I was in South Africa recently, where the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) would like me to have gone with a revolver to shoot its Prime Minister, as he said earlier. I wonder whether the Government fully appreciate the importance of protecting the Cape route, because of vast Russian navies in both the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, with the majority of our oil and other raw materials from east of Suez having to come round that route? Do they think that that can be left to the South Africans alone? Do they even think that it is sensible today to regard the N.A.T.O. areas stopping at the Tropic of Cancer, as if anything that goes on below that does not affect the N.A.T.O. countries?
Do the Government appreciate the effect of their policy of refusing to supply South Africa with arms for external defence? Do they realise that South Africa is now buying submarines from France, and aircraft from France and Italy, and that the Shackletons which they would gladly have replaced with Nimrods will probably be replaced by some other country's aircraft, with a much shorter range of perhaps 150 miles, thus enabling them to look after their coastal waters, but not giving much needed and vital coverage of the oceans, which is necessary for the protection of that route?
705 Do the Government realise that, having done that, the South African Government have planned their requirements for five to ten years ahead, and that not only have they robbed this country of millions of £s in the last five years, but they have also in advance done it for probably the next five or six years as well, because the South African Government will have to continue where they are buying their goods now? They are people who recognise a friend in need, and do not throw him overboard.
Much has been thrown away by the Government, and I suggest that this has probably been done to pacify the hon. Member for Reading and his group, because they are the ones who keep up the pressure about South Africa. They are the ones who, just as with their desire to assassinate those with whose political views they disagree, are anxious to poke their noses into everybody else's internal politics and domestic policies. They do not therefore accept the United Nations Charter which rules that out, and that is extraordinary from people who pretend to want world order.
I regret that the Government have once more failed completely to put British interests first in this area, to provide the Royal Air Force with the aircraft that it needs, and have withdrawn from areas like the Gulf and the Far East. I suppose that we shall just have to leave it to a Conservative Government to rectify the damage that they have done.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington
(Aldershot): I do not propose to speak for any considerable time, but this debate has interested me very much because, representing as I have for 15 years the constituency of Aldershot, I have felt that the Services do not necessarily get the interest and the support of the country that they need. It is vital to realise that the Services are essential.
There are occasions when difficult problems arise, but, generally, men in the Services get a first-class education. This applies particularly to the young men in young cadet battalions, and, in addition, they go on with a phased idea of education.
I do not for a moment think that it is easy to meet a situation where discipline has to be maintained, and at the same time deal with some of the problems. I 706 believe that the Ministry is doing the best that it can. I am impressed by the care with which it goes into the various matters that arise, such as ensuring that people receive humane treatment, and that sort of thing.
There is a feeling in the Services, which I am certain is detrimental to recruiting. that they do not know where they will be next. If there is a crisis in a few years' time, everybody will be glad to get people back into the Services, and they will become popular and be treated well. There is also a feeling—and it is most unfortunate—not so much against the Ministry of Defence, but against the Treasury, that they do not always get a fair deal. I remember an officer who was turned out of Ghana at about two hours' notice. He lost his car, his furniture, and everything else. He had a claim of £500 for the loss. It took me three and a half years to deal with it, and I believe that I was truthfully told by the Ministry of Defence that the money could not be paid to this man because of Treasury objections.
There are those who think that the new rates of pay and the X factor are things that will be dodged. There is an idea that if the Ministry of Defence gives something, the Treasury takes it away, and there is, therefore, no confidence that the Services provide a worth-while career. There will always be a limited number of people who go into the Services because they like the communal life, but that is not sufficient under present-day conditions. May we be assured that the Minister of Defence will ensure that what is given with one hand will not be taken away by the Treasury?
There are a number of allowances which are of vital importance to the Services. After all, these men very often have to serve away from their homes and families. They want to know whether they will be fairly treated, and I hope that the Minister will point out that this is vital. This was indicated in the Grigg Report, and I hope that nothing will be done under the new scales that will interfere with that in any way.
In common with others concerned with the Army, I received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State saying that there was to be a change of command. I know that some progress has been made, but I was shattered to find out that this was 707 a matter which was likely to go on till 1974. This sort of thing adds to the uncertainty about careers in regard to the question of pay. It is unsatisfactory to prolong this discussion on command to a period which will last as long as till 1974, and I see no reason why it should be prolonged.
I am very dissatisfied with the way in which the Ministry of Public Building and Works works with the Ministry of Defence. I brought a case to the hon. Gentleman's predecessor which involved the question of the provision of a fence on the balustrade of the higher flats. It was on about the fourth floor. Six months had gone by without this being dealt with, despite requests. I tried to get it dealt with for another six months. In the end, the matter was attended to, but the process does not suggest a desirable line of communication at all levels between the Services and the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
On two occasions—I am not sure what happened in the first case—the hot pipes in barrack blocks were limited to carrying a heat of 140 degrees. That was not adequate and we could not be assured that it would be put right. The final chapter, and the most astonishing one, concerned the excellent building which houses the headquarters depot of the Army Catering Corps. Everything went well there except that the top floor could not be used for the purpose it was wanted for—cooking—because the plastic pipes were inadequate and admitted to be inadequate. The result was a delay which is still going on, as far as I know, and has been going on for six months. I do not know how this sort of thing comes about, but I am not satisfied, from what I have seen and heard, that there is proper liaison between the Army and the Ministry of Public Building and Works. It is an unsatisfactory situation.
Despite all the difficulties and troubles, I think that a wonderful career is still to be had for young men and young women in the Services. Much might be done if it were known that there are so many branches of the Services. Some people, for example, would be interested in engineering and I have been impressed by those interested in catering. Transport is another activity. If it were realised just how many things people can do in 708 the Services, this would go a long way to help recruitment. Of course, there are problems because one often finds more people wanting to do one thing and fewer people wanting to do another, but, nevertheless, there is wonderful opportunity for those who want careers in the Services.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
A heavy burden falls on the shoulders of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, in view of the "support" he has had from his own benches. The speeches of hon. Members opposite have hardly been a tribute to Service life and they certainly went on a long time. However, while he gets no support whatever at the moment from the benches behind him, he also has to undo the harm done by his hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration in his opening speech.
I thought the attack by the Minister of Defence for Administration on the Territorial Army absolutely disgraceful. He said that the quality of the Territorial Army in 1964 was poor. He said that its members were over-aged, inefficient and incapable of being able to enter into battle. That will be very much resented in the Territorial Army and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to undo the unfortunate impression that incorrect statement has induced.
The Territorial Army in 1964 was extremely efficient. It was the present Government who, in 1965, called up the "Ever-readies" for active service in Aden and they acquitted themselves magnificently. That was a sample of what was available in the Territorial Army. The "Ever-readies" were not specially picked. They were those prepared to volunteer for the additional liability. There were plenty of them and one company went out to Aden. It was not the first time that the "Ever-readies" had gone overseas. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will retract the slur made by his hon. Friend on the Territorial Army.
The Regular Army has been seriously depleted over these years in pursuance of the Secretary of State's theory that all that matters now is the defence of Europe. For the defence of Europe the Army has to equip itself in the most expensive way possible, and all to fight 709 a war which, in fact, will never be fought. I wish that the Secretary of State could take it in that the Army has a peacetime as well as a wartime role. It is ridiculous to try to work out exactly what its military commitments will be and to lay down that there will be exactly the right size of forces for all the commitments likely to arise.
The Secretary of State thought that by reducing commitments we could reduce the size of the forces commensurately. It cannot be done, because commitments may be unexpected and to reduce commitments by half does not mean that the forces may be halved with any certainty of meeting the remaining commitments.
But a whole series of defence White Papers advanced that proposition. We used to have them regularly every six months. This afternoon the Minister of Defence for Administration gave two of the three reasons for the improvement in the September recruiting figures. One of his reasons was that the events in Ulster had cropped up. I hardly think that they were an inducement to recruiting, for our forces there are fulfilling a most unpleasant task. His second reason was the news of a possible improvement in pay; that is certainly a reason.
But surely the big attraction of the forces is the third reason, which is that there has not been a further review of defence, which, to judge by past experience, should have been due in the second half of this year. The forces are thoroughly fed up with being disrupted as they have been by the Labour Government. The events in Ulster have cropped up to prove the Secretary of State wrong. In Ulster, he has been taken short. He cannot find the necessary infantry battalions and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) said, the Secretary of State has had to have botched-up units there, part R.A.F. and part Army. This indicates the mess which the turnover of infantry battalions has reached.
I remember when the Army was getting a little over-stretched, to use the now fashionable word, in the days when the Conservatives were in office. One of the great defence experts on the Labour benches criticised the use of a Gunner regiment for internal security in Cyprus. 710 Apparently, he was not aware that at that time the Gunners were trained in an internal security role. Are they still trained in that role and are they being used to relieve infantry?
§ Mr. Allason
1 am glad to see that the Minister nods. That lesson has been learned.
While the R.A.M.C. is in Ulster, it happily does not have much of a job to do and its personnel are being used in civilian hospitals there. However, for some peculiar administrative reason, these hospitals cannot serve the troops with a midday meal without charging them for it, and the men have to pay out of their own pockets. This is nonsense. The civilian hospitals arc benefiting from the arrangement, but apparently are forced to charge while the Army, by red tape, is unable to meet the bill. I should like the Minister to look into that.
§ Mr. Richard
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that R.A.M.C. personnel who are working voluntarily, so to speak, in civilian hospitals, are being charged for meals in the very hospitals in which they are working?
§ Mr. Allason
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) has made the serious charge that our troops in Ulster have been incited to desert. I hope that careful investigation of this charge has already occurred. This sort of thing happened with the C.N.D., which, unfortunately, is no longer represented in the Chamber, some years ago. A serious view is taken of incitement to desert and if it is occurring in Ulster I hope that the Army authorities will not hold back from pursuing the matter to the utmost.
I should be grateful if we could be told a little about what is happening in Germany because of revaluation. When Britain devalued, there were serious consequences for B.A.O.R. and a delay in finding a short-term solution to the problem. Eventually, the overseas allowances were revised, but that took a long time. Exactly the same sort of thing must have 711 happened in Germany because of the revaluation during the Recess. It must entail further serious problems for troops and civilians in Germany and I hope that those problems will be dealt with more humanely than on the last occasion.
I conclude with a tribute to the excellent work of the Army as exemplified by our forces in Ulster. It shows that they can rise above any difficulties, even the Government Front Bench.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. A. W. Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I should like to begin with a word of gratitude to the substantial number of officers, men and even civil servants who helped to organise the extremely well-run tour of the Far East on which I and several other hon. Members went. As a new boy, I found this visit to defence establishments extremely useful, but I am well aware that such a visit causes disruption of the daily routine, and I should like to record my gratitude.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) said about young married people. Many of the problems of morale in the Services stem from the fact that marriages are occurring at younger and younger ages. Like all good husbands, many Service men do not like leaving their wives and homes, a feeling which the wives reciprocate. This is at the root of many of the grumbles—I put it no higher—that 1 have heard all round the world.
A wife wants, and her Service man husband wants her to have, security. He wants to know that when he is abroad on active service, or even in peacetime conditions, his wife and family will be well established among friends and that if they have troubles or family problems there will be someone to look after them, and that they will not be immediately posted to the other end of the country or to some other locality. I hope that this consideration will be given substantial priority in the thinking about Service accommodation in the immediate future.
From meeting some of the personnel at stations such as Gan, who are doing a year's unaccompanied tour, I believe that if home conditions can be made 712 satisfactory most Service men will be prepared to accept short, unaccompanied tours. When they join the Services, they do not think that it will all be a bed of roses—they are not joining the Boy Scouts. While recognising that in peacetime conditions they have every right to be treated as people in industry or commerce would be treated, I think that the rough living side can be overemphasised.
Wherever we went we discussed the new pay scales. These pay arrangements will be acceptable, provided every man is better off. Every man who is not better off will not accept them. The question of accommodation and its value was highlighted by two visits. The first was to H.M.S. "Duncan", admittedly an old ship nearing the end of its useful service. It is one which has been fitted with electronic black boxes over the years. Each time this happens 8 to 10 men are needed to run it. The black box is placed in sleeping accommodation and soon there is totally inadequate accommodation on such a vessel.
I went to R.A.F. Valley, a modern, up-to-date aerodrome equipped with a large officers' mess, suitable for all the training staff. I was asked: what happens if the accommodation rate for the officers' mess is higher than in the village? Will the Ministry of Defence put the mess up for sale? Will they accept the morale problems that a lot of young officers living out will create? I hope that the administration of this complicated scheme will be considered seriously. There are many pitfalls, not only for the Ministry of Defence, but for the numerous officers and N.C.O.s who will have to administer it.
I do not want to be drawn into a debate about Vietnam, but clearly the morale of our Services is vitally important. The keen young officers and N.C.O.s today are truly professional. They are fully trained and they want to go and see for themselves the conduct of modern warfare. I am surprised to learn that they have been forbidden to go to Vietnam, even as volunteers. I would have thought that even a small quantity of volunteer advisers, perhaps under 100, would not only have been of great assistance to our allies from a morale point of view, but would have been thoroughly welcomed by all three armed services as an opportunity to see the most modern warfare since Korea. 713 It is almost impossible to find a British Service man whose morale is low, but it was the impression of those of us who were on the tour that the future is viewed somewhat gloomily by substantial number of potential young leaders.
I agree with all that has been said about the stretching of our forces and the obvious fact that we have at last got down almost to the bare minimum. I was glad that the Minister in his statement brought up this question of the Territorial Army. I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason). I found those remarks most hurtful. I was a member of that Territorial Army and I was not in any way ashamed of what i was doing. I felt that I had a purpose. My equipment was old, but had I been called upon I believe my training would have been adequate to meet the emergencies I might have been likely to face. I was extremely disturbed to hear the Minister's reply to the intervention by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) on the question of our reserve forces in relation to those in the rest of N.A.T.O.
We have turned to the Territorial Army on two occasions in the last half century and I would have thought that to run our reserves down to the appallingly low level at which they now stand was stupidity in the extreme. There is a certain degree of knocking going among hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite about our reserve forces. I quote from the speech made at the R.U.S.I. on 22nd October by the Secretary of State. I understand that this was released to the Press. The right hon. Gentleman said:I hope I do not need to remind an audience like this that in an internal security operation of this nature, there is no substitute for a disciplined professional force. The attempt to use part-time reserves in this role in some recent incidents in the United States has surely taught us this".It might be imagined that this was an innocent statement, but as a British soldier I do not exactly appreciate being compared with my counterparts across the water, any more than I think most British people would feel happy if they were defended by American policemen. They have a different way of conduct of their affairs.
I spent a considerable amount of time as an officer in TAVR III learning the 714 art of riot control in fulfilment of my orders to assist the civil Dower. We worked hard on that. We obtained assistance from the police, Regular soldiers, film, booklets and we ended up with a week's practical training. We had officers who went on Regular Army courses to learn the use of aids to controlling riots. We had no equipment, but then the Regular Army had no equipment for riot control, and I believe that it still does not. At the end of that training I could have taken my men out and been of great assistance to the civil police in the event of any form of unrest.
I hope that the Minister will remember that most of the yeomanry regiments were used to a large degree in the 19th century to help with this task. Any discouragement is deeply felt. I sincerely hope that the Government will feel inclined to encourage it rather than discourage it by these somewhat snide remarks. By assisting the civilian police in emergencies and disasters the T.A. has a role, which it has not been called upon to perform. Many volunteers, including some from my own drill hall, although it was not my unit, went to help at Aberfan, and I believe that the police there welcomed the arrival of a uniformed, disciplined body of men.
With the disappearance of the civil defence force, or should I say the freezing of it, the TAVR has a function which is increasingly required. The present TAVR II is something like 14,000 men short of the establishment laid down by the Government—a shortfall of nearly 25 per cent. I find it amazing the number of people who say to me, "I did not know that the T.A. still existed." Yet the Government have seen fit to spend little or no money on advertising or promoting the existing TAVR II set-up. The Minister has confessed that half the men came from TAVR III and, by gosh, what good chaps those were. They stuck through the dark days of no pay when they motored considerable distances at their own expense, trained at nights and at weekends, entirely out of a feeling of duty and adventure. That is the 50 per cent. of TAVR II. I hope the Minister will consider how recruiting to these forces will be carried out in future. With the absorption of this large number there will be a time, if we are not careful, when we will be in difficulties.
715 I pay tribute to the permanent T.A. staff officers on consolidated rates of pay. These men and women have worked devotedly for long hours, and often well outside their duty hours, to assist particularly in the TAVR III days, to keep the ship afloat. They are underpaid; they have no career structure. After six years they receive a small increase in salary. There is no hope of promotion. The Government have now seen fit to make them no longer eligible for the award of the Territorial Decoration. Some of them joined in the knowledge that possibly at the end of a substantial number of years' service this small reward might come to them.
I refer finally to the remnants of the old Territorial Army—the cadres. have not had a great deal of personal experience of their operations, but it is clear that the task which they have been set, which is a worthy one, cannot adequately be done by three officers and five N.C.O.s. The cadres are extremely short of establishment and of paid time for training and yet they are the root on which perhaps a new tree might be allowed to grow. The Government have absolutely no cause to be complacent about the Territorial Army or the TAVR and these volunteers must be given every possible encouragement as a matter of great national urgency for the security of this country.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
It is some years since I ventured to take part in a debate on the Services. I have always had such unbounded confidence in the skill, wisdom, perspicacity and knowledge of my hon. Friends who interest themselves in these matters that I have been content to leave it to them. But I thought that it would be a pity it, on the occasion of the first debate that we have had on the Army since the troubles in Ulster, someone from Ulster did not take the opportunity of saying a brief "Thank you". That is really a!! that I wish to do.
The role which the Army has had to play in Ulster is one of the nastiest which soldiers are called upon to play. Support of the civil power is always the role which soldiers dislike most. The services which the Army has rendered to us in Ulster are incalculable, and it would be very wrong if this occasion passed without 716 my saying on behalf of my colleagues from Ulster how deeply we all appreciate what the forces have done. I hope that the Minister will convey our thanks to General Freeland and his officers and men.
I am sorry that we have not heard a word of thanks from hon. Members opposite—for example, from the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) or the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), whose constituents owe the same debt to the Army as do the people whom I represent.
I should like to take up the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) made about the R.A.M.C. officers serving in our hospitals. I was astonished to hear what he said and I hope that the Minister will look into it. If I can use my good offices in any way, I shall be happy to do so, because I should not like to feel that these people who are serving our community were out of pocket in so doing.
One of the most disturbing things is that the conditions in which the soldiers find themselves in Ulster are so unusually difficult because of the unexpected nature of the operation and the fact that for a number of years Army establishments over there have been running down, with barracks being closed, and so on.
Perhaps one is being wise after the event, but it has been a short-sighted policy as we see in the light of experience. I hope that the lesson will be learned and that not only will temporary accommodation be provided to deal with this emergency, but when the final decision is made as to the size of the garrison to be kept there, adequate provision will be made. Obviously, it has to be at least twice the garrison which existed before the troubles, probably two brigades. We are not dealing only with the present emergency.
Anything which the authorities in Northern Ireland or I can do to help the Minister will be done. I am sure that this goes for the Northern Ireland Government and for the local authorities there. We are very conscious of the debt we owe to the services and therefore we wish to help.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) queried some 717 of the strategic concepts. I have my own criticism of some of the methods by which the emergency was handled. Like my hon. Friend, I doubt the wisdom of manning barricades' on the basis of penny packets. From now on there might be better methods of handling that matter, but this is not the occasion to deploy that kind of argument. When the troops are engaged in an operation it would be a mistake to criticise, but there may come a time when we shall have to examine the whole operation to see if we can learn lessons from it.
Once again, I say to the Minister that we are very proud of the way in which our forces have behaved, and thankful for the help they have given to us in the difficulties we have gone through.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I take the opportunity of welcoming the Under-Secretary and the Minister of Defence for the Army, with whom I have not had the opportunity of crossing swords up to now. I assure them that we on these benches very much welcome the news of the improvement in recruiting figures for September which were given at the beginning of this debate. But, as on its economic policy, the Government must not try to pretend that one swallow makes a summer. Almost all the problems discussed today arise principally from the recruiting figures which have resulted in a very serious backlog in Service manpower.
I do not want to add by a jot or tittle to those difficulties, because, as I have often said in this Chamber, I believe there is still an excellent career in the Services for a young man. Among the causes of poor recruiting is the Government's emphasis on cuts and reductions. Ministers boast of what savings they have achieved and there is the immense cynicism of the Government. They argued for the first three years of this Government's life about the tremendous importance of a British position east of Suez and then suddenly cut it out by a stroke of the pen. The Prime Minister, speaking at the Australia Club on 13th July, 1966, said this:We recognise that it is in the Far East and Southern Asia that the greatest danger to peace may lie in the next decade, and that some of our partners in the Commonwealth, including Australia, may be directly threatened. We reaffirm our belief that it is right that 718 Britain should continue to maintain a military presence in this area.Within months the Secretary of State was over in Australia saying the same thing, but then he came back here and said that we would clear out, and the Government said that no threat existed outside the arbitrary line drawn on the map to delineate the N.A.T.O. area.
There is also cynicism in the Government's attitude about over-stretch, a difficult concept to explain, but anyone who has been in the Services knows only too well what over-stretch there has been in recent years. Figures were given in the 1966 Defence Review which were the kernel of the argument about the state of the forces at that time. Recently, however, the Secretary of State refused to give to the House the figures of over-stretch. When it suited the Government's purpose to give the figures they were given in full detail, but now it is declared to be against the national interest for them to be published.
Of course, the Government must use in Ulster what troops they can rake together. Will the Minister say whether the Royal Horse Artillery are to retrain as infantry and put their guns into deep storage? It is not the first time in history that gunners have been used in the infantry role, and they are splendid, versatile people, but is this report true?
The 1969 Defence White Paper, paragraph 1, in the context of overstretch, says this:The re-orientation of our defence policy is now completed, and the Armed Forces can look forward to a period of stability and progress.Yet we are told that six more infantry battalions are to be reduced by 1970, and that the Green Jackets based on Winchester are to be reduced to two battalions in 1972. This does not sound like a period of stability or progress.
It is often said that defence policy is the servant of foreign policy, and this must be so, but foreign policy which alienates, for example, South Africa because of the ideological obsession of the benches opposite is contrary to the national interest. The strategic importance of the Cape route has been mentioned by several hon. Members, and any Service officer or other rank can understand this basic strategic fact. Yet the Minister declares his personal boycott 719 of South African goods while, simultaneously, British sailors from Her Majesty's ships are enjoying the hospitality of South Africans in Simonstown. This was very badly received by South African public opinion.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
My hon. Friend says that it should be, and so it should if the Minister is paying attention to what ought to be the consideration of his Ministry, that is to say, the strategic importance of the Cape route, and not luxuriating in his own obsessions.
Pay is the one factor affecting recruitment which the Ministry has completely under its control. There are many imponderables about recruitment, and many things which are difficult to quantify. Pensions are equally important, and many of the older N.C.O.s feel that pensions are not receiving sufficient attention, and are not being dealt with as urgently as they should. Yet the Secretary of State has turned over this vital aspect of control over the Armed Forces to the Prices and Incomes Board, which produced a long report in June.
We now see virtually a free-for-all in pay rises in civilian life. Rises of 12, even 17 per cent., have been granted in recent weeks. Yet—surprise, surprise!—the Board's Report on the increase due to Service men recommends exactly 31 per cent. Pay is not everything, as I fully understand and as I have made clear in many previous debates. There are elements of job satisfaction and the idealism which young men feel when in the Services, and so on. Nevertheless, pay is a very important factor.
If pay for special duties in Ulster is to be granted—and the Secretary of State has made a lot of fuss about duty-free cigarettes, and so forth—then 3s. 6d. a day for a private soldier is a derisory sum. It is less than the price of a packet of cigarettes.
The rest of the P.I.B. Report is mostly concerned with what has become known as the "military salary concept"—a classic example of the bureaucratic language which occurs in the 115-odd pages of this immense tome. 720 What is the Service man to think of it all? It is hardly surprising if he is sceptical and cautious about it. Instead of giving pay plus allowances, the Government are to give salary plus negative allowances. They will be difficult to calculate. The complications will be enormous.
How was this "military salary" evolved by the Board? It made an infinitely detailed comparison with civilian life—job evaluation. On page 106, there is fantastically detailed research as to how job evaluation should be done. Then the Board decided what everyone else knew already—that there is no valid comparison with civilian life. That should have been obvious to it from the start. It then added a completely arbitrary but well named X factor. It might have saved all this work and at once given a good, whacking increase of pay to the Services with full publicity. This would not, in addition, have involved the delay for a year while the mountain of a Board produced this mouse. In the last resort, the only proper level of pay for the Services is that which will produce recruits in the necessary numbers. There is no other satisfactory criterion.
As many hon. Members have said, the country is very properly alarmed about the state of our defences. This is also one of the factors which worries people abroad about England when they wonder what sort of state it has got into. This is especially the case in Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore, and also in the United States, where they feel that we are not bearing our proper share in the alliance of the free world. The Conservatives want to see that the Government are also concerned and that they are prepared to do something effective about it.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Most hon. Members will agree that this has been an interesting and worthwhile debate. First, I want to congratulate the Minister of Defence for Administration and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army on their appearance in their first defence debate. I point out to the Under-Secretary of State, who was educated in Llanelli and brought up, therefore, when lighter and younger, in rugger conditions, that it helps one's success in rugby, as was so 721 evident last night when Newport played the Springboks, to have solid support from behind. He has been packing 1—0—0, which is a very unusual formula. If he does not get the ball often, he must not be surprised, because a little support from behind him would be more likely to achieve success.
I cannot help feeling that there is one person missing from the debate, and we are all very sorry about it. During the 20 years that I have been taking part in these defence debates, one man has sat in the corner seat just below the Gangway opposite with infinite patience, a wry sense of humour and great tolerance. I refer. of course, to the late Emrys Hughes. It is sad that he is not with us. Perhaps he is in spirit.
The main theme of the debate has been the anxiety in Ulster and the manner in which this operation has highlighted the thinness of our forces, the need to increase our strengths and, above all, the need for increased recruiting. Many hon. Members on these benches and a few hon. Members opposite have stressed this point.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Defence is not here. On 22nd October he made what in America is called a keynote speech to the Royal United Service Institute which was a fund of misinformation. I want to take this opportunity to contradict some of the points made in that speech. However, because I am attacking a speech made there, I would not like it to be thought that it is anything other than an admirable institution. It is right that we should have a forum for the discussion of defence problems, and the revival of the R.U.S.I. in this form is a wholly healthy arrangement.
In that speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that when the present Government took office in October, 1964, they found that we planned to spend 7 per cent. of the gross national product on defence for the indefinite future. I am afraid that that was wrong. He did not take over his Ministry until November, 1964. In the year 1964–65, which was virtually over, we spent 6.72 per cent. of the G.N.P. on defence. In the current year, according to the Estimates, we are likely to spend 6.31 per cent., which takes 722 account of items on the Defence Vote and other defence items on other Votes. Even that reduction from 6.72 to 6.31 per cent. is not a true reflection which is why we think that we are getting singularly bad value for money. Forces have been cut, and commitments have been cut, yet we are still spending nearly the same proportion of the gross national product. Since the 6.31 per cent. was announced, we have had a £20 million increase in salaries, which must be added to the Estimates.
It is very difficult for anyone on this side of the House to discover exactly what other commitments we have. We know that we shall have to pay back the £559 million spent in dollars on Phantom and Hercules aircraft at £40 million a year, reducing to £36 million in the latter part of the 1970s. That is unlikely to fall in the lap of the present Government. I have no doubt that it will fall in the lap of a successor Government under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath).
There is also, what I might call a slight fiddle in the manner in which the German loan was negotiated. We have £52 million of German Government loan at a special interest rate of 31 per cent. We have to start paying it back in [0 years. Again, the Government have put off until tomorrow what they cannot afford to put in the Estimates today because of Left wing criticism. Why do not they "come clean"?
I am not surprised that in Germany the Minister of Defence has been awarded the Order of the Joker as a very funny man. When I read the jokes, I did not think that they were all that funny, but perhaps the German sense of humour is different from our own. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman is funny peculiar rather than funny ha-ha. The right hon. Gentleman's figures certainly bemuse us. and I hope that we can clear our minds and get down to the true facts. It may be that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to refute some of them.
Most of the debate, understandably, has concentrated on Europe. There is no difference of opinion here. We recognise that Europe is the front door to this country and that the front door must be kept barred and properly guarded. But 723 the Government's present policy recognises that they have defence responsibilities to Hong Kong, Berlin, Cyprus, perhaps to Malta, to Gibraltar and to our residual colonial territories. They have not yet renegotiated the Malaysian defence treaty, so there is another obligation. Also, they have solemnly told us that they have and will retain a general capability to help our friends in the Far East. So, although Europe may take overriding priority, there are other commitments which must not be altogether neglected.
I had a passage of arms with the Minister of State. Fortunately, I saw my former private secretary in the Box this evening, so I warned him of the quotations I was likely to use in the hope that the Under-Secretary would have an opportunity of getting a correct brief in time to reply. The Minister of Defence in his R.U.S.I. speech, and also during Questions on 15th October, categorically stated:When I came into office in 1964 I found that the level of manning in units in B.A.O.R. under the previous Government was 3,000 lower than it is today…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1969; Vol. 788, c. 387.]We put down a Question—it may be that the answer is inaccurate; there must be the explanation—asking how many people arenow stationed in Germany."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th October, 1969; Vol 788, c. 174.]It did not ask how many people are under German command or under B.A.O.R. command. After a delay and several letters saying that the Minister was considering it most carefully, I got an answer which showed that we had nearly 3,000 more in 1969, but he said:These figures include personnel at the advance base in Belgium "—I did not ask about Belgium, but about Germany—and 6 Brigade and 36 Heavy Air Defence Regiment who were redeployed from Germany to the United Kingdom in 1968 but who are still under operational command of B.A.O.R. The latter number 4,272 personnel."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th October, 1969; Vol. 788, c. 175.]How can the Minister claim that these are in Germany? They are not. They are in this country. It seems that this is an inaccurate reply. If so, perhaps the Minister will apologise as he did about his statement that none of 3 Division 724 had been milked and then had to correct it. He said that it had not been touched and later he said that of the nine battalions five had been redeployed to Northern Ireland. If this is another misanswer we will accept an apology tonight. It looks as though the numbers physically in Germany now are less than in 1964.
I turn now to the "general capability" which the Government have assured us will be maintained east of Suez. Here, I acknowledge and draw to the Minister's attention that in the 1968 mid-season White Paper. Under this Government we usually have two. One comes about the end of January or the beginning of February and there is a correction in mid-season when perhaps recruiting is going down, or in the interests of stability or overstretch, or the economy or something. We were told in Cmnd. 3701, presented in July, 1968, pages 20–21:This formal commitment "—to N.A.T.O.—is unlikely to prevent our sending appropriate forces overseas unless conditions in Western Europe make such deployment obviously undesirable.As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, it will be more difficult to convince N.A.T.O. now that we have not got such large commitments overseas that we need to rob our N.A.T.O. forces to meet these needs.
The statement went on:While it would conflict with Britain's new political priorities to deploy more than a relatively small part of her total strength outside Europe we could, if, in our judgment the situation so demanded, still provide a considerable force of all three Services.So it is clearly in the Government's planning that they should be able to take forces away and redeploy them, as we ourselves did on certain occasions, but only reluctantly.
In opening the debate the hon. Gentleman quipped and he is entitled to do it —that people might be further overstretched if we continued our deployment east of Suez. Let us try to get down to the brass tacks of this. We do not disagree about Hong Kong. The Government plan to maintain 7 major units there. We feel that if presence, perhaps in Singapore, was based there, we might be able to save one unit. There is no major difference about the defence of Hong Kong.
725 In Appendix G of their White Paper the Government say that there are 42,550 Service personnel in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Brunei and Gan. In any concept that we have, we do not visualise anything like that number being deployed there. Perhaps one-third of that number would be an adequate force, and naturally a maritime force.
It may be necessary to supplement the Australian supersonic squadrons with one of our own supersonic squadrons, because these sophisticated aircraft cannot be flown or operated to the best efficiency by Malaysian or Singapore personnel. We cannot visualise a major force of the British Army being there. We visualise a maritime force, a sophisticated force which cannot be supplied from Malaysia or Singapore.
We would like to know what is happening about the Kuala Lumpur power talks. We have not had a report on them, and there have been recent discussions. Is progress being made? I ask that because within those talks comes the renegotiation of the Malaysian treaty.
We believe that we could make a useful contribution, with our Australian and New Zealand allies, alongside Malaysia and Singapore, but nothing that we say in this House should deter those last two countries from going ahead as fast as they can with their own national forces. But they cannot, with the best will in the world, supply the sophisticated weapons, or the highly-trained manpower that is necessary in as short a time as the Government have given them before we are due to leave. According to Appendix H the Government are spending £72 million across the exchanges in the Far Fast. We believe that about one-third of that figure might be our obligation under our policy.
I turn, now, to overstretch, because so many of my hon. Friends have mentioned this, and this is something about which the Minister felt strongly. We have never felt quite so strongly about this. I have always felt that the Almighty designed a human being to carry a considerable overload. It is amazing what one can do for a short time and with dedication. People do not die from overwork, but they sometimes rust away from underwork, and if I had a choice between the two—and this must go for every 726 Member—I would much rather be overworked than bored. People who retire often die only too soon after unless they do a worthwhile job. We do not believe that overstretch was a considerable problem when we handed over defence responsibility to the Government.
We believe that the main task now is to stop the run-down of our forces so that we can meet the sort of emergency that has arisen in Ulster. We therefore ask the Government, in particular because we hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister that our economy is now so much stronger, that we are now not in deficit, that we will earn a surplus of £500 million this year, and that if we do this for another six years we shall be able to repay the £3,000 million overseas debt which we have incurred, to halt the run-down.
It has been clearly shown that we have had to scrape the barrel to get the extra troops for Ulster. Why, therefore, should we go ahead next year with the disbandment of another six battalions? Is not this most unwise in the light of all recent experience, and in the light of what the Government say is the strength of the economic position?
I deal, next, with recruiting. The Minister confessed that he was sorry that the August figures had taken a little time to arrive here. The September figures arrived 24 hours after the August figure. The August figures, which were very bad and had a shocking Press this morning, were released on 12th November. The September figures were released on 13th November—on this occasion coinciding, not with a party conference, but with a defence debate in this House. I cannot help thinking—I hope that cynicism is not coming into politics—that in this Government bad news travels slowly, but good news travels extremely fast. I hope that we shall now get back to a rhythm of having recruiting figures up to date.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, in winding up, will mention the officer recruiting, since the figures do not mention them. When one visits Service establishments and meets young officers, one finds a great uncertainty about the future. Is it worth while these young men staying in? If this is reflected in the recruiting figures—and I fear that it may be—this is bad for the future of our Services. I hope that the hon Gentleman will take the opportunity 727 of saying how officer recruiting is progressing.
I thought that the Minister, in the R.U.S.I. speech, was complacent—when he said "the latest recruiting figures are encouraging". This was on 22nd of October. One suspects that he knew by then the September figures, although we did not get even the August ones until three weeks later. I urge the Government Front Bench not to be complacent about recruiting because the manpower of our Services is the one place where there is no room for complacency. The Government would have all the support that we can give from these benches in any efforts they make in alleviating the present sad and alarming deficit.
Could we be told how the extra £821 million which was announced today for the increase through the military salary and the X factor will be met? Do the Government acknowledge that this is over and above the £2,000 million at 1964 prices to which the Defence Estimates have been pegged? If that is so, we will support it. But, if it is not, and must come off the £2,000 million ceiling, only two things can happen. Either the numbers in defence forces will have to be cut or there will have to be savings in equipment or research and development. May we be told how room will be found to provide the extra £821 million within the present Defence Budget ceiling?
It would be wrong in any defence debate not to mention the Royal Air Force. I say that because if we have not mentioned the Royal Navy it is not an oversight, for we hope soon to have a short debate on that Service. I mention the Royal Air Force because no Service has suffered more from changes in economic policy and changes in planned equipment. In the R.U.S.I. speech, which probably earned the Secretary of State the prize in Germany as being a really funny man, we are told "we are now getting much better value for money on defence equipment".
I could not help reflecting upon the many cancellations. Admittedly, the first three promising projects were started by the Conservative Government, but the cancellation costs are serious. In the case of TSR2 the cancellation costs were £178 million, for the P1154 £21 million, and 728 one notes that when the project was stopped the contractors were ordered to saw up all the jigs and tools and solemnly destroy all the designs. This was done, and so we shall not have an opportunity to go back and make use of the supersonic version of the 1127 which, in its developed form, has become the Harrier.
The cancellation charges on the 681 amounted to £4 million, for the F111 £13.5 million in dollars, the Anglo-French VG EN million, the Chinook £11 million. That is a total of £220 million in cancellation charges. Yet the Minister solemnly says to an informed audience at the R.U.S.I. that we are getting better value for money spent on defence. That is an astonishing statement and stands facts on their heads.
I should like to know whether withdrawal of the French from the WG13 project means that we shall be going ahead with it. We believe that this is a worth-while project, but there are rumours that it is escalating a little in cost. We hope that this is not so and that we shall have some assurance on this matter.
We notice that the strength of R.A.F. element in N.A.T.O. has been cut from 8,648 in 1964 to 6,488 today. That is a 25 per cent. cut. The number of Air Force personnel normally reflects the amount of Service equipment they are administering and operating. On the whole, today's aircraft are more complicated and need more support than the aircraft of 1964. I wonder whether we are not risking the Air Force support for the Army in this vital and high priority theatre. As I understand, the Canberras are not to be replaced one for one by the Phantoms, and the Phantoms are limited in numbers. I wonder whether there will be a horrid gap before the MRCA aircraft comes into operational service—if it goes ahead.
Should we not press on with the Harrier? It has very considerable capability, but money will have to be spent to increase its engine capacity. We would appreciate it if we could be told that there is a real sense of urgency in getting on with this aircraft. Perhaps we can be told whether money is to be spent on the marinised version. I am sorry. I know that it is a bastard word; it means the marine version—so that it can operate from a flight deck.
729 Many of my hon. Friends have mentioned the vulnerability to the whole Western world of the Cape route. We have 62 per cent. of our oil coming from the Gulf, all of it coming round the Cape route. Western Europe is almost equally dependent on oil from Arab Srates and nearly all that oil has to come round the Cape route. Is the Minister confident that the proposal for a union of Arab Emirates is going ahead and that we are likely to have a Federal army before we pull out?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
It is the Government's idea, not ours. When they said that they would pull out—it is costing 1:12 million and we are deeply dependent upon the oil—the defence there would rely on a new Federation of the nine States in that part of the world, with a Federal army. We have grave doubts as to whether this is going ahead. If it is not going ahead what will happen to the Trucial and Oman Scouts? This is a magnificently trained body, eminently suitable for serving in that part of the world and the Government should give some attention to this.
What will happen in future now that some of our most valuable desert training areas may no longer be available in Libya to our forces? Perhaps the Government ought to take an option on possible training in the Sharjah area which is ideal for this. Since we must have somewhere where we can test our forces and equipment under desert conditions, if Libya is closed to us then Sharjah would appear to be a good alternative.
1 apologise to my hon. Friends for not having dealt with all the points raised. I will summarise the main ones as follows. Ulster has highlighted the paucity of our numbers, particularly of our infantry. As I came into the debate I was given a hand-out from Eastern Command at Colchester which says:On 14th November the 1st R.H.A. will go to Northern Ireland for four months to relieve the 3rd Light Infantry in Belfast. For 730 its new task it has had to place its 105 mm. guns into heavy care and preservation and re-train as infantry … This is the first time it has ever been committed in an infantry capacity.This only underlines what my right hon. Friend said and what so many others have said, that we are short of infantry. We are strained and we should ask the Government to consider whether this is not the moment to halt the rundown so that we can meet our obligations and commitments.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Ivor Richard)
This is the sort of debate to which it is difficult for any Minister to reply. One sits and listens to speeches made by hon. Members on both sides, and each hon. Member has asked at least two questions of specific, and in some cases of almost personal, interest. I am in a position to reply to some, while in respect of others I undertake to look into them and write to the hon. Members concerned.
First, however, I will deal with several specific matters that have been raised in a number of speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) spoke of the British Military Hospital at Dhekelia in Cyprus. From our point of view, the hospital is to some extent under-utilised. We already have under consideration the possibility of it providing some help for the local population. There are certain problems about the financing and staffing of a joint venture, which would be a complicated business, but a considerable amount of goodwill exists on both sides and it is possible—we are hopeful and would welcome this—that some beneficial agreement could be reached, to the advantage of the local population if it is possible to arrive at such an agreement.
I was asked about the Third Division, the ACE Mobile Force and if I would indicate the commitment to Northern Ireland. None of the troops connected with the ACE Mobile Force have been committed to that area. It is true that at present five battalions of the Third Division are temporarily serving:n Northern Ireland, but none of these is earmarked for ACE Mobile Force. All of them remain part of the general commitment to N.A.T.O., a matter to which I will come later, when I will speak of 731 the distinction between the B.A.O.R. commitment—it was in this connection that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) quoted some figures —and the specific N.A.T.O. commitment.
It was suggested that we were denuding the Third Division. This is not so. There now remain in Great Britain five infantry battalions of the Third Division, one parachute battalion, the bulk of the Engineer Field Squadrons and a light regiment of the Royal Artillery.
I was asked about the possibility of having more unaccompanied tours in Northern Ireland. As for accommodation generally, the Government are not unhappy over the short-term results. There are certain immediate problems, particularly those connected with such matters as company bases. While they are not as comfortable as we would like, a considerable amount of work has gone into them and many improvements have been made. 1 was looking at one in Ulster yesterday and I was struck by the fact that, given that there is an operational requirement that a company must be in a particular area and while the hall which I saw might not be as good as one would desire, on the whole that part of the accommodation problem is not going too badly.
A much more difficult problem is that of getting troops into Northern Ireland on accompanied tours. The difficulty is that suitable accommodation does not exist in any quantity, and it takes a considerable time to provide it from scratch. We are considering the question of accommodation for all three Services in Northern Ireland generally; and we are looking at this matter from the point of view of the accommodation that already exists there to see if, by using some of it, it will be possible to increase the number of accompanied infantry battalions stationed in Northern Ireland.
For example, a start has been made on this problem by arranging for the replacement of the Headquarters of the 24th Brigade by HQ 8th Brigade on an accompanied tour. I assure the House that we recognise the urgency of the matter, and I am not unhopeful of a satisfactory solution being found.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North asked about officer recruiting. I can 732 give him some figures, but I fear that they are not as detailed as he or I would like because records for male officer recruiting do not exist in detail to compare with the other record. Entry is on an entirely different basis, and it is therefore difficult accurately to break down the relevant figures. [Interruption.] They do not exist as I should like to give them to the House. Some of them exist, but not in the kind of detail you would like.
Officer entries into the Royal Navy in the 12 months ending 30th September, 1969, were 616 as against 683 in the same period last year. On the face of it, this is a reduction of nearly 70. However, I am told that most branches are recruiting at a fairly satisfactory level, though there are shortages of engineers and doctors, and for the first time there is a shortage in the Seaman (General List). I suspect, therefore, that my hon. Friend the Minister in charge of the Royal Navy would not express himself as wholly satisfied were he standing now at this Box.
Royal Air Force officer recruiting is rather stronger this year. We look like having about 850 air officers and ground officers this year as against 815 last year. On the whole, therefore, the figures here look fairly satisfactory.
The Army is just about holding its own. This year, 259 entered Sandhurst as cadets for permanent Regular commissions, as against the target of 285. In addition, 32 cadets entered Sandhurst to be trained for special Regular commissions. This is the first entry to Sandhurst for that type of cadet. We granted 23 university cadetships in 1968, and this year the number was 29. In 1968 we commissioned 219 special Regular commissioned officers and 134 short service commissioned officers. This year, we may not do quite so well with the special Regular commission, but we hope to do rather better with the short service one.
I hope that that gives at least some of the figures which the hon. Gentleman wanted and which I should like to have given.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
The hon. Gentleman mentioned recruitment of naval officers, and, rather surprisingly, they were the only figures available to him. He gave us the figures as compared 733 with last year. Could he say what the target is?
§ Mr. Richard
Without notice, I could not. 1 think that I have managed to sort out the problem as regards the non-availability of the figures. It is simply that we are in a position to give the House annual figures, and I am not in a position, as I understand it, to give the House a breakdown of the monthly figures as between officers and other ranks.
Now, one or two other specific points. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking wanted to know whether arrangements either would be made or had been made to ensure that people in the Services who are now 18 will be able to vote at the next General Election, whenever that may be. I am instructed that arrangements have already been made. The Services are anxious that such voters can and should go on registers and be eligible to vote.
I cannot give my hon. Friend the same joy as regards his somewhat attractive notion that there should, perhaps, he current affairs lectures again for all the Services. At the moment, this is not—
§ Mr. Richard
—in the Government's mind. There are no proposals of which I know for the restoration of A.B.C.A., so the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester can, I think, subside again.
I think that those were the only specific questions amid a multifarious number of subjects which came to me on which I am in a position to give, so to speak, considered answers now. As for those which I have not been able to answer, I undertake to write to the hon. Members concerned.
§ Mr. James Davidson
Will the hon. Gentleman say a little more about the committee which is to be appointed?
§ Mr. Richard
Certainly; I am coming to that. It was not one of the specific topics which I had in mind to try to dispose of in the first few minutes of my speech.
First, a word about the Harrier, a topic raised by both the hon. Member for 734 Hendon, North and his hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew).
The Harrier is an aircraft of great potential, which is beginning to come into service. The hon. Member for Hendon, North asked some questions about close air support for British forces in Germany. R.A.F. Germany is part of 2 ATAF. The re-equipment on which it will shortly be embarking will allow it to continue to make a major contribution to SACEUR's forces during the 1970s. As regards close support, deployment of the Phantom FGR 2 and the Harrier to Germany will start next summer. These are two very good aircraft. The Phantom is the most advanced multi-role aircraft in service with any air force in the world, and the Harrier is the only fixed-wing vertical take-off combat aircraft in service in the world. For the future development of the Harrier, we already plan to increase the thrust of its Pegasus engine, which will increase its performance either in terms of increased range or weapon load or both without loss of take-off ability or lift.
This will increase the flexibility of an already extraordinarily flexible and versatile aircraft. There is also the question of using it in a maritime role. Although the aircraft has been designed specifically for close support of troops in the field, its potential at sea is something which the Royal Navy intends to study closely. Much, however, will depend on further developments, over and above the engine uprating programme, which might be required. The existing Harrier is an ideal aircraft for carrying out trials to evaluate the advantages and problems of operating vertical, short-time take-off and landing of fixed wing aircraft on ships. The Royal Air Force has offered the maximum cooperation to the Royal Navy in carrying out such trials.
The hon. Member for St. Albans asked about the formation of Harrier squadrons. The first was formed at Wittering at the beginning of last month and is in the process of working up. The next will be formed by R.A.F. Germany next year. This is earlier than the timetable which the Government set themselves. The original statement was that the first squadron would be formed by the end of 1969. This speed-up is indeed some cause for congratulation.
735 Three main topics have emerged from the debate. The first, which many of my hon. Friends are concerned about, is the position of boy entrants in the forces and the committee which my hon. Friend announced. The second is the position of the Reserves. Strong feelings were expressed by some hon. Members opposite about what they consider and, indeed, choose to construe as a gratuitous slur on the Territorial Army by my hon. Friend. I have looked at what he said. It is difficult to see how any one could construe his words as a slur unless he wished to construe them as such. The third main topic is the problem of overstretch. I propose now to deal with two of these three points, the boy entrants and overstretch—the latter since it seems to be the main attack by the Opposition today on the Government's defence policy.
The Government are serious about the Committee on Boy Entrants. I agree that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) was being unduly cynical about the Government's motives in establishing it to look at the topic. This is a very difficult topic for any Government to deal with because here, almost crystalised in the one issue, there is a real clash of two conflicting principles. On the one hand, it is an unexceptionable principle, that people should be entitled to reconsider at the age of 18 commitments they may have entered into at the age of 15, 16 or 17, or, indeed, as the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) said at 13, when he made his own commitment to the Royal Navy. It is clear, therefore, that there is a principle here that at least deserves serious consideration.
On the other hand, and in conflict with that principle, or at least in apparent conflict with it, is the fact that the Ministry of Defence is concerned with providing forces which, in the Government's estimation, are necessary for the defence of the country. On all the information which is available to us, it would not be consistent with that duty to allow boy entrants into the Armed Forces an automatic right to reconsider their decision to join the Services at the age of 18.
I am bound to tell the hon. Member for Beckenham that it is not true, as he alleged, that there is a great deal of 736 information available which would enable the Government to reconcile those two principles. The information is not available in sufficient detail and has not been properly collated, and in the view of the Government it is high time that it was. Therefore, once the Government had taken the decision in principle to re-examine the situation, the next question to be considered was how that examination should take place, whether it should be done purely privately, in the sense of being a Ministry of Defence inquiry with outside experts called in and perhaps very little publicity attached to it, until some Minister made a statement in the House as a result of those deliberations.
The Government have decided that that would not be the right way in which to tackle this problem. Indeed, so much public interest has been expressed in this facet, boy entrants, of recruitment into the Armed Services that the Government thought it right to announce that a Committee was being set up, and also to announce that members independent of the Services would sit on that committee.
What will the committee consider? The non-military members may be of great assistance here. The committee will be asked to consider systematically the terms and conditions upon which boy entrants come into the Services. The committee will be asked to consider the age limits, the general right to contract out at the age of 18, whether obligations undertaken at an age earlier than 18 are in fact to be enforceable by the Services despite the youthfulness of the contracting party. I suppose that what the committee could do, which no individual Government Department is able to do, is to bring a great deal of expertise to attempt to find out whether the feelings which are expressed by some boy entrants —that they would like to leave the Services early—are genuine, or are just temporary grumbles. It is on this issue that we do not have sufficient information.
I was asked a number of questions about matters such as the taking of evidence by this committee. The way in which the committee takes evidence will primarily be a matter for the committee itself to decide. This is perfectly normal procedure and the Government wish to follow it in this case. I can give 737 an undertaking and an assurance that the substance of the committee's decision will be conveyed to the House, but it would not be right for me to give assurances that all the evidence will be published. Some of it, naturally, will be somewhat personal and connected with various individual cases of people who joined the Services at an early age and then felt that it was not the life for them. It would, therefore, not be right to give the undertaking that all the evidence will be published. Nevertheless, I can say that it would be the Government's wish that as much as possible of the evidence will be published, so that the House and the country may have a full view and a full examination of the whole problem.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson
Would my hon. Friend tell the House whether the committee will be empowered to commission any research?
§ Mr. Richard
That, too, would be primarily a matter for the committee. I should be reluctant to say yea or nay whether the committee could or should commission research. What I can say is that if a full-scale examination is to take place, personally and without any attempt to influence the committee in any way, I think that it would seem extremely difficult for a committee of this sort considering this sort of issue to come to a firm and definitive conclusion unless there were either some research undertaken by the committee, or unless it had the benefit of such research as was already available.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
For the sake of clarity, can the hon. Gentleman tell the House exactly what the size of the problem is? How many boy entrants are there in the Services? What is the percentage of boy entrants who leave the Services between the ages of 15 and 18? What is the percentage of boy entrants of the total Services force? Can we be given some idea of the proportions of the problem?
§ Mr. Richard
I can give the hon. Gentleman some figures. The number of boy entrants per year in the Services is around 12,000. The figure of those who actually leave per year is about 10 per cent. As to how many would want to leave if they could, that is precisely the issue which I trust this committee will be able to deal with. I hope that the 738 House will feel that the Government in their approach to the problem are being reasonable, sensible and as helpful as possible in trying to reconcile these two principles which appear to conflict. What we are trying to do is reconcile the obvious, the plain duty of the Government to ensure that our forces are up to the strength required with again, the plain principle which says that a lad who signs a form at the age of 15 or 16, which he probably does not wholly understand, should not be bound by that signature.
Again it has been inevitable that a fair part of this debate has concentrated in and around Northern Ireland. After all, "engaged" in Northern Ireland there are British troops doing a most difficult job. I was very pleased to hear from the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) the sincere tribute that he paid to the work that the Army is doing in Ulster. In general, internal security work calls for a sensitivity of approach and a degree of political acumen and awareness rarely asked of soldiers or politicians. It is rarely asked of people going about their ordinary business.
To ask British soldiers to perform that type of work in their own country is, perhaps, asking too much of them. It is a tribute to the skill of the British Army that the trouble in Ulster has not been greater than it is. When I knew that this debate was to take place about a month earlier than it normally does—and having been in my present office for about four weeks. I could have done with that extra month—I thought it might be instructive to me and helpful to the House if I listed precisely what it is British troops are doing in Ulster.
I obtained from the Ministry of Defence a list of the tasks being undertaken by our troops in Northern Ireland. It is an astonishing list. If we look at the infantry we see that tasks being undertaken include road blocks, border patrols, cordon and search, anti-armsrunning operations, traffic control zone, manning police lines, riot control, key point guards, mobile patrols in urban and country areas, and community relations. We all know that that last item in the context of Ulster is particularly important. I am happy to say that it seems to be going well. The Royal Armoured Corps is engaged in border 739 patrols, mobile patrols in urban and country areas and mobile cover for infantry. The Engineers seem to have a very large list of tasks, clearing barricades, wiring and erecting barriers, erecting Twynham huts, improving troop accommodation, community relations, and something which is called "winterisation".
I am not exactly certain of what winterisation entails, but if it means what I think, then I trust that we can eradicate it from Ministry of Defence literature in future. All of the tasks being performed in Ulster raise two or three other questions. The first is, are the Forces doing what they are being asked to do well'? and the second is, if they are doing it well, can we, in the House, the Government or the country, help more than we are doing? I do not think I need argue the first point here. No one has criticised the behaviour of British troops. One of the interesting, remarkable and encouraging features of the whole operation in Ulster has been the remarkable absence of complaints against the behaviour of British troops. I am pleasantly surprised that complaints have been absent on both sides.
I suppose that the second question, namely, whether we can help the Services more, raises a number of other questions. Are the troops in Northern Ireland properly equipped? Are there enough of them? Do they have proper accommodation? I am happy to say that no one in the House today—and I have not seen very much comment on it outside the House—has alleged that the equipment which the troops in Ulster have is not sufficient or adequate for the task which they are performing.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
On the subject of equipment for the troops during winterisation, can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that they have sufficient Parkhas—the winter jackets which they wear on night patrols? There is a shortage of them in B.A.O.R.
§ Mr. Richard
I can give the hon. and gallant Gentleman that assurance.
On the question of the number of men in Ulster, I was happy to hear the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) say that in his opinion there were sufficient men there. Therefore, the 740 number of men is not an issue between the two sides of the House. On the accommodation question, the short-term accommodation situation is improving and we are looking very hard at the longer-term situation.
That brings me to the main charge and attack which has been made by the Opposition against the Government in this debate, namely, the question of overstretch. It is important that we should look at the precise allegation. From time to time it is expressed in a different way. The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), speaking in the House of 30th October, said that the Government werenegligent of national security and the obligations we have accepted to friends and alliesHis right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) was even more specific. He said:… we have begun to be profoundly worried that the Government's present support of N.A.T.O. is beginning to degenerate into lip service; and that existing military and naval forces are inadequate to sustain the support which the Government again profess in the Gracious Speech…. We are bound to have real doubts as to whether the increased military task imposed on reduced battalions remains any longer within their capability."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 387 and 488.]Today the right hon. Member for Harrogate said that the Government had been negligent in that they should have budgeted for the unforeseen rather more than they have.
If one can condense what might be termed this first charge on the sheet, what seems to be alleged against the Government is that we have allowed the Services to run down to such an extent that they cannot perform the jobs which they have to perform safely and efficiently and that the Northern Ireland crisis has exposed this weakness. I hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite agree that that is a fair way of putting the charge made against us.
What the Opposition do not seem to appreciate even now is just how critical is the relationship between the size of the Army and the commitments which it might be called upon to fulfil. A smaller Army might be better placed to carry out its tasks provided that the tasks it is given to perform are rational. The argument which took place in successive 741 defence debates and over White Papers in 1965 and 1966 concerned the relationship between the size of the Armed Forces and the commitments which they have to carry out.
§ Mr. Rippon
Would the Minister deal with the question of our obligations to Malaysia and make it perfectly clear that there is to be no further cut and that the troops which we now have will be able to fulfil our existing commitments?
§ Mr. Richard
It is a pity that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should raise that point when I have five minutes left to deal with the gravamen of the charge which the Opposition have chosen for this debate. Having made the charge, the right hon. and learned Gentleman should listen to the reply.
The situation concerning overstretch is as follows. This morning I did a bit of basic research for this debate. I listed calmly I hope, and clearly and simply, exactly where in 1964 the previous Administration of which the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) was a member, had forces. The list was this: in Hong Kong, the Pacific, Borneo, Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore, Malaysia, Aden, Bahrein, Kuwait, Sharjah, Libya, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Western Germany and the United Kingdcm, Northern Ireland, the Caribbean, the, North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, East Africa and Swaziland, and even in the Antarctic; and on top of that they were then attempting to run a global naval and air presence.
What was the size of the Army? It was running at 175,600. What is the size of the Army today?-163,300. That is the crude comparison on overstretch. On any comparison of overstretch between the situation as it was when this Government assumed office and what it is today, if overstretch was ever overstretched it was overstretched on 15th October, 1964.
I will give the House one or two more figures because it is important that these figures should be stated categorically and openly in the House of Commons and not ignored by hon. Members nor in the columns of the Press and elsewhere. What do we have available to deal with the situation in Northern Ireland? One thing is absolutely clear, that if the situation in 742 Northern Ireland had happened in October, 1964 it could have been dealt with only by a massive withdrawal of infantry battalions from the British Army of the Rhine. There was no other way in which it could have been done.
In June, 1964 there were 66 infantry battalions in the British Army, 19 of them in the United Kingdom, 20 in B.A.O.R. and Berlin, 15 in the Middle East, 8 in the Far East and one in the Caribbean. When the trouble started this year in Northern Ireland the total battalion strength of the British Army was 59 and in the United Kingdom unlike 19 in June, 1964 there were 30 battalions, in B.A.O.R. and Berlin there were 17 and in the Middle East 7. The reduction, which is where the forces have come from to enable us to perform the task we have been performing in Northern Ireland, is a reduction of eight battalions in the Middle East, four in the Far East and most of a battalion in the Caribbean. That is how we have managed to engage eight additional units in Northern Ireland without the withdrawal of one unit so far from the British Army of the Rhine.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing: What about the 3,000?
§ Mr. Richard
I can answer the point about the 3,000 quite simply. The hon. Gentleman will know what manning means—the difference between establishment and strength. If one compares the manning now with that of 1964, which is the critical figure, the crucial figure—which is between establishment and strength—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is the crucial figure. If one is comparing the relative strength of the Armed Forces the critical question to ask is that on under-manning and the improvement has been 3,400.
It is all very well for hon. and right hon. Members to complain when the figures are given to them but there is no doubt that in 1964 British Armed Forces were grossly overstretched and to deal with the Northern Ireland situation would have been totally beyond their capacity. The situation today is that we have succeeded in putting ten battalions into Northern Ireland and we have done it so far without making one major withdrawal from any major commitment. That is something of which the Government are frankly proud.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Could not the hon. Gentleman recognise that when we were responsible, recruiting was at its best for many years and it was far better than it is now? Re-engagement was also good and we were spending about the same amount of the gross national product. Lastly, are there more people actually serving in Germany now than there were in 1964 or not?
§ Mr. Richard
The answer is, yes; there are 2,000 more men in B.A.O.R. than there were in 1964, and that is something which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will not accept and have not faced up to.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.