§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Dormand.]
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to open the debate this afternoon—even if the numbers on the Labour Benches suggest that hon. Members opposite are fighting a rearguard action elsewhere—not merely because I hope in my speech to focus Government attention on areas relating to the Army which are of special concern to the Opposition, but because this gives me a chance to stress at the outset that the tributes which we pay to each of the Services in debates of this kind are not just an empty ritual. They are customary but are no less well deserved, and they come from the whole House, regardless of party, on behalf of the nation.
We may have criticisms to express today, but it is scarcely necessary for me to stress that the criticisms are not directed at individual Service men—private soldiers, officers and NCOs. They are servants of Government policy. They have to do what the Government ask with the resources the Government give them, and they do this loyally and faithfully. If we criticise, we do so because it is the duty of the Opposition, and our criticism will be aimed at the targets of Government policy and the allocation of tasks and resources by the Government to the Services, for which Ministers are responsible.
Obviously I must start with a special tribute to the troops in Ulster. I do not believe it possible to praise them too highly. The House will look forward to hearing an account from the Under-Secretary of the involvement of the Army in this very difficult area in the past year. I hope he will be able to include an account of yesterday's events at the Maze Prison. I hope he will dwell on the 1493 successful campaign which the Army is waging against the regime of terror which has threatened to engulf South Armagh. If I do not myself say much about Ulster, it is because my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) hopes to say a good deal about it later, based on his personal experience, as he has been fortunate enough to visit Northern Ireland frequently in the past 12 months.
I hope that the Under-Secretary can reassure the House beyond all possible doubt that the appointment of two new colleagues in the Ministry of Defence—and we look forward to welcoming them to coming debates—represents no change in Government policy. Both these hon. Gentlemen have been known in the past to make statements calling for the withdrawal of troops from Ulster. I very much hope that the hon. Gentlemen, by their acceptance of the appointments, now accept the view that our troops have an essential function to perform in Ulster in aid of the civil power, and that the Army should not be hampered by political constraints which make that task impossible. We should allow our troops to be judged by the results that are within their power to achieve, and when they achieve them they deserve our full support.
An indication of that could be found in the response from the previous Prime Minister to calls on the part of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) for a greater degree of activity by the Army in South Armagh. This led to successes which were as genuinely and generally welcomed in the rest of the United Kingdom as in Ulster itself.
I want to turn now to speak mainly about the British Army of the Rhine. I have been lucky enough to pay three visits there in the past year and I have thus had the opportunity to see the vital contribution which our Army there makes to the NATO Alliance.
I wish first to mention the question of Service registration. The Under-Secretary will remember being pressed hard in last year's debate on this subject. He indicated then his hope that legislation might shortly be brought in to carry out the recommendations of the 1494 Speaker's Conference on Electoral Law in regard to Service registration. I am sure that he shared the regret of other hon. Members that no time was found in the Government's legislative programme for such legislation this Session.
I am glad, however, that I have been able to assist the Government on this subject, and I am grateful to them for their help with my Representation of the People (Armed Forces) Bill. It is true that the vicissitudes through which my Bill has passed have been such as to make me wonder why private Members ever bother to bring legislation before the House. I stress that these difficulties are not of the Government's making, but we have hit some unexpected snags such as the difficulty of getting a Committee and inadvertently having the Bill talked out on Second Reading the first time round. But all seems to be going well now, and I am grateful to Ministers for their co-operation, particularly to the Secretary of State for Defence and the Home Secretary and others in their Departments.
I hope that we shall be able to get the Bill through Parliament in good time for the necessary changes to be made in readiness for the next round of electoral registration so that if there should be a General Election in February 1977, or thereafter, the Services will have a much better opportunity to get their names on the register and to participate fully.
Another matter affecting BAOR is that of offset costs. This subject has been brought up from this Box before now. I mention it again today because of a report in the Daily Telegraph a couple of days ago which does not wholly coincide with the most recent letter on the subject to me from the Secretary of State. This matter is highly relevant to the savings which the Government want to achieve in their third round of defence cuts, so it must be a matter of importance to them. In his letter the right hon. Gentleman says that he hopes that it will be possible to get a new agreement. He hopes that it will take effect in 1976–77, and he sees no particular reason to fear any connection between the negotiation of an Anglo-German agreement and the parallel negotiations involving the Americans and the Federal German Government. The American offset agreement expired last June.
1495 The Secretary of State's approach may be a little optimistic because I believe that there is a very close connection between what the German Government are likely to accept in their negotiations with the Americans and what they will be prepared to concede in the negotiations with us. I hope that there will be a degree of real urgency in pressing ahead with this matter and that it will be made clear that, while we do not wish to impose an intolerable burden upon the Germans, we expect a fair balance to be struck in a situation in which we are contributing mutually to each other's defence.
I come to the nub of my argument, and that deals with the problems and anxieties which centre around the proposals in last year's defence review for the restructuring of the Army. Perhaps I may take the problems in the order in which they are likely to confront Ministers, not necessarily in their order of importance.
In peace-time conditions of normality when there is no requirement for operational command, the situation is likely to arise in BAOR, as the result of restructuring and with the alteration in the size of units within divisions which have themselves changed in size, in which virtually all the barracks in which our troops are stationed are likely to be the wrong size, and even in the wrong place. The same will be true of quarters. A barracks which is at present ideal for a tank regiment or infantry battalion will no longer necessarily suit the regiment when its number of tanks is increased or the battalion when it has a larger number of companies. There are bound to be pressures which will have to be alleviated if the lives, conditions and training opportunities of the soldiers and their units are to correspond to their needs.
I make a particular plea to the Under-Secretary to give the House an estimate of the capital costs involved in this physical aspect of the restructuring of the Army. If the hon. Gentleman is unable to produce the figure, I shall express considerable regret but continue to press him for it. It must by now have been possible to work out the changes that will be needed and how much they will cost. The House has a right to that information.
1496 I come next to reinforcements. If the situation should arise in which there is an evident emergency on the central front, it will be crucial to the capability of our troops there that the reinforcements and reservists from the United Kingdom should get to them in the right numbers and at the right time. Restructuring has in some respects made this all the more urgent. I understand, for example, that the old B-echelon transport of front-line units will in future be the responsibility of the Royal Corps of Transport. The RCT is very much dependent upon a reinforcement of reservists from the United Kingdom. If the Army's ability to bring units to battle readiness will depend upon this reinforcement, it is essential that the Minister should be satisfied that it can be carried out without avoidable delay or difficulty. We are apidly reaching the point where there must be a thorough re-examination of the whole reserve and reinforcement position.
I mentioned in the defence debate the political overtones involved in the mobilisation process. The White Paper tells us at page 106 that none of the members of Group A of the Territorial Army can be recalled until the whole of Section A of the Regular Reserve has been recalled. I wonder how effective that arrangement will prove to be if ever the need comes to put it to the test. A two-tier mobilisation process, in which the effectiveness of the front-line units will depend on the operation not of the first tier but of the second, must give real cause for concern.
When our regular forces are being reduced as they are, the need for a citizen reserve must increase correspondingly as long as the threat remains as great as ever or, as many would say, increases. The emphasis which has been placed upon the reserves in past conditions does not seem to me wholly adequate for the present, and I am convinced there is a need for a thorough re-examination of the question. An essential part of the whole deterrent process is the ability of our troops to account for themselves and defend themselves against attack.
And so, in making this point, I am in no sense warmongering. I am simply stressing what will need to be done if our deterrent is to continue to be credible in an area which is crucial.
1497 I come now to the question of the command situation which is brought about by the abolition of brigade headquarters. Anyone who takes an interest in this must know that, given the choice between seeing cap-badge units disbanded or seeing savings made in some other way, the Army understandably opted for the second. In that sense it is true to say that the abolition of the brigade was not an imposed solution. It is still true to say, however, that the Army was put in a situation in which it had to make this choice. This was the Army's preferred solution, no doubt. It is still one which, I suspect, the Army would not have made at all if it had been allowed a real freedom of choice. The Army would have been far more content to keep the strength much as it was instead of reducing it by 15,000 men.
We expressed our doubts about this in last year's debates. The Select Committee, for whose invaluable reports the whole House will have continuing reason to be grateful as we go through this whole series of Service debates, also expressed its doubts, and its Report dated 29th January 1976 contains this interesting passage at page xxvii thatThe Ministry's very great confidence that the new structure will work has done something to allay our doubts. Nevertheless it is vital that all the trials should be as thorough as possible, not least in respect of the interface with other Allied formations".That report was based on evidence which was taken in July 1975, at a very early stage in the Army's trials of the new command system. Although the Committee was told by witnesses that the trials were going optimistically well—I think that was the significant phrase—I am by no means sure that their progress since then has borne out all the early optimism, nor, indeed, do I think that events since that date have wholly borne out all the confidence that was shown to the Select Committee.
For instance, some evidence was given on the motives of the Germans in restructuring their army on different lines, which are described on page 109 of the German White Paper on defence published in January this year as follows:The key element of the new Army structure will be the brigade.Therefore, not only have we a situation affecting the inter-operability of our Army in Germany and the most important ally 1498 with which we should have to co-operate in battle—the German army—in which restructuring is proceeding on two quite different bases, for reasons which are not reconciled in the evidence in the Select Committee's Report and the German White Paper, but we have also since had some evidence about the progress of the trials which, as I see it, does not wholly bear out the early optimism.
I do not wish to go through it at length, but I understand, from the latest information to reach me, that a modification has now been proposed which would have the effect of introducing a new element below the divisional level of command—that is to say, a task force headquarters. This is nowhere mentioned in this year's Defence White Paper, but if it is indeed the case that a new command level has been found necessary, I hope very much that we can have a progress report upon it this afternoon. Although the trials are not yet complete and still depend upon exercises to be carried out later this year, if it is a fact that some flaw or defiency in the original scheme has now been identified, we must have a full report from the Under-Secretary. I have pressed him for one before and I got a rather testy reply, but I hope he is more prepared to answer this afternoon.
It is true, as the White Paper says, that our allies are interested in what we are doing. It is equally true that from time to time in the past our allies have made similar experiments of their own. Both the American and the Australian armies have tried experiments with a formation called by the unlovely name "Pentonic division" which, also rested upon a structure of five major units under divisional command, but when they tried this in the field they very quickly scrapped it.
We, it seems, will not be able to scrap our experiment, because part of the evidence to the Select Committee was a disturbing statement which suggested that after the restructuring is completed it will be exceptionally difficult to unscramble it. That is disturbing. So, too, is another situation which flows from the restructuring. Even though it may prove to be an organisational success, it will mean a breach of the principle that the man who will command troops in time of war should be responsible for 1499 oversight of their training in time of peace. That does not seem to be something that will flow from the new structure, even if it is modified.
We therefore have a situation in which inter-operability on the battlefield will be essential if it comes to the point but again in which it is essential that any potential aggressor should be convinced of the credibility of the forces he will be taking on and their capability to resist him. If there are shortcomings in the command system, these again will diminish the credibility of the deterrent which we would be presenting to an aggressor in Central Europe.
I turn now to some other aspects of the question of inter-operability—a fashionable and useful word—and in particular the question of standardisation of equipment. In a moment of devastating frankness Lord Winterbottom, who was winding up the defence debate for the Government in another place on 29th April, admitted that the Alliance was moving towards standardisationthough the pace may be excruciatingly slow."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29th April, 1976; Vol. 370, c. 343.]I do not know what the Under-Secretary will have to say about that, but I hope he will not say that the noble Lord was pulling words out of the air, because many of us believe that the pace is indeed excruciatingly slow.
As regards equipment for ground forces, it is not even particularly encouraging that the trend is towards standardisation, because what seems to be obvious is that important items of our equipment are hopelessly out of phase with everybody else's. This is shown in the decision which has been taken to buy the Milan anti-tank guided weapon. I do not question the decision itself—I think it had to be taken—but it is nevertheless the case, and the evidence to the Select Committee and events since have confirmed this, that there was really no British contender, because we were hopelessly out of phase in development.
It is worth noting, incidentally, that the Defence White Paper is less than categorical on the subject of the Milan weapon, because on page 53 the qualification about our purchase is expressed asif the terms are right".1500 I wonder whether the Under-Secretary can tell us a bit more about that, just as I should like him to say a bit more about a similar qualification on the following page in relation to the Lynx helicopter in the anti-tank task role. Again, it is said that the Lynxmay act as a replacement for the Scout helicopter as a platform for helicopter-borne antitank missiles.If that is not so, are we to come out of the anti-tank helicopter business altogether? Can the Minister tell us whether there is some uncertainty in this area? I am sure that the House would like to know.
The second instance where we are clearly out of phase is on the question of a main battle tank replacement. That has emerged in recent Press reports, as well as on page 52 of the White Paper, where there is a very vague statement culminating in the following:further studies are taking place which may lead to an international programme for further development.Can the Under-Secretary tell us whether there is really going to be a British tank that will be a serious contender against the winner of the internal competition in America and the German Leopard 2? Do we really expect that competition to be prolonged to the point at which Britain is able to enter into it fully, or will not the whole thing have been settled to our disadvantage long before we have a British contender ready to enter the lists?
While I am on this important subject, may I also ask for further elaboration on the question of the small arms competition mentioned at page 54 (f) of the White Paper? Again, it is expressed in the vaguest terms:the selection of small arms ammunition on which NATO Forces may standardise".Is there no definition or certainty in any of these three important areas? Is there not room for more dynamism and political will?
Although it may be a good thing that we have the French at their separate table in the same room in the Eurogroup, or whatever its proper title now is, it is clear that there cannot be any real progress on standardisation without top-level directives, and proper directives, which are monitored at Prime Ministerial 1501 level. Without this there is not much encouragment to be derived from any progress so far towards standardisation in equipment. Nor can much comfort be derived from other evidence which suggests that the Army's existing equipment is likely to be run down.
We know that there is a serious shortage of helicopters in prospect as a result of the cuts made in the defence review. More disturbing still is the comment on page xxxi of the Select Committee's Report about the effect of other cancellations:We are, however, concerned, as the field commanders must be, not only at the equipment cancellations and deferments but also at the reductions in the planned levels of equipment including helicopters, spares, missiles and ammunition.Anyone who is interested would do well to turn to the body of evidence and to read the answer given by Major-General Sir Hugh Cunningham at page 106, emphasising the seriousness that he sees resulting from the cancellations and economies that spread over almost every aspect of equipment and the impact of which upon our capability is very serious indeed.
I hope that the Minister will tell us more about this and reassure us, if he can, especially if he is to spend any time giving us a trailer of the great sales effort which the Armed Forces are to launch this summer at the "Aldershot Bazaar", where interested parties from all over the world are to be invited to come and see the latest defence equipment we have on sale. It is fair to say that potential customers will judge our equipment not simply by its performance but also on the willingness of Britain to manufacture and use it for her own forces, and to go on developing and improving it.
I hope that the Minister will also understand the effect that this situation has on the morale of the Army itself. This is stressed in the Select Committee's Report. I have also met it in conversation with serving officers and noncommissioned officers, especially those in the middle ranks and in the middle of their career, who are beginning to wonder what future there is if they carry on in the Army, and whether it might not be better to make a break and try something else.
Morale is also undermined by the effect of cuts in truck mileage and training 1502 time, by the shortage of vehicle spares—even in Ulster. Land Rovers are off the road because spares cannot be obtained. We also see in the defence White Paper that there are to be cuts in domestic fuel and clothing for the Army. If this only meant that the heating in some of the headquarters or office blocks is to be cut down, I would not mind so much, but I do not think we can particularly relish the idea of sending threadbare and shivering troops out on training or other duties.
If I may return to the question of civilian support for the Army, there is one particular point I should like to mention concerning the logistic restructuring mentioned on page 75 of the White Paper. It concerns the rundown in civilian jobs about which the Ministry is still being very unforthcoming. The House will want more information about the justification for the organisational changes which these proposals involve. Some of my hon. Friends may wish to dwell on this in more detail. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), who has taken a close interest in the threat to close down the Central Ordnance Depot at Chilwell, would have liked to speak about this and I have been in close touch with him about it. I hope that the Minister can accept that changes should not be rushed. We are anxious that economies should be made when they are justified, but we do not wish to see valuable capability thrown away simply for the sake of effecting apparent savings.
Another point which concerns me, in respect of morale, relates to housing and in particular the ability of Service families posted away from home, and who in the past have been accustomed to letting their homes, to recover possession of their property under the operation of the Rent Acts. The Minister may have seen something in today's Daily Telegraph on this subject. I had a telephone call only this afternoon from the mother of a naval officer who has been exploited by an unscrupulous tenant who refused to leave his house and merely used his tenancy as a means of jumping the local queue for council housing. This has cost the officer concerned at least £400 or £500 in lost rent, mortgage payments which he has had to find from other means, legal costs and so on. This sort of thing must stop. I understand 1503 that the Department of the Environment has at last woken up to the fact that the operations of the Rent Acts have all too often resulted in unfair consequences upon the landlord, and as in this instance upon a man who wishes to let his home for a short period rather than to leave it empty and who wishes to regain possession of it for his own use when he comes back from a posting abroad, particularly in Germany and Ulster, or elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I understand that the Department is now carrying out a review of the effects of the Rent Act. I hope that the Minister will assure the House today that he will ensure that his Department makes the fullest possible information available to the Department of the Environment on this subject, and that in particular he will go out of his way to ensure that units are asked to report exactly how the Rent Acts are affecting their men, so that the Ministry of Defence does not send in a nil return or give the impression that they are just not interested, as appears to have been the attitude in the past.
I have gone on at rather greater length than I intended. I close with a few remarks directed to the Under-Secretary. In last year's debate he told us he was the Army's "shop steward". I hope he will not take offence if I say that I am not at all sure that that is how the Army sees him.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)
That was what they told me.
§ Mr. Onslow
They may have told the hon. Gentleman that they regarded him as their shop steward, but he cannot escape from some degree of managerial responsibility. He is part of the management process as far as the Service is concerned. He is a boss, and he comes to this House as a boss to account for his actions—not simply to represent the grievances or anxieties of the men.
I suggest that if the hon. Gentleman will accept his managerial responsibilities this afternoon, we will take on his shop steward's rôle. I hope he will understand that he has a special responsibility as an Army Minister. He might persuade us this afternoon that he understands this. But even if we do not vote against him 1504 tonight, I doubt whether he will prove wholly persuasive, because the House knows that this debate and other defence debates have taken place in the past 12 months against a background of a change in the balance of forces in Central Europe, which is becoming increasingly more disadvantageous to NATO and more favourable to the Warsaw Pact. This threat has been met in the case of many of our allies—the latest example is France—with a commitment to devote greater resources to defence. Under a Labour Government, however, this country still appears to be content to diminish its defence effort.
If the hon. Gentleman tries to blame us for this, he conveniently forgets the efforts that the Conservative Government made in 1970 to repair the damage done over long years by his right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Cut after cut was inflicted upon the Services from 1964 until the end of that unlamented Government. [Interruption.] Parrot phrases from a sedentary position will not disguise the fact that under Lord Carrington a great deal was done to repair the damage inflicted by the previous Labour Government upon the defence forces. When the time comes, the hon. Gentleman will find the next Conservative Government every bit as willing and determined to repair the damage that is being done now by his Government.
I remind the Minister of another remark which was made in the other place by his noble Friend Lord Winterbottom:Anything we do, any sign of weakening, is much more damaging to the Alliance as a whole than we imagine that it may be."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29th April 1976; Vol. 370, c. 345.]There is honesty.
I hope that Ministers in this House will be equally candid about the damage they have done by the weakening of our defences. I hope that they will see and mark the comment at page xxxi of the Select Committee's Report which reads as follows:British military history records many occasions when our forces have been deployed to fight while handicapped by deficiencies in stores and equipment. It would be unwise, however, to plan on the assumption that traditional fighting qualities can compensate for inadequacies in equipment resources.I hope, too, that the Minister will remember that the men and women in 1505 the Forces of the Crown have traditionally enlisted to defend the essentials we all value—freedom and democracy—and I hope he will sometimes pause to ask himself how much his Government have done to defend freedom and democracy.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) will understand that, as I intend to make a policy statement in my opening speech, I am not being disrespectful to him if I do not attempt to answer all his questions. I am very grateful to him for his justifiable praise of our serving officers and soldiers.
The hon. Gentleman asked for an assurance that the appointment of the new Under-Secretaries of State for Defence for the Navy and the Royal Air Force does not indicate any change in Government defence policy in the Irish context. I am happy to give him the assurance that the appointment of my two hon. Friends does not indicate a change of policy in respect of Northern Ireland.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having introduced a Private Member's Bill to provide for the registration of Service men and their wives. As he said, I gave an assurance to the House that the Government would legislate on this matter at the earliest possible opportunity. Having been a member of a Government, the hon. Gentleman knows how difficult if it is to find an opportunity to introduce desirable legislation. I wish his Bill well because, if it gets on to the statute book, as I sincerely hope it does, there will be no need for me to reassure the House about future legislation.
I am sure that on this occasion, when the Army is at the forefront of our attention, the House would wish to join me in regretting deeply the death of Field-Marshal Montgomery. He was a very great soldier, and a good man. We all extend our sincere sympathy to his family.
As summer approaches, we are beginning to see the success of the Government's counter-inflation policy, with 1506 the rate of inflation halved since its 1975 peak, but it is still by no means summer for Britain in economic terms. That is something that Opposition Members seem to forget when they criticise the level of Government expenditure on defence. Their criticisms are frequent, but at times it must be hard for the country to understand precisely where the Opposition stand. For about two years now, the Opposition have been calling in general terms for cuts in public spending. Yet some Opposition Members want far more spent on defence. Then we have the Bow Group, proposing greater cuts than those already made. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition says, on the one hand, that she does not like cuts over and above those made in the defence review but, on the other, that she would not reverse them.
Meanwhile, the hon. Member for Woking, in his closing remarks, tended to imply that as his 1970 Government put right the wrongs of the previous Labour Government by increasing defence spending a future Tory Government might do the same and increase defence expenditure. The Opposition seem to be in a state of complete disarray. The Conservative Front Bench spokesman appears to say something that is completely at odds with what the Leader of the Opposition said.
§ Mr. Onslow
I wish that the Minister and his Department would take out that script writer and shoot him. We have been through this time and again. If the Under-Secretary of State is too naive to understand what a vote means, I shall have a word with him afterwards. It will be within even his perception—reading studiously from the prepared script, as he is—that the Opposition have voted against each round of his Government's defence cuts. If the hon. Gentleman cannot infer from that that we are against them and that when we come to power we shall do what we think right in the circumstances to reverse them, he has no right to be standing where he is.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman is not following me. I was referring to a television interview—one of the first that his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition gave, when she clearly stated that she did not like the cuts that the Labour Government were imposing over 1507 and above the defence review. When she was challenged and asked whether she would undo the defence review cuts, to paraphrase, she said "No". The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour) has already made that quite clear.
§ Mr. Onslow
With respect to the Under-Secretary of State, we have already been all round that tired course with the former Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force. The hon. Gentleman has not produced chapter and verse. He is paraphrasing with remarkable freedom and putting upon words meanings that they will not bear. I tell him straightforwardly to take out that script and burn it, because it will do him no good.
§ Mr. Brown
The Tories are having to come to terms with the fact that defence spending alone cannot ensure the stability of the country. That stability is dependent on many other factors—a fair social system, a fair distribution of wealth, and, especially important, the sound economic base that is necessary for full employment. These are the targets for which the Government are aiming, and it is to ensure that they are met that defence has had to take its share of public expenditure cuts.
I do not accept that these cuts have undermined our essential security. I do not believe that these reductions will affect our essential contribution to NATO or our rôle in the Alliance. The Government sought in the defence review to analyse in depth our overseas commitments. Once that major task was achieved, and the detailed implications worked out, we found that there was some scope for savings in the support areas of the Armed Forces. The public expenditure cuts were the good housekeeping measure that was both desirable in itself and necessary at a time of financial stringency.
In making reductions in defence expenditure the Government studied how 1508 and where cuts could be made without endangering the security of the realm, and only when we were satisfied that reductions could be made safely did we reach a decision. As we undertook, we have now concentrated our resources on NATO, where our forces continue to play a vital part on the Central Front and the East Atlantic.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
Will the Minister explain why, in the defence reviews conducted by his Department, he chose to cut the teeth arms, and only subsequently the support arms? Surely it is more logical to cut support first, because then there would be nothing more to cut.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman seems to have misread the White Paper, because we have preserved the teeth and cut the tail. He must accept that.
Our commitment to NATO is the focal point of our defence policy. We have reduced the defence budget, making progresive savings of several hundreds of millions of pounds per year over a period. In so doing, we have amply fulfilled the manifesto commitment. As a result of the defence review, and of the further pruning that is being done, our Armed Forces are highly cost-effective. The importance of this cost-effectiveness should not be overlooked. We have a duty to ensure that the Armed Forces give the country the best value for money. It is also important for the morale of the forces, for their professionalism and pride in their work. We cannot afford to waste Service men's talents or their time; these commodities are far too valuable.
To ensure that the available resources are used in the best possible way we have undertaken two major reorganisations within the Army: the restructuring in United Kingdom Land Forces, and BAOR, and the reorganisation of the logistics area in what we have called the Fair Value Exercise. I shall deal with these in turn.
The overall aim of the Army restructuring plan was essentially to reduce overheads while maintaining the front line. We shall achieve this by manning broadly the same number of equipments with over 15,000 fewer military and 11,000 fewer civilian personnel. In order to do this, we are having to make changes in 1509 the organisation of the Army that are as far-reaching as any it has undergone in peace time. Practically no formation or unit establishment will be unaffected. Our Reserve forces will be more closely integrated with the Regular Army—the concept of "One Army". As a result, we shall be able to get away from the usual practice of cutting the front line first; indeed, we shall be able to carry out this reduction without the loss of a single cap badge.
The reorganisation of the Army naturally takes time, because we must at all stages be confident that we can meet our various operational rôles. Our reorganisation plans therefore provide for a carefully phased programme of trials in BAOR and evaluation.
As the studies being carried out by my Department and by the Army itself have progressed, I am now able to give the House a little more detail about our proposals.
In the United Kingdom, with the elimination of the brigade level of command, Regular and Reserve forces will come under the command of 10 district headquarters. Three of these will provide a new kind of formation to meet our war-time commitments. These formations are to be known as field forces—a new name for a new kind of organisation. Each field force will have five infantry battalions and support arms appropriate to its rôle.
The 6th Field Force, comprising five battalions, which will be operational by April 1978, will provide specialist reinforcement forces to the Strategic Reserve of Supreme Allied Command, Europe, taking over the rôle of the land element of the United Kingdom Mobile Force. Although the United Kingdom Joint Airborne Task Force concept was abandoned at the end of last year, the 6th Field Force will contain a limited parachute capability. We have more recently agreed to enhance NATO's defences on the flanks by reinstating an option to deploy part of the 6th Field Force to North-East Italy and other areas, as agreed with SACEUR.
The 7th Field Force will also be operational by April 1978. It constitutes the major formation required to place BAOR on a full war footing, and will 1510 be supplemented on general reinforcement with a large number of separate units and individual reinforcements. By the time that restructuring is complete, the number of general reinforcements sent to BAOR should be significantly increased. Home defence will be the responsibility of the 8th Field Force, which will be operational by April 1977.
The aim of the restructuring plan, as it concerns BAOR, was slightly different from the overall objective. That is because we are committed under the Brussels Treaty to maintain an army of 55,000 men on the Continent of Europe, and have undertaken to make no reductions in advance of a successful outcome to mutual balanced force reduction negotiations. Hence, our objective here was to try to improve the man-to-weapon ratio within broadly present levels of manpower.
The plan involved a radical reconstruction of 1 (British) Corps, in which we would replace the present three divisions by four rather smaller new-style armoured divisions. The present six brigade headquarters would disappear. The new-style armoured divisions would exercise direct command of infantry and armoured battlegroups which would contain four sub-units rather than the present three, and would concentrate on specialist and support functions. As a result of these changes, it was envisaged that the number of basic combat teams in the corps would be increased by a quarter, including those in a totally new formation, to be known as the 5th Field Force. This new formation would be created from within present levels of manpower. When I refer to battlegroups, I mean the mixed units of armour and infantry in which the existing infantry battalions and armoured regiments are deployed on operations and by combat teams, company-sized subunits of mixed infantry and armour.
We accepted that the new organisation would have to be thoroughly tested. I know that the House has been interested in the results of the BAOR trials, and it may be convenient to summarise them here. There were a series of exercises in BAOR last year under the code name "Wide Horizon" in which the new organisation was to be tested as throughly as possible in command post and field training exercises culminating in a field exercise involving elements of two divisions. I should perhaps add at this point 1511 that there will be a further round of trials in BAOR this year, ending with a corps exercise, in which further opportunity will be taken to test the new organisations.
A report on the trials has now been received in the Ministry of Defence and a preliminary assessment completed. The report shows, I am glad to say, that the Army's plans have been generally validated and are indeed welcomed in BAOR. For example, the new-style battlegroup has positive advantages. The increase in the number of both combat teams and weapons is a marked improvement, and the concentration of specialist functions works satisfactorily. As was only to be expected from so radical a reconstruction, a substantial number of changes of detail have been recommended in the report, and they are now being further examined.
The only area where the report has indicated that significant change is required is in the command and control arrangements within the division. The trials have shown that, in the present state of the art, direct command of battlegroups would be too great a burden on the proposed divisional command and control system. The hon. Gentleman will recall that I said last year that when the trials had taken place we should not hesitate to make any necessary alterations. We have therefore decided that each new armoured divisional headquarters should be given the capability of being able, when required, to deploy two tactical command posts to exercise direct operational command of battlegroups as the need arises.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Is it true that the long-range anti-tank missiles are being taken over by the artillery from the infantry and the Armoured Corps? If so, what is the reason?
§ Mr. Onslow
I am grateful to the Minister for being as frank as he has been. The whole House is listening with great attention to what he says, which tends to bear out the anxieties expressed from this Dispatch Box. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the tactical headquarters which he mentioned are the same as the task force headquarters? I 1512 do not know precisely what title will be given to them. Can he at least say what the headquarters will consist of and at what level of command they will be? Are they to be a brigadier's command?
§ Mr. Brown
I am coming to that issue. That is the problem of giving way.
We also plan to increase the number of deputy divisional commanders at brigade level within the divisions, from the one we originaly intended to two. These brigadiers will head command posts when they are deployed. They will have garrison command responsibilities in peace. The House will no doubt be glad to be assured that this change will involve no increase in the the numbers of posts for brigadiers and above planned for the Army. There will be, in the Army as a whole, an overall reduction in the number of senior posts. I hasten to give that assurance to hon. Members who may be becoming excited, thinking that we are increasing the number of senior posts.
I should stress—this is the important point—that the changes resulting from the trials will not affect the planned front line in Germany. The main features of restructuring—the substantial increase in the number of combat teams and the creation of the 5th Field Force—will remain unaltered.
I am afraid that we are not yet in a position to say exactly how many more men will be required in BAOR following the trials, since some areas are still subject to further discussion and testing, but we are pretty confident that the net bill, taking into account those offsetting reductions that we have already identified, is likely to be well below 1 per cent. of the total strength of BAOR. All the men we eventually require will be found by redeploying men in the United Kingdom and Germany within the levels laid down in the Defence Review. Because no extra manpower will be needed in the Army overall, the financial bill will also be small and we expect to be able to accommodate it within our existing allocations.
At the end of the day, we regard the cost in manpower and money that is likely to emerge as acceptable—and indeed essential—in order to ensure that the corps organisation and command 1513 structure is viable in war-time. But in any case the new organisation will be reviewed and refined as we gain experience with it, and as our new communications systems planned for the 1980s are introduced. We expect this process to bring about further manpower savings.
At the end of the day we shall have an Army that will be smaller but with a better man-to-weapon ratio. The weight will be concentrated on the combat units and not in headquarters or support areas. Indeed, while our combat capability will remain the same in general, in some cases it will be improved by the more efficient use of manpower and equipment, so that our contribution to the central region of NATO will be broadly undiminished overall and in some ways enhanced. The difference will be that we shall concentrate the available resources on what is relevant and necessary to the security of modern Britain.
Like the restructuring of the Army, Exercise Fair Value and the proposal to set up a logistic executive have involved fundamental and far-reaching studies, and may still be subject to further refinement as the process of consultation with staff and trade union interests develops.
The last two decades have seen significant detailed changes in patterns of logistic support and facilities to adapt them more closely to the needs of a modern Army. But because the logistic organisation tends to follow the general structure and deployment of the teeth-arm units, its customers, these developments have been in the technology, rather than the fundamental structure of our logistics system. In many respects, therefore, the existing logistic organisation is more suited to a larger and more widely deployed Army.
The restructuring of the Army and the urgent need to make long-term savings required a more fundamental appraisal of the operation and organisation of our logistic support. As a result, we are tackling this area on two fronts. On one hand, we are refining the systems, by taking advantage of the technological developments I have described and the concentration of the Army on NATO, so as to do with less manpower and money. On the other hand, we are aim- 1514 ing to tighten up our management organisation, and so reduce overheads.
Within the first category, a most important element is what we call the one-base concept. Now, after the defence review, when the Army's operational role is concentrated mainly in Europe, we can treat the United Kingdom base and the rear logistic installations of BAOR as a single entity. Such single control has a number of benefits in terms of reduced overheads and management costs. In addition, we are exploiting improvements in cross-Channel movement and supply capabilities, and the better control of stocks and improved issue capacity made possible by modern computers.
The second category contains such organisational changes as the proposed Logistic Executive (Army). This will be established as the single logistic HQ to control the one base, instead of the current pattern of several logistic headquarters spread over a wide area. This will achieve direct economies in staff, greater efficiency, and more coherent management.
I revert to the Fair Value proposals. Our logistic reorganisation is intended to produce large savings in civilian and military manpower. Hon. Members will recall that on 10th February I announced details of the proposals aimed at substantially reducing the 43,000 civilian staff employed on support services world-wide. Consultations with departmental staff and trade union side representatives on the Fair Value proposals and the establishment of the Logistic Executive are proceeding through the recognised Whitley channels. I must stress to our staff that the consultations to which I have referred are genuine and meaningful. We are not approaching these difficult and painful decisions with anything like a closed mind. I can assure hon. Members that our final decisions will take full account of the various issues raised in the course of this important process, together with such constructive suggestions as may be put forward by staff representatives as alternative means of achieving the necessary, comparable economies. I appreciate the anxiety that prevails at those establishments which we have proposed should be closed or substantially run down. How[...] ever, such closures or reductions are inevitable.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I understand the need for efficiency, but what are the consequences of what my hon. Friend has just said on the proposed deployment of civilian jobs to Scotland, especially to the Glasgow region? I want to be realistic. Some of us think that this degree of cutting is justified, but at the same time there is the unspecified promise that many civilian jobs are to go to the Glasgow region. Do the two matters go together?
§ Mr. Brown
As far as I am aware, that is still going ahead at present.
I have discussed the organisation of the Army at some length, because of the important changes taking place, which by the 1980s will give us a more efficient and streamlined Army. But what of the Army's equipment in the 1980s?
The Army depends for its effectiveness on a large number of interlocking weapons systems; none of these items is very large or expensive by modern military standards. It is the use of a range of smaller items in combination which gives the battlegroup its effectiveness.
The tank remains a central item of equipment, for despite the cynics, armour is far from obsolete. So far, no one has been able to think of a more effective combination of firepower and mobility than the tank provides us with. Much has been written about the failure of tanks in the Yom Kippur War; but in fact it was later discovered that the majority of tank losses had actually been caused by enemy armour. We are now planning improvements to Chieftain's fire control system, including the introduction of a laser sight. We are also already discussing with the Germans a replacement for Chieftain, to come into service in from about 1989.
As well as improving our own tanks, we have to think of our defence against those of an enemy. Anti-armour capability is a recognised priority in NATO. This is why we have decided to enter 1516 negotiations for the procurement of Milan anti-tank guided weapons for infantry to replace a number of obsolescent weapons. Milan has a long range. It is simple to operate, and it is light enough to be highly mobile.
There are also improvements on the way for the artillery. Britain, Germany, and Italy are collaborating in the production of a new series of 155mm. artillery guns to come into service in the 1980s. FH70, the towed howitzer, will soon enter main series production, and the SP70, a self-propelled version of the same gun, for use in BAOR, is at an early stage of development.
Despite the cuts we have had to make in equipment, it will be apparent from what I have said that we are still seeking to ensure that the Army has a wide range of modern effective equipment into the 1980s. Equipment had, of course, to take its share of the cuts, and economies were spread over a wide field. But we tried to ensure that they fell where possible on support areas rather than on the teeth arms. This has meant that we have managed to preserve all the Army's central capabilities.
§ Mr. Onslow
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of equipment, or perhaps in his winding-up speech, will he clarify whether the Lynx helicopter is to have an anti-tank guided weapon capability, or is that now ruled out? The SS11 really will not do. If we are to continue to rely upon a helicopter antitank capability, we must have HOT or TOW, and soon, since the Hawkswing decision has narrowed the choice to one or other of the two.
§ Mr. Brown
I shall deal with that when I make my winding-up speech.
I turn to Northern Ireland. I begin by saying a few words about an incident that occurred in the early hours of this morning, when eight members of the Special Air Service Regiment on routine patrol made an accidental incursion into the Irish Republic. After traveling approximately 500 metres they encountered a checkpoint manned by the police of the Irish Republic. They realised that they had made a mapreading error, and accompanied the police to a police station. They are still there, and we are in touch with the Irish authorities.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Is it not a fact that some members of the regiment, if not all, were in civilian dress and armed with a variety of weapons, including a sawn-off shotgun? Does my hon. Friend accept that that is now a standard arm for the British Army? This is the information that I have from Ireland today.
§ Mr. John Stonehouse (Walsall, North)
What steps have been made so far to secure the release and return of these men.
§ Mr. Brown
The Government are in touch with the public authorities, and I hope that we shall secure their release, but I do not want to say any more at this stage.
Northern Ireland remains a major commitment. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in paying tribute to the bravery, and to the successes, of the security forces working in the tragic circumstances of that divided community.
Last year—1975—with 20 fatal casualties from terrorist action, the Army suffered fewer deaths than in any year since 1970. That it was as low as this is of little comfort to the bereaved families for whom we all have the greatest possible sympathy. We cannot be fully satisfied until there are no further deaths and injuries amongst those responsible for maintaining law and order in Northern Ireland, as well as the civilian population.
In spite of the Provisional IRA declaration of a "cease-fire" last year, violence has continued, for much of which it is itself responsible, but a greater proportion of its victims have been civilian, as a result of the inter-sectarian and inter-factional attacks.
The "cease-fire" marked a change in the pattern of violence, and during its first few months there were noticeably fewer attacks on the security forces. Subsequently, random attacks recommenced and progressively became more frequent and more vicious, especially in the border area of South Armagh. Following a 1518 series of particularly brutal murders in that country during the first week of this year, reinforcements were sent there, and the county was designated as a special emergency area where extra measures were to be taken to prevent terrorist attacks. Those measures have had a significant effect. We shall maintain them.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland stated on 4th May, the General Officer Commanding has ensured by redeployment that there should be no change in the force levels in and around South Armagh, as a result of the return of the Spearhead Battalion, which had been deployed as a temporary reinforcement.
This is an appropriate moment to re-emphasise that the Armed Forces will continue to support the RUC in Northern Ireland at whatever strength is required by the security situation in each part of the Province. There has been speculation in newspapers over the past fortnight about a precipitate withdrawal of the Army either entirely to barracks or from particular areas of the Province—Police Division B in West Belfast was mentioned. This speculation has been officially denied, and I repeat that denial.
Obviously it is our long-term aim to achieve a state of affairs which will permit the police, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, to maintain law and order without help from the Armed Forces. But so long as the para-militaries continue their armed violence, the police will need the Army's support.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland earlier this year announced to the House that he, with ministerial colleagues in other Departments, was examining the action and resources required over the next few years to maintain law and order, how best to achieve the primacy of the police, the size and rôle of locally recruited forces, and the progressive reduction of the Armed Forces as soon as safely practical. This study continues, and it is not for me to anticipate its conclusions, but it would be in line with the publicly-stated terms of reference of this ministerial examination that the pattern of our deployments should take account of the desirability of the RUC playing an increasing rôle in maintaining order when and where circumstances present it with the opportunity to do so.
1519 This in no way means a let-up in the battle against terrorism. The fight against the men of violence will be unremitting, and will continue to be undertaken in the closest collaboration between all elements of the security forces, but collaboration means that the combined resources of the Army and the police should be used in the most effective way possible in each area, so that we have the right people in the right place at the right time to put an end to terrorist criminality throughout the Province.
The examination into the maintenance of law and order, which I have already mentioned, is concerned, amongst other matters, with the size and rôle of locally recruited forces. The Army has its own such force in the Ulster Defence Regiment, whose members deserve the gratitude of us all for the contribution they make day in and day out—or should I say night in and night out and weekend after weekend after their normal day's work is done. Theirs is a great spirit of service to the community and fortitude in carrying it out—a fortitude strong enough to withstand murderous intimidation. Already this year seven members of the UDR have been killed, no fewer than six of them off duty. The spirit of self-help in maintaining security in the Province, which is so strongly in evidence in the Ulster Defence Regiment, is something I hope we can harness to an even greater extent in the future by giving an enhanced role to the regiment and by increasing even more its professionalism. Hon. Members will know that this year we are starting to provide annual training here in Britain for those members of the regiment who wish to take advantage of it. This is by no means the only improvement we have in mind, but by providing a new training environment it should give a fillip to their already high standards of military efficiency.
I have spoken of the fortitude of members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Those members of the House who, as I do, visit the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland will, I know, agree that it is this spirit of fortitude amongst all Service men which makes the greatest impression on the visitor. Their task is not a pleasant one—in fact, probably the least pleasant that military forces can be called upon to carry out.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Hands-worth)
On the question of the training to which the Minister has just referred, will he say a little more about that? Is the training that is to be offered over here what one might call orthodox military training, or is it training with regard to anti-terrorist measures, and will British Forces be given training on those lines as well?
§ Mr. Brown
The training being carried out is orthodox military training, in a normal camp, such as the TAVR would undertake. They are training at Warcop in Cumbria. I think that it gives them a well deserved and pleasant change of environment.
In the early years of the emergency, large numbers of reinforcements were sent to Northern Ireland which then was geared to support only a relatively small garrison. They perforce lived in highly unsatisfactory conditions, which taken together with the unpleasant nature of their duties combined to make life endurable only to those with a very strong sense of duty, which fortunately our Service men possess. Typically they were uncomplaining, but it would have been wrong to capitalise on their forbearance. A programme has been undertaken to improve living conditions for all units serving in Northern Ireland and a considerable amount of work has been done, particularly over the past three years. This work continues and a large number of improvements will be achieved throughout this year. Perhaps I could mention, in particular, new buildings at Mahon Road, Portadown and Drumadd, Armagh, which have recently been completed and will shortly house troops currently occupying sub-standard accommodation at Lurgan and Gough Barracks in Armagh. Later in the year new buildings at Fort George, Londonderry, and the extension of Moscow Camp, Belfast, will be completed to allow the release of the accommodation ships "Maidstone" and "Rame Head".
Apart from improvements to the living standards of our Service men, we have continued to ensure that they are provided with all the technical assistance they need in their battle against terrorism. Most careful attention is given to the equipment needs of the troops in Northern Ireland and every effort is made to provide 1521 them with the most suitable equipment available. There is a constant flow of new equipments into operational service to combat the terrorist threat. In particular, considerable advances have been made in the fields of surveillance, explosives detection, bomb disposal and communications.
Army bomb disposal experts have also assisted local police forces in dealing with the bomb incidents that have occurred throughout Great Britain in the past year. Again, the courage of these men who risk their lives, often for long hours on end, in order to protect the community, can evoke only admiration and praise.
The Army's task in Northern Ireland is undeniably a heavy burden. Nonetheless, it has had only a minimal effect on our commitment to training within NATO, and our soldiers were able to participate in a number of major exercises. Of these, Atlas Express will perhaps remain most strongly in my mind, as I was able to visit the soldiers and the Royal Marines taking part in Norway. The exercise tested the deployment of the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force, and its ability to react quickly in the face of aggression. This quick reaction, by a multinational force, is designed as a demonstration of NATO solidarity.
The cohesion of the Alliance was certainly amply proved by the exercise, which was a first-class demonstration of international cooperation and collaboration. I was also highly impressed by the professionalism—and the endurance—of British Service men, working in what I can only describe as the most adverse climatic conditions, over challenging country. This exercise, together with Advent Express, and a number of exercises in the Central and Southern Regions, are the best answer we have to those cynics who doubt that the members of a voluntary Alliance such as NATO can really work together effectively.
§ Mr. Brown
Greek and Turkish forces were not engaged on that exercise. Never-the less, there were troops from many nations.
1522 One exercise that really does merit special mention was Inside Right. In this, the procedure for the mobilisation and reinforcement of Germany was practised in the United Kingdom last autumn. It involved the TAVR on a very large scale, and provided a real opportunity to see the closer integration of the TAVR and Regular Army, announced in the Defence Review, working in practice. This concept of "One Army" is something that I believe in very strongly, and I am glad to say that in Exercise Inside Right it worked very well. The men and women in the TAVR worked with great professionalism, and I am sure that the closer integration must be a boost to their morale.
The TAVR certainly deserves our warm support. It is extremely good value for money. For 1 per cent. of the Defence budget—or 3 per cent. of the Army's share of the total budget, the TAVR provides about a quarter of the Army's strength, and over a quarter of BAOR's strength on mobilisation. Additionally, it would make a major contribution to the maintenance of a secure United Kingdom base in support of forces deployed on the Continent of Europe.
The importance of the TAVR has in fact been increased by the defence review and the reduction in Regular Army strength.
§ Mr. Brown
In fulfilling its role of completing the Army order of battle it will become still more closely integrated with the Regular Army. As the reorganisation of the Army proceeds in the United Kingdom, TAVR units will come under the command of the headquarters of the 10 districts into which the country is divided. Some units will be assigned to each of the three field forces to be established in the United Kingdom. The TAVR wil also play an increasing part in NATO exercises.
I am pleased to tell the House that the recent TAVR recruiting campaign appears to have been highly successful. We have had in the Ministry of Defence over four times as many applications by people for information as last year, and although it is too early to say how many of these, and of those who have applied for information directly to units and 1523 TAVR associations, will eventually join the TAVR, we are confident that the manning level of the TAVR can be maintained, if not improved. This satisfactory trend is also reflected in the very good level of soldier recruiting during the year.
The year 1975–76 was particularly good for soldier recruiting. The Army achieved its target of enlisting 10,000 juniors and 15,000 adults. With a greatly increased number of applicants, we were able to be increasingly selective and, as a result, the quality of recruits was particularly good. Indeed, for the first time since I arrived in this job, I have had a great number of letters from hon. Members on both sides of the House protesting on behalf of constituents who have been refused entry into the Army. That is the result of the selectiveness which we have been able to achieve in the last 12 months.
However, although optimistic, we are not complacent about future prospects. Army recruiting has traditionally followed a pattern of peaks and troughs which, in the main, have reflected the general movement of the economy and job opportunities in the outside world. That, no doubt, accounts for the types of letters which I have been getting from Back Benchers. As the economy picks up, therefore, we shall again have to work hard to recruit the men we need. The continuing nature of this requirement can be appreciated if I tell the House that the average number of men we have managed to recruit over the last 10 years would just be sufficient to keep our smaller Army up to strength.
Nevertheless, the soldier recruiting position is satisfactory and there is every chance that by 1980 our smaller sized Army will be fully manned. This is a most encouraging prospect, because the shortage of men in units over the last 10 years has at times caused problems.
Officer recruiting during the period was not so encouraging. Although the number of applications for commissions increased, the number of the quality suitable for commissioning declined and, against a requirement of 700, we recruited only 554. We are examining ways of improving matters—for example, by improving the standard of advice and briefing available to candidates before they present themselves to the Regular 1524 Commissions Board. We are also trying to attract more graduates and potential graduates. This is important if the Army is to obtain its fair share of the higher quality output of the educational system in competition with commerce and industry.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
On that point, I have noticed fewer advertisements for officer recruits in the past year. Has there been a deliberate policy not to insert those advertisements in national newspapers? I believe that advertising has just been resumed.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am glad to hear that. I was lucky enough to visit the Regular Commissions Board last year, and I noticed that a significant number of university applicants who had come forward were evidently unsuitable, not by virtue of the absence of university applicants for posts as Army Officers but the general unsuitability of those who came forward. I hope that the advertising, if that is the fault, will be aimed at the right types of candidates rather than attract those who have to be considered but, unfortunately, cannot be accepted.
§ Mr. Brown
Considerable success can be claimed in recruiting from universities, since about 50 per cent. of officers are now graduates or will obtain degrees during their early years of service.
Recruiting to the Armed Forces is, of course, dependent on many factors. These include not only the straightforward question of how much pay and what training and job satisfaction a man will receive, but the wider-ranging aspects of conditions of service.
Of considerable importance in this respect will be the 11 air stations which the Army plans to take over from the Royal Air Force in addition to those already occupied. The House may care to note that three of these will be taken over in 1976. Only one—the station at Little Rissington—will be occupied this year. In general, we are trying to ensure 1525 occupation as soon as possible after the RAF vacates in order to preserve such continuity of employment as proves to be possible, but this will not always be practicable, given the considerably different use to which the Army is putting these stations.
I should like to emphasise the importance that I attach to these acquisitions. They will provide a boost to Army accommodation standards much more speedily than will result from our programme of modernisation and rebuilding of existing Army accommodation.
In addition to supplying this welcome improvement of our accommodation standards, the advent of the surplus air stations provides an opportunity for certain rationalisation of functions which should lead to increased efficiency and reduced overheads.
We are in the process of determining, in consultation with regional departments and the other interests concerned, which properties can be surrendered once the redeployment of the Army within the United Kingdom has been completed. This accommodation plan is a fairly complicated business as, in addition to the acquisition of the airfields, we have had to take account of the reorganisation of the Army following the defence review and the number of additional units returning to the United Kingdom consequent on that review.
One welfare project with which I have been closely associated and which I am very happy to see coming into being now is the setting up of an English language television service for British forces and their families in Germany. We are all conscious of the extent to which television has become the main source of family entertainment and an integral part of our lives in this country. The absence of this home entertainment is particularly felt by wives and families left behind in Germany when their menfolk have to face the dangers and discomfort of service in Northern Ireland. The comfort that television can bring to separated families in these circumstances cannot be overestimated. British Forces Broadcasting Services began transmitting programmes in colour from a mobile studio in Celle last September, providing about seven and a half hours of recorded programmes each day, drawn from the three United King- 1526 dom television networks. The serviee has proved very popular with Service men and their families in the Celle area.
I envisage that by the end of June the television service will also be available to the troops and their families in Hohne, Munsterlager, Fallingbostel and Soltau. The transmission coverage will be progressively extended. I am hopeful that by the end of 1977 British television will be available to about 90,000 Servicemen and their families in Germany and, by the end of 1978, to 165,000. In 1978, it is hoped to introduce a cross-Channel link which will allow the direct broadcast of the three United Kingdom television networks, for the most part, at the same time as they are shown in this country.
Finally, there have been, as I mentioned earlier, a number of improvements in conditions of service for Service men on emergency tours in Northern Ireland. We hope that these will help to make service there a little less arduous.
All in all, the picture for the Army is encouraging. The restructuring is progressing well, and our overall proposals have been vindicated by the general success of the trials. The Army has been able to make a full contribution to the reductions in defence expenditure, and to do so without detriment to our front-line capability. There are a great many changes in the air, and the Army is steadily taking them in its stride. The result will be a force shaped and attuned to its vital rôle in NATO and to the challenges of the next decade.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I think that it needs no apology if I devote almost the whole of what I want to contribute to this debate to Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland was the first element in the speech made by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who opened the debate, and many of us must have thought that it was to be the last section, though it turned out not to be, of the lengthy survey which we had from the Minister. In any case, Northern Ireland is today the principal theatre in which the Army is actually performing its duty of the defence of the realm.
However, I wish to make two observations on the survey given by the Minister. First, it is a pity—although I understand 1527 that all the Ministers like a certain number of tit-bits to be left over for their speeches in these Service debates—that more of what Ministers say in defence debates are not included in a continuous form in the defence White Paper. I refer particularly to the portion of the Minister's speech concerned with the intricate but immensely important question of the reorganisation of the structure of the Army. Perhaps it was impossible, on grounds of time, to include this matter in the White Paper, but if there is a subject suitable for treatment in a defence White Paper, I believe it is that kind of subject. I am sure that hon. Members would be better able to address themselves to these intricate matters if they were able to study them in written form before debate.
The Minister referred to the testing of this new organisation in theoretical and practical exercises; but the test of a reorganisation and the significance of the result depend on the questions asked—in other words, on the appreciation of the type of war to be fought by the Army. If our picture of that war, or our concept or philosophy of it, proves to be mistaken, the most rigorous testing of a new organisation will lead to an irrelevant or fallacious result.
To settle the scenario or purpose of the Army in a major war is the ultimate and supreme task of defence chiefs, both civilian and professional. This is not the debate in which to tackle that matter, but all the details, involving both armament and organisation, only fall into their logical place within that appreciation.
I turn to Northern Ireland, where the security forces fall into three categories—only two of which, the Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment, lie within the departmental responsibility of the Under-Secretary for Defence for the Army. Nevertheless, I am sure he will accept—I am sorry that the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, could not remain in the House to hear me say this, but perhaps he will be able to return to the debate later—that those three elements must be regarded as a single whole operationally and, I hope, co-operationally.
As the Minister said, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence 1528 two days ago issued a statement referring to substantial geographical redeployment of the Army in Northern Ireland. It was a statement in which the Secretary of State took the opportunity to rebuke the ever-recurrent fear, which is natural in the circumstances, that such movements are a covert intimation of withdrawal. My hon. Friends and I attribute no such significance to these movements, and we deplore the damage done by the false interpretation often put upon partial information.
On the contrary, a geographical redeployment of the armed forces in Northern Ireland could be beneficial; and we hope that the redeployment of which the present movements are a part will prove to be so. They will enable the forces in the threatened areas, if I may so describe them, not only to be maintained at their present strength but, if necessary, to be reinforced from within Army resources in the Province itself. Contrariwise, the withdrawal or transfer of forces from areas no longer threatened or seriously disturbed has important and valuable effects.
There was a time when, for political as much as military reasons, it was held desirable that the effort of the Army should be spread throughout the Province as a whole. There was a theory that the Army should be seen in areas of all kinds in the Province—in areas of both high and low sensitivity. Whether that appreciation was correct at the time, it is now obsolete. It is the opinion of many people—an opinion which I share—that the presence of the Army carrying out routine duties in parts of the Province where there is little or no terrorist terrorist activity is counter-productive in two ways. In the first place it maintains in the mind of the general public a sense of continuing emergency, which is both misleading and damaging. If one is stopped at an Army check-post with armoured vehicles on the Al outside Hillsborough, one's first reaction is not to say "This is part of a policy of maintaining Army activity in all parts of the Province." One's natural reaction is to say "Is the situation much worse than I had supposed? Or has there been some sudden disaster?"
In addition, the maintenance of the Army on routine duties in the parts of 1529 the Province to which I refer is holding back the policy of re-establishing the primacy of the police—the policy of repolicing—which my hon. Friends and I heartily support. The activities to which I refer could be as well carried out, and, indeed, better carried out—I shall not say only by the UDR, but particularly by the RUC. We hope that the re-deployment to which reference was made in the recent statement by the Secretary of State for Defence is an indication that the Army is to be increasingly concentrated on those tasks in the Province for which the armament, discipline and training of an army are uniquely necessary.
I turn to deal with the Ulster Defence Regiment. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the UDR for the security and future of Northern Ireland. It not merely forms a link between the Army and the police and between the Army and the localities but I believe it may hold the key to the success of the policy of restoring the primacy of the police. So I wish to draw attention to a number of causes of anxiety in the present position of the UDR, and to make a number of practical suggestions.
Referring to the latest available figures—those given in a Written Answer on 30th January 1976—we find that in the year 1975, whereas the RUC and its reserves were able strikingly to reduce their deficiency below establishment, the UDR's figures remained obstinately almost unchanged. Indeed, I understand that, but for the relative success in recruiting women to the regiment, there might have been an actual deterioration in the total figures. There is thus a serious contrast between the recruiting experience of the UDR and that of the other security forces, especially given the key importance of the regiment.
I wish to suggest a number of ways in which the obstacles which are clearly in the way can be overcome. Apart from the stiffening of Regular officers and personnel, the UDR has only 100 or 200 full-time members. My hon. Friends and I, as well as many professional and other people in Northern Ireland, are convinced that the provision of a Regular company in each UDR battalion would have a most salutary effect upon the attractiveness and efficiency of the force.
1530 It would assist greatly the growth of professionalism to which the Minister referred. Of more practical importance, it would enable the UDR to take on the really important tasks—and to be seen to be taking them on. This is the real attraction to recruitment. People join the regiment because they believe that, by doing so, they are, despite the personal dangers they incur, serving their country and their Province and helping to protect their homes and families in the most practical way. The more they see that the UDR is doing the essential work in the areas and circumstances which are most exposed, the more attractive the regiment will be to them.
One of the difficulties of giving the regiment that sort of rôle on a large scale is that, as a part-time force, there is a limit to its continuous deployment in threatened and difficult areas. I recognise that there has been a great deal of weekend, part-time and night working, in which members of the regiment have travelled considerable distances across the Province, but I ask the Minister seriously to address himself to the proposition that the UDR should be given a Regular company in each battalion to enable it to take on a much bigger range of duties.
Recruitment to the regiment, so disappointing in view of its crucial importance, is not evenly spread throughout the Province. The Minister will be aware that the units in the frontier areas are fully recruited and that the deficiencies occur in other areas. This supports my thesis of the motivation of recruitment, and I suggest the Government should take account of this situation and recruit where recruitment is best. They should not hesitate to raise new units where they can be raised and to revise their picture of the general deployment and organisation of the regiment throughout the Province.
I must here touch on a difficult and sensitive point. The Secretary of State said in February thatit would be wrong to deploy the UDR in some Catholic areas, because of the sectarian break-down of the UDR. That is not criticism of the UDR; it is a fact that people of the minority community do not join the UDR."—[Official Report, 19th February 1976; Vol. 905, c. 1471.]1531 I think the Secretary of State was very conscious of the overtones of the words he was using. It is a fact that Roman Catholic citizens who join the UDR are incurring even greater personal danger than Protestants. In some areas it is an unthinkable risk to expect a man to take. So, it follows that the original notion of the raising and recruitment of the UDR—that there would be a certain balance of communities within the force—is, in present circumstances, unrealistic. I am asking the Government not to be doctrinaire and not to allow the ideal, which is eventually an attainable one—that the regiment should not be over-heavily balanced towards one religion—to obscure the realities of present needs.
Only when the regiment has established itself and circumstances in threatened areas are more secure will it be practicable for citizens of the minority as well as the majority religion to volunteer for service in the regiment, as many of them would undoubtedly wish to do today.
I come to my last suggestion on the UDR. A recent parliamentary answer disclosed that the average lapse of time between volunteering and acceptance or rejection for the UDR is 10 weeks. However, like all averages, that figure conceals a large spread of time. The long delay and sometimes disappointing outcome of applications is a very serious obstacle to recruitment.
Of course we understand that the overriding duty is to ensure that no one is enlisted in the UDR who ought not properly to be a member of that force. There is no disposition to dispute that fact for a moment. Nevertheless, I do not believe we are doing all we can to overcome the disappointment and the counter-productive effect, in areas where UDR recruitment ought to be going ahead most actively, when, for no ascertainable cause, men who to all appearance are entirely suitable as recruits are rejected, and even more when persons already serving in the UDR are discharged without cause shown.
Clearly, the reasons why a person is not suitable for recruitment cannot be publicly disclosed and canvassed without damage, not least to the applicant himself. No one would dream of asking for that. But the Ministry of Defence must find better methods of sifting and choosing volunteers for the UDR without damaging 1532 morale or causing a reaction against membership of the force.
I have two suggestions to make—
§ Mr. Powell
May I make my two suggestions first, perhaps? Then I will give way to my colleague.
The first suggestion is that, where it is a question of discharge, the commanding officer should be put fully in the picture as to whatever may be the reasons which have led to that decision. The commanding officer should be told of them with full candour and in advance, so that he can give advice how the situation is to be handled so as to do least harm and cause least misunderstanding.
It is of course more difficult where we are dealing with initial recruitment; but, there again, I believe that more could be done by a closer approach to those who are serving in the UDR, and commanding units of it, in the particular recruitment area. I believe also that the RUC command in those areas should be brought into this difficult and delicate task of encouraging and speeding up the recruitment of the force while ensuring as best we humanly can that no one is enlisted in it who is unsuitable.
§ Mr. Fitt
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that I have condemned without reservation attacks on individuals and personnel of the UDR? Does he also agree that one of the reasons that there are suspicions directed against the UDR by the minority population in Northern Ireland—there are many but this is one particular reason—is that there is a feeling that some members of that regiment do not owe their loyalty to the regiment or the security forces? In his own constituency, the right hon. Gentleman will remember the atrocious murder of the Miami Showband. Later, when persons were arrested and brought before the courts, it was found that they were members of the UDR. In a situation unlike that. it is imperative that the Government should do everything possible to ensure that they are not letting into the regiment men who may be members of the UDC or UVF at other hours of the day.
§ Mr. Powell
I am sorry that, inadvertently, the hon. Member has referred to a case that is still sub judice; but of 1533 course I agree with his point. Indeed, I said—I think in his presence—that it is essential that no one should be recruited or retained to serve in the UDR. any moe than in the British Army—indeed, particularly in the UDR in these circumstances—who is not thoroughly loyal and to be trusted to serve under arms in a security force.
But I would add—I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me in this—that it is not just, as he calls it, suspicion but actual physical danger which deters many from joining the UDR—particularly many coreligionists of his, who would be valuable and desirable members of that force. It is because my hon. Friends and I want to assist the Government in the recruitment and the maximum use of this force that I look forward to the time when it will be the accepted frontier force—I use the term without political implications as perhaps the simplest single expression to describe the rôle of the UDR—the accepted security force backing up the police in several of the counties of Northern Ireland.
I come, finally and briefly, to the RUC. If there is to be restoration of the primacy of the police, which alone will be a sign that Northern Ireland and its citizens are living and being treated in all respects like the citizens of the rest of the United Kingdom, let us be under no misapprehension that this means numbers and yet more numbers. There is still a long way to go even to reach the present recruitment target—which we have been assured is not a final target—of 6,500 for the RUC.
Here again I have a suggestion to make on the subject of recruitment. I believe that the same motive—in a different form perhaps, but the same motive basically—applies to recruitment to the RUC as to recruitment to the UDR. A force will do what is expected of it. Those of whom little is expected will do little; and those who want to do much will not join a force of which little is expected. I believe the more we now start to expect of the RUC and the more duties it is entrusted with, the more it will respond to them and the more recruitment will respond to the demand.
1534 So I return to my starting point by saying that I hope the Government are using this redeployment, which I trust will be a continuing redeployment, of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland as a deliberate means of drawing—I had almost said "of forcing", but of course I do not mean that—the RUC into the policing of an ever-increasing area and the acceptance of ever-increasing responsibilities, which ought at bottom to be police responsibilities in Northern Ireland as they are in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Here, one has entered the sphere of responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; but whatever theoretical division there has to be, ministerially or bureaucratically, the command and the policy of the three elements of the security forces should he indistinguishably one. The situation in that respect is much better than it has been in the past and I think that it is constantly improving; but it is an improvement of which we can never have too much. I would commend that to the attention of the Ministry of Defence as I commend it to the attention of the Northern Ireland Office.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Having listened to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) I hope that it will not be taken amiss, or interpreted as a wish to do them any harm, if I say that I particularly welcome the appointment to Service Departments of my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy).
I wish to raise one matter of relatively minor importance, and then a matter of major importance second only to the situation in Northern Ireland, the future of the British Army in relation to the possibility of an independent Scotland and an independent Wales.
The minor issue concerns the commutation of pensions of NCOs. The Minister has entered into fairly long correspondence about my constituent, WOI Gradwell, a man who, I believe, is very capable of starting out in business on his own and a man who asks why facilities which are available to officers should in this day and age be denied to warrant officers.
1535 I see the reasons that the Government have. I think that they are honourable but misguided. I hope that my right hon. Friends will reflect whether the policy of successive Governments in this matter has not been a bit too paternalistic, whether, as it seems to some, there is not too much of a hangover of a bias in favour of officers in this respect and against other ranks. I understand that the Government and the Army authorities mean well in this matter. That is not in question. What is in question is whether, in this day and age particularly, warrant officers with a long record of good service should be denied facilities which are available to officers. I should like some assurance that this will be reflected on again. Perhaps the Minister would care to give me that assurance. Perhaps it is not possible off the cuff.
The other issue I wish to raise is the future of the British Army. I am glad that a representative of the Scottish National Party has just appeared in the Chamber—perhaps by some alchemy, telepathy or special foresight, or perhaps he saw my name up on the television screen and knew that I was going to raise the issue of the situation of the Army in an independent Scotland or, indeed, an independent Wales.
In the last defence debate I asked the Minister of State to set out in full detail what the situation would be, so that the Scottish electors could understand what would be at stake. I said:Will the Ministry be bothered to do this? If not, we shall go on and on until it produces the facts.The then Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy said:I have the immediate and ready assurance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that all the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian will be given the fullest consideration, and that we shall certainly seek an appropriate way to make our findings available to the wider public."—[Official Report, 31st March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 1439.]I hope that the Defence Department will do that. It should be done in relation to the Army, the Royal Air Force, and the Navy, broadly from the approach of a cost analysis of the existing facilities in Scotland, of how much is spent as the Scottish proportion of the British Forces, and how much the same equivalent would 1536 be if Scotland were independent with independent forces.
I quote the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) when he said:The hon. Member has begun to treat the House to a description of things which might happen. The Scottish National Party commitment on defence is total loyalty to membership of NATO."—[Official Report, 31st March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 1384.]We should be quite clear about that. That implies a totally different army, just as the Dutch army, the Belgian Army, and the army of the Federal Republic are different.
The hon. Member for Argyll also said:As it is not the policy of the SNP to disband any of the traditional Scottish regiments, it would be better if the hon. Member for West Lothian bent his mind to the problem of how we shall continue that position if complete independence is, as he believes, inevitable."—[Official Report, 31st March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 1386.]I do not believe it is inevitable, but I make no secret of the fact that I think it is possible. Ideas which, a year ago, may have appeared fanciful, no longer appear to be fanciful. We should have precise details of what a separate Scottish force would mean, and put those details before the Scottish electors.
§ Mr. Iain MacCormick (Argyll)
Does the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) appreciate the immense pride with which the Scottish National Party regards the contribution made by Scotsmen to the British Armed Forces during the past centuries? If we are going to be independent, clearly it will be Scotland's duty to make some kind of contribution to the defence of the Western world, just as we have made a contribution in the past to the defence of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This idea of "some kind of contribution" brings to mind John Whale in the Sunday Times last week, when he said that a lot of people thought that Scotland would be just the same even though independent and that things would not basically change. People had better wake up to the fact that independence would be different. If the Scottish National Party's policies were to come into operation there would be very considerable changes.
1537 The hon. Member for Argyll should consider the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, for example. At present over half those serving in this regiment are English by birth. If we are to have these changes, they must be spelt out. We must be told how the changes are to be made and how regiments are going to be formed. How can Scottish regiments be retained when many English, Welsh, and Irish-born nationals are serving in them? This is going to be a bit difficult unless Scotland goes in for mercenaries.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Does the hon. Member not regard it as disgraceful that while his ancestors raised the Royal Scots Greys, the hon. Member did nothing at all to preserve that regiment? That is why he now talks about the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I think my party's policy on rationalising defence was right. There are honourable traditions, but a Scottish army has to be operated on the economy of Scotland. That is the trouble. If the Scottish National Party is to retain every historic Scottish regiment it will find it a bit difficult. How will the Queen's Own Highlanders or the Royal Scots, for example, be retained? Over one-third of those recruited to the Royal Scots have their homes outside the borders of Scotland. The same goes for the Black Watch, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Argylls and the Scots Guards. In fact, the Scots Guards is an overwhelmingly non-Scottish regiment. How will the Scottish National Party work this out? What in practical terms happens to those soldiers who have joined those regiments? How do we make up the numbers from Scottish recruits?
§ Mr. MacCormick
Has the hon. Member made any surveys of Scottish people in English regiments? Whether we are independent or not, if we are talking about our part in the defence of the free world surely it does not matter where the recruits come from. There are, for example, lots of people from Southern Ireland serving in regiments in this country, even though Southern Ireland is independent.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is one of the questions I have asked the Ministry of Defence. The information is that the 1538 number is significantly, and markedly, lower, and in some cases infinitesimal compared with the numbers of non-Scots serving in Scottish regiments. To carry out a policy of retaining the existing Scottish regiments from Scottish people would mean that far more recruiting would have to be done.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Could the hon. Member tell us if he believes the number of Scotsmen, as a percentage of the total in the Armed Forces, is less than the percentage of the population of Scotland relative to the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I would have to have detailed notice of that to produce the figures.
That is partly why I have asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, and also my hon. Friends the Under-Secretaries of State for Defence for the Navy and the Royal Air Force, to give figures in detail, because we have to have some kind of authoritative exposition of what is involved. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Royal Air Force on his first day in office had a very long typescript letter from me asking this, and other detailed questions, naturally in relation to the Royal Air Force. I hope that in due time—three or four months—all this will be spelt out. We should not be left in ignorance of these matters any longer but the proportion of Scottish regiments to the British Army as a whole is above average for the Scottish population.
If I see Conservatives shaking their heads and looking doubtful, I will remind them, not immodestly, I hope, of a quote by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) during our last debate on defence. He said:The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mt. Dalyell) has made a novel contribution to our debate. I shall not enter into his argument, but I have no reason to challenge it. In his own way he has exposed the unreal world in which many people choose to live today, and he has done so in a most effective way."—[Official Report, 31st March 1976; Vol. 908. c. 1390.]Whether it was effective or not, I just want to see reality brought into these matters. If we have a separate Scottish army what would happen about Sandhurst, for example? Would the training 1539 of officers for Scottish regiments have to be at a special Scottish Sandhurst?
§ Mr. Speaker
This is not a personal argument between two hon. Members. It is a debate. It seems to me that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will keep giving way just as long as the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) jumps up.
§ Mr. MacCormick
I realise that it is a debate, but I would like to ask the hon. Member, lastly, if it is not rather odd to suggest that Sandhurst should be treated any differently as a result of Scottish independence? Why should there be a Scottish Sandhurst? Iraqi and Egyptian officers are trained at Sandhurst. Why should Scottish officers be treated any differently?
§ Mr. Dalyell
So future Scottish officers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Gordon Highlanders, the Black Watch and the Scots Dragoon Guards are to go to Sandhurst on the same basis as the Egyptians and the Nigerians? Is that the proposal?
§ Mr. Dalyell
If it is, we should be clear that the officers of a Scottish army will be trained in an alien country. That is the logic of the suggestion. It is no good the hon. Gentleman screwing up his face. These are the facts which have to be faced. This is the unreal world with which the hon. Member is now beguiling the Scottish electors.
Let us consider the specialist arms. We have heard from the Government great schemes for the long-range anti-tank missiles being taken over by the Royal Artillery. I want from the Government in the paper which they are to produce an assessment of how, on the basis of a country of 5 million people, there can be any kind of support contribution to anti-tank missile units. The same goes for the reconnaisance regiments which will take over our radar and other surveillance devices. This is linked, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows, to the whole question of whether there can be separate units of Nimrod squadrons on such a small basis. What happens about maintenance and 1540 repair? Can all this be done economically on the basis of a country of 5 million people? The same goes for helicopters concentrated in divisional regiments. One can go on in this way. There is the Royal Corps of Transport. Is this to be dismantled. The Artillery Division is taking over the artillery brigades which provide nuclear and heavy artillery support and anti-aircraft defence.
Is all this to be done on the basis of a Scottish army? These questions must be answered if it is proposed to have an independent force. Equally, I should want to know what access the Scottish force would have to the Royal Radar Establishment, Malvern, the Signals Research and Development Establishment, Christchurch, the Services Electronics Research Laboratory, Baldock, the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down, the Microbiological Research Establishment, Porton Down, the Explosives Research and Development Establishment, Waltham Abbey, the Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment, Chertsey, the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment, Seven-oaks, and the Rocket Propulsion Establishment, Aylesbury.
§ Mr. MacCormick
Has is escaped the hon. Member's attention that there are a number of extremely important Service establishments in Scotland? Would it not be a good thing to share these facilities?
§ Mr. Dalyell
In that case we had better get away from the idea of a separate force. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. If we are to share these facilities we must keep the British Services intact. Once again the hon. Member is trying to have his cake and eat it.
In the paper that the Department is to produce there must be some exposition of the cost of separation. There must be a separate cost analysis of what the SNP proposes. I do not want to weary the House with the effect of a separate Scottish army, but the effect of the commitment in Ireland would have to be discussed.
There is another question which concerns disentangling Service pensions. If I were a retired NCO or officer in Argyll—and there are quite a number of those—I would want to know what guarantee 1541 there would be of my pension rights in the British Army.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is not fair to other hon. Members to conduct this debate as though it were a personal argument.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Part of the trouble with this whole question is that it is not a personal argument, Mr. Speaker. These are unexplored questions. The SNP has got away with a lot of bland statements, and no one tries to probe precisely what the proposition is, so that the whole absurdity of them is not revealed.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Will the hon. Member direct his mind more objectively and constructively than he has at present to the way in which the problems, which he has dealt with so well, are resolved in a small country like Denmark, for example? Does he not support the concept of European co-operation in defence as well?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am a member of the European Parliament and I talk a great deal to my Danish colleagues, who explain all the economic and military defects of operating on such a small basis. If one is considering the cost effectiveness of the Danish contribution to NATO as some kind of example, that is a highly questionable proposition.
I have another direct question.
What about large-scale contracting for Army food, clothing and supplies of all kinds of equipment of both a civilian and military nature?
What would be the cost of extra civilian support needed to maintain a Scottish army? After all, that was said by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about the contracting of civilian jobs in the Armed Forces. Should we not have some clear reaffirmation that the 6,000 jobs promised for the West of Scotland are to be provided? Perhaps we may have some reaffirmation of policy on the moving of defence jobs because anyone who heard from my hon. Friend the range of jobs which is to be contracted could hardly imagine that the staff unions and the professional associations concerned would be very happy about 1542 6,000 jobs going North or being deployed outside the areas where they already exist.
I realise that other hon. Members want to speak in the debate, but I do not apologise for having detained the House for some time on this subject. The proposal being discussed involves the bust-up of the British Forces and the bust-up of Britain. It is no good the hon. Member for Argyll or anyone else being under the happy illusion that Scotland can become independent and that all the good things that we now take for granted will continue as before. Independence means a great many differences, and before the next election Scots electors had better be quite clear on those differences, and not least about the cost and effectiveness of their forces. I look forward to the Government's promised paper, setting out the details of independent Scottish Services.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Spencer Le Marchant (High Peak)
I am sure that the House would not want me to be sandwiched between West Lothian, Walsall and Argyll. I should, however, like to welcome the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) to the Government Front Bench. He was remarkably efficient in managing in his previous job to put up certain costs in the House by 16 per cent. If he manages to increase by 16 per cent. the amount of money we spend on defence, we shall be delighted. I am sure he will manage to do that in view of the enormous influence he has with the Secretary of State.
It is sad that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is not here. It is but once a year that we have this debate. He gave us over one hour and it was not a very inspiring speech. I entirely support all he said regarding the work done by the Forces, but the rest of it, to me, was complacency, self-satisfaction and very little of what really matters, which is that we are cutting down by £6,000 million.
What did the hon. Gentleman tell us about that? I would say that he told us nothing, yet he has now left. Perhaps he has a very important appointment, but he might have found, on this one day in the year on which his debate takes place in the House, the time to be with us.
1543 Let us look at the £6,000 million that is being saved and compare the White Papers of last year and this year. Take the total number of soldiers: we are down against the Warsaw Pact countries. Take the soldiers in the fighting units: we are down as against the Warsaw Pact countries; main battle tanks, down; guns, down. In every sector for which the Under-Secretary is responsible, we are weaker this year than last.
It is no good saying that we are fulfilling our NATO obligations. A great deal has been said about the tail and the spine, the face and the teeth. I believe that the tail went last year and that the cuts which have come this year have taken the bone out of the spine. These Estimates really leave a mere haggard face with shining teeth sticking out of it.
Let us consider the civilian cuts. The hon. Gentleman promised us that by 1989 there would be an improvement in tanks and that we should have guns in the 1980s. It is well known to all hon. Members what the shortages of materials are—and by materials I mean everything from the power packs of the Chieftain down to the spare parts of the Land Rover. These are the things that are missing at the moment. It is as basic as that. We know that we are cutting back on petrol for training and on ammunition to make our troops efficient.
There are other influences which are making it very difficult for our Army to work efficiently. They are tied up with Northern Ireland. Even though the normal course of duty in Northern Ireland might be but four months, by the time an armoured unit has been changed into an infantry unit to work in Ireland and has then gone back to Germany it has had almost an eight-month period during which it has been completely ineffective for the job for which it was meant. We therefore face these many difficulties, and in addition we are cutting down, as is so clearly shown in the White Paper, on the forces at home. This is vastly irresponsible.
In paragraph 42 on page 18 of its Report last year, the Expenditure Committee said:We believe it is damaging to create the public impression that defence can be a recurrent and easy source of short-term economies in public expenditure.1544 It went on in the following paragraph to say that the Government should give serious consideration to any short-term cuts.
Of course, certain of the Committee's recommendations of last year were looked at quite carefully and the absent Under-Secretary said when he talked about the civilian cuts that there were to be full consultations. But, he said, closures were inevitable. So what does he mean by "full consultations"? If he is going to make these enormous cuts on the civilian front, does he really mean to hold full consultations or does he mean that, as he said to us today, the closures are inevitable and he is merely going through a format?
One's concern is dual on this. One is concerned from a defence point of view, with the bone being taken out of the spine and the tail having already gone. One is concerned equally about the maintenance of jobs. I should like to take the example, which was brought to my attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), of Chilwell, where 1,600 jobs are to be cut in July. Apparently the unions are not satisfied that the Government are consulting fully enough about this.
The unions believe that by July there cannot have been the full consultation necessary to decide whether it is right that Chilwell should be closed. They suggest, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston and other hon. Members on both sides of the House believe, that where jobs are concerned the vehicle and ammunition side should be separate from the Central Ordnance Depot side. On the vehicle and ammunition side, an investment of something over £1 million would save something like £9 million. However, on the Central Ordnance Depot side an investment of £7 million will be needed to save something like £2 million. In the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston and of other hon. Members on both sides of the House, these are issues that should be taken separately. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would look at this point.
It would be wrong not to mention in the debate today some of the more human points that one has noted as one has had the privilege of meeting our soldiers this year in places as far apart as Belize and Germany. There are three points I want to make. The first concerns soldiers 1545 being posted away from their families. This mainly affects the infantry. There are infantry regiments such as the Gloucesters which have spent 38 months out of the last 10 years away from their families, and that does not include all the courses they have been on. The Second Parachute Regiment has spent even longer, probably up to 42 months. Therefore, they spend a large number of months every year away from their families.
The Under-Secretary might like to look at this, because it is obviously bad for the morale of any regiment. I realise that Ulster has made a very big impact in this respect, of course. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) talked about warrant officers. When people get to warrant officer rank they really like to be with their families as much as possible as their children are growing up. This is a very serious problem which 1 draw to the attention of the Government.
The next point is that of education. In the Foreign Office there seems to be a scheme that is far superior to that in the forces. I refer to the boarding-school allowance. With school fees going up and with county councils being less willing to provide money, I feel that this is something which the Ministry of Defence should look at very carefully to see that hardship is not caused. Anybody who knows about education in Germany knows that the education that is provided there is superb, but this cannot be so in some of the outlying stations. Where members of the Forces are kept away from their home base for a long time and children have to be put into boarding schools, real worry is caused if the parents cannot afford it and the Forces' scheme is not good enough.
The third human point that I wish to bring to the attention of the House concerns house letting, which is becoming progressively more difficult, and the worry that a serving soldier has about getting back his own house when he returns from an overseas posting. It so happens at the moment that any soldier stationed in Germany who is buying a house on a mortgage in England receives no mortgage allowances under the 1974 Finance Act since Germany is reckoned to be his main place of residence. Cannot we be more humane about this? Can- 1546 not we amend the legislation to look after members of Her Majesty's Forces, merchant seamen and others who have to be away from home? If we cannot do that, might it not be done through the Pay Steering Committee?
It is obvious that the home of a soldier serving in Germany is not his married quarter. He has to be there. His home is where his chattels are and the place to which his family returns. It may be a cottage in England. He cannot be expected to sell it and to buy something else. When people serve their country and they are sent abroad, it is quite wrong that they should be made to call their quarters, for which they pay the full rent, their main place of residence and that they should be unable to charge to income tax the mortgage payments which they make on their homes in England. I hope that the Minister will consider this, because it is a real worry to soldiers posted abroad who may have cottages or houses in England.
I do not wish to delay the House for too long. Despite all the cuts and despite all that we have heard today, which makes me extremely unhappy, I am convinced that we still have the finest troops in the world and that our NATO Allies consider them to be the best troops. We are able to do far more than our Allies, even though we have these great pressures upon us in trying to maintain out presence in Ulster.
The Under-Secretary was less than fair when he said that the maneouvres last year had been a success. Of course they were not. If they had been, we should not be talking about the problem of command groups and the differences between a division and a regiment. We are going against standardisation. When the Germans are turning to brigade formations, we are turning away from them. That will not help standardisation. Despite that, however, we in the West are more manoeuvrable than are the Warsaw Pact countries. They are completely inflexible.
To conclude, I remind the House of that part of the Expenditure Committee's Report which pointed out that the Services and the Defence Ministry needed a period of relative stability to enable them to absorb the effects of the defence review. We have very efficient leaders in our 1547 Forces. Let us leave them alone to sort out their difficulties. They have seen these enormous cuts. Let us leave them to absorb them and decide whether they can live with them. Let us not interfere any more. There has been too much interference already.
§ Mr. Wiggin
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are no fewer than three Ministers who have direct or indirect responsibility for the Army—the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary. The Under-Secretary has been alone representing the Army until about—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
The hon. Gentleman knows that is not a matter for the Chair.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
The words of the hon. Member for Weston-super-mare (Mr. Wiggin) appear to have had some sort of effect, because I see that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is with us again.
It is not my intention to take up any of the matters referred to by the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) except in two small respects, in both of which, surprisingly, I am inclined to agree with him, although on a more fundamental level probably less so.
I agree that the disparity between the education allowances paid to members of the Diplomatic Service and to members of the Services has no justification. The allowance to the Diplomatic Service was raised substantially after a review in 1965, and the disparity has never been explained on any reasonable basis by any Minister. I can remember asking questions about it back in the 1960s. I urge the Government to realise that this is a matter which needs clearing up, though I suspect that I would clear it up in a rather different way from that which the hon. Member for High Peak would use since the education section of 1548 the Labour Party's policy includes the phasing out of independent schools, and that needs solving both in Army schools and in the maintained sector. In any event, it is a dog's breakfast at the moment.
The second matter in the speech of the hon. Member for High Peak which I wish to pursue is his plea about housing, not so much from the point of view of officers as from that of other ranks.
In the last week, I have had a case drawn to my attention where a constituent of mine was suddenly deserted by his wife and, being left with two children, had to come out of the Army because he put his responsibility to his children before everything else. When his case was put to the over-crowded London borough of Lewisham, which has very severe housing difficulties, the joint advice of the Ministry of Defence and the Department of the Environment to local authorities about rehousing ex-Service men had very little effect. His needs seem to have been given a very low priority. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends not simply to forget that advice but to keep in contact with their opposite numbers in the Department of the Environment so that when cases of this kind occur, especially when they occur suddenly and there is not a great deal of time for reasonable arrangements to be made, local authorities may be given greater advice to act more sympathetically.
I am not very well known for speaking in debates on defence matters; indeed, this is the first occasion on which I have done so. I am no expert on the subject. Unlike most Opposition Members, my only contact was a somewhat unsuccessful year or so in National Service when I went between lance bombardier and gunner both ways several times. But I learned a little about how the Army worked.
I wish to make one general point and two specific ones. First, I pick up the very narrow point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and apply it on a global strategic level. The right hon. Gentleman said that in areas in Northern Ireland which were trouble-free the Army should clear out and allow normal conditions to return. That is a very good point, and in my view it is relevant just as much on a 1549 global scale as it is in the instances referred to by the right hon. Gentleman.
I welcome the fact that Britain has reduced her rôle substantially to a NATO one, not only because that is an economically realistic thing to do but because it enables us to use our political influence in a much more realistic way when we do not have a military presence in a particular area. I shall give two brief examples. I am glad that the British Army has now left the Far East and I am glad that we never got involved in Vietnam as, I suspect, under some Governments, we might have done. It enables us to support various United Nations initiatives on the other side of the globe, like the nuclear-free Southern Hemisphere for which almost all the Southern Hemisphere countries of different political persuasions in South America and South Africa were working until recently and which would have been less easy had we had a military presence there. I am only sorry that changes in Australia and New Zealand have made that objective much less possible now and that the French have decided to carry on nuclear testing at Mururoa in the Pacific. The underground method which they have chosen has far greater environmental dangers to that atoll than if they had chosen atmospheric tests.
My second example is that whatever might be the advantage of our being in Oman in terms of the training facilities and the fact that our forces are paid and there is no cost to the British taxpayer, in political terms it does the Labour Government's political initiative in the world immense damage for our forces to be associated with a régime which, although it might be particularly stable at the moment, is likely to change rapidly as democracy comes to that part of the world over the next few years. Because our forces are there, Britain will have far less scope for political initiative with our colleagues in Europe.
I want to talk about some very specific things in what will, I hope, be a comparatively short speech. I should like to mention two matters about Cyprus. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must not trespass on the Select Committee's Report which will shortly be published in the week after next. However, there are various points relating to the Army's 1550 rôle there which are not germane to the Select Committee's Report and which need to be cleared up.
I refer first to the whole issue of recruitment for the Army as it affects Cyprus. Many hon. Members may have seen the advertisement in the Army recruitment literature which states:You may have to help to keep the peace in CyprusThese people do not have the rights you take for granted. The right to vote, the right to worship as you choose, to speak your mind, to strike if you feel you're being exploited. In short, the right to live your life as you want subject only to the wishes of the majority and the laws of the land.I put it to my hon. Friend the Under Secretary that whatever one thinks of the reasons why the British Government have not intervened in the present situation in Cyprus—there may be good reasons and bad reasons for non-intervention—an advertisement couched in those terms to people in my constituency whose relations have been butchered, raped and murdered in Cyprus, simply because of the non-intervention of British troops, is not the most delicate and sensible subject to choose for recruitment literature.
An hon. Member mentioned Belize. If one wants to say in recruitment literature what a marvellous life there is there, there is something to be said for this. But the Army has to be careful that it does not transgress the standards of the Advertising Standards Authority, because, as the Minister knows, the chance of going to some of these places is some what less now than it has been in the past. The public services should be as alive as everyone else to the standards of advertising in this way.
§ Mr. Price
There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. I am a member of the Select Committee on Cyprus, but I would not wish to pursue that point. The Report of the Select Committee will shortly be published, and I 1551 hope my hon. Friend will read it carefully because it may have a great deal to say on that point.
It is well known that recruitment to the Army is to some extent allied to unemployment. When there is a great deal of unemployment, recruitment is comparatively easy, but when young people can get high wages at home it is rather more difficult to recruit to the Services. It is particularly important at this time, when we have very high unemployment and when many young people feel that they want to get a job at any cost, that they should go into the Army knowing exactly what they are going into.
I should like to raise another matter in relation to Cyprus. If my hon. Friend is unable to clear it up tonight, I hope he will be able to do so at some later time. The more we have studied the problem of Cyprus, the more the exact status of the sovereign base areas becomes clouded and unclear. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he was Foreign Secretary, came to the Select Committee and made it clear that the sovereign base areas were retained territory. In other words, he implied that they had the status which they had before Cypriot independence.
All our experience, when we were there implied that they were virtually military enclaves in the sense that important political decisions which needed to be taken were taken by the military because there simply was not, as it were, a civil arm to take those decisions. This was particularly so in relation to decisions about the attitude to the refugees over dual nationality. Because there was the British territory there, British nationality remained in Anzio camp. There was a great deal of confusion about this. It was also pointed out to us on many occasions that these were sovereign parts of Great Britain, as much part of Great Britain as Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Cornwall or anywhere else. But British citizens there did not seem to be able to elect a Member of Parliament and did not have any civil authority on which they could have any influence to look after them.
I realise all the difficulties about Cyprus. I realise that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus would not at 1552 the moment welcome any British with drawal from the sovereign base areas, although I think everyone realises that one day we must leave and that the sovereign base areas must revert to the Government of the Republic. I ask my hon. Friend to clear up the exact status of these areas because it is an important matter for the refugees, some of whom look like being there for the rest of their lives, having lost all their possessions and sometimes all their relatives.
I ask my hon. Friend to give an assurance that it is no part of the Government's policy to lever these refugees off the sovereign base areas and dump them on the Cyprus Government to be looked after. Many of them are British citizens who have every right to come to Britain and live off social security. A sensible attitude by the military authorities in the sovereign base areas—if the authorities are military—could save much public expenditure and distress.
The whole Cyprus position is so sensitive that the Government must weigh with enormous care every statement they make about Cyprus. If the piece of recruitment literature to which I referred is still in circulation, please may it be withdrawn, since it might be very offensive to many people in Britain and Cyprus?
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I must repeat my complaint about the Government representation on the Front Bench. It is strange that neither the Secretary of State nor the Minister of State has been here to support the Army Minister in his lengthy statement on the Army. No explanation or excuse has been given for their absence, and it is a grave discourtesy to the House. When no responsible Minister is present, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is reasonable to ask you to protect the Opposition against an abuse of the debate. I shall not pursue that matter with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I appreciate that you do not consider it to be your responsibility, but if such an abuse occurs again perhaps you will give thought to the matter. We are debating a vitally important aspect of our national resources in the absence of a responsible Government representative.
I wish to direct most of my remarks to the reserves, in particular the TAVR, but, 1553 first, I should like to comment on the Minister's speech. The rejoicing in the Royal Armoured Corps at the announcement that Britain may have a new tank by 1989, if its construction and development can be agreed with Germany, will be immense. No doubt there will be singing tonight in Bovington and Catterick. The announcement that the brigade structure— the removal of which was predicted as impossible—is to be restored under another name would make the grand old Duke of York revolve with laughter in his grave, as the Army Minister marches up the hill and down again, albeit under the guise of pretending that his proposals could work.
It does not require much brilliance to realise why officer recruitment has fallen off since the Labour Party took power. Could it conceivably be that three major revisions of defence policy in 22 months suggest to a young man about to enter upon a career that his future is not as secure as he was led to believe? The Government are continually messing about with defence policy, and young men will not be prepared to give the first 20 or 30 years of their lives to a career in the Services when at any time in that period they may be made redundant without just cause or expectation.
I declare an interest as a serving officer in the TAVR. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister's Department and staff for the excellent arrangements they made when I paid official visits to the Services, particularly in Northern Ireland. The two visits I have made since the last Army debate were arranged in a first class manner, and the time was well used. I hope that our interest in the welfare of the Services in Northern Ireland has to some extent been reciprocated.
I agree with the Minister that at a time of cuts and stringency in the Services it is doubly necessary to look closely at the money that goes into the reserves to make them ready to deal with an emergency. The allocation to the reserves for all three Services is the puny figure of £81 million out of a total defence budget of £5,632 million. That means that expenditure on reserves for all three Services is below 2 per cent. of the total. For the Army the figure is a little better. The Minister said it was 3 per cent., and my calculation agrees roughly with that, although I am not sure how the costing is done.
1554 What percentage of total expenditure do our NATO Allies spend on their reserve forces? Do the Americans spend 3 per cent? I guess that it is rather more, but perhaps the Minister will enlighten us, as it is a factor which he should willingly use in assessing the future spend requirements of the Reserve Army.
I understand the difficulties that Ministers face when they are cheese-paring—as they almost always are—in allocating resources within their Departments. The Army Board will be under pressure from the hon. Gentleman, and the Regular soldier will wish cuts to be made in the reserves rather than in the Regular Army. The Regular will suggest that the reserves can manage with inferior equipment and should not be given a pay rise or a bounty increase. That is easily understood, but it is completely wrong. It is here that the politician must exercise his common sense and muscle. He must tell the professionals that the money will be better spent on the reserves, which have larger numbers of men, many of them well trained, who must have the equipment to make their rôle realistic. I hope that when the Minister next has an argument about the allocation of resources he will remember those words. It will be hard for him, but I hope that he will fight for the reserves.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown
The Army Board does not rely on me half as heavily as I rely on the Army Board in my position as chairman. I had to lean extremely heavily to get the well-deserved and long overdue increase in bounties for the TAVR, the necessity for which the Conservative Government disregarded for so long.
§ Mr. Wiggin
When that bounty was issued an order was sent round London District asking that the bounty should not be published. It is an attractive way of getting recruits. I suppose the order was issued in case it might be thought the bounty cut across the incomes policy. I cannot help reminding the Minister that his publicity machine operated in reverse on that occasion.
In last year's White Paper and again today it was said that it was the Government's intention to see the integration of the Regular Army with the TAVR and that it should be encouraged 1555 in every way. I have done my best to discover whether that integration is happening, and I should like some examples if it is. I would welcome closer integration, but I can see no evidence of it.
I was privileged to go with my TAVR regiment to Germany this year. The performance of the move and the way in which the regiment carried out its task will be of interest to the House. I was surprised by its efficiency, although I take no credit for it, since I have only recently joined and I arrived separately. About 216 vehicles with about 600 men, 25 trailers and six aircraft moved to Germany from Belfast, Nottingham, Swindon and two locations in London and arrived complete with all their men and vehicles. Each armoured car averaged 1,300 miles during that fortnight's camp.
We had our proportion of breakdowns and the odd accident, but the physical carrying out of that task was something of which any reserve unit in any army would be justly proud. But it was carried out amid an immense sea of paper. Each vehicle had 26 sets of documents. It took an estimated 20,000 sheets of paper to transport the regiments through two or three customs posts and across the North Sea. I appreciate that it is necessary in peace time, but could the Minister examine ways of cutting down the paper work attached to such training manoeuvres?
Recruitment to the TAVR is improving and the Army is now being more honest about the relationship between recruiting and unemployment. That has been clear for a long time in the TAVR, particularly in the North, where there is pressure from young men to join. I do not know how that marries up with the figures, but, according to the White Paper, whereas in 1973 there were 57,200 in the Territorials, by 1976 the figure had dropped to 51,300. That is a substantial fall of more than 10 per cent., which is only to a slight degree balanced by an increase in the number of women reservists. The problem is one of high turnover. Many recruits stay only for a short time. A close investigation into the reasons for this should be instituted.
There are certain methods that each unit should adopt to help young men stay with the TAVR. Quick medicals, 1556 early attestation, the issuing of uniforms at an early moment in the young lad's career, are important. The Department should examine the reasons why young men do not stay with the TAVR.
I am concerned about the relationship between the Regular Army and the TAVR and the way in which the Regular Army looks at postings to the TAVR. This is now quite substantial for officers and NCOs, and quite large numbers are posted to units to assist as permanent staff. That is right because contact with the TAVR does nothing but good for a soldier's or officer's career. I would like to see officers earmarked for high command being given direct experience with the TAVR early in their careers, in just the same way as a period at staff college is obligatory. Positions such as those of adjutant, training major and, later, commanding officer should be filled by some of those young men.
That is happening today and could happen to a greater degree. I would like to see it extended to men with NCO potential as well, because it would help them understand the different way in which the TAVR approaches certain problems. There is no doubt that the Regular Army neither knows nor understands the capacity of the TAVR to carry out its task. Time and again one hears the words "It was better than I expected."
Our own regimental training report reads:This training was well planned and conducted with enthusiasm and more professional expertise than I had expected.The report goes on:The Regiment displayed great enthusiasm and a commendable standard of professional military competence.One often hears similar comments, to the effect that the TAVR is as good as the Regular Army. The keenness of a volunteer who gives up his time to go soldiering makes up for the sheer length of training of a Regular soldier. That keenness and desire to contribute is not used enough.
I was saddened by the state of the Regular Army in BAOR. There was a lack of spare parts, lack of fuel, lack of training time. During the training exercise I have described that lack of equipment made a mockery of our enemy. 1557 They failed to turn up, because they did not have the fuel or spares.
There was also a lack of helicopter spare parts. It is ridiculous that lists have to be issued of those spare parts which are in most short supply in a particular month. Surely it is time for the company concerned, the Army, or someone, to stock the appropriate quantity of spare parts to keep helicopters flying, because they are expensive items of equipment, flown by highly trained men. It is ludicrous that they cannot take to the air because some bit or other is missing.
The lack of liaison extends deeper—to operational instructions. One was issued the other day that took no account of the special problems of the TAVR Regiment. It involved the requirement that certain men should be qualified in a particular skill which could be gained only by service in a particular squadron. That is not possible in the TAVR for geographical and other reasons, but no thought was given to that. One could go further, because there are many such instances in the course of a year. There is no easy solution, except a greater integration of young officers during their careers, particularly of those destined to the staff, so that they understand the problems.
I now turn to the unfortunate subject of training accidents. We had a fatal accident during our camp. Many TAVR regiments suffer such accidents. I have no criticism—indeed, I have nothing but praise—about the way in which the system deals with such accidents. In our case it was first class and beyond criticism. All of us who train accept that we are not playing with toys, that we are not in the Girl Guides, and that accidents will happen.
It was therefore a grave mistake when the Minister ordered that no training involving water should take place after the unhappy incident at Newark. There was no cause for that very demoralising instruction, which came directly from the Minister. I hope that he will give serious thought before reacting in such a way again, particularly as there was no question of a technical failure. It was a sheer accident, and should have been treated as such.
1558 There have been difficulties, if only with the public relations department, over the question of compensation. I am not apportioning any blame, because I believe that there was a mistake, but I hope that when there is an accident a great deal of trouble will be taken to see that, if anything, things are better for the volunteer, since, after all, the Regular makes his service his career. Compensation should be that little more generous, if necessary, so that in no circumstances can the morale and reputation of a unit, which depends on its reputation for its recruits and future, be harmed by the damage that might result from a mistake after such an accident.
I go further on the question of adventure training. Why should the TAVR not be allowed to take part in any adventure training? What master stroke of economy precludes my soldiers going on adventure training while the Regular unit down the road is allowed to carry it out? It is just as good for our lads as it is for the Regular Army. There is a good case, particularly when interest lags in a relatively monotonous job, for encouraging adventure training in the TAVR just as much as in a Regular unit.
Finally, I again climb on an old hobbyhorse of mine—the contribution that the TAVR might make in the emergency in Northern Ireland. I am well aware that a decision was made, reconsidered and remade when the Conservative Government were in office, but I ask the Minister to look at it yet again. It seems strange that when the Army in Ireland is pressed to the last man, when only about 25 per cent. of the average unit is available to go on the streets because of its requirements for rest periods and guards, and for other reasons, our TAVR should go to camp in this country or Germany to do its fortnight's training when a fortnight in Ireland is what the soldier would like to do.
I know that there are problems, the biggest being not that they might get shot but that they might shoot somebody. But part-time soldiers doing some of the duties in the less dangerous areas or doing the more routine jobs could account for 400 or 500 of the jobs that the Regular soldiers are now doing. Those jobs could be done by volunteers for two or three months in the summer, and I believe that 1559 the volunteer would be happy to accept the danger.
The difficulties include problems of training, fitness and, above all, responsibility and lack of knowledge. But everyone must be new to a job at some time. The Department might consider the possibility of a little assistance in this way. I assure the Minister that the Territorial soldiers who live and train in Northern Ireland would be the first to volunteer for such duties.
In conclusion, I repeat what I said at the beginning. At a time of problems and cuts, it is the reserves that provide the best value, and therefore need the encouragement and resources to carry out a job that they do willingly and for fun.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Woodall (Hemsworth)
I have read this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates with interest. While I appreciate that the document cannot go into detail on a great number of topics, there are some matters on which I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can give the House extra guidance.
We are always reading Press reports about the situation in Northern Ireland. I join my hon. Friend and other hon. Members in their tribute to the fine job done by our troops there. I have visited that troubled area, and I am an ex infantryman, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who was in the artillery. Although he did not admit it, I think we were both thoroughly bad soldiers. He admits to fluctuating between the rank of gunner and lance-bombardier, while I am ashamed to admit that I went from private to corporal and up to sergeant and back down again. Probably the Army was glad to see the back of me. Perhaps my hon. Friend can say the same of himself.
As an ex-infantryman, I can appreciate the difficulties facing our troops in that troubled area. In a normal theatre of war it is comparatively easy to recognise the enemy—if I may put it that way—and attack him. In Northern Ireland it is far from easy and often impossible. Weapons are easily concealed, brought out and used and then easily concealed again, and it is hard to detect who has used them. As was described by a commentator on the recent bombing in Lisburn, there is little that can be done to prevent the deter- 1560 mined bomber from carrying out his deadly intentions.
What concerns me is a report in the Press recently that our soldiers were being outgunned by the Provisional IRA. Can the Minister confirm that, or can he confirm that our troops are suitably equipped to meet anything that the Provisional IRA might have? I hope he will say that they are better equipped and that the main difficulty facing them in Northern Ireland is that of quickly recognising the enemy. I regret the use of the term "enemy" again, but it is hard to find a suitable alternative. Being familiar with infantry weapons, although I am probably way out of date, I was rather puzzled by that Press comment.
I am also very concerned about the welfare of our troops. I have strong connections with the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association, an organisation devoted to assisting our Service men and ex-Service men wherever and whenever possible. I pay the highest tribute to it.
My hon. Friend has already mentioned the introduction of the piped television service for the British forces in Germany. I am sure that it will do a great deal for the families of the soldiers there. When I visited Northern Ireland I found that the main concern of our troops was their families back in Germany. While they were serving in Northern Ireland their families had little to do and were bored. The families were depressed by the language difficulty. I am sure that the introduction of a television service will be highly welcomed. A soldier in Northern Ireland told me that it was a godsend for the people back in Germany.
My hon. Friend may care to outline in more detail some of the welfare amenities which are available, particularly those available to our soldiers in the arduous conditions of Northern Ireland. I stress "arduous conditions" because in certain areas which I visited I found the conditions endured by our troops almost comparable with those which I endured on active service during the last war.
I am pleased to hear about the attempt to improve conditions in certain parts of Northern Ireland. I hope my hon. Friend will confirm that whatever can be done will be done and that welfare amenities are continually being reviewed and, if possible, improved.
1561 I hope that we shall hear more from my hon. Friend about improvement schemes to modernise the properties occupied by the troops and their families. As an ex-miner, I must ask him to bear in mind that in any improvement scheme it would be welcomed if he considered solid fuel central heating.
I was encouraged when I read in the Defence White Paper that the Services are actively participating in the "Save it" campaign. Apart from the conservation of energy, will my hon. Friend say what is being done in the Services about the conservation of water? In many areas the shortage of water is causing great concern.
As a raw recruit in the Army, one of the first offences I committed was to wash under a running tap. When the sergeant-major caught me I was warned about the terrible consequences of doing so, although I was a brand-new rookie. There was a barrack order that soldiers must never wash under a running tap. I broke the rule and had to suffer the threat of being put on a charge. Those were early days in my Army career, but I later learned the essential point of conserving water. When it is necessary to drink, wash one's socks, shave, have a bath and generally live from a bottle containing two pints of water, one soon realises the importance of conservation.
I am concerned that the present situation probably means that we shall have to turn to more drastic methods. I am sure that my hon. Friend will bring home to the Services that it is essential to try to conserve as much water as possible.
I was also encouraged when I read that the Ministry of Defence Royal Ordnance Factory Organisation recently won the Queen's Award for export achievement. I am sure that the House will join me in offering congratulations to that organisation.
I echo my hon. Friend's tribute to the late Field-Marshal Lord Montgomery. I was a Monty man. I served under him. Monty's methods were simple. First he worked out a plan, and then he ensured that those who were concerned with carrying it out were fully informed. He outlined the plan to them and explained how to achieve it. He knew more than anyone else how to inspire confidence 1562 in those who had to carry out his plans. He did that superbly. He was a soldier's man and a soldier's leader. He definitely inspired.
I well remember Monty's leadership and the inspiration that he gave. He instilled into his troops a belief that they were the best. He made them believe that they were the best, and he saw to it that they had the best equipment.
We have heard several speeches from Opposition Members, and in my opinion the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) made a knocking speech. I think he knocked heavily. I am sure that my hon. Friend will reply in detail to the points he made.
I have always found that the British soldier is one of the best. I have visited NATO and I am visiting it again tomorrow. When speaking to Dr. Luns, one finds that he immediately agrees that without the British soldier he would be in dire difficulties in maintaining NATO. The Government have gone a long way towards achieving Monty's ideals—namely, to instil in the British soldier the belief that he is the best and and to ensure that he has the best equipment.
I am hoping that the Government will continue to inspire morale, which means providing good equipment, pay, conditions and welfare. That will give the British Tommy the confidence for which he is noted. He is noted for his humour and his achievements in adversity. For my money, the British Tommy is the best. He always has been and he always will be. I am sure that the Government will ensure that the right spirit and conditions are always maintained.
I am a simple man and mine has been a simple man's contribution. One can talk of ideology, of philosophy or of organisation, the latter being the topic that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) introduced, but with all the technical innovations and all the high words about organisation and anything else, in the end it comes down to the man himself, to the British Tommy. He is the best. He is the most adaptable and the most courageous. I take my hat off to him, and I am pleased to tell people that I served in the British Army.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
It is a very great pleasure to be able to agree 1563 with the fulsome and completely appropriate tribute which the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) has paid to the British soldier. I agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman said about him. Of course, it is important that we maintain the quality of our soldiers. The trouble is that so few of them are available to us. The hon. Gentleman, being non-partisan, might agree that the numbers have been cut drastically.
A yeas ago we had the big review, the review which was to set the tone and pattern of our defence expenditure and the balance of our forces for the forthcoming 10 years.
§ Mr. Buck
I hear that the Minister agrees. But what has happened since then? Within months of the big review we had a completely new unilateral cut of tens of millions of pounds straightaway.
In what I refer to as the big review, there was a brilliant analysis of the balance of power that was written by civil servants who are not unfamiliar to me as a Defence Minister in the Conservative Government. The analysis painted an alarming picture of the growing preponderance of the military balance in favour of the Warsaw Pact countries. Nonetheless, in accordance with their election pledges, the Government went ahead with the cuts. The Defence Review was an interesting but schizophrenic document.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth is right about the quality of our troops, but the document to which I have referred put forward an analysis of the balance of power which called in all logic for a strengthening of our forces although it did not arrive at that true and sensible conclusion that there should be increases.
It was said in the review, in spite of what was set out in the chapter dealing with the military balance, and in spite of the balance going so much against us, that we were going to go in for unilateral cuts. The cuts in the number of troops, the high quality of which has been referred to, was set out in page 20 of the review. It is perhaps appropriate to remind the House of what was there proposed. As we are debating the Army 1564 I shall refer only to the Army figures, which are set out in paragraph 64 of last year's review. The Army is to be cut by 8 per cent. Of all the high-quality Tommies or gunners, to which the hon. Member for Hemsworth was referring, we shall have an 8 per cent. cut in numbers. The new review, which is in a sense the basis of this evening's debate, confirms that that cut is to take place.
I regard that as highly lamentable. In one part of the review there are set out the dangers that arise from increases in the forces of Warsaw Pact countries, but the conclusion is that we must go in for unilateral cuts. That is absurd. It is more than absurd; it is dangerous. If one major member of the Alliance is to indulge in unilateral cuts in armed forces, the whole basis of the negotiations for mutual and balanced force reductions could be undermined. Yet we have had it confirmed in the 1976 White Paper that the run down in the numbers of our Forces is to continue. That is the overall position.
I appreciate the difficulties that the Government are encountering because on their side of the House there are many whose defence policy is to send a telegram saying "I surrender". There are some of that ilk on the Labour Benches. Although such Members do not appear to be present this evening, I think that hon. Members who are indicating disagreement know full well whom I have in mind. We could have correspondence about it, including quotations. There is an element in the Labour Party that calls for far more extensive cuts than even the damaging cuts that have already been made. That is beyond doubt.
We have had the big review that was to set the pattern for 10 years. What a nonsense it was that unilaterally, and without any further review, an additional cut was made. This year, the manpower implications set out in page 20 of the first review are to be implemented. In spite of the fact that we find the Western World in thrall to a preponderance of Warsaw Pact power, the balance of power is to be more and more in favour of the Warsaw Pact countries. The fact that this is happening is another matter that is reiterated in the new Defence Review.
It is really time that the Government stopped having long-term reviews which 1565 are abrogated almost at once, and stopped making the same sort of ad hoc cuts for which they used to condemn us, with an element of rectitude in their condemnation. As an Under-Secretary of State for Defence in the Conservative Government, I sometimes felt that we might not have been as successful as we should have been in waging war on the Treasury.
There have been many references today to the situation in Northern Ireland. It is on the Northern Ireland situation that we must, in a debate on the Army, mainly focus our attention today. I am particularly conscious of the Northern Ireland situation, as I have the privilege of representing Colchester, a garrison town that sends troops all the time to Northern Ireland. The married families are left in Colchester when the unit goes to serve in Northern Ireland.
I should like to put a question to the Minister. If the situation in Northern Ireland remains broadly as it is now—although we all hope for an improvement; we have been hoping for an improvement for so long that we cannot be too optimistic—what will be the effect on the number of tours of duty that regiments will have to serve in Northern Ireland of the implications of the manpower reductions set out in last year's White Paper and confirmed in this year's White Paper?
On the Sunday before last, on St. George's Sunday, I had the privilege of being with members of the garrison parading in Colchester. One finds there units that have been out to Northern Ireland five times or even six times. If the situation in Northern Ireland were to remain approximately as it is, and our Forces' commitment were to remain about the same, what will be the impact of these manpower reductions?
Rightly, we have heard tributes today to the work of our forces in Northern Ireland. I would give place to no man in the appreciation that I feel for what they do there. I have visited South Armagh and, I think, all parts of Northern Ireland, in the seven or eight visits I made—largely to Army units, though to the Royal Marines as well—when I had the privilege of being the Minister responsible for them. Everything I have seen there confirms the admiration that has been expressed again in the House.
1566 I hope that we shall hear soon from the new Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force. I congratulate him on his appointment. It is interesting to see an ex-Navy man having a position of seniority relevant to the Royal Air Force, but I refrain from any further comment on that matter. I wish him well in his post and I congratulate him. However, I ask that in due course he should state his current views about the Northern Ireland situation, because he is now Under-Secretary of State for Defence with special responsibilities for the RAF but with an overall Service responsibility as well. I hope that he will abrogate the views that he has expressed previously about our pulling out of Northern Ireland. We await with interest an exposé from him of his current views. We are entitled to ask for that in an Army debate.
As far as I am aware, for the first time we have an Under-Secretary who in the past has not been in favour of out commitment in Northern Ireland. There fore, in the interests of the House and the Armed Forces, he should give early expression to his views and say whether, in his attitude to our presence in Northern Ireland, there has been a conversion on the road to Damascus. While I congratulate him on his appointment, I look forward to an exposition of his current views.
Year after year we have paid fulsome tributes to our troops in Northern Ireland. I see that the former Conservative Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mr. Gilmour), has temporarily joined the Government side of the House. He has likewise rightly paid fulsome tributes to those serving in Northern Ireland. However, this place is brought into contempt if the words of congratulation that we utter about the performance of our troops are not backed by deeds and actions.
I say that particularly because of the situation in my constituency, where there is a garrison of several thousand troops. Much of the time many of them are on postings to Northern Ireland and they leave their families in Colchester. We civilians there help to look after them and help and cherish them. There are over 2,000 Service families in quarters in Colchester. Up to now—the Minister 1567 may be aware of this, because he has visited Colchester—they have had, for example, in the sphere of medicine, the very finest facilities made available to them through the military hospital.
It is the present Government's intention to close that hospital. That is a wrong decision. In due course, I hope that I shall have a reply—other than the ordinary acknowledgement that I have had from the Secretary of State, with his usual courtesy—to my letter requesting that I be allowed to bring a deputation to see the Secretary of State. The deputation should be remarkable. That is not because I shall be leading it. I have often taken deputations to Ministers of successive Governments about various matters. This deputation will be remarkable because it will comprise among its membership a Socialist ex-Cabinet Minister, Lord Greenwood. He has expressed his desire to be a member of this deputation about the military hospital. So has Lord Alport, who is my distinguished predecessor and who sits in the Upper House and takes the Conservative Whip, but who is also a person who is obviously held in respect by many Labour Members, including the former Prime Minister.
I see that the new Under-Secretary of State wishes to interrupt me. I gladly give way to him.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. James Wellbeloved)
The hon. and learned Gentleman moved so rapidly from the point that he was making on Northern Ireland that I thought he was piloting a Tornado. I join the hon. Gentleman in the tribute that he paid to our Service men operating in Northern Ireland. It has always been my view that they have operated there with courage, honour and integrity.
Regarding my position in the Government and any views that I may have expressed on Northern Ireland, I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that I now accept full collective responsibility for the Government's policy on Northern Ireland. Together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and other members of the Government—indeed, every Member of the House—I look forward to the success of 1568 that policy and the establishment of the police as the primary authority for the maintenance of law and order in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Buck
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman's sentiments. I visited Northern Ireland within a few months of the trouble breaking out again. It has always been the objective of all parties to get the police maintained there. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has indicated that he shares that objective. I take it that he also agrees that it is imperative that until the power of the gunmen has been broken our armed forces should remain in Northern Ireland I gladly give way again.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I do not want to follow the example of two other hon. Members of leaping up and down answering each other's questions. My statement was clear. I accept collective responsibility for the policy being operated in Northern Ireland. I hope that the policy for the restoration and establishment of the supremacy and primacy of the police will come to pass.
§ Mr. Buck
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making his position clear. On a more appropriate occasion perhaps we can delve into that matter further. I understand that in the past he had called for the withdrawal of our troops from Northern Ireland. I am relieved that he is no longer calling for their withdrawal. I hope that I have not got his past view wrong. If I am wrong, I shall gladly give way again. This matter is of far more concern and is more significant than the earlier exchanges about the possibility of a separate Scottish army. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has started to make his position clear.
I return to my constituency point, which has wider ramifications. The morale of the Army, as I have seen from my visits to Northern Ireland, is enormously high, but it will not remain high unless the 2,000 Service families in Colchester are given considerable support. In this context, it is a lunatic decision—I am not one to use exaggerated language—to close the military hospital.
§ Mr. Buck
The Minister murmurs across the Floor of the House "Jarrett". The Jarrett Committee recommended the 1569 closure of the Colchester Hospital. We went along with that recommendation to the extent that it should not be closed for 10 years. We reckoned that it would take 10 years to get a new general hospital in Colchester fully operational. We had in mind the possibility of a wing of that hospital being given to military utilisation. Therefore, we decided not to implement the Jarrett Committee's report. That decision was adhered to by the Ministry of Defence up to December last year.
I have a progress report on the Jarrett recommendations. It states:The Army hospital at Colchester should be closed. This recommendation was not agreed. Although closure of the hospital was in line with Army policy this has not been found possible at this stage in view of the necessity for the hospital to continue to provide essential services for the military and civilian populations of Colchester. Accordingly it is being maintained for the time being.That was December 1975. There has been an alteration since then, despite the fact that over £200,000 has been spent on the hospital over the last year. This mammoth "refurbishment", to use a transatlantic expression, continues now. I should like an assurance that the Minister will agree that television and the Press should be allowed to see what is going on there now. I have a list of what is going on. The Minister, in answer to a question of mine recently, suggested that only essential maintenance was going on to keep the hospital up to standard for the continuance of its performance in the next few months. I remind the hon. Gentleman that what is involved includes a piped oxygen system, vacuum extractors, the complete reconversion of wards, an intensive care unit, cubiclisation of wards, new doors, and so on.
Does the Minister think that it is sense that a hospital that has just had a mammoth amount spent on it, including the refurbishment of the whole of the operating theatre because of a fire, should be closed within a couple of years, especially as well over £100,000 will have to be spent on establishing a new medical unit in addition to coping with the day-to-day needs of the Forces there? As I have said, it is a lunatic decision. I hope that after the Minister has received a delegation composed of myself, Peers, representatives of the local 1570 authority, local consultants, general practitioners, and so on, he will see sense about this matter.
I can understand that one reason for wanting to close the hospital is to take some money away from Defence Votes. I recommend that something be done that has not been done so far—namely, that the Army be not so generous. I suggest that for the enormous services that it gives to the civilian population, as well as to its own personnel, there should be a system of contra accounting. That is not without precedence. I ask the Minister to ensure that a full investigation is made into the question why it is not done.
I share the view that the services provided to civilians in my constituency should not fall on the Defence Vote. That has not happened at the RAF Hospital at Ely—my original home town—and where I had the good fortune to be treated when I did substantial injury to my left knee when skiing. I had a cartilage taken out. The operation was a great success, and I can stand moderately erect now, thanks to that hospital. But there was an appropriate contra accounting between the Defence and the DHSS Votes. That has not taken place at Colchester. If we can take that expense off the Defence Vote and put it on to the DHSS Vote, it should be done, and now.
Year after year we rightly pay fulsome tribute to our soldiers serving in Northern Ireland. We must back up our words with deeds. Morale in Northern Ireland will be sadly affected if our troops do not feel confident that their families here are getting proper services.
I have letters from local medical—"dignitaries" is not the appropriate word—leaders who point out that the civilian hospitals in Colchester will not be able to cope with an extra load at this stage and that waiting lists and so on, already bad, will be made worse. That could have a bad effect on the morale of troops in Northern Ireland. Therefore, let us back up our fulsome tributes by action, and let there be action now. We should reverse what was clearly a wholly wrong decision.
I wish to mention a further constituency matter. I have the privilege of being 1571 a member of the Select Committee dealing with the Armed Forces Discipline Bill. We recently visited the Military Corrective Training Centre. I know that the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) had interesting experiences in the Army, as he told us, although I do not think he ended up in Colchester. But another of our colleagues did. I know that they were very kind to him, and caused him to have a thoroughly pleasant disposition when he left the MCTC, and he now sits on the Government Benches.
The point I wish to make is that the MCTC at Colchester is working in tin huts in most execrable conditions and the staff are doing magnificent work. I warn the Minister that he will be hearing a great deal more on this score from the Select Committee that is examining the discipline Bill. We believe that the Maunsell Report should be implemented. The needs of the unit should be fully appreciated, and I hope that the recommendations of the report are put into effect, and the place rebuilt. I pay tribute to all those in my constituency who operate the MCTC with remarkable efficiency and humanity.
To summarise, let us not have too much schizophrenia over defence matters. Let us not think of defence in terms only of black rather than of white. This certainly applies to comparisons made with Warsaw Pact countries. Further unilateral cuts do not make sense. Let us pay full tribute to the armed forces in Northern Ireland. Let us back them to the full by rewarding their courage and forbearance by our actions. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to the points that I have raised.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Hands-worth)
The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), without acrimony, has had a great deal of fun at the Government's expense over the question of defence cuts. I hope that on reflection he will accept that at whatever level such cuts are pitched it could never be seriously argued that any responsible Government would consider defence expenditure without having regard to the economic situation. Because economic exigencies condition so many aspects of our policy, the effects on defence must be borne in mind.
1572 I welcome the defence economies-which have been made over the years. They are the beginning of an injection of realism into defence policies. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester again had a little fun when mentioning the divisions of opinion on the Labour Benches. He did not include me in his remarks, because he will remember that some years ago I got into hot water because I advocated the assassination of political leaders as being an appropriate legitimate aspect of defence policy. I am unrepentant in that view. I do not see why the skins of politicians or Heads of State should be any more sacred than those of ordinary people. To think otherwise seems to be paying a peculiar regard to the class system. I can think of a number of people in the not-so-distant past whom we could have done without. One remembers a suggestion mooted by General Sir Frank Mason-MacFarlane, who was at one time the Labour Member for Paddington and who was rebuked for the idea of advocating the assassination of Hitler because, one supposes, it was contrary to the laws of cricket. That was a quite fatuous attitude.
I am sorry to introduce a discordant note into the debate because, although I am pleased with some of the steps taken on defence by the Government, I believe that we are still too NATO-oriented. Let me state my objection simply and briefly. I share the apprehensions of hon. Members on both sides of the House over the strength of the Soviet military arm—and I say these things not from any political approval of the Soviet system. I am a Left-wing Socialist, and I am also a democrat and a constitutionalist. To me, the Communist system is as repugnant as it is to many Conservatives—possibly more so, because I regard it in many ways as a corruption of the kind of political system which I should like to see in this country.
My basic objection is that we are not spending our energy, time and attention upon a war we can fight, but are taking away our attention from the war in which we are to some extent already engaged. The situation in Northern Ireland has rightly featured in this debate. What is so extraordinary, however, is that there has been hardly one word said about the problems of international terrorism.
1573 Whatever problems may be thrown up, international terrorism is with us and is here to stay. It is not confined to Northern Ireland or to the Middle East. It has even descended to our capital city and has been behind a number of outrages all over the world. I hope that the Minister in reply will say how he can square the policy based on a NATO orientation, whatever our treaty obligations may be, with the growing need to be able to cope with the international terrorist, wherever he may be.
Year by year the techniques of international terrorism grow more serious. Until recently it used to be thought fanciful that any group of terrorists might be able to hijack a nuclear establishment or get hold of nuclear material and use it as a means of blackmail—a far graver matter than aircraft hijacking. That is no longer a fanciful concept but is something with which painfully we must live.
Could the Government seriously say that they would be in a position to kill Mr. Carlos, the prize international terrorist? The Government would not have the slightest idea of how to deal with him, wherever he might be. One contrasts that with the skill of the Israelis in kidnapping Adolph Eichmann. That was a case where a highly-trained military force spirited themselves across the world without regard to frontiers, kidnapped a dangerous political criminal and took him back to their own country for trial. The purpose of that affair was political, but the ability to carry out that kind of operation is one way in which our Services could be judged. If we were in a position to do that sort of thing, we would be able to make the real contribution which, as a minor nation, at least in terms of economic potential, we could be expected to make. As long as we spread ourselves thinly and direct ourselves to helping to support NATO, we shall not have the resources left over for that sort of action.
I go along with many of the criticisms of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) and the hon. and learned Member for Colchester about the cheese-paring and hand-to-mouth existence of much of our orthodox military arm. The forces have to live on barely viable margins because of the economies forced upon them. If we ever abandoned the idea that our principal contribution 1574 must be to NATO, we should be able to make the kind of contribution which would be right and valuable for us to make and which would be valuable for the world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewis ham, West (Mr. Price) raised the question of Cyprus, which gives me the opportunity to remind the House again—we need reminding—that NATO, far from being a united, cohesive organisation, is anything but that. The case of Greece and Turkey, with their constant feuding, to which one can see no end, may be the most extreme and obvious example, but it is not the only one.
Whatever the protestations to the contrary, we know that if the Italian Communists win power in this summer's elections that will cast doubt on another aspect of NATO. There may be a Communist Government in Portugal within a few years. It seems to have been headed off for the time being, but it is a possibility and anybody who pretends otherwise is being unduly complacent. That would be another imponderable factor derogating from the unity of NATO. There is even the possibility that the Communists may soon be participating in the French Government. If any of these eventualities occur—and a change of Government in Italy is more than probable—NATO will have been shattered and its cohesiveness will probably be beyond repair.
Would it not be far better for us to turn our attention to dealing with international terrorism, where we have a contribution to make, rather than to go on subscribing to an organisation of questionable usefulness which has been crumbling at the edges for a long time? Even if we aggregated all the NATO forces and if all the member countries increased their expenditure instead of reducing it, NATO would still not make a convincing conventional alternative to Soviet power.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)
I confess to being in a rather curious position in this debate. I did not really want to speak. I sent Mr. Speaker a letter and normally, such being my fate in life, when I want to speak I find myself at the bottom of the list, and when I am not particularly anxious to speak—well, here I am, on my feet.
1575 I have spoken in almost every defence debate since I became a Member, and this is the worst attended debate I have ever seen. I have never tried a controlled experiment of not speaking and seeing how many hon. Members might stay in the Chamber. I understand that a number of local authority elections are taking place today and that these might account for our thin attendance. In my part of the world, in Clitheroe itself, the Labour Party, with that attention to detail for which it is renowned, made a mess of the nomination papers, with the result that there are no Labour candidates. I therefore feel that I might be allowed to be here rather than there.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) alarms me. There was a time some years ago when I thought we had a monopoly on this side of people with slightly bizarre ideas about defence. They have all left the House now and the James Bond syndrome seems to have moved to the Government side. If the hon. Member's ideas about political assassinations were implemented, I would send him a telegram saying, if I may quote the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), "I surrender".
What worries me about defence debates is that they are poorly attended and tend to be monopolised by hon. Members with a specific interest in defence. I sometimes wonder whether the Armed Forces feel that we are really concerned about their problems. I wonder how they would feel it' they read Hansard for today.
We customarily talk about money in our debates, and the Armed Forces have become something of a shuttlecock for politicians. They are regarded as a good place at which to start when economies have to be made.
We talk of the courage, endurance and morale of our soldiers in Northern Ireland, and anyone who has been there, as I have, will subscribe to that view. Yet, at the same time, we are reducing our Armed Forces and making the task of our soldiers more difficult. We are increasing their problems and their trials and tribulations. Many problems, including overstretching, affect both soldiers and their families. Transfers between Germany and Northern Ireland hit families as much as they hit soldiers.
1576 The word "hypocrisy" is perhaps rather strong, but I am moving in that direction when I ask whether there is not an element of that attitude present when we talk about what splendid chaps our soldiers are, what courage they show and how there are none better in the world.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) talked about all those qualities and referred to the late Field-Marshal Montgomery. I would only remind him that that field-marshal also considered numbers to be important.
We are getting very near a situation in which we just do not have sufficient numbers of soldiers, however high their quality. In a sense it is unfair to those very men who have high standards to penalise them by trying to operate on a shoe-string.
Of course, we live in a changing world. Our responsibilities outside this island have diminished, which must mean that we have smaller Armed Forces, but one of the difficulties in that changing world was that for some years after the war we operated on a principle of conscription. It was a wasteful system, it produced too many men in uniform and they had to be found jobs to do. But one advantage of conscription was that it provided a link between the civilian population and the Armed Forces. Almost every family in Britain had someone who had been in the Forces.
We are now moving out of that situation. The Armed Forces consist of men and women who volunteer. As the television advertisements tell us, they are "the professionals". But there is a risk in this—that they become separated from the civilian population and that their problems are not realised. There is a tendency to think that they can get on with it, that it is a professional Army and we do not need to worry. In a constituency such as that represented by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, where there is a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing of soldiers, they know about these problems. But this is not true of the average constituency. In mine the only link with the Armed Forces is the recruits we provide for the Lancashire Regiment, and the rest of the population are not concerned with or related to soldiers and probably dismiss the matter from their minds. I do not 1577 blame them for that, but Governments should have in their minds the danger that the ordinary civilian population—the ordinary voter—does not realise the problems of the professional soldier.
Those soldiers, whether officers, NCOs or men, have higher standards than they have ever had before. It is a small, selective, professional force. Its efficiency is considerable and its morale is high. But I sometimes wonder how that force feels when it considers the present Government, who have hit it three times recently with defence cuts and have behind them a political party which, at its conferences, customarily demands in increased and enormous cuts in defence expenditure. Our soldiers are not allowed, by their professional code, to comment, but it would be foolish and short-sighted of us to think that they do not have their views.
There is a danger of the present Government ignoring the career structure in the Army, the problem of trying to recruit to a diminishing force which offers fewer and fewer opportunities to the officer or the soldier. The advertisements are most ingenious, with their references to "the professionals". In officer recruiting, it is suggested that after someone has commanded a troop of tanks there is a place waiting for him automatically on the board of ICI.
It is a curious emphasis in advertisements to imply "Come into this profession, and when you get out you will get into another." Most professions operate by saying "Come into this one—not necessarily for life, but for the whole of your career."
Perhaps it is a reflection on some of the Government's problems that we have that sort of second-hand advertising But it is curious that the Government are trying to recruit into a profession young men and women who know from the newspapers that its size has been cut considerably in the last 12 months.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
On the question of advertising, particularly officer advertising, would not my hon. Friend agree that it is realistic to take the point that many young people feel that they should go into the Armed Forces for a limited time—not necessarily for their entire working lives—and that it 1578 it is not out of order in such advertising to stress the value for a civilian of the training which can be received?
§ Mr. Walder
I accept that I have no skill in advertising. I believe that my hon. Friend has some knowledge. I wonder how effective advertisements would be which said "Please smoke Player's cigarettes for three years, and then you will go on to another brand".
§ Mr. Walder
I honestly do not agree, because the average young man or woman would feel that it was quite a jump to suggest that he or she should go into this career simply to prepare for another. Why is advertising not based on the idea of going into the Army as an attractive career? Why should there be these secondary excuses? I am sure that some hon. Member will try to interrupt to ask me how effective advertising is in terms of numbers. Honestly, I have no idea.
On the question of the Government's direct responsibility for the Army, I think we are in a situation of a changing society where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find young men and women who are prepared to serve in the Armed Forces. There is a background of what I might call propaganda, an atmosphere which is against that sort of service. It is against the ideas of discipline and service, and it is much more difficult for young men and women at present to say "I will choose that sort of career". Inevitably, there must be at the back of their minds the feeling that, as there have already been three cuts, there may be yet another cut when they have been 10 years in the Service of their choice. This cut may throw them out unwillingly into a rather harsh civilian world. That is the dangerous situation towards which we are moving.
In a sense, I always feel sorry for any Minister in a Labour Government who is responsible for the Services. I congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), who has 1579 taken over responsibility for the Royal Air Force. We met first officially on the Armed Forces Bill Committee, and I repeat my congratulations to him on the Floor of the House. It is a thorny bed on which he has to lie. I feel sorry for all the Defence Ministers of the present Government. They may do their job well, but behind them there are hon. Members of their own party who would happily see our defence forces diminished even more. The Ministers have a difficult task and they have my sympathy.
The danger is that this Government may well become indifferent to the young men and women who make the Services their career.
I can only think of one appropriate quotation. It is an old-fashioned one and the Minister has probably heard it before. Most of it will be familiar to the Minister. Right at the end of it Mr. Kipling, having said something aboutTommy this, and Tommy that, and 'Tommy go away'—and there is a great inducement at present for Tommy to go away—saysBut it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins' when the band begins to play.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stonehouse (Walsall, North)
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) drew attention in his speech to the absence of Ministers from the debate. I am glad that as a result of that more Ministers came in, including the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), whom I am pleased to see on the Government Front Bench and whom I congratulate on his appointment as Under-Secretary. He is a man of considerable political courage with a striking mind. I hope he will enjoy his position and that, if his party remains in power, he will move on to other responsibilities where he can be even more effective.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) made an entertaining and interesting speech. It was entertaining because he made a number of funny points, but there was a serious point to his speech when he asked the House to consider what would be the consequences to us if Scotland became independent in a few years' time. It is important that the House should take such questions 1580 seriously because there is a move in Scotland towards independence, and when that is made effective certain consequences will follow for both Scotland and England. It is important in relation to the Army and the defence requirements of the whole of these islands that we should pay attention to such possibilities.
I want to concentrate my speech on two subjects. One concerns affairs in Northern Ireland. I agree with all the congratulations to the British forces there on their courage and their capacity to cope with a most difficult situation. Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall), were right to refer to the lack of facilities for British troops in Northern Ireland. More attention must be paid to increasing those facilities.
It is not only a question of a dangerous and hazardous job during Service hours. It is now very difficult for British troops in Northern Ireland to have any social life. because it is dangerous for them to get out into the community. The incident of which we have heard today. and which we all regret, of eight SAS men being detained by the Gardai in the Irish Republic highlights the seriousness of the position in Northern Ireland and makes it imperative for this House to come up with some fresh solutions to the problem of maintaining security in that part of the United Kingdom.
I agree that it is desirable to move towards the situation where the police can take full responsibility for security and the Army can be withdrawn. No one is suggesting that that is possible, however, in the short term. There is an incredible amount of violence in Northern Ireland which we tend to take for granted. We can see how serious it is when we realise that there is more violence in Northern Ireland than in the whole of the rest of Europe. Spain is the second worst country in that respect, but in the last six years there have been 10 times as many civilian and military deaths in Northern Ireland as in Spain. The situation is extremely serious.
In the last few years the British Army has been unable to gain the confidence of the population. A good third of the population resents the presence of British troops, and the young people of the 1581 minority community are being taught by their families to hate the British troops who are in their land. That is no recipe for reaching a peaceful solution within a few years. Therefore the House should consider another possible way of maintaining security.
Some years ago Mr. Humphry Berkeley proposed that the United Nations should be called in. I do not support him in that proposal, but we might find a solution in a European force which could be brought in and which would not have the disadvantage of being hated by the minority of the community, as is the position with British troops. If a European force were to come in, it might be able to achieve better co-operation across the border than the British troops now receive. There is, as the House knows, no direct communication between British troops in Northern Ireland and the Irish Army. It has to be indirectly through the police. With a European force, however, with troops from perhaps Holland, Denmark or some other European country drafted in, it might be possible for the local community—both the minority and the majority communities—to accept their presence as a neutral force keeping the peace between all sides without any political significance in the sense that the minority community now regards the British troops in the Province as pursuing a political philosophy rather than simply maintaining security.
The other subject to which I want to draw attention briefly—I say "briefly" because another hon. Member wishes to contribute to this debate and I want to give time for him to speak—is the question of the cost of the British Army in Germany. Germany is now the wealthiest country in Western Europe—in fact it is the second or third wealthiest country in the world. It is an archaic situation that the United Kingdom, which is a poor country, economically speaking, in relation to Germany, should be making a vast contribution to the maintenance of British troops in West Germany. This is a hangover from a situation that existed 25 or 30 years ago, and we must have a renegotiation with our Allies in Europe in order to do something about this absolutely enormous burden. Its cost is £700 million a year to the British taxpayer, of which £350 million is in foreign exchange. This is not chicken- 1582 feed; it is a lot of money, a great burden on our economy.
I believe that as the German economy is so much stronger than the United Kingdom economy, and as the military situation in Europe has changed dramatically in the last two decades, there should be some new thinking about this liability. I hope we can have an assurance from the Minister when he replies that attention will be given to the aspect of reducing at least that part of the defence burden.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye and giving me this opportunity of expressing in the first instance my admiration for the Army and for the way in which it is conducting the war against terrorism in Northern Ireland. We have heard these words earlier this afternoon in this debate and I make no apology for re-emphasising the admiration that I believe we all feel for the Army. I speak because only recently I visited Northern Ireland for the first time, with a number of colleagues, and saw for myself the calibre, skill and determination of all our officers and men in the Army fighting in Northern Ireland. I was indeed profoundly impressed.
It is, I believe, only by restoring peace, by wearing down and defeating terrorism, that we shall reconstitute sanity and the value of life, limb and personal property, which we all wish to see restored in Northern Ireland. But it is the smartness of the Army and the sense that we can rely on what it does and the way in which it conducts itself that are important to this debate. The institutions that perpetuate our fine regiments and corps are of priceless value, and I am indeed honoured that the Army Apprentices College is situated in my consituency. The work it does in turning out fine men, the new lifeblood for the Army, is invaluable. But, like our other Services, the men are affected by the cuts that have been made by the Government. There is no doubt in my mind that the cuts, which have been repeated in dribs and drabs, spread disillusionment and lower the morale of our Forces, let alone the damage that they do to our Allies in NATO and the Atlantic Alliance.
1583 References have been made to the teeth, the tail, and so on, of the so called animal of the forces. I do not know who concocted this animal, but I can imagine the picture that Ronald Searle might draw of an animal with great teeth and a lean and rather ridiculous body. There are the teeth, the tail, the claws, the belly and the spine, but either way it makes up a whole animal. It is useless for the Government to talk about reinforcing the teeth, because it is the belly that feeds on the supplies of stores, ammunition and back-up that make the animal do what we want it to do and what we expect it to do, and even to surpass those expectations.
Stores, ammunition, spare parts and equipment are vital to our fighting forces. Whatever the size of the teeth, it is the back-up in terms of stores and ammunition that provides the bite that those teeth can give and that will enable our forces to do what we have them there to do.
The Second Report of the Expenditure Committee expressed its concern about the reductions in the planned levels of equipment, including helicopters, spares and missiles. It went on to say that it would be unwise to plan on the assumption that traditional fighting qualities can compensate for inadequacies in equipment and resources. How right it was to stress that. I hope that the Minister will pay due regard to those important words from the Expenditure Committee.
So it is that training is a vital element, and I hope that the Minister will give urgent consideration to eliminating mileage restrictions on vehicles and to improving the spares position. It is the training that is vital. In a moment of hostility, it all comes to the surface, and training, in the event of an outbreak of hostilities, is of first importance. It is hugely important that, with our NATO Allies, as a matter of some urgency, we instigate a training programme that takes account of the movements that would be necessary if, alas, an outbreak of hostilities were to occur.
It is the growth of Soviet forces in Europe which is of the greatest anxiety not only to us but also to our forces in the field. I was surprised that the Minister did not refer to the growth 1584 of Soviet forces and to the additional stress that it puts on our forces in Europe.
It is a sobering thought that the Soviets will bring in 3,000 new tanks, 4,000 armoured personnel carriers, 700 helicopters and 1,000 combat aircraft in this one year alone, and that is the annual rate at which they are bringing new equipment into their forces. They are, therefore, maintaining a battle force of tanks which is greatly superior compared with those mustered by the NATO forces. The total is some 40,000 tanks, and these lethal weapons are based on a quick response to emergency needs.
I want to refer back to the tables in the 1975 White Paper. They set out fairly concisely the strength of the Warsaw Pact forces, which are greatly in excess of NATO forces. It is stressed in the White Paper that in Central Europe the disparities are more than 2.5 to 1 in tanks, more than 2 to 1 in aircraft, and about 2 to 1 in field guns. The Warsaw Pact has about 20 per cent. more soldiers and some 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. more in fighting units.
That was in 1975. The White Paper of that year instigated one of the greatest cuts in defence expenditure, which amounted, over 10 years, to £4,700 million, as we all know. In the same year the Services suffered a further cut of £136 million, and in the Defence Paper that we debated only a short time ago, a further £534 million was lopped off defence.
If we compare the table in the 1976 Paper—setting out the comparison of NATO with Warsaw Pact forces—with that of 1975, we find that the total number of soldiers of the Warsaw Pact increased by one-tenth. That increase is the same for "soldiers in fighting units", for "main battle tanks" and "field guns". There has been an increase in the balance in favour of the Warsaw Pact. I cannot see the justification for cutting our defence forces by a further sum of £534 million on the evidence produced in the White Paper. It also states—I read from the Government's own White Paper—Nor can the West ignore the fact that during the past year the military capability of the Warsaw Pact has increased in numbers and in quality.Those figures are relevant to this debate. Our strength in the Army is still formidable, but we have fewer men than we 1585 had. We have no justification for reducing the strength of the Army. We have no justification for delaying spares or new equipment for the Army, because it is in Europe that the Soviet forces must be contained if this country is to remain free in the event of hostilities.
We have our new laser sight development, with the Chieftain tank. I would only say that I hope this is hastily being got into production, because we must press on with these new developments. Likewise, the Minister referred to the production of a new tank by 1989. Discussions with Germany are to take place, if they are not already taking place. However, it now looks as if it is going too far ahead for new advances in technology which we need to see undertaken if we are to match Soviet forces on the mainland of Europe. The Striker tracked vehicle, fitted with Swingfire, is an admirable anti-tank device and, likewise, the Rapier surface-to-air missile system, with the new all-weather tracking radar device, which again is being developed, will make it one of the most lethal weapons in the field.
I hope that early consideration will be given to new means of standardisation, so that our Army not only is the finest force in the world, with its expertise, skill, determination, standard and calibre of the men who serve in it, but also has the equipment—the teeth—to gnaw at the force that may some day be set against our forces and those of NATO.
We have a task, which is to show the way to NATO. Our task is to show that we are determined to ensure that not only our forces but the forces of NATO are sufficient to meet that threat if it arises.
I would only say that the problems that our whole pattern of defence show up are more closely related to the Mediterranean. I hope very much that the Minister will soon make a statement on the position of negotiations with Malta. It would be unfortunate if after 1979 we were to withdraw and leave a void, as happened in Gan, no concrete arrangements having been made for forces friendly to our own to take over that void. Likewise, our commitments in Gibraltar and Cyprus are of importance. It is imperative that we retain our forces, however few, in those three areas.
1586 I hope that there will be no further cuts, so that we can go ahead and plan on the basis that we are at rock bottom. We appreciate all that is being done in the Services. We have been through a difficult time. People have seen the threat before us, but our forces have been eaten away through lack of resources because the Government have not given defence the necessary priority.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)
I am sorry that I was unable to be present during the earlier part of the debate, and I have no knowledge of how far the two matters to which I shall refer have featured in the debate.
The right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) referred to offset payments by West Germany. I hope that the Minister will say something about this subject so far as he is able to do so. I appreciate that it is outside the confines of the Defence Ministry. There is a danger that there never will be a right moment to discuss offset payments. Either we shall be going through our ever present economic problems and not wish to upset West Germany because we hope to get money from that country or satisfactory arrangement within the EEC, or, if we are enjoying a brief lull in the economic storm, it will not be the moment to discuss this question and it will be said that we should continue to support our forces in Germany. There is a case for going to the Germans now and saying that the deal needs to be fundamentally renegotiated. The amount of money involved is in excess of £400 million in foreign exchange, and with the falling value of the pound the position is progressively deteriorating.
In the Whitsun Adjournment debate last year I raised the subject of the compensation payable to soldiers who were injured in Northern Ireland. The subject has received a great deal of coverage in the Press. There is a wide disparity in the amount of compensation paid because of the necessity to assess future earnings and so on. This causes great dissatisfaction in the Army. The Rudyard Kipling philosophy seems to be at work again. We are thrilled when the chaps are doing a grand job for us in Northern Ireland, but as soon as something happens we want them to fill up a great many forms and go to 1587 Northern Ireland to fight the case, often at their own expense. I hope that the Government will look more sympathetically at these cases, because the soldiers are doing a marvellous job.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) reminded us, the debate takes place in the shadow of the growing strength of the Warsaw Pact countries and of the further defence cuts that followed a defence review which was supposed to reduce the defences of the United Kingdom, in the words of the Chief of the Defence Staff, to "absolute bedrock". As these further cuts will do great harm, we note with substantial alarm that many of the Secretary of State's colleagues in the Cabinet wanted even more drastic cuts. Since the Cabinet was shaken by those arguments, many dollars have flowed out from our reserves and the external financial position has, if anything, weakened.
I join my hon. Friends the Members for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) and for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and the right hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) in hoping that the Minister will say more about the offset negotiations with Germany. I calculate that since the Defence White Paper was published a few weeks ago the cost of BAOR has risen by about £50 million because of the fall in the value of the pound in relation to the deutschemark. Where is that money to come from? The situation is urgent and I hope that the Minister will say something about the negotiations.
In attempting to resist yet further defence cuts, the Secretary of State has in the House, and no doubt in the Cabinet, consistently deployed the employment argument. In the defence debate he reminded the House that the multi-rôle combat aircraft directly or indirectly provided 36,000 jobs in the aerospace industry. He also reminded us that foreign and domestic orders for warships accounted for almost one-quarter of the jobs in our shipyards. As we warned last year and the year before, that line of argument can be harmful to the Army, because none of the items of equipment that the Army needs so badly has the glamour or sex appeal of the equipment 1588 needed by the RAF or Royal Navy. Ministers stop and look and listen when shop stewards parade down Whitehall carrying banners demanding "Save the Buccaneer" or "Save the multi-rôle combat aircraft". Ministers will also pay attention to workers marching with banners proclaiming the slogan "Save the through-deck cruiser". They are big, emotive, easily recognisable projects. But who would bother if a small band of workers marched with banners demanding "Save the Ptarmigan tactical trunk communications system" or "Please do not cancel the Scorpion's power traverse"? Therefore, the Army's equipment programme suffers. Economies in the so-called tail have accentuated defects in providing ammunition for training, fuel for training and spare parts for the Chieftain and helicopters.
We share the Expenditure Sub-Committee's regret at the destruction of the Army's planned helicopter anti-tank capacity. We note with regret but without surprise that the Minister has refused to give details of the 40 items in the Army's general programme which are being reduced, deferred or cancelled. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), whose important Questions extract much valuable information from Defence Ministers, has been told that the cuts will not seriously impair any one of the Army's capabilities. Why, then, does the Minister refuse to list them? We can be sure that even the Hungarian Military Attaché has full details of them, and we suspect that Ministers are coy because of political embarrassment rather than concern for security.
But while the Minister is being coy about equipment, we welcome the frankness with which he talked this afternoon about the fate of the reorganisation programme for the Army. He said that the reorganisation, the cutting out of brigades and moving to smaller divisions had been a success except for command and control problems. That is rather like saying that a new military aircraft is a success and adequately fulfils its rôle but, unfortunately, cannot get off the ground. This is what the argument is all about—command and control.
I cannot resist the temptation to say "We told you so", because that was what we did in the Army debate last year. We warned that at least part of 1589 the trouble that the experiment would run into would be caused by the shortage of high-speed communications equipment, which was essential if the experiment was ever to have a chance of success. Therefore, although we are not exactly to have brigade headquarters in the future, we are to have in each division two subordinate headquarters, each of which is to be commanded by a brigadier.
I congratulate the Minister on the flexibility with which he has approached the realities of life. I only hope that he will be equally flexible when it comes to looking at the Army's logistic restructuring that he also talked about this afternoon. The importance of that restructuring was rightly emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant), who raised the question of the proposed closure of the Central Ordnance Depot at Chilwell, which handles virtually all the Army's motor transport stores. The loss of 1,600 civilian jobs there in the near future is contemplated.
In the consultative document on Army logistic restructuring, there is a notable and characteristic absence of firm figures about the cost of the proposed transfer of the facilities from Chilwell to Donnington and Bicester, but the figures have been made available to the trade unions concerned, so we have had an opportunity to see them. I would not condemn all the proposals in the document, but the figures relating to the move from Chilwell hardly suggest that within the foreseeable future the savings will offset the cost of the extra capital investment needed elsewhere, let alone the cost of disrupting efficient and established procedures.
As I looked at the proposals in the consultative document, two thoughts crossed my mind. The first was that the Minister must have thought it important to kill off one really large depot as a sort of virility symbol to impress the Treasury. My second unkind thought was that the Minister had been conned into putting forward proposals so obviously faulty that the whole scheme would be quietly shelved. I shall be surprised if the Minister's proposals for Chilwell are found to be workable. I hope that he will be as flexible in this 1590 context as he has been about brigade restructuring.
As I have been critical of Ministers for the damage that their cuts are doing and will do to the Army's effectiveness, it is only fair that I should praise them for the introduction of one new weapon system that will add substantially to BAOR's destructive capacity. I refer, of course, to the Lance missile.
One might have expected Ministers, perhaps, to pat themselves on the back for the introduction this year of such an important new missile for the Army. However, in the four ministerial speeches made during the defence debate I note that there was only one reference to Lance. The Secretary of State managed to mention Lance in the context of arms standardisation. I noted that this afternoon the Under-Secretary of State throughout his lengthy statement did not mention the introduction of Lance, although it is an immensely important addition to our capability in BAOR.
The reason for Ministers' reticence is quite simple. Lance is of prime importance as regards nuclear delivery, and their reticence about the substantial improvement in capability clearly stems from the hope that the Labour Left wing will not have noticed what is happening. Surely Ministers are missing an important opportunity of reminding their Left wing that cuts in the effectiveness of our conventional shield in the Alliance increase the risk that tactical nuclear weapons such as Lance will be used at an early stage in any future conflict in Western Europe and elsewhere. I am sure that we want to get away from the trip-wire concept, and cuts in our conventional arms increase the importance of nuclear weapons.
On perhaps a less explosive note, I note that my hon. Friends the Members for Woking and for High Peak and the hon. Members for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) and Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) have referred to the housing problem of the Forces. In past Army debates we have asked for positive help for retiring Service men. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that today we have had to concentrate on repairing the damage that has been done by recent Socialist legislation such as the Rent Act 1974 and the Finance Act 1974. The latter measure penalises Service men living in quarters 1591 who are trying to buy their own houses on mortgage to prepare for their retirement. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak in hoping that some amendment can be accepted in this year's Finance Bill to alleviate the problem.
The 1974 Rent Act increased the difficulties of house owners who let their property when posted overseas. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking has many examples and he has given us details. Recently I visited NATO headquarters at Norfolk, Virginia. There I was told that virtually every British sailor and naval officer attached to that headquarters was adversely affected in some way or other by the 1974 Act. Of course, this problem affects many soldiers too. I am told that when members of the Foreign Office staff have problems with that Act, the Foreign Office is prepared to put its staff members and their families into hotels when they return to Britain—not four-star hotels, no doubt, but comfortable hotels—and that the Foreign Office is also willing to pay the legal costs of members of its staff who are affected by the 1974 Act. It would be nice to think that the Ministry of Defence could act in a similarly generous fashion, but, at least, as far as the Services are concerned, it would be easier simply to amend this harmful legislation.
For much of the Army, the most absorbing and important experience during the past year has been service in Northern Ireland. For the Army in Northern Ireland it has been a year of frustration and of success. The frustrations are obvious. During the past year we have not asked the soldiers to wage all-out war against the terrorists, but we have asked them to adapt their tactics first to a ceasefire, then to a semi-ceasefire, and now to what may be described as a semi-non-ceasefire. Then there is the additional problem that it is almost impossible to get reliable evidence against the men who plot and plant terrorist outrages—the "godfathers", as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland so vividly described them the other day. All this perplexes the ordinary soldier just as it perplexes members of the public.
One of the major successes of the Army in Northern Ireland, apart from the number of arrests made, the number of weapons found and the number of 1592 bombs defused, has been the fact that the standard of discipline and restraint has remained exceptionally high in the face of so much frustration and provocation. I am sure the Under-Secretary will recognise that the personal sense of frustration has been increased by the operation of the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) Act. The review for which we have asked, and in which the Ministry is participating, has now gone on for more than a year. Very few Service widows have been awarded sums of £20,000, but that was the sum awarded last month to Tom Cahill, a convicted IRA man. Common sense and the morale of our Forces should urge us on to amend this legislation as quickly as possible.
However, if the Army is faced with a long, hard slog in Northern Ireland, the terrorists should note that the Army can absorb this level of strain almost indefinitely. We all recognise that the time taken away from training and normal duties by an emergency tour is much closer to eight months than it is to four months. But let us also remember the importance of Northern Ireland in shielding the Army from the full impact of the Chancellor's axe. In the expenditure review the Army did rather better than the other Services. No doubt this was due to the eloquent way in which the Minister could present the case for the Army. But I have absolutely no doubt that it would have been cut very much more severely if the Northern Ireland emergency had not happened.
When 50 major units a year are required for service in Northern Ireland, it is not easy to argue that the number of infantry battalions should be reduced. Thus, it is a curious, but not wholly unpleasing, fact that the net effect of the Provisional IRA's terrorist campaign has been to preserve rather than to weaken the strength of our Army.
I am not advocating the erection of a statue at Sandhurst to Mrs. Maire Drumm, the Provisional Sinn Fein spokes woman who makes such virulent pronouncements about the activities of our soldiers, but perhaps we might pin up her photograph in some of our Army messes with the caption "She helped to preserve the Army's regimental system."
That does not mean that any of us want the Army to stay in its present rôle 1593 in Northern Ireland for one moment longer than is necessary. Unless there is a spontaneous outbreak of peace, however, it seems likely that the only way in which the Army's presence can be reduced is by strengthening the local security forces.
Inevitably, much of the Army's time is taken up with static guard duties and similar work which might be undertaken by the Ulster Defence Regiment. Those of us who go to Northern Ireland fairly regularly have noted with pleasure the increasing warmth and respect with which Regular soldiers refer to the expertise and dedication of the Ulster Defence Regiment. We were pleased with the warmth with which the Minister praised the work of the UDR, just as we have been saddened to note that in presenting the last two Defence White Papers the Secretary of State for Defence, who has not been near the House this afternoon, could not find a word of praise for the UDR in his speeches.
We have pressed for the inclusion of a Regular element of perhaps 800 men and women in the ranks of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Of course that would cost money, but it would fall on that part of the defence budget—the part relating to reserve forces—which perhaps gives best value for money, as my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) pointed out so vigorously this afternoon. Some 2 per cent. of the defence budget goes on the reserve forces, but, as the Minister reminded us, in an armed conflict 25 per cent. of the men in uniform would be reserves. I join the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in hoping that there will soon be a substantial Regular element in the Ulster Defence Regiment.
We note that this matter is being looked at by a Committee. When will that Committee report? Will it be in weeks or in months? What report will be made to this House on the findings of that Committee? Will the report be kept secret, or will there be the publication of a White Paper? Will the Committee look at the whole problem of the pay and allowances of the security forces in Northern Ireland? At the moment, to put it mildly, these matters are in a jumbled state.
1594 There are masses of anomalies which have led to some impairment of combat efficiency in that it is difficult for the RUC and the Military Police to work easily side by side when the effective pay rates of the men concerned are so very different.
I note with some regret that, after all these years, some units sent to Northern Ireland suffer considerable financial loss as a result of moving from BAOR to Northern Ireland. The other day I was with a battalion and spoke to its regimental sergeant-major, who reckoned that he was losing £4 a week by serving in Northern Ireland. The battalion itself was losing more than £1,000 a week by serving there.
Last year I ended my speech in the Army debate by quoting from President Ford. I quote President Ford again: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.I note that this year President Ford is in some political trouble with his own party, not because he is spending too much on defence but because he is thought of as being too soft on defence. One reason why he is in trouble is the dismissal of his outspoken Defence Secretary, Mr. Schlesinger. In America the electorate is clearly concerned about the state of defences. Thank heaven, there are signs that the British electorate is also becoming increasingly alarmed at the weakened state of our own defences.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown
With the leave of the House, at the beginning of this debate I promised to inform hon. Members if I had anything further to say about this morning's incident involving men of the SAS Regiment.
By way of further detail, I can now say that it appears that one car on patrol had strayed across the border and that two others, in an attempt to contact the first, made the same mistake. The eight members of the SAS were stopped by the Gardai approximately 500 metres south of the border. Some members of the patrol were in civilian clothes and some were wearing items of uniform. They were, of course, armed.
1595 I have consulted my right hon. Friends the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have been in close touch with the Irish authorities throughout the day about this incursion into the territory of the Republic, which we naturally much regret. In our view, there can be no doubt that it resulted purely and simply from a map reading error on the part of the men concerned. Given the increasing co-operation between us in enforcing anti-terrorist measures in the border area, we had hoped that it might be possible to obtain the early release of these men, but now the process of the law has been engaged, they have been charged, and are appearing in court this evening. We hope that a constructive view of this mistake will be taken.
§ Mr. Brown
It is a difficult situation, and the men are before the courts this evening. I do not know what the charge is. I would prefer to go no further into the issue.
I should like to begin by saying a little more about the situation in Northern Ireland. In reply to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and his comments on the UDR, I would first say that I welcome, as I am sure do the members of the regiment, his words of support.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the question of a full-time company in each UDR battalion. This matter has been raised before, and is kept under review. It is one of the questions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be examining in his review of law and order in the Province.
I am aware that there has recently been some delay in processing applications for the UDR, but the backlog has now been cleared, and I understand that the process is running smoothly. The procedures for dealing with applications for the UDR are, however, currently under review and 1596 some advances in speeding them up have already been made. I shall keep the matter under review, and I shall be glad to look into any cases of delay or hardship that the right hon. Member cares to draw to my attention in writing.
The right hon. Member also mentioned the question of unexplained rejections. In common with employers in the private sector, it is not the policy of my Department to reveal the reasons behind rejections of applications. I am sure that the House will understand that there are good reasons for this.
I am sure that it will also agree that it would be far more damaging to the morale of the regiment to allow in people whose bona fides have not been fully checked. I shall certainly give my consideration to the two suggestions made by the right hon. Member for Down, South. The Government also accept the very important point made by the hon. Member from Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that we must not accept in the UDR anyone whose reliability and loyalty are in doubt.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Woodall) raised two points in the context of Northern Ireland. The first was an operational matter—the suggestion currently being aired in the Press that the Army is "outgunned" by the IRA, or that its equipment is less than adequate. The most careful attention is given to the equipment needs of troops in Northern Ireland, and every effort is made to provide them with the most suitable equipment, in the necessary quantities, for their rôle of giving military assistance to the civil power. The GOC Northern Ireland is, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence told the House on 4th December, satisfied with the weapons he has. I am glad to be able to reassure my hon. Friend that the Army in Northern Ireland has a wide range of weapons, including machine guns, which can easily match the range of any weapons the IRA has.
My hon. Friend also asked for more information about the concessions available to Service men serving in Northern Ireland. I gave the House a full list in answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on Tuesday 21st October 1975, but I shall indicate a few measures.
1597 First, for members of the permanent garrison, married accompanied Service men may surrender their annual leave warrant entitlement of four journeys in exchange for two return journeys for themselves, each member of their family, and their car. Sleeping berths at public expense are provided for all ranks and families on leave, as well as on posting. Cheap-rate air fares are available once a year for single and unaccompanied members, on surrender of a leave warrant.
Secondly, for personnel on emergency tours, whose families are in Great Britain or Germany, their families in Germany may make a free return journey to the United Kingdom during the husband's emergency tour. Reduced-price telephone calls are available. Free Forces air letters to and from Great Britain and Germany are provided. There is also a wide range of works improvements in hand, including such amenities as swimming pools and squash courts.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) raised the matter of counter-terrorist operations in Great Britain. These are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the police. Government contingency plans take account, however, of the possibility that assistance to the police from the Army may be required to deal with political terrorists armed with sophisticated weaponry. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not expect me to go into details.
I should like now to deal with finance, which still seems to be the main brunt of the attack on the Government, by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The facts of economic life have been frequently explained to hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. I still hope that they will gradually filter through. At the risk of annoying the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) I can say that the Leader of the Opposition, by her public statement that she would not increase the level of defence expenditure, has implied that she understands and accepts the need for reductions. Indeed, I have never noticed that the Opposition, when they were in power, particularly spared defence from the axe—it seems rather to have been the first thing they cut. In view of their record, their supposed distress now reminds me 1598 of the old story of the crocodile's tears. It seems that they do not have long memories, when they so quickly forget Lord Barber.
§ Mr. Onslow
I told the hon. Gentleman earlier today to take that horse out and shoot it. I am sorry that he has not done so. It is a pretty spavined nag. He said that he would send me the transcript. It is rather revealing of the flimsiness of the grounds on which he relies that all he can do is stand at the Dispatch Box again and say that such-and-such implies something else. He gives no quotation of chapter and verse. There is no truth in the matter. I hope that he will get on with the serious business that he is paid to perform, which is speaking up for the Army, instead of inventing that sort of flimsy rubbish.
§ Mr. Brown
The Opposition have largely concentrated on the rôle and structure of the Army. The Army of the next decade will continue to play its rôle in NATO and in defence of the United Kingdom. We shall also continue to maintain the capability to meet unforeseen and unforeseeable contingencies, but we cannot continue to police the world, nor does the rest of the world want us to do so.
I do not accept the Opposition's contention that restructuring is unsuccessful. In a matter affecting the professional efficiency of the Army, we are simply not prepared to take risks. The trials showed that some changes were necessary, though the general concept was sound. So changes we are going to make. I repeat that the increases in the front line resulting from the defence review will be preserved and that the extra costs and manpower required will be minimal. Is this failure? The fact is that we have embarked on an experiment that we said at the time would be subject to control, and because the controls have revealed deficiencies we intend to make alterations. One cannot claim that that is a failure.
The hon. Member for Woking referred to the problems of accommodating our new style units and formations in BAOR—a valid point. I assure him that the 1599 costs of this have been taken into account in our calculations and that the necessary planning is well in hand. I also assure him that the fact that units with different establishments will require changes in accommodation has not escaped the Army's notice. I might add that we are taking the opportunity offered by restructuring to correct as far as we can what is called "mal-deployment" in BAOR—that is, trying to put as many units as possible in their divisional area.
§ Mr. Onslow
I asked to know how much all this would cost. The Minister clearly knows how much it will cost. Will he tell the House, please?
§ Mr. Brown
Offhand, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman that information, but I shall write to him about it.
Several hon. Members have referred to German restructuring plans in the context of standarisation and inter-operability. With respect, I believe that they are missing the point. The Germans have a different problem from ours. Theirs is a conscript army, serving in its home country. The motives underlying their planned restructuring included the need to put units close to the peace-time homes of reservists and to provide appropriate supervision for their National Service men. None of these considerations applies to us. The important thing is not that all Allied formations should be the same but that they should be capable of operating together. This is one area where the revised plans to which I referred earlier this evening have, we believe, considerably improved matters. We are confident that our Allies will welcome these changes on those grounds alone.
I appreciate the regret of the right hon. Member for Down, South that the White Paper could not give more detail on restructuring, but as I said, in my earlier remarks, the studies in BAOR have only recently been completed. It was not a feasible proposition to include any more than we did in the White Paper.
The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) was highly critical of some supposed reductions in the TAVR as a result of the defence review. I repeat in the strongest terms that no such reductions have been made but, rather, that the rôle of the TAVR has been enhanced and the numbers have not been reduced.
1600 The hon. Member complained that he had not seen any examples of closer integration of the TAVR with the Regular Army. I can assure him that he has not seen much in the way of results yet, only because we are at an early stage in restructuring. I can point out, for example, that the five infantry battalions in each of the new field forces will include two Territorial infantry battalions. This leaves aside the very large number of reinforcements who will go across to BAOR on mobilisation to flesh out the existing Regular Army structure.
Although the matter has not been referred to during the debate, I want to mention recent Press reports about Army involvement with Column 88.
Column 88 is a neo-Nazi organisation with a very small membership. The result of investigations of the reports in the Press is that it is possible that no more than one member of the Army Cadet Force has been involved, and appropriate action is being considered in this case. I hope that the House will not be left under any misapprehension that the TAVR or ACF would tolerate any contact or association with this type of organisation. Indeed, representations have been made to me by members of the TAVR who deeply regret that any slur should have been cast on their organisation by the allegations made. I specifically wanted to make the statement at the insistence and request of members of TAVR who felt they had been grossly slandered by Press reports.
There was an interesting suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that there would be separate armed forces for Scotland, according to the Scottish National Party.
My colleagues in the Ministry of Defence are giving this matter very serious study following the request made by my hon. Friend in the defence debate, and his subsequent detailed questions raised in correspondence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be replying to my hon. Friend on this subject shortly. However, I should like to emphasise that it is the Government's belief that national security should remain a United Kingdom responsibility and should not be a subject for devolution. The establishment of separate armed forces for Scotland would 1601 lead to an overall loss in collective security, a general inefficiency, and an inevitable wastage of resources.
The hon. Member for West Lothian again mentioned the question of dispersal to Scotland in the event of devolution. Under the Government's plan for devolution I repeat that dispersal of Ministry of Defence civil servants will still take place, as stated by the Government on many occasions.
Several hon. Members referred to the Anglo-German Offset Agreement. This agreement expired on 31st March and we are, of course, in touch with the Government of the Federal Republic about successor arrangements. The then Prime Minister and the Federal Chancellor discussed the problem during their meeting at Chequers in February and agreed that a solution could and should be found.
I am afraid that it is impossible to say at this stage when the talks will be completed, but we are not wasting time on this matter. The House will not expect me to reveal our negotiating position in advance or to comment on recent Press speculation on the subject.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) accused the Government of coyness over the faulty items of equipment mentioned in the White Paper. He ought to know that a full list has been given to the Expenditure Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Defence and External Affairs. I must tell him that it would not be in the public interest to give details of these matters and that it would be misleading to discuss such details in isolation.
There has been reference to standardisation. The projects listed in the White Paper represent an excellent record in major equipment fields and include some of the Army's biggest items of future expenditure. We ensure that our staff requirements receive the widest possible circulation among our Allies, thus allowing the possibility of collaboration from an early stage.
The hon. Member for Woking was worried about the helicopter ATGW, which is a highly important aspect of the total anti-armour capability. These studies are continuing and a decision will be taken when they are complete.
1602 The first Lynx helicopters will enter service this financial year, as the White Paper says. But Lynx is required for several roles, of which only one is to replace Scout as the platform for antitank missiles. Obviously the time is approaching when a decision on the missile system is appropriate. There is opportunity, however, for us to carry out our current appraisal without an unacceptable gap opening up between the in service dates of Lynx and the weapon to put on it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hems-worth referred to the Army's participation in the "Save It" campaign. As a result of the measures taken, the Army's consumption of fuel, including domestic fuel, has been reduced by 10 per cent. by comparison with the level before the energy crisis. But fuel economy is a continuing process—we are striving to sustain an effective "Save It" psychology throughout the Army and, where possible, to improve upon current achievements through increasing control over the use of vehicles, better utilisation of buildings and improvements to old and inefficient heating systems.
As the House will be aware, we have identified further savings to be made over the Public Expenditure Survey Committee years by continuing and intensifying the present campaign.
The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) made various points about the proposal to close COD Chilwell. I reaffirm what I have said: the Government are engaged in negotiations with the departmental staff side and trade unions. I am happy to take note of the hon. Member's points. I am sorry that I was not in my place when he made his speech, but it is reasonable for a Minister to have a half-hour break for various reasons during a debate.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)
That is perfectly reasonable provided that one of the other Ministers connected with the Army—the Minister of State or the Secretary of State—is here while the Under-Secretary is absent.
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force was present. It is therefore unreasonable for the right hon. Gentleman to get so annoyed.
1603 I take note of the points made by the hon. Member for High Peak. He will not expect me to go into details tonight. We are in negotiation with the staff side and the trade unions, and if I went into detail it would pre-empt the discussions which are taking place.
I do not have time to answer all the points which have been raised in the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) spoke about the military hospital in his constituency. The intention still remains, as was set out in the Statement on the 1975 Defence Estimates, to close the hospital. As the hon. and learned Member knows, discussion with the DHSS on future alternative facilities in the area are continuing. The Army plans to have a medical reception station with specialist support facilities for the treatment of Service personnel after the hospital has closed, but no date for closure has yet been fixed.
The hon. and learned Member also asked a question about the impact of the Army manpower reductions on the number of hours of duty in Northern Ireland. We do not envisage any need to increase either the length or the frequency of tours in Northern Ireland.
In conclusion, my own feeling is that restructuring and the other changes now taking place have given a new impetus to the Army—a new series of challenges to be overcome, new scope for original thought about how it can best meet its concentrated rôle with maximum efficiency. I think that it has risen to this challenge very well. From my own visits to Army establishments, I know that there is a real sense of professionalism in the Army of today. The old image of the soldier has gone. Instead, we have men and women who understand their work, who are experts in a wide range of technology and trades, and who take a pride in their expertise. There is a kind of precision—the sense that here is an organism working with the smooth efficiency of a first-class piece of 1604 machinery. To me, thinking back over the years to my time in the Army, this is a major achievement, and it is this professionalism which the present Government intend to foster and encourage.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Will the hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that he will make a statement tomorrow about the most serious incident involving eight members of the SAS being arrested by the Irish Garda, and give the House more information than he is able to provide tonight?
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand that it does not apply in this case, but of course the Minister's reply is his own.
§ Mr. Brown
I thought I had made it clear to the House that this is an extremely delicate issue, and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Stonehouse) is not the most delicate creature in this House. I would have thought that he would bear with me tonight in view of the circumstances in which our chaps are before an Irish court.
§ Mr. Powell
In view of the circumstances it would be more sensible for the statement to be made on Monday, when more information is available. Will the Minister consult his hon. Friends to ensure that such a statement is available on Monday?
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.