§ 4.4 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith)
I beg to move,That during the year ending on 31st March 1973 a number not exceeding 198,000 all ranks be maintained for Army Service, a number not exceeding 65,000 for the Regular Reserve, a number not exceeding 90,500 for the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve and a number not exceeding 10,000 for the Ulster Defence Regiment.During the past year the spotlight of attention so far as the Army has been concerned has inevitably and sadly again been Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has been debated many times in this Chamber over the past 12 months, and I hope that hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House will understand why I do not intend to devote the major part of my speech to this subject today. I must, of course, make reference to it, because so much of the Army is there. But I would also like to draw the attention of hon. Members to the Army's activities elsewhere in the world; to manpower and conditions of service; to the TAVR; to the Royal Ordnance Factories; and to equipment matters. In other words, briefly to cover the field of where the money is going.
If I may start in the Far East, this last year has seen the completion of a rundown and the start of a brand new force. The C.-in-C. in the Far East hauled down his flag in November last, concluding a long and honourable chapter in our relations with Singapore and Malaysia. Instead, we are now contributing to the A.N.Z.U.K. Force set up under the five-Power defence arrangements, a contribution which consists of a battalion group and a proportion of the logistic support group. It has also been possible to bring one battalion of Gurkhas to the United Kingdom on an 18-month tour and they are doing most useful work on public duties and on exercises.
781 I know that the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson), for whom I have great respect, took some pleasure in the recent defence debate in pointing out that this Government had merely pursued the aims and objectives of their predecessor in the Far East and that there was no essential difference in what was being done there. But I think there is a difference, and the difference is most apparent to those on the ground who can see the A.N.Z.U.K. Force and who recognise the importance of having staff officers and logistic units on the ground who are gaining and retaining expertise in local conditions. They also see that integration—a British Commander of the A.N.Z.U.K. Brigade, for instance, and an Australian Commander of the A.N.Z.U.K. Force—is working and providing valuable opportunities for the forces of the Commonwealth nations to work together. These are the differences and I believe they are important.
Turning to the Gulf, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs made a statement to the House in March, 1971, in which he said that Her Majesty's Government's policy was to encourage the setting up of a Union of Arab Emirates, and that if a union was set up Her Majesty's Government would be willing to hand over the Trucial Oman Scouts to form the nucleus of a union army and would make available British officers and other personnel on loan to the union forces and to assist in the supply of equipment.
To fulfil Her Majesty's Government's undertakings, the Trucial Oman Scouts were handed over to the Union of Arab Emirates and became the Union Defence Force. British personnel continue to be loaned to the union forces, and a military advisory team was set up in December. This small team of about 90 personnel provides advice when requested by local forces, provides a planning cell for future Royal Engineers assistance to the Union of Arab Emirates, and assists British units which will carry out exercises and training in the area.
On this last topic, the military advisory team is at this moment sponsoring both a Royal Engineers survey exercise and an infantry company exercise, and after the monsoon season there will be regular 782 exercises at company level between September, 1972, and March, 1973.
If our small Army is to have any credibility—if it is to be the highly trained, efficient, professional force we believe it to be—then it must be not only highly mobile but also capable of undertaking operations in many different climates. This is why we attach so much importance to overseas training for both Regular and TAVR units.
There have been two significant developments in our overseas training programme during the past year to which I wish to refer. The first is, as my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence announced in the House on 3rd August last year, that we have reached an agreement with Canada for the use of the Suffield training area. This will provide the alternative facilities which we have been seeking since we lost the use of the tank training areas in Libya.
The first battle groups from B.A.O.R. will start training at Suffield in June. I have visited the area and can assure the House that there are excellent facilities for most realistic fire and manoeuvre training by tanks and mechanised infantry.
Second, the former British Jungle Warfare School at Ulu Tiram in Johore has been handed over to the Malaysian authorities and on 1st April this year it will reopen as the Malaysian Army Training Centre. With the agreement of the Malaysian authorities the facilities of the centre will also be used by British forces so that an adequate reserve of jungle-trained troops can be maintained. In addition to the British battalion group of the A.N.Z.U.K. force in Singapore, units from the United Kingdom and from Hong Kong will train annually at Ulu Tiram. Over and above unit training we will be training our own jungle warfare instructors at Ulu Tiram and the Malaysians have allocated us vacancies for individuals who attend certain of their own courses at the Centre.
The Army has, wherever possible continued to provide assistance to the civilian community under the Military Aid to the Civil Community scheme. We have not been able to give quite the same degree of help as we would have liked because of the effect of Northern Ireland. We have been able to give a remarkable 783 degree of help to countries, including the supervision of the construction of Bailey bridges in the Congo and jetties and air strips in the Solomon Islands, and more recently in Bangladesh. One of the many problems which faces the Bangladesh Government is the repair of roads and bridges damaged during the recent righting. We are therefore proposing to offer a small team to assist in the overall planning of the reconstruction programme.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I am glad that the right hon. Member approves of this. The team would be a small one, nine strong, and we hope to make it available for six months. Its work would be co-ordinated by the United Nations, and it would, I believe, be able to make a useful contribution towards the improvement of communications in Bangladesh.
§ Mr. George Thomson
While I very much welcome the principle of the announcement, I would not have been quite so hearty in my "Hear, hear" had I realised that it was to be a team as small as nine people. I hope that this is only the beginning and that we shall measure up to the magnitude of the challenge, since we have very great joint economic interests, not least in my own constituency of Dundee.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
It would be dangerous for the right hon. Gentleman, even if he does not like the figure of nine, to assume that the value of our contribution is measured in numbers. These are highly skilled people, and one of our jobs is to enlist the help of others as we go along improving communications. It is the skill we bring which is important.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
They let it be known that they could use the help, and we have not heard anything further since then. We ought to see how this goes. I do not regard this as a miserly effort. We are bringing considerable skills to bear on the problems there.
At present a Sapper squadron is engaged in the construction of a section 784 of road in Kenya, and another squadron is building two Bailey bridges in Ethiopia and putting an aerial ropeway over the upper reaches of the Blue Nile. A wide variety of minor projects have been carried out in the United Kingdom.
I turn now to Army recruiting. The essential figures for the Services as a whole have already been set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, 1972. In overall numerical terms the officer situation is reasonably satisfactory, but this conceals some imbalances and there is a serious shortage of younger regular officers in the teeth arms and major services. Encouraging progress has been made in the number of university graduates for direct entry regular commissions. However, we look primarily to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst to produce our career officers, and for some time now both the quantity and quality of young men coming forward for Sandhurst permanent regular commissions has been causing us a great deal of concern.
The six-months' short-service commission course at Mons has been most successful, and many of these officers convert to permanent commissions later, but this does not enable us to achieve and maintain a satisfactory regular officer structure. We have therefore decided that there is a need for changes in our officer cadet training arrangements. My announcement of these in reply my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) on 14th March will have given him and other hon. Members an opportunity to consider the changes in advance of today's debate. It may be helpful if I explain the new arrangements in a little more detail now.
Starting next September, young officer entrants to the Army will be given a common period of initial military training lasting about six months. This will be known as the standard military course and will be more or less equivalent to that at present provided for short-service officers at O.C.S. Mons. Mons will have, of course, moved to Sandhurst by September. At the end of this course all who qualify will be commissioned. The short-service officer will then complete his special-to-arm training and go off to join his unit. The others will remain at Sandhurst as officers to undertake a course to be known as the regular careers course 785 which is to lay the foundation for a professional military career.
The professional academic element of this course will also be obligatory for these short-service officers who later decide to convert to a regular commission. They will be recalled from regimental duty to Sandhurst for this purpose. The precise duration of the regular career course is still being considered in consultation with our Academic Advisory Council, but we do not expect it will be very different in length from the standard military course; that is, about six months.
After this period, if the officers are not going to Shrivenham or a university they will complete their normal special-to-arm training and then go off to regimental duty. Officers intending to take in-Service degrees at Shrivenham or universities will be given further academic instruction at Sandhurst according to individual needs, to prepare for degree courses. Entrants from universities will attend a shortened version of the new Sandhurst course before they join their units. We believe that our new system of young officer training will remove the anomalies and inadequacies of the present arrangements. In particular it will provide all young officers with a common background of professional knowledge and skill, and it will ensure that all regular officers have a common professional foundation on which to build their future military career. This will be the first time in the history of the British Army that this has been done.
Before leaving the subject of officer recruiting I would like to say a little more about the shortage of doctors because, as is known, this has also been causing concern for some time and was referred to again by the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) during the defence debate on 23rd February. As the Statement on the Defence Estimate says, the situation has improved considerably during the past year. In 1970 it was estimated that the shortfall of doctors in the Army would be 28 per cent. in 1975. In 1971 this estimate was reduced to 15 per cent. The situation in B.A.O.R. was causing particular concern some time ago but the House will be glad to know that as a result of the improved recruiting supplemented by the employment of some civilian medical practitioners, there is now a shortage of 786 only eight doctors in B.A.O.R. out of a present requirement of 90 general practitioners. We shall continue to watch the situation closely and do all we can to see that the health of the Service man and his family in Germany is properly provided for.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is the position of the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham altered in any way?
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
Would my hon. Friend tell us whether the B.M.A. has yet withdrawn its advice to doctors not to serve in the Forces? This advice was operative during the period of office of the last Government.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I am not aware that the B.M.A. has ever offered such advice. Certainly no such advice is extant.
I turn now to soldier recruiting. Our view for the future might be described as one of controlled optimism. Certainly the last year has seen the best recruiting performances for several years, and, although the manning pattern throughout the Army is not uniform, the overall situation is reasonably satisfactory. During 1971–72 the Army will have recruited 30,500 other ranks compared with 23,500 in 1970–71, 20,500 in 1969–70 and 17,000 in 1968–69. It has in fact been the best year since 1963.
None the less, there is no room for complacency. The number of young men available for recruitment is declining, and more of them are staying on at school. Next year we shall see the first effects of the raising of the school leaving age. In the circumstances we do not intend to relax our recruiting efforts, and we shall continue to strive for greater efficiency in the use of our manpower resources. We are hoping, too, that the notice scheme announced in the White Paper will encourage recruits and—most important—persuade men to prolong their service, as they will no longer feel hedged in by long-term commitments of the Service.
In this context the House might wish me to say a little more about the new system for the centralised selection of recruits for the Army, which I touched on very briefly on 23rd February during 787 the course of the defence debate. There are now three central selection centres, one at Sutton Coldfield for adults and two for juniors at Harrogate and Corsham. The recruit spends two and a half days at the centre as an intermediate step between his enlistment at the Army Careers Information Office and his eventual arrival at a training unit.
The aim of the system is to select and allocate the recruits to arms, services and divisions of infantry and to trade groups, where applicable, according to their interests and abilities and the needs of the Army. During his time at the centre the recruit is told about the Army, where in it one may serve, what jobs the Army does, where it trains, and other features of Army life. This is intended to enable him to make a properly informed choice for himself, and I am sure that is right. Aptitude tests and interviews help the Army, of course, to decide for which job the recruit is best suited. I think the new scheme is working well. The benefits are a better informed recruit and a more satisfied soldier. Ultimately, of course, potential recruits will be attracted to the Army as a career and persuaded to stay on if they believe that it is a worthwhile job, and if their conditions of service are good.
We believe that we have done a good deal during the past year to give defence, and all who play their part in it, its proper place as an essential and integral part of the fabric of the nation. I think that the public in general have come to recognise this. Especially, the public are coming to recognise what the Army offers a man today.
After 26 years of relative peace, for this country at any rate, and more than 10 years without national service, it would be strange if many members of the public did not have an old-fashioned, if not a rather curious, concept of the British soldier and Army life today. There have been many changes in those years, changes in the sociological sense. On the whole I would say—and this is not true of every society and every country—that the soldier of the 70s is well regarded in our country. He is known to be a volunteer, and we like this volunteer spirit, and he is certainly professional. He is increasingly sought after by British industry, because the standards of technical 788 training in the Army are so high. More than this: people are coming to recognise that in the trained soldier they have a good citizen.
I do not suppose that "Social Trends" is a popular piece of reading, but it points out, for example, that while national crime rates have been rising dramatically over the past decade, crime rates in the Army have actually fallen. In 1962 they were almost exactly at the same level. Now the rate in civil courts is nearly three times that in courts martial. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides have probably seen an article by Michael Blacklock, an Army officer, in The Timesrecently, in which he reminded us that General Sir John Hackett had said:What a society gets in its Aimed Services is exactly what it asks for, no more no less. What it asks for tends to be a reflection of what it is. When a country looks at its fighting forces, it is looking in a mirror; if the mirror is true, the face that it sees there will be its own.I believe this to be true, and what the mirror reflects today says a good deal for the quality of man and the standard of man-management of the Army.
I do not intend, in the time available to me, to recite all the improvements in conditions of service that have been introduced over the past year. Most of them are set out clearly in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, and I shall mention only a few.
As I have said, we believe that the new notice engagement will attract more recruits and help to encourage more soldiers to extend their service. Pay and allowances have been improved, and the results of the first two-yearly review of pay by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body will be available shortly. We are giving a good deal of attention to improving conditions of service in the B.A.O.R., and I have read with very great interest what the Expenditure Committee has had to say on htis subject in its Second Report in Session 1971–72.
I do not, of course, wish to pre-empt the outcome of the Committee's recommendations, because they are still being studied within the Ministry of Defence and our conclusions will be the subject of a separate report later on. I would only say now that the problem of administrative support for the increasing number of dependants in Germany, to which the Committee drew particular 789 attention—and I am most grateful to it for this—is in the forefront of our minds, and a good deal has already been done. For example, plans have already been made to obtain more quarters; I have already mentioned that we have been able to obtain more doctors; and we have recently authorised the recruitment of more S.S.A.F.A. nursing sisters. Although more remains to be done to improve conditions of service in the Army, I believe that 1971 was a year of solid achievement.
The House will, I know, understand that our resources are limited. We cannot do just what we want. There are many competing demands on the money that is available. Unhappily, therefore, we have, as other Departments have, a rigid system of priorities, but we shall continue to keep those priorities under review and introduce further improvements wherever and whenever we can. If we do not, we shall not get the contented Army—which is so vital for us—and maintain recruitment.
Turning to equipment, compared with my hon. Friends—certainly my hon. Friend who opened the debate on the Air Estimates and my hon. Friend who opens the debate on the Navy Estimates—I can say nothing on the Army equipment that will arouse quite the same interest as an M.R.C.A. or a Jaguar, or provoke the passions of an "Eagle", but I make no apologies for briefly reminding the House of the equipment that the Army has on the stocks.
The Army has a deserved reputation for being among the best equipped in Western Europe, and we are anxious to preserve and enhance that reputation. The new family of tracked and wheeled armoured reconnaissance vehicles to replace the Saladin armoured car and the Ferret scout car is now a reality. The first Scorpions have already been delivered, and during the next year they will go into service with the first armoured reconnaissance regiment. The Scorpion mounts the 76 mm. gun, which is effective even against heavy tanks. It will be closely followed by the Fox, which is a wheeled version, and by the tracked Scimitar, both carrying the lighter 30 mm. cannon, which is effective against all light-armoured vehicles. Other versions specifically designed as anti-tank weapons, recovery vehicles, personnel 790 carriers, command posts, general liaison and reconnaissance and ambulances will follow in the next few years. It is part of a large and expanding family.
The new British-designed 105 mm. light gun has, after some setbacks, now been accepted for service. It has considerably greater range and lethality than the existing Italian pack howitzer, or, indeed, any gun of its weight and calibre. It will go into production next year and will be in service in two or three years' time. We think that in its own class it is a world beater, and we hope to be able to sell it abroad.
In the anti-tank field, the Swingfire long-range guided weapon system will be fully in service with all armoured regiments. This weapon system will be fitted to a version of the new light-tracked reconnaisance vehicle called Striker, for service with armoured reconnaisance regiments, in the next two to three years; and mounted on normal vehicles it has already come into service with units of Strategic Command.
The Rapier low-level air defence guided weapon system will be issued to training establishments and will shortly be followed by an operational version. Development of a radar attachment to give the system a night-fighting capability is far advanced. It is intended to supplement this with the Blowpipe, which is a man-portable guided weapon system for unit self-defence in daytime against low-flying aircraft and helicopters. This is now in an advanced stage of development and some successful trials with it have been carried out. It, too, should be in service in about two years' time. Night fighting and vision aids are being given priority.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The hon. Gentleman said that something would be in service in two years' time; was it the Blowpipe?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
Yes, I was referring to the Blowpipe.
Issues have been made of the ZB 298 light-weight radar for surveillance and target acquisition tasks against moving vehicles and men at battle group level. This will be supplemented by a close-range radar being developed for use at combat team level. A new mortar-locating radar to replace the existing Green Archer is also being developed.
791 Night vision aids coming into service include a British individual weapon sight to follow on the interim purchase of the American Starlight-scope, crew served weapon sights for infantry heavy anti-tank weapons, night driving periscopes for armoured vehicles and night observation devices, which are complementary to field radars.
First deliveries of the Gazelle light helicopter, which is the second of three in the Anglo-French package deal will be received this year. Work has started on the development of a version of the Swingfire anti-tank guided weapon adapted for fitting to helicopters. It is hoped that this will be the successor to the interim purchase of the French SS11 at present fitted to some Scout helicopters, with which hon. Members are familiar.
The first manpack radio sets in the new Clansmen family are now in production. This basically consists of six sets, HF and VHF, manpack and vehicle-borne which form a small family of fully inter-operable radios which will be compatible with the new automatic trunk communication system now in its early stages of development.
There are, of course, a large number of other equipments coming into service and under development. I have mentioned some of the more interesting items to illustrate that the balanced equipment programme for the Army is making satisfactory progress.
§ Mr. Dalyell
To what extent is the M.R.C.A. type aircraft vulnerable to Rapier? It has been argued that Rapier is very effective against an M.R.C.A. type weapon in its low flying rôle. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to deal with that off the cuff, but will he perhaps refer to it in winding up? With all these weapons can we be assured that there has been some effort in the last year to standardise on a N.A.T.O. or Western European basis? Does the hon. Gentleman accept the criticism that here we are still making weapons of our own without any real effort to standardise on parts with our N.A.T.O. and Western European allies?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I will certainly deal with both those points in winding up. I do not want the hon. Gentleman 792 or any hon. Member to think that we do not make efforts and that we have had no success whatsoever in standardising equipment with our N.A.T.O. allies. We attach great importance to avoiding duplication of effort.
§ Mr. John Morris
Is it correct that since the Labour Government left office there have been no arrangements for any new production of weapons for the Army? What proposals are there, for example, now that the present production of Chieftains is coming to an end except forthe foreign order, for new production arrangements or for the next generation of tanks for this country and Germany?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
There have been initiatives on tanks, and if the right hon. Member wishes me to deal with this in my winding-up speech I will do so.
Before turning to Northern Ireland, I will spend a moment or two on our reserve forces. Our policy towards the TAVR has been to strengthen it by providing flexibility so that it can meet the unforeseen with trained units geared to a quick response. The new units of the TAVR began to recruit from 1st April last year, and it is very satisfactory indeed to find that 10 months later they have succeeded in reaching over half their establishment. This progress has been achieved without adversely affecting the other units of the TAVR, and what we need now is to forge ahead and bring all units—old and new—up to full strength.
Rapid expansion has necessarily brought administrative problems, but these we have tackled and, I think, very largely overcome in conjunction with the magnificent support of the TAVR associations in the fields for which they are responsible. We have made one change to the plans initially introduced. With effect from 1st April this year the new units in the infantry rôle will have five additional training days per man.
I should also like to record the value we attach to the A.C.F. and C.C.F. Some 20 per cent, of our recruits to the Regular Army have former cadet service, and we shall continue to do all we can to encourage service with the cadet forces.
I turn now to the Ulster Defence Regiment. Steady progress in expansion continues to be made by the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is now almost 793 at a strength of 8,000—as the House heard at Question Time—with about 700 in the pipeline. The regiment is now organised in 10 battalions with 50 companies. We keep under constant review the formation of new units and sub-units to match the regiment's growing strength and commitments throughout the Province. Thus, we have just approved the formation of two additional companies, one in the 2nd (Armagh) Battalion and the other in the 7th (Belfast) Battalion. The increases will give these battalions six companies each.
I should like to place on record that the regiment's recruitment, discipline and spirit have been in no way adversely affected by the recent brutal murders of members of the regiment. Its roll of honour now contains 11 names of men killed either on or off duty. I know the House will wish to join me in voicing the whole nation's condemnation of these acts and deep sympathy with the wives, children, relatives and comrades of the victims. Sometimes those deaths occurred in front of members of the victim's family. Those responsible will do well to reflect on the ineffectiveness of their campaign and on the determination it inspires.
We can only express again our respect for these men who represent the feelings of the peaceable majority in Northern Ireland and who have the courage and constancy to give their service and all too often their lives.
Attrition of the I.R.A.'s strength by the security forces continues, and this is one reason why the I.R.A. has begun to arm young boys. Hon. Members will recall that one boy estimated to be no more than 12 to 14 years of age was found at the end of February with a loaded carbine in his possession. The growing use of inexperienced young people by the I.R.A. is also shown by premature explosions, such as the one which killed four terrorists in a car last month and the one in a house in Clonard Street last week which killed three or four more.
There are indications of increasing hostility on the part of ordinary Catholic people in some parts of Belfast towards the I.R.A.—and there have been instances of members of the I.R.A. youth organisation being set upon by local people because of their acts of vandalism. I assure the House that the Army fully 794 recognises the tremendous strains under which these people are living. That is why the Army will continue, through community relations, to make every possible contact with all moderate members of the community. I know of the work being done in this respect. Perhaps one of the best examples was that of Father Weston, tragically murdered at Aldershot, who spent his time when in Ulster talking to civilian clergy and to Catholics in the streets and truly earned his decoration for doing all possible to cool inflamed passions and restore a little peace to troubled areas.
Talking of peace, the temporary truce proclaimed by the provisional I.R.A. last weekend demonstrated, so the I.R.A. claimed, that it did not pursue violence for the sake of violence. But what sort of truce was it? Was it as peaceful as all that? There were certainly few major explosions murdering civilians for 72 hours. But planning was going ahead for the next batch of killings to take place as soon as the so-called truce was over. At the same time shooting was approaching the level of an average weekend—there were 27 incidents against an average of 35. We know that violence can end for good in Northern Ireland just as soon as those responsible for it stop.
A great deal of attention has been given, both inside and outside this House, to the conditions in which our troops in Northern Ireland are having to serve. As I explained during the debate on Northern Ireland on 25th November, 1971, the rapid increase in force levels in Northern Ireland has caused problems. I said that we were doing all we could to improve conditions, and I am pleased to say that considerable progress has been made since then. Five temporary camps which can accommodate 1,000 troops have been built and occupied, and more are planned. Mobile accommodation has been made available, and another ship, the "Hartland Point", has recently been berthed in Belfast harbour to provide better accommodation for up to 600 men.
I am bound to say that I have been most grateful—and I know the Army has—for the interest taken by hon. Members in the welfare of troops in Northern Ireland. During the defence debate on 23rd February the hon. Member for 795 Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) raised the question of leave travel by air for troops to visit their families in Germany, as have a number of my hon. Friends. I am grateful to them for doing this, and I am pleased to be able to tell the House today that a scheme is being planned for married Servicemen to fly direct to Germany on short leave for no more than £3.50 return.
The good will of the general public towards the troops has been most marked. This was particularly apparent in their response to various appeals which were made before Christmas, and we are also grateful for the interest shown by the newspapers. But we have ourselves done a lot to try to improve conditions of service for our troops. The main improvements have been set out in the White Paper.
The House will, of course, be aware of the range of personal protective clothing and equipment that has been made available. Other developments have attracted less publicity. The troops now have an impressive variety of specialist equipment to help them track down and deal with terrorists, their weapons and their bombs. For example, they have a number of night vision and other surveillance devices, and intruder alarms to warn of terrorist movements. There is a good range of photographic equipment, including infra-red cameras. Search devices, such as the explosive "sniffer", and metal detectors are available to help in the hunt for terrorist weapons and explosives.
The Army bomb disposal teams have a variety of specialist equipment to help them in their vital tasks. Some of them I have seen, and some are very advanced, but it is risky and dangerous work, and, unfortunately, this equipment does not prevent the sort of incident that caused the tragic death of two bomb-disposal personnel only yesterday. I know that the whole House would like me to express on its behalf our sympathy to the families of the two soldiers concerned.
So far as the general attitude of the Army is concerned, we all know the stress under which the men live and the provocation to which they are subjected. But these conditions should not obscure the fact—and the Army knows this—that it is their duty to be impartial, to be concerned 796 only with those who break the law, and at all times to strive to carry out their task with patience, restraint and courage.
The spirit of the troops remains high. They know that they are doing a very necessary job, and they know that they are doing it well; and I know that they carry with them the continued admiration and respect of this House. This is true not only of the Army in Northern Ireland. I have been privileged to see the Army at close quarters in most parts of the world during the past year, and I can assure the House that it is in very good shape.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
In the course of his initial remarks the Under-Secretary of State for the Army sought to dispel the picture of the Armed Services today which, as he put it, was somewhat traditional, and he amplified this in the course of his remarks. I was reminded of a large billboard which I saw in the precincts of the naval offices in Norfolk, Virginia, last week with a picture of a man with shoulder-length hair and a large caption reading "The Navy has changed, so you need not". It do not know whether the Government feel that they need to go to such lengths to attract recruits in the light of the developments which there have been in recruiting in the course of this year—developments which we all welcome.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Army did not concentrate his remarks this afternoon exclusively on the rô the Army has been called upon to play in Northern Ireland in the past 12 months, and I think the House understood his reasons for this. There is now, of course, the expectation that we shall have a debate on the developing political situation on Monday, and it is for that reason and because it would be difficult to bring every issue which is germane to the discussion of Northern Ireland properly within the consideration of the Army Estimates that I shall follow the Minister's lead in this respect.
None the less, it is in Northern Ireland that our soldiers have borne the greatest burden of active service during the past year, and I must therefore begin by expressing the deepening concern of the 797 Opposition not just at the political consequences in Northern Ireland of the Government's handling of the situation but at the possible consequences for the Army itself of the untoward delay in bringing forward proposals for a new political initiative.
During the debate on the Government's White Paper on Defence I paid a high tribute, on behalf of the Opposition, to the courage and patience of the soldiers of the many units which have now served in Northern Ireland. On that occasion I took the opportunity to remark on the extreme difficulty of the different rôles which the Army has had to carry out, particularly in giving support to the civil authorities in seeking to restore peace in Northern Ireland.
At the time of that debate it appeared that the Government were on the brink of announcing new political proposals which it was reasonable to hope would bring, among some other possibilities, a prospect of lightening the Army's load. I thought that whatever the differences between the Government and the Opposition about the handling of the situation—and there were important differences—it was common ground between us that there could be no purely military solution. Notwithstanding the remarks at Question Time today of the Minister of Defence I feel bound to draw attention to the fact that since that debate there have been disturbing indications of pressures exerted upon the Government to drive them from that position.
Last week the Press carried reports of a meeting of the Conservative Home Policy Committee which I can only hope were misrepresentations, although I fear they were not. If it is the case that there are influential Conservative voices calling upon the Government to postpone its political initiatives until the Army has accomplished certain objectives, I must urge the Government to stand firm in their resolve to seek a political solution.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I should just like to draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that, as I am sure he is aware, in the past two years in Northern Ireland some 270 people have been killed and in the past seven months one person has been killed and 10 people have been injured every day. That is an appalling total—some 798 20 to 30 people killed and 200 to 300 people seriously injured and taken to hospital each month. When the party opposite were in Government the situation was dealt with by armed police and the Ulster Special Constabulary, but as a result of the Hunt Committee's Report the police were civilianised and disarmed and therefore the Army is now the only line of defence against the irresponsible I.R.A. hooligans who do not even listen to the exhortations of their own Church.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I think it unfortunate that the hon. Member should make such a lengthy intervention when he will perhaps have an opportunity to make a speech later and that he should misrepresent the views of the Opposition in this way. We are as aware as he is of the tragic toll of human life which the events in Northern Ireland have taken over the two years since the Army was sent to Ireland by the then Labour Government.
What I was seeking to urge upon the Government was that they must stand firm in their resolve to seek a political solution and they must not make political advance dependent upon a particular stage being reached in a war of attrition by I.R.A. terrorists.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
This is a very important point. Does my hon. Friend realise that there was a political solution, that all the demands of the civil rights people were granted; that this was put into operation, and the Army was sent there as a non-political force to see that it was carried out? Then the I.R.A. intervened precisely because it did not want a political settlement, and no political settlement can be acceptable to the I.R.A.
§ Mr. Maclennan
If my hon. and learned Friend were correct in saying that a political solution is available, we should not have had to go through the harrowing experiences of the last two years. The Government's appeal in advancing political proposals must be made to the hundreds and thousands of decent men and women of good will in both communities who long for a way out of the present apparent impasse. It is my view that that appeal will not be strengthened by postponement.
The Minister knows that when I visited units of the Army in Northern Ireland a few weeks ago I had the opportunity 799 of meeting a number of senior officers on the ground. My right hon. and hon. Friends and myself were left in no doubt that the Army considered that its task would be made easier by the political initiative which even then was waited expectantly. The effectiveness of the Army's peace-keeping rôle, and still more its rôle in limiting the activities of the terrorists, depends in large measure on the co-operation of the communities themselves, but if despair of political advance seizes the minority community there is grave risk that effective co-operation will be withheld and that the Army will become even more deeply involved in a task foreign to its experience, a task for which no training can fully fit a modern army.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West) rose—
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am afraid I shall not give way. In these defence debates one is accustomed to interventions by the hon. Gentleman, and I have no doubt that he will have an opportunity to speak a little later. I have already given way three times in the first five minutes of my speech.
I fully recognise the qualities which the soldiers are bringing to their job and their good-humoured shouldering of their distasteful and dangerous duties. I hope the Government will not misunderstand me when I say that those of us in this House who care not only for the reputation but for the self-esteem of the Army must be disturbed by the possible long-term effect on the Army of its being called upon to carry a burden of this kind indefinitely in the absence of any prospect of a political settlement. I do not intend to labour this point.
Today morale is high and there is great credit in that. It is particularly remarkable that this is the case when one considers the living and operational conditions in which the soldiers find themselves. During the defence debate I put a couple of questions to the Undersecretary of State to which he did not at the time reply. I am glad that he has had the opportunity to reply today, and indeed has taken it to make his announcement that transport will be made available at very reasonable cost to fly troops to Germany directly for their 800 72-hour leave. This will be most welcome to all serving in the Province.
I am also aware of some of the steps which have been taken to improve sleeping and living accommodation, particularly in Belfast and Londonderry; but if things have not changed very dramatically in the last three weeks I suspect there is room for still further improvement. I hope the Minister and the Government will not lose any opportunity to take steps to remedy the situation.
There is a third point which has come to my notice and on which I should be grateful for a reply from the Government a little later in the debate. I understand that soldiers serving in Northern Ireland not only have to forgo normal living conditions and circumstances which they might reasonably expect in other postings, but in many cases they lose their overseas allowances, even though their families may still be resident abroad in Germany. Would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to consider making such adjustments in allowances to take account of this situation? It is recognised on all sides that, whatever political progress is made—and we must hope it will follow soon from a Government initiative—there will be need for the Army to remain in Northern Ireland for some time to come.
What steps are the Government taking to devise suitable training for soldiers who are due to go to Northern Ireland in future? In so far as the Army is acting as a back-up force for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, its task is highly sensitive. If the Army is to take a policing rôle, is the Minister satisfied that all is being done in the way of training of soldiers in police methods, for example in crowd control?
The main task of the Army today is to serve as Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O. defence in Western Europe. The strain which commitments in Northern Ireland place on our fulfilment of this rôle should not be exaggerated but none the less it is real.
The Second Report of the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee of this House mentions not only the present happily diminished shortfall of troop strength in B.A.O.R. of some 2½ per cent., but also the inevitable disruption of training caused by the diversion 801 of infantry units for six months from their main rôle. I fear that this is unavoidable, but most serious in the Committee's opinion was the doubt whether the units in Germany could carry out their operational rôle if a sudden emergency were to occur owing to the fact that units are not at full strength and due to the inevitable uncertainty about whether B.A.O.R. would get its reserves in time.
I do not ask the hon. Gentleman to reply to that point today because the Government intend to produce their own report. However, I express the hope that they will reply fully on this matter in due course. While the upturn in recruitment will probably help B.A.O.R., I hope the Government will take the opportunity to allay anxiety which is felt on both sides of the House on this matter. The problem goes to the heart of N.A.T.O.'s strategy of flexible response, and the Government's White Paper is strangely silent on this problem.
In the last year the Government have completed the process of withdrawing British forces from the Gulf, in my view entirely in line with the policy adumbrated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). I do not need to linger over this remarkable conversion in Conservative defence philosophy, save to welcome it and to marvel at the bland effortlessness with which Conservative Ministers have apparently digested mountains of eaten words.
The Opposition are less admiring of the Government's decision to maintain a token battalion group in Singapore. It is hard to see how such a decision can be justified in defence terms and one fears that the welcome which it has received from the Prime Minister of Singapore may reveal a miscalculation of the limited support which the United Kingdom would be prepared to give in the event of an emergency there.
The Minister has spoken of the advantages of co-operation and of jungle training. However, it seems that it was not strictly necessary to enter into this arrangement to participate in the new Malaysian jungle school. He referred to operations involving military aid to the civil community. The Labour Party has always regarded this as of immense value both for training purposes, because these activities do much to foster an understanding 802 of the training the Army can offer and this may have an application in civilian life. I was interested to learn of the number of valuable exercises in the developing world in which the Royal Engineers have been engaged over the last year.
The scale of these operations is relatively modest. It was good to learn that the Government intend to participate in the exercise of rebuilding bridges in Bangladesh. I am in agreement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson), that while we welcome this in principle we must regard it as a somewhat modest contribution to the enormous task which has to be undertaken in that country. There are literally hundreds of smashed bridges, destroyed by the war, in the Bramaputra Delta. I hope that the success of this venture, if it is proved and proved quickly, will lead to a considerable expansion of this effort.
What is the present thinking of the Government about the possibility of earmarking and equipping a unit of our Army for service abroad in the event of international disasters, along the lines of the earmarking by the Labour Government of troops for United Nations service if they should be so required? Such a force might have considerable appeal to young people and serve to encourage recruitment.
On recruitment, the Government understandably take considerable satisfaction from the trends of the past year. Negatively, this is attributable to the failure of the Government's economic policy to staunch the flow of workers from manufacturing industrial employment. Positively, it owes much to the introduction of the revised rates of pay and to the concept of the military salary introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East. I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that the second phase of this increase, due to be made in April, will not fall a victim to the Government's inequitable policy of controlling inflation through curtailing wage increases in the public sector. That would be quite monstrous.
The Opposition also welcomes the Services' review of their engagement structures. As a member of the Latey Committee on the Age of Majority, along 803 with the hon. and learned Solicitor-General, I have long taken an interest in the conditions attached to the service of boy entrants. I welcome the extension of the flexibility introduced following the Donaldson Report. The decision to permit young entrants to opt at the age of 18 for the "notice engagement" permitting them to choose to give 18 months' notice after 18 months' productive service is particularly welcome. Can the Minister say in winding up if this 18 months' productive service runs from the moment of entry in the case of the under-18 year-old entrant or from the date of his eighteenth birthday? All in all, I believe that this new flexibility will be a welcome stimulus to recruitment and. as the Minister said, to staying on in the Services.
I now turn to a matter of considerable importance, to which the Under-Secretary referred in his speech, namely, the Government's decision on Army officer cadet training. Firstly, I must make a strong protest about the manner in which these decisions have been arrived at and the way in which the Government have communicated them to this House. The content and duration of the training of officer cadets is not a subject which requires to be treated by the Government as top secret. Nevertheless, the Government appear to have rushed into these decisions with absolutely no public discussion, and far less consultation with this House.
It is completely unacceptable that the Government should make such a far-reaching announcement by means of the Answer to a Written Question which it gave two days ago. The existing pattern of education of officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, was established as recently as 1969. This drastic shake-up, which the Government have announced in such summary fashion, does not flow from public disquiet about the content or duration of officer cadet training. Indeed, it is hard to see how the present arrangements, so recently introduced, could have had time to prove themselves.
It is true that for some months now there have been murmuring of disquiet in certain Army circles about the recommendations of the Tillard Working Party on Officer Cadet Training, but the Government 804 have given no inkling of an idea that they were seriously dissatisfied with the educational arrangements at Mons and Sandhurst. The decisions announced on Tuesday have all the marks of being ill-considered, hurried, and having been taken without adequate consultation. In effect, they will result in the majority of regular officers in the Army receiving substantially less education to meet the increasingly heavy and sophisticated requirements of their profession. They will result, I believe, in the British Army's Regular officers receiving less education than the Regular forces of any other of the allied Western countries.
I must ask the Government what educational considerations they had in mind in making these changes. The statement made by the Minister encourages the belief that the Government are more concerned with recruiting figures in this exercise than with the educational purposes of the training available to the officer corps. They must be asked if, by cutting the educational opportunities at Sandhurst, the Minister really believes that he will succeed in attracting greater numbers of candidates of high quality.
The Minister has indicated that the Army will seek to continue to recruit its full share of university graduates. But will not these non-university officer cadets entering this new shortened course at Sandhurst now be seriously deficient in education as compared with their university opposite numbers, and will they not come to recognise this fact? Furthermore, if the Army is to be largely officered by men who have received only the shortest serious post-school education, will this not in itself diminish the attractiveness of a career in the Army to the young graduate? Is there not a risk that the supply of graduates which the Minister hopes to recruit may by this action be substantially diminished?
I recognise that there is more than one route to a commission in the Army, and that the present system is not without its anomalies and inequities. I am bound to say, however, that what the Government propose appears not to eliminate the problem but rather to accentuate the differences between the university entrants and the non-university entrants.
The Minister's statement as to the contents of the new shortened academic 805 courses was remarkably opaque. What is to happen to language training? Is it seriously argued that this can be usefully accomplished in the initial six months' period of academic training? That seems a singularly inopportune time to take this decision in the expectation in the minds of Government that we shall be engaged on closer co-operation in the developing European sphere.
The initial six months' training period prior to the commission is apparently to be non-academic, but to be followed after the commission is received by a six months' period of academic training. It must be seriously doubted whether that truncated period of academic training can be of real educational value at all. It will make possible only the most hurried of outline courses, and can hardly provide the opportunity to train the young officer to exercise the judgment he will need to be able to bring to his profession in the years ahead. It is remarkable that at a time when our society is increasingly recognising the desirability of higher education, not only in business and the professions, and seeking to expand these opportunities, that the Government should put the process into reverse in the Army, and turn the clock back to the beginning of the century.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will deal with some of the points raised by the lion. Gentleman, but at the moment I do not think this point should go without correction. The Army is not expecting to have a large proportion of its officers trained through university. In fact, we estimate that some 40 per cent. of our officers will have gone through universities, which will be a higher proportion than any of the other Armed Services.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I have already given my reasons for believing that the Minister's expectations will be somewhat disappointed if he creates a divided-officer class. Incidentlly, as matters stand, the average British officer in the Army will be less well educated if this scheme is pursued than his opposite numbers in our other Armed Services. But perhaps the Minister will be able to indicate whether the Government have similar proposals in mind for the Navy and Royal Air Force as well.
806 I turn finally to the equipment of the Army. The last few years have seen considerable progress which will improve the effectiveness of Britain's contribution to N.A.T.O. within the European Development Improvement Programme. The re-equipment of B.A.O.R. with Chieftain tanks is near completion, I understand, and the re-equipping of B.A.O.R. with the Swingline anti-tank guided missile is well under way. More powerful ammunition is being introduced in the artillery, and training has begun in the use of the Rapier low-level air defence system. The Minister said that Rapier training was to begin in two years' time. However, from experience in my own constituency I know that the Royal Air Force at least is preparing for its participation in this training already.
Looking to the future, the Army will be equipped with the new range of light armoured vehicles known as C.V.R.T.s—combat vehicle reconnaisance (tracked)—of which the first is the Scorpion. I think it is clear that this country is making a creditable contribution to the European Defence Improvement Programme. However, there are a number of question marks over the future.
Notwithstanding the assertion of this Government on taking office that the day of the axe was over for defence, in practice the Government have demonstrated that they intend at present to keep a fairly tight control over the defence budget and that whatever their differences at the margin with the priorities of the former Labour Government, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have at last recognised the force of the Labour Government's case for concentrating our defence effort in Europe.
However, there are serious dangers of cost escalation ahead which could put considerable pressure upon the budgetary ceiling at present proposed. I was very interested to read in the most recent report of the United States Senate Armed Services Committee of the concern in the United States over the proportion of the defence budget which increasingly is being spent upon manpower costs. That report, in which I believe that this House would be interested, stated on page 16:By the mid-1970s, given the costs of attempting to establish an all-volunteer military, manpower costs could approach two-thirds of the entire defence budget, even if the military forces are reduced by several hundred 807 thousand below the current levels. This manpower cost growth, coupled with the effects of inflation and of reducing the overall budget share available for defence, would mean that we would face serious difficulties in having sufficient quantities of weaponry even if our new weapon systems were only to cost as much as the systems they must replace.These problems face not only the United States but ourselves, and if a firm control of the defence budget is to be maintained and the Army not to be under-equipped, it calls for a most rigorous exercise in rationalisation and standardisation of production and procurement.
The Opposition welcomed the setting up of the new Procurement Executive in August of last year under the chairmanship of Mr. Derek Rayner as a most useful step in this process. This major new department is effectively responsible for spending more than £1,000 million per annum on the procurement of equipment items for all the Armed Services and for the employment of some 52,000 workers engaged in defence research and development and production. I hope that a very full written report of the activities and policies of the new department will be made available to this House at least at yearly intervals so that we can subject its activities to the closest scrutiny to determine whether its objectives are being achieved. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say a word about this later.
However, there is another important area in which the Opposition look for rationalisation of production and procurement to make the fullest economies possible. That is in international co-operation, especially with our European allies in the Eurogroup of N.A.T.O. Hitherto, this co-operation has been confined largely to aerospace in such ventures as the Jaguar jet strike trainer, the Puma, Gazelle and Lynx helicopters, the Martell guided missile and, of course, the M.R.C.A. The defence White Paper at least pays lip-service to the need to extend these collaborative projects for arms procurement, and it mentions especially the work of the Eurogroup in this connection. I hope that the Minister will be more specific about this.
It is clear from the White Paper, however, that although the Government have provided at a national level for detailed consultations about future requirements with our domestic industry, no such 808 formal arrangements exist, as they do within the National Defence Industries Council, for the kind of international exploration of needs on a multi-national Government-to-company basis. There are very real difficulties in this. However, if this operation is to succeed contacts of that sort must be established. Many of our own companies doubtless will be establishing their own connections with continental-based companies and, it may be, even establishing continental bases of production themselves. But I put it to the Government that staff talks within the Euro group are not enough if this matter of joint procurement and standardisation is to proceed beyond platitudinous expressions of good intention. It is vital that we seek to establish the multinational approach with the direct involvement of all European companies concerned as well as with our own arms suppliers.
I conclude by expressing the Opposition's firm hope that the year ahead will prove less arduous for our Army than has this past year, especially in Northern Ireland. The British Army's adaptability is perhaps its most remarkable attribute. We politicians can admire this quality, but we must not abuse it. The Army has borne the tragic losses of many young lives this year with a fortitude which commands our respect. We have a high responsibility to them, and we must not shirk it.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) began by saying that he would not discuss the situation in Northern Ireland, and he went on to do so at what I thought was considerable length. He was eventually answered by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and brought up short fairly effectively. I shall not follow the line which the hon. Gentleman took, because there are other aspects of the Army Estimates with which I wish to deal. I say quite simply that, with regard to the talk about the delay in any political initiative or move, I should much prefer to see time taken to get the right move and the rightinitiative, if there is to be one, than to see a rushed solution which might not be acceptable to either side and which 809 might result in laying yet further burdens on our forces in Ulster.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army gave us a wide-ranging and interesting review of the activities of the Army and of his Department. I am sure the House will want to congratulate him. His news about Sapper help to Bangladesh received an undeservedly qualified welcome. Having had an opportunity last summer to see at first hand from a helicopter the very extensive and highly professional demolitions which were carried out on some of the main communications in Bangladesh in terms of roads and railways, it seems to me that the prime need in that direction is not for manpower, of which there is plenty, but for know how. I believe that nine experts, with all the available hands, of which there are many, will be able to achieve a great deal.
Unlike the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, I want to welcome my hon. Friend's announcement about the reorganisation of the Sandhurst courses. Without claiming any profound knowledge, it seems sensible, when Sandhurst is half empty, to collocate, I think the word is, Mons alongside it in order that a place which has unrivalled technical and other facilities for the education and training of young officers should be fully used. This is sensible and will be welcomed.
It was possible to detect, in the justifiably cautious words of my hon. Friend, something that one recalls as a certain tension between the academic and the military side of Sandhurst regarding the length and organisation of the curriculum. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland stated the full rigour of the academic case. However, I think that my hon. Friend struck a better balance. I should be surprised if, when the length of the academic course is finally determined, it does not find wide acceptance. I certainly hope that this move will succeed in increasing the number of officer entrants to the Army.
I turn now to other rank recruiting. The most satisfactory feature of this year's Estimates is the restoration of recruiting to extremely good levels. We spent many years in Opposition listening to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen retailing the increasingly unsatisfactory recruiting picture and saying that it was 810 impossible, for various reasons, to do anything about it. We always thought that it ought to be possible to improve it, and it is extremely satisfactory that my hon. Friend has shown that it is possible and that it has been done.
I should be surprised if it were thought that unemployment has been in any way a decisive factor in securing this improvement. I recall that in the post-National Service recruiting drive we used to get analyses by areas of the country of the numbers of recruits coming from each district. Surprisingly, the East Midlands, which was almost invariably the district with the highest rate of employment, where often there were many vacancies to be filled, used to do best in point of number of recruits per head of the population, whereas Northern Ireland, where even then there was chronic unemployment, was among the worst of the areas. Since then I have tended to discount the theory that unemployment is in any way a decisive factor in recruiting.
I suppose that a considerable factor has been the availability now of a three-year engagement, if young men want to go in for that, and the recently improved pay and conditions. If so, it needs saying that there are snags to successful recruiting which is founded on the principle of the availability of a short engagement. We do not need Lord Wigg to remind us, though he frequently did in times gone by, that what counts when thinking of the continuing strength of an Army is not just the numbers of men that we are able to enlist, but the numbers of man years we are able to persuade each of them to sign on for. If there are large numbers of men, joining on three-year engagements, as I think there are now, it follows that it is vital to get them in as large a number as possible to prolong their service.
I examined with interest the figures for the prolongation of service in Table 5 on page 48 of the Estimates. If I charge my memory right—my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—I think that the rate tends to be somewhat less satisfactory than in the past. I seem to recall that a 60 per cent. rate of re-engagement used to be considered adequate or, at any rate, satisfactory. I see now that the average tends to be about the 55 per cent. mark. If that is wrong, I am sure 811 that the House will welcome more information from my hon. Friend.
There is another factor in the present situation regarding recruiting which could be a source of difficulty later. It is generally accepted by those who have studied this matter that if we take a slice of the male population between the ages of 15 and 25, there is probably at any one time only a given proportion of that slice who can be induced to join the Army or any of the Services, and that proportion tends to be fairly constant from year to year. In other words, an economist might say that the supply of recruits is inelastic. If that is true, as I think it is, it follows that when we have two good years we tend to skim off the cream and reduce the number of the pool available to join as recruits later.
This is even more worrying in the present situation. Normally the pool is topped up with a fresh number of young men reaching the age of 15. I see from another table in the Estimates that 20 per cent. of our recruits recently came from the 15-year olds. However, with the raising of the school leaving age, there will be a year in which there will be no topping up from the 15-year-old age group. Were I in my hon. Friend's shoes I should be worried about this situation and be endeavouring to put a certain amount of pressure on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to allow for a year at one of the junior soldiers establishments to count, for those who wish to take it, as the final year at school.
I know, for example, that the Army Apprentices College in my constituency provides, as well as a good military training, a first-class general education. I suspect that many of the other Services junior establishments do the same. I suggest that it would be reasonable to allow young men to opt for that kind of life for their final year at school rather than to be forced to continue under the auspices of the Department of Education and Science. I realise that this kind of suggestion generates enormous heat in a place like Whitehall and that it probably will not be accepted. None the less, I put it as a suggestion which might be worth pursuing.
Our main objectives when we were in opposition were to restore the level of 812 recruiting, to halt the rundown of the Army, to restore the four doomed battalions, and to expand the reserves. After two years, these objectives have been successfully achieved, and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on what they have done. Incidentally, what has been done makes nonsense of a great many of the statements made by, for example, the Secretary of State for Defence in the Labour Government about the difficulties of recruiting owing to the manpower situation. A great deal of what was then said now looks remarkably stupid.
My hon. Friend referred briefly to the reserves. I am sure that his announcement of the five additional training days per man will be very welcome, especially north of the Border, where these opportunities are much valued. Incidentally, the figures on page 49 of the White Paper of the strengths of the reserves suggest that they are in total increasing reasonably satisfactorily. If one discounts the 117,000 or so Army general reservists, most of whom must by now be fairly long in tooth, the 118,500 Regular and TAVR reservists who are left seem to represent a much more satisfactory total than some years back. I hope that this is as much a matter for rejoicing as it seems.
I should like finally to draw my hon. Friend's attention to what seems to be an anomaly in connection with the pensions of war widows. He will be aware of this, and it is something which deserves another look and which should be put right. Our Election manifesto said:Special treatment will be given to war pensioners and their widows.This pledge has been carried out almost 100 per cent., and we are grateful to the Government for having seen that this is done. But it has not been carried out in the case of those war widows whose husbands' deaths occurred before 1st September, 1950.
There are not many of them, but they are an anomaly and they are not getting special treatment in the sense that the House has always thought it fair that those who have lost their husbands in the service of their country should have special treatment. They are getting the same treatment as the ordinary Service widow.
813 Widowhood after 1st September, 1950, carries with it a war widow's pension and a Forces' family pension. Widowhood before that date does not: it carries only one or the other, whichever is the more beneficial. This does not look fair or in accordance with our pledge.
I have seen some of the papers connected with this, because it has been raised with the Department by other hon. Friends of mine. I do not agree that putting it right would cause what the Department calls "unacceptable repercussions". The only thing which has been asked for is the addition of the Forces' family pension in the cases where there actually is entitlement, that is to say, in cases where the husband had 20 years' or more service.
This is a small but none the less important point of principle which I hope my hon. Friend will want to see put right. I hope that it is one in which he will interest himself and on which he will bring all the pressure he can to bear. Otherwise, as I said, I enjoyed, as I think the whole House did, my hon. Friend's review, and I would congratulate him on the work that he has been discharging.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Before we have all these discussions about a political solution, we should consider a little as to how and why our Army is in Northern Ireland. It is there partly as a result of an attempted political solution to a very reasonable agitation. The civil rights agitators who started the present round of troubles had a real case. The Catholic citizens of Northern Ireland had been treated as second-class citizens. They lacked their fairs hare of houses and of jobs and indeed, in effective terms, of votes. There were reasonable demands on their side.
The Labour Government at that time in power insisted that those demands should be met. In Captain O'Neill they probably had the best and most liberal minded Prime Minister that Northern Ireland has seen. There was, in fact, a political solution which would have been acceptable to the North. Part of that solution was the removal of the B Specials, who were something of a party army, who had a very rough record with the Catholics and of whom the Catholics were in pretty reasonable fear.
814 In order to put through the political settlement, the Army was sent in to protect the Catholics, so that they should be in no fear from this sectarian army but should have an Army which was impartial to all the sides and would guarantee the political freedom demanded by the civil rights movement and granted by Captain O'Neill.
It was at that point that the I.R.A. determined that there should not be a political solution—not just that political solution but any political solution.
In particular, one must remember that this was not the official I.R.A., who may be described as the "green Fascists", but the Provisional I.R.A., who may be described as the "green anarchists" or "Che Guevarists", the people who were determined to see that no political settlement emerged either in the North or in the South. They hated the clerical bourgeois Government of the South every bit as much as they hated the Government in the North.
While these people are operating, there just is no political solution, because there is none which is acceptable to them. The political solution which was acceptable to the other people was offered and available.
Let us consider for a moment what this I.R.A. campaign has amounted to. It has amounted to operations against the Army, sniping and booby traps. Booby traps are especially loathsome because they exploit the Army's attempts to protect the civil population. Bombs are laid which threaten not the Army but the civil population. Because the soldiers are prepared to risk their lives to save life, they may kill them that way.
Then there are the proceedings against the auxiliaries. The auxiliaries, of course, unlike the Army, are not in a defensible formation all the time. Thus we have the attacks on the undefended home, and the shooting of the father and his son the other day while the family were locked in the tool shed.
What does one do about this kind of thing? The heaviest attacks of all, and by far the heaviest casualties, are those which are inflicted simply on the public—and the Catholic public at that. That is done simply to create chaos for the Government. How can one have a political solution with that going on?
§ Mr. Maclennan
Would my hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that those of us who are advocating that a political initiative should be taken do not do so in the expectation that it will appeal to the extremists but rather in the hope that it will appeal to the many hundreds of thousands of members of the minority community, and indeed of the majority community, who are anxious to bring an end to this, and that, to a degree, the success of these terrorists, with whom no accommodation can be reached, depends upon at least the passive acquiesence of some of the members of the community to whom a political initiative might be calculated to appeal?
§ Mr. Paget
I do not think that there is anything between us at all. We are all wanting a political solution. I am merely pointing out that there can be no political solution until the I.R.A. has been dealt with.
It is true that the I.R.A. may in some measure have the sympathy of the population. The Irish are a romantic people. But far more effectively it has the fear of the majority. It is a terrorist organisation. All its killing and bombing does not have the sympathy of the public. I do not think we have had one charge, let alone a conviction, because witnesses are terrorised. Any jury would be terrorised, because a legal system is unworkable in the face of such terror.
I repeat that a political solution is not available as a means of dealing with this kind of terror. One could hand over the North to the South, but that would not satisfy them. They hate the Lynch Government every bit as much. Only when the I.R.A. is beaten will there be a settlement.
What are we doing to help our Army in the terribly difficult and straining task they face? If I were in the shoes of a soldier in Ulster I should be wondering on which side we were fighting. There was a riot in Derry in which our troops were fired on, bombed and in very way attacked. On that occasion the casualties were on the other side. But instead of giving three hearty cheers and congratulating our troops, we set up an inquiry and wasted the Army's time having to defend itself. I am glad that it has done that so well, as the evidence has shown, but it is not the kind of exercise in which our soldiers should have been engaged.
816 The Parker Inquiry swept in a lot of the I.R.A. Information was obtained which resulted in a great deal of explosives being rounded up. The information prevented explosives and guns from killing people and it also caught up with men who would otherwise have been out murdering. We set up an inquiry to investigate the methods by which that information was obtained, but even when a majority of the inquiry justified the methods, we accepted the minority report which did not.
At Question Time today we were told that in future interrogation will be based on the practices of the civil police. Cannot the Government realise that this is a slightly uncivil situation? When the police are looking for information, that is a leisurely procedure ending in a prosecution for a crime within a well-ordered community? In the present situation our troops are looking for information with the object of saving life. This information must be obtained quickly because if it is not, the guns and explosives will be used to kill people.
When the Government, coddling their liberal consciences, sit back and say, "We will use only those methods used by the civil police" they should realise how lethal liberalism is and that the blood of those people who die because the information is not obtained lies squarely on their hands.
I can tell the Government how to break the I.R.A. The methods I describe have been used by every Army faced with casualties from guerrillas. I use the simple word "reprisal". We have in custody several hundred members, some acknowledged officers, of both branches of the I.R.A. For each person killed by a bomb or sniper, within 72 hours one of those men would be executed unless the guilty party surrendered.
It would not be just a vague somebody who would be executed. I would go down the list and put them in order. The matter could be settled by drawing lots. The man next on the list for reprisal, shall we call him, Joe O'Brien, would be well known. A ghoulish Press will see to that. Joe O'Brien, his wife and family, would be interviewed and photographed, along with his priest pronouncing anathema on those who would bring about his death.
817 Anybody planting a bomb would know that he is killing Joe O'Brien and for 72 hours he would be wondering which of Joe O'Brien's friends would turn him in. In any event, as soon as he was dead the next one on the list would be brought forward.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Oldbury and Halesowen)
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that what he is describing is exactly the action taken by the Irish Free State against its revolutionaries in 1922 and 1923?
§ Mr. Paget
Yes, and it worked.
I am certain that I shall not be told that my suggestion would not work. We all know that it would. Within a week, before more than a couple had been executed, the bombing would stop. It could not go on.
I shall probably be told that it would be a war crime according to Nuremberg. I agree. It would be called that in this House and in relation to the trials at Nuremberg. I said at the time, and on that occasion, when we tried to put criminality on our defeated enemy's soldiers, that the next time we met a guerrilla we would be declaring our own troops criminal.
Every time an army has been faced with a guerrilla, these methods have been adopted by that army, before and since Nuremberg, by ourselves, by the Americans in Korea and Vietnam, by the French in Algeria and by the British in Malaysia and, perhaps rather informally, in Aden.
For the first time before or after Nuremberg, we have an Army which is expected to face a guerrilla without being allowed hostage or reprisal. This cannot be fair on our Army.
§ Mr. Maclennan
Is my hon. and learned Friend so little a student of history that he is unaware that precisely the techniques he is advocating for the British Army were employed by the German S.S. in France against the Resistance, but the Resistance increased and certainly did not diminish?
§ Mr. Paget
I assure my hon. Friend that I am keenly aware of this aspect of history. I have studied it in great detail, both as to the degrees it worked and did not work. I wrote a book on the subject. My hon. Friend should 818 study it. I will probably be told that the end does not justify the means. I have always wondered, when I am told that, what the hell does justify the means if the end does not. Indeed, what is the point of means if the end does not justify them?
If I stick a knife into somebody's stomach and if my end is to teach him not to talk out of turn at the local, my means are not justified because the end is not justified. If, on the other hand, I stick a knife into my friend's stomach in order to remove his appendix and save his life, the means are justified by the end. Of course, means are justified by the end. There would not be any point in means otherwise. One has merely to see whether, in any given set of circumstances, the operation is justified by the intended result.
Day after day, week after week, innocent people are being killed, maimed or injured—they are the victims of our liberal conscience—when we know perfectly well that we have the means to save every one of those lives. I do not think that this weak-kneed refusal to take the steps that we know could save those lives is justified.
What will happen? It may be said that this is cruel. Of course it is cruel, as people find themselves with a long straw at the top of the list, expecting an execution squad if a bomb goes off, or as they find themselves climbing that list. But, after all, they are members of an organisation dedicated to violence and killing; they have chosen violence and the way of violence. It is desperately cruel on the people they and their friends are killing. People who did not choose. That is where the heavy cruelty lies. It lies on the girls and children disfigured or maimed for life by casual bombing, on the widows of our soldiers, and on the orphans. These are the people on whom it is cruel, too. One has to weigh one level of suffering against another.
I have no doubt about the decision. It is the decision which has been taken by almost every Government in history with an army under guerrilla attack, and it is the decision that the Army is entitled to from us. Let us consider what the alternative will be. If this goes on, we may find ourselves in a Black and Tan situation, in a situation not of organised and planned reprisal but uncontrolled 819 reprisal, by police, troops and, perhaps, the Ulster Defence Regiment taking unofficial revenge by swapping bombs.
By the protestant backlash we may have a situation that becomes so bad that this country gets sick of the casualties its troops are suffering and insists upon their being withdrawn. In that case, we would face civil war. In such a civil war, I have not the slightest doubt that, as the effective military organisation in Ireland is the Orange Order, the Orange Order would quite certainly win. It could certainly see off the Army of Southern Ireland with very little difficulty.
§ Mr. McMaster
It is not the Orange Order. The Orange Order has always been organised to protect civil and religious liberties. It is basically a religious organisation. It is the Ulster Volunteer Force which would probably act in this way, and I quite agree with the hon. and learned Member.
§ Mr. Paget
I am sorry if I used wrong nomenclature. But we should again have the situation we had in Palestine, with a small, organised, vigorous force in total military control, the Catholics of Ulster refugeeing across the frontier, refugee camps, and a situation of endemic civil war on our borders. These are the kind of consequences with which we are faced. In those circumstances, it is just not right for us to fold our hands and say, "The end does not justify the means. We are all good liberals; we will not do what is necessary to bring this suffering to an end."
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell (Aberdeenshire, West)
It is a traumatic experience to follow the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and contrast it with that of the earlier speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan). My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) visited me eight years ago in Borneo on the Indonesian border. At that time he was Secretary of State for War. After an argument, he said to me "You ought to go into politics". Listening this afternoon to the depth of feeling we have reached over what we should do in Ireland makes one realise how extremely 820 responsible we must be today about what we say in the debate over what is possible politically in Ireland and what is desirable militarily.
I start by commenting, in the context of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary's opening remarks, that this has been an unremarkable season of defence debates so far. Where the White Paper concerned the Army and strategy, it appeared to be sensible, workmanlike and extremely conservative. At one stage I felt that I was being lulled, perhaps, into a false sense of security, because although the Army problems we are discussing specifically and properly concentrated on conditions of service, recruiting, manpower, overseas training, and so on, all these things we expect to find in the Army debate. But I found that there was no apparent grasp of the new military problems of the 'seventies which were so starkly described by the hon. and learned Member a few minutes ago.
The emphasis in all defence thinking is still on what I call the "low key" posture. If anything, we are geared some years too late to a cold war situation and have not expected that the times of the 'seventies have moved into a "hot peace" situation. As yet, we have not been able to analyse the hot peace situation because it is basically a problem of the effective countering of subversion in the United Kingdom; secondly, of the future of the police-Army relationship in the maintenance of law and order within the United Kingdom; and thirdly, on the rôle of the mass media in this context.
These are subjects which any Defence White Paper or Army Estimates paper will naturally shy away from and I fear that weare skimming over the real problem of national security at present. Both sides of the House will agree that it is how best we can deal with ruthless guerrilla behaviour which is aimed at overthrowing the State without ourselves destroying the liberty we value so much in that process. It is a problem which many of us have worked at and thought about for much of our lives.
I wonder whether we properly understand the nature of civil violence. I would recommend any hon. Member to read the latest Adelphi Papers, issued by the Institute of Strategic Studies, which 821 are an extremely good analysis of the problem of civil violence. They say—and I think this right—that the nuclear stalemate prohibits now those extremes of warfare, leaving only limited wars or civil violence, and that during the cold war period violence has continued but has taken the form of liberation or colonial wars. They also say that we in the industrialised West assumed that we had outgrown internal violence because of the spread of our educated society—which earlier this afternoon we have been discussing in relation to Army officers.
Indeed, the tragedy is that the reverse seems to be true and our political participation has now reached the stage where violence is accepted as one of a number of ways of taking decisions, including, apparently, electing a majority to Parliament. The essential medium in this change has been television, because novelty and entertainment—those are the words we must hang on it—have opened the field to every minor grievance group that has some emotional appeal to humanity, for a lost cause or whatever it may be. This is the problem which the Army faces in the spotlight of the cameras in Ulster, which it is also facing in the tribunals examining its conduct.
The contrast between the promised fulfilment of the sort of society we think we live in through the television dream and the secret frustrations of most people in this mass society leads naturally to the questioning of authority in any form and this new style is taking all the manifestations we see in hijacking, kidnapping of diplomats, political assassination, riots, coups, guerrilla warfare, insurrection and the rest. Admittedly much of it has happened before in other circumstances but never in history has the whole collection of demonstration and protest appeared so vividly on the international scene.
When we analyse violence we must in the end admit to ourselves that it is about the basics of power and authority and can only be resolved accordingly. For that reason, in the absence of authority blind emotion takes over. I could not more wholeheartedly agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton because what he was saying, in my language, is that when the rule of the 822 gun becomes absolute it can only be replaced by a bigger gun. Anyone with practical experience of internal security and counter-insurgency operations knows in his heart of hearts that whatever is officially admitted this is a fact of life.
The problem of containment is to draw a line between enforcing a system which seems best calculated to control the changes in society and the enforcement of this order not producing something which is just resistance to change as such. I will not go on in this deep philosophical trend because it is personified in the practical problems of the situation in Ulster. I have unkindly suggested that Ministers and chiefs of staff are like dogs round the civil violence lamp-post—waiting to see which one should raise its leg first to take an initiative; to combat iron with water, hoping that in time it will rust away! It will not. Whether it is the task of the soldiers or the politicians, the civil violence is there and somehow in co-operation and co-ordination it must be dealt with.
Eighteen months ago I sat in the House listening to the Prime Minister diagnose the situation in Northern Ireland as one of urban guerrilla warfare. He gave a double aim for the security forces after the vacuum which had been caused by the previous decision to remove the B Specials. He said that their aim was to maintain law and order and prevent communal strife and to eradicate terrorism and deal with the extremists while causing the minimum damage to the lives and welfare of innocent people. As I listened I felt thankful that I had won a competitive vacancy at the staff college despite not having been to Sandhurst or had a university degree. At the staff college one was taught that one must never have a double aim or a complex requirement, of the sort which lacks singlemindedness, to succeed. Without being disloyal, I must admit that while the Prime Minister was speaking I was saying to myself: "Double aim, treble aim, there it goes. It cannot win; it is bound to lose".
I do not say this in any sense of being unkind but perhaps the advice that Ministers had at the time failed to understand was that to cure, control or destroy insurgency required singlemindedness. Experience on all previous occasions has pointed to early and firm action to regain the initiative and I worry whether the 823 Government are heeding the military advice and warnings which someone must be giving them. Or is the advice not being properly presented by the chiefs of staff for reasons of their own? There is a current lack of aggressive policy and that seems to me to indicate either a lack of understanding of the nature of the threat or a lack of guts in military circles to tell the Cabinet what the threat is.
How strong is the voice of professional military experience in terms of the threat now defined? When I used to work in the office of the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), it was what I called the Ministers-General mutual admiration society. One had to guide certain things through to make certain they did not die in the glowing light of this mutual admiration.
The initiative will never be regained by a policy of containment. Once an area is under terrorist control, moderate opinion is silent because it is dead. Force is the only arbiter and political exhortations from outside the terrorist-controlled areas, whether they come from Westminster, Stormont or anywhere else, will never work unless they are backed by a strong, permanent police military presence inside that area. This is the problem we have to get to grips with in Ireland. The individual citizen must feel secure. The alternative is to do what we are doing and take refuge behind clichés such as "minimum force", "patience" and "initiative" while the initiative is left firmly with the terrorists who are chortling away and just waiting to strike as, when and how they like. In this sort of contest the Army will always be a step behind the opposition, reacting to instead of dominating events. This is bad soldiering if nothing else.
We all know, and no one knows more than the people inside the Army, that the political control of the Army is obviously in our hands and the long-term solution in Ireland can only be political. But this also presupposes on the part of the soldiers that their political masters have an understanding of the nature of insurgency and will protect them from exploitation for local and usually short-term political manoeuvres. Given much stronger military advice the Government would find that the importance of control 824 measures has been completely underestimated.
Has anyone postulated an Irish curtain dividing North and South, like the division between Algeria and Tunisia? Has anyone said how much it will cost—£50 million or £5 million? Why are these figures not given to the House? Why are we told it would be impossible to have this barrier which would control the exit and entry of terrorists? Is it expense or is it something else? Have the Government considered measures which have been used in other situations, such as the issue of identity cards, control of movement, curfew and severe penalty for the carriage of weapons? None of these things seems to have been wheeled on to the Irish stage. I want to know, because we have not had a satisfactory answer for the last two years.
Nor have we had a satisfactory answer to questions about the command set-up in Ireland because, apart from the political side, there would appear to be a need for a Minister of State on the ground in Ireland controlling the situation. If that is against the Government's wishes at the moment, I suggest they look again and find where they are going. They should consider whether they will have a director of operations, a Minister of State, one man if they like. They could get to the Templer-in-Malaya or the Harding-in-Cyprus situation, but let us go to the situation where one man is not only responsible but has the power.
No one would confirm more than I would the views of hon. Members on both sides this afternoon about the morale of the Army. Obviously, in the short-and medium-term the discipline and professionalism of the Army will prevail. But it is a long haul, the way we are going now, with the battle of attrition people are talking about. Units are already doing their third tour of duty inside two years. This must have a wearing effect in time on the officers and soldiers returning. Even if it does not have such an effect on them, because they are tough chaps, it has that effect on their families.
We all receive letters from mothers and wives. Perhaps I receive more than others. We know the worries, and I know the feeling myself as it has been announced that my own late regiment is going to Ireland. Already we have a 825 family feeling, the tug at the heart strings, wondering who will fail to come back this time. In our small, close-knit community in the British Army it is vital that we should all be able to see light at the end of the tunnel, and the courage in the Government to make sure it is there.
In the final analysis this House has as much responsibility for the correct employment of the British Army as it has for finding a lasting and acceptable peace in Northern Ireland.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Halfway through his speech the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell) half apologised to the House for entering into what he called a philosophical discussion. He had no need to apologise, because he raised a subject that should certainly be discussed by the House, and discussed in a fairly philosophical way—the whole question of the effect of the mass media on our society and in this context the instant portrayal of military action.
Some of us are appalled that in situations like Bangladesh or Ireland night after night on the B.B.C. 5.50 p.m. television news there appear pictures more graphically brutal than any amount of print can be. Those of us with young children in a household cannot prevent them from watching television, and this brings up a whole generation in a sense inoculated to violence. It has an effect not only on teenagers but on younger children. I do not want to be too personal about what my six-year-old has to say about Ireland, but I think many families have these experiences. Violence has become an everyday affair.
Therefore, the hon. and gallant Gentleman was right to ask "Are the media right to do this?". I will not be personal about the Minister's background in the B.B.C. but I think the Army has a question to consider. The B.B.C. cannot be gagged in our society, but the Army must consider how forthcoming individual unit commanders should be in giving interviews and how co-operative the Army should be with the mass media.
I had the good fortune in November to be in China. I am not saying that everything Chinese is wonderful and 826 everything European is awful. Not at all. But it is very interesting that when it was put to the Chinese that they should have news bulletins, as in Western Europe and the rest of the so-called free world, they were appalled. They said "News bulletins? There are two sides to this story." Having, presumably, been briefed from this end, they asked whether things like events in Ireland should appear night after night in the home. There is cause for reflection as to the balance, which the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised, between liberty, in which we all believe, and the effect that such a situation can have throughout Britain, and the extent to which people become brutalised.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I am not sure about the point the hon. Gentleman is making. Is he suggesting that the British Forces in Northern Ireland should be more co-operative with the television organisations and the newspapers, or less?
§ Mr. Dalyell
The only point I am making is that the matter should be seriously discussed in Government circles and with the heads of the media. The question raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman should not go undiscussed and be unthought about.
I can give a particular example of the sort of thing I am talking about. Today we are told that there has been pressure for the Gloucestershire Regiment to march through the City of Bristol—a potential television occasion. I can understand why the regiment wants to do it, and I can understand both sides of the argument in the city as to why it should or should not. But the Defence Department must reflect on how it was that the regiment made its wishes so clear at such an early stage on this sensitive issue. Was the Department consulted? Whereas I believe Bristol to be a city in which there is unlikely to be a tinder-box situation, I should be extremely unhappy at the prospect of troops having returned from Ireland marching through certain cities, without naming any regiments or any cities. I give that as an example of the sort of issue that should not go undiscussed.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman also raised as a throw-away question a matter that deserves rational discussion in a fairly 827 cool debate like this: the whole question which he called "Ministers and generals and a mutual admiration society". It is very easy to be cheap at the expense of the generals and of the senior advisors of the Defence Department. I intend to be neither, because I believe the generals and the senior officials of the Department are as honourable as any of us here in their motives and intentions. But there is a real question as to the source of advice that Ministers in a Government like ours receive. Too often, because of the structure of the Civil Service in particular, and I believe of the Army too, Ministers are dependent on the advice of their most senior advisers, military or civilian. I should be happier if a system could be developed under which it would be perfectly proper for a Minister to obtain rather wider advice. This should not imply a lack of confidence in the senior adviser. A wider scope of advice might be enormously beneficial.
Too often in any human organisation leaders are given the advice it is thought they might want to receive. Politicians do it as much as anybody. In a situation such as we have been talking about, that could be terribly misleading. It is not only in Ireland that that happens. We have only to look at the kind of military and Foreign Office advice that Ministers have received over the past 10 years. My noble friend Lord Walston solemnly assured us all in the middle 1960s that within six months the Vietnam war would come to an end. Who advised him?
Reference has been made to Lord Wigg. I think of the days when from these benches, for three-quarters of an hour or more, Lord Wigg used to go into the nuts and bolts on the Service Estimates. He performed a very important job. I do not have his capacity or knowledge in this field, but this is an occasion when we can ask certain specific questions about equipment.
I repeat a question which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) and by me in an intervention on the standardisation of equipment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr.John Morris) asked a specific question: what has been done to get more 828 standardisation in the years since the Labour Government left office? At that time, heaven knows, standardisation was needed. If the Under-Secretary wants to reply to that now, I will give way to him. It may be that he has facts and figures at his fingertips and that he would like to intervene.
§ Mr. G. Johnson Smith
I said at the time that I should like to deal with this point in the winding-up speech if I catch the eye of Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Dalyell
It is not just the implications that may be relevant to M.R.C.A. in its low-flying rôle. Of course, if it is true that fairly cheap weapons can make extremely expensive weapons vulnerable, this is a subject for comment by the Department of Defence. If we talk about cost benefits, we have to be very clear in detail as to the extent to which our extremely sophisticated weapons are vulnerable to relatively cheap ones. So the specific question is, if the M.R.C.A. is as vulnerable in its low-flying rôle as some information leads us to believe, is it worth insisting on a low-flying rôle? If not, certain changes should be made in the M.R.C.A.
I also raise a question which was raised last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) on the whole issue of the Army's relations with Rolls-Royce as suppliers. Can we have an assurance that these are now satisfactory and any difficulties which existed for understandable reasons 12 months ago have now been ironed out?
In his opening speech the Under-Secretary referred to Suffield and the training ground in Canada. The previous connection with Suffield was that it was the wet-cold experimental area for chemical and biological weapons. I take it that that arrangement has now come to an end. I should be interested in the terms of the contract which has been reached with the Canadian Government because this obviously is extremely important. I am inclined to welcome it. If the Undersecretary has been there, I suspect that he knows a lot about it. Perhaps he could inform us about it.
On the other training centre, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned—the Malayan jungle centre—what is the position on the vexed question of instructors? Have 829 we come to an amicable agreement with the Government of Malaysia or Tun Razak? I will not go into the history because any of us who has taken an interest in the Far East knows the difficulties, but I should like to know whether they have been ironed out.
Another issue which we talked about last year concerns land used by the Defence Department at home and the views of the Nugent Committee. I was a little surprised that in his opening speech the Under-Secretary did not say how the work of the Nugent Committee and the follow-up were proceeding. Perhaps he can assure us that the Defence Department is considering the amount of land holding in Britain which it can reasonably shed. All of us with constituencies which are affected—I think particularly of a few acres in the new town of Livingston where the engineers operate and which seems to be superfluous—would like to know that thought is being given to whether all land in the possession of the Defence Department should be held.
In his opening speech the Under-secretary referred to co-operation in military aid to the civil community. I had the good fortune with other hon. Members to be taken round OPMACC by Sir Derek Lamb and we were shown what was being done in Scotland. That was very valuable work but it seems that most of it, at any rate at home, has ground to a halt. If I am told by the Undersecretary that two years ago we did not have the present situation in Northern Ireland I accept that, but it seems a pity that troops who are not in Ireland are not doing something along OPMACC lines at least to keep the scheme going. I shall not put it any higher than that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland properly asked about Bangladesh and referred to the observation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) that sending nine people, however expert, was not a massive contribution. There is the requirement of bridge building in Bangladesh. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) returned from there, perhaps the main point he made was the need for transport improvement and bridge building. Surely the sappers could make a bigger contribution. I ask the 830 direct question: what is the view of the Government of Bangladesh on this question?
I should like to endorse, from what I have seen in the past year of the Army, that its technical training is as good as any that can remotely compare with it in British industry, I pay tribute to the whole technical training set-up. Is there a possibility that this can be further extended, because it is very good indeed? Perhaps in some cases this could be worked in with Reserve service. I should like to hear in the winding-up speech any reference that the Under-Secretary can make to that.
I can understand Ministers in the Defence Department being somewhat vexed today when I put 40 Questions, all for Oral Answers, on the Order Paper, and all roughly on the same subject—equipment. I did so not for bloody-mindedness, nor to be perverse, nor to give extra work to civil servants, but because on two occasions in the debate on the Air Estimates and in the defence debate I raised a very key issue concerning this country's partcipation in the post-Apollo programme. I hope that something can be said on this occasion which will do away with the need for a debate which I have requested for Monday on the Consolidated Fund Bill.
The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy has just returned from Cape Kennedy and discussions with the Americans. It may be that my concerns may be put at rest, but what cannot be challenged is the importance of this subject because at stake is the future of a whole sector of the electronics industry in this country. I do not say, and I have no right to say on behalf of the Opposition, that necessarily we should go in for a post-Apollo programme. It is a highly expensive business and the cost has been put at 5.5 billion dollars. The costs could escalate and so could our share with European partners.
On the other hand, it seems that for all the success—one must give credit where credit is due—of the National Defence Industries Council in contrast, perhaps to the Ministerial Aerospace Board and the link-up between the Defence Department and the Department of Trade and Industry, no real thought in depth has been given as yet to what 831 our response to the Americans ought to be. I disagree with the notion that this is not a Defence Department matter; it really is purely a matter of defence. It is a matter of communications and the Defence Department has a very real interest. If it did not have such an interest, the Secretary of State would not be attending the ministerial Aerospace Board, unless that board is something of a phoney. I hope it is not a phoney. I think I am entitled to raise this question in this debate because today, in answer to the Questionwhat studies are being undertaken by the Staff College, Camberley on Post-Apollo programmesthe Under-Secretary gave the following reply:None. The implications of advances in the fields of science and technology are primarily studied at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham which all staff college students attend before going to Camberley.If he is responsible for Shrivenham I would like to press him a little further and ask him precisely what studies are being carried out.
The issue here is how, if we participate in N.A.S.A.'s plans, it should be done. I express the same opinion which I expressed on this during the defence debate and the debate on the Air Estimates, that partly because the Department of Trade and Industry has many other things to do and cannot give this the attention it deserves and partly because the Defence Department can offer some kind of incentive to its high-grade recruits, the Defence Department is the vehicle to conduct such operations which we as a country feel we need.
It is understandable that the House should be overwhelmingly concerned at present with Ireland. However, has not the time come for us to reflect on preclisely what the rôle of the Forces is to be post-Ireland? One has to go back to the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeenshire, West and of others to see that we are living in a totally changing world. The sort of speeches we used to make about the Forces in the early 1960s will no longer do. There has been a sociological change; there have been changes in conditions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) introduced the military 832 salary. This and everything else has produced change. The way in which the Forces operate has been changed but if we have to have Forces, and I think that we have, those of us who think we must have them but who may shudder at the prospect of their being used for traditional purposes, bombing and military operations must reflect on how we can produce a legitimate career expectation for the high-grade quality we expect to join the Forces.
We will not get high-quality recruits unless there is something more than money. Therefore we have to think about the kind of incentive the Forces now have to offer. If there is to be cooperation with the United States in aerospace in general, as with every other country in the world we ought to be using the Services as the organisation through which this is done. If I am told that it is not the business of the Services I am entitled to ask: how do the Government see in the 1970s and 1980s the attractions of a Service career for high-grade technical personnel? The Minister may frown but this is a real point. We are asking more and more of these people who handle these weapons and who are highly technical and able people. How do we attract them?
Whatever the issue may be over the shuttle and the tug, however far away it may be thought to be, it is of vast importance to British industry and it is something on which this House should be reflecting in conection with the Armed Forces.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
We have had two brilliant speeches, one from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the other from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell), giving us their views on Northern Ireland. My remarks will be much more banal. I take this as an opportunity to ensure that the money which is allotted is spent in the best possible way and to review the rôle, size and quality of the Army and any other factors which affect its functioning.
I support the Estimates but I must add certain criticisms. The rôle of the Army we know—its war rôle in Rhine Army and its present rôle in Northern Ireland. 833 However, we should not forget our commitments and responsibilities ranging from Hong Kong to Honduras, from Cyprus to Gibraltar, from Singapore to Brunei. In addition we have the strategic reserve and all the training establishments at home. In size, thanks to good recruiting, we have been able to resuscitate four battalions, adding them to the order of battle which has helped ease the load in Northern Ireland, a load which falls almost entirely on the shoulders of the infantry battalions and where, for obvious reasons, Irish regiments cannot serve.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) about the quality and the training of young officers, 40 per cent. of whom are now university trained. I can vouch for their quality. The Defence White Paper said that the Sandhurst Regular entry and Mons short-service entry were down on last year although university entry was better. It also said that the failure rate at the Regular Commissions Board was high. Having commanded that establishment I know that the testing that goes on there is fair, thorough and efficient. I very much hope that despite this high failure rate there will be no dropping of standards.
The soldiers are admirable in their qualities. I speak as the colonel of my regiment and I have opportunities of meeting and talking to them. They are young, enthusiastic, intelligent, hardworking and, what is more, they enjoy the Army. They bring in their friends. In my regiment we have a brood of no less than six brothers from one family.
It is on the equipment side that we have the greatest plus. In terms of conventional weaponry we are better equipped than any of our N.A.T.O. allies. This equipment ranges from the Chieftain, which has a 120 mm. gun which has no equal in range, accuracy and penetration, to the Scorpion, which is coming into service, an aluminium-armoured, air-portable, tracked combat reconnaissance vehicle. We have a swing fire anti-tank guided missile, we have various night-fighting devices and the Royal Artillery is shortly to get the 155 mm. medium gun, in both its towed and self-propelled forms.
834 It would be wrong to be complacent and there are chinks in our armour. Experience has shown that certainly in the Rhine Army there are shortages of spares for certain vehicles and equipment which has entailed vehicles being off the road longer than they should be. There is a worse shortage of trained reservists. This point came up during our Expenditure Committee investigation. It is always true when new equipment is issued in the Army that it is difficult to obtain reservists with up-to-date training.
In the Rhine Army the preponderant hitting power comes from the Chieftain tank. It is in this respect that we are short, because the only spare crews are those soldiers who have completed their Regular engagements. In the past, tank crews could be trained from the Territorial Army. Now, in the normal T.A.V.R., there is no tank unit; therefore, we are limited for spare crews for the Chieftain tank.
The third limitation concerns the fleet of transport vehicles. Some of those vehicles are getting extremely old—in fact, many of them are older than the young soldiers who drive them. I hope that when the times comes to replace them the powers-that-be will not be tempted to replace them with over-sophisticated and highly expensive vehicles.
Suprprising though it may sound, the Forces are pleased and proud to be visited. Hon. Members on both sides of this House have visited the Forces recently and I am sure they have been not only interested but impressed; and I should like to say in all sincerity that the visits within these last two years by the Prime Minister to the Forces in Singapore and Cyprus, the Rhine Army, Northern Ireland and Catterick have had an enormous impact.
In the course of the debate on the Defence White Paper the right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) spoke about a visit he had paid to the Queen's Own Highlanders in Belfast, and about the conditions under which they lived. I should like to tell a very trivial story, though I think it is important because it reflects the present tendency of the news media to go for the adverse, rather 835 than the good. We visited the same battalion, the Queen's Own Highlanders not long ago and were shown round the police station where one of the companies was quartered. When we went into the cookhouse we saw a large table filled with cakes. We asked where they had come from, and were told that they had come from housewives in the area—and it was a Catholic area.
There are three essential ingredients for a successful army: manpower, equipment and morale. Morale is based on confidence, confidence in itself and its equipment, confidence in its leaders and confidence in the knowledge that it has the support and trust of the people of this country. No one here is going to argue that the Army has an easy or a comfortable time, or a non-dangerous time, in Northern Ireland. Members on both sides of the House will agree that the Army is doing magnificently. But the fact remains that the news media, particularly recently, have not been showing the Army in a very favourable light, and they have been very obviously biased against one particular unit. It is very much hoped that in the future they may take a rather more unbiased view.
May I in conclusion, Mr. Speaker, quote the last two paragraphs of an article which appeared in The Times on 19th February entitled "An army of our times", written by Lord Chalfont:Some stories now coming out of Northern Ireland are undoubtedly invented for the express purpose of discrediting and demoralising the soldiers, but after some of the things that happened in Aden in the sacred name of law and order they are likely to fall on receptive ears.If the time ever comes when the British Army not only takes sides in a political conflict, but also lapses into indiscriminate violence or brutality in doing so there will be many civilized officers and men who will be tempted to follow the example of that unforgettable private soldier in the specimen charge sheet of the old Manual of Military Law, who stepped from the ranks and, divesting himself of his belt, said: 'You may do as you please, but I'll soldier no more.'
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I always feel it is rather a pity that our Services debates follow so quickly after the debate on the Defence White Paper, all in one short period of the year, and then we have little more debate on defence.
836 I should like to take up one or two points made by my hon. Friend in his opening speech. I was very glad he referred to his visit to the ANZUK forces in Malaysia, and I should like to emphasise that we have got not only a battalion in the Commonwealth Brigade out there but also ancillary groups, the R.A.s the R.E.s the Signals and others that go to make up a complete brigade. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has left the Chamber, because I was going to congratulate him on making a very thoughtful speech, and being the only back-bench Member on the opposite side, but there is no one on the Labour side who is interested, apart from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who made a fine speech. Now we have no back-bench Members on the Opposition side.
I understand that the Jungle School is being handed over to the Malaysian authorities. There is to be a Malaysian Commandant, but the instructors, I was told when I was there, will still in the main be British. I do hope that, as the Under-Secretary said, we shall get two battalions at least through each year.
I was also very glad that my hon. Friend made great reference to the Cadet Force. We in the Committee of which I was Chairman felt that the Cadet Force was of great recruiting value to the British Army and other Services. I am only sorry that tonight there was this debate on the Army and I felt I ought to speak, because I have had to turn down an invitation to see the annual inspection of the Army Cadet Force in Stow market, the largest town in my constituency.
I should like, Mr. Speaker, to make some remarks on the manpower side of the Army. The outstanding feature, as one visits the Army today, is the confidence that the soldiers feel that they are living a stable life and have a good career structure. Under the present defence policy, recruiting, as everybody has been saying—and I am delighted to say—is much better. We have been able in recent months to reinforce the British Army of the Rhine by 1,200 men and to re-form four infantry battalions. The N.C.O.s and men I talked to in November last in Germany think that the conditions of service today are good. For that we must thank the party opposite for the 837 salary structure they brought in when in office, and the whole new method of pay. This is most useful to all.
Equally I should like to thank, as a bipartisan, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) for all he has done in seeing that the new terms of service are more elastic and more attractive for men going in for what they think to be years, because a young fellow of 18 thinks six years or more a long time. I have thought for many years, and have said so in other debates, that a man really ought to be able to join the Queen's service and spend some years as a young man in active service and then go to the civilian side. But we come up against the traditional civil servants who do not want them, although many do get jobs on retirement in the post office or in other Government Departments.
Whilst the Army is well training to fight, it is also a peace-time Army and arrangements are made for the rehabilitation and training of service men for civilian life when they have completed their term of service. Many service men in the specialist branches can easily be trained for a trade and, if they pass certain Army standards, they are recognised by the appropriate trade union as being qualified when they go back to civilian life. Men who are serving in the infantry, which is not so specialised, are given a longer course of civilian training during the last part of their service. A man leaving the Army today who has been a good soldier but not outstanding has every prospect of getting a reliable post in civil life. One reason for this is that he is taught character in the Army, the difference between right and wrong, and he becomes a man of integrity. This is the quality beyond price which was mentioned earlier in the debate as being sadly lacking in civilian life today.
An important factor in recruiting is that word is often passed on from an elder brother or a young uncle that the Army is a place where a man who is keen on games has plenty of opportunity to play them, where one can see life abroad and have the pleasure of being a member of a section, platoon, company or regiment and feel that one is an important cog in the machine.
From what I saw in Germany the bearing of the men is first-class. They no 838 longer just say "Yes" or "No" in answer to a question by the colonel or company commander because they think that is the answer he wants. They speak together as man to man and if a weapon is not performing properly the soldier will say so.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to the report of the Committee of which I have the honour to be Chairman, and I shall be interested to see the White Paper when it is produced.
The main part of our Army is in Germany, and an enormous amount of time is spent on dependants, the wives and the children and their health and education, and on the family which has to be left behind when the unit goes to Ulster. I am delighted to hear about the cheap fare for the 72-hour pass. When I was there the men were asking for cheaper telephone facilities, but this arangement goes further. The men are under great provocation in Ulster. They are sometimes attacked by mere children, boys who throw stones or, worse, use weapons. What are the parents doing to control their children? There is a shocking lack of parental authority.
The Army in Germany is alive to the fact that if the Russians attack it will probably be by conventional weapons. This has meant a big change in training and in the tactical use of weapons. Whilst the Harrier was much welcomed by the R.A.F., its potential support rôle was not yet fully known and understood by the Army. No doubt this will be rectified in training in the months and years ahead. The great advantage of the Harrier is that it can be camouflaged in a wood and needs little distance for take off.
I confirm what was said about the ageing of lorries in Germany by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), who is such a valuable member of my Committee. Because of cost they cannot all be replaced at once. We asked the commander-in-chief whether the moving of stores, particularly in war, could be better and more quickly undertaken by helicopters. They are expensive, but they have many advantages and great mobility and have been used on a large scale by the American Army. This question is being looked at.
839 I heard in Germany how much the newly-developed direct fire weapon effect simulator, or Simfire for short, was a appreciated. I am told that it will have a most beneficial effect on training. At a recent lunch at the Royal College of Defence Studies I asked the Director General and the brigadiers about it, and they were all full of praise. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to say when some of these will be in use for training with the Army.
I am sure that everyone is grateful to the men who give up their time to serve in the Territorial Army. Most recruits are coming in completely untrained at the age of 17 or 18, only a few coming in when they leave the Regular service. Some time has to be spent on the initial training of these raw recruits, but the officers and instructors do their utmost, once the initial training is over, to make the training as interesting as possible. I see a big improvement from 35 or 40 years ago. Many men have a desire to spend some of their lives as soldiers and some girls also wish to join the services. Because of family commitments they may not wish to have a full-time career in the Army but their desires will be satisfied by part time soldiering.
Recruiting for the enlarged T.A. is going well. Will the ceiling of 10,000 when it is achieved be lifted by another 5,000 or is it a limit ceiling? I asked this question during the debate on the Defence White Paper but so far I have had no answer. I am not complaining, but the T.A. as a whole would like to know the Government's thinking on this. Speaking of reserves in general a man soon gets out of date although he will always remember his basic training.
In an emergency a call-out of reserves takes time. If bad relations developed with Russia, I wonder whether we should have the period of tension that everyone expects. It is sad that there cannot be a rehearsal, even on a limited scale, of the calling-out of those who have reserve commitments. They might be wanted in a great hurry.
I will say a word about the position of those who have given great service in the past in many regiments and who are now retired. I wrote to my hon. Friend on behalf of a constituent, a colonel who retired under the 1956 code. He has 840 always seemed to be unlucky in comparison with others of his rank who have retired on different codes. My constituent's case was taken up by his then Member of Parliament in the time of the previous Labour Government and I have again taken it up with the present Government. Neither his Member of Parliament then nor I have been able to get any satisfaction.
According to the 1971 code there are quite big variations within the same rank. The public usually think that brigadiers and major-generals who retired along time ago receive far less pension than those who retired later, but according to my figures a brigadier who retired under the 1945 code would today get £2,494, whereas one who retired under the 1960 code would get only £2,073. There maybe reasons for this. Those who retired later might have had a bigger cash payment to help in the purchase of a house, for example. But this is not always made clear in looking at the rates of pensions. All I want to know is that these really have been actuarially worked out very carefully and that no one has been unfairly treated. Nothing is worse than to have a retired officer, a big chap in the British Legion, with a grouse, who says he has been badly treated or, if a young man asks him about the Army, says that he was badly treated at the end. We want to be fair to the retired men, but fair to them all on the same rates.
Another thing that has a bearing if these rates are not uniform and are unfair is this: I believe it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to cover rises in the cost of living by putting these pensions up on on a percentage basis. This, of course, will only aggravate the difference if there is a percentage increase of 7½ per cent. or 10 per cent.
We had a very short debate on pensions in this House last week on the position of many men who were prisoners in the Far East in the war. I declare an interest because I am one, but I am lucky, I am well. We find that many of these men are suffering badly now. As a nation we must always be looking at people on pension or at those who have been through exceptional circumstances which may make them break down earlier in life, as some men did after World War I. I put this point to my right hon. Friend with a request that he look at this section 841 of men who served in the Army during the war.
I should like to say a word about the training of our top commanders. It is generally accepted that the Army is our biggest service. In a state of emergency it often has to move quickly to occupy very rough or poor quarters and to deal with many unforeseen situations, whereas in the Navy they go to sea in their own ships and have their normal quarters. For the Air Force it is the same; it cannot move because it must have runways.
I found on my visit to the Royal College of Defence Studies that in each annual course there are 10 officers from each Service. Surely this is rather hard on the Army. Ought it not to have rather more than, say, the Royal Navy? The same is true of the senior officers' war courses, of which there are two each year. Each Service has six places. This concerns the training of our future top commanders, and it is of vital importance. It is unwise to get too many men of one Service trained, for whom there may not be sufficient top appointments, and not enough from another Service.
I ask my hon. Friend to press this point with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to ask him to have a look at this. It is a situation that may have grown up over the ages, that each Service should be equally treated, but it is the needs of the country and of defence that should have first priority and not equality between the Services. I notice that as regards many other inter-Service schools and courses the Army gets a far bigger share of places than the Navy, so this principle is recognised except in the very top echelons of training.
We owe a great debt to our Army today. It has been said—and I confirm this—that it is highly professional and that great trouble is taken, much more than ever before, to see that after recruit training a man finds the right place and the work he will do best. These men and their families are doing a tremendous job for this country wherever they may be posted. These are the men, with those in the two other Services, on whom we rely, with our allies, to present a healthy deterrent to anyone contemplating aggression. Unfortunately, there are peoples and nations in the world today who are aggressive. It is only by being resolute 842 and having the right spirit in our forces, which is quickly recognised by any potential enemy, that we can help to kep the peace of this country and the world.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye(Sir H. Harrison) has been a splendid chairman of the Military Subcommittee of our Accounts Committee. He has covered many points in his speech this evening, on every one of which I think I have agreed with him. He spoke of the need for more helicopters, and here I am in total agreement with him. It is sad that cuts always seem to fall on the heavy-load helicopter for the Army. I would remind my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench that under the European Defence Improvement Programme the armies of Western Europe as a whole are required to order a substantial number of heavy-load helicopters in the comparatively near future. I hope that at least some of these will go to our Forces.
In his speech in opening this debate, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State led us to Germany, to Sandhurst, to the Far East and even to British Honduras. But it is, of course, Northern Ireland which has dominated the life of the Army in the course of the past year. It is only natural in a guerrilla-type campaign that the Army should have to bear the main burden, but I must say that I sometimes wonder, in this era in which Service unification is very much a catchword on people's lips, whether the other two Services might not perhaps play a rather larger rôle in Ulster than they do at the moment.
I know that a great deal of the work that has to be undertaken by the Army in Northern Ireland is highly skilled, but a certain amount of it is not; a certain amount of it can be done by anyone who is disciplined, alert and intelligent and who knows how to fire a rifle. This applies to a considerable amount of the guard duties that the Army has to undertake. I sometimes wonder whether some members of the Royal Air Force other than the R.A.F. Regiment might not do a short tour in Ulster and whether some members of the Navy apart from the commandos might not do a short tour there to relieve the very substantial burden on battalions of infantry.
843 Again, I hope that the Government will reconsider their attitude on the Northern Ireland Territorials. Here we have 3,000 men who have undergone considerable training and who are, I am sure, anxious to play their rôle in these disturbed times in their own part of the country. Yet if they are to play any part they have to leave their units, they have to go into the Ulster Defence Regiment, to sever their ties with their comrades with whom they have trained, in some instances, for many years.
I know that legislation would be required to allow the TAVR in Northern Ireland to be called out on a part-time basis. I remember the occasion on which the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill passed through the House in one night. It was a very long night and I remember making nine speeches in the course of its passage through the House. It would not take a great deal of time to get the legislation through this House. The Ministry of Defence does not put many burdens on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in asking for legislative time and I think that it might do so in this instance.
Some of the work to be undertaken by the Army in Northern Ireland does not require much skill. However, this does not apply to those splendid and highly skilled men in the bomb disposal squads, two of whom were tragically killed yesterday. I am not a believer in paying enormous allowances to people who come into situations of danger in the Armed Forces. Everybody who joins the Armed Forces does so knowing that he or she may be required to face danger. But in this case where people are having to face peculiar dangers where very special skills are required, I believe that there is a case for paying a substantial extra allowance while they are on duty in Northern Ireland. I do not wish to go through the complicated jungle of Service allowances but I hope that the Ministry of Defence is pressing the Treasury the whole time on the principle that no Serviceman who goes to Northern Ireland for a short tour, wherever he comes from and whatever his circumstances, should suffer any reduction in total pay and allowances.
§ Mr. Maclennan
In making those remarks is the hon. Gentleman referring 844 only to bomb disposal experts or is he referring to the situation across the board?
§ Mr. Goodhart
I meant that across the board nobody should suffer any reduction in the total pay and allowances he receives because of the fact that he has to go to Northern Ireland for a short time. Inevitably, whatever happens in the way of a political initiative in the coming weeks, the Army in Northern Ireland faces a long, hard task.
One of the major difficulties that the Army faces in the conduct of its operations is the open border with the Irish Republic. We have today seen the chief of staff of the Provisional Wing of the I.R.A. nipping across the Border from a completely safe sanctuary in the Irish Republic to attend a funeral and even give a public oration in Londonderry. He was then able to drive happily back across the frontier. This is an extraordinary state of affairs. We all know that a great deal of gelignite finds its way across the Border. In the last three months thousands of rounds have been fired into Northern Ireland and very little has been done to stop the firing of those rounds, and whenever any culprits have been apprehended they have been swiftly let out on bail. Terrorists have crossed over from the Irish Republic and we all know that recently an employee of the Northern Ireland Government was murdered. Again the murderers were allowed to return across the Border and nothing seems to have been done to apprehend them.
The situation faced by the Army is extraordinary. It must be remembered that the Government of the Irish Republic is a friendly Government whose citizens enjoy a large number of special constitutional and economic privileges in this country. Let us compare the position of the Irish Republic and its relationships with this country with the position of Israel and its relationship to Jordan. The Government of Jordan nominally is at war with the Government of Israel. A number of members of the Jordanian Government no doubt would like to see the total destruction of the State of Israel. One would assume that the Government of the Irish Republic would be taking more severe action against the terrorists operating from their country against this country than the Government of Jordan 845 would take against terrorists seeking to attack Israel. But the reverse is the truth.
The Jordanian Government has taken firmer action against terrorists than have the Irish Government. This is not because King Hussein likes the Israelis. It is because he recognises that the terrorists there are a threat to the Government and to the stability of his State. One wishes that the Irish Government would recognise that their terrorists are a threat not only to our Army but to the stability of their State and their society.
The Under-Secretary of State rightly paid tribute to the morale of our Army in Northern Ireland. Considering the enormously long hours they have to spend on duty and the unavoidable discomfort they also have to undergo, the morale of the soldiers is extremely high. If I were in Northern Ireland, my morale would not be improved by the knowledge that it still seems to be legal to collect funds in London for the support of the I.R.A It is important that the Home Office should somehow manage to convey the impression that it realises the burdens placed on the Army in Northern Ireland—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker(Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. The Chair has allowed the hon. Member a very wide-ranging series of comments. I hope he will now return to the Vote under discussion.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the latitude you have allowed me in this part of my speech.
The Army has been suffering from a number of handicaps not of its own making. This evening we are discussing ways in which the burdens of our soldiers might be lessened. Perhaps a political initiative can be accompanied by a diplomatic initiative to certain quarters. Even if the political initiative should produce a miracle and all violence should suddenly cease in Northern Ireland, one can be reasonably sure that the next conflict the Army will be called upon to take part in will also be a guerrilla campaign. I hope that in the course of the coming two or three years the Army will devote more of its time and energies to the systematic study of guerrilla warfare and counter insurgency activities.
846 In his admirable book, "Low Intensity Operations" Brigadier Frank Kitson has underlined some of the technical problems and has called for greater effort to be spent in studying these problems and mastering them. I am delighted that Brigadier Kitson should at the moment be in a responsible rôle in Belfast. This is very much a case of the right man being in the right job at the right time One could have nobody better there. I hope that his will continue to be a powerful voice and that the study of guerrilla activities will become a central part of the Army's educational activity in future This is the sort of warfare with which, alas, we are only too likely to be faced in the future.
The other main challenge the Army will face in the coming year is the question of unity with European defence forces. I welcome the development of the Euro-groups which were started by the Party opposite. I hope that their scope and influence will increase, but we cannot make them grow single-handed France has so often in the past thrown a spanner in the works of European unity. It seems that perhaps another spanner has been thrown this afternoon by our forthcoming guest, President Pompidou. In the field of European defence activity, the French have played, if not a wrecking, at least a blocking rôle. It is difficult for the Army to make a move forward in the various Eurogroups in which they are represented
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I recognise the hon. Member's interest, but I think that he too will recognise that he is going rather outwith the scope of this debate.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I certainly had no wish, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to stray into diplomatic fields which are at the moment somewhat delicate. The Army has an important rôle to play in Europe. It is difficult to define that rôle at this moment because of the somewhat negative attitude of our French allies.
I am slightly depressed at the way in which in this House we seem always to concentrate on the hardest aspects of co-operation. Last night, by slightly bending the rules of order, there was, oddly enough, in the Committee stage of the European Communities Bill, a discussion on the Anglo-French nuclear 847 force. I certainly do not intend to stray into that field this evening, but it seems strange that we should spend so much time in this House discussing aspects of co-operation with our allies which are extremely difficult instead of discussing those fields where one can perhaps cooperate more easily. It is very difficult to share nuclear secrets with our allies. It is not so difficult to exchange subalterns or sergeants. I hope that in the comparatively near future it will become commonplace and wholly acceptable for junior officers and N.C.O.s to do a short tour of duty with units of our European allies on the Continent and that young officers and N.C.O.s from our European allies will do a short tour of duty with our own units.
The dominant feature of our debate this afternoon has been the almost total absence of the vast majority of hon. Members from our proceedings. This may in part be due to the fact that Chapman Pincher was right, that he had a scoop when he came before our Defence Committee many weeks ago and said that the forthcoming Defence White Paper would be the dullest to be produced since the end of the war. In this case our dullness is a virtue, and the Armed Forces can benefit from a period of stability after the extraordinary changes which were forced upon them by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). The fact that so few hon. Members on the Opposition side have bothered to attend our debate shows that there is very widespread confidence in the House as a whole in the present political leadership of the Armed Forces. I certainly have confidence. I believe that that confidence is reflected in the small number of hon. Members who have bothered to come here for this debate this evening.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
Looking back over past defence debates in which I have taken part, I was thinking today that if nothing else has improved perhaps the standard of defence debates has. The fact that there are fewer hon. Members present than hitherto may be the cause and effect of that. We have all become a little more sophisticated in our approach to defence matters. I remember some years ago that we used to have appallingly sterile discussions 848 across the Floor about the possession or non-possession of nuclear weapons. As a result, Governments of both parties have continued with the same policy. Today, there is less political controversy between the two sides of the House and some broad measure of agreement about the function of our Armed Forces.
Unfortunately, there is always a temptation in a debate such as this for us to become either amateur strategists or amateur quartermasters. I do not believe that that is the proper function of politicians. I understand that we are discussing the Army Estimates specifically. Inevitably we may stray into more general matters. But our approach as politicians must be to consider in essence how the money is spent, whether it is being spent wisely, and what are the results and effects. It is a mistake to look back on one's own Service career. We are here as politicians. We are not thinking of ourselves as having the function of stategists or quartermasters.
I intend to concentrate my remarks on recruiting. I know that a number of hon. Members have referred to this already. I was struck by the fact that we have in the Army relatively satisfactory figures in terms of other ranks recruiting. There is a temptation to say that this is related to the sadly high unemployment figures. But that is a rather unsophisticated approach, when one considers the age levels of those entering the Army. A situation where there are high unemployment figures in civil life possibly assists in retaining people in the Forces. However, I do not believe that there is a direct relation in the sense that people are pushed into Service careers by these figures.
Although we have satisfactory figures for other ranks recruiting, we have unsatisfactory figures for officer recruiting. In the last day or so, we have heard that the Sandhurst entry is inadequate. The fact that the Mons officer cadet school and Sandhurst are now coming under one roof, I cannot find it in my heart to criticise overmuch, having myself spent some time under the rather dilapidated and uncomfortable roof of the former establishment.
There may be possible advantages in having alongside each other the young man who is determined to be a career soldier and the young man who wishes to 849 spend a short time in the Army. There was a tendency in the past for Sandhurst and its equivalents in the other two Services to be very confined institutions. Such an atmosphere is rather inappropriate for our present age. I believe that it was a headmaster of Wellington who described Sandhurst asthe hell over the hill".That was some years ago, of course, but one knows his general feeling.
In our military education, we are getting a much wider approach, and there may be some advantages in having these young men alongside each other. Nevertheless, the fact that the Sandhurst entry is inadequate is a reflection not on the policy of particular Governments, but of the attitude of young people today looking at the Services as a possible career.
It may be that the potential officer takes a longer-term view than the young man who joins in the ranks. That is no disrespect to the person who goes into the ranks. I am saying merely that one comes across a soldier who has gone into one branch of the Services not because he was thinking in the long term about a Service career but because he was interested in some aspect of soldiering, whether it was bridge building or lorry driving. I think that it is fair to say that the potential officer takes a more long-term view of a military career, and obviously not quite enough young men are thinking in those terms.
I can understand it. Looking at the Army, it is difficult for a young man. He sees the possibility of service in Europe in what I call the war game atmosphere, with the very remote possibility of nuclear war and the possibility of a life of war games and manoeuvres. The alternative that he sees is in Ireland, the example of civil internal violence. Between the two extremes it is right to ask where lies the attraction of a Service career. In the old days there was the fairly obvious one of seeing the world and of a little adventure. The difficulty for any Government today is to recruit into the Services at a time when young men might regard the two alternatives both as being rather unattractive. This is a difficulty which will increase with the years.
I do not want to refer to Ireland in any detail. I would merely think of 850 when that problem is solved. Then we shall be dealing with a situation where we are recruiting into Forces which increasingly are aligned towards Europe and the possibility of adventure training, using that term to cover a number of activities, in other parts of the world. It will be a very different Army from the one which most hon. Members have experienced. We have to make a positive effort to get away from old-fashioned thinking and to start thinking in terms of recruiting into a Service which is different from that experienced by any of us. That is perhaps the central task for those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who decide Service policy. It is for them to keep before the public the picture of a worth-while, useful service which still offers attractions that may have to outweigh opportunities in civil life.
Obviously I have not helped anyone merely by exposing my worries and concerns. However they are very real. They must be in the minds of the Government, and they are points which we as politicians concerned with the Services and the people recruited into them must bear in mind constantly.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
As a former trooper in the Territorial Army for a very short time, I shall not presume to keep this august company long. I want to make three brief points.
The first concerns counter insurgency which I believe is inadequately studied in the Army, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell) have suggested. In this regard I think that the Minister should consider the possibility of establishing a school of counter-insurgency, just as, for example, we have a school of land-air warfare at Old Sarum, a school of infantry at Warminster, and a school of artillery at Larkhill.
I am not in any way trying to diminish the rôle of special forces, such as the Special Air Service, in this crucial sphere of operations. I do not believe that by giving everybody a smattering of the art we can diminish the requirement for real specialist elite expertise. Far from it. I think that the expertise will be even 851 more necessary in future and that élitism will have to be encouraged even more. None the less, the conditions of counter insurgency, as we have seen in Northern Ireland, will require a more general knowledge of the techniques which these operations demand. For that reason, I make this suggestion to my hon. Friend.
Allied analagous to that is the use of the helicopter in the land battle. This matter was also referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham. It is a glaring deficiency in the Army which I suggest will have to be remedied in the near future. We have an insufficiency of heavy lift helicopters and a deficiency of attack helicopters. Whether it be for counter insurgency, rapid deployment in the battlefield or in an anti-tank rôle, the helicopter will be crucial, particularly in mobile warfare and in the type of warfare which we can expect in central Europe.
I ask my hon. Friend to consider whether it might be a good idea for this country to develop units rather like the United States Air Cavalry. I suggest that this is the way in which the Army should be moving. The helicopter in the years ahead will be as indispensable as the jeep was in the Second World War. The jeep could be used for S.A.S. operations with twin Vickers on the front and also as a general run-about for every private soldier, whether the United States or the British Army.
My second point concerns the education and training of officers. I was most interested in my hon. Friend's plans for the reform of Sandhurst. On 21st June last year I raised the subject of the education and training of officers on an Adjournment debate. If I have any criticism of the plans for Sandhurst—I know that they are brought about of necessity—it is that which I expressed on 21st June about the new system of training for Royal Air Force Regular officer recruits. I then said,that a course of this type must lead to a diminution of the breadth of the military training provided. In a year's basic training programme there will not be quite as much time for the variety of activities such as visits to the United States, to N.A.T.O. commands, to other Services, and so on, which are part of the broadening experience of an officer-cadet in training."—[Official Report, 21st June, 1971; Vol. 819, c. 1158.]852 I suspect that this could be the state of affairs with the Sandhurst of the future. I think that it is regrettable and that it will be reflected in the calibre of officer whom we shall have in positions of high command in the years ahead. That said, I think that the plan has merits. I think that it provides the nucleus of a rationalisation which could lead to the establishment of a tri-Service cadet college which I advocated on 21st June.
The next stage of rationalisation is to realise that the basic professional training, basic training in discipline and basic academic training, are in essence common to all three Services. In this new plan, officers, whether short service or Regular, will require a brief basic disciplinary course plus a brief academic course. These could be combined in future at the joint College at Greenwich as they are at Sandhurst where they will go to do special Army training. Subsequently, from the Interservice Cadet College at Greenwich they will go to their respective Services for their respective professional training.
In conclusion, I throw out this last brief idea. I have referred to counter-insurgency. I should like to draw attention to the fact that in the Estimates 60,000 men in uniform plus 30,000 civilians are in the British Army of the Rhine. They are hostage to fortune and well forward in the most exposed part of the defences of Western Europe. They constitute a third of our Regular manpower. From the money point of view, £290 million is spent on B.A.O.R., which is almost twice as much as the next biggest single item in the Defence Budget, which is £171 million for local admin. and communications. I suggest that in an era of mobility, when this country should be spending more on sea and air power, it is essential, in its geographic position to the rear flank of N.A.T.O., that more of this money should go to tasks like counter-insurgency, greater air mobility, better officer educational training, and so on, and, not least, to an expansion of the reserves which we have already seen in small measure but which I should like to see augmented.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Oldbury and Halesowen)
We have already heard many tributes paid to the behaviour of our troops 853 in Northern Ireland. I recently visited an N.C.O. of my late regiment who is now in hospital after being gravely wounded at the age of 18. What greatly impressed me about that young man was his courage, decency and moderation. I wish that some critics of the British Army might have had my opportunity to see and hear him talk about his experiences. It certainly brought home to me the war in Northern Ireland in a more vivid way than I had ever realised from television or the Press.
I do not intend to speak about the situation in Northern Ireland, except to say that we hear a great deal now about the need for a political initiative, whatever that may mean. I am certain that we also need a military initiative.
In this connection the remarkable speech by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) expressed views which I know from personal experience are held by many people in this country—in short, that we are engaged against a most ruthless enemy and that kid glove measures are not sufficient and will certainly never win us that war.
I wish to turn shortly to quite a different subject. I am very sorry that in the debate so far there has been no specific mention of any preparations being made for our troops to support the civil power in this country in an emergency, such as we had recently with the coal crisis. We all know of the growth of public disorder not only in this country but all over the world. I am not thinking now of an extension of the war in Northern Ireland over here but rather of civil disturbance by such numbers of people that there are simply not enough police to control them.
The most obvious example of this in the recent coal crisis was of course at the Saltley Coke Depot in Birmingham, where 300 or 400 police were powerless against about 5,000 engineering workers on strike, accompanied by a few students and other hangers-on—[An Hon. Member: "And miners".]—and some miners, although they were out-numbered by the engineers by about ten to one.
Unless we are to give way to anarchy and allow mobs—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I hope that the hon. 854 Member will observe the much narrower terms of this debate.
§ Mr. Stokes
What I am trying to say, having waited some time to speak, is that I hope that, in the training and planning of the Army, arrangements will be made to use troops, if necessary, to assist the civil power and above all to keep essential services going. I am sure that this matter needs attention by the Ministry of Defence.
Subversion, unfortunately, is on the increase in this country. The recent searches of homes by the security forces have in my experience been greatly welcomed by the mass of people in this country. The Army may also have to take a hand to assist the police in the protection of prominent public figures.
Since you have somewhat confined my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will end now by saying that I believe that we have so few troops available in this country that the Ministry of Defence will have to consider training at least one division of our troops from the Rhine Army to support the civil power and to be on standby for immediate movement to this country in an emergency.
I am thinking particularly of special units like the Royal Engineers and other specialist corps who will need to be trained for transport duties—rail and motor—and also in operating power stations, water installations and other essential services, as well as in crowd control. This is not scaremongering but necessary prudence and planning for an emergency.
The Government in this country are expected to govern. Unfortunately, during the recent coal crisis, there was an impression in some quarters that the Government had been caught naked with no troops available and handy. I am certain that the public will not allow this situation to happen again. The Government must therefore take immediate steps to have troops ready and trained to assist the civil power in England as necessary.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I intend to speak mainly of the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland. First, however, there are two points in the White Paper which interest me and my constituency. In chapter 6, dealing 855 with research and development, under the heading of "Other Projects", we are told that work will continue on a number of these projects, the most important of which are listed in that chapter. Particular mention is made of aircraft—the conversion of the Victor and the development of the HS1182.
I should be obliged if my hon. Friend the Minister could elaborate on the aircraft which are being used by the Army. The suggestion that I should like the Ministry to consider is that the Skyvan aircraft, which is being built by Short Bros, and Harland, would be of considerable use. It is much cheaper than helicopters and very versatile, with a short-take-off characteristic. An Army requirement for this aircraft would not only fill a vital need by improving the Army's mobility much more cheaply than a fleet of helicopters: it would also help to provide employment in my constituency, where, as I have no need to stress after what has been said in this debate, it would be most appreciated.
Therefore, although I know that a great deal of money is spent by the Royal Air Force on the more exotic jet aircraft, some attention should be paid to the use of a small, first-class aircraft which can carry both many men and various items of equipment, which can be easily loaded and off-loaded, over medium and short range; this would be a very valuable addition. Many serving officers have expressed the opinion to me that such an aircraft is something for which they have long felt the need in the Army.
I was also pleased when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred, under the heading of guided weapons, to the development of Blowpipe. If we can be told anything further on the research and development of Blowpipe, this would also be of particular interest in my constituency.
I turn now to the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and others on the state of affairs in Northern Ireland. First of all, without any qualification at all, I should like to express the gratitude which is felt by the great majority of people of every political and religious affiliation in Northern Ireland for the work which is being done by the Army.
856 The enemy that the Army is facing is a vicious and, one might almost say, paranoid enemy. He does not command the support either of the Roman Catholic population or of the Protestant population. However, he has terrorised and intimidated a large part of the population of Northern Ireland. He lives in and operates from small, well-defined areas, like the New Lodge Road in my constituency, for instance, where the first soldier, Gunner Curtis, was shot just over a year ago. Other such places are the Falls Road area, the Ardoyne, Ballymurphy, the Bogside, Londonderry, certain parts of Newry and Strabane—all clearly defined and well-known.
These people come from such places and plant bombs in other parts of Belfast. Sometimes they destroy themselves while attempting to manufacture these bombs. They then either return to the areas from which they came or, if the bomb outrage is near the Border, slip across and seek sanctuary in Southern Ireland.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the gallant men who have the task of trying to deal with bombs which are discovered before they explode. I wish, on behalf of my constituents, to express sympathy to the relatives of the two gallant sergeants who were killed two days ago in Northern Ireland when attempting to defuse such a bomb.
These bombs are planted indiscriminately and the damage they do is colossal. It is hard, sitting here in London, to appreciate the extent of the damage that these explosions do. It was made clear in a parliamentary answer on 9th March that the number of explosions had escalated enormously. In January last year these incidents were running at the rate of between 16 and 17 per month. The number crept up in July to 68 explosions, an average of two a day throughout that month. Following internment, the numbers increased dramatically. There were 101 in August, 256 in September, 225 in October and a slight reduction in November, showing some success for the internment policy, so that from a peak of 256 in September the number had dropped to 147 in November, 161 in December, 156 in January of this year and 140 last month.
I must put these figures before the House to set the complete background to this issue. It is important in this 857 connection to note the number of pounds of gelginite used. The total rose from 110 lb. in January, 1971, to 1,870 lb. in August. A similar amount was used in September though there was a slight decrease, to 1,670 lb.; 1,310 lb. of gelignite was used in December, 1,500 lb. in January and 1,400 lb. in February.
The figures for the number of devices dismantled show a similar trend. The poundage successfully dismantled rose from 270 in January to 420 in August. These figures are important to bear in mind and we are told that the poundage dismantled was 440 in October, 280 in November, 600 in December, 830 in January and 575 in February. In addition large quantities of explosive have been found in searches.
I emphasise these figures because they underline the enormous amount of explosives being used in Northern Ireland. When one recalls the carnage in the Abercorn disaster a fortnight ago, when only 5 to 10 lb. of gelignite was used, one appreciates the amount of damage that is done by the indiscriminate use of bombs. In one month almost 2,000 lb. of high explosive went off, yet only a few pounds can kill two or three people and severely maim for life 30 or 40 more. It is clear, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton emphasised, how irrelevant it is in these circumstances to talk about a political initiative.
The number of deaths is equally terrifying. The numbers killed each month have fluctuated from eight in August, 1969, to two and three in September and October, 1969, respectively. There was then a gap until June, 1970, when another six were killed; 76 in July, two in August, two in September, two in November and one in December. One person was killed in January, 1971, 12 in February, six in March, four in May and four in July. Then the numbers increased dramatically, with 35 being killed in August, 1971. Nineteen people were killed in September, 32 in October, 23 in November, 39 in December. In 1972, 26 were killed in January, 22 in February and seven in the week ending 5th March.
The number of those injured must be stated. Seventy people were injured in June, 1971. The numbers fluctuated at 858 around the 100 mark until June, when 57 were seriously injured, and then 145 in July, rising to 409 in August, 356 in September, 303 in October, 312 in November, 371 in December and 295 in January. It is estimated that between February and 5th March this year the number will have been 440.
When one quotes figures of this kind it is surprising that they do not provoke a different reaction. After all, we are speaking of a small Province with a population of 1½ million. Since August last year an average of one person a day has been killed, with10 having been seriously injured. Many of these people have been women and children, innocent passers-by. Many of them have had arms and legs blown off. One girl had both legs and one arm blown off in the Abercorn disaster. Sixteen children have been killed. These figures help to bring home the tragedy of the situation.
We have time and again discussed this tragedy across the Floor of the House. It is clear that those who have been responsible for these terrible acts of carnage, death and vicious assault on their fellow citizens are quite unmoved and unaffected by talk of political reform.
As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton pointed out, many reforms have already been granted. The entire civil rights list drawn up by the marchers in 1969 has been met by the Stormont Parliament. The police were disarmed and the local militia, the Ulster Special Constabulary, was disbanded. Despite all these moves, acts of violence have continued to escalate.
One need only consider the statistics to appreciate how irrelevant is talk of political reform. Are these people really interested in achieving political reform? Can that be so when they commit such outrages? They have said, even in B.B.C. interviews, that their prime aim is to impose their will on the majority in Northern Ireland. They are beyond not only the voices of their political leaders but the pleas of their Church leaders.
The only possible solution in Northern Ireland is the one proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. When one is acting against urban guerrillas, one must act firmly, positively and even, perhaps, ruthlessly. These 859 people have only one fear. They fear for their own skins.
I ask my hon. Friend the Undersecretary to consider a number of suggestions. I take up the idea suggested earlier in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who suggested that perhaps units of the Navy and the R.A.F. might be used in Northern Ireland. From my talks with members of the police force in Northern Ireland I know that many of our Royal Ulster Constabulary are tied down on guard duties on police barracks, prison ships and such things as bus depots, power stations and reservoirs. Surely this is a job which could be done better by either the Ulster Defence Regiment or, if that was not available, by Army units or certain naval or R.A.F. units such as the R.A.F. Regiment. In this way police would be released to try to restore law and order in the streets of Belfast. Such police could patrol on their own, in uniform or in plain clothes, attempting to seek out the bombers and the others with whom the Army is now dealing.
When soldiers patrol these areas, they do so in heavily armed groups, four, five or six at a time. The bomber waits until the patrol has passed, then slips in and plants his bomb. It would be much more effective if those soldiers were used on static duty, guarding police barracks, which the police now have to guard, leaving the police to patrol the streets. The police can cover a wider area. They know the ground and the people involved. They can spot the terrorist more readily.
§ Mr. G. Johnson Smith
My hon. Friend has close personal knowledge of conditions in the streets of Belfast, but he would be the first to recognise that soldiers are patrolling streets into which no policeman would dare to go, not because the police are afraid to carry out duties but because if they went there they would be shot.
§ Mr. McMaster
I appreciate that. But I was talking to the head constable in my area last weekend and relaying to him the complaint in my constituency that people did not see the police as frequently as they had in the past. He said that many of his men were tied up in static guard duties. This is in a part of Belfast where the police are free to 860 go, where there are raids by the I.R.A. on individuals in their homes, the areas in the centre of Belfast. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary remembers from his visit to Belfast how many business premises had been blown up not in areas where the police are afraid to go—not by a long chalk—but right in the centre of the town.
We should use fewer soldiers on patrols in the way that they are now used, but perhaps one or two at each of the main corners, trying to spot terrorists and searching cars at random. A much wider area could be covered by putting soldiers on principal corners—there are not so many—in Belfast and the other main cities rather than moving them around.
It is not easy to make suggestions, because we all appreciate the work that the Army is trying to do. But we must look very critically at all the jobs soldiers are doing at present and ask why they are doing them and whether that is the most effective way of dealing with an urban guerrilla or terrorist.
If we are to solve this problem we should consider the longer process of disengagement. It is for that reason that I suggest that the Army should take over more guard duties to allow the police to get back into the areas that I have mentioned, perhaps in threes and fours, if possible using armoured cars for the patrol duties. We must return to some sort of normality in Northern Ireland. We cannot for ever rely on the Army patrolling the streets in armed vehicles. particularly in areas such as the Falls the Ardoyne and Ballymurphy.
I conclude by suggesting five points for consideration. I agree with what has been said during the debate about the desirability of tighter control of our Border. The Border is not secure. I refer my hon. Friend the Minister of State and hon. Members to an answer given to me on 9th March. I asked how many attacks had been made across the Border. The reply was that between 9th August. 1971, and 6th February 1972—a period of just seven months—there had been 83 incidents in which gunmen had opened fire at security forces from across the Border and two incidents in which they had fired from across the Border at civilians. On 10th October last year shots were fired at the Killeen 861 customs post. On 20th November gunmen opened fire on a Land Rover containing a party of journalists.
On top of these incidents of shooting across the Border, there have been 72 incidents involving violence in Border areas, including shooting, bombing, booby traps and armed robbery, where the terrorists have been seen to cross the Border either before or after the attack or are believed to have done so. This amounts to a total of over 150 incidents across the Border in six or seven months.
Who would tolerate a situation like that. Is it not possible to have a tighter control of the Border than that? These are merely the incidents reported. On how many occasions have explosives been brought across the Border undetected? One knows of the great poundage of explosives which has originated from the South of Ireland. There must be tighter control. It may not be possible to control the entire Border, but we all know that the Border is crossed by many small roads which join up at main road junctions, joining main roads which lead to the main centres of population, Belfast, Londonderry and elsewhere. It is surely possible to have checks at these crossroads.
That was the way the Border was controlled before the present incidents broke out. It would be possible to have a much tighter degree of control. Hardly a week passes without my receiving a letter from one or more of my constituents who say that they have visited the South of Ireland and have not been stopped once. They compare this with the situation during the last republican outbreak of violence between 1956 and 1962, when it was impossible to go anywhere near the Border without being frequently stopped by the Ulster Special Constabulary.
Second, I suggest that the Army should be much more resolute in its searches of the areas from which these attacks originate. The Army well knows the areas in which patrols are likely to be shot. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary pointed out that there were certain areas into which the police could not go. Why are the houses not cordoned off and searched? Why should we wait for an explosion, such as that which occurred last week 862 when four people who were manufacturing bombs blew themselves up? Why cannot they be detected earlier? A policy which would cause resentment amongst the minority, a much more vigorous policy of cordoning and searching the areas in which the violence originates, could be pursued by the Army.
There are other remedies that I hesitate to suggest such as imposing a curfew and the carrying of identity cards. We should emphasise in the debate the scale of urban guerrilla warfare which is being waged in Belfast. We must try to wake up the Government Front Bench to the real nature of the problem and make them take the necessary action even though not only the minority, but the majority of the population in Ireland might resent it. They would not like a curfew or having their houses searched, because no one likes that. They would not like to carry identity cards for travelling between Northern Ireland and Britain, but they would have to.
If we are to control terrorism we must go all out in our war against the terrorist. We must think of the innocent people who will be killed this week or next week.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
I am trying to be as tolerant and understanding to the hon. Member as I possibly can, but he must not develop his speech continually along lines which would be more appropriate on Monday. I do not wish to be unduly harsh with the hon. Member but I hope he will help me.
§ Mr. McMaster
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think I have covered the subject well and I am grateful for the latitude I have been given. I hope that the points I have made will be carefully noted by my hon. Friend the Under-secretary and carefully considered when the debate is over. Although a great deal of inconvenience might be caused by pulling out all the stops and maintaining a resolute determination to end the campaign as quickly as possible, the population would be prepared to put up with it. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider my suggestions in order that the Army may be able to restore law, order and peace as quickly as possible, and then we can go on to consider political initiatives and measures of that nature.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I thank my hon. Friends who have turned up in such numbers to greet my maiden appearance at the Dispatch Box. There is always a risk that our praise of the Army and any of the Armed Forces should sometimes seem to the public as ritualised as the assent we give to the presentation ceremony for Ten-Minute Rule Bills. It is always a traditional piece of praise but at a time like this when young men are dying in the Army in a part of the United Kingdom we are forced to examine any easy assumptions we may have and it reinforces the sincerity of our gratitude to and our admiration of the Army.
I am pleased to add my voice to that admiration. I might add in parenthesis that I have such admiration for the Army that I think at times that they may know what they are doing in tactical matters. Many hon. Members who speak of the Army in such ringing tones seem to base the rest of their speeches on the predisposition of supposing that the Army knows nothing of what it is doing in Northern Ireland.
With other hon. Members I was privileged to visit the Army in Northern Ireland recently. Since a number of hon. Members have touched upon the subject of Northern Ireland it must obviously form one part of the debate although I hope to obey the injunction of the Chair not to linger too long on any purely civil aspect. I can testify to the courage and presence and intelligent appreciation with which the troops there carry out an appallingly difficult and dangerous job. They are worthy of our highest tribute. But their very excellence imposes duties on the House. The first is that theirs is only a contribution to the solution to the Northern Ireland problem.
As the Minister said this afternoon, there is no outright military solution, and if proof of that were needed the number of 14- and 15-year-old boys who have been involved in recent incidents has shown that unsolved the problem will recur. The duty of the House, and in particular the Government's duty, is to put forward political initiatives which would provide a framework for a solution. In so doing I must repudiate the views put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget).
864 I confess that if it is a crime to be liberal, and it appears to be so in some parts of his speech, I am guilty. But when we talk about ends and means we must aver that we cannot serve the human values of a free society by taking cold-blooded action which deliberately denies and destroys those values. That is the Lidice complex and it is, in the end, deeply disruptive of our own society because our society is not complacent or acquiescent but free and democratic, and I believe therefore that in trying to provide a solution for the problem we must meet the aspirations of those many thousands of people to whom my hon. Friends have referred.
The vast majority of the Catholic population I believe want a political solution and it has not abandoned the idea or polarised to the extent of not having a hope of a political solution. I believe that the Government's failure in not bringing forward such a scheme has been deeply damaging. We owe it to the Army to make sure that there is a political solution as soon as possible.
The excellence of our Army demands that we as a nation must, in countering evil, reflect the positive values that we proclaim as a nation and we must, whatever the provocation, maintain the high standards of conduct. That is why the Government were absolutely right to respond as they did to the Parker Report on interrogation, and I hope this will be the spirit in which we approach all our actions.
The third thing that is imposed on us by the excellence of our Army is that while serving in Northern Ireland the soldiers should have the best living and recreational conditions we can arrange. The reason I put it that way is that Northern Ireland is in a peculiar situation in that although we have reasonable military freedom to move around, in social terms they are part of a beleaguered fortress and their recreation must be taken in the areas where many of them serve, within the barrack blocks, Army complexes and hutments where they live. Therefore, I believe they must have the best conditions we can provide.
I was pleased to hear the Minister speak of the improvements which are being made, with the five temporary camps and the mobile quarters. I am particularly glad about his announcement of 865 air travel arrangements to Germany. But I believe the Government will acknowledge that somewhat more must be done I pay tribute to the many private individuals and organisations that have contributed towards the Forces' welfare, and in particular the Daily Telegraph television scheme, which has made a great contribution to the morale of the troops.
But we saw examples of inadequate conditions which I should briefly tell the House about. In the full defence debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) mentioned the Royal Highland unit stationed in a bus depot, clearly in very inadequate conditions. We visited a unit stationed on the walls of Derry that had 30 men sleeping in each small steel hut. Another unit in a converted cotton mill in Belfast could not segregate on- and off-duty personnel, so there was no true period of rest for anyone there. We should look progressively at such problems, and I know the Government are doing so to the best of their ability. They are problems which could and should be overcome. I hope that the Minister will tell us something of the Government's forward thinking on that subject when he winds up.
My fourth point is one that I know is almost ritualised both in its proclamation and response. No matter what the Government may say, all of us had the impression when we visited Northern Ireland that the responsibility for security is presently blurred and doubts are expressed as to the primacy of the Army's rôle in the matter. We all accept that a transfer of security to this country would not in itself bring about any rapid cure, but it is time we took security into the hands of the Government, so that there should be undivided and unblurred responsibility residing in Whitehall. Is not that the only way in which we may expect any political initiative to be seen to be relevant to a political solution?
Support for this viewpoint appeared in The Guardian on 18th February, when Mr. Michael Harbottle, former Chief of Staff of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus, made as one of his points a mandate from Westminster, outside the control of Stormont. That is an important point, which we have emphasised, and I hope it will form part of any forthcoming political initiative.
866 Finally, on the question of Northern Ireland, I refer to a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East in the Defence debate about the number of young soldiers killed in Northern Ireland. I appreciate that the Government have already taken some precautions by raising the minimum age of service there to 18. But since the last debate in which the matter was raised another 18-year-old soldier has died. Therefore, consideration should now be given again to doing what was done by the Labour Government at the time of Korea, fixing the minimum age of service there at 19.
§ Mr. John
There are two answers to that. First, no doubt that could also be said of the 17-year-olds when they were banned from service in Northern Ireland. Second, the responsibility for the decision belongs to the House. We cannot place it on the shoulders of 17-year-old and 18-year-old soldiers to decide whether they should serve there. There is significance in the proportion of people of that age group who have died in the Northern Irish difficulties. Therefore, the fixing of the minimum age at 19 would be of advantage.
Unfortunately, Northern Ireland is not the only part of the world in which British troops are being killed. Recent newspaper reports have revealed that three British officers and two British Special Air Service Personnel have been killed in Dhofar in the past few months, and at least four personnel have been wounded there. I apologise, because I raised this question as recently as the debate on the Air Estimates, but, if I may say so in the absence of the Minister who then answered the debate, the answers I received, possibly because I had to confine my remarks to the Royal Air Force Regiment and the Royal Air Force personnel there, were rather less than full.
Apparently it is assumed that arising out of the Treaty of Friendship some of our troops should undertake a training rôle of the Sultan of Oman's troops. This was provided for under the treaty which, I understand, has been extended. We know remarkably little about that rôle 867 which is governed by the British Government and the Sultan for British troops on the spot. The Sunday Observer of 2nd January, The Times of 3rd January and the Economist of 8th January made the statement that the two soldiers most recently killed and the four who were wounded were killed and wounded during the course of the Sultan's offensive. It may be that is or is not so; what I complain about is the lack of information which this House of Commons has been given on the matter.
When British Service men are killed in any sphere of operation the House of Commons is entitled to know how and why that occurred lest in ignorance we are unable to stop a deeper involvement. It may be that successive Governments have understood and accepted this rôle, but I believe the House has a right to require the Under-Secretary of State for the Army to vouchsafe some explanation of this state of affairs so that we may have an opportunity to judge the matter. We are hardly reassured by the fact that an announcement was made in January, 1972, and the deaths occurred in October, 1971. This, I understand, was the first time that such an announcement was made.
Arising out of, but not directly related to, my visit to Northern Ireland, I was able to direct some questions to soldiers who had come over from West Germany as to their views about being stationed in that part of the world. I was somewhat surprised—I emphasise this—to learn that those soldiers were not impressed by their station in B.A.O.R. They did not think it a good place to which they should be posted. One of the main complaints was about the availability and quality of accommodation. This is re-emphasised in the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee. The House owes much gratitude to that Committee and to its Chairman, who spoke earlier in the debate, for the assiduous work which has been done and the report which has been produced.
The value of the report is enormous. It amply bears out the remarks that the soldiers made to me when I met them in Northern Ireland. For single or unaccompanied soldiers many barracks are unsatisfactory. The Minister will know of one phrase which occurs on 868 page XIV of the report saying that some of the hutted barracks visited by the sub-Committee should be replaced as soon as possible. There are many sub-standard provisions for our Forces in that part of the world. As to married quarters—in parenthesis we must note that the vast majority of men in the Army, because it is a professional army, are married men—there is a great shortfall in the number of married quarters.
I understand from page XIII of the report that the shortfall in B.A.O.R. and Berlin on 30th September, 1971, was 5,338 married quarters. The report goes on readily to concede and we may all accept, that the Government are doing something to overcome this. I merely underline that to mask an even greater shortfall private quarters have been hired and in many cases they are sub-standard. The Committee has drawn attention to the caravan site at Bruggen which can be described only as squalid. These conditions are not good enough and they must be improved as soon as possible. We must make significant inroads into the problem.
Crucial to this problem is the fact that wives have the greatest influence upon enlistment and re-enlistment to the Forces. Unless great strides are made to overcome this problem they will use that influence against the interests of the Army. If this is so the long-term interests of the Army will suffer.
Our aim should be to eliminate as quickly as possible a situation in which a Serviceman can spend his entire tour without obtaining a married quarter or an official hiring. Married quarters should be so situated as not to leave wives isolated and remote—again, a problem acknowledged on both sides of the House.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)
The hon. Gentleman raises a matter which constantly engages the attention of both sides of the House when in Government. I am sure that he appreciates that basically it is a problem partially of land and also of money. Will he do his utmost to dissuade his colleagues from voting against the Defence Vote?
§ Mr. John
The right hon. Gentleman may have noted my voting on that occasion. What I am pointing out, and it is a legitimate concern shared by both 869 parties, is that the welfare facilities that our troops require are desirable and necessary in their own right but are also necessary as inducements to adequate recruiting. The fact that we are riding on the crest of a recruiting wave does not mean that we may not run into problems. Unless this accommodation problem in B.A.O.R. is solved, the young soldier will be influenced by his wife not to re-engage.
Another consequence of the Northern Ireland situation is that the soldier's family can be left in Germany to fend for themselves when he is sent to Northern Ireland. Germany does not have the welfare facilities or necessary assistants available to safeguard those young families. Have we provided as much help or advice for the wives and the families as we could? My concern is heightened by two things. The first is the statement in the Select Committee Report at page 13 that various aspects of the welfare facilities were less than adequate. The chief recommendation was the assigning of further S.S.A.F.A. sisters to B.A.O.R. I was glad to note the Minister's reply that more S.S.A.F.A. sisters are now being recruited and I presume from what he said that there will be a greater allocation to B.A.O.R.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I mentioned the allocation which was an increase. I cannot go further than that.
§ Mr. John
May I express the hope that there will be a further increase for Germany?
The second thing which concerned me were conversations I had with junior officers in Northern Ireland who made it clear that the officers' wives remaining in Germany were bearing a heavy burden in helping the young wives of soldiers. Commendable as this is, it is not a substitute for trained help, and I hope we will send further trained assistance and provide adequate facilities. If the troops sent to Northern Ireland deserve the best of us it is part of our function to relieve those troops of any anxiety about the welfare of their families. I hope that the Minister will deal with this in reply.
Recruitment is happily better but the Government will be foolish if they do not recognise that increased unemployment has resulted from their economic policies and that has been in the main the chief 870 recruiting agent. I know the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) talked of the surveys made in the '50s. I am not sure whether he was present during the Defence Questions which preceded this debate this afternoon. He would have heard an answer which shows that in fact in recent years the number of recruits in Scotland has doubled. I think that is not without significance, and the Government would be wise to recognise that. I believe that the figure was 2,500, and it is over 5,000 for this year. I believe that was the answer the hon. Gentleman gave in the House.
§ Lord Balniel
Perhaps I can assist the right hon. Gentleman. The increase in recruiting last year for the Services in Scotland was 20 per cent. In the country as a whole it was 21 per cent. I am speaking off the cuff, but I believe those are the figures.
§ Mr. John
Nevertheless, I think the figures over a period of three or four years show that the number from there have doubled. I am speaking from recollection, obviously, but this is not really significant, because I believe, despite the talk of the East Midlands or the older industrial areas, which have been hardest hit by this particular slump, as the traditional areas for recruitment, unless the Government recognise that unemployment is—or at any rate can be—a partial factor in recruitment they will be unprepared for attracting sufficient recruits in a period of full employment.
I note that the centralised selection system is in operation. I was glad to hear the Minister speaking of the three centres, and that it is working well. I noted from a newspaper report the other day that for potential officers there has been an experiment, introducing school leavers to the Army immediately before they go to university. I hope this most interesting experiment will be successful, not only in attracting initial recruits, because that is very important, but also in giving young men a better picture of what Army life is like and reducing wastage rates. I think the Minister would concede that in the past wastage rates have been high in some branches, and I hope this experiment will help to cut that down.
One thing that puzzles me, however, is the question of commissions. In the 871 Statement on the Defence Estimates, pages 27 and 28, we read that the failure rate at the Regular Commissions Board has offset the increase in applications. I would supplement the searching question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) as to why this is so. Is it a symptom of the power that we now have to be more discriminating, that because of increased applications we can afford to be more discriminating in choice, or is it purely a symptom—which would be more worrying—of a lower acceptance value, which fails before the end of the course?
I noted with pleasure that the traditional categories of weakness, the doctors, are showing some hope of an increase, and I hope that improvement will continue.
Finally, on recruiting, may I say that the increase to battalion strength of the former regimental companies makes little military sense, and at an annual cost in excess of £10 million it will be a very expensive sop to Tory election pledges.
I should like now to deal with the question of the Jungle Warfare School in Malaya and to ask the Minister to supplement his statement by telling us whether any personnel from Singapore will be, or will be allowed to be, trained at the school. As he will know, when the scheme was introduced there was considerable doubt as to whether certain persons from that island would be allowed to go to Malaya to train at school. I should like to know the present position.
The crisis in Malta appears to have gone off the front pages for some days. May I ask the Under-Secretary of State to what stage the withdrawal of Army equipment and personnel has proceeded? We have read that the matter is proceeding somewhat more quickly than was anticipated, and that we shall have complete withdrawal before 31st March. What is now the estimated time of withdrawal? I urge upon the Government to make every effort to conclude the negotiations successfully, and justly for the Maltese people.
In the aftermath of the necessity to give up the Army gunnery range at Shoeburyness the choice of the Pembrey site proved 872 to be unacceptable to the people there. It was then announced that several sites in Scotland were being considered and, according to the last answer given in this House on 20th December, 1971, the search was continuing. Rumours have circulated that all is not well in this move. To remove all doubt I hope that the Minister will give a progress report on how the search is proceeding and how near we are to a final decision.
I gave the Minister prior notice that I wanted to raise tonight the question of Maindy barracks—
§ Mr. Johnson Smith indicated dissent.
§ Mr. John
I wrote to the Minister, but he has obviously not received my letter. This is unfortunate because I wanted answers, but perhaps he will be able to give them without notice.
The Ministry of Defence was a possible user of Maindy barracks which had been given up. Plans for its dispersal had been laid by the previous Government, but in this Parliament the saga starts when my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) was told on 9th February, 1971, by the Secretary of State for Wales that the M.O.D. was to be located in Cardiff, providing 1,500 jobs. On 29th March, 1971, the Secretary of State for Wales was taxed with the statement that this move had been stopped. His reply was that although he could not then comment, a review of dispersal policy was being undertaken.
On 17th February, 1972, my right hon. Friend asked a specific question of the Minister of State for Defence about the location of the Department of the Master-General of Ordnance and received the reply that there was no plan at that stage for relocating it. He asked on 22nd February, 1972 about plans for other elements of the Ministry of Defence to be located in Maindy barracks, and was told that any decision on the occupancy of the new building at Maindy waited the outcome of the central dispersal review. This left the matter at large. My right hon. Friend then and in a subsequent debate voiced concern that the new building at Maindy barracks would be used merely to rehouse civil servants who are already located in Cardiff.
873 In a debate on 9th March, 1972, the Secretary of State for Wales was involved in an exchange with my right hon. Friend on this matter and the last words in this exchange of the Secretary of State for Wales were these:I cannot say what part of the Ministry of Defence will occupy the Maindy barracks; but the proposal is that part of the Ministry will occupy those barracks."—[Official Report, 9th March, 1972; Vol. 832, c. 1695.]The following questions arise from this short history. First, is the question of the use of Maindy barracks still awaiting the outcome of the central dispersal review? If so, when can we expect the result of the review to be published? If the decision has already been taken to disperse part of the M.O.D. to Maindy, which part of the M.O.D. is coming there and how many jobs will be created by the move? Thirdly, and perhaps most vital, why have we been getting different replies from the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Wales respectively, and who is telling the truth? The Minister will realise that the answer to these questions is important for Wales, important for dispersal policy and important for the relief of the great burden of unemployment in Wales, I hope we may be told the decision in clear and unequivocal terms.
I echo the plea for widows made by the right hon. Member for Harrogate. This is an important point which would repay study.
The army enters the forthcoming year facing the innovation of the abolition of the old United Kingdom Army Commands which will involve the devolution of much more authority to district commanders, and we wish the scheme well. If in this speech praise seems to be outweighed by the questions it is necessary to ask, I think this is inevitable so long as we do not have in this House a Select Committee on defence, because this is really one of the few opportunities which are given to hon. Members to probe the position of the Army. But the overall impression I want to leave is of our admiration for the serving soldier, our appreciation of the difficult and vital rôle he plays and our determination to keep the Army in which he serves at the highest standard we can achieve.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Johnson Smith
With the leave of the House, it is my privilege to congratulate 874 the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box as a Front Bench spokesman on defence. After hearing what he had to say I am sure that all of us hope we shall see him again on many other occasions as a Front Bench spokesman. We all appreciate the tribute he paid to the troops and the manner in which he did this, as well as his obvious concern for their welfare.
The hon. Gentleman raised many aspects of the welfare of the troops both in Northern Ireland and in the British Army of the Rhine. As I do not want to detain hon. Members beyond the witching hour I am quite sure that I shall not be able to deal with all the questions he raised or with many questions raised by other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, although I shall do my best. I am glad that the hon. Member for Pontypridd mentioned the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Mirror is another paper which organised a fund the benefits of which have already been much appreciated by our troops in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the conditions for the troops in such places as the bus depot and the cotton mill in Belfast and a particular hut, which I know well, in Londonderry. We are not complacent about the conditions and will continue to do everything possible to improve them, but some of the conditions in which our troops live are to some extent dictated by tactical considerations. They are sited there not because we think them the most desirable places but because they are operationally the most desirable. Even so, there are things that we can do and we intend to do.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd asked about Malta, which we expect to leave by the end of March if there is no agreement.
On Shoeburyness I have nothing further to report.
Concerning the age bar for troops in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member mentioned that the minimum age of the serving soldier was raised to 19 in Korea. None of us can look with any degree of equanimity at a situation in which another person loses his life, particularly anyone as young as 18, but without wishing to be at all harsh, and of course 875 one keeps a watch on matters of this kind. I think it would be undesirable to draw comparisons between Northern Ireland and Korea. Two aspects of the question of age come to my mind. We are dealing now with an all-volunteer Army and with people who, even though very young, are 18 and in the eyes of the law of the land have reached the age of majority. None of these conditions obtained at the time of Korea. But we will keep a close watch on the situation.
As regards the hon. Member for Pontypridd's natural concern with conditions of employment in Cardiff, we are still awaiting the outcome of the Central Dispersal Review and I would much prefer to write to him. This is a very complicated subject but I assure him that when I write he will have the truth and, of course, nothing but the truth.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
There is no change in the decision to move 1,500 civil servants to Cardiff. I believe this was one of the points the hon. Gentleman had in mind on the matter of employment.
§ Mr. John Morris
Am I right in thinking that the Secretary of State for Wales believes that the question now is, which part of the Ministry of Defence should go to Cardiff?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I would rather not comment on what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has said. This is a complicated subject and we must get it right. I prefer to write to both hon. Members and give all the information I possibly can at the appropriate time. I understand their need for this information but I do not want to get any wires crossed.
In regard to B.A.O.R. married quarters and hirings, one accepts that the housing situation is not as good as it might be. It must be remembered that there is a shortage of housing accommodation for German civilians, and therefore the Army is not unaffected by that shortage in Western Germany. We are well aware of the need to improve 876 barracks in Germany and we are discussing the recommendations of the Sub-Committee to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have instigated discussions with my colleagues in the Treasury and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and we shall be reporting as soon as possible.
The Army is a heavily-married Army. The decision in 1969 to remove the usual restrictions on eligibility for married quarters—a decision taken by the Labour Government, but I make no complaint about it since it appeared to be a fair decision—together with the tendency towards earlier marriage, has increased the number of dependants to be catered for as more accommodation becomes available. Unfortunately this problem will continue to grow for some years. The increased number of families in turn means greater demand on school accommodation, teachers, transport and medical and welfare services. Much has already been done to meet the situation and the future rate of increase has been studied so that it may be taken into account in the Financial Estimates. Provision for a larger number of dependants involves offsetting economies in other areas.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) had much to say that was critical of our new system of officer cadet training. I will try to answer as many of his points as I can. He seemed to feel that the cards were being kept very close to the chest and that there was not sufficient consultation by the Ministry of Defence with the people who were principally concerned. There have been wide consultations on this matter within the Army. Indeed I doubt whether any decision has been as carefully threshed out as this one. Furthermore, there were deep consultations with the academic advisory councils.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that we would be giving our career officers less education than we do now. This is not so. At present only about one-quarter of our young career officers undertake the academic year at Sandhurst. A relatively large number of short-service officers converting to Regular commissions have received no academic professional education whatever, but under the new arrangements it is essential that training will be given to all our career officers 877 and not, as at present, to a decreasing proportion.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd mentioned that the Regular Commissions Board was experiencing a high failure rate. This fact in itself says something for the standards which are set, and they are standards which have not varied. The truth is that we have not been getting people coming forward in the numbers we would like, and the quality has been lacking. Something had to be done. The Army faced a serious problem and this was one of the fundamental reasons for change.
We shall continue to provide opportunities for suitable officer cadets to study for university entrance. In appropriate cases studies may last for up to a year. This will be in addition to the professional academic training given in the Regular career course which could last about six months or more. I emphasise that this course is not the end of the Regular officer's professional education. It is the first step in a ladder of continuing professional education leading to staff college and beyond.
The hon. Member also asked—and quite rightly so; these questions were perfectly right—about the content of the career course. The details are still being worked out in consultation with our Academic Advisory Council. The main ingredients of this professional academic training will be international affairs, war studies and introduction to military technology. We have not forgotten language training, but we believe this is part of an officer's later continuing education and not a necessary ingredient of the essential initial training to be given on the Regular career course.
As regard the level of education of career officers in the Army, the hon. Member raised this point. The House may wish to know that some 40 per cent. of the officers awarded Regular commissions in 1971 have read, or will go on to read, for a degree. This might be compared with the R.A.F.'s 30 per cent. graduate entry target. The essential point about this new scheme is that the Sandhurst course is not the end of an officer's professional education, it is only the beginning.
The hon. Member also suggested that in introducing the new scheme we were 878 solely concerned with recruiting. That cannot be far from our minds. Again, however, it is a mistaken view. Certainly recruiting is an important consideration, because we simply are not meeting our needs under existing arrangements. There are important factors with which I know the hon. Member would agree. As I have said, a large proportion of our Regular officers do not receive any professional academic training at present. That includes entrants from the universities. The men who go to the universities go straight from the universities as officers to their regiments. They receive no professional academic training. That is something we must put right.
We must also set common professional standards for all our Regular officers, whatever their means of entry. We must have a common background on which we can base and develop all their future training.
I hope that the hon. Member will be satisfied with the main points I have made in reply to the questions he put.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I am grateful to the Minister for replying at some length to some of the points I made but he has not addressed himself to one of the points which I regarded as essential, namely the distinction which is now crystallising between the university and non-university officer, which his proposals go far to harden.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I do not think so. One already has the university entrants and the short-service commissioned officers who have no professional academic training. Everyone will now have professional academic training which narrows the gap between the university and the non-university man. More of our young officers will be given the chance to go to university. They all have a common, standard military course. That again narrows the gap between the different forms of entry.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) was concerned about the help we are giving to Bangladesh. On 12th February we sent a reconnaissance team to Bangladesh. For 10 days the members of the team looked at the ways in which we could help in restoring communications throughout that country. After consultation with the civil engineers sent on behalf of the 879 United Nations, and the Roads and Highways Department of Bangladesh, they said that we could best help by providing a specialist management team. The requirement is to give advice to the Roads and Highways Department. Although that department may have an adequate labour force, it would welcome our experience and expertise in dealing with disaster situations and we shall be sending out a team of that sort. In effect, therefore, we are giving what we have been asked to give.
§ Mr. George Thomson
Are the Government ready to back up that professional team with necessary materials such as Bailey bridges?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
That raises a rather wider question. We have not yet come to that point. I think it is best that we use the specialist advice that has been given and see whether we get requests of that kind. If we do, obviously we shall look at them.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland said that when he was in Northern Ireland he was surprised to learn that our troops there did not receive the local overseas allowance. When men are on emergency tour from B.A.O.R., their families left in Germany continue to receive the appropriate share of the local overseas allowance. But the local overseas alowance is intended solely to compensate men for the extra cost of serving overseas. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. All soldiers have an X factor as part of their pay, and this is to cover the turbulence and discomfort inherent in their service. I have never heard soldiers in Northern Ireland complain that they are short of money. If anything, their complaint is that they are short of the opportunity to spend what they have.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland also raised the question of the training given to units undertaking duties in Northern Ireland. Training in internal security duties forms part of normal training in Army units today. In addition, units warned for duty in Northern Ireland spend some weeks receiving special training before they go. Numbers of officers are sent on courses to prepare them to train their men, and they are sent for specialist courses. 880 Detailed guidance is provided based on the recent experience of units operating in Northern Ireland. Training is given to prepare troops to work in co-operation with the police. The content of the training given is kept under constant review so that it takes account of developments in the tactics of rioters and terrorists.
I was asked about the notice scheme. Young men who elect to shorten their engagements on reaching 18 years of age will be required to serve 18 months from their eighteenth birthdays or from the end of training, whichever is the later, before they can give 18 months' notice to leave. That is to say, they will serve a minimum of three years.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland asked about a force to deal with international disasters. He mentioned the possibility of attracting volunteers for such a force. He used as an example the way the previous Government had offered to contribute forces to assist in United Nations operations. Of course, we still provide such a force in Cyprus. We have a battalion there and we are still providing logistic support for UNFICYP. However, if we were to set up a separate force as the hon. Gentleman suggested, we should have to mount the force from this country without the advantages, except in very few cases, which obtain through a British Army presence overseas. We should also have the extra problems of maintaining and training and of providing continuing employment for such a force. Although I can see the reasons why the hon. Gentleman made the suggestion, I believe that it is best to continue to assess each disaster as it occurs and to offer what assistance is possible in the light of its scale and of the best way that the United Kingdom can assist by providing financial aid or by the provision of physical aid, or a combination of both.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) referred to prolongation rates and said that he believed the rate earlier was 60 per cent. and now appeared to be only 55 per cent. I can reassure my right hon. Friend about this in respect of the Army. The prolongation rate at the six-year point has risen from 50 per cent. in 1967 to 59 per cent. in the last quarter of 881 1971; at the nine-year point it has risen from 56 per cent. to 59 per cent., and at the 12-year point it has fallen slightly from 91 per cent. to 86 per cent. I hope that the new terms of engagement will help to improve the prolongation rates still further.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made an extremely interesting speech. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not comment on it. It went rather wider than the responsibilities that I bear.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieutenant-Colonel Colin Mitchell) spoke philosophically, which is a courageous thing to do in a debate like today's. I should not like him to think that I was not interested in what he said about the rôle of the Army in what he described as the new conditions of the hot peace. My hon. and gallant Friend's comments were most interesting about the need for counter-subversion and knowing how to deal with those who, in the hot peace, subvert communications and the life of the nation. I was also interested in his emphasis on the growing need for the Army to understand police methods of control when dealing with crimes, and so on.
Concerning the Border, although the debate has not been about Northern Ireland, we had a Question on this matter earlier today. I hope therefore that my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I do not go into the question of how we should control the Border. This is not a purely military matter. Obviously my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for the Home Department have views on all matters of this kind. However, like so many things in Ireland, it is not as simple as it looks at first blush.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and the hon. Member for Pontypridd asked about pensions for widows of sailors, soldiers and airmen who were discharged before 1st September, 1950, the qualifying date for the Forces Family Pension Scheme. This matter was raised by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) 18 months ago when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, who mostly deals with 882 matters of this kind at the Ministry of Defence, explained very fully why we were unable to give pensions to these ladies. However sympathetic we may feel towards these widows—I certainly do—their late husbands left the Armed Forces before the Forces Family Pension Scheme was introduced. Therefore, they are in the same position as any other widow whose late husband left his particular employment before his conditions of service provided for widows' pensions. I will inform my hon. Friend that this matter has been raised again today.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked about Suffield and, in particular, whether the Canadian chemical defence and biological activities had come to an end. They have not. We shall be using part of the range on a 10 year agreement, and the Canadians will be using a separate area. This has been very amicably arranged. Indeed, our Canadian friends have been most helpful to us throughout. The extra cost to the Army from using Suffield will be about £2 million a year to encompass the cost of civilian staff, transport costs in Canada, local overseas allowance, and so on. However, I believe that the return will be excellent. It is a superb area for training, offering almost everything that the Army could possibly ask for.
The hon. Member for West Lothian also asked about the Nugent Committee. The committee has completed a study of the majority of the sites and is now proceeding with a detailed examination of those which are the subject of particular public interest. The possibility of making an interim statement about land for release has been considered but it has been decided that it would be inappropriate. Until all the committee's studies have been completed, it is not possible to determine which land should be recommended for release. We shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's point about releasing as much land as we can. I assure him that we have no desire to hold on to an acre of land which is not essential to our needs. Although I have not got the figures, I think that if we look objectively at what the Ministry of Defence has given up in the last decade, it will be a story which will not substantiate the view held in some quarters that we are land hungry and want to hold on to what we 883 have got. I emphasise that the Ministry of Defence has given the Nugent Committee every co-operation.
I was asked about the standardisation of components in N.A.T.O. by the hon. Members for West Lothian and Caithness and Sutherland. There are standing arrangements with N.A.T.O. for the standardisation of components. As regards the adoption of common equipments, this is achieved by collaboration in projects or by reciprocal sales and purchases. It is a system which we want to work. Here we are engaged in discussion of possible collaboration across the whole spectrum of our requirements. One of the things which interests us is the possible replacement of Chieftain, and the idea of an Anglo-German tank is attractive. Hon. Members will have heard of the development which has gone on with the new family of reconnaissance vehicles. It is a continuing process in N.A.T.O.; it is also continuing on a bilateral basis. The fact that we have nothing specific to report this year does not mean that the policy has been abandoned. Far from it. Collaboration is a key feature of our policy, and my right hon. and noble Friend and the other Defence Ministers make it their business to emphasise this point vigorously at every opportunity.
The rôle of Eurogroup in this field is still to evolve fully, but European Ministers of Defence have already signified their determination that the cause of greater European unity and self-reliance in defence should rest upon their securing the best possible return on the resources available to them. The Eurogroup has thus taken the initiative in commissioning a number of studies aimed at quickening the pace and extending the scope of defence co-operation in Europe—and the field of equipment procurement is no exception. Under the group's direction, an important study is now being carried out aimed at securing a greater measure of standardisation and interoperability in next-generation battlefield communication systems.
We have not given up military aid to the civil community in the United Kingdom, despite the tremendous pressures put on the Army in view of the operations in Northern Ireland. A recent example 884 has been the construction of an airfield in Skye.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who kindly wrote me a note explaining why he could not be here for the end of the debate, raised an important question about TAVR when he asked whether we would raise the 10,000 ceiling—that is, the figure by which the present Government increased the establishment of the TAVR. My answer is quite simple. It is too early to take a view on this. The new units are certainly recruiting well and the units which were in existence are also increasing their strength.
But overall the TAVR is about 15,000 short of its establishment and I think that the closing of this gap should be a very high priority—in fact, a higher priority than undertaking the additional overhead costs of establishing new units. Moreover the cost of new units must be viewed in the context of defence priorities as a whole. However, I must not anticipate the substance of the matter. For the time being, talk of further expansion is premature.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye also asked about simulators in a wide-ranging speech. The direct fire weapon effect simulator is still subject to Ordnance Board trials and user and technical acceptance but subject to those production could start in the autumn of 1973, with first equipments coming into service at the end of 1973 and continuing through 1974 and 1975.
Many other points have been raised and I apologise for not covering them, but we shall of course study the speeches which have been made and deal with the questions by writing to hon. Members.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I ask the hon. Gentleman once again a specific question about the Army's rôle with the National Defence Industries Council and the post-Apollo programme. Do I take it that I will get no answer at all on this? If so, we just go back on the Consolidated Fund, because I am determined to get an answer.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not for me and I 885 hope that he will soon find that his question will come home to roost where it should be.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This question has now been repeated three times in defence debates. Where does it roost?
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
The space programme does not rest with us. It is not our department.
To end on a personal note, those who have read the White Paper will remember that the Government have decided that the Royal Ordnance Factories should remain an integral part of the Ministry and of the Procurement Executive. They will continue to be the acknowledged source of production of a wide range of defence stores required by the Services. But they will be provided with a broader management hierarchy, greater independence and authority within the Ministry and a more commercial basis for their finances.
We shall be setting up a restructured Royal Ordnance Factories Board shortly and—this is the personal note—I have been asked to become its first chairman. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am obliged for the confident note with which the House has greeted that news.
The factories have already made an efficient contribution to the equipment of the Services and I hope that, under my chairmanship, that record will continue. I hope that, when the various changes resulting from my recent study have been made, the organisation will be able to increase the effectiveness of its contribution still further.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That during the year ending on 31st March, 1973 a number not exceeding 198,000 all ranks be maintained for Army Service, a number not exceeding 65,000 for the Regular Reserve, a number not exceeding 90,500 for the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve and a number not exceeding 10,000 for the Ulster Defence Regiment.—[Lord Balniel.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER then proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Questions which he was directed to put at Ten o'clock by paragraphs (7) and (11) of Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply).