HC Deb 19 April 1977 vol 930 cc49-160

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

In this debate on the Army it is certainly not my intention to attack the energy or the enthusiasm of Ministers who have been responsible for military affairs in the course of the past year. They have been put in their present position to implement the Government's general defence policy, which seems to be based on the hope that the meek shall inherit the earth, while doing their best to ignore every bit of evidence that the strong are intent on contesting the will.

One inevitable result of this policy is that ministerial defence posts tend to be inherited by those who lack independent political strength. It suits the Prime Minister well enough to staff the Ministry with men whose resistance to defence cuts would attract scant attention and whose resignation would cause little stir.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army has done his best to protect the Army from the economic storms that have blown in the course of the past year, but looking across the Dispatch Box at him I am reminded of the devastating school report received by a friend of mine whose son finished near the bottom of the form and whose report contained the comment "I am sorry to say that Robert is trying."

Let me first turn to the good news. Recruitment seems to be going well. In the early 1960s, the principal feature of Army debates centred on the question of whether we could get sufficient officers and men to match our commitments. We can now leave that particular subject in a few sentences, partly because our commitments have been cut to bedrock and partly because of unemployment.

When he was Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was an indifferent recruiting sergeant, but as Chancellor of the Exchequer he has been the best friend the recruiting authorities have ever had. For reasons we need not go into this afternoon, the high level of unemployment that affects so much of this country is concentrated with tragic force on the age groups from which the Army traditionally recruits most heavily. That has meant that the Army can afford to be highly selective in those it recruits.

Towards the end of the recruiting year, I visited my local Army careers office. A substantial number of potential recruits were still being processed. But in the past 10 months, while 61 recruits have been accepted, 58 have been rejected, mostly for educational reasons. This is in an area well above the national average in educational standards and rather below average as regards delinquency.

There are, however, still causes for concern in recruiting, particularly as regards officers. I am particularly worried because almost every bright young middle-ranking officer I have talked to during the past 12 months has been seriously considering leaving the Army. The reason that they invariably give is that they see little worthwhile future in a contracting force where petty restrictions seem to mount daily.

And the long process of military withdrawal continues. This month, the military element in the Commandos is withdrawing from Malta. At the end of last month, the Royal Air Force relinquished control of airfields in Oman, at Masirah and Sallallha. There will, in the course of the coming 12 months, be a substantial reduction in the number of seconded Army officers and men in Oman.

Paragraph 258 of the Defence White Paper states: The gradual reduction of our military assistance to Oman will continue, now that hostilities in Dhofar have ceased and as Omanis are trained to occupy positions now held by British personnel on secondment. This seems to be a deadpan way of recording that British forces have made a major contribution to the victory of the Omani army in a nasty little war fostered by the People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen, one of the world's major havens of terrorism. The Sultan of Oman has treated our seconded and contract forces very fairly—one could say generously. I hope that in his speech the Under-Secretary will feel able to pay a rather more eloquent tribute than that which appears in the White Paper to those British officers and men whose skill has achieved a substantial victory in an important small conflict in a vital area of the world.

There is yet another reference, in paragraph 219(a) of the White Paper, to the fact that Consultations continue on the withdrawal of the Gurkha battalion from Brunei. The Sultan of Brunei, as we know, pays for the whole of this particular force, and if as a result of Left-wing pressure this battalion is needlessly withdrawn the effect on the whole Gurkha Brigade will be exceptionally damaging. I believe that it would need a dramatist of the tragicomic force of, perhaps, Tom Stoppard to do justice to the whole absurd story of the negotiations for the withdrawal of this battalion. Meanwhile, we must all hope that inertia and common sense will help to preserve the status quo.

Nearer home, our forces in Cyprus have been cut to the bone. May I ask the Under-Secretary of State for an assurance that there will be no further withdrawals in the foreseeable future from that sensitive and vital island?

There is, however, one part of the world—indeed, a part of this country—where we are all pleased to note that Ministers have reiterated their determination to preserve the Army's rôle. That, of course, is Northern Ireland. It has in the last seven years been something of a ritual to pay tribute to the conduct of our Service men there. The danger continues and the death toll mounts, and now there is the awful frustration of soldiers going back for a sixth or seventh tour and finding that there has been little visible improvement in the security situation.

We have had a number of debates on security in Northern Ireland in recent months when we have been able to discuss the strength and level of activity of the Army in Northern Ireland, so this afternoon I wish to confine myself to three brief points on Northern Ireland.

First, there is, I believe, substantial agreement between the two sides of the House that more of the war against terrorism should be undertaken whenever possible by the inhabitants of Northern Ireland themselves. From both sides of the House there has been agreement that the Ulster Defence Regiment should be strengthened. The IRA clearly recognises the strength of the threat from the Ulster Defence Regiment, because, out of the 29 soldiers who were killed in Northern Ireland last year, no fewer than 15 were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. As we know, that tragic toll has continued this year.

Early last year the Government set up a ministerial committee to examine the forces required to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland for the next few years. As a result, it was decided to increase the number of full-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Government, however, seem to be thinking in terms of an increase of some 200 to 250 men. We were hoping for an initial increase of 800 or 1,000 full-time Ulster Defence Regiment men. Is a further increase in the full-time strength of the UDR contemplated? If so, by how much? This is a matter to which we attach substantial importance.

Consideration must be given to the vital question of Army pay and conditions in Northern Ireland. For years I have argued—sometimes against Conservative Ministers—that no one posted to Northern Ireland from a safer and more comfortable billet should be worse off financially. However, over the years thousands of Service men posted on emergency tours from BAOR have been out of pocket as a result of their transfer to Northern Ireland.

I am delighted to see that the Daily Express and The Guardian have taken up the plight of the families of soldiers in regiments and headquarters who are doing extended tours. In one regiment in Northern Ireland, no less than 46 per cent. of all privates and 23 per cent. of all lance corporals living in married quarters are receiving rent rebates. In other words, they are considered to be below the poverty line.

That is a scandalous situation that has split up families. Service wives with children in Northern Ireland live in a security situation that is not normal. The wives cannot get outside to work. The cost of living is abnormally high for many items. The one benefit that most people in Northern Ireland enjoy—namely, cheap housing—is denied to them. This is one area in which the military salary system is doing harm.

The remedy lies in the Minister's hands. Let him cut the rent of married quarters in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman could do this if he persuaded the Treasury that it should be done. This is an abnormal situation. Very well, let us charge an abnormal rent. Better still, let us waive altogether the rent demanded from lower ranks. I ask the Minister to take emergency action on rent and heating and lighting charges and then to consider at greater leisure the discrepancies in pay that have arisen between the different sections of the security forces.

Men doing the same job and facing the same dangers have enormous discrepancies in their take-home pay. That is not good for morale, and it is one of the difficulties that has bedevilled the sensible experiment of mounting joint patrols of military policemen and members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That experiment has run into considerable difficulties because of the enormous differences in take-home pay between the two groups going out on the same patrols.

I turn to another suggestion that I have pressed on earlier occasions, which would cost virtually no money. It is generally accepted that the most hazardous rôle in Northern Ireland is played by the bomb disposal squads. There have been suggestions that they should have a special allowance. When they were asked, the squads were divided on the issue. I understand, however, that a special clasp on the Northern Ireland Medal ribbon would be very welcome. Will the Under-Secretary of State tell us why that simple honour cannot now be conferred on the bomb disposal men? Let us remember the continuing strain that the men are under. Last year they had to deal with more than two bombs every day of the year. This year the strain is no less.

I turn from Northern Ireland—

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Before my hon. Friend leaves Northern Ireland and the financial dis- advantages of Her Majesty's Forces in the Province, may I ask whether he has in mind the additional handicap that they suffer—namely, that insurance companies require heavier premiums from those serving in Northern Ireland than from others? Although this is understandable and although there is not an easy answer, is it not something that we should have in mind and a matter that the Minister should take up?

Mr. Goodhart

I am sure that my hon. Friend has raised a most valuable point. I hope that it will be borne in mind by the Minister and the pay review body, which has recently been spending some time in Northern Ireland.

I turn from Northern Ireland to the Government's main claim in defence matters—namely, that they are concentrating all their strength in the NATO area. Our contribution to the southern flank has been slashed. Our ability to help the northern flank has been reduced. It is true that the commandos are concentrating more on Arctic warfare. To offset the reduction in amphibious capability, the number of commandos specially trained in Arctic warfare is to be increased from 1,000 to 2,500 in the next two years.

The commandos will receive Arctic clothing worth £350 per man, but it seems that there is not enough money left in the kitty to equip them all with skis. The extraordinary colour of my face is due to my assiduous attention to my duties as Vice-President of the Lords and Commons Ski Club during the recent recess. Therefore, this is a subject on which I feel strongly. Surely we can afford skis for our commandos in the Arctic. We have rented foreign ferries to carry our forces in the past. Perhaps we should ask the Norwegian Tourist Board to hire us skis in an emergency at a reduced rate.

It is the Army's strength on the central front of NATO on which Ministers have particularly asked to be judged. They have been judged by the all-party Expenditure Committee and they have been found wanting. The Expenditure Committee, in investigating the effect of recent defence cuts, was worried about the Army's air defence system and the fact that our excellent Rapier SAM system was not equipped with the blindfire radar system, which would greatly increase its capability. The Committee was rightly concerned with the cancellation of the long-term RS80 artillery project, which leaves the Army without an area weapon system that can disrupt enemy supply columns, except, of course, for the nuclear Lance missiles. Once again we see the weakness of conventional forces leading to a reduction in the nuclear threshold.

The Committee is concerned about the deferment of a replacement for our ageing armoured personnel carriers and the seemingly indefinite deferment of the medium-lift helicopter. Above all, the Committee is concerned about our wholly inadequate anti-tank weapons in the face of an ominous mass of Soviet armour.

The long-delayed date for the introduction of the Milan anti-tank missile has slipped by another year. Then there is the extraordinary story of the evaluation of the helicopter-borne Hawkswing replacement. There are two systems—the Franco-German HOT and the American TOW, which have been under evaluation since 1969. I note that the Under Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy was a professor of economics at Drew University in New Jersey when this evaluation began. If things continue at their present pace, I have no doubt that he will be a professor again, at the London School of Economics, before this evaluation is completed. I can only conclude from the snail's pace at which the evaluation has gone that the Government do not want any new anti-tank helicopter system.

Meanwhile, the Expenditure Committee has been doing much valuable work in the areas of reserves and reinforcements. Even if we do not yet have the Committee's report, much of the evidence is already available. We all know that before it can become a fully efficient fighting force BAOR needs massive reinforcements, both of Regulars and reservists. Indeed the Committee, in its preliminary tour of Germany, found that for various reasons many battalions are now at only 70 per cent. of their authorised strength.

Anyone who reads the evidence given by those responsible for the mobilisation and reinforcement plans of the Ministry of Defence must be impressed both by their enthusiasm and by their faith. Everyone agrees that for the plan to work at all there must be some warning time, and the politicians concerned must be prepared to act decisively when warning of an attack is received.

Even their worst enemies would agree that the Israelis have the most efficient reserve mobilisation system in the world. But in October 1973 Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir and the Israeli High Command hesitated for too long. If Moshe Dayan and Golda Meir were half caught on the hop, can anyone seriously believe that our Cabinet would act with speed and resolution?

Who knows, perhaps there is some secret protocol in the Lib-Lab pact that says that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) must be consulted as well before the reserves are called out.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

Where are the Liberals?

Mr. Goodhart

It is equally true that the Americans, who have made a substantial study of these matters, have come to the conclusion that the Warsaw Pact would have to give only a few hours' warning before launching a mass attack. I am not by nature a betting man, but, after studying the evidence given to the Expenditure Committee and the American Defence Report for the financial year 1978, I would have thought that the chances of one-third of the necessary reserves for BAOR actually getting to the right place at the right time must be less than the chance that Red Rum will win the Grand National in both 1978 and 1979. The limitations of our reinforcement plans do not in any way reduce the importance of TAVR. The spirit of the men in the Reserve is superb, and in these depressed days it is marvelously cost-effective.

If and when reservists reach BAOR, they will find that a certain degree of reorganisation has taken place and that the new divisions that they will join do not look quite like the old divisions. But the field exercises carried out in the autumn of 1976 thoroughly justified our criticisms two years ago of the plan to do away with brigade headquarters altogether. This scheme, put forward in the defence review, might have worked in 1980 if the right communication equipment were available then. It could never have worked with the signals equipment available now. Therefore, brigade headquarters are back under a different name.

Paragraph 215 of the Defence White Paper provides a tongue-in-cheek obituary of the great defence review reorganisation when it says: The results of these trials have generally validated the reorganisation plans although a number of modifications have proved necessary, chiefly in the arrangements for command and control within the division. Each new armoured divisional headquarters will be given the capability of deploying, when required, two tactical command posts to exercise direct operational command of battle-groups. The command posts will be known as Task Force Headquarters when they are deployed. This is, no doubt, to get away from any possible idea that they might be brigade headquarters. The paragraph continues: They will be headed by brigadiers who in peacetime will be garrison commanders. The weakness of the new plan will be lack of training. The old brigades exercised together. The ad hoc battle groups with their garrison commanders will not—unless there is, as I hope, another change of plans. The possibility for confusion is thus greatly increased.

The probability of confusion on the central front has also, alas, been increased by tragic errors on the part of those responsible for NATO tactical communications. In the course of the next two years, no fewer than seven NATO countries will be introducing new battlefield communications systems. Only two of those seven systems will be inter-operable. These systems are likely to survive until 1995. We can look forward to at least a dozen years of confusion on the potential battelfield.

It is true that black boxes can be devised to make these various systems inter-operable. There is one important snag: no one has yet invented the black boxes that will be needed. The chances of those black boxes being invented and produced in sufficient quantities and being available in the right numbers in the right place are as probable as the appointment of Lady Falkender by the next Conservative Government to advise on administration at No. 10 Downing Street. In other words, it just will not happen.

I understand that there is some overcapacity at the moment in our signals and radar research establishments, particularly at Malvern. I ask the Under-Secretary whether we are undertaking any research into the development of the black boxes that are so necessary if NATO is not to suffer from a nervous breakdown in the signals area.

Indeed, when we look at the Government's plans for research and development we see the usual cut-back. As usual, however, we have not been told where or how this is to be done. I suppose that it will be an across-the-board cut with equal misery for all. However, I hope that the Army establishments dealing with artillery and small arms will be spared from the common axe.

It is enormously important as regards arms sales that the improved 120-mm tank gun should be ready for tests in America by November. In the small arms sector, the new British 4.85 mm weapon development is clearly of enormous importance with great foreign sales potential. It would be folly to impose cuts on this research at this time. When I look at our research budget of £123 million, which is included in the £826 million for research and development as a whole, I thank heaven that the Americans this year are planning to spend $11.1 billion on research, development, testing and evaluation. That is more than our total defence budget for the coming year.

Finally, I turn to the welfare side of the Armed Forces. I am delighted that it was mainly Conservative votes that rammed through a maverick Labour amendment cutting the tax on war widows' pensions. Our next priority in this field is that of the pre-1950 widows who get no Service pension at the moment. Then there is the problem of housing for the Service man when he leaves the Army or when he is posted away. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has repeatedly drawn attention to these problems, which are caused primarily by the 1974 Rent Act. There has been no visible improvement here, although we live in hopes.

Then there has been the publication of the Spencer Report, which advocates the establishment of an expensive Army welfare service. Clearly, Ministers are in no financial position to implement that report at present. However, there is talk of running a pilot scheme, which consists, as I understand it, of employing one more trained social worker in the Greater London area.

I declare a partial interest as I am a member of the council of SSAFA, which deals with the social problems of all three Services. It is with some regret that, following the Seebohm and Spencer Reports, we find Service welfare unity, presently embodied in SSAFA, coming apart at the seams. If senior staff at the Ministry of Defence spent a little less time arguing against tiny increases in allowances for SSAFA social workers in Germany, we might not need some of the expensive new systems proposed in this important field.

The Spencer Report uncovered a number of grumbles about conditions. I am not surprised. I have talked to soldiers from the highest to the lowest ranks, and in the past 12 months grumbling has been the keynote of today's Army. As one senior general recently said to me: Everything is getting progressively harder to do A junior training officer put it more vividly when he said: Do you think that you could do an effective job as an MP if you were given one biro pen at the beginning of the year and told that it would have to last 12 months? That is the sort of position the Government are putting me into. There is grumbling about the present and real apprehension about the future. As the Under-Secretary knows, a grumbling appendix can quickly become acutely inflamed.

This year's cuts were bad enough, but if next year's cuts are allowed to go forward irreparable damage will be done to our whole defence system. Unless present plans are discarded, this Government will be guilty of dismantling our own defences at a time when the capacity of our potential enemies is growing every day. I hope that an early General Election will see the return of a Government who recognise that the defence of the realm is the overriding duty of any proper Government. I fear that this one does not recognise that fact.

4.56 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)

It is a pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). He has a longstanding interest in defence, and particularly in Army matters. The House listens to him with interest and respect on these subjects. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not attempt to deal with all the points—some valuable and some not so valuable—that he raised.

I am delighted that hostilities in Oman have finished. I am happy to join with the hon. Member for Beckenham in paying tribute to the contribution that our forces made to the cessation of hostilities. I am particularly happy to mention what I think is the most satisfying activity that our forces undertook there—normalising the situation by drilling wells, building medical centres and providing aid to the community to settle. This is the most valuable thing that we have contributed in Oman.

The hon. Member asked for an assurance about our future plans on Cyprus. We have no plans to withdraw from Cyprus. Indeed, any such proposal would be likely at this time to complicate further the delicate political situation in the island. Nor have we any plans to reduce our force levels there in the near future.

When I spoke in the defence debate of 22nd March this year I made the point that the efficient management of defence resources was as important as the overall level of those resources. I should like to tell the House a little more about what this, in my judgment, responsible and serious approach means for the Army.

First, because it is of the greatest importance, I should like to report to the House what further progress has been made with the planned restructuring of the Army since I described the concept in the debate on the Army on 6th May last year. I make no apology for returning to this subject, because it is fundamental to the careful planning that the Government believe to be right for the Service. It may help if I recount briefly the main features of the plan.

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, each of which will have five infantry battalions and support arms appropriate to its rôle. By April 1978 each of these formations, the 6th, 7th and 8th Field Forces, will be operational; indeed the 8th Field Force, which has a home defence rôle and is located in South-West District, is already operational. The 6th Field Force, to be located in South-East District, will take over the rôle of the land element of the United Kingdom mobile force. The 7th Field Force, which will be located in Eastern District, will constitute the major formation required to place BAOR on a full war footing. The action needed to achieve this reorganisation is proceeding well to plan.

In BAOR the restructuring of the 1st British Corps is also well in hand, and in one or two areas we now expect to improve on the original timetable. Because we are committed in advance of MBFR to maintain our Brussels Treaty force level of 55,000, the object here is not so much to save manpower as to improve the weapon-to-man ratio within broadly the present manpower levels. When the reorganisation is complete the 1st British Corps will consist of four armoured divisions, each rather smaller than the three that exist at present, an artillery division, and a new formation in the shape of the 5th Field Force. The 5th Field Force is now operational and one of the BAOR divisions, the 2nd Armoured Division, has completed its reorganisation.

As I said in the debate last year, the restructuring timetable has provided for a carefully phased programme of trials to test the planned organisation. These trials have yielded valuable results, and where changes to the plan have been shown to be necessary they have been made. I see nothing wrong in that. If one is developing a new concept one must surely by trial and error improve it as one goes along. In particular, we have decided to provide divisional commanders with the ability to deploy up to two task force headquarters or command posts to take control of particular operations or parts of the battle. Hon. Members will know that we held a major exercise in BAOR last autumn, code- named Spearpoint, involving 18,000 men. The report of the exercise has yet to be fully evaluated, but I can say that the outcome was generally satisfactory.

This is the new structure with which the Army will undertake its NATO commitments. What of equipment? We hear much comment on alleged deficiencies in our equipment programme. The Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee made this a critical point of its recent report. I would just say that it is our aim to ensure that the Army continues to receive the most modern equipment available. I should like to respond to some of the adverse public comment on the degree to which we have succeeded in this field by mentioning some of the decisions that we have taken during the past year with the purpose of ensuring that this aim is met.

In October of last year we signed the memorandum of understanding with the French and German Governments for the procurement of the Milan crew-portable anti-tank guided weapon. In order to ensure that the system is in service as soon as possible, initial deliveries, which are due later this year, will be from the Franco-German consortium, Euromissile, although the bulk of the requirement will be manufactured in the United Kingdom, providing employment for several thousand people.

Last September formal acceptance and approval of the 155mm towed field howitzer, FH70, was agreed with our German and Italian partners. Main production has now begun and the system is expected to enter service about the end of the decade. We shall be procuring 71 guns. Meanwhile, development of the self-propelled version, the SP 70, continues.

As my right hon. Friend announced in the defence debate, we have agreed with the Federal German Government not to proceed with a collaborative solution for the next generation of the main battle tank. Studies are already in hand on the best way of meeting our requirement while ensuring that a new tank enters service by the late 1980s, but meanwhile a number of improvements to Chieftain are under way to maintain its effectiveness into the 1980s. A laser sight and muzzle reference system are already in production and further improvements to the fire control system are planned.

As part of our continuing studies on ways of countering the mounting Warsaw Pact threat, it has been decided to form a regiment with an electronic warfare capability. This regiment will take its place in the order of battle of the 1st British Corps from 1st July this year. Hon. Members will not expect me to go into details, but I can say that this decision is only the first stage, and a long term programme to improve our electronic warfare has been identified and will be carried out as resources permit.

A number of new equipments are entering service this year. Deliveries of a blindfire tracking radar for Rapier, which will enable this fine anti-aircraft missile to operate in all weathers by day and night, have already begun. This will be followed later this year by the Striker tracked reconnaissance vehicle which carries the Swingfire anti-tank guided missile.

I hope that these examples will illustrate our determination to have a well-equipped and well-organised Army. I believe that there is widespread recognition of the first-class quality of our Army's personnel, equipment and professional standards.

Whenever I make an overseas visit, I hear compliments on our Forces from those foreign countries with which, and in which, they serve. These indicate to me that the military men and the people whose judgment one respects in these countries, both NATO and others, do not share the excesses of pessimism or disparagement which one sees from time to time displayed by commentators in this country. It appears to be a national British pastime to talk down our national coinage.

Last week I visited our forces in Cyprus. I saw the troops in our own sovereign base areas and some of those who make up our contingent in the United Nations' peace-keeping force on the island. In both cases they seemed to me professional, versatile and thoroughly strongly motivated in their work—a stabilising influence in an uncertain environment. All ranks showed a well-articulated understanding of their tasks—incidentally, in the most horrible weather I have experienced for a long time in Cyprus or anywhere else.

Our military contingent with the United Nations Force is the largest one amongst the seven nations participating. In addition, we provide, from the sovereign base areas, logistic support for the whole force. The United Nations officers and others to whom I spoke had the highest praise for our contribution. As an example, my attention was drawn to the case of one young corporal in a regiment about to leave the force whose work in the demilitarised zone between Greek and Turk was so highly esteemed in keeping the temperature down that the local communities on both sides asked that he be retained beyond his normal tour.

I mention this simply to illustrate the high quality of achievement which I know the House will have expected from the Army in this unusual and tense situation. It is typical of the contribution which we are making not only there, but wherever the Army is to be found stationed—one of military efficiency tempered with discretion and humanity. I know that other hon. Members have also experienced this for themselves.

In the light of what I have said about the standards being achieved by the Army the House will not be surprised to learn that recruiting during the last year has been very encouraging, both in number and, perhaps even more important, in the quality of those joining the Army. There are some areas where there has been a shortfall against the recruiting target, and during the coming year we shall be devoting an increased proportion of our recruiting effort to these areas. Nevertheless, the general level of recruiting is highly satisfactory.

The number of officers recruited for the major arms and Services was 677, an increase of 22 per cent. over the previous year's total. The short service limited commission has continued to increase in popularity—70 were awarded last year, an increase of 25 per cent. over the previous year. The number joining Sandhurst on the standard military and graduate courses during the year was, however, below the annual officer target, and officer recruiting is one area where increased effort will be made during this year. An encouraging feature was the record number—no fewer than 118—of university cadetships and bursaries awarded. The holders of these will be entering Sandhurst in about three years' time, after graduating.

The House will also be interested to know that some 37 per cent. of Army officers are drawn from the ranks. This reflects credit both on the high quality of our soldier entrants and on the open-minded and flexible system of man-management that enables the Army to spot the talent available and to make the best use of its manpower resources. I hope that this will continue and that the percentage of Army officers rising through the ranks will be in excess of 40 per cent. next year.

The general improvement in officer recruiting can be attributed largely to two factors. The current economic climate has meant a reduction in recruitment by certain industries and professions, and there has also been a discernible change in the attitude of young people towards the Services as a career.

Turning now to soldier recruiting, the adult and young soldier recruiting requirement for 1976–77 was reduced in January 1977 because the number of serving soldiers terminating their engagements was lower than expected. The reduction in the requirement was made by suspending the young soldier entry, and the reduced target was met almost exactly. We do not expect to have any difficulty in the coming year in achieving our targets for soldier recruiting with the exception of a few specialised technician employments. It will, in fact, be necessary to continue the suspension of the young soldier entry and to apply a high degree of selectivity in accepting recruits.

Recruiting for the Women's Royal Army Corps was also very satisfactory, particularly for officers, where the supply of excellent candidates is far in excess of the number of vacancies available.

The size of the recruiting organisation is being kept under review—a number of military and civilian posts were abolished, and further studies are in progress with a view to financial savings and the redeployment of military manpower into operational units. The number and location of careers information offices are also kept under continuous review, and a number of unproductive offices have been closed or are planned to close. Wherever possible, the offices of two or all three Services are co-located.

Expenditure On recruiting has borne a share of the reductions in defence spending. Because of, the present buoyant level of recruiting, we have been able to reduce considerably the expenditure on television and national Press advertising. A certain minimum level of advertising is, of course, necessary to support the recruiting effort, and, as I have said, we shall be concentrating effort in the coming months on those areas where there is still room for improvement in the level of recruiting.

To summarise, therefore, there is no doubt that young men and women today regard the Army as a worthwhile and stimulating career. It is the Government's intention that our policies and use of resources shall be such as to reinforce and promote this attitude. The efficient management of resources means good housekeeping, too. I should therefore like to take this opportunity to report to the House the progress that we have achieved in implementing the proposals of the Defence Lands Committee. I know, of course, full well the continuing interest—shown by hon. Members on both sides of the House—in the defence estate and the purposes for which it is used. That is evident during Defence Questions each month.

It remains our aim to dispose of all land and property for which no defence requirement is foreseen so that it may become available for recreational or other use for the public good. Hon. Members will recall that the Defence Lands Committee reported in 1973 and the Government's views were published in August 1974. In short, we then agreed that 22,500 acres of defence land would be given up, and already more than 17,500 acres on 90 of the sites considered by the Committee have been released for disposal. Of that total 3,300 acres were formerly occupied or used by the Army. We have, for example, given up more than 500 acres of land on Dartmoor, more than 200 acres at Manorbier in South Wales, 380 acres at Sennybridge near Brecon and more than 100 acres at Barry Buddon on the Tay Estuary in Scotland.

The reviews of defence expenditure that have been conducted over the last two or three years have inevitably meant that we have had to look again at exactly where our needs will lie in future. As a result, some land planned for disposal will now be retained—particularly where its disposal would lead to heavy capital expenditure in replacing facilities elsewhere—but we shall be able to release additional land previously recommended for retention. I have every hope that we shall reach the total acreage promised in 1974, if we cannot surpass it.

I should like, if I may, to turn now to the subject of Northern Ireland. Some aspects of the Army's presence there have received considerable publicity recently, and I feel it right that the House should know the Government's view on these. In the defence debate last month I paid tribute to the work of the Armed Forces there, and I am glad to do so again today. Theirs is an exacting and often dangerous task, carried out in difficult circumstances with skill, determination and resourcefulness. I very much regret that so far this year six Regular Army soldiers and five members of the UDR have lost their lives in the service of peace in the Province. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in expressing our deep sorrow at their deaths.

It goes without saying that, quite apart from the toll of death and injury, the continuing commitment to the Province imposes a heavy burden on the Army. In financial terms the additional cost of the commitment is now running at more than £60 million a year. Operationally, less time is available than would be ideal for training for the Army's wartime rôle. For families there is the continuing problem to be faced of separation at all too frequent intervals. These are strains that naturally, the Army would rather be without—I make no bones about that.

I want to take this opportunity of making it clear once again that there is no truth whatever in the rumours that have been prevalent lately to the effect that there either have been or are about to be further reductions in the force level in Northern Ireland. The Armed Forces are there for a purpose—that is to assist in the establishment and maintenance of law and order. Until that purpose is achieved they will remain in support of the RUC, and they will remain in the strength that the level of violence requires. Despite the problems and strains that the commitment imposes, I am confident that not a single member of the Armed Forces would wish it to be otherwise. The Armed Forces have a job to do and they want to see it through to a finish.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Is the Minister aware of the persistent rumours that circulate in Northern Ireland—they may be malicious in origin—that the strength of the Army there is grossly overstated at the figure of 14,000? Will the hon. Gentleman say something to assist those of us who are engaged in attempting to dispel such an absurd but damaging rumour?

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it underlines the point that I am trying to make—that there has been no reduction at all in the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland except that which was announced earlier this year.

As was stated in the defence White Paper, there are at present 12 major units serving in the Province in the infantry rôle. In addition there have for some time been two armoured reconnaissance regiments, making a total force level of 14 major units of the combat arms. There are also SAS, engineer, signals, aviation, transport, military police and administrative and logistic support units. Numerically, the total Army strength is about 14,000, excluding the UDR. The Government have no plans to reduce the present force level for the time being.

Our forces in Northern Ireland naturally have the highest priority when it comes to new equipment required for operations, and there are special procedures for ensuring that new operational requirements are met as quickly as possible. The range of equipment available to our forces in the Province is extensive, including riot control weapons, protective clothing, devices for night vision and observation, and special equipment for the dangerous tasks of neutralising bombs and incendiary devices.

In the research and development programme every advantage is taken of advances in all fields of technology, applying them to the development of equipment designed to help the forces in their task of supporting the police. Automatic data processing has, for example, been used successfully for some time to assist the security forces in checking suspect vehicles—a straightforward application of modern technology to an essential security task. As the House was informed last year, a new information system, based on automatic data processing, is being introduced in the Province to handle the existing records on terrorist activity.

I underline that point for people who have expressed fears about the data processing. We are dealing only with information which is already on the files. The advantage of automatic data processing is that we can get a response at the flick of a switch rather than having to sort through the files. This is a tremendous advantage in the maintenance of law and order.

Our security policy is based on the detection, arrest and conviction through the courts of those responsible for terrorist crimes, and the provision of accurate and timely information to the security forces is a fundamental requirement if this policy is to be successfully pursued. The use of automatic data processing enables this vital information to be processed and acted upon more quickly—and I am sure the House will recognise the important contribution that this improvement will make to the fight against terrorism in the Province.

On another issue, I have read the reports of the measure of dissatisfaction expressed by Service families in Northern Ireland. I emphasise that the problem is mainly about the families of Service men who serve in Northern Ireland for longer than the roulement period of four months. It is the resident battalions about which these reports have been dealing, that is, five out of 14 major units of the combat arms. On my last visit to the Province I visited the resident battalion stationed at Omagh and discussed some of its problems with its commanding officer. All of us have been concerned about the problem over costs and lack of job opportunities for wives, but this is not, of course, peculiar to Northern Ireland.

There is also the problem of the security of families and the effects on families of separation. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body and the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee have visited Service men in Northern Ireland in recent months and these problems were brought to their attention, as they have been to mine whenever visiting the Province. Some of the problems are not easily remedied, because they arise from the security situation in Northern Ireland. The present rate of unemployment and the dangers mean the job opportunities and social contacts are made far more difficult. There is also the problem of the costs of heating and lighting in Northern Ireland, which I understand are certainly higher than the average in Great Britain, but we are about to start a programme of improving the insulation of married quarters in the United Kingdom and I have instructed that the first priority of this programme should be Northern Ireland and other parts of Great Britain with similar problems.

The Guardian article of the 14th April quoted average council house rents in Northern Ireland as being about £4 per week, whereas Service men pay accommodation charges of between £7 and £8 per week. This is broadly correct, but it must be remembered that married quarters charges include, as well as rent and rates, elements for furniture and household equipment and extra maintenance, which are not provided for council house tenants.

Rents for Service married quarters are based on average council house rents, which means in practice average rents in England, where most council houses are. There are wide local departures from the average. In some areas Service rents may be a good deal higher or lower than council rents in those areas. In Northern Ireland they are unfortunately higher.

I am aware of the disparities in Northern Ireland in rents and, indeed, in many other respects and I have called for a full report. When I have received it, I shall consider what further action could and should be taken.

Mr. Goodhart

How long is that likely to take—a month, six weeks?

Mr. Brown

I have called for an urgent report and I hope that it will be weeks rather than months.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Can the hon. Gentleman deal with the point that I raised about insurance?

Mr. Brown

That point has not been brought to my notice on my visits to Northern Ireland. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising it and I shall certainly look at it.

Northern Ireland is a subject in itself, yet in many ways it illustrates the burden of the message which I have sought to make to the House today. I hope that all hon. Members will take every opportunity to acquaint themselves with the reality of the Army in the field. They will find it in good order, well equipped, well led—a volunteer, professional force which continues to do us credit wherever it serves and which is a first-rate element in our contribution to NATO.

On 7th July Her Majesty the Queen will herself see the Army in the field in Germany. She will review a representative parade of the British Army at Senile-lager in the Federal Republic of Germany as part of the Silver Jubilee celebrations. This will provide an excellent opportunity for Her Majesty to see the work of our troops in the British Army of the Rhine. His Excellency President Walter Scheel, President of the Federal Republic of Germany, will also be present at the review.

Some 3,800 troops will take part in the review, including elements of the 4th Division and the 6th and 20th Armoured Brigades. The armoured regiments taking part will be the 16th/5th Lancers, the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars, the Royal Hussars and the Blues and Royals. The infantry battalions on parade will be the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Regiment, the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the 2nd Light Infantry and the 2nd Royal Irish Rangers. Others on parade will include elements of the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. The massed bands of the regiments of the British Army of the Rhine will also take part.

The vehicles and equipment taking part in the review will include the Chieftain main battle tank, the FV430 series of armoured personnel carriers and recovery vehicles, Scimitar and Scorpion reconnaissance vehicles, Stalwart vehicles, the Abbott self-propelled gun, the M107, M109 and M110 guns, the Lance missile system, Cymbeline radar, armoured bridging equipment and helicopters.

After the review, the Queen will meet informally a representative number of British soldiers and their families, and will visit a number of displays by units of the British Army of the Rhine. Certain hon. Members will similarly have the opportunity to witness this review at first hand. I should be interested to hear their views afterwards. If they are not impressed by what they see, I shall be very surprised. I refer not to the pageantry but to the quality of the military fighting force which will be on parade before Her Majesty.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to make this report to the House this afternoon. I have sought to paint a positive picture. I do not pretend that there are no problems or that everything in the garden is lovely, because it is not. These are difficult economic times for us all, and defence has had to take its share of the burden of national economic recovery. However, I believe that our policies have been found by experience to be well-judged and effective. The character of the Army in the field is the proof of this and it is a matter of pride to me that I have the honour of speaking for the Army in this House and taking ministerial responsibility for such a fine Service.

5.31 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

It would be presumptions of me to try to answer the points he mentioned or to take up what the Minister has said, but I congratulate him on what he said about recruiting. He said that it is good at the moment. I have always thought that it is much better to get a man who is in the Army already to sign on for a further period than to have any raw recruit. This information about recruiting is therefore a very good sign.

I wish to deal with a few points that have struck me during the last year in the course of visits that I have made, either with my Committee—the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee—or individually, to various centres of the Army. They may be rather disjointed but I should like the Minister to take note of them.

I mention first the Marchwood port. In case you feel that I am out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and have had an aberration in referring to a Royal Navy depot, I point out at once that this is not so. I did not know where March-wood military port was until I went there, but it is fairly close to Southampton, and until 1968 it was used particularly as a training establishment. Since then its rôle has undergone a considerable change. It now provides logistic support for operations, exercises and routine re-supply to various parts of the world.

According to Ministry of Defence figures, nearly 54,000 tons of freight, vehicles and explosives were handled there in 1975. In the light of these considerations, and in the context of our inquiry into the movement of reinforcements, the Committee visited Marchwood last December, and was greatly impressed with the efficient manner in which the port is operated. We were all the more concerned, therefore, to hear of some of the physical limitations that have been brought to light by the increased burden that Marchwood is now bearing. We were told, for instance, that inadequate berthing facilities and deep water channels restrict the use of the port to landing ships and logistic and other relatively shallow-draught vehicles. Moreover, the narrow 35-year-old jetty constricts the working area and leads to uneconomical double handling.

Secondly, the port has only one roll-on/roll-off terminal. The steadily increasing number of tanks and vehicles handled and the use of the roll-on/roll-off container trailers demonstrates the need for improved roll-on/roll-off facilities.

Thirdly, the port lacks adequate covered facilities. I understand that a comprehensive three-phase development plan, costing £13 million—not a vast amount—has been drawn up, based on the assessment of operational requirements and a development study by the Property Services Agency. These proposals were first submitted to the Treasury, I understand, in January 1976. I shall be grateful if the Minister, when he makes his winding-up speech, will give some indication of the stage that consideration of the plan has now reached, and say whether there is any likelihood of approval being given perhaps to a phased improvement scheme.

The Army's need for an all-military port to avoid reliance on civilian facili ties cannot, in my view, be stressed too strongly, and I hope that these much-needed improvements to Marchwood have the highest priority in the spending plans of the Ministry.

We have to remember that, as compared with what happened in the last war, there would be a longer sea passage across the Channel, either to Belgium or to Holland, which are our allies, in NATO, because we cannot know at the moment what the situation in France will be. We are committed to getting our reserves across to the central front—this is the whole importance of Marchwood, in my Committee's view—so that they can play their rôle during the time of tension, which may be a good deal shorter than many of us have been led to believe.

Next, I should like to mention the TAVR, particularly as a result of what we saw when the Committee made a visit to Scotland. The Committee feels that it is essential to pay other visits, and we are trying to arrange them. We hope to visit the South-West in July and the North-East in October. When we were in Scotland, demonstrations were laid on by small groups of men of different units in the Edinburgh area during the afternoon, and in the evening we visited them in some of their drill halls. It was probably not their normal night to go there but they were so keen that they turned up and we were able to speak to many of the commanding officers and men. My Committee was greatly impressed by the obvious dedication and enthusiasm of both officers and men, and also by the enthusiasm of the women. As an old Territorial soldier, I was surprised to find them volunteering and training with the men. The reliance that we place on the TAVR and, indeed, on our reserve forces generally, is not generally appreciated in the country as a whole, or possibly even in this House.

Money is often mentioned in these defence debates, and I have always maintained that the Territorial Army, or the TAVR as it is now called, is the cheapest form of Army that we can possibly have. The cardinal rôle that it has to play on the outbreak of war—which none of us wants to see—is as a reserve to our Regular forces in the BAOR and elsewhere, should that emergency arise. I am sure, from what I have seen and heard, that the TAVR will give an extremely good account of itself, provided that it is furnished with adequate supplies of modern weapons and equipment.

The TAVR is now called upon to play a rôle that it has never undertaken before. Many battalions know their expected rôle in war time, which will take many of these young men straight from civilian life and put them in the front line of the central front, right into the battle area. This is completely different from the position when we trained 40 years ago, when we had a longer time. I am glad that this is reflected in the better equipment and vehicles that are given to the TAVR, particularly those whose rôle is to reinforce on any front of war immediately.

I suggest that whenever hon. Members see men on leave in their constituencies—constituents or others this applies to all three Services—they should say "We are very pleased with you. You are doing a jolly good job." By showing themselves resolute and prepared for all emergencies, those men help to keep peace in the world.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) made a number of points. If I repeat them, it is because they are important.

First, I should like to refer to the Milan anti-tank guided weapon. When my Committee paid its last visit to BAOR, every general impressed his view upon us that it was imperative that the Army had that weapon. One might have thought that it was a British-made weapon. One almost felt that they had some ulterior motive in pressing for it, but I suggest that they were thinking of having the best for the Army. I understand that we are to build that weapon under licence in this country. That will provide much-needed employment. It is essential that any troops who may have to engage in battle should be supplied with that weapon. I was a little disappointed when the Minister said that the Army would be getting it by the end of the decade. I hoped that it might be before that. It seems that a slippage has occurred.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman misheard me. I said that the Milan would be available later this year, not at the end of the decade.

Sir H. Harrison

I obviously misheard the Minister. I put the best possible front on it. I though that he meant by the end of 1980. I am glad that it is to be available later this year. I presume that it will go first to the Regular troops on the central front. I hope that it will then go to the TAVR units, which will have an important rôle to play if everything goes wrong and we are engaged in war. It is essential for them to give a good account of themselves in battle if they have to take part. Therefore, they should have that weapon as well.

I should like now to mention our visit to Norway. We saw the commandos training in the Arctic Circle north of Narvik, in all the snow. It was good to see the enthusiasm of those men. Since 1969 45 Commando has been designated the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Commando and has been earmarked primarily for support of the northern flank under the command of the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces, Northern Europe.

We were particularly impressed with the high morale and general proficiency of the men. We were also struck by the high degree of co-operation that obtains between not only the Marines and local Norwegian commanding officers but the Marines and men of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. Dutch units constantly train with their British counterparts. Common tactical doctrines have been evolved and progress has been made towards standardising equipment and vehicles. This is a fine example, on a small scale, of the potential that exists for military co-operation and interoperabiliy, which, sadly, is followed all too rarely in the rest of the Alliance.

We also visited Northern Ireland. We had perhaps been unnecessarily worried by what we had been told in Germany about the reluctance of troops to go for a fifth or sixth visit to Northern Ireland. We did not find that that was so. We were told that as soon as the men arrived, because they were there for a fifth or sixth time, they knew the job and what had to be done and they carried it out extremely well. There was no sign of their not wanting to be there. A soldier goes where he is told to go and carries out the job that he is assigned to do.

However, there is one grave matter that I should mention. The Minister has this point in mind and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham also mentioned it. I refer to the difficulty of the pay of men in Northern Ireland. They seem to be getting less than their counterparts carrying out similar jobs in emergencies elsewhere.

We had a long discussion with various staff officers. I asked them to submit a paper to us so that we could get it right and give the right views to the Ministry. I am glad that the Minister has also called for a report. I am sure that the report for which I have called will go through his Ministry before it gets to me. If not, I shall be delighted to give it to him with any comments that the Committee may make. We are extremely worried about this matter. Men should not be financially worse off because they go to a trouble spot for which we have responsibility.

I went into one married quarter and met a soldier's wife who had a three- or four-year-old boy and a small baby. She could not get out to the shops in one of the local towns and she complained bitterly about the NAAFI. As an old soldier, I have heard this complaint quite often. Will the Minister see whether the NAAFI is doing the job that it normally does so proficiently for the Army in Northern Ireland? I know that it supplies everything and that it may have only small sales, but there must be some give and take. I should like to know that it is doing its job properly. No one likes to think that the men doing this dangerous job in Northern Ireland—the Minister gave the figures of those who had been killed and wounded—and their families, are suffering financially as a result.

I should like to think that our visit to Northern Ireland added some weight to what the Minister saw and that what I have outlined will be considered in any review on pay or allowances. Soldiers have a dangerous job to do in Northern Ireland. One has only to open a newspaper or listen to the wireless to know that that is so. Such conditions must have an effect on the soldier and his family. When their husbands go out wives do not know just how they will come back. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider that point. I assure him that he will have the support of my Committee in any attempt to achieve better financial conditions for our men in Northern Ireland.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) made a very helpful contribution to the debate. As Chairman of the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, he has special experience of these matters. I agree with all that he said about Northern Ireland—a topic that was also dealt with in great detail by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). I was glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that he is to have a full report on the problem of housing for our soldiers in Northern Ireland, and I hope that he will look into all their economic difficulties. Not only are there the problems of housing, of the high cost of living and of the inability of their wives to obtain work; it seems quite wrong that soldiers serving in such hazardous conditions should suffer economic penalties that are not suffered by soldiers serving in other parts of the world.

My hon. Friend said that the charges for soldiers' accommodation were based upon council rents in most parts of Britain. I should have thought that there was room for some flexibility in the Army's charges for accommodation. There is no reason why they should be exactly the same in Northern Ireland as they are in other parts of Britain. It may be that my hon. Friend's Committee will suggest some improvements from that point of view.

The hon. Member for Beckenham also suggested that there should be more recognition for our soldiers in Northern Ireland, and he referred specifically to bomb disposal squads. I think that there is a strong case for their being allowed to have at least a clasp on their ribbons as a minor recognition of their hazardous and responsible duties.

The hon. Member for Beckenham went into considerable detail. I was astonished to hear him go so far as to say that commandos should be equipped with skis. This seems to be a detailed point of military equipment, though there may be some force in it. I was waiting to hear the hon. Gentleman recommend some form of après-ski equipment as well, but that did not materialise.

The hon. Member for Beckenham made some lugubrious comments about the morale of junior commanding officers in the Army. I was rather surprised to hear that he had met junior officers who were so unhappy about their life in the Services. For various reasons associated with my equestrian hobbies, I meet junior officers in the Army quite frequently. I am always impressed by their high morale. Admittedly, they do not like the idea of cuts in defence expenditure, but they have had cuts in defence expenditure ever since the days of the Conservative Government, who first introduced them on a substantial scale. They have grown to live with them and they take them as a matter of course. Any suggestion that morale in the Army is impaired by the action of this Government is quite wrong and a slander on the high morale and efficiency of the officers and soldiers in our Army.

In the latter part of last summer, with some of my hon. Friends, I had the advantage of visiting Northern Ireland and I was very impressed by the high standard of efficiency with which duties were carried out there. I was especially impressed with how well the junior commanders carried their burdens. It has to be remembered that they are isolated in decision making. They have to make on the-spot decisions about matters involving life and death and the possibilities of provoking riots and of creating grave ill effects. They have the spotlight of television and radio reporters on them the whole time. Despite a very close examination of their conduct by the media, they carry out their duties in an excellent manner.

I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give us some idea of the way in which he envisages the future of operations in Northern Ireland. Despite the excellence with which the Army is carrying out its duties, there is no escaping the fact that, year after year, several hundred people are killed and about 1,500 people are injured. We know that at present there are about 1,500 Provisional IRA activists at large.

It is a war of attrition. But is there any real sign that that war is being won? I cannot see it. We know that about 1,000 gunmen are charged every year, but such is the effect of intimidation that only a relatively small proportion of those charged are actually sentenced. The Catholic and Protestant activists have a Mafia-like grip on the areas that they control. The facts seem very prejudicial to the success of any military operations carried out, bearing in mind the restrictions that are imposed upon them.

How long will the Government accept this stalemate? How long will the Army accept it? No one can pretend that there is a steady flow of success. There is nothing to show that it will end. Some time ago, I carried my worries to a general officer, who has since retired, who had a very large part to play in Northern Ireland affairs. I asked him when he expected the Army to be able to terminate its duties in Northern Ireland. He replied "In, say, about 100 years' time." He may have used an element of hyperbole in saying 100 years' time, but he was no doubt conveying that no immediate termination was in sight. I wonder what the Government think about the future. Are they thinking, for instance, of enabling the Ulster Defence Regiment and the RUC to take over more from the Army to a greater extent? Are they thinking in terms of the people of Northern Ireland becoming more and more involved in looking after their own security? Are they thinking in terms of reducing—not now, nor next year, but some time in the future—the commitments of the Army in Northern Ireland?

Clausewitz said that war was the pursuit of policy by other means. It is true that this is a guerrilla war. Will the policy justify the methods of pursuing it? I should like to have some idea from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

Devolution has become a very popular word, if not construed into parliamentary action in this House. At a time when we are thinking so much of giving increased responsibilities to the Scottish and Welsh in their own affairs. I wonder whether it would be possible to give the people of Northern Ireland more responsibility for maintaining order in their own Province and thereby decreasing the very heavy burden on the British Army. I appreciate that there are immense difficulties about that, and I do not expect my hon. Friend to give a detailed and comprehensive answer—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

It would be strictly out of order if the Minister attempted to answer the last part of the remarks of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin).

Mr. Cronin

In that event, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must ask to be excused. I shall leave the subject of Northern Ireland and turn to that of Central Europe. Here, we have the British Army, supremely efficient and well equipped, with its NATO allies being confronted by the Warsaw Pact forces. They face odds of 1.5 to 1 in manpower, of 3 to 1 in tanks, of 2 to 1 in guns and of 2 to 1 in aircraft. From the military point of view, that is a rather unattractive situation. In my view there is no case at all for making any further reductions in expenditure on our forces in Central Europe.

At the same time, there seems to be an overall balance. It is obvious that if there were any military aggression by the Warsaw Pact forces it would be an unattractive prospect for them. It would commit them to a full-scale war, with incalculable consequences. So long as the NATO forces are as efficient as they are at present, even despite the disparities in numbers and equipment, they form an effective deterrent to military adventures by the Warsaw Pact.

What progress is there in the talks on mutual and balance force reductions? Negotiations have been going on since October 1973. The NATO Alliance first of all proposed proportional reductions in ground forces, and subsequently proposed reductions, also of a proportional nature, in tactical nuclear forces, but there has been no progress, largely, one gathers, because the Warsaw Pact wants equal reductions in numbers, which would have the effect of making the odds against the NATO forces more unfavourable than ever. What progress is there in the talks? Is there any possibility of making some concessions which would not be of a damaging nature but would at least get the negotiations off the ground?

What is the present situation in relation to support costs in West Germany? Because of the fall in the value of the pound, there has been a greatly increased burden of defence expenditure on our forces stationed in West Germany. Have the Federal German Government been approached to give more help, financially or economically, towards our support costs? There are many ways in which this could be done. They could, for example, buy British securities in proportion to the increased expenditure resulting purely from the depreciation of the pound. In terms of equity, the West German Government should at least carry some of the burden that we are carrying purely as a result of the depreciation of the pound, over which we have no control. No one in this country or in the Government can tell the money markets of the world what they are to pay for the pound note — it is as simple as that.

I turn now to the welfare of the Army. What is to happen as a result of the report of the Spencer Committee, set up in 1974? Quite a few of its recommendations were valuable, particularly those concerning the difficulties of Service families when soldiers are posted overseas. It expressed deep concern about long periods of unaccompanied postings, which, it said, sometimes give rise to complex cases of social distress. It recommended that there should be more full-term social workers for the Army. I hope that that suggestion is being given more consideration that it has been given so far.

There is a good case for there being some progress towards fewer unaccompanied tours abroad. Has progress been made in that direction? Has more been done to help soldiers get home leave when they are on unaccompanied tours? I have had a great deal to do in helping with the problems involved in this aspect.

I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about the problem of housing when soldiers leave the Army. Most of us have found this to be a great problem. A soldier retires from the Army and wants a house for his family, but finds himself number 3,050 on the housing list of a local authority, with no prospect of a house in the foreseeable future. This causes great distress, and it is a very sudden change for a family that has been living in pleasant Army quarters to find itself with no housing at all at what it can afford to pay, which is often very little. What is being done to help provide housing for soldiers when their service terminates?

I ask my hon. Friend also to deal with the problems of the children. There is a strong case for having pre-school playgroups in every barracks. Some have them, and they are a great success, but many do not have provision for children below school age. With relatively small expenditure, such provision could surely be arranged in nearly all barracks.

There is also much to be done for handicapped children. In the Army in Britain, they are being helped considerably, but handicapped children of soldiers serving overseas are in special difficulties, and I hope that the Ministry can do something about that.

Could more be done to improve the social life in married quarters—for example, through the setting up of community centres in more married quarters and a more liberal interpretation of the regulations governing the use of transport for non-duty purposes when they are in isolated places? A lot could be done on these lines to help soldiers and their families living in married quarters.

It is pleasant that we here are all dedicated to improving the lot of the Army in its service to the nation. Certainly, in Northern Ireland and other places our troops are having a difficult time and are coping with a dedication and devotion that command the admiration and respect of us all.

6.7 p.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

I join the Minister in paying tribute to the Army and its services in Northern Ireland and in condoling with the relatives of those who, unhappily, have died in the past year. I shall speak principally about Northern Ireland, and I ask the Minister to ponder on the remarks of the Defence Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Public Expenditure, which was told by an under-secretary of the General Staff that the need for reducing the force levels of the Army in Northern Ireland was urgent and that some progress had been made in that direction.

I believe that to be a correct conclusion in the interests of the Army, but I would like some assurance that, as the Ministry acts in the best interests of the Army, it will not leave a security void in Northern Ireland. It is commonly said that the Army is there in support of the RUC, but I believe that that is fictional. I believe that the Army is the primary force in Northern Ireland, and that as long as the Government are prepared to accept that situation we shall have some difficulty in following their policy in relation to the Army. I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman say that there are still 14,000 troops in Northern Ireland, in that that statement refutes those who are trying, for the wrong reasons, to distort the situation. I believe, however, that 14,000 troops are too many.

I would like the Minister to have a look at the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland. After all, it has been there since 1969, but terrorism continues to menace the people of Northern Ireland. By no stretch of the imagination can anyone describe it as a successful policy. I am not blaming the Army, the officers or the soldiers. The rôle of the Army has been misconstrued. I strongly support those who advocate a more specialised rôle for the Army in support of the police, but that presupposes that we are to have a police force that is capable of discharging its responsibility to the people of the Province.

I am continually dismayed when Government spokesmen talk about not having Para-military police but about having civilian police. Such talk is meaningless. What we need is a police force to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland, equipped and trained for whatever the law may require. The Army could then envisage itself being there in support of the RUC, with its specialised technical services that are appropriate to a guerrilla war, but this would not involve anything like 14,000 men.

I should like the Minister, when he looks at the rôle of the Army, to consider the rôle of the UDR, a fine body of men operating in difficult circumstances and doing a good job. But is it the best job that they could do? Is the UDR the right sort of organisation to support the RUC? Should it be an Army auxiliary at all? Perhaps it would be better organised as a police auxiliary. These questions are all relevant to the well-being of the Army as a whole. When we are looking at the resources at the disposal of the Army, we must remember that these concern the whole of the United Kingdom. I share the concern for the whole United Kingdom and I do not speak purely from a limited Northern Ireland point of view.

It is very difficult to pretend any longer that the policy that has been followed in Northern Ireland is for the good of Northern Ireland or for the good of the Army as a whole. I should like to hear from the Government—if not today, at a fairly early date—how they propose, in the interest of the Army, to reduce force levels in Northern Ireland and how they intend to ensure that there will be adequate support for the police and that adequate thought has been given to the formation of specialist antiterrorist units in the Army.

Since 1969 we have endured too much for to long. We are grateful for what the Army has done, but we want to see a speedy end to the situation in Northern Ireland. It is impossible for any of us here to persuade the people of Northern Ireland that we cannot defeat the terrorists in a short time. The IRA should have been defeated years ago. We want to hear from the Government, in much more positive and precise terms, how it will be done. We do not want any talk of its being a hundred years. It has to be done quickly.

I appeal to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army to reassess its rôle and its organisation in Northern Ireland and, in the interests of the whole of the Army, to get better value from the very limited resources available.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)

All hon. Members present will have been moved by the speech of the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). He has certainly given the Minister food for thought about the rôle of the 14,000 troops in Northern Ireland, and I should imagine that it will be quite a problem to reply to the points which have been raised.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) is not present at the moment. When he opened the debate I thought for one dreadful moment that he was going to be as gloomy as the noble Lord who professes a real expertise when discussing military matters—namely Lord Chalfont, who in a recent television series gave a picture of absolute gloom. I thought that the hon. Member for Beckenham was falling into that trap, but he seemed to retrieve himself and made some constructive points. I was also very pleased with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary's highly competent speech, with its mass of detail and complete rebuttal of many of the charges brought by the hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Beckenham also touched on the subject of recruitment, and I should like the Minister to give a reasonable breakdown of the recruitment figures. I should be interested to see the figures for the North-East, particularly Northumberland and Durham, an area that the Army has traditionally used as a major source of recruitment and from which, throughout the years, it has always had good value for money. I believe that recruitment could have been improved more if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was Secretary of State for Defence, had not abolished the county regiments.

It was an odd decision that regiments such as the Durham Light Infantry and the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers should be merged into meaningless groups but regiments like the Green Howards and the King's Own Scottish Borderers were allowed to survive. The King's Own Scottish Borderers have their regimental headquarters in Berwick and the Green Howards have their headquarters at Richmond. If the old county regiments had been kept in being, there would have been a sense of involvement and pride in serving in them and recruitment would have been easier. At present there is a tremendous reservoir of young people who would be excellent volunteers for the Armed Services. A breakdown of the figures would be useful.

Much has been said about pay for the forces, but no one has mentioned that the civilian back-up side of the Army is not too well paid either. If family income supplement is being paid to Regular troops, a fair amount of FIS must also be paid to civilians at many of the Army camps up and down the country. In this period of pay restraint it would be difficult for those civilians to be given a large increase, but I would like those responsible for pay to consider the civilian back-up side of the Armed Forces when pay restraint is eased.

The Armed Forces have been run down, but, funnily enough, in the county of Northumberland there has been an expansion. I refer to the former RAF station which has been transformed into a recruitment training base and has been restyled the Albemarle Barracks. It has provided a considerable number of jobs in the region, which are welcomed, and I look forward to further expansion of the barracks. I understand that planning permission has been sought for a small arms training centre. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister, representing Newcastle upon Tyne, West as he does, will know that there is still a lot of land for the Armed Forces to train in. We have the famous camp at Otterburn in Northumberland which is intensely used, and it is intended that it should stay there for a considerable time.

I am also pleased that the Minister has resisted the one-man campaign by the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), who has been waging a campaign over the years to abolish Army bands. I am extremely proud of the skill and expertise of our Army musicians. I would hate to think of places such as Kneller Hall, the Army centre of music, being abolished. The British public are as thrilled as I am to see a military band in its full splendour and pageantry, but the Minister should from time to time emphasise that these men are also trained for other duties in the Armed Forces. I hope that in this Jubilee year the public will get the opportunity to see the bands in the various events that will be taking place.

Mr. Cronin

Perhaps I may reinforce my hon. Friend's point. The Army bands are not only aesthetically pleasing; they raise morale. They also have a tremendously valuable economic purpose. In combination with troops employed on ceremonial duties, they attract tourists to this country, and that must be worth many millions of pounds to the balance of payments.

Mr. Garrett

That is a very important point. I should add that Kneller Hall is famous world-wide, because many personnel from abroad go there for their musical training. We therefore earn foreign currency in that way. A vigorous attack should be made at some time on the views of the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

I recall that one of my hon. Friends at one time ran a campaign against Army bands. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) must have been running his campaign when I was out of the country, because I have seen nothing of it. If he is conducting such a campaign, however, I shall invite him to Kneller Hall to see the summer concert. That will open his eyes about the merit of military bands.

Mr. Garrett

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary must have overlooked the fact that he has replied to Questions on this subject from the hon. Member for Tynemouth.

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) referred to our reserve forces in the form of the TAVR. We in the North-East are proud of our units. They do a good job, and we are grateful for the hours of leisure that these men and women give up to provide the necessary back-up to the Regular forces. I think that the House should give a quiet vote of thanks to the wives and sweethearts of the men. They must miss the men a great deal, particularly at weekends.

The pay of the men has been improved a good deal. There has been a great improvement in their training rôle, and there is a greater awareness among them of the importance of the part they play in providing the back-up. I am a layman, but when I visit the units I observe that some of the equipment is getting on a bit. Some of the vehicles could possibly be put on the scrap-heap. I should like an assurance that more modem equipment can be issued to the reserve forces. They would welcome it and it would increase their motivation in the tasks they are carrying out on our behalf.

The Minister completely rebutted some of the pessimistic statements of the hon. Member for Beckenham. His speech reassured me, too. I was beginning to succumb to the dripping propaganda that we have cut our forces to the bone, that we have impaired their efficiency and that we have prevented them from being the competent units that we would wish. I hope, therefore, that the widest possible publicity will be given to the statement by my hon. Friend the Minister that those pessimistic utterings are blatantly untrue.

The people of this country get damned good value for money from the Armed Forces. We tend to forget about them when things are peaceful, and when things go wrong we tend to get alarmed when they do not react as we would expect them to do. They will react with skill, efficiency and professionalism only if we, the taxpayers, are prepared to give them the necessary back-up of equipment and, above all, act to keep their morale high.

In my limited knowledge of the forces I have so far seen no lowering of morale. I do not meet many officers, but I meet a lot of young men who are serving in different units of the Army. When they are home on leave and I drink with them in a pub, I notice that they are smart, clean and confident, and, above all, they are very proud to be soldiers of the Queen.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I am sure that the whole House will agree with the hon. and musical Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) in his praise of military bands and of their efficacy and desirability on the modern scene. The hon. Member referred to pessimism and optimism over our approach to the defence effort. I believe that we need to be neither pessimistic nor optimistic. We need to be realistic.

I did not see Lord Chalfont's television programme about the Russian build-up. It is important that the people who have to foot the bill for our defence realise what it is all about. It is, therefore, important that we appreciate that for a variety of reasons the Soviet Union has had a very considerable military buildup. It is important for us to take a realistic view of our contribution to NATO defence.

I think it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a frontal attack by the Soviet Union on the West. One can never be dogmatic about the intentions of another country, and one never knows how quickly intentions may change. We know only that history has taught us that military capacity often leads to changes of policy, and we must safeguard against that.

The chief reason for the Soviet military build-up is, I believe, to increase that country's ability to exercise unwanted and undesirable military pressure which could be used to facilitate or assist internal insurrection. It is, therefore, important for us to get the balance right. If we have economic chaos, internal insurrection becomes that much more likely. It is, therefore, important to get a balance between our military expenditure and the economic state of the country.

We must all be concerned to ensure that we do not cut our defence effort more than is necessary to meet our economic circumstances. I believe that it is much more important to try to avoid next year's projected cuts than to cry over the spilt milk of this year's cuts. I believe that next year's cuts are much more likely to affect our military capacity and our contribution to NATO.

The hon. Member for Wallsend saved this debate from becoming a debate on Northern Ireland, since the two Members who preceded him dealt with the subject. It is very easy to argue about the rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland. The late Aneurin Bevan once said of the Suez adventure that this country put its foot down there but its real trouble arose when it decided to lift it up again. That applies to Northern Ireland. I was against sending the Army in at all in 1969. The real problem now is how to change the Army's rôle there and how to bring the Army out. That is not a subject for this debate, however.

There should be a separate Vote for defence spending on Northern Ireland. Tributes have already been paid to the Army and its rôle in Northern Ireland. To the individual soldier it is a highly undesirable rôle. I am sure that soldiers did not join the Army to fulfil such a rôle. Northern Ireland is also a millstone around the Army's neck. The Under-Secretary said that this operation was now costing £60 million a year, but that money is being spent for a specific purpose unconnected really with the major defence effort of this country. As such it deserves a separate Vote.

Pay, allowances and conditions of service must be made fair and attractive in Northern Ireland. The Under-Secretary referred to the study on housing conditions and the relativity of rents for Service dwellings and council dwellings, but there is a supreme difference. People who live in council houses in Northern Ireland choose to live there, but Army personnel in married quarters are there through necessity, and it is grossly unfair that they have to pay much higher rents than those paid by council tenants. Because of the difficult rôle that the Army has to play in Northern Ireland, the country ought to finance the necessary improvements in this sphere, and that is an added reason why Northern Ireland deserves a separate Vote.

As I have said on a number of occasions, and as has been said many times by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), service in Northern Ireland interferes considerably with the training régime that is required for the British Army of the Rhine. That is all that I have to say about Northern Ireland.

I now come to the position of the British Army of the Rhine, which is the Army's main contribution to the defence of Western Europe. As I understand it, we are supposed to provide a credible conventional response in the central sphere for at least two or three weeks. It is important, from the public point of view, that we should be demonstrably able to do that, otherwise the nuclear threshold is clearly lowered. Fulfilment of our rôle means that ammunition and spares on the ground must be at realistic scales. That is why I emphasise that it is important that we try to avoid the projected cuts for next year which might mean cutting ammunition and spares much more than the savings this year have done.

The Minister was right to mention the arrangements for the reinforcement of the British Army of the Rhine. I understand from what he said that the Eastern Field Force will be the main means of doing that, but have exercises been carried out to find out how long the reinforcements would take to get to the British Army of the Rhine? I suspect that the answer is "No".

We were told by the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) that there is only one roll-on/roll-off facility in the military port near Southampton. Have any exercises taken place using civilian facilities for this purpose? It is necessary for this exercise to be undertaken at some time.

Mr. W. E. Garrett

The hon. and learned Gentleman might not be aware of it, but the Army hired a ship from the Norwegian Bergen Line, embarked troops at Newcastle and took them to Norway for exercises. There was a public outcry that a civilian ship had been used for that purpose.

Mr. Hooson

I do not know about that problem, but I think that at a time of straitened economic circumstances there are greater priorities for the Army than acquiring another roll-on/roll-off facility. I do not know how many roll-on/roll-off facilities there are in the South-East of England where they are required, but an additional purely military one cannot, as a matter of commonsense, be one of the top priorities.

I come now to some detailed items on which my hon. Friends and I would like some information. The first matter is that of the main battle tank. At the moment, it seems that the deal between ourselves and Germany for the production of this tank has fallen through. I think that the Minister touched on this, but he did not give any details.

The Chieftain tank should be modernised when time and finance allow that to be done, but the Army must have a programme for that, and we want to know how it will be affected by any projected cuts. What steps have been taken to update the Chieftain's engine? Are there any plans to update the fuel control equipment? The main armament, the gun, should be the subject of continuous development, because I am advised that at the moment we have a lead in this matter. I am no expert on this subject, and I am going on what experts tell me. I am told that the existing tank is the basis of a very good tank indeed, on condition that it is updated and modernised in the way that has been suggested.

Mr. Critchley

Is not the situation rather worse than the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests? Is it not a fact that the more efficient mark of the Chieftain tank, which could cure many of the failings of the existing mark, is being sold to the Iranians rather than being supplied to the British Army of the Rhine?

Mr. Hooson

I am not in a position to answer that question, but I am sure that the Minister heard it, and no doubt it can be dealt with when he replies to the debate. It is an important matter.

I turn now to the replacement of the infantry track carrier, the AFV432. I am informed that this is out of date and needs replacement. Can the Minister give an assurance that a replacement for this track carrier is in the pipelie?

I turn now to the question of training facilities. There are inadequate training areas in BAOR and in the United Kingdom. It is essential, therefore, that we keep hold of the Suffield training area in Canada. Is the maximum use being made of that area? What investment is taking place in it so that it is kept up as an effective training organisation? Is it intended to keep going overseas training—which is essential—in, for example, Kenya, Gambia and so on in order to avoid an inexperienced and narrow-based Army that we might otherwise have?

Is there any intention to economise on adventure training, which is important to keep up morale and also as a recruitment aid? There have been suspicions that Army youth teams would be cut as an economy measure. These teams are important, and there is always a danger that they will fall a ready victim to those with a knife looking for smaller areas in which to achieve economies. In many ways they are the Army's contribution to society. They do all sorts of things, such as training local lads, and they get among the community. Can the Minister deal with this aspect of the matter and give us some reassurances?

We have heard a great deal in the debate about the Milan anti-tank missile and its development. I do not think that what the Minister said was very clear. In his intervention, the hon. and gallant Member for Eye elicited that the Milan will be available to the Army this year. As I understand it, the British production line will come later, in about 1980. Have I got it right? How expensive is this project? How expensive is it to produce in this way? Have comparable methods been considered? We have heard a good deal about the need for standardisation, and a good deal was said about this during the main defence debate. Another viewpoint put to me is that if we press for standardisation we could end up by, failing agreement, falling behind in the equipment that we require.

I think that standardisation is desirable within NATO, but it is important to know, for example, the economics of one country developing a weapon, say the Milan, and other countries all within NATO having their own production lines for the weapon. Is that the cheapest way of achieving the kind of standardisation or inter-operability that we desire? Inter-operability is important. It is a difficult word to pronounce, and I hope that it is more functional than its pronunciation suggests. Anti-tank weaponry is important in view of the tremendous armoury that seems to be available to the Warsaw Pact countries.

Little has been said on the question of conventional artillery. We are facing a potential enemy which has almost the whole of its army under armour. We must be assured that our Army has the right ammunition in conventional as well as missile terms. We must have a clear statement on the rôle of the artillery. I am told—again I point out that I am not an expert in these matters, but I am advised by people who are—that we need much more smoke and illuminating shell. Is this forthcoming?

Have we sufficient medium-range and short-range anti-tank weapons of the right design? I mentioned in the defence debate the danger of cutting down on such weapons. I thought that of the current cuts the cut in helicopters, and possibly helicopter-borne anti-tank weaponry, was potentially the most damaging of all. The whole spectrum of anti-tank weaponry is vital because of the overwhelming Soviet tank threat.

I have raised a number of important technical points because I have always understood that this debate particularly is concerned with such points and that the defence debate is concerned with the general strategy. I suggested at the outset that it is important to be not pessimistic or optimistic but entirely realistic. While the Russians are building up their forces, this country, with its allies, must make sure that it has sufficient forces sufficiently well equipped to meet any threat and to remove the option in Soviet foreign policy which arises from its capacity. That does not mean that we should denude ourselves and make our selves economically vulnerable to internal insurrection in order to have an outer shell of defence, because we should then be destroying the very purpose for which we exist. It is, therefore, an important matter of balance.

The Government have gone as far in their cuts as they dare. All hon. Members are concerned to ensure that this country is adequately defended, and the sooner we restore next year's projected cuts the better.

6.43 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I am honoured to follow the Liberal Party spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson). I agree with many of his remarks. The most important word which he used was "realistic". We must be realistic in our approach to the matter. I was particularly impressed by what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about informing the public of the dangers facing this country from Russia and of the massive conventional and nuclear buildup. After all, it is the taxpayer who must foot the bill. I was also impressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman's comment that we cannot do anything this year but we can do something next year because if we further reduce our defences we reduce them to a level which narrows the nuclear threshold.

The hon. and learned Gentleman made one point with which I could not agree. He referred to our forces in Northern Ireland, saying that they cost £60 million, none of which was military expenditure. But our soldiers are getting some military training, although it is not the ideal form of training them.

Mr. Hooson

I agree that there is an element of military training in it. My point was that the Defence Estimates are virtually £60 million more than they would otherwise be. That is why, to be fair to all concerned, it should Le regarded as a separate Vote.

Dr. Glyn

I take the hon. and learned Gentleman's point.

The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) also referred to this matter. He said that the ideal situation would be one in which we had no troops in Northern Ireland and we had their replacement by some other force such as the UDR. I agree. However, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's statement that no solution is possible. We must, over a period of years, ensure that the military forces are replaced by other forces, because it is not a proper task for an army to be indefinitely employed in such a rôle. It undoubtedly interferes with men's military training and their domestic lives.

The hon. Member for Loughborough mentioned the possibility of instituting a special award for bomb disposal units. I agree with him. He also referred to the subject of housing, about which I shall say a few words later.

I wish to echo what the Under-Secretary of State said about Oman and our troops who carried out such a difficult rôle there. I am glad that the Government have put their appreciation on public record. The hon. Gentleman also paid tribute to our forces not only in Cyprus but in Northern Ireland. I was not altogether happy about what he said on the question of restructuring. He has had to perform an extremely difficult task in cutting down the forces within the budget allowed by the Treasury. He has done his best. I was fascinated by his explanation of the way in which it was proposed to introduce to a greater extent the important electronic equipment which we need so desperately. But we must maintain the equipment in other units. The hon. Gentleman had a delicate balance to strike, and he has struck it as best he can within his financial limits.

I was pleased that the Under-Secretary of State referred to the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to BAOR and to the fact that my former regiment, the Blues and Royals, all will be involved in the manoeuvres. The regiment is based in Windsor.

I wish to refer to a matter of considerable importance which was dealt with in the Second Report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee. The Committee was right to say that Short-term defence cuts may cause disruption out of proportion to their amount and that The United Kingdom's contribution to collective defence cannot be significantly reduced without risking a serious loss of confidence among members of the NATO Alliance… A future war could allow no time to make good weaknesses". My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), in an earlier debate, made it clear that the costs of defence should be judged on no other basis than the cost required to defend this country against outside aggression. That should be the yardstick. The more we reduce our conventional forces, the more this country becomes dependent on the nuclear deterrent. It is as simple as that. If we had no conventional forces, we should be entirely dependent on it. The greater our conventional forces, the less is the danger of nuclear involvement. No one will dispute that. Therefore, I regret that this has been the result of the cuts in our conventional forces in the Army.

I must admit that my party, when it was in office, was equally guilty in this respect. I take my share of the responsibility as a member of the party which started the cuts. But that does not mean that we should continue with cuts, because I do not think that they are in the interests of the country.

I was interested when I read in the White Paper to know that 11 to 12 per cent. of the Soviet gross national product is devoted to defence projects. But what does that mean? Is that Russia's spending alone, or does that percentage apply to the Warsaw Pact countries together? If it is Russia's spending alone, the amount that is being spent is terrifying. As the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery made clear, the British people should appreciate the extent of the build-up of Soviet forces and should be prepared to pay for the adequate defence of this country. That is a matter that is appreciated by our NATO allies.

Consideration must be given to the reinforcement of our Regular forces by the TAVR and, presumably, by our forces stationed in Northern Ireland, who make up our NATO complement. It was said in the defence debate that the buildup of Russian Forces has been appreciated only in the past two years. I do not agree. We all recognise that there has been a build-up for many years. I am worried about the time interval that is involved in mobilising our forces—for example, bringing them from Northern Ireland—and transporting them to whichever theatre happens to be most threatened in NATO.

I remember my maiden speech in this place as two years earlier I had been involved in the Hungarian Revolution. At that time no one in Budapest knew where the Russian armies would come from. I was in Budapest at the time, and when I looked at the map it was clear that there were two alternatives. If that situation could arise all those years ago—it was 1956—it could well happen today. I remember that I had the misfortune, or fortune, of going through the Russian armies. In fact, they came from an entirely unexpected direction. As the House is well aware, the results were disastrous.

Early warning is vital, and I do not know whether we shall have it. We must press the Government to ensure that we have adequate transport and that the time factor is properly known. I am pleased to see that the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence is making a note. I am sure that he recognises the wisdom of my remarks and that all his colleagues are considering the matter with great care. What transport would be used? Would it be civilian transport? Have we sufficient military transport? How long does it take to mobilise our troops? This is the crux of the conventional defence system in Europe. If our forces do not arrive in time, we shall have no alternative but to fall back on what is the ultimate deterrent. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurance.

As the scope of the debate is limited I am unable to refer to our nuclear deterrent directly, but I shall attempt to do so obliquely. Are the Government satisfied that the time interval is sufficient to avoid using the nuclear deterrent? If it is, are we confident that we have a sufficient nuclear deterrent to ensure that the country is adequately defended?

The Northern Ireland situation has been fully aired but I shall make one or two small points. There are different views about Northern Ireland. When they return from Northern Ireland, many soldiers say that they rather liked it. They say that it is preferable to Cyprus or elsewhere. However, NCOs do not seem to be so willing to go there time and time again. What is the maximum tour of duty in Northern Ireland of any one unit?

How long would it take completely to phase out the Army from Northern Ireland? This is a matter that was raised indirectly by the hon. Member for Loughborough. Irrespective of the political situation in Northern Ireland, I am sure that we all want to see our troops out of the area as fast as possible.

I shall refer to married quarters and the housing of those who have left the Services. The Minister was good enough to send me the excellent pamphlet dealing with housing for ex-Service men and Service women. I have a feeling that many local authorities are faced with extraordinarily difficult problems. As is set out in the pamphlet, it is particularly difficult for local authorities which have responsibilities for garrison towns. The number of ex-Service men and women seeking housing in the garrison towns is disproportionate to the number in any other area. Many suggestions are made in the pamphlet, but we must recognise the difficulties and the present cost of housing. I know that various schemes exist, but I do not think that they are adequate to enable Service men and women to save so that they are in a position to buy a house. Perhaps the remedy is to release some of the hirelings. If the Government own them, consideration should be given to selling them or renting them to ex-Service men and women.

Housing difficulties often deter men from staying in the forces. They are genuinely worried about their position when they leave. Many of us have had individual experience of people spending many years in the forces and finding that when they come out, after having done all they can while in the Services, the money they have saved is insufficient to provide a deposit, owing to inflation.

I ask the Minister to give consideration to the length of training at Sandhurst. I do not think that it is long enough. I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said about graduates, but I understand that his remarks applied to a great extent to the technical people—for example, the engineers. It has been said that many of the young officers may be trained academically, but even if they have been through the ranks many of them need a longer period of training at Sandhurst to appreciate the difference between Army life and civilian life.

I am sure that there is no one in the House who does not wish to pay tribute to our forces and the rôle they perform. I believe it is our duty to point out to the country that there is a real danger in the massive build-up of the Soviet forces. The Chinese have a long frontier with Russia, and presumably the Russians would not want to fight on two fronts, but why is there an enormous Russian build-up of conventional forces, especially tanks, infantry and naval forces?

Is the Russian build-up taking place for protection? I cannot believe that that is so. We must ensure that Britain is adequately defended. We cannot rely on the possibility that China might suddenly operate against Russia and force the Russians to fight on two fronts. Britain should accept that it has tremendous obligations to the whole of Western civilisation. I hope the House will appreciate that those duties are on the shoulders of the Government and that it is up to them to ensure that they are carried out.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)

Despite the strictures of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), I make no apology for confining my few remarks to one narrow subject, tempting as it is to range a little wider, as others have done. I wish to return in some detail to the pay and conditions of service of the troops and their families serving in Ulster.

Every time that I catch your eye during a defence debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it seems to be my misfortune to find that it is the Minister's supper hour. I hope that the Minister of State will be able to—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wishes to change the Minister or the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Mates

My prayers have been answered, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I see that the Under-Secretary of State is entering the Chamber.

I know that in trying to put some of the problems to the Minister I am treading a path through a complex system in which the pay and conditions of service are determined. Although I agree in principle with the sentiments that have been expressed by other hon. Members, I do not believe that we can make detailed, valid comparisons between the take-home pay of the soldier and the policeman with whom he may be working, be he a member of the RUC, the UDR or another force. It is a much more complex problem than that.

We have now reached a point when something must be done beyond expressing a general intention to look into the matter. I am not talking about paying a soldier or any Service man extra money for the danger involved in his job. This is a personal view, which is probably shared by many hon. Members and those in the Services. I do not believe that the majority of soldiers would want that. I ask the Minister a specific question which requires either a "yes" or a "no". Are the Government determined that no soldier shall suffer a financial penalty by virtue of the necessity to serve in Northern Ireland in the present situation? There is a long pause. If the Minister cannot answer that truthfully and say that he intends that there shall be no financial penalty, he will find little support in the House and no support in the country.

It must be basic to our discussion on conditions of service in Ulster that no soldier is financially penalised by having to go to Ulster to do a pretty awful job.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

The hon. Member will recall that I said that I had urgently called for a report on housing and other issues in Northern Ireland and added that I would look at the report and decide what action could and should be taken. I said that because I do not know, any more than does the hon. Member, what might take the place of phase 2. Presumably the hon. Member is not suggesting that the Services should receive special consideration on the question of any incomes policy for the nation.

Mr. Mates

That was not my question and I believe that the Minister knows it. I ask the question again. Is it the Government's policy that no soldier shall suffer a financial penalty because he is required to serve in Northern Ireland? I do not think that I will get an immediate answer. It is a perfectly simple question which must form the basis for any inspection of the problem. I am not talking about pay policy or increments. I am saying that, if we as politicians send soldiers to Ulster to do a job, we must see that they are not financially penalised. I cannot appreciate why the Minister does not instantly agree with this.

I know that there are many factors to be taken into account when looking at a soldier's conditions of service. This is why I am rather worried over the Minister's remark about leaving this to the Armed Forces Review Body. This is a standing committee which advises the Minister on pay and conditions of service world-wide. The only time I ever came face to face with it was in Texas when it wanted me to try to compare my pay and conditions of service there with pay and conditions of soldiers elsewhere in the world. That body would not be looking at Northern Ireland in isolation.

I am prepared to accept that by and large, over his career, a Service man will take a bit of the rough with a bit of the smooth. The present terms of service in Ulster are alleged to be comparable throughout the United Kingdom. There is no special allowance, aside from the 50p a day. The treatment for families is no different. There is no difference in any of the terms of service. Even before the troubles started, it was accepted that it was more expensive to live with a family in the garrison in Northern Ireland than it was on the mainland of Great Britain, if one was English, Scots or Welsh. That was to do with taking the rough with the smooth.

The problem is now becoming much more serious because of its cumulative effect. We can in no sense accept that a soldier, whether he be stationed in the garrison or under the roulement scheme serving for four months, is living under conditions in any way comparable to those in the rest of the United Kingdom. The restrictions are different. He is not free to live the life he would live elsewhere on the mainland. These restrictions affect the way he spends his leisure and how he can travel. We are looking at a completely new set of circumstances.

Whatever body the Minister sets up to examine this question, it cannot possibly look, as the Armed Forces Review Body is compelled to look, at terms and conditions of service world-wide. These have to be balanced out by the review body to arrive at a fair assessment of what a soldier or officer should be paid. This is completely different. The first thing the Minister has to do—and I would be interested to hear his preliminary views tonight—is to make the firm decision that terms and conditions of service for soldiers and their families in Ulster are quite different from those anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

The Minister expressed some surprise when my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) raised the question of insurance. He said that he had not heard of this. There may be many other factors about which he has not heard. For a moment or two I shall try to help. Has the hon. Gentleman, or have his officials, seen an excellent document called "Regional Surveys, Cost of Living Report" published by Reward Regional Surveys Ltd.? This is a non-Government document which sets out for business purposes the difference between the cost of everyday life in Ulster and in the rest of the United Kingdom. It does not need me to say that the cost of living is more expensive in Ulster. Every right hon. and hon. Member who represents an Ulster constituency knows that this is part and parcel of civilian life in Ulster. While one has sympathy with this, one has nevertheless to say that those who live and work in Ulster do so ultimately by choice. They know that the cost of living is higher. It may well be that if they wanted to leave they could do so.

That is not the case with the British Army. The soldiers are posted there, and at the moment it is a United Kingdom posting. They are supposed to go there with their families and lead a normal family life. When they go elsewhere in the world, the difference in the cost of living is assessed. This is true of Germany, Cyprus, the United States and wherever else the British Army is stationed. A calculation is made against a set pattern of expenditures. This is averaged out and a complex answer is reached, expressed as a local overseas allowance. That allowance is not payable in Ulster, because Ulster has always been considered to be part of the United Kingdom garrison.

That position, I suggest, is no longer tenable, not only because of the frequency with which soldiers have to go to Ulster but because they are unable to take the swings with the roundabouts. In some countries life may be a little more expensive in one way and the soldier and his family must change their way of life. While it may be more expen- sive to eat, it may be cheaper to take holidays. If a soldier is stationed on the Continent, he can travel to the South of France, Italy and Switzerland much more easily than he could from England. That is the sort of thing that is balanced out to an extent in the mind of the Armed Forces Review Body, and certainly in the mind of the soldier.

But when the soldier goes with his family to Ulster there is no compensation. To draw from personal experience, 10 years ago I was in the garrison in Omagh, in peace time. It was more expensive to live there, chiefly because of the stretch of water between Ulster and Great Britain, to which I shall come in a moment. It was more expensive to send children home to see grandparents. But life was very agreeable; there were the beauties of Ulster to enjoy, the company of Northern Ireland friends with whom one could freely associate, and the opportunity to go south and enjoy the Republic of Ireland without restriction. But those days are gone. Now there is nothing for a soldier and his family to do except live a semi-prison existence. The security precautions totally restrict ordinary family life and make it almost unrecognisable from service anywhere else, and considerably more expensive as well.

I do not want to bore the House with figures, but the survey covering the basic cost of living in Northern Ireland proves that Ulster comes out worst on almost every subject. Compared with the regions of England, Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland's retail price index is higher than that of anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and that fact is not recognised in the soldiers' pay packet. The cost of fuel is higher; services, leisure and transport all cost more, and so on right through the spectrum. According to this very detailed survey, in almost every case there is a significant difference between the basic cost of living in Northern Ireland and that of the rest of the United Kingdom. In fact, the overall cost of living is 8.9 per cent. higher, and that is considerable.

One must also consider the inevitable fact that almost all the soldiers in Ulster come from other parts of the United Kingdom. Therefore, they have families on the mainland. It is part and parcel of anybody's life—not just a soldier's—to visit relatives at weekends or to go and show a new child to grandparents. For the majority of soldiers in Ulster, the only way they can get their families across to the mainland, if they have a car, is by car ferry. It costs £20 a time for the car and £7.35 per passenger. No grant or allowance is made to soldiers to cover this expense because of the myth that Ulster is the same as the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

While I am well persuaded by my hon. Friend's argument, does he not feel that there is the slightest danger that our resolve to retain Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom—which indeed it is—might in any way be diluted, or appear to the public apparently to be diluted, by regarding the military presence in Northern Ireland as no longer part of the United Kingdom garrison? Does he not feel that by treating Northern Ireland as a foreign military garrison our political commitment to that country might in some way appear to have been diluted?

Mr. Mates

I am not suggesting that. I would be the last person to suggest that the Northern Ireland military presence should be part of anything other than what it is. It is, however, a fact of Service life that things have changed in Ulster. The basis upon which the calculations are made in the Ministry of Defence must be changed also. I have pointed out to the Minister the facts as they exist. There are a million other little items which, taken together, mean financial penalties for certain members of the garrison, especially those on short tours. These penalties are quite considerable and contribute towards the desire of the middle range of management in the Army—at officer and NCO level—not to go back to serve in Northern Ireland any more.

I am not suggesting that the decline in morale that has been mentioned by some hon. Members is anything to do with the job. Although it is unpleasant, all soldiers accept that the job has to be done. But the fact that it is costing them money to do that job must be debilitating. I would have thought that this sentiment was acceptable to all hon. Members. Imagine any trade union lobbies accepting that any one of their members should do a job for the sake of the nation and suffer financially as a result. That would be considered intolerable. It would be considered an insult to trade unionists, and Labour Members would be horrified if we should contemplate it. I think that we all owe a debt to Mr. Derek Brown of The Guardian for the way in which he presented the facts about this matter before they were sensationalised in one or two other newspapers.

It may be difficult for the Ministry of Defence to accept Ulster as a special case, but I must point out that this has already happened. The Minister has accepted the fact that the circumstances are so special that there must be a special allowance. It was claimed when this allowance was introduced that it was nothing to do with danger money. The soldiers were paid 50p a day as a special compensation for the financial penalties involved in service in Ulster. That was three years ago, and nothing has happened since then. We all welcomed the allowance when it came, but now it is almost totally irrelevant.

If the Minister wants to be seen to be doing something which is not breaking the pay policy but compensating soldiers for the increasing financial penalties of returning to Ulster, he should act quickly and courageously in the manner which would be accepted in all parts of the House. There is no hon. Member who wants to see soldiers inadequately compensated for doing a very nasty job. If the Minister can give an encouraging reply and show that he understands the problem by answering the question directly, and saying that he will not be content to penalise soldiers serving in Ulster, this debate will have been of some use.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) made his single point with considerable force and effectiveness for a considerable period of time, and I am sure that the House was impressed by the figures that he produced. I do not follow him on the specifically limited point of the Northern Ireland situation, important though that may be, but I go back to the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn). I was impressed by both those speeches and their tone.

I am speaking in a defence debate for the first time in 11 years in this House and I feel rather guilty about that. Like many hon. Members, I do a considerable amount of work with the Armed Forces I have the privilege of working with them, teaching them and talking to them at Camberley, Greenwich and the Royal College of Defence Studies.

I have noticed in the last year the note of genuine alarm and worry in what many senior officers have said to me. The House should take note of that. We should be concerned at the fact that there is not an adequate means for them to present their worries to the House. Naturally, serving officers are somewhat reticent in talking about these matters, and very properly so. At the same time, they have a duty to let people know what is worrying them. There is no mechanism for doing this, and one picks it up only by visits to Service establishments, and by talking to soldiers. I find this very disturbing.

The general view of the defence situation is set out admirably in the 1977 Statement on the Defence Estimates. The point there is perfectly clear—our basic defence rests on a balance of power in Europe. That is the balance between NATO and the forces on the other side. It is not a man-for-man or a tank-for-tank balance; we lost that years ago. It is a political and military balance, which guarantees that at any time if the Warsaw Pact powers decided to solve a local argument by swift, immediate action, the West would be presented with the intolerable alternatives either of fighting a conventional war against the Warsaw Pact Powers or of escalating it into a nuclear confrontation. These alternatives are too horrible to contemplate. The position for the Warsaw Pact Powers in central Europe could become more and more dominant, and we would be less able to assert ourselves in diplomatic arguments about the future of Berlin and the problems that might arise if, for example, there were a change of réime in Yugoslavia. All these problems are in the grey areas between East and West.

The defence White Paper—I pay credit to the Ministers who wrote it—put things in perspective when it said that NATO was not capable of an ade- quate and quick conventional response sufficient to make the Warsaw Pact Powers realise that a swift local sharp action would not succeed without a great deal of resistance. What matters is that if the Warsaw Pact Powers think that our desire or capacity or will to do this job has deteriorated our whole defence posture will fail.

I have spoken to members of the Armed Forces who have no desire to spread alarm, and I am beginning to think that we are not in a satisfactory position to make a determined conventional response to a short, sharp local attempt to solve a situation by the assertion of force.

I wish to make four points in areas about which I am worried. I do not wish to exaggerate the situation, but these are worries that concern me.

The first worry relates to force levels. The White Paper tells us that we are supposed to have 55,000 men in the British Army, but the force levels are considerably lower. Part of the Northern Irish contingent is made up of BAOR troops. Therefore, there are not at present 55,000 men in combat readiness in BAOR.

I have spoken to senior officers about this matter, and obviously they did not wish to give away any facts and figures, but when one considers the situation in Northern Ireland and realises that some men will be on leave, others on training courses, and all the rest of it, one realises that the overall figure of 55,000 men must be re-examined.

I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect, could give some idea of the size of our forces. My impression is that in North Germany there are not more than 40,000 men on the ground, if that is the case, we have to ask whether this will weaken the sector of the front that we are supposed to defend. We must ask how quickly the force could be transported to where it is wanted.

There is a further matter that is thrown up when one looks into these matters, and it is somewhat alarming. Under the plans set up by the Supreme Allied Command, in the event of attack we are supposed to deploy an actual army of 120,000 men in our sector. When one asks where those men come from, the answer is that they come from reservists and Territorial Army forces, mobilised and taken over to North Germany.

I attempted to follow through this exercise, because it is a matter of great importance. If there were an attack on the NATO front, or any indication of such an event, there would be an attempt by this country to bring up the front line commitment of BAOR to 120,000 men. The process by which this is supposed to happen is interesting. The first thing that will happen if such an attack is expected is that reservists and Territorial Army personnel will be informed by post—I hasten to add, first-class post. I appreciate that these matters will be broadcast on television and radio, and I do not wish to exaggerate the situation, but the letters that are sent out will tell the personnel concerned to which depot to report in order to collect their equipment.

I understand—I am not sure about the precise details—that the bulk of the Territorial Army personnel and reservists would then be flown to Germany. However, since there would be an insufficient number of transport aircraft to take them, they would be flown by British Airways charter. One hopes that in such an event Heathrow would be more accessible than it now is. Since those aircraft could not take heavy equipment, such equipment could not be transported by the Navy, it would go by roll-on/roll-off ferries utilising British Rail and, I gather, Townsend Ferries. The heavy equipment for use by the soldiers in the front line would have to be transported in that round-about way.

My information—I hope that it is reasonably accurate, because I have no reason to doubt it—is that the equipment concerned would reach the personnel eight days after the launching of an attack, or after news of an attack had reached our authorities. In other words, it would take eight days to mobilise the full force of 120,000 in front line positions.

This matter deeply disturbs me. I am not deeply informed on military matters but I try to keep up with what is going on. My impression is that the Warsaw Pact armies are on a ready-to-go basis. The whole of our thinking appears to depend on warning and on the assumption that somehow or other satellites would detect the fact that forces were collecting on the other side of borders. I doubt whether that would be the situation.

What upset me was the fact that the able and clever Israelis were taken by surprise in the Yom Kippur war when the Syrians and Egyptians reached the front between the opposing forces. We must also remember that a force of 500,000 men, together with tanks and heavy equipment, reached Prague within 24 hours of trouble arising there.

Mr. Mates

I am grateful for the encouraging words on this subject from the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). It would have assisted if we had heard those words a year or two ago, when the deficiencies of which he complains were being exposed by the Opposition. Will the hon. Gentleman follow the realistic assessment of what is worrying him by telling the Government what they must do to put it right?

Mr. Mackintosh

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's offer of help, but I have never needed any assistance from the Opposition in telling my Front Bench what I believe it should do. However, I am grateful for his encouragement.

If I may continue with my point, I am worried about the concept of the eight-day mobilisation period compared with the way in which modern armies, particularly professional armies such as those in the Warsaw Pact, can move. I am doubtful whether NATO at the front line could hold out for long enough to allow the immediate mobilisation of reserves to arrive.

Dr. Glyn

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that exactly the same thing happened in the Hungarian uprising, when Soviet troops moved with all their communications, fully equipped, with tanks and all the rest of it, without anybody knowing, almost up to the gates of the capital?

Mr. Mackintosh

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I take the point. When one examines the front-line strength of the Warsaw Pact nations one concludes that there would be no need for any mobilisation, because those forces would be in a position to move immediately. That is the situation, and that is why the concept involving bringing BAOR up to strength is inadequate.

If these arguments are true of the British Army, I fear that they may also be true of other elements of NATO forces. If that is the case, the problem is multiplied. Naturally, in this debate we are concentrating on the British situation, but do we know whether the same can be said of other armies alongside the British forces? A somewhat alarmist book was written by a Belgian general, who said that if the Warsaw Pact armies decided to move on a Sunday they would find little or no obstacle in their way, because most NATO troops on the Rhine would be on leave for 24 hours. That may be an alarmist argument, but it must be borne in mind when one considers the mobilisation time scale.

I turn to the serious problem of ammunition supplies. We are so far removed from any occasion on which our armies had to use ammunition in war that I became worried about whether we have updated our requirements. I am told that the problem is that although BAOR has a 30-day stock of ammunition for its purposes, that estimate is based on a Second World War rate of firing.

Again, on this matter we should look at the most highly competent and careful armies that have recently been fighting with modern weapons and that have no motive for using one bullet more than necessary. We should consider their rates of firing. If one examines the Yom Kippur war and the standards that the Israelis used in the battles in that war—which were precisely the kind of tank thrusts that NATO would be expected to resist—one finds that such a rate of firing, even though the Israelis were concerned to take the greatest care with their ammunition, would clearly mean that our stocks of ammunition would last only five days. With an eight-day period for mobilisation and five days' stocks of ammunition, one can understand why an Army officer looks disturbed when contemplating the situation.

I do not wish to detain the House too long, but I do want to raise the question of equipment. I am grateful to the Select Committee for its work on the matter and I do not wish to be repetitious, but the points that it made about equipment are serious. It is quite clear from previous wars that infantry anti-tank weapons are crucial, particularly against huge armoured forces. The matter is worrying when one considers the equipment that is necessary. I am particularly concerned that the Milan has not been issued to our troops at all and that it will not be issued this year. When will it be generally available to reservists as well—because they are part of our frontline troops? I am worried about helicopter support and medium-range support of that kind, and about the infantry point. There is one section in the report that is presumably designed to baffle this country's enemies. I quote: The fighting capability of forward troops will be seriously affected by the *** year deferment of the ***, versions of which are already in service with other NATO as well as Warsaw Pact countries. In consequence, the Army will have to persevere with the existing ageing vehicle ***. I am sure that those dots must completely confuse our opponents, who can have no idea of what the Select Committee was talking about, but they do not help us. I gather that the Committee was worried about something that we do not know about.

There is a serious problem, in that we are lagging behind our major opponents and even our allies on equipment. It is serious for our soldiers to know, when they are facing modern armies, that they do not have such equipment. When I was on the Golan Heights in a British Chieftain tank I was told by Israeli army officers that the Chieftain was a super British tank but that in battle they had found that it needed some modifications. The Israelis have carried out these modifications, but our tanks have not had them.

Mr. Mates

The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) is talking about the Centurion tank, which has been modified, to the extent that we abolished it five years ago.

Mr. Mackintosh

It was the Chieftain. The hon. Member may wish to press the point that our tanks are adequate, but I am concerned that we are not re-equipping our vehicles and maintaining our equipment at a proper level. That is depressing for the troops who must fight with that equipment.

My last point is about training. I get a feeling from senior officers with whom I deal that they are disturbed that economies mean that adequate training cannot be carried out. Adequate training means that one must practise and shoot, one must use equipment and spend money. I am concerned that a lack of training means that members of our forces will not react instinctively at times of pressure.

These are the things that are worrying about our basic military and political balance in Europe. None of them matters alone, but taken together—and if they get worse—this could give rise to a doubt in the minds of our opponents about whether the system would work if they put it to the test. That is the problem. If a doubt arises in their mind our defence effort is not worth while.

It would help Parliament and the country if there were more open discussion of these matters. There is no point in saying that there must be secrecy in these things. We are concealing them from the electorate and the public. I have told senior officers that if they are worried they should tell the public, but they shelter behind the constitutional convention that they are responsible to the Minister and that they must not say these things. If the senior officers who know the facts and who may be worried cannot discuss them in a non-political way in public, hon. Members cannot find out information easily.

There is not sufficient public discussion or debate. Discussion is confined to a small group of people in the know. That is why hon. Members are always open to accusations that they are talking about the wrong tanks and are misleading or upsetting people. When I made some remarks a while ago and said that senior officers were worried, some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway commented that officers always want more, but sometimes one feels that the worries are genuine.

Sometimes educationists or medical people put their worries to the public, but in defence matters there is no adequate method of communication.

It would be helpful if the Government set up a full-time Select Committee on Defence—not merely a sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee. Then the Chiefs of Staff could be summoned and they would not feel constitutionally obliged to say nothing that would disturb Ministers. The responsibility would be taken off their shoulders. Of course, the Chiefs of Staff should not set out to disturb Ministers, but to explain the situation and then hon. Members could cross-examine them, listen to their views and compare them with those of Ministers and of serving officers. Civilian experts in defence could also be summoned.

Only if we get a dialogue going on these matters shall we be able to assess the feelings of the public, and only then will the public know the dangers. If the public were as worried as are some people who have looked into the matter, perhaps they would be prepared to pay more for defence. The whole case for NATO and for political military balance in Europe has gone largely by default. We have had 30 years of peace and security, and of a system that has worked. The great danger is that people now take that for granted. They fail to understand the basis of the system, why it exists, and how we have maintained it. I hope that the Minister will set up a Defence Committee, because it is in the interests of both sides of the House and of the public that there should be proper discussion.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

I agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). It is vitally important that far more of this debate should be brought into the open. I am glad now to see sitting on the Treasury Bench not only the Under-Secretary for Defence for the Army, who will no doubt reply at the end of the debate, but also the Air and Navy Ministers.

The other two Services have much to learn from the Navy. This is an Army debate, but the Navy is the one Service that propagates the kind of information to which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian referred. It has a "Know your Navy" team. I suggest that similar teams relative to the Army and Air Force should be organised to lecture throughout the country. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army looks sceptical, but the matter has been much contemplated and it has been considered whether this should be done. From time to time the Navy is big enough to learn from the Army. When the Seebohm Report was published, much was learned about support matters by what was done in Colchester and the garrison there for the support for those serving in Northern Ireland.

A "Know your Army" team, touring the country, going to schools and so on, would be extremely efficacious in pointing out to the public the dangers that beset us and in ensuring that the case for defence does not, as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian said, go by default, as it is in danger of doing because of the effectiveness of NATO during the last 30 years and because we have had the longest period of peace for a long time in our history. I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian on what he had to say about that. Too often, hon. Members say that they will not follow the arguments of the hon. Member who preceded them, but I shall try to follow the points raised by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian in his succinct and able speech.

How right the hon. Gentleman was to be worried about force levels. It seems that this is one area in which the Government are on target. The original reduction in the size of our forces envisaged in the first of the White Papers and intended, in the words of one Minister, to set a pattern for 10 years—although a further reduction was announced only weeks later—appears to be on target.

It is alarming to note that various tables show that by 1979 the strength of the Army will be down to about 165,000, including 6,000 Gurkhas. Unless there is a major improvement in the situation in Northern Ireland so that we shall not need such a heavy commitment there by 1979, does the Minister think that the Army will be able to sustain the multifarious tasks which we put upon it?

What effect will this have if the situation in Northern Ireland does not change? There are not many signs of a vast improvement. We all hope, pray and strive for an improvement, but we cannot be sanguine about the prospects of it. If force levels continue to be reduced, how often will units have to serve in Northern Ireland? Some units are on their fifth and even sixth tours, and the Royal Marine Commandos also serve there on a rotation basis, although the cuts have reduced their numbers.

Can the Minister tell us, when he replies, how he sees the pattern of overall Army service? Where there is no vision, the people perish. If we do not give those who are minded to join the Army more than the prospect of repeated tours of duty in Northern Ireland with an occasional visit to Alder-shot or Colchester—though not, one hopes, to the military corrective training establishment there—interspersed with a very occasional visit to another part of the world, the career will not seem very attractive.

I hope that we may have a "sitrep"—Ministry of Defence jargon for a situation report—on current thinking about the number of tours of duty in Northern Ireland and how frequently they will come round if the force reductions envisaged in the first White Paper of 1975 are adhered to.

I thus join the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian in expressing concern about force levels. With the build-up of Warsaw Pact countries, an Army of 165,000 which includes 6,000 Gurkhas will be an inadequate force to meet our needs by 1979, particularly in view of the possibility of continuing difficulty—to say the least—in Northern Ireland.

I shall not speak at great length because I was fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye during the two-day defence debate last month. I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy is here, and I thank him for what he said about my speech in that debate. I spoke about general defence matters although there was some specific Army content, for example about the difficulties in Malta, where not only the Royal Marine Commandos face problems but a unit of the Green Jackets is due to be removed.

I thank the Under-Secretary for dealing with some of the points that I raised, but I wonder whether we might return to the old practice of dealing in correspondence with those matters that the Minister, understandably, cannot deal with at the end of a debate. I have been speaking to some of my hon. Friends about this custom, and it is useful for Ministers to go through the speeches of hon. Members and deal in correspondence with matters to which replies were not given in the later speeches.

In the defence debate I raised the continuing vexed issue that has caused something of a breach between the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army and myself, namely, the Colchester Military Hospital. The subject was relevant in the defence debate and is perhaps even more relevant today.

I have drawn the attention of the House to this matter on a number of occasions, so I shall not speak about it at great length. I presented a petition to the House containing more than 50,000 signatures from people in my constituency and outside, and the problem continues to exercise the minds of those who are worried about the situation in Northern Ireland and are concerned about the welfare of the soldiers there and their families and civilians who live in that part of Essex.

Time and again we pay tributes to the troops serving in Northern Ireland, and how right we are to do so. I have been there eight times, and on every trip my admiration for their performance grows. However, it is no good uttering these words if we do not follow them up with real action. The Government's decision to close the Colchester Military Hospital is an example of paying lip service to concern for our Armed Forces while taking decisions that are undoubtedly wrong and harmful to them.

It is true that Sir Clifford Jarrett recommended the closure of the hospital in 1973, but the Ministry decided not to implement that recommendation, probably because Sir Clifford was considering the rather narrow basis of the reorganisation of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Thousands of civilian cases are being dealt with at the hospital. At a time when our civilian facilities are under the greatest pressure, it would be lunatic to close the hospital, particularly when more than £250,000 has recently been spent on it. This money was spent partly because a theatre was burnt out, but it is not only a matter of refurbishing. Fundamental improvements were being carried out until only a few days ago. It is not just a lick of paint, but refurbishing of wards to the highest standards. This expenditure has been going on until a very short while ago.

There is not only this shocking waste of taxpayers' money. There is also the fact that the Minister, in the short document which he has published in answer to the petition, points out that a medical centre will be created in Gujerat Barracks in Colchester. The cost is not set out but it will be £100,000. The Minister, in his answer to the petition, says that transport will have to be provided between the Central Military Hospital in London and possibly the Royal Air Force Hospital in Ely, all of which will be wasteful.

I hope that the Minister will look again at this. The Army has been too generous in the past to the civilians in Colchester. In the past there has been no contribution from the funds of the Department of Health and Social Security to the upkeep of the military hospital. There ought to be the same sort of arrangement as there is with the Royal Air Force Hospital at Ely, my original home town, where I had a cartilage taken out of my left knee after a ski-ing accident. The cost of that operation did not fall on the Defence Votes and was contra-accounted by the RAF. It ought to be the same with the services provided by the Army hospital. I am sure that the Minister will agree, if he goes into it even more thoroughly and with an unbiased eye, that this hospital should continue and that the cost should be shared.

The hospital has been offered to the Health Service. The Health Service is in difficulties about manning. The Minister also says that the Royal Army Medical Corps is in difficulties about manning. That may be so. I hope that he will take the opportunity later, if he gets the leave of the House to make a winding-up speech, to deal with the position of the Royal Army Medical Corps. The White Paper states that the recruitment of qualified doctors remains below target. It is one of the reasons for the Minister suggesting that the Colchester Military Hospital has to be closed. I hope that he will tell us more about this lack of personnel.

There is a lack of doctors in Northern Ireland, and a continuing need exists there. The Navy and the Royal Air Force have sent doctors to help the Army there. I hope we shall have something rather more expansive than there is at present in the White Paper about the position of the Royal Army Medical Corps. I do not think it can be said that any State secrets would be given away in supplying this information. If there is a shortage of doctors, let us have a massive recruiting campaign. In all three Services we are getting people to university. This is paid for by the Services, and the people serve in our forces for a relatively short while thereafter. There must be room for an expansion of that sort of arrangement. How short are we of doctors?

Let us have a reversal of this decision or at least a postponement of it until we have a new hospital in Colchester. Then it might make sense for the military hospital to be closed. If we had a big new general hospital, a wing of it could be used for military purposes. It does not make sense to close a hospital which has just had over £200,000 spent on it. There is a very great deal of feeling about this, not only in my constituency but also among Service personnel at all levels. We must also consider the possible adverse effect on the morale of those serving in Northern Ireland.

I hope that one of the results of the debate will be that we shall find the Minister reversing this decision and giving some back up to the words of praise which he uttered, quite rightly, at the start of the debate about those who serve in Northern Ireland.

I share the views expressed by the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian about force levels and the need to keep them up, as well as the need to get away from the targets set in the original White Paper, which proposed a too massive reduction in our forces.

Recruitment is important, and if there is an upturn in the economy I think it will bring about an improvement in this direction. I see that the Under-Secretary appears to agree with me in this. It would then be possible to improve the terms of service of our troops, I support what has been said about the need for improving the terms of service of those serving in Northern Ireland, not based on the extra danger—that is an added factor already taken into account in military pay—but because of the high cost of living in Northern Ireland. That ought to be looked at, because it will have an effect on recruiting overall. Units are constantly going back to Northern Ireland, and if there is a reduction in a person's standard of living, in addition to his being put in the very gravest danger, there may well be an effect on morale.

From what I see of the Armed Forces—both the naval personnel whom I meet because of my former connection with the Navy, having been a Minister, and the Army personnel, having the privilege as I do of representing a garrison town—it is indeed true to say that their calibre and their morale are still as high as any in the world. But more and more disturbance is being caused by the reputed defence cuts.

One had great sympathy with the Government's original concept of having one major defence review which was to set the pattern for 10 years and for there not to be the ad hoc cuts which undoubtedly took place under the Conservative Administration, which could be legitimately criticised on that account. But we have now had a major cut and, since then, more and more cuts. They are far worse than those which we indulged in. There is a fear among serving personnel that they will die the "death by a thousand cuts".

Let us have an end to this. Let us now have some stability. If there were to be further reductions they would have a major effect on Service morale and might well undermine the whole MBFR syndrome and the whole possibility of our getting force reductions on a balanced basis. Why should the Russians make concessions if we are making unilateral defence cuts?

Let the Minister give us a firm assurance that there will not be any further cuts. Let him do something to help those who are serving in Northern Ireland, financially and also by seeing that they are provided, as in my constituency, with the very finest of supportive services, including the finest hospital services.

7.58 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I am very glad to follow my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), and except for the matter of his local hospital, I shall be dealing with much the same matters. I want to deal particularly with the problem of our reserves and reinforcements, because so much of our plan on the central front depends on our use of these to supplement our Regular forces.

In our plan we assume that there will be time available for the political decision, and the political decision may not necessarily come very quickly, because it will be difficult to balance the argument whether a decision to mobilise will exacerbate the situation by angering the other side or whether it will quiet it because it will show that we are in earnest. Both factors will be present in the minds of the Ministers who make the decisions, and they may take a little time to make up their minds.

The second decision to be taken concerns the physical movement of the reinforcements. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) was wrong in thinking that reinforcements would move after the hostilities had started. The idea is that they should move before. It depends, of course, upon getting the warning. I shall come back to that in a minute. Then, when this decision is made, we are apparently to operate a policy of graduated response. Somehow or other we shall have to induce the Soviets to alter their minds—perhaps by the degree of hostility which we show to them when war has broken out.

This graduated response was a very good tool for getting increased conventional forces acceptable to the public as a whole, but I wonder whether the time has now come to examine it again. The first thing to be said is that it offends against one of the great principles of war—namely, the concentration of maximum force at the decisive time and place. We may buy political advantage with it, but let us not kid ourselves: we are incurring a military penalty. Furthermore, if the period in which conventional weapons are used is prolonged, I believe that public morale in the democracies may collapse and not sanction the use of nuclear weapons if conventional weapons fail to do the trick.

That having been said, why should the Russians fall in with this scenario of ours? Is it imagined that they will in some way blunder across the frontier by mistake? Certainly not on the central front. No one could cross that frontier by mistake. Anyway, it is ridiculous to imagine that people as cautious as the Russians would blunder in large numbers over a frontier.

Would they do it to test our nerve? At one time there was an argument that the Russians would take out Hamburg to see what we would do. I do not believe that for a moment. The Russians are cautious people—especially Russia's present leaders, who went through the last war. I am not too sure about the younger ones. However, I am sure that Russia's present leaders would find that far too dangerous a ploy and would not do it. If the Russians come, they come in strength and with surprise.

The Russians believe in mass and momentum in military matters. I venture to quote to the House one or two passages from "The Officer's Handbook" of the Russian army issued in 1971: Soviet military doctrine has an offensive character … The Soviet Union … will conduct the war which the enemies impose on them in the most offensive manner in order to attain the smashing of the enemy in short times. Soviet military doctrine allocates the decisive rôle in contemporary war to nuclear weapons. At the same time it considers that along with the nuclear missile strikes of a strategic and operational-tactical character, the armed forces will employ conventional armament. The Soviets believe that the war will be short and that, therefore, it must be violent in order to bring the matter to a conclusion.

I quote again from "The Officer's Handbook": As for the means the imperialists have of unleashing war, Soviet military doctrine considers most probable a surprise attack of the aggressor without a declaration of war. This precisely is the main thing the imperialists are counting on. They have repeatedly resorted to such means of unleashing war in the past. Whether or not that is true, it is clear to me at any rate that "The Officer's Handbook" is ascribing to imperialists the quality that the Russians think is necessary to win a war.

For the first time in recent years the Russians have gained the capability of surprise, because the numbers of troops now held well forward can be moved without previous mobilisation and without discernible previous movement. I do not believe that NATO would agree with my last statement. It reckons that it will be able to tell whether the Soviets have any intention of making a full-scale attack, not necessarily by perceiving the movement of troop trains and such things about which the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian talked but by the movement of naval vessels and other arrangements in different parts of the world which the Russians would find it necessary to make to sustain a full-scale war.

I wonder whether we can be so sure. After all, if I am right, this advance of the Russians will need to have a tremendous effect on only a small area. They will use the maximum force in the decisive time and place. They will advance not only with the nuclear weapons which "The Officer's Handbook" mentions, but with chemical weapons as well.

Furthermore, there will be a mass breakdown of radio communication. Everybody knows that that can easily be obtained for a short period over a fairly large area by an atomic explosion in the ionosphere. That will put out all radios and means of communication for the time being. Of course the Russians will suffer equally, but it will not matter so much to them because they will be the aggressors. They will be proceeding on fixed, rigid lines of order from which no deviation will be allowed, so the absence of radio communication will not matter. However, it will matter enormously to the defensive State.

It matters particularly, in the last analysis, to our control of nuclear submarines, because for the time being there will be no control of the nuclear riposte. We can forget them unless we assume that a nuclear submarine commander is prepared to loose off his volley against Moscow merely because he notices that Radio Luxembourg has gone off the air, leading him to believe that something has gone wrong. But that is not a credible situation. Therefore, for the time being we can forget the nuclear riposte.

In that situation, if my scenario is anything like correct, the reserves will not arrive, nor will reinforcements. Therefore, our Army plan on the central front should include the option that the Army there will have to fight alone without reinforcements in a chemical and nuclear environment and without any further orders reaching it. I wonder whether we have those plans in hand. I have no doubt that we have. Certainly that ought to be done.

Assuming that we have the 20 days' warning and manage to get all our reinforcements over there, there are still some deficiencies to which I should like to call attention. We have a marvellous professional Army, but it is only at half strength. The other half, which is not professional, is Territorial and Army Reserve. Whilst we can boast, and have done and should, about the excellence of our professional Army, we should realise that when fully mobilised it will not all be professional.

We have anti-tank shortages. I shall not labour that point, because it has already been mentioned. There is a shortage of helicopters. We have a shortage of anti-tank helicopters. We have a shortage in communications, perhaps not so much a shortage as inferior communications equipment. Our ammunition stocks are too low. They are based on a rate of utilisation which I believe to be unrealistic. One reason is that some of these missiles cost an enormous amount. I can understand the Under-Secretary not encouraging people to pop them off all round the place, because that would cost millions before the training season was over. But the absence of the opportunity to fire these expensive weapons has to some extent limited our professional people from being as highly trained as they should be. In view of these limitations and the limitation of reinforcement, I must pronounce upon the situation and say that in my view ours is becoming a second-class Army. This is a heavy responsibility upon the Government of the day.

I pick out one small item, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) also referred. It concerns the battle groups which are to be hived off because we do not like brigades. My hon. Friend made a certain amount of fun of it, I think quite legitimately. One of the problems will be the officers who command. They are to be the garrison commanders. But a good garrison commander should come from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps or from the Royal Engineers. They know how to run garrisons. A good commander in a battle situation does not necessarily find himself chosen from those corps, and he would probably be an appalling garrison commander. The gallant cavalry brigadier knows nothing about maintaining vehicles or about pay and would probably make a real "horlicks" of garrison commanding. On the other hand, the garrison commander who knows all about pay could not be counted on to make a real success of commanding a perfectly strange group which the poor fellow had never seen before taking over, apparently almost in the middle of a battle. He would have to be Alexander the Great to make anything at all of it.

The Territorial Army is 80 per cent. recruited, which is very good. But 25 per cent. have only just joined and will not be taken overseas. If it is to go overseas 100 per cent. recruited, the Territorial Army should be recruited 125 per cent. What is more, some of its equipment is bad. I can speak about that from the point of view of my own regiment, which is not one of the reinforcements which are to go to Germany. Its equipment is lacking and out of date. I also think that the bounty should be looked at again. It has been steady for some time. It has fallen well behind the cost of living. Some increase in it would be one way in which we could at a stroke improve recruiting to the Territorial Army.

The numbers of the Army as a whole are too low. I make a special plea, which I know will be useless at the moment, that we should no longer mess about with the Gurkha Battalion on Brunei by trying to abolish it. Again, when the Commando in Malta leaves, it should be not disbanded but added to the mobile force.

When the Under-Secretary gets in a bother about his Vote and about asking for so much money, will he look again at military pensions? I do not suggest that they should be cut. We know the difficulty that there has been and will continue to be about them. But on the Vote of the Ministry of Defence generally there is the sum of £345 million to pay military pensions. The civil servants who work in the Ministry do not have their pensions on the Defence Vote. I do not see why military pensions have to be on it. If he had an additional £345 million to play with, the Secretary of State could produce a great many satisfactory results.

I deal finally with Ulster, and in doing so I shall not repeat what has been said so forcefully by other hon. Members. It is to the shame of the whole House that we ask our Service people to operate in ways which are not comparable to what we think they should be and what their comrades elsewhere have.

I wish to make two brief points. The first concerns the 50p a day which a soldier receives for being in an operational sphere. I got 10s. in the war, which was a long time ago. Could not the 50p be increased? Even compared with three years ago, it should have risen. It should be increased greatly.

Secondly, I wonder whether the military salary is now thought to have been such a good idea. Both the parties thought so when it was first introduced, but it does not appear to have worked out very well. When we have people receiving rent rebates in respect of their married quarters, it is clear that it has not worked at all well. In matters of pay, of course, the Armed Forces are always behind the rest. At the moment they are about 20 per cent. behind in what they should be receiving to make them comparable. The military salary is not working very well, and in my view it should be looked at again.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

One of the awful anxieties of this place is having to sit in this Chamber all afternoon and evening only to find that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) has made my speech. If I had the courage of my convictions, I should rip it up and make a completely different one. But, as it was to be a speech for only five minutes and as my hon. Friend made an excellent contribution to the debate, perhaps I may be allowed to try to reinforce some of his arguments.

The increasing Soviet military strength in central Europe means that the gap between the Warsaw Pact and NATO forces will not be closed until the early 1980s. But that fact has meant a change in Soviet strategy, and that change is very much one for the worse. It is also a change which largely has gone unnoticed, not simply by the British public but by this House itself.

It is now a fact that Warsaw Pact forces, if they wished, could begin a war from a standing start—that is, without the need for reinforcement beforehand. NATO, on the other hand, requires adequate warning time, measured at least in weeks, to permit the Alliance to mobilise and to deploy its forces forward.

It is vital for NATO that the Alliance adapts its present strategy of flexible response into one of forward defence. To do so, we need to improve our fire power, our mobility and our command and control systems. NATO's warning time is now down to days, not weeks. The Warsaw Pact is now capable of mounting a sudden attack launched with overwhelming local superiority.

Since 1973, when the MBFR talks began, the Soviets have increased their forces in central Europe. They have added a new armoured vehicle, the T72, and they enjoy a three-to-one superiority in armour. They have re-equipped their motorised divisions with a new mechanised infantry combat vehicle. They have radically recast their air force from a defensive to an offensive force. They have equipped themselves with theatre nuclear weapons of a heavier yield than those which NATO possesses.

If that is the Soviet picture, what are the weaknesses in NATO? First, a high proportion of NATO's forces are badly deployed. They are deployed west of the River Rhine and in the far south of Germany. The French have announced that they are to reduce their forces in Germany by one-quarter. The Dutch and the Belgians have moved their forces back from the Iron Curtain into their own countries. The British Army of the Rhine is weakened by the need to serve Northern Ireland. There is a shortage of fire power. We need more armoured fighting vehicles, more artillery and more missiles. Ammunition stocks are grossly inadequate.

We suffer from the vulnerability of stocks which are already in position in known locations in Germany, from the vulnerability of airfields and our ground-to-air missile systems to interdiction by the Soviet air force. There is a shortage of surface-to-air missiles. Most serious of all is the inadequate inter-allied command control and communications systems, a weakness which has been described by a senior commander as the fundamental deficiency within NATO today. What, then, is our present strategy? How could NATO begin to cope with a Soviet attack—even an attack of which we had received adequate warning in order to mobilise and deploy? Phase one of the NATO strategy would be a holding operation by about one-third of NATO's forces which are at present stationed far forward. Phase two would be a counter-attack by the masse de manoeuvre. Phase three would be the introduction of allied nuclear weapons were the battle to have gone against us or a counter-attack were we to have won the major battle.

Let us examine that plan—phases one, two and three—in the light of reduced warning of a Soviet attack, the new Soviet strategy. Phase one would probably mean the loss of a large slice of West German territory, enough to demoralise German civil and military authority. Phase two—the counter-attack—would be asking for another "miracle of the Marne". It was not so much the French who won the miracle of the Marne but the mistakes of the German invading army in 1914—mistakes which the Germans did not make in 1940. But clearly, under our present strategy, we would need a miracle of the Marne in phase two in order to come back from the likelihood of a massive initial defeat up front. In phase three, therefore, supposing that we were defeated in phase two, would we not be inhibited from the first use of theatre nuclear weapons, given the inevitability of Soviet retaliation and the fact that we would be using our own weapons against occupied allied territory and hostage populations?

The point of my speech is this. If we are now given little or no warning time, NATO must win the battle of the frontiers because there will be no other battle. Phase one, therefore, can no longer be a holding operation. We can only hope to win up front by redeploying forces eastwards, by the adoption of a form of hedgehog defence, by swift improvements in NATO fire power, armour, and command and communications, by increasing stocks of ammunition, spares and fuel, by paying more attention to reserves and reinforcements, and by a decision to make an early first use of theatre nuclear weapons in the event of a Soviet sudden attack, so that if we failed to defeat such an attack those weapons would be used on the Soviets in East Germany rather than on our own side. Most important of all, perhaps, we must improve within NATO the procedures which exist within the Alliance to seek the authority for swifter mobilisation if the warning time is reduced from months down to weeks and now almost to days.

We can only guess at what the Soviet Union may wish to do, but we must know what it is capable of doing. It is difficult to judge the extent to which the Soviets may be prepared to alter their policies, given the adoption of a new strategy which appears to offer a real prospect of success. Even if they were not to attack, the very fact that we know that they have the capability of launching a sudden attack against which there is no meaningful allied response will, from the Soviet point of view, exercise tremendous leverage within the whole context of the East-West balance and affect the whole political future of Europe itself.

Shall we have the will to prompt the Alliance into making all the necessary alterations and changes? Shall we play our part? It is vital that we should do so, but we are faced with apathy, disbelief and appeasement—vices that are not confined to this country.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)

I am sure that hon. Members on the Opposition Benches will forgive me if I do not follow them into the strange world that they are talking about and the possibilities of world war. They spoke as though of some gigantic chess game. It is frightening to non-military people like myself to hear such descriptions of dealing with the lives of countless thousands of human beings. If the situation they describe is true, the British Army cannot be very relevant, and could not be even if it were twice its present strength. In all the post-war situations—for example, Suez and Cuba—we have seen that when the chips are down only the super-Powers really matter, and in the sort of scenario that hon. Members have described the British Army could have little relevance.

Of course the British Army may have relevance as part and parcel of NATO, and I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have not spoken more about the problems of uniformity and standardisation in NATO in order to make it more efficient. But really, the only solution must be to stimulate and produce negotiations that will make and must make impossible such a scenario, for otherwise that scenario must at some stage lead to the end of civilised life on earth as we know it, and none of us likes to envisage that.

This does not mean that I believe that the Army has no rôle to play. It must maintain something of its present strength in order to carry out many of the very important tasks which it has. In addition, few of us would argue against some of the major technological defence work which provides much spin-off to industry. Those of us who have been involved in industry know full well the advantages to industry from technological spin-off from defence work.

My real worry is that the Army is being less than efficient in the way it is spending some of the money already allocated to it. I have had the unfortunate impression in recent months that it is not looking after the pennies, let alone the pounds. My hon. Friend will remember that I have brought to his attention the question of the amount of housing in this country provided for Service families but not occupied. No one quibbles about the fact that Service families should be provided with decent accommodation—both sides of the House strongly support that aim.

I have found that there are large areas in the country in which there are complete estates of houses that were at one time allocated for defence purposes but which have remained unoccupied for a long time. People have written to tell me of more cases since I first raised this matter. The answers that I have been given on this subject by the Ministry are far from satisfactory. The Ministry has suggested that the housing may have been occupied at one time or another in the past 10 years, but that is an admission that a certain percentage of the houses have not been occupied for years.

When talking to many of the people involved I have had the horrible feeling that even if the housing has been occupied it has been for periods of only two or three days, to break up long periods when the houses have been unoccupied. An Army that is efficient must not hold on to assets like this, which it does not need, when there is a crying housing need in the country and the houses could be sold, made available to local authorities on a temporary basis, or dealt with in some other way.

The Army's difficulties are not confined to these areas. I have also found that the Army's recruiting arrangements are strange, to say the least. At present, recruiting offices occupy prime sites in most major town centres. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary told me that these recruiting offices cost about £10 million a year, and the total cost of recruitment, if my memory serves me correctly, is between £25 million and £26 million. This means that it costs more than £500 to recruit each member of the forces.

I feel that in the present economic climate it would have been easier to use other recruiting methods. I see no reason why recruitment for the Armed Forces should be segregated from recruitment for industry generally. There seems to be no reason why job centres should not also deal with military recruitment. I realise that job centres would not have the necessary expertise to advise would-be recruits about the nature of service in the Army, Navy or Air Force as the case may be, but there seems an overwhelming case in favour of this suggestion, rather than having recruitment offices in town centres that sometimes have only two or three calls a week. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has told me in answers to parliamentary Questions that the number of actual recruits at some recruitment offices varies from nought to two a week.

It would be far more efficient to have someone at the job centre dealing at local level with recruitment and sending on to depots representing the three Services the more serious recruits. We would probably get more recruits, because we would be going to the places where people naturally go to seek employment, and the system would cost much less than at present. No industrial firm would operate a system under which it cost £500 to recruit each individual. That is an absurdity. The Army should not operate in this way.

One of the things operating against Army recruitment is the sort of class barriers that still exist in the structure of the Armed Forces. We have argued about this previously and I have been told by some of my hon. Friends that the problem has been reduced, but we still have a division between the officer class and other ranks. They have different messes and different facilities of every type. All of us who have worked with the problems of management in industry know that one of the basic pieces of advice given to firms to improve efficiency is to reduce divisions between employees by reducing the number of toilets or dining rooms whose use is restricted to only one section of employees, so that people feel they are part of a team. Things have not yet moved far enough in this direction.

Recruitment would benefit if there were a move towards democracy. We could make the institution more democratic, rather than simply having someone coming to the cookhouse and asking "Any complaints?". Perhaps we could have an extension of trade union activity within the Armed Forces. These are the sort of things that would improve recruitment. We still have absurd class divisions.

I was told that the officer class of the Queen Alexandra's Nursing Corps had to go to Savile Row and were offered coats at £400 each. I am not sure whether that figure is correct, but I am sure that it is much more expensive than what is doled out to other ranks in the forces. This sort of division does not help recruitment.

One area of colossal waste of money for the Army is in the British Army of the Rhine. It is quite intolerable that it should be costing more than £500 million to the balance of payments for us to keep British troops in Germany when Germany is making good economic progress and Britain is in economic difficulties. I am not entering the argument of whether our troops should be in Germany. My point is that it is absurd for Britain to have to borrow money while in effect giving our friends in Germany about £500 million. The Government must pressurise the German Government to come to a quick solution to this problem.

There is probably a strong argument for defence, but even more important than defence is economic survival. Some Conservatives may feel that the two go hand in hand. It is vital for the Army to get the money it needs to do its work, but if it is to get that money it must be able to show that it is prepared to trim its sails as everyone else has had to do in recent months. If it does that it can be sure of getting the resources it needs from this House to fulfil its essential task.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)

The hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) referred to recruitment, and it would be interesting if a study were carried out to discover the efficiency of the recruiting offices. The Army is as anxious as anyone else to save money, and if ways could be found of doing that so as to avoid cutting into the more important aspects of its expenditure they should be explored.

The hon. Member was pursuing a much weaker point when arguing against the organisation of the Army messes. The important thing is to ensure that there is a practical scheme of promotion from the ranks to commissioned rank. I was glad to hear what the Minister said about that. There is now, on a vastly greater scale than used to be the case, a means of going up in one's own regiment or, more widely, into another regiment from the ranks into commissioned status.

In the field—I am thinking particularly of the Rhine Army and Northern Ireland—officers, non-commissioned officers and men for the most part eat from the same cookhouse, live under the same bivvy and make common cause in the way that the hon. Member has in mind. I do not believe that there is the slightest desire in the Army to go further in the direction that the hon. Member suggests.

In this most interesting debate, speech after speech has called for realism.

It is essential that we repeat that. We sit here, in the atmosphere of an agreeable debating society, discussing an Army upon which our security, and to a proportion that of our Allies, depends. The great danger that I see is that though we maintain this Army at great expense—but, in my view, not sufficient expense—we are not getting, and it is no fault of the Army, a really efficient defensive tool in return. I believe that to be the danger, because we are kidding ourselves that we are getting rather more than we are.

We all know that the pressures are on every Government to economise on the Armed Forces. They are traditional, and they go back over the centuries. As soon as we win the war we let our ships rot and the Dutch come sailing up the Medway as they did 300 or 400 years ago. The pressures are the same today, but the cost is much greater in terms of our weaknesses if we follow that course, because the argument that has been put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) and Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) is that the warning time is to be measured in days.

I take issue with what the Minister said in the closing passages of his speech. He devoted a disproportionate amount of time to describing the Silver Jubilee parade for Her Majesty the Queen in June or July. It is appropriate that there should be a parade, but to suggest, as the Minister was at pains to do for a considerable time, that the parade will give Her Majesty, or any hon. Member, any practical idea of the effectiveness of the Rhine Army as a fighting force is wholly unrealistic.

Does the Minister believe for a moment that attending that parade will instruct Her Majesty in any way about the availability of reinforcements for the Rhine Army? Will it give her the slightest indication of the availability of spare parts for Rhine Army vehicles and other equipment? Will it help her to discover whether there is adequate capacity for the recovery of armoured fighting vehicles? Will she know what the first-line requirements of stores are for the field units of the Rhine Army? Will she know whether there is sufficient range capacity to enable soldiers to fire their weapons to an extent consistent with achieving minimum required efficiency and becoming familiar with those weapons? Will it help her to know whether it is only because of the Northern Ireland requirement that we are able to aggregate track mileages, and in some instances ammunition expenditure, so that soldiers remaining in Northern Germany get a certain amount of practical training in the field?

Will it help Her Majesty to know to what extent the expensive and, no doubt, by that time highly-polished articles of equipment paraded before her are used in the field by the soldiers? As for Wombat, will it help anyone attending the parade to know whether one or possibly more live missiles are allowed to be fired in the course of a year by the operators of those weapons? Those are the things that matter.

Most important of all, will the parade help anyone to know how long the Rhine Army is capable of sustaining operations at full intensity? That is the question, and I hope that the Minister will reply to it. How long, in his opinion, is the Rhine Army capable of maintaining operations at full intensity? I believe that the answer, if it is to be measured in days, is a very few days indeed.

We have heard about the massed bands. There is no doubt that they will look and sound agreeable, and I hope that the Minister, as he has referred to them, will take the opportunity to assure us that there are no proposals in the Government's mind to abolish the bands. By far the best argument for retaining them—apart from the fact that the bandsmen are good—is that the men act as stretcher-bearers, and precious little other manpower is available for that purpose.

With an Army that is so desperately overstretched, and whose members know themselves to be so desperately overstretched in relation to the tasks that the Government give them, it is essential that we see that they are properly supported.

I wish to refer to the question of support in peace time and support in war time, and in particular to the peace-time allowances for overseas living and rent rebates. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to scotch the widespread rumour that there is shortly to be a cut in the local overseas allowance for troops serving in Germany. It would cause the greatest resentment if such a cut were made. I know the complex arrangement for assessing the allowances, but it is always open to the Government, on proper grounds, to override the exact workings of some technical formula.

Can it conceivably be right that the local overseas allowance for Service men in Germany should be cut when the foreign service allowance for civil servants employed in Germany has just been increased by 20 per cent.? I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that, although I appreciate that the notice is short. I understand that that is the case. It cannot be seen to be equitable by soldiers that civilians overseas should have their foreign service allowance increased whereas theirs may be reduced.

Do not all Ministry of Defence civilians in West Germany receive a London weighting allowance of £465 a year even though they may be living, with their families, in Germany for years and when at home may not live within 500 miles of inner London? If cuts of the sort which have been proposed are to be made, why should the allowance for Ministry of Defence civilians—perhaps plumbers employed in maintaining Ministry of Defence establishments—continue? I hope that regard will be paid to the fact that civil servants, when serving abroad, do not have to pay for their accommodation whereas soldiers must pay for theirs.

I wish briefly to refer to the question of the rent rebate. I believe that just under 10 per cent. of married Service men in the Rhine Army receive rent rebates. I cannot help thinking that many of them are right in feeling resentful about being obliged to claim a rebate. After all, the charge for their quarters is no doubt fixed on relatively fair, or what are thought to be fair, principles. I appreciate that some of them pay for their furniture, but, having regard to the job that we impose on our soldiers, we should pay them enough to prevent them from having to claim for something out of the rent rebate kitty. It causes considerable regret and, in some cases, resentment.

I turn to the question of the support which we give to our soldiers in time of war—support expressed in terms of concern for their welfare and for their protection. It is inherent in the job of a soldier that he must expose himself to danger in time of war or quasi war. I do not suggest that we should diminish it, but the support which we are offering our soldiers is diminished by virtue of the fact that we are not providing them with sufficient logistic support in the Rhine Army in particular. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he is satisfied that there is sufficient logistic capability even to lift the first-line requirements for units in the field. I believe that there is not.

Is the Minister satisfied that adequate reinforcements of vehicles and of drivers are available under his hand? Is he satisfied that proper regard has been paid to the fatigue and casualty factor among drivers? It is no good having one driver per vehicle. May we expect the Army to be supplied with driver reinforcements for operations lasting many days, let alone weeks?

Is the Minister satisfied that the medical services are in the slightest degree consistent with our ability to sustain operations? I believe that the Rhine Army's medical services would break down within 24 hours in the event of full-intensity operations.

The Minister referred to Exercise Spearpoint. He said that generally the outcome of the exercise had been satisfactory. Is he satisfied about the adequacy of the medical services following the experience gained in that exercise last autumn? We all know that there is a requirement for the reinforcement of medical officers. Is he satisfied that he has medical officers available under his hand so that there may be reinforcement? Can reinforcements be supplied quickly? Are they at present serving in the TAVR? If not, what does he propose to do about it?

Are there proposals for the expansion of the Royal Army Medical Corps? Surely one of the most important lessons learned from the last war was that troops will fight with high morale and consequent high efficiency only if they are satisfied that arrangements exist to evacuate them if they are wounded so that they may receive first-class medical attention.

I believe that the honest answer is that we are far away from such conditions. Time and again when we have a defence debate Ministers recite the growing threat posed by the Russian army and Russian forces in Europe. They are very good at that part of the job. They stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood, but they only emulate the action of the paper tiger.

I am afraid that in all the talk about the Silver Jubilee parade and how marvellous our Army will be seen to be we are taking refuge in talk and not addressing ourselves to the real issues. I believe the truth to be that the Rhine Army today is not capable of sustaining operations because of the cuts that have been made time and time again by the Government. Unless the trend of the Government's stewardship of the Army is abruptly reversed, they will succeed in making the Army a paper tiger too.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Lambeth, Central)

The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) asked a few hundred questions, and it will be quite impossible for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to answer them unless we stop here all night.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) referred to the class distinction that still exists in the Services. My hon. Friend's comments reminded me of an announcement that appeared in a local paper in the North. In large headlines it was announced that a miner's son had been commissioned after three years at Welbeck. My hon. Friend will know the place where the father works—namely, Boldon Colliery. It was regarded as remarkable that a miner's son had been commissioned in the Army and was going to Sandhurst for his final training. It occurred to me that if someone from Eton or Harrow had been commissioned not one paper would have bothered to mention the fact.

If a line were drawn across England between the Wash and the Mersey, it would soon be found that most of the men recruited as Army officers come from the south of that line rather than from the north.

We have been talking about getting value for money. Have we had any value for money from the terrible expenditure of lives that has taken place in Northern Ireland? The troops went there in 1969, since when 327 men have been killed. This includes the Ulster Defence Regiment. A total of 1,257 civilians have been killed. In the RUC the figure is 92. The question I ask is: if the troops had not been sent to Northern Ireland in 1969—while, certainly, the lives of soldiers would have been saved—would 1,257 civilians have been killed? Would 92 members of the RUC have died?

I remember the great fuss that was made at the time when it was decided to take the British troops from India. Mr. Winston Churchill, as he then was, fulminated against the Government for that decision. We knew that the decision would involve a blood-bath. It is said that one million lives were lost in the communal fighting which took place after the troops withdrew. Does anyone seriously suggest that British troops should have remained to prevent what was likely to be a blood-bath?

All the talk about a blood-bath taking place in Northern Ireland if the British troops had not gone in there in 1969 is grossly exaggerated. There would have been some lives lost. That is one of the prices that has to be paid if people do not agree to reach a sensible solution of their communal difficulties. But are we any better off in Northern Ireland now than we were in 1969? I shall not refer to the cost of keeping the troops in Northern Ireland over that period. I shall not mention the fact that the cost to the Exchequer, apart from defence costs, is running at the rate of almost £600 million a year. What are we getting for it?

The situation is worse now than it was in 1969. I do not see what advantage has been derived. I should like to quote one or two things said in bygone days on this subject by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force but I will be tolerant and will not do so.

The time has come to stop talking about the necessity to find a political solution. While this is going on we have to sacrifice the lives of British soldiers—so that the local population can reach some sort of communal solution. If the troops were withdrawn, the population would jolly soon find that they would have to sit down together and reach a suitable arrangement and one which would not involve the loss of British lives as it has done.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

Looking at the audience facing me tonight I am inevitably reminded of that little vignette of imperial history that occurred in 1857, when one of the colonels of a Bengali native regiment was told that his entire regiment was in mutiny and had left to sack, loot and rape in Delhi. A man of great trust, he could not possibly believe this, and said "My men are loyal to me." He summoned the bugler and told him to sound assembly, whereupon there appeared on the parade ground one loyal sepoy. It has almost reached that stage tonight. I know that there are some members of the front rank present, but I must remind them that, for them at least, this is something of a pay parade.

It is only a few days ago in parliamentary time that the House had a full-dress two-day debate on the whole issue of defence. Today we have one day devoted solely to the Army. Right hon. and hon. Members have attacked the subject from different angles, some taking a broad strategic view and other concentrating on matters of detail.

In happier times there was a great deal to be said for the sort of arrangement whereby we had a two-day debate on defence and then days devoted to each of the Services in turn—the general issue and then the particular ones. Today, that is not quite possible, because successive White Papers have imposed such swingeing cuts on the Armed Forces, in terms of both manpower and equipment, that it is impossible to consider the Army in isolation. It is something of an anachronism to try to do so.

It is very difficult to visualise circumstances in which the Army would operate on its own. Perhaps once it did, but that day has long since gone. It does not even happen in Northern Ireland. There, the Army has the welcome co-operation of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force. In most operational circumstances that one can visualise the British Army would be carrying out its rôle within the NATO Alliance.

Because of that I shall consider the Army in the context of operating within that Alliance when I look at the Government's arguments in support of their present policies. First, there is the GNP argument, which seems to be the most popular in Labour circles. It is most often offered for public consumption, and it seems to be very popular, particularly with the Government's Left-wing supporters. Not only for that reason it is both specious and dangerous.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

Have the Government any Left-wing supporters?

Mr. Walder

I used the phrase somewhat loosely. I am sure that the hon. Member is a better judge of that than I am. I take a hopeful view of the Government; I believe that they have one or two supporters other than the Liberal Party.

The argument that is popular among what I shall term very loosely Government supporters is that we should reduce defence spending to the same percentage of GNP as our allies. At best, the GNP percentage argument provides only the roughest guide and has no relevance to defence needs. If one looks around the world one sees that Israel—for obvious reasons—probably spends more money, as a percentage of GNP, on defence than any other nation.

At worst, the GNP argument is totally misleading, because our NATO allies do not have the same commitments and their defence budgets are not calculated on the same basis. This argument is always deployed in such a manner as to claim that we should reduce our expenditure to the level of our allies. It always implies a sort of Dutch auction, with each ally edging his neighbour steadily downwards.

This is not an argument that its advocates would advance for any other form of public spending, except defence. How would it sound if it were applied to other fields? How would it sound if we argued that we should spend as little on hospitals or housing as do the Ruritanians? Apparently this argument has respectability only when it is deployed in relation to defence.

Worse even than the quality of the argument is its implications, and those are plain. We, the British, intend within NATO to spend the minimum of the minimum spent by our European partners. The balance we expect to be paid by "Big Daddy", in the shape of the United States. This attitude is not lost in the United States. Recently I had the pleasure and the privilege of meeting in Washington members of the United States Armed Forces Committee. They were quite rightly scathing about the contribution made by their European allies to NATO. They resented, again quite rightly, the suggestion that the United States should ultimately bear the burden of European defence, because that is the gravamen of the GNP argument.

The second argument is a little more respectable and, in consequence, is used by what I might call the higher calibre of Labour Members of Parliament and Labour supporters. Whether such a man supports the present Government I am not prepared to say, taking up the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman). I use the word "calibre" as indicating the degree of interest in defence. That category of person at least pretends to show some concern in these matters. The argument adopted by those people is that cuts, reductions and slippages—because all three amount to the same thing, namely, an absence of men and weapons—affect only the tail as opposed to the teeth of the Army. That is not borne out by the facts in the White Paper, although as an argument it sounds all right. It was the argument of the great once-and-for-all review embarked upon by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason)—when Secretary of State for Defence. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, I think that he believed in what he was doing at the time, as perhaps did some of his Service advisers. That involved a once-and-for-all review, a process of pruning. We cannot tell what the right hon. Gentleman and his Service advisers now think when the cuts have been imposed on the trunk and roots as well.

Recent correspondence in The Times—and Sir Michael Carver was one of the writers—seems to support the argument against what he and others called "the khaki bureaucrats". Yet anybody who has ever served in, or concerned himself with, the Armed Forces knows that it has always needed eight bodies in support and services to maintain one gunner, rifleman or tank crew member. That is a ratio that increases with each step taken towards sophistication in arms and equipment. Cut down on logistics and support and cut down on the bakers of bread, the postmen, transport and clerks—for some reason clerks are always criticised and get it in the neck—and one affects the efficiency of the whole Army. Even the toughest and most intrepid young man, who answers all the requirements in current advertisements about "The Professionals", needs to be fed, clothed and—although he might not always believe it—administered. If that does not happen, that young man will rapidly become less battleworthy.

I turn to the third argument—the argument of last resort deployed by the Government. It ignores the facts of overstrain and overstretching, and brushes aside the problems of Service men and their families. Indeed, it was an argument no doubt used by politicians and bureaucrats at the time of the Crimean War. The argument could be described as "Rally round the flag, boys, or patriotism will be the last refuge of the scoundrel". It envisages an efficient and well-trained Army, which is quite true. It also envisages an Army with more combat experience than any other in Western Europe. That also is true, and is recognised by our European allies. It envisages that the men and women in our Army are keen, loyal and resourceful, some of the best products of their generation. That is all true, and these were arguments advanced by the hon. Members for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) and Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), who apparently have now left us.

All these arguments are, of course true. Service men and women are adaptable and courageous and in present circumstances they have need so to be. The argument is that they can take anything that a Labour Government can throw at them and manage to be efficient and cheerful, despite the cuts that have been imposed throughout the Services and despite the difficulties and strains under which they carry out their tasks. The argument is that with the traditional virtues of the British soldier down the ages they will make do despite the actions of an unsympathetic Government.

This leads me to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) might well call the "Silver Jubilee syndrome" because that is about the same argument. We are told "Look at these smart, efficient soldiers. Do not bother to count them, by the way, and do not investigate how efficient their equipment is compared with that of their possible enemy on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Look at these splendid chaps and please do not criticise."

I understand that the Prime Minister is about to make—or has perhaps already embarked on—a two-day visit to our troops in Germany. No doubt his chest will fill with pride and he will put on his nice avuncular smile, shake some hands and try to forget the severe blows to the efficiency and morale of the Army that his Government have delivered and — as I understand the policy of the Labour Party — will continue to deliver. Soft words of praise do not butter quite enough parsnips in this context.

I wish to give one example culled from Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Minister for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) spoke with expertise about Northern Ireland and I do not wish to trespass in any way on what I properly regard as his sphere, but the example is relevant and demonstrates graphically the problems of over-stretching that face of the British Army now. The example also demonstrates the speciousness of the argument that points to individual units doing their duty properly and that goes on to suggest that therefore all is right with the whole of the British Army.

The last time that I was in Northern Ireland I stayed with an engineer unit that had been taken from BAOR and that was acting in an infantry role in Belfast. The sappers were doing the job extremely well, certainly as well as the infantry and—if I dare say so—perhaps even better, because it was a change and a challenge for them to operate in that role. In talking to all ranks I found that they were pleased with their performance and they admitted frankly that it was something of a change from their task in BAOR—but acting as infantry is not their proper task. While that unit was in Northern Ireland the job for which those men were trained—which should have been carried out in the United Kingdom or in BAOR—went by default. To that extent our contribution to NATO was lessened.

The truth is that we need eight to 10 more infantry battalions or their equivalent to reduce the strain that has been imposed by the Irish situation on the present infantry, gunners and Armoured Corps soldiers and on those acting in an infantry role in the Province.

So much for the Government's three principal arguments—none of which is valid and none of which gives the true reason for the cuts imposed. The true reason—and this, I admit, has been said by Ministers—is economic necessity, but that is not the end of the story, because the economic necessity is of the Government's own making. The priorities are of their choosing. It has been said that Socialism is a matter of priorities and also that politics and Government are a matter of priorities. These are the priorities that the Labour Government have chosen. They could have chosen otherwise and abandoned a project for nationalisation, but this is their priority.

There can be no doubt that our contribution to the defence of Western Europe has been reduced. The Warsaw Pact nations have always had a numerical superiority in the conventional sphere, but they often had inferior equipment. They retain their numerical superiority and now possibly have superior weaponry as well. This is no longer cancelled out or even balanced by the air superiority of the West or the ultimate threat of overall nuclear deterrent predominance.

The increase in Soviet ground forces and the increased aggressive pattern of those forces is made admirably clear in the White Paper, yet the Government's response is to make our ground forces less capable of deterring or meeting that threat. This pattern has been revealed in successive White Papers; the dangers are clearly laid out, but the response is not only not relevant but totally inadequate.

I do not want to become too much of an amateur strategist, because we all tend to play that sort of game, but I understand that the scenario in Europe is that of the tank battle. I do not think that any defence expert would disagree with that assessment. All the anti-tank weapons and the support aircraft are there only to keep armoured divisions in business and to repel westward aggression.

What have the Government done to adapt BAOR to fulfil this rôle against the modernised and re-equipped Warsaw Pact forces, which have become almost totally mechanised under their recent reorganisation? The Government have tinkered about with the command structure and dished out one or two new names, and now claim to have reorganised the armoured divisions. These are now curiously balanced, with three infantry battalions with APCs—we need a new one, by the way—and not three, but two, armoured regiments equipped with Chieftains, which are not necessarily the most mechanically reliable tanks and do not have the fastest firing guns—as I know from personal experience.

The third square is filled by armoured reconnaissance regiments equipped with Scorpions. The span of command has been increased, and the Government say happily that no regiment has been disbanded, but the number of tanks—and numbers are important—has not increased. The reorganisation has been a paper exercise, and I cannot help thinking that it was designed to paper over the cracks. It is not an untypical Government reaction and manoeuvre.

This attitude and approach to defence has been exposed by the Second Report of the all-Party Expenditure Committee, which has said that it is not satisfied with the Secretary of State's assurances in a number of important areas. The right hon. Gentleman has promised a response, and I suppose that members of the Committee wait in hope.

Concern has been expressed by the Committee and by Labour Members on the Committee. Similar concerns have been expressed by our Allies—they were expressed to me when I visited Washington recently as a guest of the Western European Union—by senior Service officers, by every reputable defence and Service periodical that I can think of and in the Press.

It has also been expressed in a number of responsible television programmes—not pessimistic programmes, as suggested by at least one hon. Member today, but programmes put forward realistically by people who are rightly concerned and rightly worried. It has certainly been expressed by my own party, and it is a danger that has been underlined in the Government's own White Paper year by year, but without eliciting a reasonable response in Government action.

Continued reductions and cuts affect the morale and efficiency of a large group of our fellow citizens who make their career the defence of this country. Their loyalty and their efficiency can be relied upon, as we all know, but they are sometimes imposed on by Governments who do not look to their proper interests, and, indeed, seem to be indifferent to their arguments.

We therefore have the position that almost everyone concerned with defence is worried except, apparently, the Government and one or two others. The hon. Member for Blyth has left the Chamber, but I was going to use the expression "unreliable supporters" without necessarily indicating on which side of the House they might be found.

As I understand it, therefore, one must come to the conclusion that all the people that I have listed—all the people who are concerned with defence—must all be wrong, and that it is only the Government who are in step. Can it really be that only the Service Ministers, for the time being, have got the equation right and really understand the matter, and that all the rest of us who criticise are obsessed with pessimism? I really cannot think that that is true.

Quite frankly, if it were not tragic this situation would be comic. In a sense I have a certain sympathy for Service Ministers under a Socialist Government, left there all on their own, rather unhappily. Perhaps their only consolation—the only one that I can think of—is that now and then they manage to convince each other, because they convince no one else in this House or outside.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

The debate has centred round two principal issues—the Army's equipment and readiness, and operations and conditions of service in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I might deal with these first and then come on to such other points as hon. Members have raised in the course of the debate.

The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder), who has just resumed his seat, has made the plea which we have heard so many times from the Opposition Benches when the Conservative Party have been in Opposition. I refer to his plea to the Services that we are a set of baddies and that the Conservatives are a set of goodies. This plea is now seen as nonsense among Service men.

I made this precise point in a mess last week. The response I had from a brigadier with about 30 years' service was "Well, on balance, in my time we have probably done much better under Labour Governments than under Conservative Governments." He went on to say "The problem is"—if the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) can contain him- self I will come to the crunch line—"that the Conservatives are much better able to paper over the cracks than are the Labour Party." He added "What tends to emphasise the lack of agreement on defence is the fact that there is always a minority in your party which is not prepared to accept this, that or the other that the Government happen to be proposing."

We have had this constant prattle from the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour). The Opposition should not forget that the right hon. Gentleman is in fact Mr. Three-in-One, because he presided over three defence cuts in one year. At constant prices, they were far more vicious than the defence cuts over which we have presided since 1974.

Mr. Buck

If we made defence cuts which we should not have made—I might concede that there were some we should not have made—it makes stronger the case that there should not be cuts now on top of the cuts that we made. We have this argument about the Conservative Government having behaved badly. Perhaps they did. As a former Minister, I might concede that we should not have made so many defence cuts. But if we cut too far, it means that the Minister has much less excuse for making the cuts that he has put before the House.

Mr. Brown

My point is that people are judged by what they do, not by what they say. The Army is not slow to perceive that.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) mentioned certain equipments, decisions concerning which were criticised in the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee's recent report. I should like to deal with those matters in turn. The first is the RS80. It is true that there are no plans for the introduction of an area weapons system to fulfil the rôle envisaged for the RS80. Such a weapon would be extremely expensive, not least in terms of the logistic support required. However, the development of systems in the United States and France is being monitored.

The cancellation of the Vixen wheeled reconnaissance vehicle and reduction in the follow-on orders for the Sultan, Spartan and Samaritan tracked vehicles has meant that older vehicles—the Ferret and the FV430—will be kept in service longer than was originally planned. We are therefore carrying out a comprehensive series of improvements to these vehicles to ensure their continued effectiveness.

The delays in the introduction of the Milan stem from the need to take into account the results of the defence review, other guided weapons requirements of the Services and the negotiation of a memorandum of understanding which safeguarded the position of the British guided weapon industry and jobs in that industry. As I said in my opening speech, to ensure that the missile enters service rapidly, initial deliveries will be taken from the Franco-German consortium, Euromissile, later this year.

We place a very high priority on the requirements for HOT/TOW. An evaluation is now under way between the Franco-German HOT and the American TOW, and it is hoped to reach a decision in the next few months. Although we have been monitoring the development of HOT and TOW since 1969, I should make it clear that for much of that time they were in an early stage of development, initially as ground-based systems, and only in the later stages as helicopter-borne systems. Also, until 1975, our primary efforts were devoted to the Hawkswing system.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

Will the Minister explain why the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee was given an assurance in 1975 that Milan was available off the shelf?

Mr. Brown

The assurances then given were true, because it is coming from off the shelf.

Mr. Churchill

Two years ago.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman knows that it will be in service later this year.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) referred to a number of matters affecting the Chieftain main battle tank. Although we believe that the Chieftain is the best tank in the world, we are conscious of the need to ensure that it remains the best tank in the world.

There are a number of improvements to the Chieftain, either entering service or in the late stages of development. These include a laser sight and an improved fire control system to ensure that the effectiveness of its main armament is maintained. There has been a continuing series of improvements to the Chieftain engine in the last few years. As a result of trials in BAOR last year, further improvements will be introduced later this year which will, I hope, increase the reliability of the engine.

Mr. Goodhart

The Government have said that they do not intend to fit the Chobham armour to the new Chieftains coming along. Will the Chobham armour be fitted to any vehicles in the British Army?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman has not been listening. I have not suggested that there will be any new Chieftains coming along. I said that we intended to uprate the existing Chieftains. The question of Chobham armour on any new Chieftains coming along does not arise. However, the Chobham armour point will arise on a future main battle tank.

Although the current Chieftain gun is highly successful—and its potential was demonstrated in the recent gun trials in the United States—we are already developing an improved version and improved ammunition.

The tank which we are developing for Iran is an improved version of the Chieftain tank and is highly effective in its planned rôle. But it would not be suitable for the British Army and operations in North-West Europe. However, as I said earlier, studies are already under way on a tank to replace the Chieftain in the late 1980s.

I turn next to Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) made a number of thought-provoking statements about the future rôle of the Army in Northern Ireland in the years to come. They were echoed by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not follow those hon. Members down all the paths which they tried to explore.

The first comment that I make is that I do not share the apparent pessimism voiced by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East and by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough about the progress that we are making in dealing with violence in Northern Ireland, especially from the Provisional IRA. I can see some hopeful signs that we are making real headway. Most of the indicators of violence—for example, the statistics of deaths and injuries caused by terrorists—show a downward trend compared with corresponding periods for earlier years. I make no attempt to gloss over the continuing toll of suffering, but we must not let this blind us to the real progress that we are making. Significant arrests and convictions of terrorists continue to be made. The effectiveness of the police continues to increase.

The strength of our present policy is that it rests on the law—on criminals being caught and convicted of criminal acts proved beyond reasonable doubt in open court. We are convinced that we will succeed in bringing a final end to violence. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we will pursue this policy with the utmost vigour. We will continue to pursue the terrorist through the courts, we will actively foster co-operation between the police and the Army, and we will build up the full-time strength of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The hon. Member for Beckenham raised this point in particular. As I told the House originally, we look on the expansion of 200 as a first instalment, and we will be looking at the prospects for the timing and size of any further expansion in the light of progress with the initial increase.

In response to a point made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East, I emphasise that this increase will not mean any change in the relationship of the UDR with the RUC or in the basic nature of the force, which will remain a regiment of the British Army—a regiment which is making a most valuable contribution to the security of Northern Ireland based on the hard work and devotion to duty of both its part-time and its full-time members.

It has been suggested that there should be a bomb disposal clasp for the Northern Ireland medal. I listened with appreciation to the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Beckenham to the selfless devotion to duty and the bravery of those who have to undertake the defusing and disposal of terrorist bombs, and I am sure that the whole House endorses that tribute and acknowledges the debt owed to these brave men by the people of Northern Ireland. However, we must be careful that we do not, by invidious comparisons, belittle the bravery of all our soldiers in whatever form their engagement with terrorism takes, brought painfully to mind by the high price being paid by all units in lives lost and injuries suffered.

Members of bomb disposal teams are, of course, included in the half-yearly gallantry awards for service in Northern Ireland. I get lists of recommendations on my desk, and I am never surprised when I see recommendations for members of the bomb disposal squads. They feature frequently in the gallantry awards for Northern Ireland, and I think that that is the best way in which to recognise their excellent and gallant service.

I was grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) for the tribute he paid to the way in which our soldiers in Northern Ireland are carrying out their difficult and dangerous tasks. I appreciate the interest of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his Sub-Committee in the welfare of soldiers serving there, both in the financial problems that some of them face and in the many other aspects of welfare which are very important in maintaining the morale of the Army. I shall be very interested to receive the comments of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee on the financial aspects of Army service in Northern Ireland. I value the support and interest of other hon. Members who have expressed their concern on this subject. I shall take account of all these views when I examine the report for which I have called as a matter of urgency.

It is fair to say that the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) was long on the problem and short on solutions. The question he posed was an over-simplification of a complex and many-sided problem. I can only assume that he hopes to make some party point by asking it, because, clearly, he could not expect me as a Defence Minister to give him a straight "Yes" or "No" answer now to a complex issue. He knows well enough that the issue is extremely complex. I have said that I am looking at the problem urgently, and I am not prepared to go any further than that tonight. That is a reasonable approach on a matter which has so many potential repercussions, both on Army pay and conditions under the pay policy and on the pay policy itself.

Mr. Mates


Mr. Brown

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I must forewarn him that I have no intention of going further than that tonight.

Mr. Mates

I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to me. I conceded at the beginning that any review of the pay structure was a very complex matter. I said that I disagreed in detail with one or two remarks which had been made about there being a simple solution. There is no simple solution. But if the hon. Gentleman has briefed an inquiry to look into the question of the financial conditions of service in Ulster, surely at the heart of any inquiry is the fundamental question I asked—and it is a simple question. Are the Government determined that no soldier shall suffer a financial penalty as a result of service in Ulster? Surely the Government Front Bench, full of Defence Ministers, can give an answer to that now.

Mr. Brown

No, I am going no further, as I warned the hon. Member. We have to look at the issues long and coolly. If the hon. Member reads the report tomorrow, he will realise that I chose my words very carefully when talking about what should be done and what could be done when we get the report. I do not want to repeat myself, but he knows well enough that we do not know any more than he or any other hon. Member does what will follow phase 2.

Mr. Mates

Surely every hon. Member in the House can see that it has nothing to do with phase 2, 3, 4 or 5 or anything else. We are not talking about pay rises. We are talking about compensation for penalties. Surely the Minister can concede that principle.

Mr. Brown

That shows the mistake of giving way to hon. Members. The hon. Member for Petersfield is oversimplifying the issue. Allowances are all part of pay policy. He must understand that. Some simple statements have been trotted out and people have suggested "We can increase this by x or that by y." The hon. Member for Beckenham made one of these points when he said "Reduce the rents." The hon. Gentleman knows that under the present policy, if we reduce rent by £X per week, that will have to be reflected in the ultimate settlement this year for the forces. There is no point in giving with one hand and taking away with the other, which is what the hon. Member for Beckenham was really suggesting.

Hon. Members have ranged far and wide tonight, so I think that I should best leave the subject of Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough raised the subject of offset. The maintenance of British forces in Germany involves us in substantial foreign exchange costs, with a corresponding benefit to the German economy. That is why we think it right that there should be some offsetting arrangement between ourselves and the Germans. We remain in touch with the German Government, and both sides are confident that with time a satisfactory solution will be reached.

I am sure that the House would not expect me to divulge the details of delicate negotiations such as those. As I have said, we are confident that a satisfactory conclusion will be reached. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) that we have no plans to reduce our forces in Germany in advance of an agreement on mutual balanced force reductions. British forces are stationed in Germany not solely for the defence of the Federal Republic, but as part of NATO's strategy of forward defence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has apologised in advance for not being able to listen to my reply because he is having dinner with General Haig, and no doubt he is asking him some awkward questions.

Mr. Churchill

He might learn something.

Mr. Brown

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Stretford was not at the dinner. He might have learnt something too.

My hon. Friend raised questions about our ability to deter the Warsaw Pact and bring the British Army on the Rhine to its war-time strength. First, there is no evidence to suggest that deterrence is failing or that the Warsaw Pact is contemplating aggression. Although sudden attack cannot be ruled out, and the state of preparedness of the Alliance is kept under continuous review to ensure that NATO cannot be caught off its guard, we think that it is far more likely that a period of warning would be available.

Our reinforcement plans are also kept under review, and they include arrangements to return individuals out of the theatre on leave and training. I would like to remind the House that we are committed to returning units from BAOR deployed to Northern Ireland within 72 hours in a period of tension.

On our war stocks. I would only say that these are consistent with NATO requirements.

The House will not expect me to go into detail about warning time. However, simple military indicators are not the sole guide of national intentions, and the NATO Alliance believes that we will have a period of warning. The state of preparedness of NATO is kept continually under review. We have achieved improvements in our reinforcement times for BAOR and are studying how to improve them still further.

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye mentioned his visit to Marchwood military port and the desirability of making early progress on its modernisation. This is a complex plan which has to be considered in both an operational and an economic context. In the current financial climate, with cut-backs in works expenditure in particular, delays have been unavoidable, but we are pressing ahead with the planning of this redevelopment. Current plans envisage that work on the first state of the redevelopment will begin in the period of 1980–85.

My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough and the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glynn) mentioned the problem that some soldiers face in finding council housing when they leave the Army. I recognise that this causes difficulties for some soldiers, and advice on housing forms an important part of the advice which is available to soldiers before their discharge.

My Department also maintains close liaison with the Department of the Environment, which has issued a circular asking local authorities to give sympathetic consideration to soldiers applying to them for housing. I recognise that local authorities have many demands on the housing they provide, and I much appreciate that many of them are extremely co-operative and sympathetic to applications from ex-Servicemen. I regret, however, that other councils are not and that they place impossibly high residential demands on service men, an attitude which I deplore and which I use every pressure at my disposal to to diminish.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), in spite of the views he might take on defence, is certainly a doughty fighter for his constituents, and these include ex-Service men. He raised with me the sad case of a man who had spent many years in the Army and who was leaving it at the end of his time. The Epping Forest Council told him that he must have a residential qualification of two years before he could go on to the housing waiting list.

That is nothing short of outrageous. It is a damned nonsense. I hope that councils which insist on that type of residential qualification will realise that even if a man has 22 years' service it is almost a physical impossibility for him to meet a residential qualification of two years in order to go on a waiting list.

Mr. Lipton

Treatment of Service men on release from the Services varies considerably between one local authority and another. There is no uniformity of treatment.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful for that intervention. I understand fully the grave difficulties facing many housing authorities. They should, however, be able to come to some civilised arrangement by which a man can opt, two years before leaving the Service, for an area in which he wishes to take up residence.

The hon. Member for Beckenham and the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead inquired about our progress in implementing the Spencer Report. Although the Army Board has rejected Professor Spencer's proposal for an Army social work service, we are taking steps to test all practical alternatives. We hope to run two one-year pilot schemes. One would assess the possibility of expanding the existing Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Families Association to enable it to take on some of the tasks envisaged by the Committee for an Army social work service. The other would examine ways of improving links with local authority social services departments. Eventually, a combination of those two approaches may meet the Army's needs.

Discussions on these two schemes are continuing. In particular, good progress is being made on the second of them. More generally, as I announced in November last year, some of the committee's other recommendations have already been implemented or are in hand. Those that have implications for all three Services are being studied further. I am happy that we are adopting a positive, practical and pragmatic approach to the problems that Professor Spencer's valuable work has highlighted.

As the hon. and learned Member for Colchester knows, I have corresponded long and earnestly with him on the question of the Colchester Military Hospital. I repeat that the hospital is not cost effective. It is too small to gain recognition for postgraduate medical training, and junior doctors cannot be posted there. The volume of clinical work is less than the consultants who have to work there are used to, and they do not have the accustomed support of junior housemen. Running costs are also extremely substantial.

We have to take our decision in the light of what will best meet the needs of Service men and their families. We did, however, consult the Department of Health and Social Security about the closure, and we offered the NHS authorities the use of the hospital for civilians. They told us that the existing hospital building cannot be adapted for NHS use at a reasonable cost.

With the best will in the world, one might well question the amount of expenditure carried on the Defence Vote in the name of the health, education and welfare services, and I would question whether, on reflection, any hon. Member could really say that it is any duty of the Defence Vote to carry the cost of providing what, in effect, would be a National Health Service hospital.

This hospital was offered on a plate to the health authority in the area, but it is not prepared to take it. Having said that, I fail to see why, with the best will in the world, I personally should receive the big stick that I have received from the Colchester area. I should have thought that the Colchester people would be better served by getting on to the members of the area health authority than by making rude remarks about the present incumbent of the post of the Minister responsible for the Army.

Mr. Buck

It is unfair for the Minister to suggest that I have been rude to him, but I am now frightfully tempted to do so. He spoke about getting the big stick. Big mistakes need the big stick, as everyone in the area, irrespective of political party, agrees.

Mr. Brown

I do not think that we have time to argue this further this evening. I have consumed much of the time of the House, and I regret that I have still been unable to deal with the whole range of points raised. I thank the House for taking this opportunity to debate the subject so soon after the recent defence debate. I think that it is a compliment which, I assure hon. Members, the Services fully deserve.

9.53 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Harper (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Mr. Mates

With the leave of the House, I apologise for coming back to a point—

An Hon. Member


Mr. Mates


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that someone shouted "No". No one may speak without the leave of the House. One refusal is enough to stop an hon. Member from speaking again, and one hon. Member has said "No".

Mr. Mates

I asked for leave to speak again.

Mr. Speaker

It was refused.

Mr. Mates


Mr. Speaker

Order. An hon. Member shouted "No". I am sorry, but the hon. Member may not speak again.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Ian Gow, to raise a point of order.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Gow

I did not rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I rose to contribute to the debate.

The first thing that I wish to do is to comment upon the astonishing speech of the Minister. It was within your hearing, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister said that there were a number of points that he had not covered in his reply, and then, to our astonishment, at about seven minutes before 10 o'clock he sat down.

This is an astonishing confession even for the present Government, and even for this Minister. He says that he has left many points unanswered, and then, without answering them, and with a great deal of time to spare, he resumes his seat. He did so in the presence of the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence for the Liberal Party. What kind of impression will this make upon the Liberal Party? Will it not put in peril the terrible alliance that was disclosed to the House by the Prime Minister on 23rd March? Perhaps, with the leave of the House, the Liberal Party Shadow Secretary of State for Defence would like to address us on this subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) asked the Under-Secretary of State specific questions about Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman failed to answer them, even though there was time. The House would willingly give him leave to answer them now, and if the Minister indicates that he would like me to give way to him so that he may answer my hon. Friend, I shall gladly resume my seat. But, of course, the Minister will not do that. He was gravely embarrassed, because there was still time but he did not know what to say to my hon. Friend. As we have had no reply from the Minister, it is reasonable that I should put to him again the forceful arguments adduced by my hon. Friend.

Members of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland are serving under a grievous penalty. Three years ago the Government introduced the special payment of 50p a day for all members of the Armed Forces serving in Northern Ireland. The Minister will confirm that today the value of that 50p is in excess of 80p. Why do not the Government do that which they know they should do, namely, restore—

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made clear that pay and allowances are considered together under pay policy. These matters are before the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. I agree that 50p on 1st April 1974 will be worth 82p, or something like that, today, but the hon. Gentleman might reflect on how much the Conservative Government paid from 1970 to February 1973, when our troops were fighting in Northern Ireland. That figure, if zero, would still be zero.

Mr. Gow

The Secretary of State is getting himself into hot water with his hon. Friends in the Liberal Party, because he has put forward a most disreputable and discreditable argument. He is sheltering behind the review body.

The Government have it in their power to put right a grievous injustice, namely, the steady erosion, because of the inflation over which the Secretary of State and his Government have been presiding, of the value of the 50p. The matter could be put right. The right hon. Gentleman is sheltering behind the review body because he has not the guts to do that which he knows he should do, namely, remedy this injustice for our Service men.

Mr. Mates

I remind my hon. Friend, who has kindly allowed me to intervene, that the Secretary of State has got it wrong. We are not talking about the Armed Forces review. I tried to make the matter clear in a non-partisan and reasonable way. We are talking about a situation that is special and different. All that I was asking the Secretary of State to say was that he would abide by the principle that no one would suffer a financial penalty for serving in Ulster. If the Secretary of State cannot answer, he should not be the Secretary of State.

Mr. Gow

If my hon. Friend wishes me to give way again so that he may make a further intervention, I shall gladly do so.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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