HC Deb 22 June 1972 vol 839 cc691-3
3. Mr. Roderick

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he is satisfied with present arrangements for the political education of the Services; and if he will make a statement.

Lord Balniel

I am satisfied with the arrangements by which the Services are informed about national and international affairs.

Mr. Roderick

Has the Minister of State read the article which appeared in The Times of 23rd May which quotes Brigadier Watkins as saying: The whole period of the miners' strike made us realise that the present size of the police force is too small…things have now got to the stage where there are not enough resources to deal with the increasing numbers who are not prepared to respect the law. What changes are envisaged in the political education of Army officers so that they can recognise subversion?

Lord Balniel

I have read the article. Responsibility for the size of the police force belongs to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I think the whole House would agree that it is important that officers and all ranks in the Services should be encouraged to study current affairs to ensure that the Services as a whole are well informed and properly informed about current trends and events. I should have thought this proposition would command general support throughout the House.

Mr. Waddington

Do not all these questions throw an interesting light on the attiude of hon. Members opposite? What is wrong with the proposition that if the police find themselves unable to maintain law and order the Army should be ready, available and equipped to go to the aid of the civil power? Is not that part of English law, well known to all of us? If hon. Members are being asked to pay attention to an article in The Times of 23rd May, will my right hon. Friend also invite their attention to another article which appeared the next day which referred to the influence of Communism on industrial strife in this country?

Lord Balniel

I am surprised at the immediacy with which the Opposition have seized upon the opportunity of criticising officers who are reported as having made certain remarks. None the less, my hon. and learned Friend has raised an extremely important issue. The responsibility for deciding when to use troops in aid of the civil power, should the event ever arise, is the responsibility—[Interruption.]—it arose out of the Labour Government—for the Government themselves, and they will take that decision only with the utmost circumspection.

Mr. John Morris

Does the Minister of State recognise that the anxiety felt by my hon. Friends arises because senior military officers have opened their big mouths in this way? Having done so, those officers of necessity run the risk of criticism and my hon. Friends are right to criticise them. Does not the whole House fear the spectre of the political soldier, who has not been seen in this island on many occasions since (the time of Cromwell? Will the right hon. Gentleman remind senior military officers that it is the task of this House and the Government, elected by the people, to ensure that the forces carry out the tasks given to them and it is not for the forces to suggest what those tasks should be?

Lord Balniel

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who formerly had ministerial responsibility in the Ministry of Defence, is not very well aware of the anxiety of the Army itself not to become political soldiers but to fulfil the responsibilities imposed upon it by the Government of the day.