§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hugh Rossi.]
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Peter Blaker)
Opening the recent debate on the Royal Navy, my hon. Friend devoted some of his time to a report on what he had been doing in the early months of his new appointment. In line with the spirit of inter-Service co-operation, which I find everywhere in the Ministry of Defence, I propose to follow his example by beginning today with a few words about the Army as I have found it in the five months since I took over the job.
It was natural that very early on I should visit the troops in Northern Ireland. I shall be saying more about this later, but I should like to say here that seldom can the Army have stood higher in public esteem than it does today for its efforts in Northern Ireland, and quite rightly so.
While I am conscious that the Army's most immediate task is in Northern Ireland, I have also tried to see as much as possible of its activities elsewhere. So far I have visited Scottish Command, including a memorable visit in January to the Royal Artillery range in the Hebrides; South-West District, which has enabled me to see some of the defence training areas on which Lord Nugent will be reporting soon; the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead; Sandhurst; the Royal Ordnance Factory at Blackburn; and more recently the British Army of the Rhine. Tomorrow I shall be visiting Headquarters United Kingdom Land Forces and next week I shall be visiting Headquarters Wales.
My visit to BAOR has been an especially important one. At any one time nearly a third of the British Army 633 is assigned to duty in Germany, including most of its armoured regiments. It would not be appropriate for me today to go over the ground which we covered in the defence debate.
But the true importance of BAOR can be understood only in the context of our strategy of deterrence and, if deterrence fails, of flexible response—the policy evolved when the Labour Party was in power. For this we must have the necessary conventional forces to respond properly to all levels of aggression. They must be able to cope with a limited action perhaps designed to present NATO with a fait accompli and defend effectively against a full-scale aggression, to give us time to bring the aggressor to his senses before we have to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, to restore the credibility of our deterrent. These propositions are well known to hon and right hon. Members, but I think it worth repeating them at this time and against the background of the defence debate a couple of weeks ago.
In this context the British Army of the Rhine together with the RAF Germany represent Britain's most vital defence commitment: the security of Western Europe. We must see to it, therefore, that in BAOR the Army is properly equipped in every sense within available resources to fulfil this role. Following my visit, I am utterly confident that we have the calibre of men for the task. Everywhere I have been greatly impressed by the enthusiasm, alertness and high morale of our troops.
I have been struck by the way in which the reductions in the total size of the forces, coupled with concentration upon our primary European role, make it ever more important to have sophisticated weapons and equipment. The pace of technological development is not slackening. This means that the demands for skill on officers and men are increasing. I have been impressed by the high standards of professionalism in all arms and corps. I have been particularly struck by their ability to communicate freely at all levels. This is something new to me in the Army. My Army experience goes back a long way, but I have found this very striking to all who come in contact with the Army at present. Hon. Members will probably have seen how well the 634 troops in Northern Ireland have presented themselves on television.
For the young officer of today the traditional virtues of courage and leadership and professional military competence are not enough. He has to be a first-class personnel manager, and he will have the opportunity to develop his experience and expand his knowledge in fields which will be of great value to him in business or industry after he has left the Army, however long his Army career may be.
Similar factors affect the outlook of the modern soldier. The whole way of life and, for that matter, discipline in the Services today must be shown to be intelligently directed to youngsters who are no less tough and enduring than their forefathers but tend to be better educated and to have higher social expectations. The modern soldier needs to know not simply what he is to do but why he is doing it. This brings me to personnel and conditions of service. I believe that the Army has justly earned itself a reputation as a good employer, and it is my objective to see that this reputation is upheld.
On manning and recruiting, the broad picture is that in overall numbers, the Army is up to strength in both officers and men at the present time, although there are shortages and imbalances in certain areas. There is still room for more young officers in the teeth arms and major services, and this is in the main a reflection of the shortage during recent years of suitable young men coming forward for Regular commissions. We are, of course, doing all we can to remedy this situation, including a new advertising campaign based upon extensive research. The short services limited commission scheme is proving very successful. It is intended to give really able young men the chance to see for themselves what the Army is all about before they go up to university.
Their recruitment was not the object of the scheme, but many of them have taken university cadetships with a view to continuing in the Army when they graduate. We attach much importance to our university entry, and I am glad to be able to report a slight improvement in the figure during the past year.
We shall continue to do all we can to achieve and maintain a satisfactory career structure throughout the Army. In 635 this connection I should like to mention changes recently brought about in the Army Air Corps.
Hitherto the corps has depended for the majority of its pilots and non-technical ground crew on personnel posted in from other arms and Services, mostly for a single tour; but as its technical complexities increase the need is for more and better qualified specialists. Accordingly we are reorganising the Army Air Corps so that a much higher percentage of its members will be permanent members of that corps.
Apart from certain special skills, the soldier manning situation is generally satisfactory. Although adult recruiting was down last year compared with the very high level of recruitment in the previous year, there has been an encouraging increase in the number of men who are extending their engagements and a reduction in the numbers who are leaving the Army for other reasons. Increased prolongation and reduced wastage are just as important as recruitment, and we shall continue to do all we can to encourage retention.
Junior recruiting is an area where we have had one record year after another, and in 1972–73 we had a record of some 10,300 junior recruits. With the raising of the school leaving age to 16, there will inevitably be a significant drop in the junior entry in 1973–74, but it will begin to pick up again next year, and we shall be paying particular attention to the recruitment of 16-year-olds as juniors.
Before I leave the subject of manning and recruiting, I shall say a brief word about the women's services—the Women's Royal Army Corps and the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps —which play such an important part. I am pleased to be able to say that the women's services are continuing to recruit well, and most of the vacancies at their depots are booked well ahead.
I should also like to pay a particular tribute to the part which the Women's Royal Army Corps is playing in Northern Ireland. Some 200 girls are now serving there, where they carry out important administrative duties and assist in the task of searching at check-points. Their contribution in this latter rôle is 636 particularly valuable at a time when the IRA is making more use of women both to smuggle arms and ammunition within Northern Ireland and as active terrorists.
If we are to attract recruits and encourage as many men as possible to stay on in the Army we must ensure that their conditions of service are the best that we can provide. A good deal has been done in this field during the past two years or so, and many of the improvements have been set out in successive statements on defence Estimates. But I should like to say a word about the welfare of families. This is particularly important when so many families are separated as a result of the situation in Northern Ireland.
The Army has a deservedly high reputation in the manner in which it looks after Service families. All infantry and many other teeth arm units have a unit families officer, and in this activity we receive an invaluable contribution from welfare workers of the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association. But we are not complacent and are looking for ways to improve our arrangements.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
One matter giving great concern is welfare. We know that a great many soldiers have been badly wounded and in many cases almost totally disabled by vicious and wicked attacks by thugs in Northern Ireland. Can the Under-Secretary indicate what steps are being taken to rehabilitate into civilian life those men who are forced out of the Services and, particularly, what steps are being taken to ensure that they can go to live, and readily find accommodation, in the areas in which they wish to reside if they are invalided out of the Services? This is an important matter about which there is, understandably, great concern.
§ Mr. Blaker
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. He will be aware on the point of finance of the new arrangements for ex gratia payments announced during the recent defence debate and the review which is being carried out for permanent arrangements. As to the other aspects of the question, I hope that my hon. Friend will allow me to deal with them when I come, with leave of the House, to wind up the debate.
637 Another important feature of our family welfare arrangements in this country is the housing commandants organisation which was set up a few years ago to provide a central control for the allocation of quarters and hirings and to give help and advice generally on housing matters, particularly when the husband is away on unaccompanied tour or on exercises. I am glad to say it is working well.
In answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) in the defence debate, which I did not have time to deal with then, I am glad to be able to tell him that we are at present considering how this scheme or something like it can be introduced in BAOR.
This brings me to our endeavours to provide all ranks with proper accommodation wherever they are asked to serve. Compared to the past this is a married, marrying Army. Hence, one of our biggest concerns in peacetime is with quarters. In one sense we made the problem more difficult for ourselves when in 1969 the age bar to entitlement for married quarters was abolished to meet the changing expectations of the modern soldier. This change in the rules, combined with the tendency to marry earlier, which is a national phenomenon, has affected the housing problem for the Army everywhere.
The increasing number of dependants which the Army has to provide for has repercussions in many fields. It means that there is a need for more married quarters, more schools, more teachers, more doctors, more school buses and a whole lot more of all sorts of things. In the United Kingdom a survey was carried out in 1971 into the demand for married soldiers' accommodation. As a result we are now building about 7,000 new married quarters in a phased programme to be completed by 1977 on which we are spending nearly £10 million a year.
In BAOR, but for the changes in entitlement to married quarters, to which I have just referred, the problem of married quarters would by now have been well on the way to solution. At present about 1,500 families are separated —some 5 per cent. of the total in BAOR —and 2,100 more are in private accom- 638 modation. I regret to say that some families have to wait up to a year in such accommodation. We are striving to reduce this period.
In the long term we hope to eliminate the problem altogether. We are currently acquiring about 8,500 long-term multiple hirings under a programme which is planned for completion by 1976. Meanwhile, we are taking on as many short-term hirings as possible and have recently increased the allowances for Servicemen in private accommodation. This eases the immediate problem and I hope that in about a year's time we shall have cut the waiting list in half.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
Would the hon. Gentleman say something about the problem of Servicemen finding accommodation when they leave the Service? There is growing anxiety about the increasing difficulty of getting on to the housing list. I believe that this is a very important aspect in recruiting.
§ Mr. Blaker
It is an important point which has already been raised with me. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) will know that it is a difficult matter for the Defence Department to solve, but, if I may, I will take it with the question asked by an hon. Member a moment ago because the two are, in a sense, related.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
One problem continually arises with the Services. Might it be possible for the hon. Member to back up the circular to the local authorities with something a little stronger to encourage them to stick to the recommendations which basically is all they are?
I have also found that the Servicemen themselves do not know about this circular and inform the local authorities too late that they are due to come out in, say, six months' time.
The local authorities accordingly have not sufficient time in which to make the necessary preparations. The machinery is there, but there is a need for communication to the soldiers to inform them of their rights under the circular to the local authorities.
§ Mr. Blaker
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr.Concannon) has rightly identified the fact that this is basically a problem for the local authorities. I 639 welcome what he said about the possibility of strengthening the circular and tightening up in other ways. I will gladly see whether something can be done along those lines.
As to barrack accommodation in BAOR, we are launching, in agreement with the German authorities, a programme of modernisation for the barracks we occupy to bring the standards of accommodation for soldiers there up to the recently introduced scales for single accommodation in the United Kingdom. As hon. Members may know, this is based on the "barrack flat" concept which provides mixed groupings of single and four-person bedrooms with sitting rooms. This first phase of the BAOR programme will cost about £30 million over the next 10 years.
In Northern Ireland we have given very special attention to the problems of troops' accommodation. Great progress has been made in the last year and we hope to make more progress this year. Since the point was fairly fully covered in the defence debate, I will not repeat what was then said, but if hon. Members have points to raise, I will try to deal with them later this evening.
I do not know how often the Army Catering Corps is mentioned in our debates, but I wish to say a word about its efforts. As we all know, somebody once said something about an army marching on its stomach. I have been most impressed by the high standards of messing for all parts of the Army. Of course, we have to remember that the ACC is amongst those represented in Northern Ireland where its members are sometimes not only in dangerous conditions but in conditions as different as one could imagine from any ordinary kitchen. I have found that they succeed in producing extremely good meals at all hours.
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
Would my hon. Friend consider the question of training in this regard, because all basic cooking is the same, yet each of the three Services has its own training? I believe that economy could be effected by having a common basic training followed by cooking in the galley, a tank or a very nice RAF mess. The hon. Gentleman might look at such an economy.
§ Mr. Blaker
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) is making a point which was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) in the defence debate. I have taken note of it and I am looking into the matter.
On the subject of military aid to the civil community, I wish to say what the Army is doing round the world.
In the last year, nine tasks were carried out by the Royal Engineers in aid of the civil community in such countries as Kenya, the Gulf, Hong Kong, Ethiopia and Malawi. Not only are these exercises of considerable economic value to the countries concerned, but they are also of value to the Army. If time permitted, I should like to say more about them. An example is the aid we were able to give Bangladesh in restoring road communications. A Royal Engineer team spent four months there assisting the Bangladesh roads and highways department, supervising the construction of 13 bridges, using Bailey bridge equipment provided from Overseas Development Administration funds.
The Army has a continuing commitment, so far as its resources permit, to provide personnel on loan to countries with which we enjoy friendly relations in the Gulf area, such countries as Malawi, Zaire, Kenya, Sudan, Malta, the British Solomon Islands and, in the Far East, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Hong Kong and Fiji.
As to our overseas commitments other than BAOR, the House will be broadly familiar with these commitments. I do not therefore need to go into details today. But it is worth reminding the House that we maintain an important contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus, including the entire logistic support for the force. We maintain our contribution to the Army component of the forces in Singapore set up under the Five-Power Agreement and we maintain the garrisons in Hong Kong, Gibraltar and British Honduras.
It is, I think commendable that in spite of the Army's commitments in Northern Ireland, the Regular and Territorial Army have carried out in the last year 130 or so overseas exercises in 26 countries involving over 200 units. The House 641 will understand the importance of maintaining our training effort. To have done that in spite of the difficulties imposed by Northern Ireland is, I believe, a very considerable achievement.
The highlight of our training has been a very highly successful first year of training at Suffield in Canada. Battle groups from BAOR consisting of tanks, mechanised infantry, artillery and engineers have carried out realistic field firing exercises of a scope impossible in Europe. The battle runs are being further improved this year, and I am sure that this training will be of the greatest importance to our armoured formations. We are extremely grateful to the Canadian Government for allowing us to use this valuable training area.
British troops have continued to train in the Gulf based on the Military Advisory Team at Sharjah. We have trained extensively in Cyprus, with Regular Army and TAVR units as well as cadets from Sandhurst, in Malaysia at the Malaysia Army Training Centre and also in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Brunei. We have also had reciprocal exercises with Jamaica and Norway.
The most important exercise of the year was Strong Express, in which Army units assigned to the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force went to Norway to train in their role of supporting the northern flank of NATO.
On the question of equipment, defence Ministers are well aware both of the immense importance, indeed, the necessity, for collaboration with our allies and of the difficulty of the problems that have to be overcome in so doing.
I wish to mention one or two of the collaborative projects. The project for the Anglo-French helicopter programme continues to make sound progress. The Scorpion, a tracked reconnaissance vehicle being made under a co-production arrangement with Belgium, is now in service. At various stages of development are three major artillery systems, a towed and a self-propelled version of a new 155 mm howitzer and a general support rocket system. All three are collaborative projects with Germany and Italy.
Concept studies on a future main battle tank, intended to lead to a programme of joint development, are in hand with the 642 Federal Republic of Germany. Meanwhile, for Chieftain we are planning a series of improvements to exploit the full range and massive hitting power of its 120 mm gun against moving targets.
Discussions are also taking place to identify possibilities for future collaboration in the spheres of medium and low-level air defence, tactical communications, small arms and military bridges.
With several of our European partners we are currently engaged in negotiations with the United States authorities about the terms of a possible purchase of the American development of the Lance tactical nuclear weapons system as a replacement for the present Honest John.
Good progress is also being made on a wide range of equipments within the United Kingdom. The more notable examples are the production of the new British 105 mm light gun, which has sucessfully demonstrated its effectiveness in differing environments, and the new 30 mm Rarden gun to be incorporated in some of the new light armoured vehicles.
Priority is still being given to night-vision aids, and pressure is being maintained on the development and production of field radars.
To sum up, our equipment policy in general aims to make the best use of our limited resources by concentrating on the main threats that we are likely to face: superiority in armour and in air power Force improvements this year demonstrate how we are putting this principle into effect. All armoured regiments are now equipped with Chieftain and the Swingfire long-range anti-tank guided weapon. Mechanised battalions in BAOR start to receive the Swingfire this year. First issues of the Rapier low-level air defence guided weapon will be made this year, and production orders have been placed for the Blowpipe self-defence air-defence guided weapon.
On the TAVR, I am glad to be able to say that recruiting has been going extremely well. Indeed, the average strength during 1972–73 turned out to be higher than had at one time been expected. The strength of this reserve, including the new units formed less than two years ago, now totals 59,300, which exceeds 80 per cent. of its establishment. The new units themselves are now about 75 per cent. of establishment.
643 This reflects great credit on all concerned with the TAVR, both the members themselves, the regular officers and NCOs who train them, and all those willing supporters in the associations and their council who do so much to keep alive local enthusiasm and regimental pride. I hope that by continuing local efforts and with the help which we normally enjoy from employers and the trade unions, the coming year may still further improve the numbers of the TAVR and maintain their quality.
Most of their work is done out of the public eye. I think that it is only right, when we have this annual stocktaking for the Army, that the House should acknowledge the debt which the country owes to the men and women of the TAVR, who are an integral part of the nation's defences for general war. They are not a UDR in Great Britain, if I may put it that way with no disrespect to the UDR; they are not a police reserve; they are an essential cog in the gears which mobilisation would engage. In such an emergency they would have a crucial part to play in reinforcing the Army's order of battle whether in BAOR or at home.
The House had the opportunity as recently as 31st January of discussing some aspects of the UDR. Nevertheless, knowing the interest which the House has shown in this, the youngest regiment of the British Army, I am sure that it would want me to say something about the present situation. By 1st April 1970, when the regiment became operational, its strength was 1,800. A year later it was 5,847. In April 1972 it was 8,160. Now it is 8,500.
These figures put into perpective the gradual decline in strength which has occurred in recent months from an earlier peak. This decline has been due to the fact of higher than usual wastage coming at a time when recruitment has been returning to the level at which it was running before the rapid expansion which began late in 1971. But the reduction in strength has not affected the will or the ability of the regiment to carry out its tasks. For example, the turn-out on the occasion of the recent plebiscite was virtually the same as at the time of Exercise Motorman. Again, there has actually been an increase during recent months in the number of men turning out for night duty.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what is the percentage of recruitment of Catholics to the UDR as well as of Protestants? Is it any more satisfactory than it was?
§ Mr. Blaker
I regret that it is not more satisfactory than it was. It is roughly 5 per cent., or a little less. It has gone down from what was earlier a high figure. We regret this very much. Efforts are made, principally on a local basis, to recruit as many Catholics as possible. However, despite the shortage of Catholics, the regiment has managed to maintain its non-sectarian reputation. As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is commanded by a Catholic officer and is part of the British Army.
I turn now to the general question of our operations in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the UDR, may I ask him to deal with two points? The first concerns the protection of members of the UDR who live in outlying districts. As he knows, a number of these people have unfortunately been assassinated in their homes. What efforts are being made to provide members of the UDR with better protection? Secondly, what efforts are being made to provide them, when on duty, with sufficient armour to withstand the new Russian rockets that the IRA is using in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Blaker
Regarding Russian rockets, the UDR is in a similar situation to the Services in general over there. I have not had any complaints about the armament of the UDR when on duty. Members are armed with the self-loading rifle issued to regular forces. Regarding their protection at home, I understand that they may apply to have their weapons at home and that in suitable cases permission is granted.
On Northern Ireland in general, the Army continues to undertake its peacekeeping role with considerable success. Significant numbers of terrorists on both sides of the communal divide have been arrested and large quantities of arms and ammunition have been seized. Much improved intelligence has enabled these results to be achieved with as little disturbance as can be managed to the civilian population.
645 My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently gave the House some details of the security forces' successes during the past three months, and I should like to up-date those figures now. Since the beginning of the year 387 illegally held guns, 12,000 lb. of explosives and 34,000 rounds of ammunition have been recovered. There have been 220 arrests on firearms charges, 54 on explosives charges, 26 on charges of murder, and 189 convictions for specific criminal charges relating to terrorists.
I think that the increasing tendency for those arrested or subject to interim custody orders turning out to be younger and younger in age reflects the success that the security forces are having. Indeed, there are signs of desperation amongst terrorists. The noticeable number of punishment shootings amongst their ranks recently clearly shows their disorder and dissension.
It is a measure of the efficiency of the operations of the security forces that the Border poll was held on 8th March without hindrance, despite the disruptive intentions of the IRA; and at the time of the White Paper, a fortnight later, the extremist organisations were inhibited from staging the sort of instant violence which has disfigured similar occasions in the past. These successes owe a great deal to the invaluable support given to the Army by the other Services—the RAF, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines— in Northern Ireland.
We have had many occasions, in particular in the defence debate, to pay our tributes to the soldiers over there, but I should like this afternoon to mention also the wives and families of those Servicemen who have served, are serving or will serve in Northern Ireland, because the wives in particular play a very great part in sharing the burden. When I was in BAOR last week I had the privilege of talking to quite a number of them and I am glad to say that I found that then-morale and determination were high.
In this progress report I have tried to give the House a broad indication of the stimulating, challenging and sometimes dangerous tasks which are facing the Army today. As my hon. Friend pointed out in the defence debate, the White Paper records no major administrative changes, but sound progress to- 646 wards the objectives first laid down in 1970. This I regard as a sign of success. It is also a necessary condition of the success of our forces in Northern Ireland that they should be allowed to get on with their job with as little distraction as possible.
After my short period at the Ministry of Defence, I am happy to tell the House that in my view we have an army, backed by a civilian organisation, of which the country can be proud.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
The House followed with great interest the statement delivered in such a pleasant manner, explaining the Under-Secretary of State's stewardship of the British Army. It was a nice gesture on his part—and the first of its kind that I recall—to mention the Army Catering Corps and all those who have to cook for regiments and units. It was a pleasant gesture and will, I am sure, be much appreciated by the men concerned.
This is an important day for the Army. It is the occasion on which the House of Commons considers its role, its size, its cost, and in particular its welfare, and pauses to consider for a whole day these important matters. The role of the Army in the past year has not been easy. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, the Army has had to operate in Northern Ireland in the full glare of the television cameras. That is a new burden which it has carried—and carried exceedingly well. The Army's reputation stands high. I join in paying tribute, as I did in the defence debate, to the men concerned and, as I also did on that occasion— and I am glad that the Minister did so today—to their wives and families, who must be much in our thoughts.
It has not been an easy year. There was a time when Ministers could come to the House and say that not one soldier had been killed on active service in the past year. Unhappily and regrettably, this has not been such a year. In all, 127 soldiers, including 26 men of the Ulster Defence Regiment and two Royal Marines, paid the supreme penalty in 1972, and since the emergency the total has been 181. Unhappily, and tragically, the killing has not ceased.
I think we should recall the injured as well. I have forgotten which hon. 647 Member made that point in an intervention. Some men who have not paid the supreme penalty will carry the mark of that conflict for the rest of their days. Some will not be able to continue to serve in the Army. Some will have to be invalided out and will be substantially less competitive in the labour market. Perhaps we could have some indication of how many have paid that kind of penalty—those who will have to continue to pay the price for the rest of their days. That makes it doubly important for us, as the custodians of the public purse, the grantors of supplies to the executive, to ensure that those men are dealt with honourably.
I believe, as I am sure the whole House does, that soldiers cannot be obtained on the cheap and that we should not expect that. Indeed, the whole concept of the military salary introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey)—in which I had a small part to play, of which I am proud—was to ensure that there was parity, and parity plus, between soldiers and their civilian brethren. This goes for pay and conditions and also for pensions, and I welcomed very much the announcement made by the Government as regards pensions, disability awards and matters of that kind in the course of the defence debate, when it was said that all regular Service men who were in the forces on or after March 1973 would benefit. I understand—and perhaps this could be confirmed—that this would not be confined to those who have served in Northern Ireland but would apply generally to all troops.
In the course of the defence debate the Minister went on to say that because it was not possible to make these payments retrospective there would be ex gratia annual payments to families of those killed as a result of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland between 1st August 1969 and the end of March 1973. Why confine this ex gratia payment to Northern Ireland? What is the rationale of it? Why should it not apply generally? Must these people whose families are to benefit from the ex gratia payment have been killed as a direct result of an act of terrorism, by a bomb or a bullet? Should it not apply to all soldiers who are killed in Northern Ireland, whether directly 648 or indirectly—soldiers who would not be there but for the present emergency? Should there not equally be some kind of ex gratia payment for those who are disabled, as well as those who are killed?
I hope the Minister will be able to fill in these details because we are anxious that the interpretation of the welcome announcement by the Minister of State a week last Thursday should not be unduly restrictive. If it turns out to be restrictive, I am sure the Minister will, with the confidence and the support of the House, return to the battle with the Treasury for a better and clearer award.
The Ministry of Defence has done a great deal, I am sure from what I have seen myself and from the reports I have had, to improve welfare in Northern Ireland, and praise has been given to the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror in the past for the efforts they, too, have made to provide finances. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Atter-cliffe (Mr. Duffy), if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the course of the winding up of the debate will return to these matters, but, as an unaccompanied tour is bound to be unpopular, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the necessary provisions are made to provide the best possible welfare.
I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) who, in the course of last year's defence debate, raised, as I did, following our visit to Northern Ireland, the need to provide cheap facilities for troops to visit their families in BAOR when they were in Northern Ireland on an unaccompanied tour. On that occasion I welcomed the announcement that air fares of £3.50 would be charged for these short leaves. We should like to know how many have been able to avail themselves of that provision and what policy there is for ensuring that men are able to get away from Northern Ireland to visit their families in the course of a short unaccompanied tour.
I welcomed the observations made by the Under-Secretary in the course of the defence debate as regards the provision of television for our forces in Germany, that it is on his desk and that he regards it as a matter of urgency. Anyone who has had a shred of responsibility for defence, myself among others, must share 649 a measure of guilt that this problem has not so far been solved, despite a great deal of effort. I wish him well in his efforts. I hope he will be able to find a solution and that he will report it to the House. If the matter is still unresolved, I hope he can give an assurance to the House in the course of his winding up speech that the matter will be referred to and the problems canvassed in next year's White Paper. These matters should be contained in the White Paper so that we can consider them and debate them properly.
I make no apology for devoting a substantial part of my speech to matters of welfare because they are of the utmost importance. When the standard of life and comfort of the civilian population has been rising over the years, of necessity, because our Armed Forces reflect the civilian population from whence they come, it is vitally important that the standard of life and comfort of our forces should march in step with the rising standards of civilian life, if in a free society our men are to be recruited willingly to serve in our Armed Forces.
Let me give one example. Over the years the standards of heating required and demanded in our homes has risen. Some local authorities do all that they can to ensure that central heating and provisions of that kind are incorporated into new houses being built. I should regard it as wholly wrong in any provision of new housing for soldiers, regardless of rank, if improvements of that kind were not incorporated.
I want now to take up a point which has been made in interventions that there is a gap in the provision made by local authorities of housing for soldiers who retire or come to the end of their service. There is a case for better liaison. The Minister cannot wash his hands of this matter and say that it is not one for the Ministry of Defence. Unless the matter is solved he will not get the recruits he requires. Therefore it is a matter for the Ministry, and I hope that a substantial effort will be made to improve liaison between the Ministries responsible for housing and the local authorities and to ensure that troops are told from time to time what their rights are at the end of long engagements, especially those who have no direct connection with any 650 specific local authority except perhaps that they may have married local girls or their families may have lived there a long time before and that they wish to return to that locality.
These are real problems, and I know of some cases which are still unresolved. Men are spending anxious times in the last few years of long periods of service not knowing when they will be solved. There will be no worse recruiting sergeant for the British Army than someone who has served for 22 years only to come out and find himself with nowhere to live and with no contact with a local authority to which he can plead his case. Welfare is not only a principle that we must clutch to our bosoms and say how important it is. We must analyse it in detail because the matters which I have raised are only some facets of the difficulties experienced by those who serve in our Armed Forces.
I return now to a problem which I raised in the course of the defence debate. It is the case of the 17 Welsh Guardsmen who had to pay duty on vehicles which they had purchased during their service in Germany. Suddenly on 8th December they were told at Dover that if they wished to keep their cars they would have to pay duty in excess of £100 on each of them.
Everyone knows that a soldier serving in the British Army who has been abroad for more than a year has the privilege of being able to import articles of this kind duty free. In the course of an intervention, I thanked the Minister for the way that he had dealt with the problem and reached a solution at the end of the day. He replied that I had been a shade ungenerous in the way that I had dealt with the matter. He went on:Is it not right to say that as soon as the matter came to light it was rapidly put right? "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 74.]I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that on some occasions perhaps it is better not to jump in too quickly with an intervention of that kind.
I have now canvassed the whole history of this matter. The incident occurred on 8th December. On 14th December I put a Question to the Minister asking for some assurance to be given 651 to the soldiers concerned. All that the hon. Gentleman could tell me was:The rules about Customs concessions are contained in general Ministry of Defence instructions which are brought to the attention of all units serving in Germany."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th December 1972; Vol. 848, c. 213.]That was the flat answer of the Ministry. On 18th December I asked a similar question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I got no change from him. Eventually, in an Adjournment debate on 20th December I was told by the Leader of the House, who is a greater politician than anyone at present on the Treasury Bench, that I had made a strong case and that he would see what could be done.
As far back as 14th December the Under-Secretary conceded to me that 23,000 British soldiers were at risk. The guardsmen would appear to be the first to have been caught. Apparently anyone serving in Germany who returns temporarily to the United Kingdom in order to serve in Northern Ireland, leaving his family behind, is at risk. Therefore it was not a problem which could be contained in a small compass. It did not apply only to a distinguished regiment of the Principality but could apply to all our troops in Germany.
Despite all this agitation just before Christmas, and despite all the comment in the Press, with the Sunday Express and the Western Mail running heart-rending stories of the difficulties and the sheer misery of anyone called upon to pay £100 and more unexpectedly just before Christmas, there was not a spark from the Ministry. One wondered where were the political antennae of the Ministers, knowing that the problem had arisen, yet doing nothing. Eventually I wrote to the Secretary of State who was travelling in some distant country. At the same time on 25th January I put another Question to the Minister. It was then that I was told that the guardsmen would at last have justice done to them.
What has been the situation since? The day before yesterday I asked when the soldiers were told of the decision and how many had been paid. I accept immediately that within a short time through the usual regimental channels the Ministry made known the answer that I 652 had been given on 25th January. The Minister's answer the day before yesterday went on to say:Since the arrangements represent a substantial departure from normal practice, the preparation of detailed instructions took rather longer, but these were published in regimental orders on 9th March."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April 1973; Vol. 854, c. 62.]The present position with regard to the 17 individual cases in which I have taken an interest is that nine claims were submitted between 20th and 30th March, all of which have been passed for payment, and five were settled by the unit on 2nd April. Of the other eight cases one has been delayed because the soldier is in hospital, two claims have been reimbursed by Customs and Excise, and a third is under consideration. Three of the soldiers have sold their cars— [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. Three of the men had to sell their cars at Dover because, despite letters to bank managers and relatives, they could not raise the money to import their cars and had to sell them.
The Minister must remember that here we are in April 1973 discussing a matter which arose in the course of December of last year, and four months later only seven so far have been paid. The hon. Gentleman took some pride in asking:Is it not right to say that as soon as the matter came to light it was rapidly put right?Despite that, his understanding of "rapidly" is very different from mine. I regard this as a piece of bungling which affects the morale of any unit and it would be very much better for the Minister to come clean and to tell the House that he is exceedingly sorry for the delay which has occurred.
§ Mr. Blaker
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the three soldiers who sold their cars were advised not to sell them? Their commanding officer was hoping to secure a concession. Loans were available to two of them from regimental funds for bridging purposes, but they decided to sell their cars. The third soldier had already given notice that he was going to leave the Army.
§ Mr. Morris
That disposes of three cases. However, for four months these men were not paid. They were paid only the day before an Answer was given in this House. If the hon. Gentleman 653 is proud of the history of this case, I very much doubt his judgment in the matter. It would be better for him to say, "It is a pity that this has happened. Every step will be taken to ensure that it is not repeated." That would be a better approach.
§ Mr. Blaker
Time was taken because a basic change was being made in the rules. That change will apply in future. This matter does not concern only 17 Welsh guards but any future cases. The fact that 23,000 soldiers had been at risk but only the Welsh guards met this problem shows that steps had been taken to ensure that soldiers are properly advised.
§ Mr. Morris
The hon. Gentleman must make the best explanation that he can. It is odd in the extreme that not until I put down a Question on or about 20th January, to which I received a reply on 25th January, was there any change made by the Minister of Defence. The matter had been raging furiously in the House of Commons in the meanwhile. I was told by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House during an Adjournment debate that I had a strong case. The political antennae of the Ministry were sufficiently weak not to appreciate the importance of the problem. I leave it to the House to judge.
I have said before that there is a need for an appraisal of the effect on the British Army of so many units serving in Northern Ireland. I raised the matter last year, and I hoped that in this year's White Paper there would be an appraisal of that kind. The British Army of the Rhine is an important element in our contribution to NATO. We have a substantial commitment, yet many units that are committed to BAOR have been called, and properly so, to serve in Northern Ireland.
We should appreciate the significance of the demands that have been made on the forces already committed to BAOR to serve in Northern Ireland. In 1972 there were 17 major units at any one time in Northern Ireland. In 1972, during Operation Motorman, there were 27. In December 1972 there were 18 units in Northern Ireland. I do not know the current figure. During December 1972 seven units were redeployed from BAOR. Many of the other units were 654 committed to BAOR and, therefore, were not available for service with BAOR.
Obviously service on that scale must have a bearing on the effectiveness of our commitment to NATO. None of the officers that I have spoken to over the years regarded the number of troops that we had committed to NATO as being excessive. Usually their demands were for a greater number of troops.
What effect has service in Northern Ireland, with the large number of units involved, had on the effectiveness of our NATO contribution? There must have been a gap in BAOR which has been filled in one way or another. The alternative is that it has been left empty. Have other countries increased their commitment? Has there been a change in the organisation of our troops in Germany? Has such a change taken place owing to the fact that such a large number of soldiers are not available for service in BAOR, bearing in mind our commitment?
I was interested to hear that 130 exercises were carried out by our troops in the course of last year. I appreciate that a substantial number of exercises involved only our own troops, but many involved other troops of other nations. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what limitation has been placed on the number and the scale of exercises in Germany because of our involvement in Northern Ireland. These are matters which it is useful for the House of Commons to know so that it might judge the effect of our commitment in Northern Ireland upon our existing commitment in Germany. I do not want to dwell on this matter—I mention it only in passing— but it is an important matter which we should not gloss over.
Repeated service in Northern Ireland must have an effect upon the morale of all our troops. I received an Answer on Tuesday about the total number of units involved. The total was a substantial number since the emergency— namely, four Royal Marine Commando units, 17 regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps, 23 regiments of the Royal Artillery, nearly 49 infantry regiments and five squadrons of the RAF Regiment. Thus a substantial proportion of the British Army has been called to serve.
655 When the hon. Gentleman's office sends to me lists of these distinguished units and regiments, I hope that he will not add insult to injury by mis-spelling the name of my regiment by referring to it as the First Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, using "s" as opposed to "c". It was an Hanoverian King who made the mistake of putting in the "c". The regiment, for some unknown reason, has taken pride in that ever since. I hope that the Minister of Defence, as HANSARD has done, will recognise that the correct spelling is The Royal Welch Fusiliers. It will pay the Minister to read the Answers which are sent out bearing his signature from time to time.
Many regiments have served four or five times in Northern Ireland. If morale is to be kept at its highest—and it must be if the situation is to be resolved as best it can—there must be no let-up in the need to provide the best possible welfare arrangements for the troops and their families. I am sure that the Minister will continue to recognise that. I am sure that he will be ready to accept any suggestions from hon. Members as to how best that can be done. I hope that before next year's debate we shall have the kind of appraisal for which I have asked contained in the Defence White Paper.
One of the matters referred to during last years' debate was the need to train for overseas service. The Minister said that if our small Army were to have any credibility it must be not only highly mobile but capable of undertaking operations in many different climates. He then said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1972; Vol. 833, c. 782.]I underlined in the defence debate the observations of the Select Committee on the utilisation of the Jungle Warfare School. I wanted to know whether its observations were right. Was the Army able to spare two major units last year, as originally anticipated, to go to the Jungle Warfare School? Perhaps we can be put in the picture about the plans for this year.
The recruitment position is not as happy this year as it was before. Last year we 656 were told by the then Under-Secretary of State that he had "controlled optimism" about the situation. The figure is down this year from 46,500 to 39,100. I shall not follow the example of the present Government when in Opposition, when they chided us for any fall in recruitment figures and suggested that it was because of the uncertainty and the changes in our defence policies that the figures had fallen. I shall not follow that bad and irresponsible example. A smaller pool is available and there will be problems from the rise in the school leaving age. These are the facts we know about. These are the matters mentioned in the White Paper. What we want to know is what the Government intend to do about it. How do they intend to cope with a situation which could be very difficult in the next few years?
There is a study of defence lands which is almost about to report. This was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) during the defence debate. Whatever land is made available should not be squandered but should be put to the best possible national use. We shall have to consider that report carefully when it eventually emerges.
The Royal ordnance factories, which provide much of the Army's ammunition and armaments, are an important element in the defence budget. I wish to mention a matter which is less detailed than might appear. What are the present arrangements for the production of fuses? The Minister will know that detailed arrangements were made on this aspect during my time in the Ministry. Unless the Royal ordnance factories get a proper share of design and development in matters on which they have experience and expertise, their future is bleak. We do not want them to become merely repetitive producers of the ideas of others. We want them to have a share in the designing of our armaments.
These words will be considered by those who advise the Minister. I know the care with which the whole matter was investigated some years ago. It is a matter of much greater significance to Royal ordnance factories than might appear at first sight. If there has been any substantial change, the future is not a happy one for the Royal ordnance factories.
657 The White Paper refers to the assistance that the Army gives to civil communities. We always enjoy reading and studying what has been done by the Army. Great benefits come from these actions in the form of good will. I was interested to read of the assistance given by the Royal Air Force in carrying badly needed supplies to Nepal. That may be regarded as a repayment of part of the debt the Army owes to the Gurkha soldiers of the past, present and future.
There is a reference in the White Paper to joint collaboration on procurement. Ever since 1970 I have been advocating the European tank. I know about some of the work that has been done. The Minister's announcement is very important. It spells out in greater detail the passing reference in the White Paper to collaboration with Germany on the next-generation tank and states the Government's intention that this should lead to joint development with Germany.
It is of the utmost importance that in countries which share a common defence the chiefs of staff and those who are responsible for the philosophy of warfare should get together as we did with the multi-role combat aircraft. That venture was successful, and in the same way we must succeed with the European tank and similar ventures. The Opposition take great pride in the way in which we collaborated with other countries and laid down firm lines for design and eventual production. I hope that the example we set will be followed, and I welcome that part of the White Paper which deals with this issue.
I trust that the Minister will be able to answer the questions asked during the debate. If there is not time for him to do so perhaps he will write to hon. Members who have gone to the trouble of making detailed and important comments.
We are proud of the British Army. The whole House sends its good wishes to the Army. Soldiers are the constituents of every one of us. The Army is playing an important part in maintaining the peace of the world and peace within our own Kingdom, and we wish it well.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I give a modest welcome to an immodest increase in defence expenditure an- 658 nounced in the White Paper. The increase of 5.6 per cent. has as its purpose the hope that we shall be flattered by the imitation of our European Allies. But what knowledge I have acquired of our Western European Allies and their defence capabilities, from Western European Union and elsewhere, inclines me to believe that we shall not be followed in the good example we have set.
It is important to improve the performance and quality of our conventional forces in Europe because of the inevitability of arms reduction in the context of the mutual and balanced force reduction talks in Vienna. If it is a Western European interest that in the first place those reductions should be confined to the forces of the super-Powers, then our increase in expenditure is correctly aimed at trying to persuade our European Allies to follow suit.
The second result of increasing our expenditure by 5.6 per cent. is to re-unite the Labour Party on defence matters. I am delighted that the Labour Party should have rediscovered its unity on defence, because it is in the national interest that the Labour Party should stand for the defence of the United Kingdom. In the White Paper debate the Labour Party was able to put the blame upon theextravagance of the Conservative Partyand to avoid the debate within its own ranks which has been running on for the past 15 to 20 years. We could claim that were we to have a Labour Government in the relatively near future all that would happen is that our defence expenditure would be reduced by 5.6 per cent., and that would be rather better than having a Labour Opposition split on this issue with the implication that one day the neutralist part of the Labour Party might come out on top.
I want to talk about the length of service that Army units have had to undertake in Northern Ireland. I have had several conversations with senior Army officers, who have served in Northern Ireland, and there is a feeling—which has been expressed both within the Ministry of Defence and to a lesser extent outside—that rather than serving a four-month period, units should serve for six months. The arguments are reasonably well known.
659 First, with a four-month period I am told that the first month is largely wasted, simply because a unit has to go over all the old ground yet again, although there is a liaison officer between the units. Were we to go over to the six-month stay in Northern Ireland we should have to add one extra leave period, making two in a six-month period.
Some of the arguments against the extension from four to six months are these: first, four months is the limit that a commanding officer should be asked to endure in the circumstances of Northern Ireland. I do not know the answer to that. Obviously, he has to endure a great deal and I would not lightly suggest that his trial should be increased.
The other argument that has been used against increasing the period of service in Northern Ireland is that this would have an adverse effect upon recruitment. That is not a fair argument, although recruiting figures may be declining. It may have an effect on the number of soldiers who sign on for further service. That remains to be demonstrated. But I am not convinced whether it would have an effect upon the rate of recruitment.
§ Mr. Concannon
From where did the hon. Gentleman get his information, and from whom? That matter is crucial to what I shall say later.
§ Mr. Critchley
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I am not under an obligation to reveal my sources to him.
§ Mr. Concannon
I am not asking for names but for a designation. Did the hon. Gentleman get his information from senior officers, commanding officers or the ranks?
§ Mr. Critchley
With respect, the hon. Gentleman must use his imagination.
The other consequence of the four-month stay in Northern Ireland is that the length of time that units stay in Western Germany is equally affected. That must, of itself, mean that there is some falling off in the performance of the units in Western Germany. The right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) referred to that matter. From my experience in the Western European Union and other fora, I have 660 received hints that some of our allies have noted this particular falling off in performance. Has my hon. Friend the Minister had expressed to him any complaint on this matter by any of our NATO allies?
One of my mysterious sources of information suggested that one of the handicaps of the first month of the four-month period is that liaison and relations with the special branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are rather poor to begin with and that it is not until the end of the first month of a serving period of four months that some sort of working relationship is established between a commanding officer and his officers and the special branch of the RUC.
Another point on Northern Ireland is that I understand that the search equipment which is provided for our forces on the border, both the sophisticated equipment and the ordinary equipment, is not yet sufficient to enable them to do a proper job. This is a point of obvious importance, to which I hope that the Minister will reply.
There is also a complaint that the boundaries of the areas of operation of the special branch of the RUC, the military in the North of Ireland and the local government boundaries are each different. The sooner these particular boundaries are brought together, especially those for the special branch, the police and the military, the more successful and efficient will be our security operations.
In Aldershot we have been waiting with some expectation for the publication of the report of the Nugent Committee, which I believe is due to be published this month. I am not certain because whenever I ask of it I am told that it will be published in the following month. I should like confirmation, if possible, that we can expect publication, not in May, but in April. Clearly, of all the parts of the Kingdom which will be most directly affected by the Nugent Committee's report, the chief will be my constituency—Aldershot, Fleet and Farnborough. The three towns are expecting that the Army will show reasonable generosity in re-allocating some land, in particular, for the use of Aldershot, and for council housing. At present we have to build council houses 661 outside the county boundary, in Surrey and not in Hampshire, because of the shortage of land.
The six-month tour of duty is worthy of serious consideration. It would reduce the loss which the Army has suffered through the frequency with which it is forced to return, and the relatively short period during which it is obliged to serve there. The security problem lies at the heart of the Northern Irish crisis. Just as there will be no victory in a military sense until or unless the authorities in the South are prepared to act as robustly against the IRA as we act in the North, so, by the same token, unless we get a successful security situation in the North, no political solution, no initiative, however fair, subtle, clever or sophisticated, will work. One contribution to that, perhaps, would be to extend the period which our troops have to serve in Northern Ireland.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
In debates such as this, Northern Ireland unfortunately still demands a lot of our time. A few of my hon. Friends do the nitty-gritty work on matters such as this on Select Committees and so on. I have turned up some of the old speeches of previous debates on the Army over the last few years. I do not expect anyone to read my speeches. However, I note what a tragic coincidence it is that on 11th March 1971, in the debate on the Army, I opened my speech by saying:This year the debate on Army Vote A takes place under the shadow of the tragic murder of the three British soldiers in Northern Ireland yesterday. I join in the expressions of sympathy with the relatives, and echo the sense of outrage at this brutal and callous murder of three British soldiers who were off duty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1 lth March 1971; Vol. 813, c. 710.]I quote from that previous speech only to emphasise that we are still in the same impasse. Unfortunately, this is what is happening in debates on the Army. We have been discussing Ireland to a great degree and have probably neglected some of the other problems of the Army which ought to have been discussed.
Although the Minister may consider the suggestion of altering the tour of duty in Ireland from four months to six months, I hope that he will reject it. I 662 shall give him some reasons why he should do so.
I come now to the White Paper, and especially paragraphs 15 and 16 on Army recruitment. Concerning the wastage rate of trained soldiers, paragraph 16 states:The underlying reasons for this wastage are being investigated.In opening the debate the Minister skipped through some of our commitments around the world. But it as as well to examine those which we still have.
In the recent defence debate much was said about the finances of the forces and about how much pay and pensions take out of the Army Vote. I understand that they account for about 50 per cent. of it. Therefore, we should examine our various commitments to see whether we need the numbers which the Department says that we need. Once we establish the numbers needed, we have then to decide whether we can recruit those numbers and, in doing so, whether we can recruit the types needed.
That is why I was interested in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) in the defence debate. I agree with just about everything he said, especially about manpower and integrating the three Services, whether we could achieve the necessary training, really looking at the tail, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman put it, in the country, whether we could get the Services together on joint training schemes, and so on. It could go much further than that.
I remember an enjoyable visit with the the hon. and gallant Gentleman to our forces in South-East Asia. We found that their commanding officers were of either the Navy or the Royal Air Force. The Service to which the commanding officer of the particular area belonged merely depended on a rota, as he took in all three Services. I thought then that it worked well enough to be taken further.
I want to examine some of our commitments. While it is at full stretch in NATO and Ireland, it is as well that we should consider the Army. I begin with Hong Kong, where I understand that we have two battalions of infantry as well as an artillery regiment. The battalions are not of Gurkhas but are two British battalions. I do not believe that anyone 663 here would say that they are there purely for defensive purposes. That is out of the question. I imagine that they are there for foreign policy reasons.
I hope that it is not disrespectful to say that Hong Kong has been a nice place with which to do a little shuffling of some of our regiments, but we cannot keep even the Irish Guards out there for ever. They have been there for a considerable time, and have been doing a wonderful job. I should be the last to suggest that we ever send them to Ireland. That is just one of the problems that keep coming up for the Defence Department as a result of the Irish problem which is taking so long to solve and looks like taking a long time yet.
The duties of the battalions in Hong Kong are varied. I understand that they cover Brunei. It is a little known fact that the peace talks are still going on in Panmunjom in Korea, and the battalions have to do ceremonial guard duties out-sides the talks in rotation. We should not call Hong Kong a defence commitment. It is purely a Foreign Office matter.
We should like more details. The Minister mentioned Hong Kong, Singapore and all the others that he skipped through. I take the view about Singapore that I think was expressed by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) in the defence debate, that even with the ANZUK force the situation is a farce and should be examined if we are seeking to cut down the commitments of our forces and inquiring whether we need the number of troops shown in the Army Estimates.
I am also a little perturbed about our arrangements for advisers in the Gulf of Oman. I am always a little wary about advisers after the experience of the Americans in Vietnam. They first went there as advisers. The only news we have from the Gulf of Oman and similar places is when we read of casualties, and we learn of them only from Army magazines such as the regimental magazines. What are the activities of our forces there? Are they strictly advisory, or are they participating in something more than an advisory capacity? I remember once seeing a report of three fatalities in the Gulf of Oman.
Malta still has a Royal Marine Commando. I should have liked to see the 664 Government keep going when they were packed up and ready to leave Malta. There is no need for us to remain there.
There is also the position of the infantry brigade in Berlin. I well understand the reason for the carve-up of Berlin, but anyone visiting Berlin today and considering the situation rationally must think, "Who thought of this? Who thought of putting an infantry brigade here, of carving up a city like this in the middle of potentially enemy territory? Soldiers there tell me, "We are the three-day warriors." Obviously, they are there as an irritant for three days, and to think of them as a defence is a nonsense.
We tie up some of the cream of the British Army there. I say that reservedly, because I understand that my old battalion is in Berlin at present. I should like to visit it some time. When the next group goes out there, the Minister might like to invite me along.
We also have a battalion in Gibraltar, where the situation is delicate. But the battalion's presence has nothing to do with defence. It is purely a matter of carrying out certain parts of our foreign policy.
We have a battalion in the British Honduras. A lot of explaining would be needed to show me why we still need it there. What business have we out there?
We are left with the United Kingdom, NATO and Ireland. Our NATO commitments are central, and our commitment in Ireland exists anyway. I do not agree with those who say that we should pull out without having solved the problem, without having created a peaceful situation there and being able to leave it to the people to govern themselves.
I am becoming a little apprehensive about recruitment, to say the least. There was an old saying that the best recruiting sergeants were unemployment and the small bush war. It no longer applies. Northern Ireland is showing the reverse to be true, and with decreasing unemployment I no longer read in my local newspaper of young fellows who leave school at 16, 17 and 18 going in numbers to join the Army. They were doing so at one time because there were no jobs for them to go to, and it was their only avenue.
665 Today some of the worst recruiting sergeants are full unemployment and the wives and fiancées of soldiers serving in Ireland, or particularly of recruits waiting to go there, and the disgruntled serving soldier. If we keep sending home disgruntled soldiers, that is bad for recruiting.
Ireland is possibly the very worst recruiting sergeant that we have. When people join the Army, I do not suppose that they expect to go through a considerable length of their serving life without at some time being shot at. When I joined I did not expect to have a nice cushy number somewhere all the time and not get into any explosive situations.
I have talked to a considerable number of the troops in Northern Ireland, and I know how their feelings have changed. I think that the first time they went they enjoyed it, with reservations. It was something novel, and the kind of thing that British soldiers have always expected. It was part and parcel of their duty. The second time they went, as long as it was for four months, they tolerated the situation to some degree. The third time they saw it as their duty. But by the fourth time they were beginning to hate it.
The problem is not going to be solved without units having to go to Northern Ireland for a fifth or sixth time. The troops are having to face considerable pressures with their mothers and wives experiencing anxiety. It must be a tragic experience for a wife, sweetheart or mother to turn on the television and learn that someone has been killed in Northern Ireland. It may be stated that three sergeants have been murdered or that there has been a similar sort of incident. I have been told on good authority that the telephone lines and telephone kiosks, no matter how many there are, are inadequate because soldiers' mothers, wives and sweethearts are making so many inquiries after the 6 o'clock news.
The pressure is now building up and wives are making such remarks as "My husband is not going back to Northern Ireland if I can help it". Soldiers when on leave talk in local clubs and public houses about this sort of pressure which they are experiencing from relatives.
I cannot see how there can be anything glamorous in serving in an Army which is rotating between Germany and 666 Northern Ireland. I did not join the Services for money. For me, it was an escape hatch from the mining villages. It was then a life which had glamour. There was opportunity for travel and one virtually had a choice of going to the Far East, India, the Middle East and such places. Four or five years were spent touring the world with odd bits of danger thrown in, all at the taxpayers' expense.
Now the Army has to compete for recruits in a shrinking market and with basically only Germany and Northern Ireland to offer. I was pleased to hear the Minister's remarks about the new outlook for recruitment. Soldiers being recruited are now more intelligent and more aware of the welfare and social system. Nor are they slow in writing to Members of Parliament if they have a grievance. In order to get recruits, we must be able to offer variety.
I was pleased to see in the White Paper proposals about adventure training in Canada and jungle warfare schools for soldiers. It is encouraging to learn that the Minister can arrange with other countries and other armies for exchange schemes involving training facilities and visits, as well as adventure courses and mountain climbing.
We must also acknowledge that the British soldier is changing. We must try to iron out some of the snags and problems which soldiers and their wives are talking about. I was particularly pleased with what was said in the defence debate regarding pensions to widows of soldiers killed in Northern Ireland. This is a big jump forward. The position has been worrying many of us a great deal.
I was pleased with what the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth had to say about integration of the three Services. This has to be taken a step further so that there is integration within each of the three Services. In old trade union jargon this was called man management or human relations.
I welcome the proposals for pension increases but what may be seen by some ranks in the Army as relative injustices must be ironed out. I assure the Minister that matters such as pensions are discussed by soldiers and particularly by their wives. Few of the young soldiers going to Northern Ireland have fulfilled 667 the three-year period for pension entitlement. It is a very young Army in Northern Ireland.
Soldiers and their wives are also worried that, to qualify for a full pension, there has to be 10 years' service for officers but 12 years' service has to be completed by other ranks. One of the best things which the Minister could do would be to review this and scrap the differential. I am not against differtials in pensions but there should not be differentials in length of service. The period of service for other ranks necessary to qualify for full pension should be brought down to 10 years. I am not suggesting that the service period of officers should have to go up.
There is another snag. The child of an officer who has been killed receives a payment up until the age of 18, but the child of a soldier from any other rank gets a payment only up to 16 years. These are the sort of things soldiers talk about. I realise that it is possible for a pension to be paid to the child of a soldier who was not an officer up to the age of 18 if application is made, and the child is in full-time education, but there is this basic difference to start with. If pensions are to be increased, these are the sort of matters which have to be looked at.
Soldiers also talk about another matter, which may not be the direct concern of the Ministry of Defence yet is of such importance that it should be aired in places such as this House, so that the Army will know that we understand and recognise the problem. To raise the matter in this way should have a bearing on the Army's morale and recruiting. I refer to the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968. Soldiers, their widows or dependants can make claims for compensation under this Act in cases in which soldiers are injured or have been killed as a result of terrorist action. My right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) was talking about casualties in Northern Ireland. This Act must work in the same way as legislation covering industrial injuries. The wives and families of soldiers cannot understand why there is a difference here. This has nothing to do with the Ministry of Defence: it is a matter for the court.
668 I would like to mention three examples of people, all of whom were married, who were killed in Northern Ireland. The widow of a private who was killed was paid £3,000; a staff sergeant's widow got £15,000 and a major's widow was paid £24,000. This sort of situation is of concern to soldiers and their families and it is little use saying that it has nothing to do with the Ministry of Defence. I know what the position is on this but it has to be properly explained to soldiers and their families.
I realise that the pension awards are based on career expectations and the potential earning power of the person killed. When I start to explain this to soldiers and their families I am asked how a pension would have been calculated for my widow if I had been a soldier who was killed in Northern Ireland. I explain that it would be done on the same principle of career expectation and potential earning power. If this had been done in my case, the calculation would have been hopelessly out. I have aired this matter because I hope that the debate will be reported in Army magazines and news sheets, so that soldiers and their wives know that we understand some of these problems.
Another point which concerns many troops in Ireland is the number of criminal prosecutions and civil actions against members of the forces for what most of them regard as carrying out their duty. There have been a number of such prosecutions and some prison sentences have been imposed. I mention that to the Minister because it might help. After all it affects morale, the best recruiting sergeant.
I do not want to end on a sour note, which, to judge by their faces, is how hon. Members apparently regard my speech, but I want to say something about my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and some of his recent utterances. I told him that, if I caught Mr. Speaker's eye, I would be mentioning him.
My hon. and learned Friend offers solutions to the Northern Ireland problem that would be absolutely foreign to the British Army. How he can suggest, even in the House, that one could find members of the British forces to do what he has suggested is literally beyond me. The history of the British Army 669 has its blemishes; it is not lily-white. We have had the bullies and we could have found people to do many things. But to say that one could get the British Army to tackle these problems rather in the manner of the old Nazi or Japanese armies is irresponsible, to say the least, and something to which I would take complete exception. It is as well that someone on these benches repudiates what my hon. and learned Friend has been saying. I do not think we could find anyone to do such jobs.
I think in this connection of a speech by the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth about the example that he used in one of his law examinations. What does one do with a soldier who, at the end of the day, steps from the ranks, undoes his belt and says "I am soldiering no more"? That would be the effect if we asked the British Army to do what my hon. and learned Friend has suggested. The British Army is not and never could be like that, and I would have nothing to do with any suggestion on those lines.
My admiration for the way in which the British soldier is tackling the Irish problem goes without saying. I was in Dublin yesterday trying to do my bit in talks with various influential people. It is my wish that the White Paper will give us hope. It will take some time. What I want to battle for is getting the British Army out of Northern Ireland, but we can suggest that only when we have solved this problem.
I hope that I have given Ministers some thoughts to chew over about recruitment and morale. In this way we have probably done our little bit to keep up the morale, which is high, in Northern Ireland. Any other army in the world would have cracked under this strain. We can be particularly proud of an Army of such high quality.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I hope that the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) will forgive me if I do not immediately follow his interesting points on Ireland, but I will return to them later.
After a period of enforced silence on defence matters, it is a pleasure for me at least to be able to take part in a 670 defence debate again rather than just to listen, however informative that might be. I should like to comment first on some matters of general strategy which are just as important to the Army as to the other Services, if not more so.
The Under-Secretary of State, winding up the debate on the White Paper, said:I remind the Opposition that the strategy of flexible response was worked out at a time when they were in power, and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East … played a notable part in working it out.It should be made clear that we cannot go back. If the strategy of flexible response goes, as it inevitably would if the amendment were put into effect, nothing else is left. The tripwire strategy of John Foster Dulles no longer makes sense. We abandoned it for good reasons in 1968, because it had become incredible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March 1973; Vol. 852, c. 1613.]Is it such a ludicrous philosophy? Can we not go back to the tripwire policy? Why has it become so incredible?
The peace of Europe of the last 28 years has been created and preserved by the threat of nuclear warfare, warfare on a scale and of a sort almost incomprehensible in its frightfulness. What could possibly start such a war? Until the abandonment of the tripwire philosophy in 1968, the only thing was the invasion of Western Europe or any of its allies by the forces of the Communist bloc. Both sides clearly understood the issue: the invasion of even such an infertile and inhospitable piece of territory as the north of Norway would bring swift and terrible retribution on the head of the aggressor.
But now, in the "let's wait and see what is going on" attitude of flexible response, the Russians could be camping on the banks of the Rhine before the use of nuclear weapons was even contemplated. This is a dangerous philosophy and one that does much to destroy the credibility of NATO and of its defensive powers. There can be no doubt that the Russians have not overnight become a peaceful nation. There can be no doubt that overnight the Communist bloc has not lost its aggressive tendencies.
The Secretary of State for Defence said in another place:We cannot ignore the fact that, as we move into a period of negotiation in Europe, they"—the Russians—continue to build up their military forces to a degree which seems to go beyond any 671 reasonable requirements of self-defence"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 18th March 1973; Vol. 339, c. 760.]No Minister in all the debates on defence matters has satisfactorily explained what motives our potential aggressors could possibly have in this enormous build-up of forces, doubling, trebling and quadrupling those facing them.
I agree that the MBFR talks have an excellent objective, but the Bible says that there will always bewars and rumours of wars".I cannot conceive of the Communist bloc or any of our NATO allies allowing a situation to develop in which their armies were reduced to a worthwhile extent. It is vital in these talks to ensure that, whatever their outcome, the reduction in forces which may be proposed is not a man-for-man, plane-for-plane, or tank-for-tank reduction.
Admittedly, the present balance of power weighs heavily in favour of our enemies, but whatever happens, any force reductions on our side should keep that balance as it is. Otherwise, with potentially large and powerful forces at their disposal, the NATO allies will have small and ill-equipped forces defending freedom.
Britain's credibility as a nation determined to defend itself and to contribute heavily to the defence of her allies is not in any way helped by the support, by the Shadow Cabinet, of the kind of amendment so heavily defeated on 19th March. The support of the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Cabinet for that amendment is something which should not be forgotten, either by those in the country who are interested in the freedom of our society and freedom from the aggressor, or more particularly by those in the armed forces.
§ Mr. Wiggin
My hon. and right hon. Friends have reiterated many times that in assessing the defence needs of this 672 country and their cost, the only yardstick which shall be used is the necessity for spending those funds and having those forces that are needed in defence of the nation. To gear this yardstick to other measurements is false and ignores the real purpose of our defence forces.
§ Mr. John Morris
Surely the hon. Gentleman will recall a statement made by the Secretary of State for Defence in another place in the course of last year's defence debate when he made it quite clear that defence expenditure had to be contained within the whole of the claims of all other Departments?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I do not see anything at variance with what I have said in that respect. Of course it is necessary to contain defence expenditure within reasonable limits. I must say, unlike the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), that in my view, in assessing what it is reasonable to spend on defence, what one does is to see what our commitments should be, rather than say that a percentage of our gross national product, or the amount that can be spent on education, should be used as a yardstick. That kind of thinking is totally irrelevant and our Front Bench has consistently maintained that line.
On the subject of Northern Ireland, if I may be allowed to turn to the Army's major commitment at the present time, like other hon. Members who have spoken on the subject I would like to say a word of thanks to the units who looked after me so well when I went out to visit the Army there in December last. We were made to feel most welcome. We were conducted round regardless of trouble and shown everything we wanted to see. Unlike the hon. Member for Mansfield, who I am sorry to see has left the Chamber, I found morale as high as I have ever seen it in the Regular Army. Here was a body of men doing what they had joined the Army to do and had been trained to do, and they were enjoying it and doing it most efficiently.
The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the constant demands of Northern Ireland have an effect upon recruiting, since mothers and sweethearts are naturally concerned if their sons and friends are in danger. But it is not the soldiers themselves who come back downcast. I could find no possible trace of that. 673 Yet their job is both dangerous, on the one hand, and on occasions boring on the other. The fact that it is necessary to present a target to locate a sniper means that some members of every patrol are constantly under fire, and the sheer bravery of our young soldiers has to be seen and admired.
There was a reference to the subject of police liaison. This is something at which I especially asked to look. Anyone who has been to Hong Kong will be familiar with the exceptionally efficient Pol-Mil set-up, where the police and military, sitting together in the same headquarters, conduct affairs in the streets of that busy Colony. One had hoped that that kind of liaison could have percolated to Ulster but I fear, perhaps for reasons not connected with the Army, that the headquarters in Ulster are not operating at a similar level of efficiency and competence.
I equally accept that perhaps the Minister who will be answering the debate today may not feel it within his responsibility, but I have no doubt he will make the point to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to see whether something can be done to improve the efficiency of at least the leading policeman in dealing with the military in the particularly troublesome areas in Northern Ireland.
I, too, have questioned the Minister on the subject of a curfew, identity cards and similar military procedures for tightening up security in a troubled zone. I fully appreciate that for political reasons his right hon. Friend may not wish to introduce such measures. But I believe that an increase in military pressure must be a good thing and must assist the removal of violence from whichever side or whatever faction it might come in Ulster.
I have made it abundantly clear that I believe that the T & AVR in Ulster should be mobilised and allowed to take its part in that battle. I know that there are arrangements for the transfer of volunteers to the UDR, but such a suggestion shows a complete lack of awareness of how the T & AVR operates, how it thinks, and its spirit. If a man has trained as part of an armoured car troop in the North Irish Horse, he will not volunteer to transfer to the Ulster Defence Regiment to guard a water 674 tower. He wants to use his skills. He wants to get out and to do what he has been trained for, with the equipment that has been supplied to him. I know there are legal problems but I believe that these can be overcome. If legislation is required in this House, then I would urge my hon. Friend to introduce it.
On behalf of the T & AVR, in which perhaps I should declare a small interest as a serving officer, I would like to congratulate the Government on achieving the fantastic figure of 59,300 serving officers and men. Very many people say to me "I understood the T & AVR had been abolished. I thought the Labour Government did that". Of course, that Government very nearly did so in a massive and incompetent reorganisation but the fact remains that at this time the T & AVR is healthy and its recruiting figures are good. There are 51,900 men in what we once knew as T & AVR 2, which is now known as the NATO units, and 7,500 in the new or UKLF units. I would ask the Minister to give some thought as to how he would describe these two parts of the T & AVR. My old regiment, one of the oldest TA regiments in the country, is apparently now a new unit. This seems to be an anomaly which requires attention.
Perhaps a solution would be to split them up as NATO and UKLF units, which seems a little long winded. I should have thought that a better solution could be found. Could I urge the Minister to co-operate—I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite would also wish this —in broadcasting as often as possible information on the existence of the T & AVR, its virtues, what it offers to soldiers who serve in it and what it does to contribute to the security of the nation?
I was most impressed by a recent exhibition of uniforms of volunteers through the ages which has taken place in London. The magnificent publicity which such newspapers as the Evening News gave to that was the first indication in newspapers of the existence of the T & AVR that I have seen for a considerable time.
On the question of recruiting into the T & AVR, I would like to direct the Minister's attention to the deplorable situation that is about to arise over 675 officers. Officer recruiting is not going well. The average age of subalterns is rising and in some districts it is well over 25. This means that in four or five years' time there will be a desperate shortage of officers. It is no use pretending that this deficiency can be filled from the ranks. Good officers are needed in the T & AVR as much as in any other Service.
It is strange that there is no national leaflet for T & AVR officers. A person cannot go into a recruiting centre and obtain a leaflet telling him what he can can do if he wants to become a T & AVR officer. However, there are a dozen leaflets issued for Regular officers. Furthermore there is no national advertising for officers for the TAVR—unless we include the recent campaign which contained, within brackets, the words:There is a constant need for young officers.That, so far as I know, has been the only advertising for Territorial officers for a considerable time.
I should like to reiterate a longstanding complaint about the allocation of money for the promotion of T & AVR recruitment and advertising campaigns. The Central Office of Information is responsible for national advertising on this subject and perhaps, by some quirk of the Treasury, the Defence Department may prefer advertising to be done in this way. I should like to see the initiative on this subject put in the hands of the T & AVR associations—bodies which give so much of their time to assisting the Territorials. At the moment only £60,000 is allocated to those associations for advertising and it is inadequate. A serious fuss should be made about the way in which recruitment advertising is run.
A minor point which I should like to mention relates to the allocation of funds for the maintenance of drill halls. Some associations have managed to put some money aside over the years and to build up a reserve, and I understand that this reserve has now reached £100,000—not a high figure but at least a reserve. However, there are other associations which annually spend their entire commitment. If the Minister were to examine this matter closely I am sure he would find that those are the associations which 676 operate in old drill halls in industrial areas where the wear and tear on the fabric is more than it would be in country areas. I know that there is a considerable feeling in many associations on this topic, and I hope that a small readjustment can be made to bring about an improvement in the situation.
I understand that a T & AVR review is about to be instigated, as promised by the Government when they announced the form of the new units. The idea is that the review body should report to the Ministry of Defence at the beginning of April 1974, and no doubt the Minister will make an announcement in the summer of that year. I also understand that the initial proposals which have been put forward contain terms of reference which preclude any change of operational concept, with no expansion of manpower, no extra expenditure and no additional T & AVR centres. If that is the extent of the terms of reference, the minor matters which will be investigated are scarcely worth the trouble. What the T & AVR needs more than anything is a period of stability. We have had some stability, although it has not been long enough and no doubt time will heal that wound. I am suggesting that to proceed with the review will entail a great deal of work and will result in nothing but a few minor administrative results.
I should like to deal with the equipment used by the new T & AVR units. I appreciate that the crisis in Ulster has meant that a great deal of equipment has had to be diverted to Ulster rather than be supplied to the new units. Land Rovers and wireless sets which are of very great use to the home defence force are equally useful in Belfast and Londonderry. However, the trouble in Ulster has now been going on for a very long time, and these new units will find it hard to maintain their morale and enthusiasm if they are not provided with the right equipment. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will say a few words about this subject.
On the subject of mobilisation, Queen's Regulations provide that in order to mobilise the T & AVR a Royal proclamation is required and such a proclamation can be made only in a national emergency. Surely this situation is no longer satisfactory. This was all very well in the 677 days of Haldane and at the inception of the Territorial Army but in the present troubled times, when natural disasters seem to be happening on a larger rather than on a smaller scale, with constant demonstrations by militants demonstrating for more pay or against cricketers— I understand that in Japan commuters have even used their umbrellas to smash up trains—our police are surely entitled in a dire emergency to call on the help of the local volunteer force.
We all recall the tragedy in Aberfan when chaos undoubtedly ruled the day in that Welsh valley. My predecessor in my drill hall put on his uniform, got half a dozen men together and they went to Aberfan to help in the disaster. The police were delighted to see six disciplined men in uniform and they were able to assist in coping with the aftermath. This was a good example of the way in which a local volunteer force can be of great assistance.
The Territorial Army began in the early 19th century in aid of the civil power. That was a sensible function and almost every civilised country in the world possesses a volunteer force. Even if this means bringing in legislation, I believe that we should make it possible once again for our volunteers—people who are on the spot and who have the equipment at their disposal—to be called upon to help in an emergency. Let the volunteer carry out the task of aiding the civil power.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I wish to take up the unnecessarily foolish remarks of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) when he referred to the defence budget and the way in which that money is spent. It may have been all right for him to have made such criticisms when the Conservatives were last in opposition, because the then Opposition berated my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) because of the fixed target budgeting in defence. But the hon. Member surely knows that conversion has taken place in the Conservative Party between those days and the present time. The Conservative administration have now come to realise that there are limits on defence spending, quite irrespective 678 of the defence commitments in the world which we would like to undertake.
I wish to quote from the remarks of the Secretary of State for Defence on 22nd February 1972 in the other place. He said:… all of us, wherever we sit in the House, have to recognise that the size of the Defence budget must be limited by the very proper calls on our resources by other Departments."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd February 1972; Vol. 328. c. 400–1.]The Secretary of State was referring not to any limitations in terms of the commitments we undertake but to limitations in respect of calls by other Departments on total resources.
Those words were echoed by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force in the defence debate on 19th March last, when he said:… we accept that that programme must not impose an unacceptable economic burden on the country.Again the hon. Gentleman was saying that the defence commitments must be tailored to the economic conditions of the country at that time. He then said:We believe that our presently planned level of expenditure is right …. I can assure the House that it is not our intention to allow the defence budget to expand out of hand in the late 1970s…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 50.]In other words, it is accepted by all sides that there is a necessity for a limitation in defence spending, a limitation imposed by the many calls upon the Exchequer, and a realisation that one of our greatest areas of public expenditure will be in improving the quality of life.
I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare will not seek to make these rather misleading party points in future. I hope he will confine himself to the more constructive ideas of his speech. When one has for so long been denied an opportunity to take part in these debates, I hope that the situation will be rather like a tap which has been turned off: that after a great rush of bile there will be a contribution which is considered as valid by both sides of the House.
I repeat what I said in the debate on the Army Estimates last year. At a time when so many are dying on our behalf in Northern Ireland, whatever tributes we pay to the Armed Forces there are certainly not formal nor perfunctory. They 679 are deeply felt and we are full of admiration for the quality of our troops. I believe that their quality is of the highest possible of any Army in our history, and they have performed their task in a spirit of restraint and devotion.
I think it right to echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said about the effect of repeated tours of duty. We should like to have some information about this. I hope the Minister will assure us that morale is as high as ever. It was certainly high when I visited the troops in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) suggested a six months' tour and it has always been recognised that in an ideal military context six months is more satisfactory than four months.. But I think that the criticism of a four-months' tour ignores the toll of nervous energy imposed on our troops in these circumstances. I believe that four months is about the right period.
No parallel can be drawn with previous situations such as those in world wars and world conflagrations when the enemy has been basically known. Here we have a situation in which the enemy is not known, and it is not known whether the enemy is in any particular section of the people. The very hazards described by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare about patrolling and so on make it desirable to maintain the length of tour at four months, however desirable from a military point of view a six months' tour might be.
The recent murder of three off-duty soldiers was the second outrage of its kind. It has been hinted in the papers, or there has been inspired guessing, that the same pattern emerged as in the previous killing of off-duty soldiers. If on this occasion the soldiers showed slight carelessness, they paid the highest penalty; I am not at all critical of them. No condemnation is too great for murderers who could use so human a weakness as young men wanting to go to a party to take advantage of that to murder them in cold blood. It is horrifying, and everyone has been horrified, but I think it right to ask the Minister, although I recognise the difficulties of the situation, whether steps are taken to reinforce precautions that are taken for off-duty soldiers. Are instructions given so that 680 care is taken to avoid a repetition of the horrifying events we have recently witnessed?
In common with most hon. Members, I watched with interest the news bulletins relating to what was described as the fishing exception last weekend. The stopping of the mini-bus contradicted the suggestion about the four months' tour of duty. A paratrooper thought he recognised a face he had seen on a previous tour of duty. That appears to indicate that there may always be a residue of information which is retained by troops from one tour to another.
As regards news bulletins, I ask the Minister what sort of information the Army is releasing. It was said in details of that incident that there were only two fishing rods but that about 14 people were involved and the men gave addresses in a Catholic district which proved false. There must have been the possibility of of a criminal prosecution and not merely of detention under the security legislation. Since the information which was disclosed revealed an offence—that of giving false information to military personnel—I ask the Minister to consider whether it is right for such information to be given on television when a person might stand trial on a criminal charge.
In this country we are careful not to repeat the unfortunate American experience of trial by television in which everyone from the defending lawyer down— or up—is obliged to make a statement before the television camera as he rushes in or out of court. I do not think that is wise. I wonder whether it necessary to monitor the sort of information that is released by the Armed Forces, if this kind of information is released from an official source.
In his review of the commitments of the Armed Forces around the world, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield mentioned Oman. I am sorry he thinks that so little information is now revealed. I regard the present White Paper as a major triumph. A year ago when I mentioned the problem of Oman, there was not a word about it in the reply to the debate. As is customary, Defence Ministers did not take the slightest notice of my remarks. I am glad to see that the lesson has been learned and there are six lines about the problem in the White Paper this year, revealing that 681 the Army was engaged in operations in Oman. In a "World in Action" television broadcast last year a British Army officer in the field was shown commanding some of the Sultan's forces.
If British soldiers are engaged in any part of the world, there is no need for the House to be treated with such secrecy as at present surrounds this operation. We should be given details of the casualties and the type of commitment. We should be told the casualties, not least because of the point made by my right hon. Friend about whether there is to be any distinction in the pension arrangements between those killed and injured in Northern Ireland and those killed and injured elsewhere in the world while serving in the Army.
The Minister would do the House a great service if he were to reveal the information which he has and if he were to be frank with us about the casualties which have been suffered and tell us what prospects there are of the Army being released from this duty. I appreciate that they are loan personnel and that some are volunteers, but there must be finality in any war. This one has been going on since at least 1961 and there appears to be little hope of the conflict ever coming to an end. I hope that the Minister will deal with this question and let the House have the benefit of his views upon this war and exactly what is happening.
I come next to some welfare points which I believe are always an important feature of this debate. They may seem small in themselves but I believe that the struggle for a fair deal for the British forces is an important part of the overall strategy of getting adequate forces to defend us as well as possible in the circumstances of the time.
I propose first to raise a matter which might also be described as posthumous justice. I have in mind women who married after their husbands had completed their war service but whose husband died before 3rd September 1939. In my constituency there is a lady in this category. She is now aged about 75, and there cannot be many widows of this age. Her husband served in the British Army from 1914 to 1920. He went through the campaigns in France, was wounded and contracted an unfor- 682 tunate illness. He married after the end of that war; he died in 1925, after a short marriage, and since then his widow has struggled to bring up a family without any pension whatsoever.
It is true that the Government have modified their proposals in the sense that they have now put in the date 3rd September 1939, but the point is that this lady is being denied a war pension because her husband died before that date. I believe that this is unjust, niggardly and a blot on what should be the best treatment we can provide for people who fought for us in the most bloody of all world conflicts, namely, the First World War. If we could not give them a land fit for heroes when they were demobilised, we can, after the passage of time, provide justice for their dependants. This is a small matter which, if granted, would benefit only a few people, and I hope that they will be enabled to enjoy some pension.
The Daily Mirror of 13th October 1972 dealt with such a case when it said:'Granny X' wins fight for a pension payout.The article dealt with a decision of the Ombudsman which appears to extend the doctrine of the Department in paying these pensions. I hope that the Ministry of Defence will get together with the Department of Health and Social Security to look anew at this problem in order to extend payment to others in this category. If the Minister wants personal details I shall be happy to send them to him.
My second point relates to the unfortunate recruits to the forces who fail to make the grade and are discharged fairly soon after their enlistment. The matter which I propose to raise relates to character assessments on discharge. If two recruits were discharged, one from the Army and one from the Royal Air Force, the conduct of the Army recruit would be described of "fair" while that of the Royal Air Force recruit would be described as "excellent". Those are the categories into which they would automatically be put, however well they had behaved while serving. This is something which needs to be standardised because it can have unfortunate consequences.
If those two men were to go before an employer who did not understand the 683 niceties and precedents which make the Army say "fair" and the Royal Air Force say "excellent", faced with their testimonials it would be all too easy for him to assume that the behaviour of the man from the Royal Air Force was very much better than that of the Army man. This is only a matter of the standardisation of procedure, and when I last asked the Minister a Question about it he said that the procedure was in course of being standardised. That was nearly a year ago. I hope that standardisation has now been achieved or, if not, that it will be in the near future.
I welcome the announcement earlier this afternoon by the Under-Secretary of State about the extension of work of the Housing Commandant Association to Germany. This is worth while and it will pay dividends. I hope that the number of SSAFA personnel to assist families in Germany is more satisfactory than it was when the Expenditure Committee last reported. Private lettings, and lettings of all kinds, are being increased in BAOR. If we accept that it is a "more married" Army than ever before, and if we accept that the age for marriage is lower than ever, we have to recognise that the wives of Service men out there are living in a strange environment and need all the welfare assistance which the forces can give them.
What is the position about a replacement site for Shoeburyness? Three years ago, when Maplin was but a gleam in some planner's eye, we were told that Pembrey had to be aquired urgently because of the need to replace Shoeburyness when Maplin was constructed. Three years have passed and Pembrey has fallen by the wayside, but other sites have not been announced. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will tell us where these sites will be and whether they will accommodate the whole of the previous unit at Shoeburyness or whether the unit is to be split up.
I should like the Minister to tell us something about the confused saga of Maindee barracks. First, we are told that Civil Service jobs are to be created, and then that they are not to be created. Later we are told that they may be created, and later still we are told that they may not be created. I believe the Minister will say 684 that the Government are waiting for the Hardman Report, but I should be grateful if he would let us know the position.
I turn, finally, to the question of our strategy in Europe. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare raised the question of the tripwire response and the flexible response and seemed to suggest that a return to the former was necessary. It may be true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that there will always bewars and rumours of warsbut I hope he will take his theology more from the New Testament than from the Old. The fact is that the absence of any major conflict since the Second World War has depended upon one case in which a flexible rather than a tripwire response was adopted, and here I refer to Korea.
Had we adopted a tripwire response, there would have been no debate today on the Army. It was because President Truman adopted a flexible response on that occasion that the destruction of the world was avoided. It would be dangerous and nonsensical for us to return to a tripwire situation in which every attack, of whatever magnitude and seriousness, and however the generals of the day might view it, has to be met with a nuclear response.
At the same time, however, I found alarming the article by Miss Nora Beloff in the Observer of 1st April 1973, when she referred to American troops in Europe as "The unnecessary army". The heading said:Nora Beloff argues that the presence of American troops in Europe is harming the Western Alliance.I believe that to be a dangerous doctrine to put forward. She can scoff if she likes, but the American presence in Europe on the ground is necessary for our defence. I believe that it would be extremely dangerous for us to think only of a European defence force. We have kept the peace for a quarter of a century or more because we have had a Western alliance and not merely a European alliance.
It would be dangerous because in that article Miss Beloff advocates lowering the nuclear threshold. What she advocates to make up for the absence of American troops is a greater readiness to use nuclear, and particularly nuclear 685 tactical, weapons. Anything that lowers the nuclear threshold is dangerous. It must be made clear that although this may appear to be an attractive argument, it will be not cheaper but more expensive for us to maintain that sort of defence force. It is in concert with our allies throughout the North Atlantic area, not merely in Europe, that we will continue to defend Western European countries. I believe that the British Army plays a vital and major part in that effort.
The Army deserves our commendation this year as every year and I hope that it will carry with it the good wishes of the House in the year to come.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I agree with much of the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). I thought for a moment that we might be forming a third force together but it is simply that I share exactly his view of lawyers.
An article a few weeks ago in the Economist on the Royal Navy said that the Navy's image was secure but its rôle uncertain, as the Army's rôle was certain but its image not so good. This was a slick generalisation but I think there is some truth in that observation where the Army is concerned.
At the moment it has two rôles, the obvious one being in Ireland. Perhaps there is a lesson to learn when it is considered that three or four years ago when such a situation was not visualised for the Army, so-called brush-fire wars were thought of as being a problem outside these islands. It is salutary to reflect on the occurrence of the Irish emergency that it is proof yet again of the impossibility of absolute certainty in defence planning.
The Army's second rôle is in Europe, in the deterrence world of Western Europe. I stress that there is considerable significance in the rôle of conventional forces in that theatre. It is easy to cast doubt upon this and to refer simply to the platitude of the Warsaw Pact's preponderance in numbers. That equation must be modified when one realises that a possibility of war in Europe is a question of time, reinforcements and replacements, whereby the numerical superiority of the Warsaw Pact nations would eventually be reduced.
686 To talk in terms of a war that no one hopes will take place may appear curious but one has to think in terms of the war that might take place to realise the rôle that the conventional forces play in Europe—our own and those of the United States. It was once thought by some people that the situation in Europe had only a nuclear dimension. I believe this was a mistake because the conventional forces there have a relevance to deterrence and to disarmament. I say that as a mild criticism of those of my hon. Friends who say that no disarmament is possible because of the numerical superiority of the Warsaw Pact nations. I do not think that numbers are necessarily the essence of the problem of the MBFR. Verification and sincerity are much more the matters to be considered. Obviously it is a matter of considerable time, negotiation and patience. I do not think, just because of the momentary numerical disparities, that one should give up all consideration of moves towards disarmament.
At the same time it would only be fair to look at what I might call the other side of the hill and to refer to Izvestia of 26th February and its comments on our recent White Paper. First, we are asked why we have spent more money on defence this year—and I agree with Izvestia that this is a natural question but it might be better put to Admiral Gorchkov—but it gets more interesting when Izvestia says:It seems however, that hostile as the British Tories are to socialism …—I suppose I will give them that—…it is not so much the imaginary ' menace from the East', as nostalgic feelings over the lost imperial grandeur and anxiety over the world standing of Britain reducing year after year, that is gnawing their hearts".That article misses out what I think is the primary fact in the Defence White Paper, that the increased expenditure is not on weaponry but on personnel and not on increases in personnel but merely to provide the sort of parity with civilian life which I think both sides of the House expect.
Almost all hon. Members who have spoken so far have referred to manpower and recruiting. I do not think one can find much in the way of criteria in comparisons with the civilian labour market. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) who has left the Chamber, 687 referred to unemployment as being a good recruiting sergeant. I do not accept that. I think it is more true to realities to say that there is a body of men and women in each generation which for a number of reasons chooses Service life. They can be discouraged from so doing by poor pay, poor conditions, stretched service, or by finding that the facilities and opportunities not only for themselves but for their families are poor compared with civilian life. Obviously they can be encouraged by the opposites of all these matters. If we want a professional or regular force we must be prepared as a Government to make our errors on the side of generosity. It is a patent disincentive to recruiting for a Government to appear anxious to seek easy economies in defence matters.
At the moment the stretching of our infantry battalions between BAOR and Northern Ireland—while I would not suggest that it had had any effect on morale, and I was in Ireland recently talking to soldiers in the infantry battalions—is a matter which the Government must have constantly in mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) has already mentioned the question of the extension of tours in Northern Ireland, and I would accept all of his arguments in the military sphere. However, I must throw into the balance the question of welfare and what I would call the social arguments. This illustrates one of the dilemmas facing the Government.
There is another matter in Northern Ireland. Most hon. Members, who have spoken have referred to the undoubted military qualities of our soldiers there, but I should like to add one other matter. The House will soon realise why I speak in this curious anonymous manner. A young British NCO fairly recently came to the conclusion that the particular community near which he was quartered could do with a playground. Almost entirely on his own Initiative he went around and collected money and people who were prepared to work. The playground was completed. Very naturally, as might be expected, there were a number of suggestions that a small ceremony might take place. The NCO and the civilians of both faiths who had helped him might be present, and perhaps a Government Minister might do the official opening.
688 But none of these things was possible. It was not possible to reveal the name of the soldier or the names of any of the civilians who helped him simply because in the circumstances of Northern Ireland these people would all have become targets for assassination.
This story, tragic though it is, demonstrates the sort of quality of soldier that it is possible to attract into the modern Army. In view of what I have said, I wonder whether perhaps the advertisements used by the Army keep pace with the quality of men who are serving. This applies to both officers and men. I must paraphrase from memory, but the advertisement I particularly object to uses some such expression asWhat would an intelligent young man like you be doing in the Army?Of course it goes on to show that such an intelligent young man would have a wonderful future. But I have a feeling that perhaps those responsible for the Army recruiting advertisements are trying to destroy an image which no longer exists and in so doing succeeding in keeping that imagine alive beyond its time.
There is a different line of approach in the Army advertisements compared with those for the Air Force and the Navy. I should be interested, without wishing to overburden the intelligence services of my hon. Friend—although the essential links of that service are not at this moment present—to have information, not necessarily during the debate, about the returns that the Army gets to its advertisements. I do not apologise for having spoken before on the subject. I see that the advertisement which suggested that a man could, by commanding a troop of Chieftain tanks, automatically move, on leaving the Army, to the boardroom of ICI, has now disappeared. Perhaps what I say here has some effects therefore. Sometimes it is possible for such advertisements—and this is my other criticism—to stress the civilian advantages obtainable by embracing a military career. Although these are real enough, just occasionally we might suggest that the military career is worth while in itself.
We need not apologise as a Government for spending a little more on security and peace and I suspect that the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), who said that we 689 could not get soldiers on the cheap, probably agrees with me. We threaten no one and we are not encouraging any arms race. No apology is needed for extra expenditure on the personnel side. It is not required by me nor by my constituents, whose locally recruited regiment, the Lancashire Regiment, is serving in Ireland at this moment, and not for the first time.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)
Hon. Members from both sides who have spoken have spent a proportion of their speeches paying tribute to the Army services and the contribution they are making in Northern Ireland. No one can speak in the debate without reiterating these feelings, which I believe are widely felt throughout the country, or without expressing the extent of the admiration held for the way Servicemen put up with the conditions under which they have to operate in Northern Ireland. This has the admiration of the entire country, and I pay tribute to our troops who face an almost impossible task in formidable circumstances.
Of necessity, it is the Army that has borne the brunt of this extremely difficult operation. It is quite probably the hardest operation the Army services have ever had to undertake in the history of this country. For obvious reasons it involves much greater strains and stresses than probably any other internal security situation. Internal security situations are almost the hardest for any disciplined force to deal with.
I should like to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder). He said that in considering the whole question of disarmament, detente and future force levels, numbers were not necessarily the essence of the problem. I can only say how much I agree with that sentiment. My prime reason for intervening in the debate is to reiterate the theme that in considering the military balance we must try to overcome the obsession about strict comparisons between numbers of men, numbers of tanks and numbers of planes.
It is a peculiarly British and a peculiarly European view of the European balance at the moment which embodies this obsession with numbers. There are grave dangers for the House to be seen 690 to emphasise this at present. I am convinced that inevitably we shall have to face the fact that force levels in terms of numbers will have to be reduced. If we put too much importance on numbers at this stage it will cause an extremely bad psychological effect in the Alliance if numbers are withdrawn, and we shall find it much harder to convince people that there are other crucial factors in achieving a military balance. I do not even agree that reduced numbers of men will be equally expensive. In future, technology and the contribution of military technology will be of crucial importance. I am confident that this is a sensible view to take.
I wish here to quote David Packard, until recently the Deputy Secretary for Defence in the United States, when he spoke in Amsterdam at a Conference of Europe and America, the central aim of which was to try to reiterate the interdependence of Europe and America, a theme which I wholeheartedly support. He said:It is not necessary to match forces man-for-man, tank-for-tank, plane-for-plane to maintain an effective military balance. Some of the so-called 'smart' weapons which have been used recently in Vietnam are from ten to a hundred times more effective than the weapons now in the inventory of either the Pact or NATO. It is probable that modern anti-tank weapons can, to a large degree, neutralise the effectiveness of a massive tank force. Air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles now in the inventory of both sides are primitive in terms of what can be done with the latest technology. There are many more examples.This means that the military balance of the future will be determined even less by the number of men, planes or ships on each side. It will be determined by how effectively each side applies the latest technology to the weapons those men, planes or ships carry.I believe this to be an extremely important message.
There are already in existence highly sophisticated conventional weapons—and I emphasise "conventional"—which are not being deployed in central Europe. Many of them have been developed by the United States, particularly, I suppose, in view of the Vietnam war. The whole contribution of laser technology to pinpoint precision bombing will make a major change in strategy and tactics. The contribution of satellite reconnaissance in terms of warning times and notification of movements, again, makes a major change.
691 I am not convinced that the Army has yet adapted to these changing circumstances. Whenever we look at the question of how much money we should spend on tanks, we should ask ourselves particularly how much money we are spending on anti-tank weapons and, indeed, not only on them but on any form of weapon system.
The balance we have tended hitherto to accept needs to be questioned again. I am known to be critical of the existing conventional balance in the Navy. I know far less about the Army. We cannot go on accepting a continuation of a balance that may have suited us in the 'forties or 'fifties or 'sixties and it is ever more important to look again at the shape of the Army. We shall have to look at the way existing divisions and regiments are structured. The previous specialisations which we have hitherto taken for granted may need fundamental questioning.
I have always been attracted—and the Select Committee on Defence Expenditure went into this matter in some detail— to the question of greater mobility, particularly in central Europe. I believe that is the essence of the matter.
The Committee looked at the question of heavy lift helicopters. The Government rightly pointed out that these are extremely expensive, which I well understand. It involves painful choices, and the balance of advantage may well be with retaining one's mobility based on lorries. This, without doubt, is considerably cheaper. I should like to see this question rather more fundamentally examined than hitherto.
Other aspects of the Army also need to be studied. The one I wish to raise concerns tactical nuclear weapons. I have never believed that we can do without tactical nuclear weapons as part of our strategy. This fact must be faced. Equally, I believe ever more strongly in the need for adequate conventional forces. I do not think we can ever talk ourselves into a situation where tactical nuclear weapons can be an excuse for running down either conventional manpower or conventional weaponry.
A very complicated and difficult balance has to be taken into account. At present there is a great deal of rather 692 loose talk about the fact that one can have mini-nuclear weapons with far less radiation. It is true there are new nuclear weapon technologies. In my view this subject needs considerable discussion. It is the present lack of any open discussion in Europe on tactical nuclear weapons that causes me grave concern.
My first concern relates to the problem currently facing the alliance. The Minister, opening the debate, mentioned the decision to consider the option of the Lance tactical nuclear weapon. Not only are the Government looking at this in terms of a United Kingdom effort, but the United Kingdom has been given the rôle of speaking for the other European partners to the alliance. To purchase the Lance tactical nuclear weapon will cost a large amount of money, and the Minister will probably feel unable to let us know the precise figure. Although I do not know the precise cost, it is in terms of 25 MRCAs over an equivalent period. It may be that the Lance tactical nuclear missile should be purchased from the United States as the contribution to the alliance. Nevertheless, some fundamental questions need to be asked.
It is probably the intention of the Government that the nuclear warhead part of Lance tactical nuclear missile, although purchased by the alliance, should remain under the control of the United States and that it should be of United States origin. This is probably a very sensible decision. I do not know whether the Government have made any decisions about this, but, again, it is a matter that should be discussed.
The House has the right to know on what sort of release mechanism any European tactical nuclear weapon that will be bought in the future is likely to operate. Will such a weapon have the electronic device of the permissive action link or PAL system? This is a legitimate question the House should ask the Government. We should not vote money, as we are in the Defence Estimates for the possible purchase of tactical nuclear weapons, without having solid assurances about the strategy under which those tactical nuclear weapons would be used and the particular problems of control and release mechanism. We ought not to be too afraid of open discussion of this question.
693 The other problem with tactical nuclear weapons is that the existing ones are extremely vulnerable. Some fundamental questions have increasingly been asked about the overall ability of tactical nuclear weapons to survive, not just the tube artillery with the modest range of 18 to 22 kilometres, but also the tactical aircraft stationed at permanent air bases, the exact location of which is well-known.
The theatre-based nuclear weapons and the concept of how to retain a tactical nuclear exchange are of the utmost complexity. I take a very pessimistic view about the outcome once one has gone even to a tactical nuclear weapon exchange. I would wish there to be the maximum steps in the escalation prior to making any such decision. However, I would prefer to see someone go through the nuclear threshold in a tactical rather than in a strategic sense. In that sense, I can see the declaratory aspect of tactical nuclear weapons having a part in a phased graduated response to any particular aggressive action. It is not a situation, I hope, that will ever occur. I do not believe that we can keep this limited nuclear exchange, as some people discuss it, to a virtually conventional war with rather larger mega-tonnage. That is not my view of any likely exchange.
These are serious issues. If the Government are asking for money they have a responsibility to discuss these issues more openly than hitherto.
The second major reason why this matter has to be discussed is that the French already have a tactical nuclear weapon. We understand from an interview with M. Debré, the previous French Minister of Defence, that the possibility of the Government purchasing Pluton was discussed. This has not been revealed by the Government. They have not felt it necessary to tell us why they have not bought Pluton.
We have a legitimate concern that French tactical nuclear weapons may possibly operate on NATO territory. I understand that the French troops on German territory would need permission from the German Government to deploy Pluton on German territory. That may be the convention of NATO. I do not believe that Britain can opt out of that. I am extremely unhappy that French 694 tactical nuclear weapons are not under any form of overall NATO tactical nuclear doctrine operating in Germany. I hope that the Government will not agree or approve the Germany Government making that decision alone. I think that the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in any NATO front-line area is an issue for the alliance as a whole.
Equally, I wish the French to come into some form of discussion on the guidelines they would operate for their tactical nuclear weapon. This is a matter of fundamental urgency. Even if the Pluton tactical nuclear weapon is retained on French soil, it would still be fired on to German soil. It would still involve the NATO alliance and could pose serious problems.
For us in this House to talk about European political unity and to have a situation where France, still a member of the NATO Treaty but not of the Organisation, can have in this sensitive area of policy a possibly totally different tactical strategy is a matter of grave concern. We need so to order our diplomatic arrangements and political and defence relationships with France that we can, as a matter of urgency, enter into discussions with them on that aspect.
I will leave that subject and turn to a narrow but, I believe, very important point which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd. This subject has been discussed in the House on numerous occasions. It is the fact that widows of Service men who retire to pension after 1st September 1950 receive one-third of their husband's pension, but the widows of those who retired to pension before 1st September 1950 and who were not officers received nothing. Yet, if they were the widows of officers they received a pension.
This anomaly cannot be allowed to continue. There are no party politics involved. It is well known that many Ministers of both Governments in the Ministry of Defence have tried to get this anomaly changed. We have all been fobbed off with the old Civil Service argument. But this is an intolerable situation. It is a distinction between officers and men which I do not think we should support or should allow to be maintained. Despite the fact that it means a retrospective change, I believe that it is high time that it was made.
695 The new evidence that I wish to bring to the attention of the Minister, who well knows the arguments, concerns the situation which I understand obtains in other European countries. We shall increasingly have to look at the pension provisions and terms of our Service men in the light of what our NATO European allies provide. France pays 50 per cent. to all widows. Germany pays 60 per cent. to all widows. Holland pays five-sevenths all of the husband's pension to his widow. Denmark pays two-thirds of the husband's pension to his widow. Italy pays 50 per cent. of the husband's pension to his widow, increased to 60 per cent., 65 per cent., 70 per cent. or 75 per cent. according to the number of minor children.
In all these instances pensions are paid irrespective of the date of retirement to pension. I hope that the Minister can confirm those figures. My researches, which have been undertaken by one of my constituents writing to the embassies of most Common Market countries, indicate that the only country that has no provision for the payment of pensions to widows of Service men is Belgium.
The anomaly in our situation is the existence of the distinction between offering a pension to a widow of a noncommissioned Service man and allowing it to an officer's widow, the cut-off date, and the consequential problems. This problem has often been aired in the House. I hope that the Minister will look at it again and that hon. Members on both sides will add their names to the many who believe that this anomaly should be changed.
§ 7.26 p.m.
Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goidsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) except to say that I was a little worried at his restructuring of the Army. I entirely support what he said about pensions.
In the recent defence debate I made certain recommendations about the integration of inter-Service training of administrative personnel who are common to the three Services. I have received no reply and no acknowledgment, but, quite unabashed, I shall continue with this fight.
696 We are talking about the Army Estimates. It is absolutely essential to cut out the wastage, particularly in view of rising costs and the high proportion of the budget that goes in salaries. To that end there was an announcement in the White Paper of the formation of the new headquarters of the United Kingdom Land Forces which was formed in April last year. In July the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee went there and took evidence. This evidence has been reproduced in the Expenditure Committee's Ninth Report. The results were highly satisfactory. It seems odd that the Army should have been so modest in its approach and should appear to have made no mention about it.
The aim of that reorganisation is to simplify and to increase the efficiency of the administration of the Army at home. Under the new terms there is now a Commander-in-Chief, United Kingdom Land Forces, who has under his command virtually all the Regular units and Reserve units in Great Britain, with the exception of Northern Ireland which comes under a separate command. In this reorganisation four command headquarters have been eliminated: Northern Command at York, Western Command at Chester, Southern Command, which is the site of the new United Kingdom Land Forces headquarters, and Strategic Command. In addition there has been an amalgamation of district headquarters, and three district headquarters have gone. The effect has been to produce considerable savings in manpower, both officer and civilian.
The Defence Sub-Committee was unable to be given the figures in July because Northern Command and Western Command and one or two of the districts concerned were still in operation. By now they will have been closed down. Therefore, these figures should be available.
Apart from tidying up the chain of command, so to speak, the result has been to save the duplication of effort that went on before and, of course, to save a certain amount of real estate, in addition to personnel. District commanders have been given increased authority and, although this may sound a small point, one of the things we were pleased to see was that they had been given increased powers of 697 write-off, because this was one of the recommendations which our Committee made when we visited the forces in Rhine Army and found that so much time was being wasted on unnecessary paper work on matters such as write-offs. I believe that it would be of general interest to hon. Members if the Minister in his reply to the debate could perhaps give us some of the figures involved in these savings, because they were very considerable and credit should be given where credit is due.
Another project which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Undersecretary is the Hebrides range project. This is a Royal Artillery range which has been in operation for 14 years and is used for surface-to-surface guided missiles, it was here that the early training on Corporal took place. This range is now half way through a £12 million development scheme which is scheduled to end in 1975–76. When it is completed it will have compensations because two other range establishments, one at Manorbier in South Wales and one at Tycroes on Anglesey, will both go.
The use of this range is interesting. It will be used throughout the year. The Army and the RAF will use it for Rapier, which is their low-level air defence guided missile; the Army and the Royal Marines will use it for Blowpipe, which is their very low-level air defence guided missile; the Army will use it for their training flights of their reconnaissance plane, the Midge; the RAF will use it for simulated bombing runs, and the Royal Navy will use the sea area around it for firing surface-to-air guided missiles. Taking into consideration the new establishment of the Hebrides range and the savings by the closing down of Manorbier and Tycroes, we get a saving in personnel of about 140 military and 167 civilians.
When we were examining this we asked whether it would be possible for the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Shoe-buryness to be moved there because this, as has already been mentioned in the debate, is under threat because of the third London airport. But we were told that it was not practicable to combine a practice and an experimental range. The Nugent Committee, which, as hon. Members know, is examining all War Department lands, training areas and ranges with, a view to seeing what can be returned 698 to civilian use, has been up there and examined it. Although its report has not been published, it has given a hint that this particular range would not be likely to feature in its recommendations.
In conclusion, therefore, there is this £12 million range project which will be open all the year round, which is to cover all three Services and which will produce considerable savings.
I have gone into this matter in some detail because I think this is good, and it leads up to my third point. In the White Paper we read that in 1973, this year, all armoured regiments will complete conversion to the Chieftain tank and that the armoured reconnaissance units will get the new Scorpion tracked reconnaissance vehicle. Both these vehicles have guns. It is the duty of the regiments concerned to train the gunners to man those guns. For this purpose there is a gunnery school run by the Royal Armoured Corps centre at Lulworth. It runs courses for officer and NCO instructors, of whom about 450 a year go through the school.
As a matter of interest, this school has been in existence for some time and the first time the ranges were used there— because obviously shooting plays a very important part in these courses—was in January 1917. The set-up consists of a school, barracks, instruction rooms, tank hangars and, of course, married quarters for the permanent staff of 240. This excludes civilians and the students. The students on each course fire on the ranges. It is an integral, essential part of their training. People will ask why simulators cannot be used. However intricate simulators are now, it is quite impossible to reproduce the conditions within the turret of a tank when firing. The noise, the flash, the smoke and the smell cannot be reproduced. It is this background which is so important because the people who are training there are the instructors who are going back to their regiments and who will have to train their own soldiers on the real equipment without simulators. Therefore the training must be on the real thing. That is why this range is so important.
Over and above all these people who fire on the range there are six regiments at home, two of which are Territorial armoured car regiments which also fire on the range. For some years there has 699 been a pressure group attempting to get this range returned to it—not for building land but as a beauty spot. It has been lobbying and fighting, and recently the Nugent Committee has been considering this. As I have said, the Nugent Committee report has not yet been published, and it would be wrong to jump to any conclusions before it is out, but in fairness to the Army I want to disclose the ramifications that would occur if the Nugent Committee recommended that the Lulworth range area should be handed back.
The gunnery school would have to move if the Government accepted those recommendations. I have said that, from the point of view of gunnery, simulation is not on. Therefore, the school would have to move elsewhere. When a 120-mm. gun is fired, even using modern practice ammunition, there is a wide danger area. As a result, there are only two places to which the school could move. One is the tank ranges at Castle-martin in Pembrokeshire, and alternatively there are some ranges in Scotland, at Kirkcudbright.
I take the Castlemartin ranges first. These are occupied in the summer months, for a period varying from five to seven months in the year, by the Germans. There is a small hutted camp which they can use in the summer. The obvious answer is to share the range with the Germans, but that simply would not work. I cannot say that it would be impossible, but it would be almost impossible to make it work. If the German time on the Castlemartin ranges were reduced, or if they were asked to go, their natural inclination would be to ask for more time on the ranges in Germany, the Hohne ranges in the British zone of Germany, which are NATO ranges which we use, which other Germans use, which the Belgians use and which the Dutch use. The ranges are used flat out all the year round.
Gunnery forms the most important part of an armoured regiment's training. The bulk of our armour is stationed in Germany. The practices fired there do not only train the gunners and the commanders. Towards the end of courses there they run what are known as battle practices which include fire and movement and tactical handling of units up 700 to squadron strength. This is a vital form of training. If the Germans left Castlemartin obviously they would want more time on the Hohne ranges. If that hap-pended the British armour in Rhine Army would suffer because it would lose time on the range, and that would be very serious.
There is the alternative at Kirkcudbright. It is already occupied by the Military Vehicle Engineering Establishment. When we made inquiries about the possibility of moving Shoeburyness we were told that it was impracticable to combine a practice range with an experimental range. That means that the Military Vehicle Engineering Establishment would have to move. At the same time we would be faced with the need to build a barracks, instruction rooms, wings, tank hangers and married quarters for the gunnery school. The Hebrides project cost £12 million. I shudder to think what the cost of moving the gunnery school to Kirkcudbright would be.
We have to remember that 50 per cent. of the Defence budget goes on salaries. Our job in the Defence Sub-Committee is to try to ensure that the money allocated to the defence budget is spent properly. If the gunnery school at Lulworth were forced to move as a result of the actions of a pressure group, the additional expense apart from being entirely unnecessary, would be an intolerable burden on the Army's share of a hard-pressed defence budget. It is unnecessary. The gunnery school is perfectly all right where it is now.
If the Nugent Committee should recommend this transfer, I hope that the Government will give it the scrutiny that it so properly deserves.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
I listened to the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) with a great deal of interest against the background of my own years as a gunnery officer. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks brought to my mind some of the best features of the service. The House would do well to dwell upon his very thoughtful contribution. I confess that I was tempted on one or two occasions to ask him for clarification. I refrained from doing so in view of the limited time at our 701 disposal, and I wish to pay the hon. and gallant Gentleman the compliment of saying that I am sure that if he had had more time my intervention would have been unnecessary since he was completely absorbed in his subject and did his best to deal with it in an exceptionally brief speech.
It requires little explanation and certainly no apology to refer, as other hon. Members have done, to Northern Ireland. The fact is that it is much easier to put troops into Northern Ireland than it is to get them out. Since 1969 a great many of our units and many sections of our Armed Forces have been there, and it must be obvious to any Government that serious problems are bound to arise from the situation.
To have so many men and so many units of our forces, representing a considerable proportion of our total Armed Forces, engaged for such a period on an unusual security rôle within the United Kingdom is bound to create grave problems for the Government. Certainly it is bound to tax the thinking and the forward planning of the Army itself. Moreover, inevitably it brings in its trail difficulties regarding our commitments elsewhere in the world. There is no doubt that the borrowing of troops from the British Army of the Rhine creates a serious problem, which I shall seek to develop in another context later in my speech.
There has been some relief in that the withdrawals from Singapore and the Persian Gulf have helped to minimise the state of overstretch, as it is termed in military parlance. One has noticed that the term "overstretch" is being used less and less. Despite this tie-up within the United Kingdom, we are fortunate to keep some of our military commitments, namely in Cyprus and in other parts of the world.
Since 1969 we have had four units of the Royal Marines, 17 units of the Royal Armoured Corps, 23 units of the Royal Artillery, 29 units of the Royal Engineers and 28 units of infantry in Northern Ireland. But there is another aspect. In addition to the proportion of our military forces in Northern Ireland, one has to consider the turnover of those forces, by 702 which I mean the amount of time they serve there, the amount of time for which they are relieved of their duties there and the amount of time they are given for recall. This is a serious matter. Young soldiers, having had a taste of what might be called military activity in a counter-terrorist situation, face problems which are relatively new to military experience, with the possible exception of those of our forces who in recent times had guerrilla experience during the Malayan troubles.
I suggest that we ought to consider the situations which our young soldiers in Northern Ireland experience. There is the impact on their family lives and on their personalities. There is a sense of uncertainty in their unusual rôle. All are matters of sufficient importance to worry this House and, I hope, the Government into taking immediate steps to do something about it. I asked in the last defence debate that the matter should be examined as a matter of urgency. We should know how young soldiers with less than one year's service are affected.
It would be wrong if I did not express my concern about the talks that are taking place in Europe. If we have a proportion of our army committed to United Kingdom internal security and the present rate of turnover of forces, and in the international scene increasing pressures which would result from an American reduction of forces in Europe, there will be stresses and strains as a background to the talks which now have all the signs of not being the successes which we had hoped for a few months ago.
A conference about security and cooperation is taking place in Helsinki. There are involved in those talks 34 nations. Talks are taking place in Geneva about mutual and balanced force reductions. Fewer nations are taking part in those talks—namely, the Warsaw Pact nations and the Western bloc. In addition, there are the strategic arms limitation talks. Russia and America are involved principally in those talks.
We must be prepared to learn the lessons of the past. The talks are lacking in co-ordinating elements. The talks should be brought together so that the most can be gained from their objectives. It will be much more difficult, as the talks are taking place at different times, in different circumstances and with 703 different political objectives—some objectives being out of tune with what might be called the aspirations of many people —to reach the overall objective of peace and co-operation.
Despite everything possible having been attempted to achieve mutual and balanced reduction of forces, and despite attempts having been made to get security, the very things that we have been trying to fight again appear to be proliferating. The Government, in the last defence debate, referred to Russia spending 8 per cent. of its gross national product on defence. I recall that a list of other proportions of gross national products spent by other nations was recited and that the United Kingdom is spending just short of 6 per cent. of its gross national product. It is yet to be decided whether increasing costs in defence expenditure, and in this case the Army Estimates, are producing in real terms an armaments increase or some other form of military sophistication.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth referred to the salaries which are paid to officers and men. I hastily add that I am not unhappy about that because we must ensure that we pay the highest possible salaries which reflect their importance to the United Kingdom.
§ Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid
My point was that salaries occupied a certain percentage of the budget. I welcome the salaries which are paid.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I have already said that the standing of the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth is not questioned. It is the proportion of the budget which represents salaries to which we are addressing ourselves.
In spite of all the talks which are taking place in the civilised world to seek a balance rather than a proliferation of weapons, it is clear that year after year a situation is developing of a frightening build-up of armed forces.
We agree that the nuclear deterrent is part of our overall strategy. But it seems inevitable that we must have an adequate deployment of logistic support for a conventional role. The economies of the modern world are strained and sapped because there is, despite our efforts to 704 get some sort of reasonable and sensible balance a continuing proliferation. The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said during the last defence debate:One should always remember that the MBFR discussions concern Central Europe only. The move for detente and the discussions going on for a European security conference and for MBFRs concern Central Europe only, and the threat, therefore, lies in the sphere of maritime strategy, in the danger to the flanks of NATO. If there is detente in Central Europe, or, if one cares to put it like that, if there is lasting nuclear stalemate, then the flanks are in danger.That is an important paragraph.
But I find conflict arising from the theme which I have developed and a statement that was made from the Government Front Bench on the Government's interpretation of the Opposition's amendment. The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), said that he had emphasised the importance that he attached to the military link with the United States. He then said:Does he really believe that a unilateral British reduction will do anything except strengthen the voices in America which are calling for greatly reduced military commitments in Europe?The point was specific. The Minister asked my right hon. Friend whether he thought he was doing the right thing by promoting the idea of unilateral action.
I have referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Haltemprice. The paragraph which I read has greater significance when it is referred to the previous paragraph of the hon. Gentlemen's speech, which was in these terms:About 10 days ago I attended a conference in Washington on MBFRs. All the American Senators and Congressmen with whom we had discussions said that they believed that even if there was agreement there there would be no short-term savings, because defence expenditure is rising as wages are rising. It is clear that the Americans intend to cut their forces in Europe—they have to because of political pressure—and it is equally clear, as some hon. Members opposite have said, that Europe should learn to defend itself. —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 134, 158.]If it is right for America, which is a member of NATO, to take unilateral action because of political pressure, is it not valid for this country to consider unilateral action, not necessarily because of political pressure? To do so would not harm the Helsinki talks. Rather 705 would it bring into the discussions a more realistic attitude.
A corollary arises from America's recent policy that we in Europe should do more to defend ourselves. If we believe it right to do more to defend ourselves, that does not necessarily mean that we have to spend more or that we must have more armaments or more men. We must always be on guard against waste. If it is right for us to search for a new, unilateral approach and a new rôle in Europe, deviating not one iota from the American concept, because America is taking unilateral action—
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Ian Gilmour)
Mr. Nixon has said the opposite. The Americans have said that they will not withdraw their troops for the moment.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
If I were to listen to what President Nixon said on this or any other matter, I should be in doubt about the strength of my argument. At least I try to be consistent. President Nixon has never been consistent.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice had been in Washington, and he said that political pressure was causing the Americans to take unilateral action. It does not matter to the House whether or not this comes about, because situations change during the passage of time. But taking the argument as it stands, if it is right that we should defend ourselves in Europe it is also right that we should say to other parts of the world where we are overstretched that they must learn to look after themselves a little more. The five-Power defence agreement in the Far East is not working out satisfactorily, for example. Pressures arise from our internal security commitment in Northern Ireland, and it is necessary for a review to be undertaken.
I come now to a matter much nearer home and which affects the people who have so efficiently served the forces. The Government have decided over a period of three to five years to close down the Signals Research Establishment at Christ-church, the Services Electronic Establishment at Baldock and the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Langhurst. In a Question I asked the Minister 706what savings in expenditure he expects to make in respect of the proposed closures of Ministry of Defence research development establishments; and when he expects to implement the proposals and complete the second phase referred to in the Statement on Defence, paragraph 29.The answer was:Savings in expenditure from these closures will, it is estimated, be about £13 million a year.".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April 1973; Vol. 854, c. 62.]I draw the Minister's attention to the recent attempt to close the Royal Naval Spare Parts Depot in Eaglescliffe, Durham, for the purpose of effecting certain economies. The depot employs approximately 2,000 people. We appealed to the Minister, who was kind enough to listen to us then. Jobs are involved here, including the jobs of scientists whose skills are essential to us. Their future is a matter of great concern to them and to us. We asked the Minister in the case of the spare parts depot to give a full assessment of the costs that had been taken into account in the closure proposal. When we received that information we had a meeting with him. We believe that he was compelled to do some rethinking, because he was kind enough to give us the costings.
The £1£3 million saving in terms of the Defence Estimates is not a large sum of money, but it represents an essential part of military research. For that reason, and to make sure that the right decision is reached, I ask the Minister to accede to a reasonable request to have consultations with the people whose jobs are involved.
The Minister should also give to those of us who are interested in this subject a full account of the costings, estimates and criteria which were made available to him before he arrived at the decision. I should not even attempt to impute that the Minister has examined wrongly what was before him. That is not my objective. He will have examined with great care what was put before him. It is the nature of what was put before him that deserves critical examination. That is another point of view. Perhaps the Minister will give the House an undertaking on those two matters which affect those who have served us well.
I take for granted that the British Army is essential to the United Kingdom. But the United Kingdom should always have in its regard that the defence of the realm requires an adequacy of equipment, of 707 the right kind of personnel and training, and of the right kind of support from the House of Commons. I take for granted that anyone who talks in terms of reducing defence expenditure as an end in itself, without examining the best way of doing that, might not be serving the country well. The priority of defence is a very major priority.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I agree with the closing remarks of the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) on the question of expenditure. I should like to pursue the interesting remarks made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) about technological advances that may transform the military scene in the next few years. I, too, attended the European-American conference which he attended at Amsterdam, and the group which was presided over by Mr. Packard, late of the American Department of Defence.
There can be no doubt that the military scene will soon have dramatic changes to show. Weapon development is going ahead very rapidly indeed. There is the Smart bomb, developments in helicopter and anti-tank technology and surveillance techniques and the new laser techniques. We have seen the introduction of laser techniques when it comes to target finding. But it may not be very long before laser techniques will develop into the death ray, which used to figure so prominently in the boys' magazines one used to read many years ago. We are on the edge of that sort of development.
Again, there is the mini-Nuke, which is of very substantial importance for the shape of the battlefield in the future. A very small nuclear charge can now produce an explosion equivalent to that of about 100 tons of TNT, with no radiation and no fall-out. The sort of control that can be exerted with this type of weapon changes the entire argument about the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield.
These new technologies, however, are enormously costly. The pressure on the defence budget will be greater in the future than it has ever been in the past. Every army in the alliance is faced by this fact. The military establishment which has taken the closest look at future 708 projects is that of Germany. They have looked forward to 1980 and done a balance of what their manpower costs and weapon development costs will be then. At present they are spending 30 per cent. of their total defence budget on weapon procurement and the rest, basically on manpower. By the end of this decade, they will be down to about 8 per cent. on weapon procurement and the rest will be basically spent on manpower.
Our proportion of spending is not nearly as bad as that, but certainly the pressures are increasing on weapon procurement just at the time that the new technologies are becoming infinitely more expensive. I note that the Germans and the Americans, and to some extent the French, are thinking in terms of smaller standing forces and greater reliance on reserve forces. I suspect that this may well be a pattern to which we are forced in the next decade or so.
I welcome very much the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Undersecretary about the success of recruiting for the T & AVR in the last year and the build-up in the reserve forces under the present Government. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) when he said that he hoped that the review of the T & AVR, which will soon be undertaken, would be much more far-reaching than appears to be in view at present. It is important that one should look at the military rôle of the T & AVR, at the call-out liability and at the cost—not because one wishes to cut the proportion of money spent on the reserves but because this may well have to be expanded.
I have considerable doubts about the present rôle that is assigned to so much of the T & AVR, that is,the reinforcement of BAOR. I may have been unfortunate in the commanding officers to whom I have talked, both of the T & AVR and of the Reguar Army, but I have not met a senior officer of the T & AVR who believed that his unit would get to Germany in time, nor have I met a battalion commander of BAOR who thought that the T & AVR reserve would get there in time. The reinforcement of BAOR remains an important potential liability. But in the past there has been excessive concentration on this particular aspect of the reserve rôle in the Army.
709 We have been talking about things that cost a great deal of money, and the reserve forces cost a great deal. I should like to turn to something that costs infinitely less—the special allowances paid to certain soldiers. The time has come when we should take a new look at them. Some very curious allowances still exist. I see that officers can receive extra pay of up to 45p a day for colonial survey duties, and that other ranks can receive payment of 13p a day for arctic or tropical experiments, although it seems that officers are expected to undergo those experiments for nothing. Soldiers acting as accompanists at divine services or choir practice may receive 20p for each occasion. I know that our Prime Minister not only had a distinguished military record but was a distinguished organist, but that surely is ridiculous.
I note that most of the special allowances for men in the Army go to those —parachutists, air gunners, helicopter pilots—who have a special skill which also increases the hazard of a normally hazardous profession. I have no desire to reduce the allowances paid to parachutists, helicopter pilots or air gunners. But a special case can be made out for paying a substantial special allowance to the bomb disposal squads that have done such magnificent work in Northern Ireland in the past three years and alas, have had some work to do on this side of the Irish Sea as well. This dangerous rô1e will go on for many months to come, and I fear that many members of the bomb disposal squads will lose their lives and be injured. More than 100 hon. Members have supported the motion which I helped to put down calling for a special allowance for them. I hope that the Minister will soon be able to announce that a special allowance will be paid to them.
The Minister enunciated some time ago the very proper doctrine that those soldiers who went to Northern Ireland should not suffer financially. I thoroughly support that. But the sad fact is that a number of our soldiers, when they have to move from their comfortable quarters in Germany to Northern Ireland for an emergency tour, leaving their families behind and going into conditions of considerable discomfort and danger, 710 lose money—sometimes quite substantial sums.
I hope that that can be corrected. One way to do that fairly easily would be to pay disturbance allowance, separation allowance, from the moment that the soldier lands in Northern Ireland rather than waiting for almost six weeks, as is the case now. I hope that there can be an earlier payment, because it is wrong that soldiers going into more dangerous duty in Northern Ireland should suffer financially.
I fear that our Army will be preoccupied with its Irish rôle for a considerable time, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is thinking about the Army's rôle in the new Europe. Last year I put down a Question asking how many officers were then posted to the headquarters or units of our NATO allies. I received an answer that nearly 250 officers were so posted. That seemed a reasonable figure, but almost all of them were posted to units or headquarters of the American forces. No one is stronger than I am in supporting the Anglo-American alliance, but when there are 200 officers posted to American units and headquarters and only four to German units or headquarters, I do not think it can be argued that that fits the political or the military realities.
I hope we shall see in the next few years a substantial increase in the amount of cross-posting of Regular officers and NCOs to the armies of our European allies. Through regular service attachment to units they can broaden their experience and gain that insight into the tactical practices of other armies which is very important. It would increase the range of experience of our soldiers, and those foreign officers and NCOs who were sent back in exchange would benefit from the experience of serving with our Army, which in the past 12 months has shown that it has an almost unique capacity for serving with skill and good humour in the most difficult and dangerous situations.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) will forgive me, I hope, if I do not follow him in the details of his speech, but I have promised to speak briefly. I want to raise only three 711 issues—first, tactical nuclear weapons; second, helicopters; and, finally, a point about Ulster.
The whole of our doctrine of flexible response in Central Europe depends on the provision or adequate back-up of tactical nuclear weapons. It is essential to preserve the one advantage NATO has which is in the number of its nuclear warheads—the only hardware advantage that NATO has over the Warsaw Pact. Therefore, I am particularly pleased to know that the Government are now considering, with their allies in NATO, the replacement of Honest John by Lance, a weapon which was seen by many of us —hon. Members from both sides of the House—during the NATO tour in the United States last year, and by which we were most impressed.
My first question about this weapon is the matter raised by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), who suggested that, if NATO, or particularly this country, bought Lance from the Americans, the Americans would keep the nuclear warhead under their control. I accept that this is done as far as the Germans and other NATO allies are concerned, but normally a nuclear Power such as ourselves manufactures its own warheads so that the weapon is wholly under our control. I hope that, if we buy Lance, this will be done, as I believe it is done with Honest John and certainly with our naval nuclear weapons. Second. I wonder whether we may have some idea when these negotiations are likely to be concluded.
On helicopters, I appreciate that we are now coming to a new generation of Anglo-French helicopters, and I wonder whether sufficient thought has been given to the deployment of the helicopter as an anti-tank weapon. The disparity in heavy battle tanks in Central Europe is 7,750 to NATO and 21,700 to the Warsaw Pact. Clearly, one of the most important factors that we must bear in mind is the strength of NATO in antitank weapons.
Also, on the NATO tour last year, hon. Members from both sides were greatly impressed by the flexibility of the Cobra helicopter and its use against armour. It seems that, in the past, helicopters deployed in this rôle have been very vul- 712 nerable. But the modern helicopter is immensely flexible, being able to dart up from behind trees, and, with the new ranging techniques, one can obtain a hit practically straight away. This vulnerability of the helicopter therefore no longer applies.
I am not sure that the helicopters that we are now building are as small, as versatile or as manoeuvrable as the Cobra. I would remind the House that two Cobras fitted with TOW, the American air-to-surface weapon, in Vietnam recently destroyed in two days 39 heavy Russian-built tanks, 13 lorries and 10 pieces of heavy artillery—practically a hit with every shot with the new ranging techniques. I raised this matter at Question Time and got the impression that we are not intending to buy TOW, as many of our NATO allies have done, the concept being that we have an equivalent or better weapon.
I am not sure what this weapon is. I wonder whether it is Martel? I should like more information about this. Hon. Members on both sides would accept that, whereas we should normally buy British and make British, when there are first-class weapons like TOW, which has already been adopted by other NATO allies it might be more cost-effective, and it might also fit in with our common user policy to buy off the shelf from America.
A matter which has already been mentioned from both sides of the House is the need for both the Army and the Air Force to have medium-lift helicopters. I will not dilate on the Army's need—that is obvious—but I would remind the Minister that the Harrier is not fully effective unless it had a medium-lift helicopter to supply it with POL and ammunition, bombs. I hope that the Army and the Air Force will get together on this and either produce or buy a medium-lift helicopter in the near future.
Finally, I should like a reply on one fundamental point about Ulster. It is true that our Army is fighting under difficulties in Ulster. Perhaps these difficulties are unavoidable, but when I visited a Royal Marine unit on the border, I found, for example, that there were no designated places where vehicles could cross, that they could cross almost anywhere. It was practically impossible to check people crossing the border because identity cards 713 were not carried, and the soldiers were not allowed to shoot back across the border until they were actually under fire. Perhaps these restrictions have to happen, but what really worries me is what is happening in the cities.
I would commend to hon. Members an article in the Evening Standard last night by Mr. Tom Pocock. He pointed out:Under the Special Powers Act, those not yet aged 17 cannot be detained with an interim custody order …In other words, the Army can detain people over the age of 17 but not under that age. This article underlined something of fundamental importance, to which the Government should address themselves, when it said:In Belfast, it is known that one IRA company commander is a 17-year-old girl and an explosives instructor is a boy of 16 …It said that adults can be stopped and questioned by the Army and taken into custody if necessary, adding:But children who emerged from the shadows to taunt the commandos were immune even when they were known IRA activists. The company commander knew most of their names, addresses and activities—one boy aged about 14 was a trainee bomb-maker—but had no powers to detain them.That is a fundamental weakness of our position in Ulster.
This is a problem on two counts. First, for the safety of the soldiers, one must be able to take some action to detain suspects even if they are under 17. Second, there is the future of the Irish themselves. If these youngsters are completely out of control—they are certainly not controlled at present by their families, their priests or their school teachers— the next generation will be a very difficult one indeed to deal with. So from all points of view, for the Ulstermen and for the soldiers, it is essential that there should be powers to detain and examine teenagers under 17. This is the most important matter that I want to raise, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to deal with it tonight in his winding up speech.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
I am sure you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if an aviator is to 714 intervene on an Army day it is best that he should get in and out quickly and achieve, if possible, a few well-aimed deliveries in the process.
I should like to draw attention, as I did in the Army debate last year, to the growing imbalance in the military budget caused by the overwhelming preponderance of expenditure on BAOR. Last year I said that… 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 BAOR, which is almost twice as much as the next biggest single item in the defence budget".I then went on, as others have done this evening, to suggest that,in an area of mobility, when this country should be spending more on sea and air power, it is essential in our geographical position as the rear flank of NATO that more of this money should go on such things as 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March 1972; Vol. 833, c. 852.]Since I spoke last year the expenditure on BAOR has risen by a further £63 million. Over a two-year period, expenditure has risen by £100 million, or no less than 40 per cent. I am aware that the strength of BAOR has been augmented by about 5,000 men during this period but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) reminded us in the defence debate, the foreign exchange drain of BAOR is considerable. Offsets are a particular headache, especially with the up-valuation of the deutschemark.
I suggest that, now that we are politically in Europe, we should press for the most urgent reappraisal and rationalisation of the rôles within the Alliance. It is especially urgent at present now that we are likely to embark upon mutual balanced force reductions. Surely the logic of these MBFRs, if carried through, is a reduction of foreign troops stationed in both parts of Germany.
I may not be able to suggest whether the Russians will feel capable of withdrawing their 26 divisions from the Eastern zone or East Germany. They may wish to retain them there for their 715 own political reasons, to prevent any liberalisation of the régime. None the less, surely the rationale of what we are trying to achieve by diplomacy is a reduction of our own forces, and presumably the American forces, in Germany. If that is so, it would inevitably call for a more mobile strategy on our part. This again has been hinted at during the course of the debate.
I should like to see more expeditionary brigades created on the lines of British contributions to the ACE mobile force. I feel that this is an extremely cost-effective idea for the United Kingdom, and it would do something to minimise the present imbalance which exists in the defence budget.
If one is looking at the question of mobility for our land contribution for the defence of Europe, one must surely look at the role of the helicopter in the land battle. Again, I referred to that in last year's debate. I will not repeat what I said then but will turn to what was written by the Defence Committee of the Conservative Party in a recent pamphlet, "In Defence of Peace". We suggested there thatthe Russian numerical superiority in tanks underlines the inadequacy of our anti-tank weapons whose numbers need to be increased and whose quality cannot be too high. Experiments with helicopter-borne missiles should be accelerated and an early decision should be taken as to which system to provide for the Army. An examination of the possibility of greater use of the helicopter in the land battle should be pressed ahead and a requirement for a medium lift helicopter for the Royal Air Force should be made.Last year we had an excellent "Sky Warrior" exercise, which is referred to in paragraph 31, on page 17 of the White Paper. It merely mentions that:A major exercise Sky Warrior was conducted by units of the United Kingdom land forces supported by Royal Navy and Royal Air Force helicopters, to explore the problems of air mobile operations in Europe.We have not learned exactly what came out of that exercise. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can give the House some report because it is my belief, and that of our committee, that the Army could play a greater role in operating its own helicopters.
On page 22 of our pamphlet we said:The increasing use of the helicopter, however, as an integral part of the land battle 716 must lead to the RAF allowing the Army Air Corps to operate heavier helicopters than at present permitted. At the same time the RAF must receive a medium-lift helicopter for the logistic support of dispersed V/STOL aircraft in the field; to augment the troop carrying capacity available to field commanders and to provide a lifting capability for artillery.I very much welcome the fact that the Army Air Corps is now to be a permanent corps in the Army and that there is to be a larger proportion of permanent staff within Army aviation. This will increase expertise. None the less, I do not believe that we have moved nearly far enough. The Puma helicopter force at present operated by the RAF could be taken over by the Army Air Corps. That would facilitate Army operations in the field and leave more money for the RAF to conduct its primary role such as strike, reconnaissance, tactical transportation and so on. I urge this on my hon. Friend.
I should also mention anti-tank missile equipment. I know that the SS11 could well be succeeded by Hawkswing if the development of this missile goes through as planned. But TOW has a much shorter time of flight and might be a more appropriate weapon for the antitank role. I must also mention, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has done, the question of reserves. I believe that the logic of the increased pressure on the defence budget of manpower cost will lead us to examine the possibility of moving more closely towards the concept of a citizen force. Without some radical departure of this kind we shall be unable to keep down manpower costs sufficiently to buy the sophisticated equipment which we shall need.
I turn to a matter considerably further afield, namely the ANZUK force. It is possible that the Australian withdrawal may lead to deficiencies in manpower on the ground. If that is to be the case, and if the shortfall cannot be met by Malaysians and Singaporeans, I suggest that one of the Gurkha battalions could be transferred from Hong Kong to operate in Malaysia and Singapore.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) referred to the report of the Expenditure Committee which suggested that much more could be done to rationalise 717 functions among the three Services. A classic area of activity in this respect would be officer cadet training. I have mentioned this matter in earlier debates. Indeed. I first raised the point on 21st June 1971.
The Army subjects its Regular officers to a 21-week Regular careers course at Sandhurst. The cadets enter for three major academic subjects—political and social studies, which include international affairs, contemporary Britain and military technology. All this is aimed at mind-broadening and it is also highly relevant to a professional officer's career. These are all academic disciplines which are basically common to the officers of all three Services. Therefore, I suggest that it would be rational if these officer cadet training courses, not just in the Army, were combined at Greenwich so that the educational staffs could be minimised and costs reduced.
I welcome almost all that has been said in this debate, and I welcome particularly the rôle undertaken by our Services in Northern Ireland. I pay special tribute to the local Yorkshire regiments which are serving in Northern Ireland. I refer in particular to the Duke of Wellington's regiment which is in Londonderry and the Prince of Wales regiment which is serving in Belfast. Two of our locally-recruited regiments, one of Gunners and the local cavalry regiment, are also serving in Northern Ireland. The fact that those local regiments are serving there shows the extent to which the task of preserving the unity of our country is commonly shared by all arms of the Army. I unhesitatingly pay those regiments a tribute.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I wish to confine myself to making a few observations about T & AVR, and perhaps I should declare an interest since I am a reasonably active serving member of the fourth Royal Greenjackets. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkingson) paid tribute to the splendid work of our forces in Northern Ireland, and I would hardly presume to praise the way in which they have behaved.
I wish to pay tribute to the UDR. I recently spent a couple of weeks training with some of its personnel. I do not 718 think that people realise the tremendous sacrifice that those men make, because after undertaking their normal civilian occupations during the day they spend a number of evenings each week engaged upon military duties. I pay high tribute to them for that sacrifice and for the spirit in which they undertake their tasks.
Although it must be said that T & AVR members are not totally satisfied with the Government's attitude, they are convinced that the Government believe in the value of the Territorials. They feel that there is a will to help on the part of the Government and the build-up in recruitment figures is heartening proof of this fact.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned that although we all look forward very much to the review which is to begin in July, it will not be satisfactory if it ignores such questions as fresh definitions of the rôles and functions of the T & AVR, the role of the T & AVR in peace time as opposed to that in war time, and whether there should be a special basis for internal security. These matters must be discussed, but I do not think that this is the time or place to do that.
One matter which I wish to discuss in this connection is the question of the flexibility of the call-out, in particular the call-out in certain specific emergencies. The Secretary of State for Defence has always been rather sticky about this and I am not at all sure why. I know that some hon. Members are in favour of a call-out in Northern Ireland. Some would favour a call-out for strike-breaking and that sort of emergency. But there seems a very clear rôle for the T&AVR in certain natural disasters. The disaster at Aberfan has been mentioned, and there were the floods in Kent and in Surrey. I should have thought that they were absolutely suitable situations in which T&AVR units could be used.
I am sure that the men are keen to help in such emergencies. They have the transport and the equipment and the command organisation which is necessary. In some natural disasters men of the T&AVR have rendered help, although they have appeared not in their uniforms but in civilian attire. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will look again at the question of 719 when the T&AVR could be called out. We should have more flexibility about this.
I make another specific, fairly small but important point. Mention has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) of the shortage of officers in the T&AVR. I draw attention to the present situation at Sandhurst. There are a number of two-week courses held at Sandhurst and I say unreservedly that they are first class. The quality of instruction given by the officers and NCOs is absolutely outstanding. I cannot think of a word of criticism that I could make about the way in which they run the courses. The trouble is that this year there will be only five such courses and after June there will be no more at Sandhurst this year. I suppose that about 30 people take part in each course and we commission another 150 men every year.
I do not think that is enough. I appreciate that there are real difficulties and blockages with other courses, short commissions and direct entry, but I ask my hon. Friend to see whether more funds can be made available in some way so that more courses may be held at Sandhurst and so that we do not have an absence of courses there in the last six months of the year. If a man goes into the T&AVR hoping to get a commission, spends a year in the ranks and is then told by his commanding officer "We shall put you up for a commission", and he is later told that there are no more places for a whole year ahead, that man may say, "I will not spend two years in the ranks: I shall leave". It is a very considerable problem and I hope that my hon. Friend will look into it.
On the question of recruiting, has my hon. Friend statistics of the number of short-service officers coming back into the T & AVR? Is anything specific being done to encourage them to come in? When I asked a Question about this some months ago I believe he said that the figures were about to be collected, but they had not then been collected.
The T & AVR has an annual wastage rate of about 20 per cent., but perhaps it is wrong to think of this as wastage in the sense that these men are wasted, because they are not. They go back to civilian life 720 and take with them the attitude of service to the public and so on which made them join the T & AVR in the first place. They do not forget their basic drills. Nevertheless, the fact that there is an annual wastage of 20 per cent. means that it is necessary to recruit at least 25 per cent. if the T & AVR is to make up for those who slip away through wastage and keep up to the figures which the Government want it to have.
In the recent Press campaign for the T & AVR, £25,000 was spent on national advertising and £15,000 on local advertising. The "coupon" campaign produced about 200 responses. Many were from old gentlemen of over 75 asking what part they could play, and some were from schoolchildren under age. It is doubtful whether the T & AVR got 100 more men as a result of the campaign.
That is a very low return in terms of normal commercial acceptability for the money that was laid out, and without being too critical of that campaign I must say that it was not very successful in many ways. There must be more effective advertising. Advertising for officers is not satisfactory, and more money must be spent for this purpose.
The Regular Army gets £1.7 million for advertising while the T & AVR gets about £100,000. I do not regard that ratio as satisfactory when one considers what a supremely worthwhile institution the T & AVR is, and I hope that my hon. Friend will consider whether more funds can be made available to increase advertising for recruits for the T & AVR.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
In the few moments left to me I should like to make three points. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) seemed to put forward two different themes, but I believe that they are not different but are basically the same. We have to face the fact that, however much technology we introduce into the forces, be they laser beams or tactical nuclear weapons, it will be many years before there is any significant change, and in the meantime we are faced with the necessity for the ultimate deterrent of nuclear strategy based on Polaris. As the hon. Member for Sutton 721 said, I hope that we shall be able to combine with the French to produce a coherent nuclear policy. Whether they produce the tactical nuclear weapon and we produce the strategic nuclear one does not matter. We must work together.
I support what has been said about the T&AVR. Many years ago some of my hon. Friends and I were instrumental in persuading the Government to allow the reserve forces to train overseas. We should now go a stage further and allow the T&AVR to be called up without a general proclamation. The T&AVR should be used far more as part of the Regular Army. It should be employed in civil operations for which it is well equipped. I am certain that the T&AVR would welcome the change because it is a force which is increasing and which, thanks to the Government's policy, is strong, well equipped and mobile. It most certainly could be used to reinforce the Regular forces.
I am glad to know that housing is being given priority in the Army. Not only shall we be able in future to see our way to negotiate with the German Government about the purchase of property, rather than expensive renting, but we shall also be in a position to offer very much better accommodation.
Many of us are worried about men who leave the forces—there is one case about which I shall be writing to the Minister—occupying quarters which should be occupied by serving men because this ex-Army family are not able to get a civilian house immediately. We have a duty to soldiers leaving the Army to make sure that they get accommodation, or at least to help them in finding it.
I think that we must consider the question of the standardisation of equipment, because it would represent a considerable saving in NATO. Whether it is a joint operation in tank building or ensuring that the small arms of various countries are identical, the matter must be looked at seriously.
I should like to pay a tribute to activities in Northern Ireland of the Guards regiments of the Household Division from my constituency in Windsor, who have served well in the Province.
722 May I ask my hon. Friend the Undersecretary the most sticky question of all? I believe that it is possible to seal off the border between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. When I was attached to the Foreign Legion we sealed off the entire border between Algeria and Tunisia and did so very effectively and at low cost. Sophisticated weapons were used in the operation. It would be possible at relatively small cost to seal the border and if this were done it would save many lives and much work. I am told that it is a long frontier but it is certainly not as long as the Algerian frontier.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
In the recent defence debate hon. Members on both sides of the House inevitably focussed their attention on cost. This is inevitable in peace time given the competing claims of other spending Departments, especially for the social services. There is bound to be competition. Just as we subject those Departments increasingly to cost-effective analysis, so we must subject the Estimates to the most searching scrutiny. That scrutiny is directed tonight at the Army.
I have been an appreciative listener to all the contributions from both sides of the House. All were informed, some were critical, but I hope the House will forgive me if I single out my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), not only because he is a former soldier of considerable experience but also because we have origins in common, having been brought up in the same village.
Some of the contributions were inclined to be critical in one respect or another. That delivered by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) was forward looking. None lacked understanding or sympathy with the subject before us. I hope that I shall prove worthy of their company and I express my warm appreciation to my right hon. Friends for this opportunity to speak. I also want to say to the Army that we think it in their interests that we should satisfy ourselves that the right balance has been struck in the ceaseless teeth versus tail argument, that the distribution of the defence budget between hardware and research and development 723 on the one hand and personnel and support on the other is initially beneficial. Such a scrutiny is all the more urgent in view of the mounting financial pressure developing for the defence budget for the late 1970's. The budgetary costs of some projects are already casting their shadows ahead. The steady upward drift of defence as a percentage of GNP is likely to continue if present policies are maintained. My hon. Friends have nothing but good will for the services but they must be disturbed by such a forecast when we are on the verge of talks on mutual and balanced force reductions in central Europe, and the Government must be prepared for a renewed interest in the economics of defence by the Opposition. We recognise that it is a subject on which a delicate balance must be struck between the need for informed debate on one hand and the wisdom of a certain amount of discretion on the other. Yet, as David Watt pointed out in the Financial Times on 23rd March,The only way in which this Government can cope with the ebb and flow of public opinion on an emotional subject like defence is first, to be genuinely open about the arguments, and secondly to put forward a policy in which commitments, strategy and purpose of defence equipment can be clearly seen to march hand-in-hand.For our debate tonight that means some assessment and evaluation of the size, the equipment and the deployment of the Army, with particular reference to its major commitment in Northern Ireland, and the possible consequences for its morale. That is my brief.
On such occasions as this, however, it is conventional to invoke fulsome praise and to make ritual genuflections. The best compliment that can be paid is to see the Army as it sees itself, to assess it in terms of its own advertising material, though I accept that there could be something in the criticism by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder), but only in so far as it refers to advertising for officer recruitment. I do not believe that it applies to the advertising material that I have here for boy soldiers and youth recruitment. I regard that as absolutely first-rate.
Above all I like those advertisements that present the Army as a professional body. I see it then as a body which is concerned not only with skills but with standards, and that is my approach. Size 724 means manpower, and manpower is now dependent upon voluntary recruitment. The expectation is that recruitment should yield a regular flow of new recruits providing a balanced distribution of age, experience and skills. That is the ideal situation.
But what about reality? Recruiting figures for boy soldiers are good but the Donaldson Option wastage rates are disturbing, as are the adult recruiting figures, which have declined from their buoyant level of 1971–72. A fall had been expected, but will the Minister confirm that the actual decline was greater than was feared? The fall has been cushioned so far by the continuing improvement in junior recruiting, but this will be shortlived because of the raising of the school leaving age.
Furthermore, as the Secretary of State reminded us two nights ago when addressing the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies,Demographic trends suggest that our recruiting prospects are not going to become any easier; if anything, the reverse".Re-engagement figures are disappointing and so is officer recruitment. Clearly the Army will have a struggle to reach its manpower targets in the short term, given intense civilian job competition, to which there was also a reference from hon. Members opposite.
Is the Minister sure that he is doing enough to attract recruits? Is he sure that the Army can hang on to those men already in the Service and thus retain its soldiers for a full 22 years instead of their leaving for other jobs while still in their twenties? Has he taken full cognizance of the pressures building up in the US congress for a 50 per cent. reduction in American troop levels in Europe, and what contingency plans are there for such a situation?
Equipment is a vital factor in the attraction of recruits. The effectiveness of the Army depends on the most modern equipment—and it is heartening to read in the Defence White Paper of the details of improvements planned for 1973–74. However, what is to be the future rôle and strength of the helicopter—a question that has been asked in the House frequently in recent weeks. The present force would appear to reflect the views of those who see the helicopter as a useful addition to the Army's mobility but 725 not one sufficiently valuable to replace tanks, other ground vehicles and artillery.
On the other side of the controversy are those who see it as a new multi-purpose vehicle and weapon platform. Supporters of that view include the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen-shire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson). Do not their persuasive arguments deserve some reply? This development may be so costly that it can take place only on the basis of that co-operative project referred to by the Under Secretary in his opening speech, the Anglo-French helicopter. Is this what is meant by the policy reference on page 1 of the Defence White Paper to the fresh opportunity 1973 will provide forIncreased scope for developing closer European defence co-operation within the framework of the Alliance.The White Paper proceeds:Meanwhile the task of assisting the civil power in Northern Ireland remains a major commitment of the Army.Henceforth I shall be concerned not only with the deployment of the Army in Northern Ireland but also with its morale and its welfare. Finally, I shall touch upon a new trend in military thinking that could lead the Army into a departure, no matter how slight, from its traditional non-political stance.
How far are the recruitment difficulties and the re-engagement difficulties due to Northern Ireland, where some battalions are now going for a fourth and fifth tour? At present, according to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) in the recent defence debate,we are putting too much strain on the troops.The hon. Member said that many senior officers and junior ranks to whom he had spoken in recent months agreed that a 12-month break between emergency four-month tours was reasonable. But at the moment, in the judgment of the hon. Member, far too many units are being sent back to Northern Ireland on emergency tours after a break of only eight months or even less. He concluded:These frequent tours have a particularly bad effect on re-engagement, especially as a high proportion of those involved are young married men".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March 1973; Vol. S52, c. 1535.]726 It is interesting to recall that every speaker on this side of the House has taken up this theme or has otherwise expressed some concern about the possible strain on soldiers resulting from service in Northern Ireland.
I wonder: is this the explanation for 28 soldiers of 16 Parachute Brigade suddenly wanting to buy themselves out of 2nd Battalion last December when it came under orders to return to Northern Ireland in March for its fifth tour in just over three years? The Commander of 16 Parachute Brigade explained that only 15 out of the 28 specifically mentioned Northern Ireland as a reason for leaving and about 28 men might well ask to buy themselves out in a normal year anyway, for a variety of reasons. But the fact that he felt it was necessary to call a Press conference at which he was flanked by a team of experts on military personnel matters, and supported by the Deputy Adjutant General at Headquarters UK Land Forces, suggests that if there were no problem of morale among the paras when they came under orders to return to Northern Ireland, there is certainly one on the part of their brigadier. Should there, then, not be some appraisal of the kind called for by my right hon. Friend at the beginning of the debate of the effect on our troops of service in Northern Ireland?
Can the Minister assure the House that he is doing all that can reasonably be done to reduce the strain on the soldiers now serving here? Is he satisfied with their accommodation? A year last January, following careful, responsible and sympathetic on-the-spot investigations by the then "Crusading Journalist of the Year", Colin Brannigan, editor of the Sheffield Star, I drew the attention of the House to the primitive conditions with which many of them had to contend.
The Minister of State for Defence may smile, but the then Minister for the Army admitted that the Government were aware of some of the deplorable conditions in which Service men lived in Northern Ireland, some of which were subsequently described by one of our newspapers as fit only for pigs.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
I was not smiling at the hon. Member's reference to the deplorable conditions, but I was sharing a smile with his right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Duffy
The hon. Gentleman's predecessor pointed out at the time that some of these conditions were imposed by the tactical nature of the posts where they carried out their duties, but considerable improvements were being carried out based in part, he promised, on a £500,000 comforts fund.
Colin Brannigan is now satisfied that a colossal improvement has taken place during the last year. The new camp at Aldergrove is most appreciated, though the Lurgan camp is also impressive. The biggest success is probably the portable shower. New swimming pools at Shackleton and Holywood Barracks have been provided, but when does the Minister expect they will come into use? Commanding officers have still to grapple with complaints and problems arising from food, welfare, discotheques and girls. Nevertheless, there is a more hopeful feeling abroad following the publication of the White Paper on Northern Ireland. Moreover, there are some welcome signs of de-escalation especially in Derry. But the continued morale of the Army should not be taken for granted.
Accommodation in Dungiven is still very bad. Is there a difficulty here in engaging local contractors? The Short Strand bus depot is still a problem. This raises the question of the continued use of bus depots by the Army. When are the troops to be allowed to get out of them?
The Antrim Bridging Camp facilities are also terrible for some soldiers, as are some RUC stations. Is the Minister aware that in the RUC station in Dungiven one constable occupies one room while eight soldiers have to do with the other room?
Is the Minister aware that, after only nine months or so, some of the amenities installed, such as washing machines, are already jiggered. This is hardly surprising. They are not used once or twice a week by housewives, but 24 hours a day by soldiers. Nothing less than heavy, purpose-built equipment will do, and maintenance is vital.
Telephones are still in short supply. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield reminded us just how urgent they can become on the evening of a particular 728 day following some incident and given its early broadcast.
Clearly the Minister should have given more attention to the problem of accommodation in Northern Ireland in his opening speech. It was not good enough to say that it had been covered in the defence debate. Nor, if he looks at HANSARD afterwards, will he agree that that was strictly accurate.
What of the provisions for death or injury attributable to service in Northern Ireland? The Minister of State, opening the defence debate, informed the House that he hoped to be able to make a statement shortly about improved provisions which will apply to all regular Service men who are in the Forces on or after Saturday last. Does he know how his statement has been received? Many of the troops, when they observe the size of the compensation sums currently awarded to civilian casualties, fear that it will be too little. Where they are garrison troops with more than a year's service in Northern Ireland behind them, or non-garrison troops on their fourth tour, they are sure that it comes too late.
What of Service pay? The next biennial review is due in April 1974, though the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has said that it will keep Service pay under continuing review and will be free to put forward recommendations on particular aspects of the subject whenever it believes them to be necessary. It must surely consider soon the need for such a review, given the erosions of inflation. But given phase 2, the Review Body would have to take account of the guidelines. As it is all too plain by now that the prices side of phase 2 is not developing to plan, those guidelines cannot possibly do justice to Service men anywhere, particularly in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister think that this state of affairs can be anything but seriously detrimental to morale?
I should like to be clear for my own purposes that I am following the hon. Gentleman. Is he talking about the ex gratia payments for injury and death or about pay?
§ Mr. Duffy
I made no reference to the ex gratia payments, but rather to the provision that will be made for Service 729 men after Saturday last, details of which are to be made available, and about which there is already much speculation, as the Minister will expect, among the troops. I was faithfully reflecting early reactions on the part of some troops to that announcement. Then I moved on to talk about pay and the way in which I suspect that Service men's pay will be affected by phase 2 and by the guidelines even more than any other body in our society. I am asking whether the Minister thinks that would be seriously detrimental to morale.
What of leave? Given the severe restrictions on the movement of off-duty soldiers, is the Minister quite certain that more imaginative and generous leave arrangements cannot be worked out?
What of resettlement? In view of the recent study by the Defence sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee and the imaginative speech in the defence debate by the hon. and gallant Member men who are in the fotrces on or after for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor Goldsmid), does he not think that an entirely new approach may be required if soldiers are to be persuaded that they will not lose out by staying in for the full 22 years?
There can hardly be an hon. Member on either side of the House who has not had a constituent who has served in the Army in Northern Ireland. Each of us knows, therefore, of the appalling strain on them. Their loyalty and dedication to duty is not in question. But, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition observed in the debate last week on the White Paper on Northern Ireland:… we have a duty, too—and that is not to impose on the loyalty and dedication of the Armed Forces more than they can reasonably be asked to bear. They were put in to hold the ring and observe an impartial security authority…. They were never asked by their presence to provide a political solution, still less to provide a military solution in the absence of a political solution".May I remind the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that the White Paper is an answer to our demand for a political solution. "It is perilously late", my right hon. Friend pointed out,but it accepts our point, that while the security forces must be given every backing in getting on top of violence, there is at the end of the road no military solution but only a political solution".
§ Mr. Critchley
I did not, I think, suggest that there was only a military solution to the problem of Northern Ireland. I suggested only that the two things went hand in hand.
§ Mr. Duffy
In that case, I withdraw what I said, but I received the impression that the hon. Gentleman put more emphasis on a military solution than on a political solution.
Giving the Government full support in the Lobbies last week did not mean, as my right hon. Friend warned,… that we endorse all the decisions and policies which have held us and Northern Ireland to the point at which this White Paper is presented."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th March 1973; Vol. 853, c. 1538–47.]We may be moved yet again to criticism, but it will be of the Government, not the Army. For only the Government of the day can define the policy limits within which the military forces must plan and operate—and it is those policies which at present place the Army in a pitifully vulnerable position on the streets of Ulster.
Therefore Ministers must stand their ground and defend their discharge of these policies. They have no right to share the soldier's privileged position, nor to seek refuge behind a pompous summons to patriotism, much less impugn the motivation underlying the concern expressed continually by hon. Members on this side of the House. It is possible to endorse and support the British Army, as we unhesitatingly do, and still despair occasionally, as I have done, of, say, the Minister of State for Defence. There is no inconsistency here and no betrayal.
For all its warlike features, for all the violence and the agony, Ulster, like Aden and Cyprus, the East African mutinies and the Borneo confrontation, is not a war involving the survival of Britain but a political disaster which must be resolved in the end by democratic politicians and democratic methods. One common characteristic of all those campaigns, however, was the rôle of the Army. It has been and still is in Northern Ireland to stabilise a disturbed political situation, to contain conflicting elements which were prepared to resort to force in order to disrupt the normal political process, and to enable that process to be peacefully resumed.
731 This presumably explains why two distinguished soldiers, Brigadier Michael Calvert, a wartime leader of the Chindits in Burma and responsible subsequently for the reorganisation of the Special Air Service, and Brigadier Frank Kitson, commandant of the School of Infantry at Warminster, have given so much attention and thought in recent years to counter-insurgency.
While anti-riot architecture and anti-insurrection urban structure exercise the mind of Brigadier Calvert, Brigadier Kitson seeks to re-structure society itself in terms of civil-military relations.
Early in his book called, "Low Intensity Operations", which has attracted a foreword by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Michael Carver, we read it described as… written for the soldier of today to help him prepare for the operations of tomorrow",Brigadier Kitson observes that apart from Northern Ireland… there are other potential trouble spots within the United Kingdom that might involve the Army in operations of a sort against political extremists who are prepared to resort to a considerable degree of violence to achieve their ends.
§ Mr. Duffy
Brigadier Kitson acknowledges that the British, with their traditions of stability, find it hard to imagine disorders arising beyond the powers of the police to handle, yet… already there are indications that such a situation could arise. Fighting subversion may therefore be right on some occasions, in the same way that fostering it may be right on others, and the army of any country should be capable of carrying out either of these functions if necessary…".We recognise that it is the duty of soldiers to prepare for contingencies which civilians would rather shut out of their minds. We also recognise that it is to the great credit of the Army that it should throw up two such good minds. But the children of the mind are some- 732 times like the children of the flesh: if their parents could foresee their future development they would strangle them at birth. As right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have had reason to know at Question Time recently, these books have caused a great deal of unease among my right hon. and hon. Friends.
We are all too well aware of the clearly perceptible trend in this country. We do not have to be told that there is a malaise. It is a universal malaise. It is not confined to our society. It is a malaise towards violence, towards anarchy and even towards a contempt for established order. We are equally aware that these are problems which call for remedies conceived in this House and not by soldiers which would involve them in an infringement, no matter how well in-tentioned, of the well-established frontier of civil-military relations.
We have to go back a very long time, to 1655, to find the last occasion on which the military power controlled the political power in Britain. That was when Cromwell set up an emergency rule of 12 major-generals who were entirely responsible for the administration of justice and so on in their areas, after the dissolution of the first Parliament, or the Protectorate or, as it is known in the history books, the barebones Parliament.
We say gently to such gentlemen as Brigadier Calvert and Brigadier Kitson, "We respect you. We honour you. We are grateful to you. We look to the Army to continue to throw up men of your stature and your intellectual qualities. We are anxious to help you become the finest exponents of your military craft. But in exchange we expect you voluntarily to sacrifice some of the basic freedoms of the society that you serve so well—the freedom of expression and political activity and the freedom to engage in public controversy—for this is the well-founded basis of the relationship between the Armed Forces and the rest of the community in a liberal democracy."
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Blaker
The House will agree that this has been a high-level and a serious debate on both sides. I am sorry to say that it is clear to me that I shall not be able to take up anywhere near all the 733 very valuable points which have been made and the serious and important questions which have been asked. But I assure the House that they will all be considered and, where it is appropriate, that letters will be written to hon. Members in answer to their questions.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) on what I believe to have been his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. The hon. Gentleman made some good points. In his latter remarks—I make this comment in the kindest possible way—he rather took off into the stratosphere. I am glad that he was pleased about the advertising directed towards young future soldiers. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder) was dissatisfied with the advertising for future officers. It is too early to assess the value of our advertising campaign. We shall be doing so in due course. We have had indications from the people who matter in this context, such as schoolmasters, that it goes down rather well.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe described the re-engagement figures as disappointing. I do not think that is fair comment. The re-engagement and the wastage figures tend to be satisfactory at present and have helped to offset the drop in recruiting.
The hon. Gentleman was concerned about the strain on our forces imposed by service in Northern Ireland. He drew the wrong conclusions from the incident involving a number of soldiers from one of the parachute battalions who wished to leave the Army some months ago. The facts as I recall them were that a battalion had been in a situation for some months before where it was not possible, either because the soldiers were in Northern Ireland or were warned for Northern Ireland, or were on leave or doing special tasks, for them to leave the Army at that time. The 28 soldiers who wished to leave all came in a bunch. That incident should not be taken as alarming but should be considered proportionately.
It is my impression that I dealt with accommodation in Northern Ireland at some length during the defence debate. I have not had time to check whether I did. I shall return to that matter in due course.
734 A statement was made last year at about this time about pay for the Armed Forces. It is open to the Pay Review Body to recommend an improvement in pay within phase 2 if that is regarded as appropriate.
I am sure the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) will be delighted that I return to the subject of the Welsh Guards and their motor cars. For some time that has been the right hon. Gentleman's favourite subject. He accuses the Ministry of Defence of inactivity between the first half of December 1972, when the problem came to light, and 25th January, when I was able to give him a reply about the special arrangements which had been agreed upon. Somebody once said something about ducks appearing fairly inactive above the surface but perhaps paddling furiously underneath. It is sometimes like that in Whitehall. The various Departments involved in the matter were considering the problem from the first moment it arose. It is not necessarily an indication of slowness if a problem of this kind takes six weeks to decide.
The right hon. Gentleman knows from his own experience that it is possible to take decisions rapidly. Some of the worst decisions are taken very fast. If I wished to be controversial I could revert to the time when he was a Minister and refer to some of the rapid decisions taken within the Ministry of Defence at that time. The Welsh Guards problem took up six weeks to decide. That included the Christmas and New Year periods. By the end of our consideration we had reached a satisfactory solution. From now on, the arrangements at which we arrived will enable similar problems to be solved rapidly. We have made a change in the system which had lasted for many years.
§ Mr. John Morris
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the care with which he has attended to this matter. Does he care to remind the House that as soon as I finished speaking today I received a letter which he had kindly sent to me? I sent him a letter on 11th February and the reply came today, 5th April. Does he regard that as the fast paddling of Whitehall ducks?
§ Mr. Blaker
This is a most difficult case. The guardsman gave notice of his 735 intention to leave the Army as soon as he returned to this country. I have been giving particular attention to this case to see whether anything can be done. According to the rules, nothing can be done. It is because I want to consider it with care that I have taken the time I have.
I repeat what I said earlier about the soldiers who sold their cars. All the soldiers concerned were advised by the commanding officer not to sell their cars because he hoped to get a concession, and loans from regimental funds were available to cover the bridging period. I take the view that this story does not reflect badly on the Ministry of Defence but rather shows how much trouble we are prepared to take to make sure that soldiers receive a fair deal.
The right hon. Member for Aberavon asked about the Malaysian Army Training School, formerly known as the Jungle Warfare Training School. Last year one minor and one major unit trained there and this year two major units and one minor unit will train there.
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who did a world tour, seemed to be questioning the value of holding our forces in certain places. The answer in brief is that they are where they are because we believe that there is a military need for them to be there. Hong Kong, for example, is a British dependency. It is entirely appropriate that we should have forces there, and the forces which are there are appropriate for the rôle they have to play.
Several hon. Members asked about Oman. There is in Oman a small British Army training team which is assisting in the training of the Sultan's forces. In accordance with the Treaty of Friendship, members of the British Services are serving on loan with the Sultan's forces. In this capacity they may take part in operations against Communist-supported troops in the south-western province of Dhofar. The Sultan's troops are fighting an important campaign to prevent the subversion from spreading in the area, and it is very much in our interests from the point of view of stability in the Gulf that the campaign should continue to make good progress.
I turn to the question of the effects of service in Northern Ireland on our forces, 736 to which several hon. Members have referred. The job which our forces are carrying out in Northern Ireland is uncomfortable, dangerous and disagreeable. No one can pretend anything else. But it is striking that, in spite of the problems of turbulence and family separation that have arisen, the Army's standards of morale and discipline remain so high. On my visits to units of the Army in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and, more recently, Germany, I have met officers and soldiers who have served or are serving in Northern Ireland who are in good heart. I believe that that is due to good leadership and man management at all levels, and to the soldiers' understanding of the importance of the job that the Army has to do in Northern Ireland.
At individual level, junior leaders acquire in four months experience that years of barrack and exercise training cannot give, and all ranks acquire heightened alertness. At senior level the demands of leadership are exacting, and units are welded together by the self-confidence which is achieved by operational service anywhere.
As regards the military effects, it is true that service in Northern Ireland, and the training for internal security which is necessary, must restrict the time available for formation and battle group training in BAOR. This certainly is what has occurred. The result has been that the scale on which training takes place has had to be reduced from—I give one example only—brigade group level to battle group level. The effect on training differs from unit to unit. If an armoured regiment, a gunnery regiment or an engineering regiment has to convert to an infantry rôle, it will obviously suffer in its special training compared with the training of an infantry battalion. In addition, deployment to Northern Ireland reduces our ability to send units on overseas exercise. All this is fairly clear. We cannot ignore the effects but we can congratulate ourselves on the fact that, despite all these difficulties, the Army has risen very well to the occasion.
I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) whether we had had any complaints from our allies about the effect of the Northern Ireland situation on our training. The answer is that we have not. Indeed our 737 NATO allies have shown full understanding of the problems which result for us from the Northern Ireland situation. We are very grateful for that understanding.
Concerning the effect on the numbers in BAOR compared with the situation before the emergency in Northern Ireland began, there has been a net loss of only 500 men because, while we have at present about 5,000 men from BAOR in Northern Ireland, the numbers otherwise have been increased by sending more men from this country.
I was asked by the right hon. Member for Aberavon why the ex gratia payment scheme for casualties in Northern Ireland was not applied to soldiers injured elsewhere. The answer is that in the case of Northern Ireland we felt that there was a distinct group of cases, small in number but important, for whom it would be right to make a special provision outside the scope of the formal pension scheme. When we made this decision we knew that it would be bound to cause disappointment to those not covered by it. But we did not think on balance that this should stop us from giving limited special payments where they would do most good for the Northern Ireland casualties. The right lion. Gentleman asked whether the ex gratia payments go to the disabled. The answer is "Yes".
I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) and by the hon. Member for Mansfield about helping soldiers to find accommodation when they leave the Army. All ranks are given guidance and information on the choice of a civilian career and on all other matters affecting their resettlement, including housing, before they leave the Army. Advice on housing is not given in isolation. It clearly is connected with the other advice they receive at the same time.
From a housing point of view, Servicemen fall into two main groups, namely, those who wish to buy a house of their own and those who wish to rent a house from a local authority. We have different arrangements for the two categories. For the former we have special schemes which assist them to set aside the money for purchasing a house. For the latter, hon. Members may remember that a circular was issued in 1965, by the then Ministry 738 of Housing and Local Government, to all housing authorities on the subject of housing for ex-Servicemen. That circular commended to the authorities certain special arrangements for ex-Servicemen. Time does not permit me to go into those arrangements now but I assure the House that before men leave the Army the council housing situation is carefully explained to them, and they are advised to apply to the appropriate council as soon as they know where they want to live.
§ Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)
Is the Minister satisfied that every local authority conforms to the spirit of what he has just said? The ideal is right, but I suspect that some authorities are very hostile.
§ Mr. Blaker
I cannot say that I am satisfied that all local authorities conform to the spirit, but very many do. I was about to say that there is a case for consulting my right hon. Friend on whether it is time for another circular or for similar action.
§ Mr. Blaker
I note my hon. Friend's point.
Mention was also made of soldiers discharged as a result of injuries received in Northern Ireland. They appear before a medical discharge board on which advice on all aspects of their resettlement is given. The Department of Employment is represented by a disablement resettlement officer who arranges rehabilitation and vocational training where such training is recommended. Assistance is given in finding suitable employment.
The number of soldiers invalided out of the Army totals 27 out of about 120 very seriously ill or seriously ill casualties so far.
I was asked how we propose to retain the interest of the 16-year-olds in joining the Army after the raising of the school leaving age. I said that we would intensify our efforts to recruit boys at that age. We must remember that the same 739 rules will apply to everyone. Therefore, we shall not be adversely affected compared with industry or anyone else.
We propose to introduce a guaranteed vacancy scheme under which boys can apply for a vacancy in the Army's junior training organisation and attend an Army youth selection centre during their last year at school. They will not be enlisted into the junior Army before reaching the new school leaving age. A guaranteed vacancy places them under no obligation. We hope that by this arrangement and by keeping in touch with the boys who are accepted for vacancies under the scheme we shall be able to help to retain their interest against the day when they leave school.
A question about fuses was asked. A statement on the matter will be made soon, and I can say no more about it now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Alder-shot discussed the length of the unaccompanied tour in Northern Ireland. We have considered the matter very carefully. My hon. Friend suggested that it should be six months instead of four. There would be certain advantages in making it six months, and my hon. Friend mentioned some, but there are good reasons why the soldiers should not in general remain for longer than four months at a time. The reasons have to do partly with their training and availability for NATO or national exercises, but the overriding factor is the degree of strain to which the soldiers are constantly subject while they are operating in Northern Ireland. Those hon. Members who have visited them, as my hon. Friend has, will understand that they are under considerable strain.
My hon. Friend also referred to the adequacy of search equipment for use on the border. The main problem is not the equipment that we have for the searching but the choice of whom to search. I do not think the House needs reminding of the very large number of people and vehicles still moving between the North and the South every day. I am not saying we are fully satisfied with the present equipment. There have been enormous technical advances in this field and we wish to take advantage of them as the new equipment is developed.
740 The hon. Member for Mansfield expressed concern about the anxiety caused to families when they hear on television or radio that there has been a casualty in Northern Ireland. This is a subject to which I have given considerable attention. We have been able during recent months to speed up considerably the notification of casualties to the next of kin. I believe that this has made a great difference to those who unfortunately are next of kin or relatives of those wounded or killed and also in relieving the anxiety of those people whose relatives are not affected.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) about a replacement for the P&E Establishment at Shoeburyness. All I can tell him at the moment is that redeployment of those facilities is still under examination. I can be rather more forthcoming to him on one other question he asked, about SSAFA assistance to BAOR. We have recently provided more and we will see that still more is provided as and when the work load requires it. I was also asked about standardisation of the terminology of character assessment. We have now achieved what the hon. Gentleman asked us to do, so at least I have been able to answer satisfactorily two of his three questions to me.
I was asked about the use of the T & AVR in Northern Ireland. I will not go into that again because I did so in the defence debate and time does not permit my going over it now. A number of my hon. Friends referred to the terms of reference for the forthcoming review of the T & AVR. I cannot hold out any hope that those terms can be altered to take account of its rôle and various other wider factors mentioned by my hon. Friends, because the review has the particular purpose of looking into the structure of the T & AVR as it is, with its present rôle. I will, however, study carefully what my hon. Friends have said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) asked about the helicopter and its rôle in the land battle. I can assure them that the importance of the helicopter in the land battle is fully recognised. A new generation of helicopters—the Gazelle and the Lynx—is 741 being introduced to meet this need. Certainly, one of the factors we have very much in mind is the rôle of the helicopter in an anti-tank capacity. The results of exercise Sky Warrior are still being evaluated.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor Goldsmid) pointed out that some points he had made, I believe in the context of (he Sub-Committee, had not been replied to. I gave an undertaking earlier to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) with reference to what he had said, and I shall look into the integration of training. As regards the UKLF, I shall write to my hon. and gallant Friend.
The important question of remuneration for the ATOs was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). My hon. Friend the Minister of State said in the defence debate that we would consider the suggestion of special remuneration for them. There is no doubt about their gallantry and bravery. I must tell the House there are difficulties about doing what is recommended, but I recognise the strength of feeling in the House on this matter. I would point out that since 1969 these officers and other ranks have received 13 decorations, including one George Cross, seven George Medals and three mentions in despatches.
The hon. Member for Attercliffe referred to accommodation in Northern Ireland. I was glad that Mr. Brannigan had reported a considerable improvement in the situation. I am sure he is right and we have reason to congratulate the Department of the Environment and others on the speed with which they have dealt with the problem.
The figures of new construction have been mentioned in other debates and I shall not go into them again now. Next year we intend to keep up the impetus and we expect to spend nearly £4 million on troop accommodation—for example, on items such as new temporary accommodation, kitchen equipment, improvements in electricity and water supplies, and so on. We shall go on making improvements in terms of better lavatory accommodation, better eating facilities 742 and all the rest. Some 30 industrial washing machines have recently been installed. Furthermore, two swimming pools have almost been completed. We also plan to improve the accommodation for the UDR at a cost of nearly £2 million.
It is clear that even this will not eliminate all unsuitable locations or the overcrowding in some accommodation. This is inherent in any operational situation. The changing levels of the force in Northern Ireland compel us to occupy certain locations even though they are unsuitable. But we have made progress and we hope to make even more.
In regard to troop welfare in general, we have taken a number of other important steps in recent months, including privilege leave flights from Northern Ireland and Germany to the United Kingdom. I was asked how much these privilege flights to the United Kingdom were used. I cannot give the House the figures but I can say that those flights are well patronised. More television sets have been bought and live entertainment has also been increased.
Much of the debate has rightly turned on the difficulties which have resulted from the Army's role in Northern Ireland, and the problem of housing has been highlighted. We have heard comments about the effects of the Army's training programme in terms of its main rôle, the effect on the troops and their families, and so on. I have tried to tell the House what we are doing about these problems but to some extent they are an inevitable consequence of the Northern Ireland situation.
I have also tried to look at the more optimistic side of the picture—for example, at what we have done in improving the amenities of our troops and their families, and also in terms of giving our forces the equipment and training to fit them for their major rôle in Western Europe and their task generally.
In Northern Ireland the Army has an important job to do and the Government intend to make sure that it has the means and support necessary to enable it to do it. This does not mean that we are seeking a purely military solution. In the long run the solution can only be a 743 political one. The Army's rôle must be seen in the light of the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to that end. For a political solution to work, the Army must master the terrorists and help to create conditions in which reason can prevail among reasonable men.
We cannot tell how long this will take, although in recent months there have been encouraging signs. The necessary troops will be provided and we must do all we can to maintain their morale and give them a wider understanding of the job they are doing. We shall not let them down, and I am sure that they will not let the nation down.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.