§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Coleman.]
§ Mr. Speaker
On the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) just now, I hope that we shall not have a detailed debate but passing references are sometimes permissible. I shall see how we get on.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)
Six weeks ago, in the debate on the Defence Estimates, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence described to the House the Government's plans for implementing the proposals made as a result of the defence review. A major feature of these is the restructuring of the Army. I welcome the opportunity to explain in more detail precisely what this will mean to the Army's organisation, its capability and its men.
The Army, to a greater extent than the other Services, can only be the sum total of its men. It is often said that the Navy and the Royal Air Force man their equipments, but the Army equips its men. The truth of this was forcefully brought home in the defence review, when we looked at the Army's rôle and commitments. We sought ways to make significant savings, but, at the same time, to preserve our capability to safeguard the security of Britain, and to maintain our commitment to NATO.
Some savings could be found in the equipment programme. But to cut this too severely would have deprived the Army of the modern weapons which are essential to it if it is to remain a first-rate force. We, therefore, looked for savings in manpower, which represents the largest part of the Army's budget. Our solution was, therefore, to look at ways of streamlining the Army and of cutting overheads by cutting the need for them.
1209 The requirement for a reorganisation of the Army had, indeed, been recognised for some time, and we seized the opportunity to realise this in a comprehensive and logical manner. By our planned reorganisation, from divisional to unit level, the requirements of both economy and security will be met.
The principles on which the reorganisation is based are set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates. The removal of a level of command and the increase in the span of command are complex proposals. In view of their importance, I should like to describe what they mean in some detail.
One British Corps currently commands three divisions, two artillery brigades and the corps troops. Each division has two brigades, each of four major units, armoured and infantry. The brigade level of command will be removed, but in order to avoid too many subordinates under one commander, changes will also be made at the divisional level. We shall in future have four armoured divisions, each rather smaller than the present three divisions, and a fifth field force consisting largely of infantry. By cutting out the brigade level of command, the number of major headquarters will be reduced from 12 to seven. Each of the new divisions will contain armoured and reconnaissance regiments, mechanised infantry battalions, and artillery and engineer support.
There will be five battle groups of armour and infantry, compared with four in the existing brigades. At unit level, there will be four squadrons in each armoured regiment, and four companies in each infantry battalion, instead of three. This will result in a substantial increase in the number of combat teams, and in fire-power. By cutting down the headquarters and increasing the teeth arms, we shall be making a significant improvement in operational capability.
Similar principles have also been applied to the United Kingdom Land Forces. The headquarters of 3 Division and 16 Parachute Brigade and a large part of their subordinate headquarters and support will be disbanded.
All district headquarters throughout the United Kingdom will take under command all the units in their boundaries, both regular and TAVR. But in three 1210 of the districts, East, South-East and South-West, we plan to organise these units so that they can form field forces. In South-East District, for example, there will be an airportable formation, equivalent to a reinforced brigade group. It will include the parachute capability which we undertook to maintain in the defence review. This formation, of about 10,000 men, will replace the United Kingdom Mobile Force. There will, as previously stated, be no reduction in our contribution to the ACE Mobile Force.
Another feature of the restructuring is the pooling of specialised tasks presently undertaken by different arms and corps. In future, responsibility for these will be taken on by one specific arm or one specific corps, thus reducing overheads. For example, long range anti-tank guided weapons will now become the responsibility of the Royal Artillery, instead of being held by both the RAC and the infantry as at present. Army helicopter support will be centralised in Army Air Corps units, and ground-based reconnaissance will be concentrated in the Royal Armoured Corps.
The reductions in manpower in headquarters and support areas will not involve corresponding reductions in weapons; the man-to-weapon ratio will thus be improved. The same number—and in some cases more—of front-line weapons and equipments, either in service now or planned to come into service, will be manned.
The Government are keenly aware of the importance of the regimental system to morale and of the general interest it inspires throughout the country. The Army reorganisation was, therefore, planned to have as little effect on regimental identities as possible. I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will share my pleasure in the knowledge that all cap-badged regiments in the Royal Armoured Corps and infantry, including the Parachute Regiment, will be retained in the future. In the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Corps of Signals, the Army Air Corps and the supporting services there will be some reduction in the overall number of units, but impact on the regimental structure will be kept to the absolute minimum. The changes which will be made are only those which are essential if the 1211 reorganisation of the Army is to be thorough and effective.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
The Minister has said that one of his guiding lights has been the need for maintaining a balance between security and economy. Will he say what possible advantage to either will be derived by the disbandment of the Gurkha Battalion in Brunei, which was at no expense whatsoever to the British taxpayer?
§ Mr. Brown
That disbandment, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is the subject of discussions which are taking place at present.
We have not yet been able to quantify in cash terms the precise savings which will accrue from these measures. But they will enable the overall strength of the Army to be reduced by about 15,000 men. That is approaching 10 per cent. of the total force. The resultant savings will be a significant measure towards fulfilling the manifesto on which we were elected as the Government.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
Will the Minister make it perfectly clear whether it is not the Government's intention to have a Quartermaster Corps? If the Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the REME are to be untouched, why are we not to have a Quartermaster Corps?
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
The Minister has said that the Government have made no assessment of cash savings as a result of these economies but that they meant a saving of 15,000 men. What is the object of the exercise if there is no idea of what economies this will mean? The whole idea of these cuts was presumably to make economic savings.
§ Mr. Brown
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been able to answer his own question. I am sure he knows that the biggest cost of any army, and certainly a regular professional 1212 army such as ours, is the cost of manpower. If there is a saving of 15,000 in manpower, there must be economic savings.
As I was saying, this pledge largely fulfils the commitment in our manifesto, particularly as we shall also be able to make proportional reductions in the number of civilians employed by the Army.
As the Defence White Paper explains, there will also be some reduction in our forces stationed outside Europe. But by means of the reorganisation we shall be able to continue to maintain our contribution to NATO of 55,000 troops on the mainland of Europe, in accordance with our treaty commitments. We shall make no reduction in this level in advance of mutual and balanced force reductions.
The aim of the restructuring has been to create a more cost-effective and streamlined field Army, with fewer overheads and a greater combat capability. When it is complete, we shall have a modern Army, geared to the requirements of the 1980s. As part of this, because BAOR would depend, of course, on its reinforcements to bring it to its war footing, we have sought to simplify and to improve the reinforcement process. Mobilisation will be more efficient and more rapid, and there will be a significant increase in the number of reinforcements available.
Within all this, the part played by the TAVR in maintaining the security of Britain will gain even more importance. As a result of the Defence Review, the TAVR will become more closely integrated with the Regular Army, to the advantage of both. It will continue its present rôle of reinforcing the Regular Army in defence of the United Kingdom and of the Continent, and TAVR units train to this end with the Regular Army. I believe that the integration of the TAVR within the new district command structure will lead not only to greater efficiency but also to improved morale. The men and women of this reserve will have a stronger sense of professionalism and of identity with their Regular counterparts.
It would, of course, be foolish to pretend that all is perfect in what is unfortunately an imperfect world. The final shape of the reorganisation will depend on the outcome of trials and exercises. But we do not believe that there 1213 will be any need for a major recasting of the model I have described. One cause for concern is the level of recruiting to the TAVR, which is still less than we would wish to see. However, I am confident that the TAVR, with its high standards of efficiency and dedication, is capable of meeting the tasks allotted to it.
Within the Regular Army I know that there is concern about redundancy. While the reductions in manpower will as far as possible be achieved by natural wastage, a measure of redundancy will be unavoidable. The scale of the restructuring makes it impossible to say at this point in time precisely who will be involved. Hon. Members will appreciate that there is a mass of fine detail being sifted as our overall proposals are realised.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)
If my hon. Friend cannot say much more about this, can he say over what period of time this contraction of 15,000 is expected to be achieved?
§ Mr. Brown
We would anticipate that in the case of the Army the redundancies would start towards the end of next year, and we would hope that the reductions would be over a period of about four years. I cannot say with any accuracy at this stage, but that is the time scale that we have in mind. However, I can say with conviction that the terms of redundancy set out in the White Paper are fair and that every effort will be made to assist those concerned in their return to civilian life.
The quality of life and the conditions of service of the soldier are matters of paramount importance, in which I take an extremely strong personal interest. Service men and their families, particularly when stationed overseas, are cut off not only from their relations and friends but often also from familiar entertainments and pastimes. In Germany especially, boredom presents a problem; however, as I was able to announce to the House earlier this year, plans to provide an English language television service for the British families in Germany are progressing extremely well.
By the end of the year a recorded service will be available for about eight hours a day to about 17,000 Service men and their families. By 1978, as far as is feasible, 1214 programmes will be transmitted to Germany simultaneously with their transmission in this country. Technical considerations, and also the time difference between this country and Germany for part of the year, may sometimes make simultaneous transmission impossible: but live items such as the news are likely always to be broadcast at the same time, and this will be a most welcome innovation and, in the Government's view, fully justifies its relatively small cost.
If we think in terms of defence costs overall, the capital cost of giving this service to Service men and their families in Germany of £8 million a year and running costs of £1 million a year are absolutely good value for money. I do not think anyone would dispute that.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
The hon. Gentleman has talked about £8 million, but I gather that the cost of maintaining our force in the Eastern Mediterranean and east of Suez, is only three or four times that amount. Does he really think this dissemination of news is worth the sacrifice of that commitment?
§ Mr. Brown
This is an attitude one finds hard to understand. We on this side are criticised for cutting costs east of Suez, and on the other hand the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) seems to be taking a nigardly attitude on expenditure of £8 million to give some joy and satisfaction to Service men and their families on the Continent. It will be noted in other places.
We are aware that the substantial rise in house prices in recent years has caused a good deal of worry to Service men who have deferred house purchase until they leave the Services. We have, therefore, been pursuing a number of schemes designed to give Service men some assistance in this respect. We recently published improvements to the Resettlement Scheme whereby an interest-free advance of pay up to a maximum of six months' pay or £3,500, whichever is less, is made during the last two years of service. This loan is recoverable from the lump sum payable on retirement or discharge.
We have also introduced a new scheme from 1st April 1975 for Service men of 50 years of age or more. This scheme provides for an interest-free advance of a similar sum recoverable at an annual rate 1215 of 10 per cent, of the advance with any balance remaining on retirement from terminal benefits. As hon. Members are aware, special arrangements were recently introduced to enable members of the Services to vote in the referendum, irrespective of whether or not they were actually registered as electors here at home. This involved for the Service authorities a considerable task of planning and organisation; I am sure the House will wish me to recall that once again the Services have displayed their usual versatility in carrying through a quite unprecedented operation. Some 230,000 votes were cast by Service personnel and their wives entitled to vote under the special forces voting scheme. This represents about 60 per cent. of the total eligible and is roughly in line with the average of the United Kingdom. Possibly there is a message here in that there were soldiers, sailors and airmen who agree very much with their civilian counterparts, certainly when it comes to voting in a referendum.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
On this point, of course we would all agree with the tribute the hon. Gentleman has paid to the Services, but does he not think they should always vote on every occasion in General Elections, at least as much as their civilian counterparts?
§ Mr. Brown
I very much agree, and I am coming to that point. These arrangements reflected the Government's concern that only a small proportion of Service men and their wives who are qualified to have their names placed on the electoral roll as Service voters are actually so registered. The reasons for this unsatisfactory state of affairs have been fully explained recently by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force. I am conscious that the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in particular, who is not in his place, share the Government's concern in the matter, and, therefore, I take this opportunity to repeat that it is the intention of the Government to introduce, as early as the opportunity presents itself, legislation designed to improve the arrangements under which members of the Services and 1216 their wives may register as electors. Frankly, I am appalled at the small percentage of Service people who are eligible to vote, and I would like to see Service men and their wives, as in the referendum, completely on a par with their civilian counterparts in all elections.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am sure that that concern is shared by the whole House. The Speaker's Conference and both sides of the House have welcomed very much the initiative which has been taken in this field by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence, and we would certainly like to see it pressed forward. But cannot the Minister go further and give a positive undertaking that legislation will be introduced in the next Session, if it is not possible in this? Why should we need any longer?
§ Mr. Brown
I certainly cannot give a firm undertaking but I would hope that as soon as the Speaker's Conference gets under way the sooner we shall be able to get this legislation on the statute book. For too long it has been apparent that Service people have not been taking the opportunity open to them to register because of the obvious difficulties of which we know. I sincerely hone that we may see legislation in the next Session.
§ Mr. Onslow
I do not wish to press the hon. Gentleman but surely we do not need another Speaker's Conference on this. The work has already been done. All we need is the parliamentary draftsman to draw up a Bill.
§ Mr. Townsend
The Minister mentioned Service men's families. Will he take account of the case of dependants who are over the age of 18 but do not appear on registers? This should be carefully looked at.
§ Mr. Brown
I can give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking that I will have this question examined.
To turn now to a very different but equally important subject, I should like 1217 to say a few words about our forces in Northern Ireland.
There has been a general reduction in the Army's operations in the Province, particularly in the size and frequency of patrols, and in the scale of searching and questioning. However, intensified patrolling is continuing along the sectarian interface as part of our efforts to reduce sectarian violence. Hon. Members will, I know, agree with me that force levels in Northern Ireland should be kept as low as possible consistent with the job the Army has to do. Last year the situation in the Province made it possible to reduce the force level from 16 major units in the infantry rôle to 13. In April this year a further reduction was made. However, any further cuts in force levels in the Province must depend upon a lowering of the present level of violence.
Hon. Members will share my horror at the high level at which violence continues, much of it totally indiscriminate. While we do not believe that the Provisional IRA has been responsible for much of the bombing and shooting that has taken place during the past four months, others have taken their place. There have been more than 70 civilians killed since the cease-fire started.
The Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment continue to work in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the prevention of violence and in helping to bring to justice those responsible for the brutal crimes taking place. The task of combating violence in the conditions that exist in the Province is not an easy one. Although the number of incidents involving the Army has been greatly reduced since the cease-fire, maintaining a low level of operations can, as we all know, be an even greater strain on morale. During this period soldiers in the Province are continuing to carry out their duties with the same bravery, skill, and determination as have characterised their contribution throughout the emergency.
My own experience of visits to units in recent months has been that morale in the Army is high, nowhere more than in Northern Ireland. The recent pay award to the Armed Forces has demonstrated that the Government are concerned to be a fair employer. Recruiting 1218 has suffered none of the detrimental effects as a result of the defence review predicted by some Opposition critics. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that the changes in the Army consequent on the review have amply demonstrated that it is a vital organism capable of evolution, of adapting itself to new conditions. I firmly believe that Britain will continue in the 1980s to have a firm guarantee of its security, with field forces which for their capability and efficiency are the envy of many of our allies.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
In the main debate on the Defence White Paper about six weeks ago there were many powerful criticisms of that document from the Opposition side of the House. At the end of the debate, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends nevertheless went into the Division Lobby to defend Ministers against the wrecking amendment being pressed by the Secretary of State's nominal Friends below the Gangway, one of whom is here again today. On that occasion the number of Conservative Members voting against the wrecking amendment was noticeably larger than the number of Labour Members who could be persuaded to support their Government.
Today we approach this debate on the Army with the same spirit of critical objectivity, in spite of the provocative remarks by the Minister of State, who has earned his promotion to the Privy Council on other occasions, about the termination of the Simonstown Agreement, a decision which can only add to our defence costs but which is more properly debated in depth on the Navy Estimates.
The policy for the redeployment and restructuring of the Army, which has been outlined in the White Paper and very clearly described by the Under-Secretary, whom we welcome to the Dispatch Box this afternoon, will clearly leave us with smaller and weaker forces than we had before. In at least one respect the Army is more fortunate or less grievously hurt than the other Services.
Well before Ministers embarked upon the elaborate charade known as the defence review, a thorough study of the Army's command structure and the fire 1219 support had begun. In most of the conflicts in which the British Army has been involved since the end of the Second World War—Palestine, even Korea, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and Borneo, the number of trained men deployed has been more important than the amount of fire-power they could bring to bear. On the central front of NATO, however, it is plain that firepower is more important than manpower. We therefore plainly welcome any study, particularly one which started under a Conservative Government, which seeks to improve the proportion of weapons to men and the balance between headquarters and fighting units.
As a result of the planning which has been done, the Army has avoided—at least so far—the necessity of disbanding any cap-badged regiments, as the Under-Secretary reminded us, but the Secretary of State has frankly admitted that brigade headquarters would not have been cut in the way they have been had it not been for Treasury orders. Field Marshal Sir Michael Carver may have written some of the lyrics for this reorganisation, but it is the Treasury which has provided the tune.
Looking back to days that even I can remember in the Army, there were airborne divisions, armoured divisions and infantry divisions. They have all gone or are going, and the new formations which are taking their place should more properly be known as financial divisions. Certainly the shape and deployment of these financial divisions has been dictated by the size of our purse rather than the scale and scone of the threat which this country and its allies are facing.
In the debate on the White Paper, some of my hon. and gallant Friends have already pointed out certain of the risks in cutting out the brigade headquarters level of command. In these new divisional headquarters the planning time available to the commander has inevitably to be reduced as the headquarters becomes the focus for a flood of unfiltered and unchecked information. At a time when there is urgent talk about the need for co-operation with our allies, I note that this reorganisation of our command structure gets us increasingly out of step with the rest of our NATO partners. If these new divisions are to work, they must be 1220 equipped with a full range of highly sophisticated, high-speed, secure communications equipment. The chances of this essential equipment being provided by this Government are, however, almost nil. Indeed, procurement of this part of the Army's equipment has always lagged behind. I remember mentioning it in my maiden speech on the Army Estimates some 18 years ago.
At NATO headquarters recently I learned with some degree of horror that compatibility between the communications systems of the various armies operating on the central front of NATO will not be achieved for at least another 12 years. Meanwhile, we have grave fears for the safety of the present equipment programme of the Army.
The Secretary of State for Defence has again been disarmingly frank and made it plain that the only criticisms of the defence plans that really have any effect on this Government lie on the employment side. Ministers have clearly been impressed by the sight of angry shop stewards from aircraft factories rushing to Conservative Members to complain about the niggardly arms procurement and arms sales policy of this Socialist Government. The Government know that they will provoke a storm of criticism if they cut back still further on orders for combat aircraft, for every one of these contracts has considerable political, employment and economic sex appeal.
We know that the employment position in our shipyards is likely to deteriorate still further with the world surplus of shipping. Therefore, any attempt to cancel or to roll back our remaining shipbuilding programme for the Royal Navy is likely to provoke yet another storm of opposition from the shop stewards and the trades unions.
The procurement programme for the Army is spread over a wide range of equipment which lacks much glamour. We have seen demonstrators trying to save the Buccaneer and the Harrier. It is much more difficult to imagine demonstrators marching up and down Whitehall shouting slogans such as "Save the Ptarmigan Trunk Communications System". We therefore suspect that the Army will be asked to bear an undue proportion of the extra £110 million defence cut that so recently made nonsense of the defence review. We suspect 1221 that the Army will always be in the front line and most at risk when it comes to coping with any future economies.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I have not followed the hon. Gentleman's reasoning. Does he believe that the Government should give way to the demonstrations, when surely the great need in this country and in the rest of Europe is for a standardisation of weapons? Surely any demonstration by a particular lobby in this country must be put in the context of the great and crying need in NATO for standardisation.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I find it difficult to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments, because whether a single contract goes forward has nothing to do with standardisation. A decision about standardisation comes at a much earlier stage, the design or ordering stage of the weapon concerned.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
An important point was raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman but the reply he has received is not yet adequate. Surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that with standardisation of equipment as between the NATO partners some countries will lose out on some contracts. Clearly, this will affect the production of a particular piece of equipment in British plant. Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on Conservative views about reciprocity as between the various allies and partners in NATO?
§ Mr. Goodhart
I begin to see the point of the question, which I must admit I failed to appreciate from the question by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because the matter was entirely off the point that I was making. The question is not whether one will order equipment which is standardised. Planned wireless sets and the Ptarmigan Trunk Communications System have a high degree of compatibility. The question at issue with these cuts is whether those systems will be ordered at all and not whether they are standardised. If we do not have a wireless set it does not matter whether it is standardised. We are talking about absolute cuts.
Some of us are critical of the whole concept of directing all our efforts to the central front where there is already a heavy concentration of men and weapons. 1222 It seems to some of us that the threat is greatest on the flanks of NATO, and that the Soviet Union and her friends are likely to probe most vigorously where we are weakest.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), in the defence debate referred in a telling phrase to the Soviet Union as being "soft underbelly men". By cutting our United Kingdom mobile reserves and by cutting the airportable brigades from three to one, Ministers have helped to make the soft underbelly just a little bit softer. Our ability to reinforce the flanks is much reduced.
The Under-Secretary has said that we are to keep the Parachute Regiment. Can he confirm that we are to keep the three battalions of the regiment?
As I understand it—and the Under-Secretary touched on this point—the units of the airportable brigades are to be redeployed under the command of home districts. The argument is that this will make the home districts more mobile-minded. The Americans have an expression which they use when faced with an argument which is inherently improbable; namely, "Go tell it to the Marines". Perhaps our equivalent expression, when faced with the improbable argument that redeploying some of the airportable units back under the districts will make the districts more mobile-minded, should be "Tell it to the air-portable brigade".
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) hopes later to talk in greater detail about the sorry state of our Reserves position. I hope that the Government will be particularly slow in disrupting the United Kingdom Mobile Force so that after the next General Election other ministerial eyes may still have time to review the situation.
During the past five years the Army overseas has had to reinforce the home front in Northern Ireland. Although a sort of cease-fire has reduced the casualty rate among our forces, clearly the scope and nature of the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland must continue to play a major part in any debate on the Army. Since the Army first took up an operational rôle in Northern Ireland, no fewer that 279 of our Service men have been 1223 killed. Ninety-eight of them have died since we last had a full debate on the Army, in April 1973. During the past five years service in Northern Ireland has often been dangerous and uncomfortable I know that Ministers are anxious to do what they can for the comfort of the troops. I hope for an assurance that they will not relax their efforts on behalf of the troops. When the immediate danger seems to recede, one becomes more rather than less conscious of the discomfort. There are those of us who fear that the IRA is using the cease-fire to rest, regroup and rearm. The level of violence could escalate with great rapidity.
Of course, we want to be able to reduce the size of our forces in Northern Ireland. We are glad that the Under-Secretary has been able to spell that out in some detail. So long as our forces are subjected to the over strain of too frequent emergency tours in Northern Ireland, the terrorists can feel that they are having some success. It is wrong militarily, and bad from every point of view, to continue to use soldiers in a purely police role. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the Northern Ireland political leaders to reach agreement on their future policing arrangements. One such agreement has been reached, the police should be given wholehearted support and so enabled to carry out their duties throughout the community in sufficient strength.
Then there is the rôle of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The calamitous raid on the Ulster Defence Regiment armoury the other night should not blind us to the fact that night after night thousands of Ulster citizens are prepared to undertake arduous and sometimes dangerous work for the whole community. With a prolonged period of semi-cease-fire, the nature of the strain on the Ulster Defence Regiment is changed. What study is being made of the long-term rôle of the regiment, particularly in a "no-peace, no-war" situation?
Whatever interpretation we may put on the recent armoury raid, the raid underlines the fact that a United Kingdom military presence in Northern Ireland will be needed for a long time. I deplore the rumours of premature withdrawal of the Army from Northern Ireland. I am prepared to accuse this Government of 1224 stupidity, and even of Socialism, but I do not believe that they would deliberately refuse to carry out the first responsibility of any State, which is to protect its citizens in their own homes. Ministers have only themselves to blame if doubts persist. Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) asked, as is his wont, a wholly helpful question:is it not the case that the Government are resolved, whatever may be said to the contrary, that our forces shall continue in support of the civil power until normal policing by the RUC throughout the Province is possible?The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland replied:Yes, Sir."—[Official Report, 16th June, 1975; Vol. 893, c. 958.]If only he had left it at that, all would have been well, but he rambled on, leaving loopholes for those who want to find them. I respect the right hon. Gentleman's good faith in this matter, but I wish that one of the Ministers on the Government Front Bench could persuade him at least sometimes to give rather shorter answers.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will have noted the irritation aroused among members of the general public and the Armed Forces, in particular, when it seems that the next-of-kin of suspected terrorists who have been killed receive larger compensation payments than the dependants of Service men who have been killed in Northern Ireland. I am glad that in response to our prodding the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence, has set up a review of the operation of the Criminal Injuries to Persons (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968. I hope that the Under-Secretary can tell us how far the review has gone, and when we may expect a final report.
I concede that Ministers are in a difficult position. If they are too generous, others who have been injured or bereaved in earlier conflicts will ask, with increasing force, "What about us?" But, as all the available cash appears to be earmarked for unwanted schemes of nationalisation, Service pensioners must, alas, wait. Like other pensioners, the Service pensioners are particularly vulnerable to inflation. We do not expect this Government to be able to match the record of 1225 real improvement set by the last Conservative administration. I freely admit that we left an overly complicated scheme behind us. Not many months ago the Officers' Pension Society found that the Ministry of Defence was calculating the pension of a substantial group of pensioners on the wrong basis. If the Ministry cannot understand its own system, what hope have the rest of us? Are plans being made to simplify the system at the earliest opportunity?
As the Under-Secretary has reminded us, the proposed cuts will make 15,000 soldiers redundant. Most of them will become premature pensioners, and the career structure for everyone else will be adversely affected. Many of those made redundant will be senior NCOs and middle-rank officers. The somewhat meagre compensation terms are set out in Annex H of the defence review.
Many of those affected will also have housing problems. Housing help for ex-Service men is dealt with by Circular 54/75 of the Department of the Environment, published on 9th June, one of the smuggest and most inadequate circulars that I have ever seen. Is it really the last word on housing assistance to those soldiers whose careers are being cut short? There is a fractional improvement in the assisted house purchase scheme. Will the Under-Secretary of State look at the scheme again both on a short-term and a long-term basis? For example, what consideration is being given to the establishment of a Services' building society?
Inevitably, as we go over the Estimates a gloomy story is unfolded, a story of retreat and of cutting back. The alliance has clearly gone through great strains in the past few months. As the Secretary of State for Defence—whom we hope to see some time in our defence debates—is in the United States at an important conference, it might perhaps be appropriate for me to close with a quotation from a speech made by the President of the United States on his return from a NATO meeting in Europe, when he said:An adequate level of defence is going to cost us something. But the price of sacrifice is far less than the price of failure. Freedom is never free; but without freedom, nothing else has value … We will honour our commitments … We will do our duty.1226 Those are the words of President Ford. I just wish that we had a Government who would honour their commitments and do their duty.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Mr. James Tinn (Redcar)
The Opposition demand cuts in Government expenditure, yet when we specifically tackle that problem in a responsible way they criticise the Government for jeopardising the security of the country and the future of Service men. It must be more than a little trying for my ministerial colleagues, accustomed though they are to this exercise and to being criticised by some of my hon. Friends from the opposite standpoint. Some of my hon. Friends feel sincerely that the Government have not gone far enough in reducing the burden of defence expenditure. I have more sympathy with my hon. Friends who take that view than I have with the Opposition, because it is consistent with their general line of argument on other matters and is a view that they have sincerely held for a long time.
One of my principal reasons for intervening in the debate is to stress that I do not share that point of view. The very fact that the Government are criticised for cutting defence expenditure too quickly and too much and at the same time are criticised for not moving fast enough in that direction is probably a fair indication that the Government are getting the balance about right. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I am impressed that the Government have taken steps in foreign affairs as well as in defence after careful study so to adjust our commitments as to make possible reductions in expenditure. They have reduced in step our commitments and our defence burdens to take account of the country's financial and economic problems.
We cannot go on indefinitely carrying a heavier defence burden than anyone else. Neither can we—and in this I agree with the Opposition—so rapidly cut back our defences as to throw them out of gear and risk weakening our contribution to NATO.
Détente, which we hope will continue, does not make defence any the less necessary. Détente has come about precisely because the Western Alliance has maintained a credible, realistic posture. There 1227 are no signs that the Warsaw Pact countries feel that the improved political climate between East and West, which we all welcome and trust will continue to improve, justifies a reduction in their military commitments. Until they do, we cannot afford to take undue risks. I assure the Minister and his colleagues of my support, and I am sure that the support of my parliamentary colleagues will be expressed in the Lobby on this and other occasions. At the same time, we have respect for the minority who take a different view.
I turn to the more specialised problem of the harmonisation of equipment and communications. The Western Alliance suffers a tremendous disadvantage in having 14 separate national Ministries of Defence. That system inevitably produces a much less co-ordinated and a much less unified result than is achieved by the Warsaw Pact countries. We have a multiplicity of tanks produced by various member States, as against the Russian provision for the Warsaw Pact countries. Failure to standardise leads to many considerable disadvantages and complicates the problems of logistics.
I understand that a measure of progress was made towards standardisation with the Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun, but subsequent to its introduction the gun has been so modified and "improved" by the various member countries that now the ammunition is no longer interchangeable between the models used by one country and another. So we have the absurdity that our troops using this gun in Germany require British ammunition for the gun which cannot be readily supplied from German sources. That obviously leads to duplication and inefficiency.
The lack of standardisation means also that the general servicing back-up is more complicated, and there are problems of transport and communications. We still lack sufficient standardisation in our communications both in technology and, I suspect, in our procedures. I understand that the general lack of standardisation has continued seriously to impair the efficiency of the NATO forces. It has been said that the forces on the ground in Europe which would be required to meet any first military action would be 1228 rendered largely ineffective, even on the basis of exercises which have been planned months in advance, because of the problems of standardisation with which we have not grappled successfully.
A considerable element in the general problem of standardisation is the preponderance of the United States defence industry and the refusal of the United States to allow its armed forces to be supplied by the allied nations. That has led to the present situation in which Europe buys from the United States 10 times as much as it sells.
The United States at least has the advantage of a trend towards standardisation, but it is clear that we cannot continue to buy from the United States at that ratio. I hope that the proposed relaxation by America, to which my right hon. Friend referred recently, will be realised. That will enable us to achieve a better balance of arms sales between the nations of the Western Alliance and the United States. If such a balance can be achieved, we shall see in practical terms the greater standardisation which we need so much
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
This debate takes place against the background of what I think many of my hon. Friends must feel to have been one of the saddest statements ever made in the House—namely, when the Secretary of State for Defence pointed out that the Germans are nearly twice as well off as we are and that our defence spending must take that into account. I feel that that statement did not receive the thought that it deserved at the time that it was made in view of its reflection on our general economic condition.
The hon. Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinn) referred to the need to cut our commitments. I suggest that it is impossible to cut the commitment of defence. No Government can cut the commitment of defending our country and our way of life. I accept that it has been possible to reduce our presence in Singapore, and our presence in the Far East is now minute, but it seems that we are now engaged on cutting the main core of the defence of this country.
§ Mr. Tinn
The hon. Gentleman will recall that all the cuts which have been made all over the world by earlier 1229 Labour Governments, many of which were far from considerable, have been opposed by his right hon. and hon. Friends. When are they to give us the support that we need? None of us is saying that we can jeopardise the security of this country, but we cannot continue to carry the burdens of other people apart from our Western Allies.
§ Mr. Trotter
We are talking about cuts in the main defences of Britain in Europe. We have been told that the heavier burdens cannot be borne by Britain, but there is no suggestion that we cut back our education system or our social service system because of the heavier burdens. I would say that defence is at least as high a priority as education or social services to all right-minded persons.
We have seen continued evasion as regards Brunei. It seems that we still do not know whether or not we shall stay in Brunei. Of course, there is no cost to the taxpayer if we stay there. The suggestion to come out of Brunei has been raised only as a matter of dogma. Unfortunately, that dogma has clouded the whole of the Government's approach to this major defence review.
Some time ago—after the war and at the time of Korea—we saw no less than 25 per cent. of Government spending going on defence. Today that spending is down to 10 per cent., and it is to be reduced still further. I cannot accept that the world is less dangerous now than it has been since the war. If we look around us we can see that we now live in a more dangerous world. I do not believe that this country can allow its defences to be reduced.
The country can count upon the calibre and moral of the men in the forces but we cannot expect them to do the impossible. We must remember that quantity counts as well as quality in terms of the Army and of the other Armed Forces. We have been told that there is to be a cut, as the Under-Secretary of State put it, of approximately one man in 10 in the Army. We are told that this cut is not to be in Germany but that the Army there is to be completely reorganised. Why are we committed to this reorganisation before any practical trials have been carried out to see whether the scheme will work? It may be that at the end of the day we shall have a better organi- 1230 sation in Germany. I hope that s the case, but how do we know that it will work?
Those who took part in the parliamentary visit to Germany this year were told that by scraping together units from every corner of Germany there was to be an attempt to try out the new divisional concept of reorganisation in the autumn of this year. Surely it would have been more sensible to have had that trial first before committing ourselves.
It seems that the decision has been made that the manpower cuts are to take place in the United Kingdom. Comment has already been made about the lack of operational headquarters. The Under-Secretary of State took credit for removing one level of command. What is the good of infantry units or any other units if there are no effective operational command headquarters? We cannot take the headquarters of the South-Eastern District and remove it to somewhere in Europe. The concept of command headquarters having two roles is no good for the future of the Army.
One detailed point that I hope the Minister can explain is why in the one remaining brigade group or field force, whatever it is to be called, two out of the five battalions are to be Territorials. Why should they not all be Regulars? Surely there are plenty of other roles for the Territorials without having to put them in the one remaining brigade group. It should be a sobering day for this country when the Under-Secretary of State tells us that the whole of the organised operational Reserve of the British Army consists of one brigade group. That is an incredible state of affairs to announce.
I believe, in fact, that the Government do not know in any detail how the review of the Army's strength is to proceed. They have been told that the Army must save x millions of pounds, and on that basis they have thought of some figures. Originally we were told that the savings were to amount to 12,000 men, but now they are to be nearly 15,000 men. Not so long ago the Secretary of State was using a figure of 18,000. There is considerable uncertainty as to how many people will be made redundant and what reductions are to take place. How can we have any confidence that the result 1231 will make sense if it is arrived at by this extraordinary method?
I believe that it is foolish to cut the Army, but if that decision has been made, there is a choice between whether we should continue at the same level of presence on the central front or should maintain a rôle on the southern front. The central front is generally regarded as being the most stable front in NATO. Both sides know that if a catastrophe were to start there, within a short time they would be engaged in a nuclear war. That would happen within a matter of a few days, or possibly even within a few hours.
On the other hand, on the southern flank the whole area is in a state of instability. The NATO Ministers have only recently expressed disquiet at this instability and have called for special vigilance by the allies. But the "special vigilance" that we are showing is to withdraw from that flank altogether. The commander-in-chief of NATO's southern flank recently said in London, not a quarter of a mile from this building, that our presence in the Mediterrarean area is essential not only for military reasons but for political reasons, to bring stability to an area where at present there is growing doubt about the future.
Let us look for a moment at the state of the British Army in Germany. I am sure that we would all wish to pay tribute to the high standard of the men. They are professionals. Because of the courtesy of the Under-Secretary, I was able to visit my local infantry regiment in Northern Ireland. I spent a weekend with that unit, and I can underline the fact that those men are professionals. There is nothing wrong in any way with the calibre of the men, but the Army in Germany is in very poor shape. I do not know whether the House or the people of this country fully appreciate that this is so.
For historical reasons the Army in Germany finds itself in the places where it ended up at the end of the war, often because that was where the old German barracks were situated. Its location bears no resemblance to the plan of operations should it ever have to go into action. It is restricted in its use of equipment. For example, the number of miles run by its tanks is limited by economic considera- 1232 tions and by shortage of spares. A large number of units ostensibly in Germany are not there at all. They are in Northern Ireland or in Cyprus, or they are preparing to go to Northern Ireland or have just been there and are on leave or retraining for their European rôle. A visit to Northern Ireland may be good for the training of the individual infantry man, but it is bad for his unit's training in the rôle of an armoured engagement in central Europe.
We find in Germany second-generation battalion commanders who have never taken part in an exercise with troops at a level higher than that or their own battalion. That is an incredible situation in an Army faced with the army of the Soviet Union.
My opinion—it may not be the opinion of all my Conservative colleagues—is that if a choice had to be made it would have been wiser to have gone for a smaller but a really effective contingent in Germany—say, one full-strength NATO division of three brigades. We could give it all it needed, place it in the right positions, provide it with full equipment and let it use that equipment and exercise itself without limit and be fully trained and ready for its role. Would that not be better than the larger but ineffective contribution which the Army is in danger of making at the moment? The remaining units so saved could have been used in a contained reinforcement rôle on the southern front.
I appreciate that the Government have decided to cut the transport force of the Royal Air Force, but I suggest that greater use could be made of civil aircraft, as has been done by the United States army and air force. I suggest that for this rôle on the southern flank less would need to be spent on Army equipment. The forces concerned could be equipped to a lighter and lower level with less need for tanks and other heavy equipment. With the limited funds which the Government have decided to spend on the Army, this plan would, I suggest, give better value. Furthermore, these units would be better suited for a secondary rôle in Northern Ireland and their periodic absence in Northern Ireland would have less effect on their efficiency.
Let us look at the equipment of the Army. It is revealing that, following 1233 what has been called the most stringent defence review of all time, no new equipment at all appears to be in the pipeline. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that to be the true state of affairs—that there is nothing in the Estimates that was not already in train. Furthermore, there are harmful cuts being made in many directions—for example, the RS80 is to be cancelled while the Soviet Union is known to have doubled the number of its own similar long-range rocket weapon. The Vixen is cancelled. Instead there will be Ferrets continuing in use until they are up to 30 years of age. One must wonder whether the maintenance involved in running 30-year-old vehicles is not greater than the cost of replacing them with more modern and effective vehicles.
The most worrying feature of the equipment situation concerns the supply of ammunition. I hope that the Minister will find time to say a few words on this topic. In the Defence White Paper ammunition is included in the category of items to be reduced in number, postponed or cancelled. Does the House fully appreciate that owing to the additional practice required by infantry regiments going to Northern Ireland we ran out of certain types of ammunition? I understand that we had to import ammunition from Belgium. This may be possible in peace time, but what happens in time of war, when the Belgiums will require all their own ammunition? I hope the Minister can say that something is being done to increase our preparedness in this direction, because without ammunition the Army is helpless.
I shall end by repeating that the country cannot expect too much of the men in the Army. They will, of course, do their best but they are too thin on the ground. The cuts have gone beyond the degree that is acceptable. We have now reached the stage when we are cutting into the main defences of Great Britain. We are reducing the reserves of this great country to one brigade group, and that has gone beyond all reasonable bounds.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
Until a few moment ago nothing had been said to give me much of an excuse to take part in this debate. However, I admired 1234 the speech of the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter), who made some good points. I was also impressed by several speeches made on 7th May, when the House debated defence details. On that occasion my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) said that the Scottish National Party was fully behind the concept of NATO as an alliance which would defend the free and civilised Western world. That goes without saying.
I wish to refer to a speech in that debate which was of great significance—namely, the speech made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Speaking of the British Army's rôle as it is at present understood by military and political experts, the right hon. Gentleman said:It is to delay the moment when we are faced with the choice of surrender or the use of nuclear weapons. The choice of surrender or suicide! I do not like that sort of choice. I do not want to have a choice between surrender and putting the pistol to my head.I think that there is a general acceptance of various expert views of the present state of defence in this country which tend to be tied to what Governments feel about spending in a given military situation. Much of the speeches in that debate six weeks ago related to the impossibility of saying what was the ideal amount of money to spend on defence. It is difficult to give an ideal amount.
Remarks such as those can lead us to other conclusions. Later in his speech on that day the right hon. Member for Down, South went on to speak about the sort of Army he saw as being the best means of defence of these islands. He said:The army which this country needs is not the conscript army of the nations of the Continent but the cadre army where, in every rank, men are ready to occupy two or three ranks above; an army—and this applies to a lesser extent to the other forces—which is an élite, in the sense that a cadre is an êlite.He went on:If our Army is not a regular force which will march away, with a few details added, and either be obliterated or win, if it is the cadre for a future army, there is every reason why as much as possible of that cadre, and as large a cadre as possible, should be civilian."— [Official Report, 7th May 1975; Vol. 891. cc. 1490, 1492.]There is much more to what the right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion 1235 than is now envisaged by either side in the plans and policies which they are developing for the defence of this country.
I was interested in the remarks made by the Under-Secretary in opening the debate. I took no exception to some of his remarks. I was pleased when he spoke of the importance of the regimental system. How could any hon. Member representing Argyll be anything other than pleased to hear in this context mention of retaining the regimental system?
The Under-Secretary also spoke of the part being played by the TAVR. He spoke of its becoming more important. I wonder whether, in the context of the quotation I have just made, people fully appreciate the contribution which the TAVR should be making at present. I am not happy about the present situation. Nor am I happy with the concept of the TAVR being regarded as a force to be used to reinforce Regular units if war breaks out. Anyone taking that view is thinking on far too small a scale. If we are ever to fight a war which will involve infantry units and armoured corps units, we must think in terms of far greater numbers of people than comprise the Regular Army and the TAVR.
I cannot claim to have served in the Regular Army. However, I had the great pleasure and privilege of serving for 10 years in a yeomanry regiment. It was very sad that a few weeks ago we went to Edinburgh to lay up the guidon of the Queen's Own Lowland Yeomanry. That marked the end of a body of people which had existed for 200 years. Those people were able to give a talented dimension to the defence of this country.
The TAVR regiments include, not only amongst their officers but also amongst their men, a wide and diverse range of experience.
I have always appreciated that it was vitally important that we should not create within our area a military corps of the type which exists abroad. We have always managed to relate the Army and the other Services closely with the people of the country. One of the dangers of the present situation is that we might create a Regular Army which is so specialised and so divorced from every day contact with ordinary people that 1236 it will be totally apart and develop in its own way. Apart from those dangers, it is surely undesirable for us to remove so many possibilities of appointments and promotions which are always inherent in a situation where the Regular forces work closely with what used to be the Territorial Army and what is now the TAVR.
I shall direct my remarks chiefly to the existence of the citizen force which I believe should exist. It has a direct rôle to play in the defence of the country and an important social role. I live in Oban, which is a small town in the Western Highlands, where there has always been an infantry company or a Royal Artillery battery. Now there is nothing there. An important way in which the young people in that town could identify themselves with the common good has been removed, with unfortunate consequences.
I wish to make the following recommendation to the Secretary of State for Defence. In the present situation there is a great deal to be said for looking carefully into the rôle of the volunteer forces in this country, with a view to restoring to them the most important rôle which they used to play.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
It was not my intention to speak in this debate. However, as there are not many Government supporters present, I welcome this opportunity to make a contribution.
It is unfortunate that the Government are being criticised by hon. Members on both sides. I feel that the Government have made a good job in difficult circumstances. However, I am concerned that those Labour Members of Parliament who always feel that any money spent on defence is a waste are not here. I am beginning to think that the Minister made more expenditure cuts than I had thought. However, some of my hon. Friends do not speak in terms of defence. They speak in terms of getting rid of all defence. We are not talking on the same wavelength.
I wish to speak about the basic strategy of our defence forces and how they are to be regulated and formed. I am worried about one matter. If the Conservative Party were in power and had received 1237 a Treasury brief to cut £X millions from the Defence Estimates, it would have made those cuts and brought forward a programme which it would say would work adequately since it had received the backing of the Army Council, and so on. Therefore it does not behove the Opposition to criticise the Government for bringing forward similar proposals. Before the last two General Elections the Conservative Government made considerable cuts in defence expenditure. When that happens it cuts the ground away from people who, like myself, try to speak up for the armed forces as against those who wish to make cuts in expenditure on the armed forces. We must make the best of a difficult situation.
I was impressed with what the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) said. I am not certain whether we are spending money to the best advantage. We are told that the strategy is based on the fact that our Regular forces in Europe are to hold a Warsaw Pact assault course, whilst negotiations take place, pending the use of tactical and atomic weapons—which we hope will not occur. If that is the strategy, what is the purpose of our highly mobile forces in Germany? Where will they go? What is their purpose?
The hon. Member for Tynemouth put his finger on the point. The troops are not where they should be. They will have to be moved. Is it realistic to expect any Government at a moment of tension to move those forces 100 or 200 miles forward towards the Warsaw Pact countries? Would anyone be able to make that political decision at a moment of tension? If that is that case, I cannot see the purpose of stationing highly mobile forces in Germany. If the forces are not to be moved forward I should have thought that we could have positioned our defences where the forces are now situated.
We do not need highly mobile forces to hold on while negotiations take place. The Battle of the Bulge was won by forces who held their ground. Have we not reached a stage—shown in the last Middle East war—when highly sophisticated weapons are capable of defeating assaults by tanks and aircraft? If our strategy of a holding war is correct, I believe that we could carry it out with even fewer men than we are putting into 1238 Germany now. But this is not likely to happen. When the Defence Department is told that it has to cut so many millions of pounds from the Defence Estimates, who does the cutting? Is it the Secretary of State who looks through the strategic plan of NATO and says "We do not need so many of these or of those," or is it the higher officers of the Services who say "We will make the plan and give it to you."?
I have taken part in reorganisations of the Reserve forces. I know that on such occasions vested interests count for a great deal. It is only natural that when cuts have to be made people seek to ensure that they are made in some unit other than the one with which they are concerned. The result is that there is a lot of horse-trading and the final product does not resemble a defence structure. I saw it happen in the 1950s with the Territorial Army, when it was a case of either the Territorials or the Regular Army being cut.
In the event, the Reserve Army was cut down so that Regular units could be preserved. Did this give us a proper defence force? I disagree with the basic strategy of a holding force while negotiations take place—the policy of surrendering or putting a pistol to one's head. I believe that it would be possible it would mean a citizens' army—to think on different lines without any great manpower expenditure. There would be financial expenditure because, while reserve forces do not cost much in terms of maintenance, they cost a great deal in terms of the equipment which must be provided. We must be careful that we do not end up with forces which are incapable of doing the job for which they are required.
It is generally agreed that the last thing the Warsaw Pact countries want is a direct confrontation with NATO. What is most likely to happen is that there will be some country in Europe which will seek to free itself from the Warsaw Pact. I understand that there is a nodding agreement that we will not interfere in such a situation. What happens in the case of a country like Yugoslavia? When Marshal Tito dies, there is not the slightest doubt that certain people will seek to overthrow whatever Government is subsequently established there. 1239 It is not unlikely that countries bordering Hungary will send in troops to help the guerrillas there. Over a period of six to 18 months there is the possibility of a conflict building up.
What can we do about that'? Nothing. This is because all our reserve forces are committed to building up and patching up our Regular Army. This is a fatal flaw in our defences. It leaves us with the possibility of accepting defeat or mutual suicide. Neither of those courses recommends itself to me. People say that those in authority must know this and that they would not allow such a thing to happen. We have only to read General Percival's book on Singapore to know that, while people in this House were talking of sending reinforcements to Singapore, the generals knew, and had known for years beforehand, that they would never be able to hold Singapore if the attack came from a certain direction. That was because the money and the equipment were not available.
All too often, our armed forces have had to bear the brunt of the decisions of those who have taken the easy option at the Dispatch Box. I do not criticise my hon. and right hon. Friends. They are carrying out their job well. I congratulate them in that they have managed, despite the opposition of many of my hon. Friends, to maintain a defence force that makes some sense, although it may not be complete sense.
I was a little disappointed to hear the reasons given for pulling out of Simonstown. I have always hoped that the defences of this country would be adequate. I have been in this place for 11 years, and I began my stay here by saying that we had commitments worldwide which were weakening us while our main defence effort lay in Europe. I stressed the importance of bringing our troops back into Europe. I cannot, therefore, be accused of being an empire builder.
I do not pass judgment on this, but it was unfortunate that it should be said, as an excuse for pulling out, that Simonstown was of no further use and then to add that it was a political liability. We might have appeared in a better light morally if we had accepted one or the other situation earlier rather than accepting the political liability when it served 1240 our purpose and then throwing it overboard when it was of no further use to us. It is unfortunate that that phrase was used.
All too often over generations one side of the House has condemned the other for what it has done in defence affairs. The people who promulgated policy from the Dispatch Box often knew that it did not make sense but they had to put such policies forward because of financial restrictions. Is it beyond the wit of man to devise some scheme whereby we can determine what is the best use to be made of our forces and how best they can be maintained without bringing the issue into the area of party politics?
I am certain that all of us here today are concerned solely with the maintenance of our country's defence. I look forward to the day when we can discuss these matters in private, all-party committees, when estimates and strategic and tactical considerations can be examined. We talk about a war for which we are preparing lasting 14 or 15 days. Yet we still spend millions of pounds on maintaining submarines. Why? I am not talking about nuclear submarines. How does that policy fit in with the 14 or 15 days' war? I do not say that we should get rid of these submarines, but let us look at the situation and make sense of it.
Either we are preparing for that kind of war, which I do not believe is the sort of war for which we ought to be preparing, or we are preparing for something which will provide us with sufficient safeguards in the event of a miscalculation by the Warsaw Pact countries. That can be done only by building up reserve forces here, not by having all our reserve forces committed to plugging the gaps in the Regular Army. That reserve force must be able to fulfil the task which it has fulfilled in previous generations—to form the nucleus of a larger Army, should that unfortunate day ever arise.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) has raised a number of extremely valuable and important points, and I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will provide answers at least to some of them. I wish that I had more time in which to comment on more than one or two of them. 1241 The hon. Member has enabled me to shorten my speech by stressing the need for an independent Territorial Army on a very considerable scale at home. There is an increasing appreciation of the fact that this is a basic lack in our whole defence thinking today.
In regard to planning for a particular sort of war, the hon. Member and I both lived through a war which, according to authoritative prognostications, could not possibly last six months. The awful thing is that very rarely do such events match up to expectations, therefore I do not think we can wholly support the concept of a 14-day war, a six months' war or a year's war. I am as incapable as everyone else of looking into a crystal glass and predicting how any war will develop.
On the question of a large Territorial Army, able to operate effectively, not just filling gaps in a regular force, I am in 100 per cent. agreement with the hon. Gentleman and with the preceding speaker.
The hon. Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinny, who opened the debate, and who always makes his jibes in a very gentlemanly manner, teased Conservative Members once again by saying that we are always urging cuts in Government expenditure but always refuse to consider them—at least from the back benches—when the defence forces are involved. This comment had been made in a less pleasant way when I tried to reply to it from below the Gangway in an earlier defence debate but failed to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. I make a very real distinction, as do a number of my hon. Friends, between expenditure on defence forces, involving our security, and every other call on our resources. I am not ashamed to say so, and have always said so both here and elsewhere.
I refuse to believe that it is right or proper to say that we have a national cake, with so much available for roads, schools and hospitals, and so much for national security. This is a completely fallacious argument. The same applies to the gross national product in terms of this or that percentage. Again, it is an equally fallacious argument to say that because other countries are not doing their part in regard to security, 1242 we should not do ours, either. To be logical, we should say that, precisely because other countries are not doing their part we, if we are to look after our security, ought to do even more. That is the way in which we should look at it.
A country considering itself to be under any form of threat, present or future, does not divide the cake as between roads, hospitals and security. It asks, first, what is needed to safeguard it, and then what can be spent on everything else. It would be nonsense to suggest that the Israeli Cabinet first works out how much is needed for this or that and then finds that there is a bit left for defence. The same applies to Turkey, to Pakistan, and to any country believing itself to be under a threat. Any such country first of all allocates whatever resources are needed to keep itself free and alive as a nation, and then decides how to allocate the remainder of its resources.
Let it not be said further, as a criticism for us to refute, that we in the Conservative Party draw a distinction between defence and other considerations. We do make this distinction, and I am proud to do so and will go on doing so.
§ Mr. Tinn
At the same time, I think the hon. Member wrongs us if he assumes that we give any lower priority to defence. We recognise the primacy of defence as an obligation of Government. On our side we would welcome more instances from his party concerning those areas of Government expenditure in regard to which they are prepared to support any cuts.
§ Sir F. Bennett
I am fully prepared to do so. It would, however, be out of order to attempt to do so today. In addition, I should have to speak for far too long. I shall do so whenever the opportunity offers itself. But the hon. Member condemned himself even further, in my eyes, by saying that the Labour Party does not give defence a lower priority. This is exactly what I am trying to point out. I do not want to have an equal priority given to defence and other matters; I want a much higher priority to be given to defence. I am not in any way encouraged by the hon. Gentleman's statement that he does not 1243 give a lower priority. I hope that he gives a much higher priority to defence.
Today we have concentrated mainly on the Army in Europe. Some very odd arguments have been made concerning the various cuts. A little while ago I was told, in an answer, that the abolition of our facilities in Simonstown would make the maintenance of our sanctions against Rhodesia more expensive and more difficult. From my record, I am not exactly a supporter of sanctions against Rhodesia, but it is an odd argument today, in talking of the amount of expenditure and the cuts, to say that without Simonstown, at a time when we have not much money available, it will be more expensive to carry out sanctions against Rhodesia.
Then there is the argument involving the Sultan of Brunei, who says that there will be no expense in leaving the Ghurkas where they are. We are told that their removal is under consideration. As far as I know, this is not a political, moral, or strictliy defence matter. Perhaps we may later be told what are the considerations impelling us to deal another blow at the Ghurkas in this context.
If we are talking about the rôle of the Army today, mainly in Europe, but especially in Gemany, we should first of all face up to the dangers of the task before us. Her Majesty's Government, in the recent White Paper on defence, freely admitted, while arguing for cuts, that there was no sign of other than a constantly increasing aggressive power from the countries of the Warsaw Pact—the Soviet Union in particular. It was not said in the White Paper that this is a static or declining threat. It was said that it is increasing, both in strength and capacity. We are facing today a constantly increasing and aggressive power on the borders of the Berlin Wall, and along the Iron Curtain throughout Europe. There are no signs at any level, in any of the exercises carried out by the Warsaw Pact powers, that their thinking is in defensive terms. They are thinking in terms of an expansionist military activity.
There are some who say that there is no possibility of a war in Europe. If that is the thinking of the Kremlin, why is it that the Soviet Union—a much poorer nation—devotes an ever-increasing 1244 amount of its available resources to its army stationed in the West? I can understand that it might be doing so on the border with China, but the Soviet Union knows perfectly well that no single country in Western Europe would launch an attack upon it. Why, then, does it constantly increase its forces?
There are some who say that the Soviet Union does not really need to attack us any longer because, unfortunately, it is doing only too well by means of subversion and political penetration of our institutions in the West. I think that at the moment too many people are making the job of the Soviet Union extremely easy, so that it can extend its influence without exerting military power. At the same time, I am not prepared to let my security rest on the fact that we allow ourselves to be subverted indefinitely in this way, as opposed to being overtaken by force.
There is another factor keeping the Soviet Union at bay—the thought of nuclear reprisals. The Soviet Union fears nuclear reprisals—tactical in the first place and then strategic.
There was a reference to the comment made in an earlier debate by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that the choice was between surrender and suicide. That is an oversimplification of the sort in which he often indulges, because that second consideration is also in the mind of the Soviet Union. The suicide would not be one-sided. Therefore, it may very well be that the continuing facility for us to possess and, if necessary, be able to use, nuclear weapons, provides another option, apart from unilateral suicide. It is an over-simplification, to put it in terms of simple arithmetic.
The only other asset that we have at the moment to deter the Soviet Union is that the Soviet Union is not yet altogether happy about the political reliability of its satellite armies. I have seen one picture of the faces of the Russian masters at the last May Day parade in East Berlin when East German troops were goose-stepping past with the most modern equipment, and the Russians were not looking very cheerful at the sight of the German army marching past the dais.
I have the feeling that there are still a few people in the Kremlin who are not 1245 altogether sure what the armies of their Polish, Hungarian or Czech satellites might do once the chips were down. We can be grateful for that, but it may be a declining asset in that over the years a new generation is growing up who have never been anything but citizens of satellite countries, and they may become more useful soldiers as time goes on.
I was especially anxious to speak in this debate since recently I have been to Germany twice, once with the Defence Expenditure. Sub-Committee and, after that, because of my interest, I wanted to try to learn a little more as a private individual. I came to a few pertinent conclusions about the state of our Army today. I wish that I had more time to say whether I thought our troops were in the right place. However, that has been dealt with already.
Having myself served in the Army first in the yeomanry during the last war and afterwards, I am sure from experience that the morale of our Army is today absolutely first-class. It is higher today than that of any other army on the western side of the Iron Curtain. When I was there, there was a good deal of unhappiness about pay. But I believe that that has been largely, if not wholly, dealt with by the quite generous proposals which the Government have made in the context of Service men's pay.
There is one continuing grumble. There is a feeling of unhappiness among our troops about the level of, and the cuts being made in, their realistic training facilities. I do not know whether right hon. and hon. Members really understand the extent to which economies of this kind can become utterly miserly. Soldiers do not want to spend all their time on what we used to call TEWTS. They want to go into the field to fire their weapons and use their tanks. They do not want to be told that their armoured cars or tanks have done x miles and that they cannot do any more for another six months. I have even discovered that there is insufficient ammunition available to provide infantry troops with small arms training and that, therefore, they have fitted tubes for .22 ammunition. But now they have been told that Britain even has to cut down severely on the supply of .22 ammunition, which is freely bought by people in this 1246 country to shoot rooks or rabbits. If we cannot make unlimited supplies of .22 ammunition available, we have indeed fallen into a very low state. There can be no justification for it. It is childish, especially when anyone in this country can buy as much as he likes with a police permit.
As regards their equipment, I have found not one officer or man who does not say that the Chieftain tank is the finest tank he has ever known. They are extremely proud of it. The one thing that they urge is that the replacement of its small engine with a larger one should be accelerated. It is ridiculous to have the best tank under-engined and underpowered, which the present Chieftain tank is.
The only mobile anti-tank weapon that our troops have is the outdated Wombat. It is a good name for something as antidiluvian as that. It cannot do other than put their lives at risk if they ever require to use it. If there is one name on every soldier's lips, it is that of a replacement piece of equipment which is ready. I refer, of course, to the Milan. I hope that the Minister will say something about it. There can be no arguments about long-term development. The equipment is ready for use, and everyone in the Army wants it now.
The final point made to me about equipment related to a helicopter missile. We have first-class helicopters, and Service men at all levels paid tribute to their excellence. But in a typically British muddling way we provide the Army with first-class helicopters but not with the missiles to use with them. Our Service personnel feel that it is high time that they were provided with effective missiles since we never know when the dangers will increase. Of the two which they would prefer, one is the Hot and the other is Tow. They do not want to wait some indefinite time for the British Hawkswing. I could not find a single word of praise for it during the time that I spent in Germany.
I put it to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that when we talk about forces cuts we do grave harm to the long-term morale of our men, especially when the size of our forces is altered not because of security requirements or changes in commitments but simply to fulfil a political pledge at a 1247 conference to the effect that we will knock off £500 million or add £200 million or even add only £40 million. This is not the way to play with the lives of our forces.
Reverting for a moment to the RAF, I met a number of senior NCOs due to lose their jobs who never thought that they would have anything other than a long life in the RAF. The provision of golden or silver handshakes does not remove any of their bitterness. If their careers are to come to an end, they want it to be for a better reason than a Leftwing-stimulated resolution at an annual party conference.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
The House will know that this is a Supply day, on which the subject-matter for debate is chosen by the Opposition. The Opposition have been criticising the Government constantly for not tackling the main problem of the day, namely, inflation. However, when they have the opportunity of a full day's debate on a subject of their choosing, they choose to debate not inflation, for which the Government are criticised constantly, but the Army.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Far from saying as they have been saying in this House and in the country on other occasions, that the way to tackle inflation is by making massive cuts in our public expenditure, today virtually every speech from every Tory Member——
§ Mr. Hamilton
Indeed, I have. Every Tory speech today has advocated increased public expenditure on the Armed Forces, especially on the Army. The hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) has just made the same point.
§ Mr. Goodhart
On a pure point of procedure, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) should know that we have not debated the Army for two years and that this is the form of the Army Estimates debate. Does not he wish to have the Services debated one by one, as we have over the years?
§ Mr. Hamilton
The right hon. Lady who is the Leader of the Opposition for the time being has said constantly, day after day, whenever she has dared to get to her feet, that we should devote every opportunity to discussing the major problem facing the country, which is inflation.
§ Mr. Onslow rose——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. We can have only one hon. Gentleman on his feet at a time. It appears that we have one already.
§ Mr. Onslow
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has a weakness for attacking those who are not here to defend themselves. May I enlist your support, to point out to the hon. Gentleman—the House needs no reminding about this—that what my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) has said is entirely correct. This is the procedure along which we debate.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has long experience of procedure. He knows that this is not a point of order. He will also know that we do not make personal attacks on other hon. Gentlemen. I did not think the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was making a personal attack.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I was being very moderate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, if I am provoked, I shall really make personal attacks.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that I was the person to whom he was referring.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett
The hon. Gentleman did not hear all of us, but he did point specifically at me and say that I had just said it. I shall now repeat what I said. I favour cutting Government expenditure in order to cure inflation. The security of this country is in a completely separate department, which has to be dealt with as a higher priority than 1249 any other matter. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to me he would have heard me.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is precisely what I was saying. The hon. Gentleman wants to cut public expenditure in general, but increase defence expenditure in particular.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is what I said, what I heard the hon. Gentleman say and what I heard the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) say. They are all criticising the Government for making cuts in defence expenditure, which they think have gone too far and which some of my hon. Friends think have not gone far enough. That is a fair assessment of the situation.
It is ironic that the Opposition now choose to devote a whole day to an item on which they want to increase public expenditure, whereas on every other day of the week they demand that the Government announce forthwith reductions in public expenditure on housing, on health—
§ Mr. Hamilton
The Opposition's priorities are, first, to increase public expenditure on defence and, secondly, to cut it to the bone on housing, education, health and social security. This is the basic difference in philosophy between the Labour and Conservative Parties. If the debate serves no other purpose, I am glad that it has brought this to people's attention.
It is my view and the view of most people that the health service is as important to the defence of this country as is the Army, the Navy or the Air Force.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I need no lessons from the hon. Gentleman about the Kremlin. Let him tell it to Ian Smith, because he is a champion of Ian Smith. I am no defender of the Kremlin, but I shall have something to say about that in a moment.
These matters must be examined in the light of the current economic weakness of the United Kingdom. The Government have several responsibilities. As the hon. Member for Torbay said, we live in a dangerous world—a statement of the obvious—which is quite true. However, neither Britain nor any other country can afford to insure against every conceivable eventuality. As individuals we are in the same position—we cannot insure ourselves against every foreseeable eventuality. We take our own risks and we pay the price that we can afford. It is the same with the nation. Any Government must judge what they can afford to spend on military expenditure within the overall resources available to them, and must bear in mind the competing claims made on those resources by hon. Members and people outside who feel just as strongly about their priorities as the hon. Member for Torbay feels about his. His top priority is increased military expenditure. He has repeatedly said so, and I understand his sincerity. However, he must also understand, tolerate and accept the sincerity of those who take the completely opposite view.
The Government have that judgment to make. They then have to decide where the likely immediate military dangers lie. The Government rightly think—they may be proved wrong—that they have assessed the most immediate danger to be in Europe and, therefore, we are concentrating such forces as we can afford to keep in Europe. It then devolves on the Government to determine how to face that danger most effectively in the disposition of all our Armed Forces and their equipment.
I deal now with the jibe made by the hon. Member for Torbay about the Kremlin. I do not know why he made it. At a General Election I defeated the only Communist Member who had sat in this House for 15 years, so the hon. Gentleman cannot even describe me as a fellow traveller. On the contrary, I dislike that system as much as I dislike the system that the hon. Gentleman supports in Rhodesia.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett
The hon. Gentleman and I respect each other, but I honestly think that he has completely misunderstood me. In my remark about "telling it to the Kremlin", was not suggesting that he has anything to do with the Kremlin. Anyone who knows him will know that that is completely untrue. I think that he should withdraw his remark about Mr. Smith, because one person Mr. Smith does not like is me.
I made the remark that he should tell it to the Kremlin in the sense that the Kremlin needs to be convinced where our priority lies. I believe that the Kremlin is more impressed by our military expenditure than by other forms of expenditure. If the hon. Gentleman thinks he can convince me, he should try to convince the generals in the Kremlin that they can safely reduce their military expenditure.
§ Mr. Hamilton
They like me as much as, presumably, Mr. Smith likes the hon. Gentleman. In purely numerical terms of forces on the ground the Western Alliance—NATO—can never hope to match the Warsaw Pact Powers, at any rate in peace-time, because the Western Powers are primarily free democracies who would not tolerate the scale of expenditure inflicted by the Communist dictatorships on their people. We and the hon. Member for Torbay must face the reality that Communist dictatorships can inflict on their people a far higher rate of defence expenditure than would be tolerated in a free democratic society such as ours.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) is very sincere in his views and I respect them because at one time I was a pacifist. He and his colleagues would get short shrift if they paraded up and down Red Square propounding their views, but this is the price we pay for our democracy. Our military defences are less strong than some people would like because our people are free to express their dislike of spending an over-large percentage of our gross national product on this kind of Army.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
I think that my hon. Friend ought to make it clear to the House—I am glad he is allowing me to make it clear—that I have never been a spokesman or apologist for 1252 the Kremlin and have spoken out just as strongly as he has on various occasions about all sorts of crimes against human rights which have been committed behind the Iron Curtain, just as I would do in relation to those committed elsewhere in the world.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says. I know that he has intensely humanitarian views which cut across all of the political ideologies. One of the criticisms that is constantly hurled at him and his friends by the Conservative Party is that they are pawns of the Soviet Union or Communists simply because they criticise cruelties and excesses in relation to depriving people of their human rights, and so on. I do not take that view at all. I respect my hon. Friend for his views. It is a pity that more hon. Members—or any Opposition Member—do not take that kind of idealistic view.
I was saying that at the beginning of the last war I was a conscientious objector. That idealistic view, as I saw it, quickly turned to something more realistic, and I subsequently joined the Army. I still maintain that view. I dislike intensely expenditure on military defence. But, as has been said, we live in a very threatening world. Given the limitation imposed on us by that world situation and by our overall economic weakness, we must seek to maximise the efficiency of such armed forces as we can afford.
I should like to refer to a point made by the hon. Member for Torbay about the choice of anti-tank weapons for the Army. A few days ago I received a letter from the BAC(GW) Joint Trade Union Liaison Committee on this very matter. I was asked to make my comments on the purchase of anti-tank missiles. I did not have a clue what the letter was about. One of the great disadvantages of these debates is that we have little expert knowledge on these matters. I therefore said that I would take the matter up with the Ministry of Defence and get an authoritative view, which I am in no position to contradict or to challenge.
However, it is worth quoting from the letter that I received from the Ministry of Defence. It is dated 12th June and specifically refers to the Milan missile, to which the hon. Member for Torbay 1253 referred. The letter talks about the choice of weapons being based on an intricate complex of considerations that must be taken into account; for instance, how far one can increase standardisation of equipment and therefore reduce unit costs, and the effect of purchases on our own industry. I should like to take an example which has specific relevance to what the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) had to say. He went out of his way to say that his party, the SNP, supported the NATO alliance. I am glad to see the hon. Member nodding his assent. But the SNP says that it wants to get rid of the Polaris bases. In Rosyth we have the main base for servicing these nuclear submarines. That base employs between 6,000 and 7,000 men. It is one of the biggest employers in Fife, if not the biggest. If, unilaterally we got rid of the bases in Scotland, Fife could be finished and 7,000 jobs would have gone down the drain. That is what the SNP is advocating. That would be the consequence of it. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman and his party cannot have it both ways. They cannot at one and the same time say that they support NATO but that they want unilaterally to get rid of nuclear bases, because those bases are part of the NATO forces.
§ Mr. MacCormick
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's remarks about losing jobs in Rosyth. However, does he not agree that some alternative siting for the United Kingdom submarine bases might be arranged which is rather less close to the most densely populated part of Scotland?
§ Mr. Hamilton
Where would the hon. Gentleman suggest? It is all very well saying "Put it somewhere else." Everyone must understand that in the event of these weapons having to be used, we can put them anywhere we like, but the whole of Britain would be reduced to a cinder. Therefore, where we dispose of these things is irrelevant.
All I am saying is that my right hon. Friend's letter was making the point that when we are discussing the purchase or use of equipment, we have to have regard to the number of jobs and the consequences in terms of unemployment if we buy foreign.
1254 Having made that point, I want to return to the point about the Milan missile, because the letter from the Minister contradicts what the hon. Member for Torbay has said. The letter says,In some cases, however, as with the Franco-German Milan anti-tank system there is no alternative British weapon currently available. Swingfire and its derivative Beeswing are both long range vehicle-borne weapons with a rôle quite different from that of the medium range Milan which can be carried by two men.The letter goes on to say,Far from causing unemployment, a decision to adopt Milan would provide a substantial amount of work over the next few years because the bulk of the order would be manufactured in this country. We would also expect to arrange for British designers to participate in improvements to the system and in the development of a possible successor. The adoption of Milan should not affect sales of any of the Swingfire family because, as I have explained, they are not alternatives to Milan and are therefore not in competition with it.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett
The hon. Gentleman should read Hansard tomorrow. If it has reported what I have said correctly, he will see that what he has said does not contradict what I said, but goes along the same lines. I divided my remarks about missiles. I dealt first with Milan and then I went on to discuss Swingfire.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I shall be glad to read Hansard tomorrow. If I am wrong, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman in advance.
In another part of the letter the Government say, I think in response to the correspondent who wrote to me about the matter, that they want toensure a healthy British guided weapons industry which will be able to take advantage of the increasing amount of collaboration with the guided weapons industries of our European partners.That is a fair summary of the Government's ultimate aim on this matter.
I want to make one or two general points and a couple of specific ones. Our defence forces, including the Army, must be capable of evolving—it goes without saying—flexibly enough to adapt to the changing world threats, as they will change during the next decade or so. It is very easy to attack the size of the administrative tail and compare it with the bluntness of the sharp end, as it were. I have heard such attacks made repeatedly in the House.
1255 I suppose that in any large organisation the criticism can be made that there are far too many Chiefs and too few Indians, and in that context, therefore, the removal of a level of command in the Army is particularly welcome. The cutting down by almost one-half of the number of major headquarters seems to me to be a useful rationalisation, which in no way affects the defence capability of what I call the "sharp end".
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
If the hon. Gentleman is deluding himself that the abolition of the brigade headquarters is a taking-away from the tail of the Army he very much misunderstands what teeth really are, because as far forward as brigade headquarters the communications provide the flexibility to fight. Without that they are not actually cutting anything at all from the tail. A very large slice is being taken out of the fighting troops of the British Army of the Rhine.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is an expert. He almost certainly is, and therefore I would not argue with him on that. I just express a lay opinion, which is open to contradiction. Perhaps when my hon. Friend winds up he will say who is nearer the truth, the hon. Gentleman or myself. I want to refer to two other, in some ways unrelated matters—one a constituency point, the other on the use of defence land, to which the hon. Member for Torbay referred in passing. I would like my hon. Friend to give us a progress report on the implementation of the recommendations of the Nugent Committee on the disposal of defence lands. I say that partly because I have a personal interest in the Lulworth Cove area. I have spent many holidays in that part of the country and like it very much; and I am appalled when I go there and find it almost desecrated because of the needs of the Army. I would like my hon. Friend to say what is being done about that and the other recommendations made by Lord Nugent.
I end on the other matter, not because I consider it less important but because behind all this talk about defence expenditure there are intensely human problems. Every soldier deserves to be treated as an individual rather than a 1256 number, and I want to quote a case—not in great detail—because I have been in lengthy correspondence with my hon. Friend on it. A young soldier lost his life in Colchester; a court case is pending; a man has been charged, I believe, with manslaughter, and he has appealed. To that extent therefore, the case is sub judice and I cannot pursue that problem, but the other aspect is a medical one, which I intend to pursue and, if need be, will have an Adjournment debate upon it, because it seems to me, from talking to the soldier's parents, that there is a prima facie case of medical negligence, which might or might not have contributed to the loss of that soldier's life.
I regard the case as extremely serious. It may well be that out of the case there will arise the need to re-examine the ways in which such cases are investigated. I do not believe that here, any more than in the case of the police, it is any longer satisfactory for cases to be investigated by the interested parties. There is a very powerful argument for having an independent, outside, lay investigation into the allegations made by these parents, and I intend to pursue the matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will take due note of it.
I see in this morning's Guardian a report about bogus soldiers in Northern Ireland stealing heaven knows how much equipment. I mention that as a peg on which to hang my tribute to the soldiers in Ulster. They are doing a magnificent job, and the House would be remiss if it did not put on record its enormous gratitude to them for performing the most thankless job that our soldiers have had to perform since the end of the last war.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
The Government defence review is a reconciliation exercise at each of two levels. At the higher level it is an attempt to reconcile those who wish to be defended with those who do not within the context of the Labour Party coalition. At a slightly lower level it has been an attempt to reconcile the first one-third of the review itself, which speaks most vividly and eloquently about the Soviet threat, which it is said, quite rightly, is increasing, with the conclusion which it drew from it, that we are willy-nilly obliged to reduce the proportion of money that we spend on defence.
1257 As a reconciliation exercise at the top level, between those who wish to be defended and those who do not, the review is the price that social democracy is obliged to pay on behalf of all of us, to the less-than-full-hearted consent, to collective security shown by the Marxists, National Socialists and neutralists in the other half of the Labour Party coalition, and the review itself attempts to explain away the need to reduce the British contribution to defence by a number of spurious arguments in which the proportion of our gross national product spent on defence is compared with the GNP spent by our allies in NATO.
Of course, no one is comparing like with like, and if one were to compare the expenditure per head of the NATO countries the argument could be reversed. For example, expenditure per head on defence in the Federal Republic of Germany is £81, in France £76 and in the United Kingdom £63. Throughout the whole series of debates upon the defence review, the Secretary of State has claimed that he has done nothing that will be of harm to NATO. What he means, of course, is that he has done nothing that will harm the central front of NATO; and even that is not strictly true, because if the Army is to be reduced by 15,000 men the cut in our capacity to reinforce, ostensibly the flanks, but also in the centre, must affect our contribution to NATO in whatever part of the front it might be. BAOR is not an expeditionary force. It is not self-contained. It will require some 68,000 soldiers, who would have to be brought from the United Kingdom to bring Service support units up to strength whenever we were obliged to mobilise.
The question I would like to put to the Minister for the Army—and I would like a reply lateron—is whether the figure of 68,000 support troops, which we would be obliged to bring from the United Kingdom in the event of mobilisation, is in any way reduced by the planned reduction of 15,000 men in the British Army itself. The British Army of the Rhine finds itself by historical accident as part of NORTHAG, the northern command of the two allied commands in central Europe; and NORTHAG, as the House knows, is made up of Dutch, Belgian and German forces and the British Army of 1258 the Rhine. NORTHAG is obliged to defend the shorter of the two fronts but the front which is by far the more vulnerable, since the countryside it flat, and the great weight of the Soviet Army in Germany is lined up either side of the autobahn which subsequently runs through Helmstedt, Hannover and Dortmund. But NORTHAG suffers not only because the Dutch and the Belgians are members of that command, especially since the Dutch are way back in Holland and are badly deployed. It suffers from other weaknesses which are not widely known. For example, it has less armour than do the forces of CENTAG. Its air force is smaller than the air force allocated to CENTAG. Its stocks of fuel and ammunition are lower than the stocks possessed by CENTAG. It has fewer small nuclear weapons than CENTAG, and there are units, including one of the British divisions which are unsatisfactorily deployed in the area. What, then, are the Minister's plans to do something to remedy some of these very serious defects within NORTHAG?
The priorities for modernisation for the British Army in NORTHAG are, I believe, as follows. First, we are looking for a new anti-tank weapon to operate at a variety of ranges and for use in all weathers. Will the Minister say how far he has reached in finding a weapon which fits that bill? The second priority for modernisation in the central region is on air defence weapons for low and medium altitudes, all weathers and radar-controlled. Will the Minister let us know what is happening to that priority? The third priority for modernisation on this front is the provision of aircraft survival, the completion of the shelter programme which was begun in 1968, to strengthen the defence of airfields. Fourthly, there is need to improve command and control systems, and fifthly, to improve the quality of electronic warfare, reconnaissance in particular. Finally, there is a need to improve the floating and fording capabilities of Army combat vehicles. That is the list of priorities for modernising the equipment of BOAR, and we should be grateful for some sort of reassurance tonight.
Those who are interested in defence, who write about it and discuss it or debate it must already have decided that the only way in which the West can 1259 save itself from disarmament through inflation is by a rationalisation, through specialisation and standardisation of its arms. However, in spite of that assertion, no progress is being made as far as I can discover to set up institutions which would make standardisation actually work. Standardisation will be achieved only by the exercise of political will. The Government should take the opportunity given by the decision by the Dutch, the Danes, the Belgians and the Norwegians to purchase the F16 aircraft from the United States. That decision has come as a grave shock to France, but the French might at least be of a mind to make some sort of response to an invitation to co-operate for the first time in European arms procurement. It is about time the Government made such an initiative.
The real nub of the standardisation argument is that either the Government or the Conservative Party should be advocating, now that the referendum is over, the establishment of a European Defence Community, the old EDC. It is only through an EDC that we shall be able to get rationalisation, specialisation and standardisation, because in it there will be the political will necessary to take the decisions which will oblige some countries not to produce arms and others not to sell them to the Arabs or anyone else.
If because of its composition, to which I have already referred, this Government find it difficult to espouse the cause of an EDC, it is for the Conservative Party, as the European party, with the support of the Liberal Party, to advance the view that an EDC is the next and most vital step on the road to European integration and unity. Without standardisation of its weapons, Europe will find itself disarmed as a consequence of inflation.
If an EDC is rather an ambitious project for a Labour Government, divided as it is, to espouse they should think about a European arms procurement agency. That may be a more modest proposal, but it would at least be created under the aegis of the Nine. It is not enough for the Secretary of State to say that matters of European arms co-operation are for the Eurogroup because that is the only forum. It is not the only forum. There is a role for the Euro 1260 group. It might attempt to harmonise the strategic concepts on which any weapons procurement would have to rely. The Eurogroup is an ideal body to begin the process of harmonisation of strategic and tactical concepts.
The Western European Union's standing armaments committee, of which France is a member, might well be asked to look at the armament industries of Europe in order to make recommendations, but in the last analysis only the EEC can take the decisions which will oblige the allies to standardise their arms. The advantage of my proposals is that they contain something for everyone. The Eurogroup would be at work and WEU would be given something to do, but in the last analysis it would be the EEC to decide upon standardisation.
The Secretary of State for Defence is the best Secretary of State for Defence that we have. His heart is in the right place, and he has fought a rearguard action on behalf of his country in order to minimise the damage which has been done, and which must be done, to our defence, given the nature of the coalition which sits on the Government benches——
§ Mr. Critchley
It is no good the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) shaking his head in a weary way. If he, being the very active Social Democrat that he is, does not understand the nature of the Labour Party, no one on his side of the House is capable of recognising the truth of the situation within the Labour Party.
The Secretary of State might undertake certain new tasks. He has defended his position. He says that he wishes to do nothing which will harm NATO. Let us see the colour of his money and let us see him go over to the offensive and make suggestions over and above those which I have already made which would improve the cohesion of the alliance.
The Secretary of State might persuade NATO to improve reception facilities for aircraft reinforcements. It is true that, because airfields have been denied us in France as a consequence of France leaving NATO there are no airfields on which American air force reinforcements could easily land were they ever to be summoned to the aid of Europe. This 1261 is one of the priorities that the Secretary of State should be urging upon NATO.
The Secretary of State could also persuade his colleagues to take steps to improve the inter-operability of allied forces. He could try to overcome the problems already posed by nationally-based logistics systems. He could correct some minor mal-deployment of British forces, in NORTHAG. He could review the position of United Kingdom and NATO reserve forces, because one of the more fundamental weaknesses of NORTHAG, to which I referred earlier, is that there are no operational reserves allocated to it whatsoever.
There was a time when the objective of British foreign policy, like the objective of any country's foreign policy, was the maintenance of security. In the 1960s that objective changed and became the maintenance of prosperity. In the 1970s we are experiencing the radicalisation of politics, and defence has now to compete for attention with the problems of inflation, unemployment and energy. The Labour Party is the inflation party.
What I fear more than anything else is that this will not be the last defence review, although I am quite certain that the present Secretary of State would not be prepared to introduce a second. However, I fear that we shall suffer a series of defence reviews, because it is not in the nature of the Labour Party to acquiesce in the reduction of public spending elsewhere without ensuring that defence gets its fair share of whatever cuts are going. Therefore, as the present Secretary of State moves sideways or backwards somebody must be found to take his place. If it were ever the present Secretary of State for Energy the Chassepots would go off by themselves.
§ Mr. William Hamilton
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that it was the Conservative Government in November or December 1973 that very substantially cut defence expenditure. Therefore, if the Labour Party is guilty, the Conservative Party is no less guilty.
§ Mr. Critchley
We increased defence expenditure quite rapidly in 1970 because we had to order a series of equipment which reflected the cancellation of weapon 1262 systems for which the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), had been responsible in 1965 or 1966. However, I do not argue that there is not room in defence for good housekeeping. All I am saying is that the hon. Gentleman has yet to hear of a Conservative Party conference, in a seaside resort, out of season, in which we demand a £1,000 million reduction in defence expenditure.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Whilst listening to the debate, I could not help reflecting that if we do not bring our inflation under control neither the Soviet Union nor anybody else need do anything to bring about the collapse of this country. Indeed, it is the uncontrolled inflation which is the background to the whole debate. Defence expenditure, like any other such expenditure, is in the public sector. It is the public sector in particular that it out of control at present.
On defence, one can only ask the same kind of questions as one should ask in respect of any other aspect of public sector expenditure, namely, whether we are really getting value for money—because unless we arc, we may as well stop talking and debating here.
In the many defence debates that I have attended I have always found the Opposition, particularly when the Conservatives are in opposition, putting forward a totally different viewpoint from that which they express when they are in power. It is a mistake—history has proved it—to think that from time to time the Conservative Party does not make swingeing cuts in defence. When the Conservatives are in power they are subject, whatever their views may be in opposition, to the same constraints imposed by the Treasury as are any other Government. I remember, when making this point during the main defence debate, how much the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who was in the Treasury for a considerable period, agreed with me.
The real question is whether we are getting value for money. It so happens that the Government have probably hit about the right balance. If they had shown the same determination to get 1263 value for money in local government expenditure or in the National Health Service as they have in defence, we would not be faced with the inflation problems that we face today.
I turn to the particular point that I wish to make—the question of standardisation. The truth is that NATO is by no means capable of reaching its maximum efficiency. It does not matter how much money we or any of the other NATO countries spend. While we have the present wide divergence in weaponry, support, and so on, it is impossible for NATO to be truly efficient. Have the present Government, or any Government, taken an adequate initiative to get the kind of standardisation that we need in NATO?
I could not help thinking of what the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said when he intervened in the Under-Secretary's statement about expenditure east of Suez. I can remember defence debates in which many arguments were advanced, but the main debate almost always centred on how much money we should spend east of Suez. It was suggested that the most frightful consequences would occur if we pulled out. But they did not happen. It was a failure to recognise the changed role of this country, and a failure to recognise the nature and extent—if I may use the words of the right hon. Gentleman—of the threats to this country. Our role is now almost purely European. Obviously, we have to play our full part in NATO. The real question is whether we are pulling out all the stops and making the maximum contribution we can to NATO in our present economic state.
Against that background, let us consider what standardisation really means. There are different lobbies on this subject. Whenever anyone suggests that this country should use a foreign weapon there is always a tremendous lobby to use a British weapon. That is often a shortsighted view. There is a good case for using the foreign weapon if it is equally efficient, and if it results in standardisation, provided there is a quid pro quo and we can be sure that the weapon can be procured in times of stress. That normally means manufacturing in this country, even though the weapons may be designed abroad. The duplication of research and 1264 development in each of the NATO countries is an enormous waste of resources. It makes no sense economically or from the point of view of defence in the end result.
I should like this country to take the initiative. I agree with the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that at the very least there should be a European defence procurement agency or even a NATO defence procurement agency. I have been told that 10 times as many weapons and defence equipment of all kinds are purchased by the other NATO allies from the major ally, the United States, as are purchased the other way round. That is bound to continue. The ratio is bound to increase from 10 to 1, unless there is much more integration of development among the European countries.
I take as one example the anti-tank weapons available to the NATO allies. There are any number of such weapons of different kinds. There is no standardisation, yet if there is one lesson to be drawn from the war in the Middle East it is the efficacy of the Russian-produced anti-tank weaponry. Anti-tank weapons for the Warsaw Pact forces are pretty well standardised, whereas those in NATO are not interchangeable, and their servicing is much more difficult. Therefore, we see how far from this one example NATO has to go to become truly efficient as a defence umbrella.
Mention has been made of the likely 12-years' delay before there is any proper standardisation of communications. It is frightening that even at this stage of the development of NATO it will be 12 years before we can have standardised communications. The greatest contribution this country can make to NATO thinking, therefore, is to hurry up the process of standardisation. We need to spell out in much more detail exactly what we mean by it.
A sharing of research facilities should be the first priority, followed by a sharing of development costs. One country could be entrusted with the development of a particular weapon. It would then make economic and defence sense to have the production in every country, depending on the nature of the weapon. Then, if there were an attack on Europe, although parts of Europe might fall it 1265 would still be possible to produce the weapons elsewhere. That was the main point I wished to make. I also wish to raise a matter related to the Supply Estimates which intrigues me greatly. I am astonished to read in the supporting services budget that stationery and printing for the defence forces cost no less than £24,620,000. That does not include home publicity, for which there is another £4,169,000. I should like an explanation from the Government.
To put the matter in the right perspective, I looked at the expenditure for the Army. The pay and allowances for the Army reserves, including the Ulster Defence Force and the cadet forces, came to £18,405,000. If we add £5,777,000 for the pay of the Gurkhas, and certain Commonwealth, including colonial and other troops, we still have a smaller figure than that spent by the defence forces on stationery and printing.
§ Mr. Hooson
The hon. Gentleman is correct. The impression is given that we are paper tigers.
An explanation is needed for this enormous sum. It is often impossible to check such figures by relating them to other figures.
My mention of expenditure on part-time forces brings me to another matter. We are extremely unlikely to face any kind of frontal attack from the Soviet Union or anyone else. Therefore, the important thing is to have extremely flexible forces here. One of the ways of doing that is to ensure that we have proper reserves. I have always subscribed to the idea of a citizen army, and in this respect I have long been a great admirer of the Swiss. It is always an eye-opener to me when I visit Switzerland to realise that nearly every able-bodied man is capable of acting as a soldier and taking his part in defence.
Although Switzerland has been neutral for I do not know how many years, I do not think that any other country in Europe is as well equipped to defend itself against a modern form of attack. If an enemy does not resort to nuclear warfare, the kind of situation with which a country is likely to have to deal is infiltration, pres- 1266 sure on its borders, with tanks moved in, and so on. I believe that the Swiss would be more difficult to handle than any other country in Europe.
But that is a diversion. I am concerned with the Under-Secretary's reference to the Government's deliberate policy of cutting down the Regular Army and their disappointment over recruitment to the TAVR. From what the Minister said, I understood that the Government attach importance to an increase in recruitment to the TAVR. I agree. When the Government are cutting down the Regular Army, it is important to encourage more recruitment to the TAVR. In view of the amount of money spent on propaganda and stationery, one would have thought that they would make an effective and efficient propaganda effort to encourage more young people to join the volunteer part-time forces. It is astonishing that they have been unable to do that. I hope that the matter will be dealt with at the end of the debate.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
Unlike Opposition Members, I am strongly in favour of cuts in defence spending, on economic and other grounds. In my view, the present cuts have not gone far enough. They are not real cuts. I have expressed this opinion on the Floor of the House before, and, with some of my hon. Friends, I have expressed it by my vote in the Lobby.
The amount devoted to defence and military expenditure since the war has helped to weaken this country by undermining its economy. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) to talk about the amount per head of the population spent in Germany today. For many years after the war we were starved of investment funds, which Germany and other countries were able to provide to revitalise their industries by a much lower expenditure on arms.
At a time when there are widespread appeals for cuts in public expenditure, it is nonsensical to talk of exempting the military budget. The cuts should be made in defence rather than in education, welfare, housing, health and similar areas.
1267 My views are determined not only by the economic situation but by the purposes to which our Armed Forces, particularly the Army, are put. I believe that Britain should have an effective conventional Army. I am not a pacifist, but I believe that sooner or later we shall have to face the fact that we can no longer afford to have large bodies of troops stationed overseas. Sooner or later we shall be brought face to face with that reality. Many of the purposes for which the Army is stationed overseas conflict with the interests and objectives of the British people. Where these purposes conflict, no matter whether the cost is great or small we should bring the pursuit of those purposes to an end.
One sphere is that of providing military support for undemocratic regimes against just attempts by populations repressed by such régimes to achieve radical change. Unfortunately, there have been many examples of this in the past, but the outstanding case with which we in Britain are concerned today is that of Oman. There are 2,000 British military personnel in Oman—not all, it is true, Army personnel. British people hold top posts in the Sultan's armed forces, they are pilots, they act as advisers and they provide the training in a counter-revolutionary operation which is taking place. Some of the Army personnel are stationed there, some are seconded, some are contract officers, and some are mercenaries.
The British taxpayer should not be required to bear the expense of training men to direct and assist a military campaign which has the objective of crushing a national liberation movement. Many of the British personnel involved are highly-trained people and highly-skilled officers. It is wrong to ask the British people to bear the cost of their training for that purpose. The operation in Oman involves the destruction of villages, the burning of crops, the killing of livestock, and injury and death to human beings who are amongst the most poverty-stricken people in that part of the world.
I am not suggesting that by cutting our forces in Oman or withdrawing from there we could save vast sums of money, but we should recognise that the purpose to which they are being devoted is wrong, and we should bring their use for this 1268 purpose to an end. In the long run the use of British forces in Oman will undermine our defence interests, because it will produce hatred and antagonism towards Britain which will damage our name in many parts of the Third World.
Unfortunately, counter-revolutionary operations in the Third World and other parts of the globe are apparently not the only concern of the Army. On 23rd May I asked Written Questions about a recent exercise, the replies to which confirmed the character of the counterrevolutionary training which is at present being carried on in Britain. Our soldiers are trained to deal with potential internal security threats.
I recognise the danger of terrorism and I have no time for individuals who ate prepared to wreak senseless violence on innocent people, as has occurred in Northern Ireland and other parts of the United Kingdom, but I understand that the training to which our soldiers are subjected is not limited to dealing with terrorism of that sort. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force stated that the exercise about which I asked was to practise the tactical use of helicopters, and a party of visiting United States troops was invited to join in, as it happened to be around. The scope of such training as this undoubtedly gives rise to concern. It could prepare soldiers for situations which could arise, for example, from prolonged or serious industrial dispute. The people have a right to know the purposes for which soldiers trained in counter-revolutionary operations in Britain would be used. We know, for instance, that interrogation techniques used in Northern Ireland—I refer to hooding—have since been declared to be in violation of human rights. The House has a right to know that other methods are being employed, and a right to be reassured on these issues.
Contingency plans exist for all kinds of civil emergency. If the Army can be used in Britain to intervene in a tense domestic situation, the House and the British people should be told the terms on which such intervention would occur. Regardless of cost or lack of cost, training for this purpose is probably totally undesirable.
A NATO contingency plan led to the regime of the colonels in Greece and the 1269 suppression of human rights for several years. I do not suggest that that is likely to happen in Britain, but we have a right to know the purposes for which the Army is being trained in counter-revolutionary operations. We should—not only on grounds of economy—seriously review what is being done in this sphere.
At a time of severe economic difficulty, when housing, welfare, health and education are threatened by cuts in public expenditure, there is need for more far-reaching economies than have yet been carried out. Such economies should certainly not be made at the expense of the conditions or remuneration of the men who follow careers in the Armed Services, but it is time that we examined seriously the need to bring costs genuinely into line with what we can afford and with what we need.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) says that he is no pacifist, but I have never come across anyone who is more hostile than he is to the idea of British forces. I hope he does not lie awake at night wondering whether the purpose of the British Army is strike-breaking. If he lies awake thinking about this, I assure him that he is the only person in the United Kingdom who does.
As for following the hon. Gentleman into his ideas about what is going on in Oman, I think we have been over that ground before. I ask him to accept that a national liberation movement is not necessarily the democratic arrangement that he thinks is represented by the Harlow Labour Party. I hope he will not be so nervous in future. I do not think he will get a musket in the teeth. Of course, we very much enjoy his interventions in our defence debates. I am certain that he is good for our hearts if not for our heads.
I welcome what has been said about the reorganisation of the individual units—namely, converting four squadrons or companies into major units. I think that that will be more efficient than having three units, a position which was adopted originally only because of a shortage of men. However, I do not welcome the decision to make reconnaissance and anti-tank troops divisional or corps troops. I believe that those troops should have the closest relationship with 1270 the units that they are guarding. I have doubts as to whether a reconnaissance unit divorced from the unit for which it is doing its job is as efficient as one that is integral with the unit itself even with expensive training.
I return to the question of the reorganisation of headquarters, which I mentioned in the last defence debate. I am sure that it is true that brigade headquarters could be done away with in peace time without any great loss of efficiency. For that matter, I dare say the same is true of divisional headquarters. However, in war time is it possible for divisional headquarters to operate direct with five or six combat groups, given that divisional headquarters will be of a smaller size according to paragraph 50 of the statement?
Will it be physically possible for the officers concerned to control the battle from divisional headquarters? In the course of the experiments that will take place, will the other formation headquarters have been taken into account? In an Army such as we have in Germany, which has only one corps, the concept is called into question of the necessity to have both an Army commander and a corps commander. No doubt in peace time the Army headquarters take on all the administrative detail which it is difficult for the headquarters of corps to command, but it seems that in war the commander-in-chief's only useful rôle is to command the NATO troops in his area. If that is not the position he will be a perfect nuisance breathing down the corps commander's neck all the time.
What will happen to Army headquarters in the event of hostilities? What will happen to the administrative echelon? Will it move back to the United Kingdom or will the commander-in-chief move forward towards the battle assuming, hopefully, that will be the direction in which to find it? Certainly nothing could be more inefficient than trying to command a battle from administrative headquarters, they being cluttered with families, schools and all the impedimenta of a sizeable town.
I also note that the Berlin brigade is to be harmonised with the new proposed organisation. It is very hard to see how we can harmonise brigade headquarters—that is the nature of the Berlin brigade—if no other brigade headquarters are to exist. It would be interesting to 1271 know how that is to be done. Therefore, on this whole problem of what headquarters are to be done away with or reorganised, I hope that we shall proceed with caution and only after detailed experiment.
Let us not pretend that the reduction of 15,000 men will mean that the Army will be more efficient. That is the claim that is made in paragraph 50, and to some extent in paragraph 53.
Next, I refer to the reinforcement of BAOR. That has been referred to by some hon. Members in connection with the TAVR. As I have mentioned before, this is like boarding a moving train. It is unfortunate that for political reasons—I think the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) will agree with this—it is necessary for us to move forward. However, we cannot be based in the forward area because there are no barracks. He will accept that the difficulty is a real one. However, it will be difficult for the reserves arriving from the United Kingdom to find their units. It will be difficult for them to find them if their units are moving and they must catch up with them. It will be interesting to know exactly how it is to be done. I would like some details on how it is to be arranged for the men to join their units when they are possibly on the move in Germany.
What will be left at home? As the legions march away from these islands, what forces will be left to defend the old, the women and the chidren. Are the legions going once again towards Rome? Shall we ever see them again? The answer has been put forward that more should be done to recruit reserve forces. I sincerely believe that we should pay a great deal of attention to that approach.
Redundancies will have to be faced because of the cut of 15,000 men. Let us not under-estimate the damage to morale which this will cause. We cannot turn recruiting on and off like a tap. That is a matter than has been proved over and over again. Why is the Army not to have an appeals procedure such as has been provided for the RAF? I know that in the Army there are possibilities of appealing to a higher authority, but why there is this difference between the RAF and the Army is not known to me. The 1272 RAF has a more elaborate and settled scheme for appeals against redundancy Why cannot the Army have such a system?
I was astonished that in the adequate but rather short statement which was made at the opening of the debate the Minister said nothing about the anti-tank position. That is a well-known gap in our defences. All that is said about it in the statement is that we shall have fewer helicopters. That is a point which gives one cause for a certain amount of misgiving, because helicopters are part of our anti-tank defences. Has a decision been made to order the French weapon or are there to be further delays?
Next, I turn to housing for ex-Servicemen. I was glad to hear the Under-Secretary of State retail the arrangements which are in force for ex-Service men or Service men buying houses for their retirement. I have no doubt that the arrangements are welcome and of some help, but there are a large number of Service men who do not know exactly where they want to live, or who do not want to buy a house for some other reason and wish to be council tenants. Even now—and this applies to a number of areas—they do not get a fair crack of the whip from the local councils.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), I think that Circular 54/75, issued by the Department of the Environment, is one of the wettest documents that I have read for some time. I do not know why we cannot have much more push with the local authorities. Why cannot we have some kind of points system based, for example, on length of service? I take it that the representative of the Defence Department who negotiated with the Department of the Environment did his best, but he might have put the screw on a little harder.
Finally, I turn to Simonstown. I think that the Minister was a little carried away by enthusiasm towards the end of his statement when he pointed out that it will not be very important if Simonstown goes because we have Singapore, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles to which we can put our ships for repair. I wonder whether those countries have been asked whether they want that sort of arrangement. I am certain that neither Singapore nor Sri Lanka 1273 would welcome warships calling in for repairs. They are neutral States, Commonwealth or not, and there would be political difficulties. As for the Seychelles, if the right hon. Gentleman believes that anything can be done to repair a ship in that area he must be living in the age of sail. I think that he will run on a reef.
I accept that there might be some possibility of doing something on Diego Garcia in due course. It would be interesting to know the position as regards Diego Garcia, but I do not suppose that the Minister will wish to tell us that. I would understand his reticence. That is the only place between here and Hong Kong where in future we shall be able to stop.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
It is a pleasure to be called to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). My hon. Friend was decorated as a young cavalry officer, he has been a staff officer, and as a politician he has had responsibility for defence matters. I followed what he said with interest and I would commend his remarks to the House.
I also wish to commend to the House the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). His was a significant contribution which will be well worth reading again tomorrow morning in Hansard. He listed the priorities as he saw them and I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments on those priorities. My hon. Friend had a number of interesting ideas to expound on the relationship of the European countries to the problems of their joint defence. I go along with the political framework which he outlined.
I wish to deal in this debate on a more mundane level, and to start by dealing with the state of the British Army of the Rhine. I was part of the group which visited Germany recently. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) has already mentioned our visit in his speech. I served in Germany 10 years ago. It was sad to discover that the decline in the British economy had had a considerable effect on our defence forces in Western Germany.
1274 The spirit of our Service men in Germany is magnificent. Their dedicated professionalism is an unseen example to many workers in this country. However, we saw on our visit a number of causes for concern. We visited one cavalry regiment that was equipped with the new Scorpion light armoured vehicle. We were amazed to be told that this new armoured car was not allowed to do more than 600–1,000 miles training in a year—an absurdly low figure. One particular division we visited had five-eighths of its unit away at the time. Although Northern Ireland is a magnificent training ground for young NCOs, there can be no doubt that BAOR's conventional and nuclear war training is suffering. This situation is not due only to Northern Ireland. The House should be aware that the British, alone of the NATO allies, are not carrying out training above brigade group level—in contrast to the position only a few years ago.
I tabled a Question on this subject on 6th May. The Department, knowing my interest in this matter, was kind enough to attach the Minister's replies to all the possible supplementary questions, had I sought to ask them. I realised that this was an important matter when I tabled the Question but, having read the answers to the three supplementary questions which I was expected to ask, I know what a good thing I was on. Let me read the last supplementary question which I was expected to ask the Minister:Does this mean that the training for brigade level and above is infrequent because units are not available in sufficient quantity?The reply I would have been given was as follows:It is not as frequent as we would wish, but this is really due to a combination of circumstances; availability of units and training areas and economic pressures. However, we still rely upon regular command post exercises throughout the year which concentrate on communications and staff procedures. These exercises entail fewer vehicles and in consequence less damage to the terrain which in turn enables BAOR to use common land rather than the confines of the training areas.The House will recognise that as Civil Service superior quality flannel, but it cannot cover the serious position in respect of training in BAOR.
While I was being shown the new Gazelle helicopter—by a young staff sergeant who is a qualified helicopter 1275 pilot as well as a parachute instructor, an example of the high calibre of today's Service men—I was told that a number of helicopters in his unit were grounded through lack of spares. Surely if BAOR is to deter, it must be ready to roll. The shortage of spares apparently is due to a lack of industrial capacity. I hope that the Minister will not insult us by referring again to the three-day working week. Perhaps in replying to the debate, the Minister can assure the House that BAOR has priority over commercial sales abroad—or is Britain's economic plight now such that we have to serve our customers before our soldiers?
For some reason the ammunition depot programme falls behind. Why is this so? What is being done about the situation? Many of my hon. Friends have touched on communications problems in BAOR. I wish to emphasise that the communications behind combat group level are a serious worry. The new range of sets is vital and must not be delayed.
It should be made clear to the House that brigade headquarters in Germany are being done away with for financial rather than for military reasons. It is nauseating that such a proposal is presented to us as if it is desired by soldiers on the ground rather than by civil servants in the Treasury. As one senior officer, a brigadier, but it to me, "If you have to commit hara-kiri, it is not bad way of doing it". That is how soldiers in BAOR see the situation. At present the tactical brigade area may be some 15 kilometres wide and 40 kilometres deep.
Mobile defence presents vivid difficulties of command and control. The problems for a divisional commander will be staggering and whether it is feasible to do away with this level of command is not known. We shall have to await this year's autumn exercises to see the true situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth said, surely it is foolish for the Government to announce this proposal before they have tried to discover whether it is practicable on the ground. A new and costly range of wireless sets will be required, and there will be five rather than three divisional headquarters.
Although it was encouraging to note the massive increased fire power and 1276 new levels of mechanisation, it cannot be said that all is well with our forces in Germany. Their reinforcement by T & AVR units becomes more and more difficult, bearing in mind the massive reductions facing the Royal Air Force. The fixed-wing element of the Royal Air Force transport fleet is to be reduced by 50 per cent.—from 115 to only 57 aircraft. Are the Government saying that an adequate alternative in the shape of air charter will always be available for all contingencies?
I returned from the Rhine Army with the fear that our defence of the central front was becoming an engrossing theoretical exercise rather than a practical possibility. I believe that there is need for an even closer integration of the Services if we are to achieve the best possible results with the minimum possible waste. The drive must come from the top. One suspects that that drive is faltering. There are still a number of activities which the Services could easily share. I refer to padres and chaplains, clerical, medical and PT staff—to name just a few. There is so much more to be done in respect of stores, transport and communications. I know that already much has been done. Let us hope that this evening we shall hear that much more is to be done in the near future.
What is the situation within the Army itself? I intervened in the Minister's opening speech to deal with this point. I believe that the RCT, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, REME, and parts of the Royal Engineers should be reorganised to form one large quartermasters corps similar to that in the United tates Army. I understand that the logistics regiment in the Parachute Brigade has been a success. The Minister boasted about the successes which have been achieved in reorganised administrative activities in the Army. I suggest that this is an important area, which has not been fully explored.
I should like to quote briefly from a letter written by Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister, to Her Majesty the Queen. Even in those days the question of integration was a major political problem. Mr. Macmillan wrote:When dealing with fighting men the most important factor of all is morale. The soldier is more interested in the regiment than he is in the Army; and the sailor's loyalty is to 1277 his ship and not to the Board of Admiralty The airman, as the youngest of the three Services, is perhaps even more anxious than his fighting comrades to identify himself with his own show, the squadron, or the wing, or the group. Somehow we have got to meet the two needs. We must unify to be efficient and avoid waste. And we must diversify to keep alive the spirit of the men.I commend those feelings to the Minister.
May I touch briefly on the question of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles? Surely one of the principal conclusions to be drawn from the last war in the Middle East is that relatively simple weapons used by the infantry and reserve troops can blunt the thrust of the fighter-bombers and tanks which have dominated the battlefield since the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. I am convinced that there is a need for more anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to compensate for the staggering superiority of the Warsaw Pact countries in tanks and aircraft. We want MILAN and many more of its young relations.
The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) briefly touched on urban guerrilla warfare. I believe that the question of urban political warfare should be studied in much greater detail by this House. I commend a recent pamphlet by my Front Bench colleague. Looking back, it is amazing to read of the reactions of certain members of the Labour Party to Brigadier Frank Kitson's book on low intensity operations. That was a thoughtful work by an experienced soldier. I recall their astonishing attitude when the Army was deployed at Heathrow for the first time. That is now accepted as a sensible provision.
There is scope for more formal training for the police. We must educate the public. We must tell them that future wars are more likely to be fought on street corners than from slit trenches. Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland constituencies will know how true that is.
I have put down Questions about intelligence in the United Kingdom. I suggest that we should not be too cautious about allowing Army intelligence personnel to have some say in intelligence matters in this country, especially as regards the IRA.
I should like to mention two factors concerning our hard-pressed troops in 1278 Northern Ireland. I visited a light infantry battalion in Londonderry during the Easter Recess. Those outside the House who criticise the younger generation should be allowed to see our troops in the streets of Londonderry and Belfast. I came across one major grouse. On leaving Germany the soldier loses his LOA because he is in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is unique. There the troops are handling a political situation of growing complexity. They are bound by endless and inevitable rules and regulations. They are unable to relax in safety. I recommend that a tax-free bounty should be payable on completion of their service in Northern Ireland.
I also refer to the arrangements for compensating our Service men and their dependants in Northern Ireland. The House, in my view correctly, has committed some of our country's fittest and finest young men to the streets of Belfast and Londonderry. The House has a special responsibility to make sure, if these young men suffer death or mutilation, that at least proper compensation is payable. The present instructions reflect no credit on Parliament.
As Britain sails further and further in to the inflationary storm, it seems to me that the Government have a clear responsibility to make sure that our defence capabilities are not washed overboard, either as a result of panic by some of the ship's officers or as a result of the ignorance and indifference of some members of the crew. In a dangerous world we must have government which deals in conciliation from a basis of strength.
§ 7.44 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) made a constructive speech. I found myself largely in agreement with much of what he said.
I apologise lest anyone thinks that I am being discourteous, in view of the fact that I have just entered the Chamber. I have been serving on the Committee dealing with financial affairs. This is the first time that I have ever walked in to the Chamber and caught Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye right away. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.
I wish to set my few remarks about the Army in the context of NATO. Most people will agree that the present strategy 1279 of the central front of NATO is widely considered to be inadequate. This arises because the flexible response has been undermined by the failure to increase the number of conventional forces available to the alliance.
It is clear to many of us that there is no European country in the Atlantic alliance that is prepared to provide the men on the scale required. Therefore I think that we should consider looking at the local strategy of NATO. Any change in the local strategy, whether away from, or towards, flexible response should take account of the new possibilities of increased mobility of military forces and increased conventional fire power. In my judgment NATO forces must continue to have the capacity to deploy, within a given period of time, forces which are strong and balanced enough to deter Soviet leaders from choosing any level of armed conflict. Therefore the structure of the British Army must remain substantially the same, subject to the ability to attract suitable recruits. That may not be easy. On present trends, by the late 1970s or the early 1980s an all-regular Army could be a thing of the past, although with the present rate of progress at MBFR this would not seem to be inevitable. Neverthless if we are faced with that situation we might have to consider a selective call-up. I do not raise that point in a dramatic way. I am speaking of the long term. I do not know what judgment we could make as to what constitutes the long term. I am thinking in terms of the next decade. Selective call-up may become necessary if we do not obtain the necessary recruits or if they are not forthcoming on the scale required.
The alternative may be to increase greatly the role of the TAVR. This might well be looked at. There is a great area here in which many young people might be attracted to military service without committing themselves for all time. I think that we should seriously look at the rôle of the TAVR to see whether, in the circumstances I am talking about, it cannot be greatly expanded. The absence of satisfactory financial inducements in attracting recruits would be a problem. I am directing my remarks not only in terms of the present financial stringency. I hope that as time goes on we shall 1280 leave those difficulties behind us and that there will be enough money available to expand on the lines I have suggested.
In the long term, given a more integrated European military community, it may well be that the United Kingdom might be expected to rationalise its components. That point must have been mentioned in the debate. Each country of the alliance duplicates many arrangements. It is tedious to refer to the areas of duplication.
The Eurocentric nature of the British defence policy raises the most profound issues. It is the duty of Parliament and Government to think these matters through. It may be felt that some of the subjects I have tentatively mentioned are worthy of further consideration.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
I, too, must apologise for not being present in the Chamber throughout the whole of the debate. I have attended the larger part of it. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) raised some most interesting points upon which I will touch later. I have been sitting for some time in the Public Gallery listening to the debate. The thing that strikes me is the extraordinarily open way in which we discuss these matters and—after reading the White Paper—the open way in which we publish information. We can find information about the RAF, the type of equipment and the deployment of squadrons and all the rest.
It makes me think on some occasions that we may be giving away more than we need to. Or does it perhaps reflect on the efficiency of the intelligence systems operating against us in that we know what they know? It shows that we are completely open in our attitude towards defence, whereas the Warsaw Pact countries take a different line. This is possibly a testimony to our stand in relation to aggression.
The most serious effect of the White Paper is in the long-term influence it will have on the morale of the Armed Forces. It affects not only those senior NCOs and officers who will be redundant as a result of the Government cuts, but also those who are in the middle of their career and begin to wonder about their future. They wonder whether they should soldier on to the end or whether they should pack it 1281 up when the going is good. When I was serving, in the period after the war, and we had these redundancy schemes, they affected not just those who were made redundant but those beneath them, and these men began to have serious doubts about whether it was worth while pursuing their career.
I come now to the issue of the abolition of brigades, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) has referred. He is one of the few hon. Members of this House who have recent experience of the Services. I understand that the reason for the abolition of brigades is that the strength of divisions is such that they are almost equivalent to a strong brigade. There is no great difference in changing the name, it is said. It is all very well to do that in peace time but it is quite different in a war-time situation. No study has been given to this question. No trial period has taken place.
My experience in armoured warfare was a long time ago in the Western Desert. I do not see how a divisional commander can control four or five armoured units at once. Certainly experience in the Arab-Israeli war in Sinai has proved this to be the case. It means that a great deal of the flexibility which a commander must have will be lost. It will put a lot of extra pressure on a commander, who will have plenty of other things to do. It is obvious that this has been done for reasons of economy and has nothing to do with tactics. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance that there will be a trial period and that this does not represent a final decision.
I travel to Northern Ireland quite frequently as part of my duties to this House. It is obvious to anyone who goes there that when the time eventually comes for the Army to be substantially withdrawn—and we all look forward to that time—it will be no good such a withdrawal taking place if there are no other trained security forces in the form of the police and a properly trained and expanded Ulster Defence Regiment to replace it. There are these rumours flying around about the Government's secret decision to withdraw from Northern Ireland if the Convention elections go wrong. I cannot believe that any responsible Government would simply leave the 1282 security situation as it is, without any preparations for the future.
There is an interesting point concerning the effect of service in Northern Ireland on the Army. Most people in the Army say that they would rather be doing a bit of proper service than training in Germany. This becomes rather muted as they come up to their fourth or fifth Northern Ireland tour. But it does give them a chance to see active service, which is why they joined the Army. While this may have an effect on recruiting—most soldiers will have to serve two or three tours in Northern Ireland—I wonder what the effects on recruiting would be if there was no service in Northern Ireland.
I hope that I will be in order in making one reference to Simonstown. This is in the context of a debate on the Army. I want to express the gratitude of thousands of soldiers who received hospitality in South Africa during the war, during the passage of their convoys around the Cape to the Middle East. We all owe a debt of gratitude not only to the people of South Africa but to the Government of that country at that time. It is curious that at a time when we read reports about the build-up of the Soviet Navy in the Indian Ocean and the reopening of the Suez Canal which will facilitate this build-up we should be taking a decision to deny ourselves the benefit of a firm base in that area so that we can show a small presence.
This is what runs through the White Paper. The most interesting part of it is the frightening description of the buildup in the armed forces of the Warsaw Pact countries. We read of the enormous strength of these forces. Yet we are cutting our forces. There is a terrible contradiction here.
It is important that we get across to the people the need for defence. I do not believe that we are doing this. This means that it is difficult to explain matters of defence policy to an unprepared public. This is particularly so with the young. The paradox is that because our Services are comprised of professionals they have become isolated. There is not that bridge which would be provided by a selective call-up. We have not this bridge. Also we have not the bridge of the TAVR, which has been greatly reduced. It is necessary for the Government to think 1283 about this matter and how they are to bring home to the people of this country, not just by recruiting advertisements in the daily papers, a proper understanding of our need for defence.
I hope that the Minister, who represents the Army and the interests of the Army, will say, when he replies, "So far and no further". The Army would like to hear a clear and unequivocal statement of this sort.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I have the honour to represent a constituency which is a garrison town and which is part of the London district. I shall confine my remarks under three headings—accommodation, standardisation, and how we shall deal with the reserve situation in this country.
Ever since I entered this House in 1959 I have consistently, together with other hon. Members, fought for married accommodation and better accommodation facilities for those who leave the Army. Along with many colleagues, I realised years ago that it is one of the secrets of recruitment. Most Service men, when they were young, did not really look too far ahead on joining the Services. At that time many of them were not married and did not realise that at the end of their service there would be acute difficulties in finding accommodation.
Nowadays men marry at a much younger age and the whole position has entirely changed, for the worse. All Governments, of whatever party, have made some advances. They have tried, as far as humanly possible, to make accommodation available for married families, wherever they are, and I believe this to be a very important point. But we are now in a very different situation. When a man leaves the Services it is virtually impossible for him to get any form of rented accommodation. It is just not available, and so he is faced with the difficulty of buying his house. I make no political point about this. I think the Government have moved some way—I mentioned this in the last debate—in their Circular No. 54, but I do not think it goes far enough.
I have had many cases in my own constituency of men leaving the Forces and trying to get on to council house 1284 lists. People who have been for many years on council house lists strongly resist anybody being put above them. I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that there would be resentment if a person who had been on a council list for 15 years found somebody being pushed in above him. But the councils, and those on waiting lists, must appreciate that these men have been serving overseas, and it has been difficult, if not impossible, for them to make any proper provision while they are in the Services. They have been at a permanent disadvantage vis-à-vis the ordinary citizen who has been living in this country all the time. They have been posted from one place to another, experiencing considerable difficulties.
I know that the Minister is sympathetic on this point. I do not think that Circular No. 54 goes far enough. There should be a system, when a man leaves the Army—especially now that we have redundancies and early retirements—whereby he is automatically entitled to get priority on a council list.
The difficulty with which the Government are faced is in deciding which council list it should be. Should it be the one in the place where the man was born, or where he has lived for most of his life, or where he is demobilised? In my own area it is virtually impossible to re-house everybody who has left the Guards Division. I am in sympathy with the Government on this sort of problem, but we really must go a bit further than we have so far in seeking a solution.
I have suggested in this House many times that more help should be given in the purchase of houses when men leave the Services. I am glad that this is now happening. It is a very economic way of doing it. I do not want to encroach on politics, but possibly it is one of the easiest ways of rehousing them, because they then have the opportunity of choosing to some extent where they want to go. At the same time this in no way disrupts the council house list, and this very real barrier is thereby overcome. I hope that we shall regard this just as a steppingstone to make it easier for men to get accommodation when they leave the Services. They do not wish to live with in-laws at the end of a long career. Failure to provide accommodation for 1285 men leaving the Services is a positive disincentive to recruitment, and always has been.
Turning to standardisation, which has been mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), I feel sure that all Members will agree that there are immense difficulties here. All Governments have been reluctant to go in for standardisation, but this is a very important matter. It is absolutely essential in NATO that we should have the same type of weapons and ammunition, so that they are interchangeable. If there is to be some form of limited warfare—we all hope there will not be—this question of standardisation, combined with communications, could be the most important feature of all. I am sure that many of us are very alarmed at the very low standard of communications. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) knows, in the last war it was difficult at the beginning even to get communication between air and ground. It took a long time, but eventually we had it. This whole question of communication is very important, because in the sort of war now envisaged, speed and communications are absolutely vital.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the question of brigade headquarters. I agree with him on this. It ought to be regarded as an experiment, for two reasons. First, we have to see how efficient it is when units work abroad under a much bigger command. The second and really vital point is this: when the Army expands, as it must in war, have we then far too big a division to command? The difficulty here is how to cut down brigade staff to a skeleton level that can be expanded rapidly when necessary in time of war. The Government must look more carefully at this and not just say that it is a very good way of economising.
Perhaps the Minister will say whether sufficient consultation has taken place with our NATO allies as to how this change of command would fit in with them, especially if there are groups of, say, three nations fighting together in a particular theatre. How would this alteration in our chain of command affect the efficiency of that force?
I should like to express my own personal feelings about Simonstown. I, too, 1286 passed through there and was well-treated. From every angle I find it very difficult to see a replacement anywhere in that part of the world which would give us the marvellous facilities provided in that base. I should also like to thank, as my hon. Friend did, all those who for so many years have served our Forces so well in Simonstown and South Africa.
But it is not a matter on which I should go any further, because it is a little wide of the subject.
I turn now to a matter to which I have referred many times before. I make no apology for doing so again. I am convinced that, as we reduce our Regular forces while maintaining an all-Regular Army, the importance of the reserves becomes greater and greater every year. I must declare a vested interest in this connection because I was a member of the Supplementary Reserve of the Blues for 17 years. I have always pressed for closer links between the reserves and the Regular Army. In my own regiment, we were lucky. We were treated as part of the regiment. We were allowed to take part in all the regiment's activities—service, ceremonial and overseas duties.
The Government have now to ask themselves, if we have a declining Regular Army, as we have, if it is possible that we shall find recruitment difficult. The day must come when we have to bring our forces in Europe up to strength. Provision must be made for that eventuality. I am convinced that a lot of men would like to join the Reserve if they realised how much they could enjoy it and give service to the country. I understand that one of the problems with TAVR is that of employers. It is easy for the big firm to release an employee for two weeks. However, the small firm with a limited number of employees may find it difficult. I do not believe it is impossible, however. I hope that what I say will not be treated in the wrong way by the Press, but it may be that we shall have to make some form of TAVR or alternative service to the community compulsory. I should prefer to see that than a return to National Service. If that were done, it would put all employers on the same footing and would not hear hard on the smaller firm which at present finds it difficult to release its men.
1287 One of the features of the TAVR or of any reserve force is that men like to go abroad with the men with whom they serve in their own units. This is part of the enjoyment of serving abroad. Men like to be able to serve alongside their friends. It means that this is a matter where the Government may have to lean slightly heavily on employers in order to get what they want.
If we are to rely on an all-Regular Army, we shall have a very difficult time ahead of us. If we have to maintain, as we must, our NATO forces and, we hope, for a limited period our forces in Northern Ireland, we shall be hard-pressed. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) referred to the possibility of compulsory service. This may be necessary. But I should prefer to see as an alternative some form of compulsory TAVR emergency reserve.
We should make sure that members of such a reserve are given adequate training and not just a week or fortnight a year and one drill a week. They should be given a month a year, and they should be trained abroad in using modern equipment which is changing constantly so that they are equipped and ready to take their places in the event of an emergency.
We are all worried about the size of the conventional forces at our disposal, and in my opinion it is essential that we take two important steps in this situation. First, we must increase the size of the reserves in all our forces. We are discussing the Army today, but I submit that this applie sto all the Services. Secondly, we ought to think much more carefully of co-operation between the military and the civil organisations. No one in this country wants to see private armies. We want to see co-operation of the kind that we saw during the Heathrow operation, which I myself witnessed. There are situations where the Army and the civilian forces can operate together without anyone believing that we are moving to some form of military rule. They have to share equipment, wirelesses and information, and they have to be able to train and to work together. Drill halls all over the country could be used for these purposes.
I hope that it will not be regarded as abnormal to see civilians and soldiers 1288 working together, remembering always that we are a democratic country but that there could be times when it became necessary for the Army to help in situations such as Heathrow, although never allowing ourselves to have a military force which was part and parcel of the police force. The two should be divorced but capable of working together under parliamentary control. There should be no need for private armies in the country.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
I had not intended to intervene in this debate. I was merely holding a watching brief in case any of the "troops out" brigade came in to reiterate their unfounded allegations about Northern Ireland, in which event we might have had to correct the impression that they gave. It is surprising that there is none of them here to make the case that they argue so often.
It has been a pleasure for me and my colleagues to listen to the debate. The references which have been made to Northern Ireland have been very considered and carefully worded. They begin to show an understanding that we have been hoping to see for a long time.
I wish to pay a brief tribute to the Army in Northern Ireland. I am one of those who regretted the necessity to bring the Army into the conflict in Northern Ireland in 1969 and to maintain troops there for the past six years. This House made that decision. It destroyed the means whereby we could have handled the situation ourselves, and British soldiers have had to take the consequences since. The tragedy is that more than 200 young Britons have had to die in the streets of Northern Ireland over the past five or six years. I believe that that could have been avoided.
The Army, like the politicians and the media men, have, over the years of their stay in Northern Ireland, become far more sensitive to and appreciative of the realities of the situation there. I pay tribute to their courage, their forbearance and their courtesy in situations where few of us as politicians could have shown those qualities.
I speak as one who comes from a constituency and who lives in an area in which I know soldiers better than most 1289 people here. We rub shoulders with them when we do our shopping. They make their presence known when we go out for a drive, and we receive invitations to cocktails with their officers from time to time. There are very few facets of life in Northern Ireland which do not bring us into some contact with the military. It is a credit to them and also to the general population in Northern Ireland that they have managed to evolve a relationship which means that they can live together in harmony in a situation which frequently brings about circumstances where conflict is almost inevitable.
I am not saying that there is not friction and that sometimes there is not bad feeling. That occurs between the Army and all sections of the community in Northern Ireland and is almost inevitable. However, certainly those occasions are in the minority.
I am here to pay tribute to and to thank the Army on behalf of myself, my colleagues and my constituents. I hope that it will not be too long before we are able to reduce the Army in Northern Ireland to the level it was 10 years ago. I detected in the remarks of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) that there has been a reduction over the past year or so of 3,000 to 4,000 men, which is a 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. reduction.
However, we should be foolish to believe that we are in anything other than a phoney situation. This is a phoney cease-fire. Thank goodness that the Army realises this and that its vigilance is as tight as ever. It was shown less than two weeks ago in an incident in my constituency at Bessbrook where a routine Army patrol, after three or four months of doing this routine work, could well have missed the opportunity it had to apprehend an IRA terrorist. It shot dead one of the bombers. At the man's burial the oration was given by the first man to be excluded from Britain, Brendan Magill, who declared that the bomber had died on active service.
Whatever other sort of cease-fire exists in other parts of Northern Ireland, there is no genuine, sustained cease-fire in Armagh, because a month before the death of that young terrorist the IRA had blown up a patrol of the UDR with a land mine at Whitecross, which resulted 1290 in severe injuries to part-time men who were carrying out their duty to their country.
I wish to pay tribute to that other section of the Army in Northern Ireland; namely, our own home-grown army, the Ulster Defence Regiment. Although we have to appreciate and understand the difficulties under which the Regular Army operates, we have to realise that the majority of members of the Ulster Defence Regiment do a full day's work, then come home, snatch a quick bite of food, go straight out and perhaps do four hours', six hours' or eight hours' duty, which brings them through to the early hours of the morning; then return home, snatch a few hours sleep and go back to work the next day. The amount of time and effort that these part-time soldiers put into their work on behalf of the community is not fully appreciated. I pay tribute to their efforts.
I genuinely and honestly have no idea who was responsible for the raid on the UDR depot at Magherafeld last night which resulted in a terrorist organisation acquiring about 140 weapons. In a UDR depot in my constituency on one occasion during the past 12 months the guards were deprived of their rifles and told to guard it with their revolvers. That decision was taken by a Regular full-time officer who was not a Northern Irishman, but was one of the officers who had been seconded to that battalion. That man should have had time to adjust to the situation which existed in Northern Ireland, but he had said to the guards "You do not require rifles or submachine guns; guard it with your pistols." I had to telephone him at Ballykinler, where he was at camp, and insist that these men had adequate weapons to protect their depot before any action was taken.
It is very easy to criticise the guards in the depot that was held up and robbed last night, but before doing so we should look much more closely at the circumstances surrounding the whole incident.
In opening the debate the Under-Secretary said that the Army was concentrating its patrols on the sectarian interface. If, as I believe, it is a phoney cease-fire that exists in Northern Ireland now, I hope that the Army will not be patrolling only along the sectarian interface but also along the southern borders 1291 of my constituency and the border areas around Jonesborough, Forkhill, Crossmaglen, Newtown Hamilton, Keady and Middletown—all the areas in which it is well known that the running of arms and ammunition continues. I should like an assurance that in dealing with the sectarian problem, which I do not underestimate for a moment, the troops will not be drawn from those areas and concentrated along the sectarian interface in Belfast. Every effort must be made to maintain the vigilance of the troops, a vigilance similar to that shown by the routine patrol in Bessbrook that I have mentioned. If this can be achieved we shall be in a better position to face the situation which will develop in the months ahead.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)
I shall not follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) in discussing the very deep problems in Northern Ireland. I make only one observation thereon. If over the recent past we have had what the hon. Gentleman describes as a phoney cease-fire, there are many hon. Members who would have wished that we could have had a phoney cease-fire over a much longer period, because many lives have been saved during this time.
A question was raised about Service men and accommodation. It is a very serious point. If we have to have an Army, it is essential that it be given the right kind of conditions. Many of us on the Government side of the House think that the time is ripe for the Armed Forces to organise within a trade union. I believe that Clive Jenkins could make a first-rate job of organising the troops and, indeed, the officers, to get far better conditions than they have at present.
On the other hand, I could not go along with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) that resources ought to be devoted to resurrecting some kind of voluntary reserve army. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman must live in a totally different world from the one in which I live. I am afraid that I see a number of nuclear Powers facing each other daily with the threat of wiping out the whole of civilisation. To suggest 1292 that we should spend money on having people who may be able to tell the few remaining citizens what kind of brown paper to put in their windows after the hydrogen holocaust is in the realms of "Dad's Army". It is funny on the box, but I cannot take it seriously.
Several hon. Members have spoken of the need to get across to the people the amount that we are spending now. We know that many Opposition Members are demanding increases in defence expenditure. The need for defence expenditure seems to be their theme. However, many people in the Labour movement are bitterly disappointed with the whole approach of the present Government to defence policy.
While in Opposition we have hammered out manifestos based upon an assessment that we could make a real cut in defence expenditure. But what is the situation? We are spending today £3,700 million, rising to £3,800 million over the next four or five years, in real terms. But we must take into account the level of inflation, of 10 per cent., 18 per cent., 25 per cent.—you name it. When one converts these figures into current expenditure and takes account of inflation, one appreciates that these are massive figures.
Many Labour Members and many people in the Labour movement have not been taken in by these phoney cuts that the Cabinet, or certain members of it have announced. These cuts go nowhere near the kind of policy we advocated in our manifesto. Although I have not been in this House for very long, I do not think I have ever heard anyone indicate, as it should be indicated, that this defence expenditure is one of the main inflationary generators in our society, when we consider that over the next four or five years we shall be spending roughly £20,000 million on defence. What are we spending it on? Not on products which go back to those who make profits, wages or salaries in the defence industries. None of these things are consumer durables. We do not say, at the end of the day, "Let us give people a tank or an obsolute Bren-gun carrier to put in their front garden."
Clearly, the moneys we spend on defence are one of the most important influences in terms of inflation in our economy. I repeat that we intend to spend 1293 £20,000 million—I say "spend"; I should say "we intend to waste" £20,000 million—worth of our economic resources over the next five years. It is not simply the inflationary effects. We are cutting back in every other direction. British industry is short of money for capital investment, on which the future economic prosperity of this country depends.
It would seem that the National Enterprise Board is to be starved of funds. We are cutting back expenditure on housing, on education and on the social services over the next four or five years. Yet we can find £20,000 million to spend on defence. In addition to its effect on the domesitc economy, it has for decades, at least since the end of the last war, had an effect on our balance of payments. If one looks at the latest balance of payments details it can be seen that year after year we have been spending from £200 million to £400 million a year in hard-earned foreign currency on defence expenditure overseas. At a time when Western Germany was sitting, as she still is, on large gold and dollar reserves and with a healthy balance of payments, we were paying £120 million worth of hard-earned foreign currency to keep British troops in Germany.
How ludicrous can a strategy be in those terms? In many years over the period 1963 to 1973 for which figures are available, the deficit on our military spending account was greater than our balance of trade deficit, but because of that balance of trade deficit we experienced stop-go policies and a cut-back in capital investment and there was a build-up in the lack of productive potential in British industry which is the legacy that this Government have now inherited.
I make once again an earnest appeal, an urgent appeal, to those members of the Cabinet who make these decisions to think again on this whole question of defence expenditure. It is inflationary. It is a drain on the balance of payments. It has meant, and will continue to mean, a cut-back in the kind of provision we were elected to give the British people in terms of housing, education, social services and the rest.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
One of the advantages of a fairly relaxed parliamentary occasion such as this is that one 1294 has a little time to defer to hon. Members in other parts of the House whose opinions no doubt are as sincerely held as one's own. It might be argued that there would not be much point in coming here if we all agreed about everything but I am bound to say I very strongly disagree with the opinions stated by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ron Thomas). The best way to refute what he has said is to paraphrase the words of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, after all—whether we like it or not—is responsible for the allocation of national resources under this Government, when he asked: "What is the good of all these socially desirable objectives, which we all wish to see, if we end up as a pile of cinders?"
Although I spent 33 years in a uniform of a different colour I want to spend a few minutes talking about the Army, if only to remain in order with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I profess my absolutely unbounded admiration for the Army and I believe that it has an enormous advantage over the other two Services in the form of the regimental system, which runs like a golden thread through the Army from a father to a son. I want, too, to express great admiration for the work done by the soldiers in Northern Ireland. When a unit goes to Northern Ireland for the first time one can imagine a sergeant coming into the barrack room and saying, "Now, boys, it is for real. Put away your toys". It must be exciting and stimulating for a young man to be sent there and to get down to the realities of soldiering. However, it cannot be very funny when the sergeant comes in for the sixth, seventh, or eighth time and breaks the news that the unit is returning to Northern Ireland yet again.
This problem has gone on for a very long time. The days when it was "better to incur a slight reprimand than perform an unpleasant duty" have gone. The Army now is intensely professional. Anyone who has been to Northern Ireland on a private visit or with a parliamentary delegation to see the troops there, whatever his previous views, cannot fail to be immensely impressed and proud of what our young men are doing there.
The Under-Secretary is the man responsible, and I wonder whether he is truly satisfied with the living conditions of our 1295 troops in Northern Ireland. I credit him completely with wanting to do all he can on this score. I noted what he said earlier about television for the troops in Germany, and so on. I have not been to Northern Ireland for some months, but when I was there last I saw units which were on their seventh or eighth tours living in disused factories with insufficient lavatories, with water all over the place. Into these appalling conditions came the men off patrol, dropping, exhausted, on to their camp beds and sleeping where they lay with their boots on until being shaken to go out on patrol again. They sleep in bunks piled on top of one another. These are conditions which the military understand when on active service, but the situation in Northern Ireland has existed for a long time. I am not happy that either my Government or this Government have grasped the nettle and, realising that the troops will be there for a long time yet, gone all out to make living conditions satisfactory for the men.
I take the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) about compensation for casualties. There is a great anomaly here, and I hope the Under-Secretary will deal with the comparative compensation situation between military and civilian casualties which occur in the course of the fighting. When I was in Northern Ireland I came across one regiment which, like many others, had become used to the conditions and in which the men thought they were doing a good job. They thought they had got the hang of it, and their corporals, who were in charge of the patrols, were highly professional. I think they had picked up seven suspects one weekend. Those suspects were men on the wanted list, and when they appeared in front of the commissioners five out of the seven were immediately set free. The troops must think to themselves "What is the good of our staying up all night and risking life and limb to go out and pick up these people, if they are immediately let out of the bag again?"
I turn to pay. Perhaps for the first time in centuries the pay of Service men is reasonable. It is certainly not lavish, but it is reasonable. However, pensions are 1296 not reasonable. If one goes into messes and talks to the senior NCOs—the stalwarts of the Army and the regiments—one gets a very strong feeling that they want better retirement conditions and pensions rather than more pay immediately.
There are anomalies affecting widows, including war widows. Widows of soldiers who were discharged before September 1950 receive no pension. Another serious anomaly is that widows of officers who marry after retirement receive no pension. Many men give their lives to the Service. They are very dedicated to this special way of life. It is not remarkable if they regard their service—as many men do—as their family and their home and if a disproportionate number wait until they are retired before they get married. By their service, they have earned some security for their wives. It is a great anomaly that pensions should not be payable to women whose husbands married them after retiring from the Service.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
My hon. Friend has made an important point, and I hope that the Minister will specifically say that he is looking into this anomaly, which other hon. Members, apart from myself, have raised.
Some Service debates provide opportunity for small constituency axes to be ground. I should like to put to the Minister an individual case of a very elderly major in my constituency. He lives in Andover, and his name is Major Thorne. He is the holder of the Military Cross. I have an enormous file of correspondence between him and various departments of Whitehall. In summary, he has no retirement pension, or an absolutely minimal one. When he left the Army he lived in Spain for some years. The clerk at the post office where he inquired before he left the country told him that he was under no obligation to pay contributions while abroad, but could resume doing so when he returned. Because of his wife's health he stayed 1297 abroad for a number of years. He has now returned to this country and is absoluterly baffled and frustrated by correspondence. So, incidentally, am I, by my correspondence on his behalf. Will the Minister undertake, if I write to him giving a summary of this Army officer's case, to take a fresh look at the matter on this man's behalf?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles
I am grateful for that undertaking. From the point of view of sheer expediency the Government must look after old soldiers as well as serving soldiers, because one of the glories of the Army is that old soldiers, whether they be officers or in the ranks, put their sons and nephews into their regiment to follow them in the Service of their choice. It is both a matter of justice and expediency that they should be looked after.
I should like to say a word about the TAVR. I am unhappy that we lack an adequate home defence force. I understand that various chief constables have said that they have contingency plans, not only wartime plans but plans to deal with civil disasters, which are not worth the paper they are written on. They are put into the chief constable's safe, but they do not make sense because there are not the men on the ground to implement them.
I believe that successive Governments, including the Conservative Government, have not taken seriously enough the matter of producing a home defence force. Civil Defence has been virtually abolished. That was a great mistake, squandering much volunteer effort. One of the lessons of the past is that one cannot foresee exactly what disasters, military or civil, will come.
The country is bare of men who, without necessarily having had up-to-date military training, have known discipline—steady men, the sort of men who could deal with a situation such as that in the United States when a well-known film actor made such a powerful broadcast saying that the Martians had landed that half the population of New York panicked and ran screaming into the countryside. At a time of international tension, such a scenario could be envisaged. We need people who can deal 1298 with any situation in a common-sense way—and they need mobility. They must be provided with Land Rovers and means of communication.
On a wider canvas, I must say that I am not in the least happy about the Government's defence policy as a whole. They say that the linchpin of the policy is NATO, and I agree. But NATO does not consist only of the flat plains of Europe. If any of us were sitting in the Kremlin and decided to go get those people in the West, the last thing we would do would be to order a big army to go marching left, right, left into the plains. Instead, we would go for the flanks—the northern flank, the Mediterranean flank, or the Cape route, which after all, is a flank of NATO.
The British have usually been wrong when they have found themselves keeping a large standing army in Central Europe. To do so is a result of a fundamental misunderstanding. The best contribution the British nation can make to NATO, to the defence of the West, is to put a greater emphasis on maritime strategy rather than to pin everything on keeping a political army on the central front in Europe.
I think that the announcement earlier today about the Simonstown Agreement, in reply to a Private Notice Question, was a catastrophic mistake by the Government. The Minister of State for Defence spoke of balance of advantage, but he was not able to answer questions from the Opposition showing where the advantage lay in abrograting the agreement. The Cape route remains of the utmost importance to Britain, NATO and the free world. About 100 merchant ships go round the Cape every day of the year, including tankers carrying 500,000 tons of oil to the West, without which the armies of NATO would be useless. The South African Navy and Air Force maintain effective surveillance of the route, including an impressive intelligence plot in their new combined maritime headquarters.
Is the Minister happy that the military defence intelligence arrangements are satisfactory round the world, given the enormous withdrawals that the Government's policy has encompassed? I have been in military intelligence and I cannot see how intelligence arrangements. 1299 as I used to know them, can be satisfactorily maintained, given our withdrawals. Perhaps the Minister will say a word about that.
Any schoolboy's atlas shows the importance of the Cape route. The Simonstown Agreement was admittedly very loosely worded. If Mr. Speaker were in the Chair, I should say that a great Foreign Secretary of the past signed it on behalf of Britain. Under that agreement Britain had a clear responsibility to sell to South Africa the ships, aircraft and equipment needed for continued surveillance, in exchange for facilities for Her Majesty's ships in Simonstown. The truth of the matter is that South Africa has fulfilled her side of this gentleman's agreement and Britain has not.
Britain has now lost the opportunity to supply South Africa with equipment, and that valuable export opportunity will go to others. Surely we cannot expect South Africa to be willing to continue her other trade with Britain. Britain has enjoyed facilities in Simonstown since 1795—for nearly two centuries. For generations the officers and men of the ships of the Royal Navy have been shown wonderful kindness and hospitality in South African ports, and it is a pity that the Minister of State did not refer to that. Scores of thousands of British troops—the soldiers we are talking about in this debate—from wartime convoys bound for the Middle East and the Far East have been similarly welcomed by South African individuals and the South African Government. To throw away all this good will is sadness and madness, and only Britain's enemies will rejoice.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) in paying tribute to the British Army in Northern Ireland. I know many regimental commanders, company commanders and men of the ranks. I have lunched with them and entertained them in my home. I have the highest admiration for the Army in Northern Ireland.
In his thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) questioned some of the methods of interrogation used by the Army in Northern Ireland. I should like the House to con- 1300 sider the methods used by the Army in interrogation and intelligence in the context of a car being blown to smithereens, a three-year-old child likewise being blown to smithereens and her father being mutilated for life and lying critically ill in hospital. We must remember that officers and men of the British Army are human beings like ourselves. They have fathers, mothers, wives and sweethearts. When they go to investigate an incident such as the one I have described their feelings must be aroused by what they see. We should not be too squeamish about the methods of interrogation used on people who are responsible for incidents like that, people who are sub-human. I wonder what methods we ourselves would use in interrogating men who drive a fast car and spray a queue of people with machine-gun fire? We agree that the Army is doing a good job in seeking to put down this terrible scourge that has come upon Northern Ireland during the past six years.
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) mentioned the Army's morale. In no other theatre of operations in recent years has the British Army been subject to more intimidation than in Northern Ireland, and in no other theatre of operations has its morale been attacked in greater degree. As a result of many considerations, including political expediency, many things have taken place which we feel have been entirely wrong.
1 must mention one scene that I witnessed. Maybe I have mentioned this matter before in the House but I think it bears repeating. I had occasion to the leave the Royal Victoria Hospital for a few minutes while waiting for a friend who was under treatment. I was in time to see an IRA funeral coming up the Falls Road, complete with coffin and tricolour. There was the marching of members of the IRA youth organisations and all the paraphernalia attached to the occasion. Rather foolishly, I followed the procession into Milltown Cemetery. If I had been recognised I might have been in for some trouble. When the coffin was lowered into the grave six men stepped forward with Armalite rifles and fired a volley into the sky. I knew that 150 yards away there was a British Army post at the corner of a street carrying the name, of all names, Cambrai Street. Cambrai 1301 was a well-known place in the 1914–18 war. There they were, complete with two scout cars and a contingent of British soldiers. They did not move one yard.
When I made inquiries afterwards—I asked why they did not move to arrest the men with the rifles—I was told that they contacted brigade headquarters and were told to stay where they were as it was not expedient for them to interfere. Was it not a terrible thing that such restraint was placed upon the Army when we bear in mind that perhaps those very rifles, before that night was out, were used to shoot dead British soldiers upon the streets of Belfast? Why should such a restraint be placed upon the Army? The soldiers are trained and they were sent to Belfast to carry out a job—namely, to put down terrorism and to fight a guerrilla war. However, that restraint was placed upon them.
Likewise there was an incident at Strabane when Long Kesh was burned by the rebels who were confined within its walls by rebels in various organisations throughout Northern Ireland who were in sympathy with the rebellion. On a through-road in Strabane that led to Londonderry I witnessed young teenage schoolboy thugs sitting upon the ground and blocking the traffic. They were holding the whole area to ransom. The Army and the police, who were a few yards away, were not allowed to interfere.
When I contacted the noble Lord who has a measure of responsibility in Northern Ireland, he blandly told me "Leave them alone and they will go away." I said "My Lord, they have been going away for six years, but they have not gone yet." The British Army had to stand by and watch the situation that I have described. When I spoke to the major who was in charge of the company handling the Strabane area, he said "Mr. Dunlop, we are trained to do the job. We have the equipment, the men and the will, but we are not allowed to do the job." No greater constraint could be placed upon the morale of any Army than that kind of political expediency.
The other night I saw on television how the London police deal with the long-haired layabouts who hold up the traffic on the Queen's Highway. The London police soon make sure that they get them out of the way and leave the 1302 highway clear. Why should not that apply to the Queen's Highway in Northern Ireland? Many law-abiding people wanted to go about their business and they found their way to Londonderry blocked. The Army had to use the expedient of directing the traffic into the Republic. That traffic had to take a diversion of approximately 25 miles to get from one side of Strabane to the other. What a ridiculous situation! That is the kind of restraint that was placed upon the British Army and perhaps is still being imposed. No wonder the General Officer Commanding spoke to General King in the way he did. The GOC is one of the best and ablest commanders we have ever had in Northern Ireland.
I wish to conclude by paying tribute to the British Army for the service which it is rendering to the Queen's subjects in Northern Ireland.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I was in the Services as a sailor, although I did not achieve the rank gained by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). Nevertheless, that did not reduce the rôle I played in that period of my life.
I shall not take up the arguments deployed by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) because in the short time at our disposal I do not believe it would be justified to seek to over-simplify the problems of Northern Ireland. I believe that such a course would be highly dangerous and would make no contribution towards solving the problems that exist there.
In the few minutes at my disposal I wish to mention a few points which I hope the Minister will take into account. I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) about the conditions in the present Army. I certainly support the idea that now that the United Kingdom has decided to remain in the EEC some degree of harmonisation should take place—in this instance in terms of trade union membership in the Armed Forces. In some EEC countries it is permitted for members of the Army to be trade union members. I believe that members of the forces are entitled to take advantage of the same conditions—and for greater 1303 democracy, a matter now being dealt with by the House in regard to industry—as have been won by those in industry. Therefore, I wish to express support for that general idea.
It is most important to consider the rôle of the Army in present circumstances in the ever-changing world about us. It has been said by other speakers that the Army of the future will be geared more to internal strife in nation States than in actions abroad involving imperial or colonial wars. Therefore, we must now carefully examine the Army's rôle in this new situation. Its rôle must be geared to what happens in regard to changing responsibilities from a political, military and economic point of view.
I also wish to consider the defence cuts, which I believe should be seen against a background of a cogent policy in relation to the way in which we look at economic and industrial power, and particularly at the question of turning the manufacture of arms into more peaceful and useful purposes. It is wrong merely to sloganise about defence cuts. We must remember that such cuts may immediately result in unemployment. At the same time I do not believe that the Government have looked fully at the overall policy of defence cuts in regard to their effect on job opportunities, employment and the changing pattern of industry which will be necessary to achieve such cuts, embracing growth in other sectors in terms of industrial retraining to cope with those who are thrown out of employment. I would ask the Minister to speak with his hon. and right hon. Friends on this matter.
In some situations the Army can play a useful rôle in crisis situations and disasters. However, I hope that there will be no movement to weld the police and the Army so that we are unable to determined where the responsibilities of both forces begin and end. That would be dangerous. It would fudge over the functions of the Army and the police.
I have raised points which I think are important. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer one or two of them.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I hope that the hon. Member 1304 for Liverpool, Gaston (Mr. Loyden), who has commented on the relationship between defence expenditure and industrial prosperity, will have a word with the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas), who delivered a 10-minute condemnation of all defence expenditure. Many of his constituents produce military engines at Rolls-Royce and at Filton, which is next door to his constituency, there is a long history of defence expenditure. I hope that the Bristol Evening Post carries a report of the hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ Mr. Ron Thomas
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the only way in which we can provide these highly skilled workers in the Bristol aircraft factories with employment is by making weapons of destruction?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I think that the hon. Gentleman's constituents will probably draw their own conclusions from what he said.
Today we are debating the Army. It would be right to start by mentioning briefly the Army's biggest single commitment, Ulster. We have now had a British Army presence on an emergency basis in Ulster for six years. It is easy for hon. Members to pay tributes in these debates. This afternoon tributes were paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather), the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). Those tributes were genuine. They were not hollow tributes. Any hon. Member who has had the privilege of seeing our troops in Ulster appreciates what they are doing, how they have been doing it and the restraints under which they have been operating.
The Minister made an important point when he explained the difficulties under which the Army operates when it is constrained by its political masters, although for sensible reasons. Nevertheless there is a restraint.
When action is at its thinnest life is at its most tedious and boring. Although the dangers may have been fractionally less during the past few months, life has been as difficult as ever for our forces in Ulster. All Members of Parliament would 1305 wish to pay proper tributes to the Army for the way it has behaved. I include in that tribute the Ulster Defence Regiment. The hon. Member for Armagh made the point that these people come from a hard day's work and then do a boring job. There are few more boring jobs in the military sphere than guarding vulnerable points. Long hours guarding some post is the lot of the UDR, and it is done cheerfully and sometimes at a cost in terms of lives.
A number of Labour Members have spoken of the Conservative defence cuts in the autumn of 1973. I will not go into a historical review of what Governments have and have not done. The fact remains that real expenditure on defence between 1970 and 1974 was increased by the then Conservative Government. It is not true to suggest that the defence cuts of autumn 1973 represented any more than taking a slice out of an already increased defence budget.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) mentioned that I would try to deal at some length with the question of reserves. I ought to declare an interest as a serving officer in the TAVR. I join the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) in regretting the abolition of a number of cadres. A number of famous regimental names have disappeared. After all, there were only a few officers and men keeping together a regimental tradition. They have been peremptorily abolished, and that is a pity.
I do not believe that the economies have made much difference. Who knows whether one day those bases for re-forming a unit will not be badly needed? At a time when the Army is being reduced in numbers, and we believe in total effectiveness, we should be increasing our reserves in numbers, armament and resources. If ever there is an occasion for strengthening a second line it must be when the front line is becoming weaker.
Sadly the TAVR is falling in numbers. In 1972 there were 59,500. In 1975 the figure had fallen to 53,900. The last figure includes 600 Regular reservists. There are a number of reasons for this, many of them obvious. I suspect that this stems partly from decisions made long ago to close drill halls, to shut down units and to restrict the number of TAVR recruiting centres. There is substantial evidence that 1306 there is a limit in any catchment area to the number of volunteers for Territorial Army duty. If there is a restricted number of drill halls there will inevitably be a restricted number of men.
Still on the subject of TAVR recruiting, I turn, not for the first time, to the amount of money spent on advertising the TAVR as opposed to the amount spent on advertising the Regular Army. The amount spent on the TAVR is insignificant. Further, what is spent is badly used. I hope that when the Minister is looking at the recruiting figures for the TAVR he will bear that comment in mind.
I welcome the statement that the relationship between the Regular Army and the TAVR are to be strengthened. I believe that the Minister was referring to training, liaison and co-operation in the field. I want him to go further and to see Regular officers and Regular senior NCOs doing TAVR duty as part of their careers. Far too few Regular officers have experienced life in the TAVR. I have found that they always come with pre-conceived ideas of how we operate. That idea quickly changes, and they nearly always go away wiser after their service.
But I think there has grown up a certain myth that TAVR service is not necessarily a good chit in an officer's career. While I would not imply that the reverse was absolutely true, I hope that particularly officers destined for higher ranks will be found serving at least a year with a TAVR unit. After all, there are now a considerable number of Regular jobs with the TAVR, and it helps towards understanding. I think I am right in saying that there was not a single member of the Army Board in 1965, when a Labour Government reviewed the TAVR, who had had any experience of it in a serving capacity. I believe that that failure did a great deal of damage, but I have no wish to go back over historical ground.
The most sensational aspect of the White Paper in respect of the reserves is the statement that the time available for reserves, both Regulars and Territorials, to get to their units on the Continent is to be reduced by 30 per cent.—an astonishing and most commendable figure. Naturally, from this side we are intrigued as to how this is to be carried out. I 1307 cannot believe that we are going to get a 30 per cent. reduction in political decision time. That certainly has not been a feature of this Government. I cannot believe that, with the abolition of something like half RAF Transport Command, they are going to carry out this greatly increased rapid transit to the Continent. I should like the Minister to say on what he bases this figure, when at the present time I believe I am right in saying the Services are working on seven days. Is he really suggesting that from mobilisation to being in their trenches NATO reservists will take only four days? That is the effect of a 30 per cent. reduction. Perhaps it is a little longer than seven days, but it will make a very startling difference. I hope he will explain what is meant.
The cost of TAVR is about a fraction of the total cost of our defence budget. As the House will know, the TAVR is divided into two sections—the units destined for a NATO rôle and the units destined for the United Kingdom Land Forces in aid of the civil power and other domestic chores. In the case of NATO units, I think it is fair to say that they are as healthy as the TA has ever been. They are reasonably recruited in most cases, although not well enough. They have the normal grumbles about equipment, but on the whole these are not so different from the grumbles of the Regular Army—restrictions on mileage, training areas, and other problems with which I shall be dealing shortly.
My complaint lies over the UKLF TAVR, because these are Cindcrellas. They are those units which were formed in the early days of the last Conservative Government to provide a domestic force in aid of the civil power, recruiting people who were older or younger, recruiting people who did not want the full NATO commitment but were still willing to join an organised body of men with transport, personal weapons and a chain of command.
What has happened? The first thing that happened was that the Ulster crisis took much of their equipment. For the first year or two they did not receive equipment—I admit under a Conservative Government. They were without adequate radios, adequate Land Rovers and other transport facilities. But it is 1308 not good enough, six years after the Ulster emergency started, still to claim that all the military resources have to go there. Nobody wants sophisticated weapons. Nobody wants the latest fully equipped Land Rovers. This is a question of getting about, communicating, and giving these chaps a chance to train together and to train voluntarily.
Among their complaints they list the fact that they have an inadequate travel allowance to get to the reduced number of drill halls, that there are too few drill halls and that there is severe competition in certain areas with NATO units which pay more, which have more training time and which have a more glamorous rôle. They complain about poor vehicles and the fact that there are far too few of them. It is not good enough to pretend that a mini-bus is an adequate substitute for three or four Land Rovers. Soldiers do not see it in that light. Radios are inadequate both in number and in quality. I hesitate to mention pay, because this sort of soldier does not perform his duty for money. But there is no doubt that pay and conditions are minimal and barely cover the cost of attending drill nights, let alone of buying a drink in the bar afterwards. One way of dealing with this problem would be to count drill nights as training days.
After the TAVR review is completed, I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to take a personal interest in the conditions of these men, perhaps by visiting a camp or two to see what they have to say.
What about boys who come out of the cadet force at 16 and then are missed for a vital year before they can be recruited at the age of 17? Surely something could be done to help a continuity of interest in military matters.
Perhaps every five or six years TAVR members could go abroad to camp. Would it be that much more expensive to send them perhaps to Gibraltar? It would create a special interest and give them something worth while to do every now and again.
The age-old grumble of all members of the TAVR is that they never get involved properly in helping in civil emergencies. A major contribution could be made. Although it has not come out today 1309 as much as in recent debates, people talk about a type of Home Guard operation. The UKLF TAVR exists already. It needs strengthening, more equipment, and more recruits.
Perhaps in passing I might say a word about the Con-rate officers, who are mostly retired officers and act as the administrative staff to TA units of both types. The Minister and I have been in correspondence about them, and I understand that there is to be a domestic inquiry. But I hope that he will see that these people are paid as Regular captains are paid. Their jobs are at least equal. They work long hours for little reward. It would be an uncostly measure to pay them properly, especially to see that their pensions were at least equivalent to those in similar jobs.
I turn to other parts of the reserve. I re-echo the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham about 3 Div. There is no doubt that the Army looks upon 3 Div. as its personal, highly mobile, reserve emergency force. The suggestions which have been made for its abolition and replacement seem wholly inadequate. Clearly, the defence review has not been in every respect as carefully thought out as some of us have been led to believe, especially in view of the time that it took to gestate. If there were decisions to be postponed, the postponement of that on 3 Div. would not be against the Government's interests.
As for the Regular Army situations world-wide, the Opposition would not quarrel with the Government's proposals for our forces in Hong Kong. There is no reason why that prosperous and free-enterprise colony should not contribute more to its own domestic forces, which are there basically for internal security matters. Although there will be problems with the Gurkhas, I do not see why a financial contribution should not come from Hong Kong for maintaining its own internal law and order.
In Malaysia, the closing of the Jungle Warfare School will be criticised severely by many who have been there. It was nothing but a collection of huts. It was not very expensive. But it contained an immense amount of expertise and was respected world-wide by all the armies of our allies, most of whom sent officers and men there for training courses. 1310 During the debate on the Defence White Paper, I was astonished to hear a Government supporter ask in what jungle we were to fight. That shows a total lack of understanding of what such a school does. It is not just a matter of jungle fighting; it is a matter of initiative, leadership and looking after oneself in impossible conditions. I had the chance of visiting this school as part of a delegation some years ago and I was immensely impressed by the work being done there. It is not extremely expensive, and I am sorry that it will not continue.
Unlike the hon. Member for Harlow (Newens), we certainly have no quarrel with the Government's decision to continue to assist the Sultan of Oman with his rebellion. I did not find the hon. Member's argument very convincing. Our interests in that part of the world are absolutely vital, and, therefore, it is quite right and proper that we should ask our Armed Services to assist us in dealing with this insurrection.
The Government's decision on the Gurkhas in Brunei is certainly inexplicable, and unanswered. Perhaps we should take a grain of comfort from the Minister's opening remarks when he said that the decision is still being considered. I hope that he will consider it, reconsider it, and reverse it. He will have our support for doing so, not least because it will make life extremely difficult for the Gurkhas if they are not allowed this posting away from Hong Kong.
It is not necessary for me to give a detailed description of how the Gurkhas organise their life, but if they are to be contained within the confines of the New Territory, clearly their opportunities to train are highly limited. They also run a small jungle warfare school of their own in Brunei, and there is a battalion on an unaccompanied tour in the United Kingdom. Without the Brunei posting, those soldiers will have a very boring career. I have not heard a convincing argument from any hon. Member that the decision should not be reversed. I hope that the Government will look closely at it again.
I am glad that the Government are moving slowly over the situation in Cyprus. I am not in any way a prophet if I say that it is a flashpoint in a difficult area. We may need our troops there to protect our own nationals and interests. 1311 We may be asked by the United Nations to redouble our efforts to contribute to the peacekeeping force in that island. Putting aside its vital strategic position in the Middle East between Greece and Turkey, it is a centre that must be one of conflict if we are not careful.
Naturally, we are sorry if the Government feel that they will ultimately have to pull out of Malta. I appreciate that with a Labour Government in Malta the situation is difficult. Mr. Mintoff has made it clear on many occasions that we are no longer welcome. Our concern must be: who is to take over our facilities, who will have at their disposal that excellent and deep-water port of Grand Harbour, Malta, and who will have the dry dock and other military facilities that that small but crucially situated island presents to us?
Although it would be inappropriate in an Army debate to mention Simonstown in any detail, I heartily endorse the comments of my hon. Friends about that small but vitally situated facility without which it would be so difficult to protect our Cape route interests.
Everyone in the Services and certainly all Conservative Members will welcome the Minister's statement that it is the Government's intention to introduce legislation to reform the electoral register for the Services. That is a promise to which we shall hold him. There is no need for delay, because the matter is agreed. If it cannot be fitted into this Session, I hope that it can be fitted in early next Session. I do not think I would be out of order in saying that Conservative Members will give it a fair run.
One of my hon. Friends said that morale in the Regular Army was the most important consideration. I am not certain whether that is absolutely right, but morale is certainly a subject that we always discuss during this debate. The big question-mark over the Army is uncertainty. Where are these cuts to come? Could we be told even today—no, not a word.
We have been told that the defence review has been in existence since February 1974. Alas, after nine months it has produced no details of where 15,000 men will lose their jobs. What about the 1312 £110 million cuts which the Chancellor is making in the Defence Estimates? Is the Army to have any share of that, and is the Army to be cut further as a result? No one in the Army knows, and no hon. Member knows, except the Minister, and he has a duty to tell us.
My hon. Friends have mentioned some shortages and restrictions, particularly on spare parts. I am particularly sensitive to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) about helicopter spare parts, as all Westland spares are made in my constituency. But this is a matter which is raised with me wherever I go. I am asked why there are continuing shortages of spare parts for armoured vehicles, for transport, for helicopters and for any number of items of mechanical equipment. Is it because the Army has made a false estimate of its requirements? Has it failed to order? Where has it gone wrong? The House is entitled to know.
My hon. Friends have mentioned mobility and communications. Time is against us in the debate. I thought for a moment that we should have a fairly free and easy winding-up, but the pressure is on as usual.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) said, communications and mobility matter more and more as one reduces one's total forces in the front line. There are some horrifying stories about lack of compatibility of wireless equipment with a given life of perhaps 15 or 20 years, so that decisions made will be hard to reverse for a long period. Communications of all things, in an age when we can talk to the moon and possess in Bruin one of the most sophisticated forms of military communication in the world, are vital. We have the technology. Surely we ought to have the management to see that we can communicate, and do so properly.
All the Government's proposals for the reorganisation of BAOR and headquarters depend on communications, yet nothing has been said about this matter at all.
Many hon. Members have rightly mentioned standardisation. I am sure that the Minister will have seen the excellent 1313 programme "Panorama" last night, which dealt with the subject. It was one of the better programmes that have been put out recently. General Goodpaster, the retired Commander-in-Chief of NATO, said that he reckoned that there was between a 30 per cent. and a 50 per cent. loss of value from NATO as a result of the lack of standardisation of equipment. The Deputy Secretary-General cited the fact that there are now 31 different types of anti-tank missile in use among NATO nations, when at most five separate types would do.
I appreciate many of the problems. There are industrial pressures and pressures of investment and employment, of foreign sales and of other things, that do not allow Ministers of Defence in any of the 14 nations concerned necessarily to be entirely free agents in this matter. But I put it to the House that the political will has been expressed today, not for the first time but perhaps more forcibly than usual, that we in Britain earnestly wish, particularly in the mood of co-operation which perhaps exists at present, to see something done, so that, for example, the water hoses on ships and the Bofors guns, these quite simple and cheap standard items, can be dealt with as a start, and then the more serious problems can be tackled.
Firstly, the operational requirement must be agreed among the military men—not in itself easy. Then a timeable must be agreed between the politicians and the soldiers. Research and development must be divided so that each nation can get its part of that. Finally, provision should be made so that the various industries, factories and so on can get their fair share.
I would not preclude America from taking part in any discussion on these matters. Clearly, as the major armament producers of the Western world, the Americans have considerable influence in these affairs. Suggestions about a European defence community, a procurement agency and other things have been made. I hope that the Government will note them.
I do not want to get involved in argument about Milan, Beeswing and other missiles. However, I want to utter a word of caution to my hon. Friends. There is very often much more than 1314 meets the eye when it comes to decision on what we should equip ourselves with. It is easy for a Regular soldier to say "I should like this" or "I should like that" because it is available or because his ally down the road might have it. It is not always so easy to marry up the employment, industrial and long-term research capacities of our industries with a decision to purchase a piece of foreign equipment.
In the debate on 6th May my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) said:I am doubtful whether we can expect to see the usual pattern of Estimates debates passing through the House without a vote."—[Official Report, 6th May, 1975 Vol. 891 c. 1246]The Government would be wrong to assume that because we do not intend to vote tonight there has been any change of mind by the Opposition. Indeed, any suggestion that we might approve of the Government's proposals for the Army would fly in the face of the case so ably put by many of my hon. Friends during this debate.
The Government, however, continue to make their contribution to the central front of NATO and have so far made no substantial cuts in major items of weaponry for the Army. We therefore take the view that, this national review of our defences having been conducted, there has been an element of realism in the proposal for the Army that does not seem to be shown with regard to the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force, and on those Estimates we shall be continuing to reserve our position.
I believe that the Services accept that in time of great economic crisis they should have to share some part of the urgently needed cut-back in Government expenditure, just so far as it ties up with our defence needs. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force proposals certainly do not meet the latter criterion, while, in the unlikely event of no unforeseen demand being placed before them, the soldiers might just be able to fulfil the greater part of their rôle, although they will not be so numerous or as well equipped as we would like.
It is always the unknown that catches out the Government in military matters. It seems to me that we have now given away the margin that we had to cope with 1315 the unknown. We on this side of the House believe that at the earliest possible opportunity that margin should, and must, be restored.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown
There have been a number of interesting speeches on both sides of the House but fewer constructive criticisms than I would like to have heard. A debate which brings in 19 back benchers can be said to be satisfactory from a House of Commons point of view, but since there were almost 100 questions asked during the course of the debate and since the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) has left me such little time to reply, I hope that I am not going to be accused of evading replies to many of the questions that have been asked. If I may start on the last first, the hon. Member who has just spoken asked about the reduction in TAVR mobilisation timing; the reduction results from the improved and accelerated procedures for drafting people to units, and the better use of transport. This has resulted from the thoroughgoing examination of all procedures that has taken place in the defence review.
On the TAVR, in which I know the hon. Gentleman is extremely interested, he made a telling point when he spoke of too little money going on recruitment for the TAVR in relation to the money spent on recruitment for the Army generally. That is a fair point, which will be looked at.
The hon. Gentleman also made another point which I thought fair—that Regular soldiers should have some experience in the TAVR; point taken again. But when the hon. Gentleman suggests to me that I may get my number dry by visiting TAVR camps and units I would tell him that I had a very pleasant period at the TAVR camp at Chickerell Camp, in Dorset, a couple of weeks ago; and I spent more than a little time visiting TAVR units here in London during the week, since it is easy to make such visits in London even with a Three-Line Whip on; so I certainly do not neglect the TAVR, and I have no intention of doing so.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinn) on his 1316 speech. I do not think that he is a frequent speaker on defence matters and I am sure the House will agree that it would be a treat if we were to hear him more often in the future. One of the points he made strongly has emerged further in the debate today, as it did in the debate on the White Paper.
The results of the defence review maintain a careful balance between the unrealistic aims of the Opposition, which occasionally reflect almost a colonialism more akin to earlier days, and the demands of certain of my hon. Friends. I appreciate the genuine concern of my hon. Friends and their desire for world peace—I agree that in an ideal world there would he no need for defence—but they should face up to the realities of life. History has shown that unless we can demonstrate our ability to defend our security we risk attacks on it. To take such a risk would be to abandon the responsibilities of government. That point has been made several times by the Opposition, and I would not dispute it. This is the basis of the Government's defence policy. But, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) pointed out, defence policy must take account of the needs of the economy. The bearing that the economy has on our defence capability was clearly demonstrated by the major cuts imposed by the Conservatives during the financial year 1973–74. Although those cuts were on increased expenditure, they were cuts, nevertheless, on the level then obtaining.
We must maintain our perspective about the possible threat to our security. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) criticised the withdrawal of British forces from some of our non-NATO commitments. It is hard to see what part these play in maintaining Britain's security—
§ Mr. Trotter rose—
§ Mr. Brown
I shall not give way. I have been left very little time, and I gave way extensively during my opening speech.
When the hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) referred to Britain's defence expenditure in comparison with other countries, he was perhaps forgetting that we are not in the same position as those other countries. We are not in the same 1317 position as Israel, Turkey or Pakistan. If we were pursuing wars on our frontiers we would have reason to accord defence a higher priority. The hon. Member for Beckenham commented that reorganisation will leave us with smaller and weaker forces. Other hon. Members doubted the ability of the restructured Army to carry out its task. I accept that the defence review will leave us with smaller forces, but I refute the inference that they will be weaker. The aim of the Army reorganisation is to preserve combat capability by streamlining the command structure and improving the "teeth to tail" ratio, thus maintaining our efficiency and enhancing flexibility.
In support of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), I would certainly not consider that major headquarters is part of the teeth of the Army. If all headquarters were cut out we might face the kind of problem envisaged by the hon. Member for Beckenham, but that is not to be the case. I think it was the hon. Member for Beckenham who suggested that on the NATO central front the Army will not have high-speed communication. I am glad to be able to say that it is our intention to introduce just such a system. If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the Statement on the Defence Estimates he would have seen that we are developing the Ptarmigan tactical trunk communications system, which will conform with the standard EUROCOM characteristics agreed by the Eurogroup.
The hon. Member for Tynemouth talked at length about BAOR, and I found it difficult to follow his criticisms. I do not understand how we can test a new structure for the Army until it has been designed and put into practice. I do not know on what basis the hon. Member believes the new structure will not work; he might want to sabotage the Government's efforts, but he cannot make such predictions on the slender foundation of a week's visit to BAOR.
The southern flank has been referred to by more than one hon. Member. I do not accept that our action will lead to any degradation of the southern flank. I point out that there are substantial United States and NATO littoral forces in the Mediterranean area. The disparity 1318 between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in the central region explains why we are there. If some hon. Members do not understand that, I refer them to page 26 of the Defence White Paper.
The hon. Member for Tynemouth—I am giving him his fair share tonight—also implied that we were reducing our reserves to one brigade group. Again, he should be more specific. He was referring to specialist reinforcements and, indeed, it is probable that this formation will include five battalions—three Regular and two TAVR. It is important to reiterate that point.
I have already made clear, in answer to a previous Parliamentary Question, that we intend to retain all three Regular parachute battalions. Their future rôle is still the subject of detailed study.
Those battalions which no longer form part of our specialist reinforcement forces will be allocated rôles either of general reinforcements to BAOR or, alternatively, as home defence forces. I am glad to be able to assure the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that following the restructuring the size of our general reinforcement for BAOR will marginally increase. Our contribution to the ACE Mobile Force (Land) will remain completely unchanged.
I turn to equipment. We have been criticised for having no new equipment in the pipeline. In fact, there is a great deal of equipment under development and production. Perhaps hon. Members should reread the statement on the Defence Estimates.
The cancellation of RS80 was a hard decision, but the Army's fire power will be greatly improved when the 155 mm gun systems are introduced into service. Cancellation of Vixen means that the service life of Ferret will have to be extended. However, it does not follow that the running costs of the refurbished Ferret will be more expensive than a Vixen might have been.
Chieftain was mentioned. There have been certain problems in the development of the Chieftain engine, but nevertheless it should be borne in mind that the military characteristics of the Chieftain called for an engine of exceptional power in relation to its weight and volume, in addition to the NATO requirement to operate on a very wide range of fuels.
1319 I do not think that we should let these development problems, which have now been largely overcome, blind us to the many fine qualities of the tank that we now have.
Hon. Members will be aware that we have been undertaking concept studies with the Federal Republic of Germany on a future main battle tank for the late 1980s, with a view to collaborative development, and that is proceeding apace.
The hon. Member for Aldershot referred to several priorities for the improvement of equipment in NORTHAG. Of course, we all want all-weather antitank weapons, but every anti-tank weapon has advantages and disadvantages—weight, range, control, to name but a few. It is this which makes selection of weapons so very complicated.
The Rapier air defence weapon system will greatly improve the Army's capability in low-level air defence.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House had a fair old go at the Panorama programme, shown last night, on NATO equipment collaboration. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar was particularly to the point. The United Kingdom is working to foster a greater measure of collaboration on equipment within the alliance for reasons of both economy and effectiveness. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been pressing in the Eurogroup for deeper and wider co-operation. He is chairman this year, but it is a bit much to expect that in one year of British chairmanship we shall be able to overcome all the problems that have existed for so many years.
My right hon. Friend has also sought moves towards co-operation within the alliance as a whole. At their recent meeting the NATO Defence Ministers agreed to work on establishing a two-way street between Europe and North America in defence equipment procurement. Britain has done a great deal in this area.
Some major examples of joint development projects on the Army side are the artillery projects being developed with Germany and Italy, the future main battle tank, and the CVRT vehicles, designed in this country and developed here and in Belgium. Those are some examples of the type of measures that we are taking with our allies.
1320 More than one hon. Member spoke about various guided weapons, such as the Milan, which the Government are considering as part of their procurement programme. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State told the House in our last defence debate, we are in the process of making decisions on several new guided weapons systems for the Services, but we must take complex, technical, industrial and operational factors into account. No decisions have yet been made, but I can assure hon. Members that the points which they made have been taken into account, in so far as they are valid.
I turn again to the TAVR. One of the prime aims of the reorganisation following the defence review is to achieve a closer operational relationship between the Regular Army and the TAVR. There is no question of the TAVR's being used, as the hon. Member for Torbay suggested, solely to plug gaps. Apart from the TAVR's responsibility to reinforce BAOR, it will in times of conflict provide a substantial home defence capability.
The current strength of the TAVR is not as high as we should like, but I join my right hon. Friend in stressing the importance of its rôle and applauding its professionalism, bearing in mind particularly that it will have a much more important part to play in the defence of this country in the years ahead.
I turn again to Northern Ireland and its effect on the training programme in BAOR. It is true that the task in Northern Ireland is hard and that the time spent by units training for it, and in the Province, detracts from the time available for exercises. But the performance of our troops in Northern Ireland and the standards they achieve in their exercises fully prove that they are nowhere near as inefficient or incapable as one hon. Member suggested. I feel that they would receive that disparaging type of remark with considerable resentment.
The present force levels in Northern Ireland and the long-term rôle of the security forces there were mentioned more than once. They are questions that we shall be discussing with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who drew attention in the House 1321 yesterday to the continuing high level of violence in the Province. I should like to repeat that the violence must be stopped if the road forward in Northern Ireland is not to be blocked for ever.
I should also like to say once again, to reassure hon. Members, that we do not believe that simple withdrawal would present any solution to the problems of violence and terrorism, and the Army will stay in Northern Ireland in whatever numbers are required to help combat violence, from whatever quarter.
I have noted the points made by the hon. Member for Beckenham about compensation procedures for injury and death in Northern Ireland—points with which I have every sympathy.
Mention was made of the raid early yesterday morning on the base of F Company, 5th Battalion UDR in County Londonderry. Investigations into this incident are still continuing, and when they are complete I shall consider the implications for our security procedures.
I should report to the House that I have just heard that the cache of weapons has been found in a cesspit about six miles from Magherafelt by the 5th Battalion of the UDR, and that 15 SLR rifles, one 22 rifle and a number of pistols have been recovered. I hope that all the stolen arms will be eventually recovered.
I hope—as did the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker)—that this incident will not distract us from recognising in this debate the major contribution that the UDR continues to make to the security of Northern Ireland. One of my hon. Friends below the Gangway made a disparaging remark about "Dad's Army". While he was a very small boy I was a member of "Dad's Army". It was no fun working for eight hours a day on the shop floor, coming home at night, putting on an armband and taking up a stave to go out to guard a valuable 1322 installation. That was not much fun, particularly with the enemy on the doorstep. I have a great deal of kindred feeling for the men of the UDR.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central raised the question of the Nugent Report on Defence Lands. He referred particularly to Lulworth Cove. A few days ago I was down at Lulworth Cove and I walked along the clifftop path which the Army will have open to the public in the late summer. It is a beautiful walk, and I am delighted that the Army has got down to this job so quickly.
In conclusion, I have been at pains to stress the keynote of the Government's defence policy, which is the matter of balance. If we do not maintain a reasonable equilibrium between defence and the other areas of Government expenditure, we risk grave threats to our security. We canont afford to spend too little, but if we spend too much we shall only aggravate the economic problems by which the country is beset. That would diminish our ability to maintain our freedom and independence.
Just as the Armed Forces have a responsibility to the country, so the Government have a responsibility to the Armed forces. As a member of the Government, I regard myself as the Army shop steward. In return for the willingness of the Service man to go wherever he is sent to undertake arduous and often dangerous duties, we must guarantee a reasonable quality of life for him and his dependents. We must also offer him job satisfaction—the knowledge that what he is doing is relevant and essential. I believe that this is something that the Army of the next decade will achieve as a result of the changes that I have outlined today.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.