HC Deb 01 February 1980 vol 977 cc1731-827 9.35 am
Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

I beg to move,

That this House, noting the successive acts of military aggression organised by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, culminating in the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, remarking the growing domination of Soviet policy by the largest military and armaments machine in history, and believing that now and over the next decade the greatest danger to world peace lies in the hesitancy of a sustained Western military and diplomatic response, calls upon the Government as a preliminary and minuimal act of prudence to enrol the youth and the skills of the nation by a registration by law of those eligible for national or military service. I hope that the House will bear with me on this occasion if I stick closely to my notes. I usually make short speeches without much use of notes. It strikes me that in opening the assembly of this honourable House at 9.30 am it would be appropriate to end prayers with the first line of the Star-Spangled Banner, which says: Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light". I hope that those hon. Members who have the chance to come here will listen to what I have to stay.

This is neither a bellicose motion nor one calling for the immediate reintroduction of the previous form of national service. What it asks for is the first payment of an insurance policy—that, and no more. It asks that those eligible and considered suitable by the Government for national military service should register.

I am not asking the House of Commons or the Government for a blank cheque. It is not even financially a very expensive premium to pay, considering the £8,000 million being spent on defence today. In the United States, President Carter feels that £5 million would bring the United States national registers for the draft up to date. All I am asking is that we in this country carry out what President Carter has requested of his people—a register by law of those who can be key to the defence of the realm. It is far less than is demanded by the Governments of any of our European allies where conscription is a fact.

Having Listened to statements by Ministers and by the Leader of the Opposition, there is no need for me to amplify what has been said here or in the United Nations about the nature of the invasion of Afghanistan. A most alarming sign of the times, which may well become more apparent over the next few months, is the rising dominance in the Soviet Politburo of those responsible for the armed forces and for the armaments industry inside the Soviet Union.

My fear—and it is not just my fear—is that in modern Russia the enormous military and armaments machine not only dominates the economy but is beginning to dominate the political thinking. Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. There is now a momentum that is more alarming and more sustained than the late Adolf Hitler's drive to war.

There was always a chance that the general staff, Krupp, Thyssen and the industrialists, could turn upon the dictator; on more than one occasion they nearly did so. Figures show that it was only in 1939–40 that German rearmament rose to a crescendo. In 1935, German armament was only 1.4 per cent. of the gross domestic product. In 1936 it actually dropped to 1.3 per cent. But now, in the bunkers of the Soviet Praesidium—to use the Hitlerian analogy—we have an OKH, an OKW and an industrial national gessellschaft ruthlessly and infrangibly combined. Never before in human history have a group of men been so conscious that if they do not hang together they will hang separately.

What is alarming about Russian rearmament is that because of the system it is totally inflexible and more and more voracious, taking about 12 per cent. of the Russian gross domestic product and increasing that take annually by about 5 per cent.

I am not, I hope, making an ideological point: I am stating a fact. Where politics and not profit dominates, there is no flexibility.

In the United States of America—a country that, industrially, is infinitely stronger than the Soviet Union—if a company does not get an order for tanks or aeroplanes it turns over to making white goods, or its labour force finds other jobs. Air photographs show—and reports confirm—that in the Soviet Union there is a steady, relentless expansion of war factories, with labour forces tied to those factories and commissars involved with those factories. For those commissars, in their privileged position, the means and making of death have become a way of life.

Dr. Kissinger said that "in history the juggernauts of relentless military and armament expansions move inexorably towards states of war"—or something like that. My fear is that, unless it is checked, the Soviet juggernaut will find its appetite in eating, and in an unstable world the menu seen from the Kremlin must be extensive, to say the least.

These considerations are the first reason for my bringing these proposals before the House. The second is what one might call the credibility or deterrent aspect of what I am proposing. The old Chinese military adage, "When in danger let generals put out more flags", is no longer valid for the dangerous decade that lies ahead.

What is needed is not the temporary cutting off of grain supplies or diplomatic relations, or the boycotting of one Olympic Games, but an adequate and enduring response by the West, and by ourselves in particular. Let it be remembered that to play the hawks one needs two essential characteristics of those birds—talons, however neatly sheathed, and vision.

I hope that the Government will accept the motion. It is the quickest—and indeed the cheapest—means by which we can show our allies and our enemies that we are serious people. What I propose is not an act of hysteria. I am asking the Government to take the first step so that they will have available the knowledge and the means for the effective direction of manpower, should the international situation deteriorate and demand it. Far from being aggressive, what I propose is a minimal act of prudence. Using the technical military jargon of the day, bringing this forward now would mean that the telescoping of our reaction time—a shortening of seven or eight months to a situation of near-immediate civil response to a state of national and international alert. Those who are engaged in the game of deterrence will know what an important matter that is.

I notice that in the United States, Senator Kennedy has attacked the President, declaring that registration would merely offer a solid paper wall of data print-outs. I believe that the senator is wrong. Until the data is available, the Government—and the argument applies also to our own Government—are largely in the dark as to what manpower resources they have available.

But where the senator and those who will oppose me here are especially wrong is in regarding this as a response to one Soviet action. It is not. We face a chilling decade, and it is best to take action before that decade becomes more chill. I know that there are some in this House who may say that this is a sign that will make the cold war position worse.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)


Mr. Fraser

I know that the hon. Gentleman will be speaking in that sense. All I would say is that if in 1937 or 1938, rather than in April 1939, Prime Minister Chamberlain had brought forward the Militia Bill for the registration of our youth, Hitler and certainly the general staff might have had second thoughts. On that grim April day in 1939, Chamberlain said Nothing would so impress the world with the determination of this country to offer a firm resistance to any attempt at general domination as its acceptance of the principle of compulsory military service, which is the universal rule of the Continent. I believe that that principle has been accepted by this House of Commons. The question is whether what I propose is not just relevant politically—which clearly it is—but is militarily necessary.

I turn to why I believe that Government action is now necessary to pay this small premium. That can be best shown by considering this effectiveness of the major insurance that we are now paying—a military budget running at £8,000 million a year. I ask the House to concentrate on the manpower aspects of that budget and to disregard equipment for the moment, although noting that we have had to borrow American Air Force Argosies to fly our own Puma helicopters to Rhodesia.

The most obvious fact is that between 1970 and 1980 the total of our forces has dropped by about 200,000 men and women—from 768,000 to 592,000. Our reserves—as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a leading figure in the Territorial Army, will know—haveremained in the area of 200,000 overall. That must be set against the reserves of two neutral countries. Sweden can field over 500,000 and Switzerland can field about 600,000. There are even more serious shortcomings within the figures. There is a shortage of technicians. There is a shortage of reserves. There is a shortage of men to meet either changing circumstances in Britain's defence or, judging from our stance on foreign policy, the making up of a force for action outside Europe.

The problem of technicians as opposed to fighting men—of course, the fighting man is the technician—is common to all voluntary armed forces in the free world. Military remunerations cannot compete with those afforded in civilian life. Hence the recent cry of despair from the chief of naval staff in the United States to the President asking that the draft be brought back.

Let us take three examples nearer home. What is the position of the Royal Army Medical Corps? Few, if any, operations in BAOR are carried out by British doctors; they are, rather, carried out by German civilian surgeons working under contract. It is impossible to hold that level of medical skill on the pay that is offered.

Secondly, I draw the attention of the House to a recent article by the military correspondent to The Times, reporting the number of Her Majesty's ships either immobilised or mothballed by shortages of artificers and other skilled personnel.

Thirdly, I draw the attention of the House to the shortage of pilots in the Royal Air Force. With great respect to the courage of these pilots, the modern pilot flying a plane supersonically is as much a technician as an air ace. With these groups of people, there is no way in which their technical skills can be rewarded by scales of pay for simple soldiers, sailors and airmen of whatever rank, military skill or courage. That is the first problem, and it is an extremely difficult one to meet.

For my second example there is the problem of the provision of manpower for a more aggressive or, shall we say, globally defensive foreign policy. If we claim—as we seem to—that there are vital global interests that we must either defend or support, I consider it necessary for us to be able to field at least one assault brigade.

Thirdly, there is the problem of manpower for the defence of this country. As we all know, at the first sign of an alert most of the troops in Britain will leave for BAOR. We shall be left here with between 100,000 and 160,000 soldiers to look after a population of 56 million. I do not know how many fighter aircraft we have today, but when the previous Labour Government were in office we had 76. No provision seems to have been thought through to deal with the new strength of Russian airborne forces. We have seen them in operation in Afghanistan and South Yemen. It is clear that there is a minimum of nine air-transportable airborne divisions. Apart from this, there are three obvious new problems that have arisen since 1970.

First, there is the question of civil defence. If we are proposing to station American cruise missiles in this country, I believe that the population will ask, and rightly ask, for civil defence to be given full military priority, certainly in those areas where such weapons are stationed. Secondly, there is the question of defending our North Sea oil and gas installations. We know that in the next few years 40 per cent. of our oil will be flowing through the Sullom Voe terminal. Thirdly, there is the remaining military problem of Northern Ireland, which does not go away. At a time of crisis it could absorb not the three battalions thought of in the 1970s but the 13 that it is now using.

Finally, I hope that the Secretary of State for Defence will be able to assure us of the effectiveness of the existing reserves. The sixth report of the Expenditure Committee of the 1977 Session—HC.393—threw grave doubt on the effectiveness of their planning and even the availability of those registered on the reserves. There has been some improvement, but the criticisms contained in the report do not seem, on the whole, to have been fully met.

These are serious problems. They cannot be brushed aside by professional advisers to the Secretary of State for Defence saying that these preparations are all that can be afforded. We live in an age that, I fear, will continue to be dominated by philosophers of Germanic extraction. When dealing with these considerations, however, neither Karl Marx nor Professor Milton Friedman would be so important as men such as Major-General Professor von Clausewitz. The Government must face the fact that what is proposed is inadequate and is known to be inadequate. Action must be taken.

First, it is up to the Government to ascertain the facts. That is what my proposal for registration means. Let us be realistic. Even if, tomorrow, something such as the Militia Act were introduced by the Government, it would take several months to become effective. To register even one age group without a total upset of the employment exchange machinery would take about six months.

However, the Government have more work to do than that. They will have to take certain decisions on reserve occupations in a period of national emergency. Secondly, there are specifically needed categories of technician that cannot be fulfilled from existing reserves. That is quite a large and complicated problem, which will have to be worked out thoroughly. Thirdly, the Government will have to give their consideration to civil defence proposals. Lastly, if there is to be a wider call-up, consideration must be given to the system or type of training that might be necessary for conscripts if they are to be called forward.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

My right hon. Friend talks about manpower. Bearing in mind the increased role played by women in the armed forces not only of Britain but of countries such as Israel, is he suggesting that women should be part of the programme that he envisages?

Mr. Fraser

I am talking about men and women in the reserves. I am using the term "manpower" for shortness. Perhaps I should be talking about person power. Perhaps that would meet my hon. Friend's objection.

Let us remember that from Sweden to Switzerland there are at least 10 variations on the way in which persons can be trained in military arts. It is not necessary that we go back to the concept that flowed previously in this country. My proposal is the first and, I think, the only effective methodological instrument for enabling the Government to decide on the establishment of national service—should it be necessary—whether of a military, paramilitary or civilian sort.

To bring forward legislation would have various side effects. It might be unpopular, but I rather doubt that. We are a serious people who would, on the whole, accept the need for legislation. One side effect would be to stimulate recruitment and expansion of the voluntary services—that is, the TA and Naval and Air Force Auxiliary Reserves.

On a lighter note, I remember that after the introduction of the Militia Bill in May 1939 there was a positive rush to the Colours by young men from Oxford, and even from Balliol. I think that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was among those who rushed forward, upsetting some of his Left-wing colleagues.

My dear ex-father-in-law, Lord Long ford, rushed to the Colours, remembering, I suppose, the First World War song: Bloody conscript soldiers, Marching on to war, You would not be conscripts Had you gone before. Unfortunately, the present position is as serious as, if not more serious than, it was in 1939.

It is no use the Minister's saying that these problems could be met by more recruitment to the TA. The problems that threaten Britain are too profound for that. A few more men in the TA would not meet our needs. I hope that my motion will open a broad debate on the issues that Britain faces, and the problem of adequate defence. The motion asks only for a register.

About four years ago I made it clear to the House in a defence debate—needless to say, I received no answer—that an all-party committee should be established to study the problem of national service, of whatever form. I still stand by that.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend's approach. The new Select Committee on defence might be able to take advantage of considering that matter. Would that not be one solution to the problem?

Mr. Fraser

That would be a useful first use of that powerful Committee. My main resolution should still stand on the need for registration. Let the Committee decide what use could be made of the manpower.

I believe that in the years to come the expense of military equipment will mean that we shall have to look more closely at the vast expanse of an all-volunteer force, which, to put it crudely, looks after more women and children than soldiers and is unable to meet the demands of the superlative technicians. That is a grim thought, but one that, in the years ahead, must be considered.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I am not sure that I understand my right hon. Friend's last few words. Will he expand on them?

Mr. Fraser

I have spoken for long enough, but I will expand readily. The share of the defence budget that is spent on looking after dependants amounts to about 60 per cent. of the budget, leaving40 per cent. to be spent on equipment. If the cost of manpower can be reduced, obviously there is more to spend on equipment. It is a simple point. One physical example, to quote Professor Foot, is that the employment of one soldier in 1958, worked out on a world scale, was $1,500. Today, the employment of that soldier in our service would be about $10,000. Conscription is cheaper than paying voluntary soldiers.

Mr. Onslow

I understand from my hon. Friend's remarks that it would be cheaper to conscript bachelors than to pay soldiers who are married and have families.

Mr. Fraser

Very few of the soldiers of the Soviet Army have wives and dependants. It is a simple point, but perhaps a difficult one for my hon. Friend to understand. That could be the area into which defence is moving. I am sure that it is something that Britain would have to consider one day.

I am a firm believer that defence must be integrated with the national will, and that a citizen or people's army is by far the best means to defend our country and our liberties.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

Earlier today my right hon. Friend referred to civil defence. Does he not agree that civil defence would have the impetus towards a national will that he has described?

Mr. Fraser

That would be a useful and necessary function. It is not civil defence only that has to be dealt with. Imagine what would happen if there were a state of emergency in Britain. It is a key issue. I would like support for the concept of a citizen army, without privilege, caste or class. Perhaps it is not totally inappropriate, in the House in the year 1980, to look back to the Army debate at Putney in 1647, and the remark of that strange Cromwellian, Vice-Admiral Thomas Rainborowe: The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he". In the age of the deterrent and an age of the threat to world peace, I believe that to involve the people is the most profound and absolute base of a nation's defence.

I apologise to the House for having spoken for so long. I end with one further quotation, which I hope is written across the desk of the Secretary of State for Defence. It comes from Vegetius, in the fifth century, when the barbarians were not only at, but within the very gates: Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum";

10.9 am

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Listening to the peroration of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), I wondered whether he was making a delicate approach for membership of the Tribune Group when he quoted Rainborowe.

I wish to make it clear that I speak not as the chairman of the foreign affairs group of the Parliamentary Labour Party, but purely for myself. I oppose the motion stridently. If it is any consolation to the right hon. Gentleman, my speech will be as displeasing to the Russians as it will be to him.

We are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for raising an important subject. I have no doubt that his feelings are the tip of an iceberg. We are also indebted to him for the phrase "person power". That is one that some of us will treasure. However, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman's motion is ill-timed, ill-conceived, ill-informed and irresponsible.

Mr. Hugh Fraser


Mr. Dalyell

Let us understand that very often the Right can be quite as irresponsible as the Left is sometimes supposed to be. Indeed, I think that this is an example of the irresponsibility of the Right.

This debate would not have taken place at all—or at least, it would not have taken place seriously—had it not been for the events in Afghanistan. Some of us believe that the very act of drawing up a register would be one more milestone along the road to a position in which the nations of the world could easily slide into an unwanted war over Afghanistan. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that his motion is a minimal act of prudence. It is a great deal more than that.

I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that in the motion there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what current events in Afghanistan are about. In fact, by doing this I challenge the whole premise of the motion. I make it clear that I do not think that the Red Army should be in Afghanistan—for very similar reasons to those which lead me to believe that the British Army should not be in Northern Ireland [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] But no one says that the British Army, by being in Northern Ireland, in Ulster, is trying to set out on world domination. By the same token, there are some of us who believe that the Russians are not trying to dominate the world or make steps in that direction, even towards oil, by being in Afghanistan. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the date that he should choose is not 1937, 1938 or 1939, but, in the opinion of some of us, 1969—when this House agonised over whether to send the Army into Ireland.

I start with what I believe to be an essential and crucial fact, which is that the new factor that prompted Moscow, in its actions in Afghanistan, is the gradual realisation that intellectual elites have grown up in the central Asian States of the Soviet Union who believe, rightly or wrongly, that they can run things in Soviet Asia rather better than can the men in Moscow.

We have, for example, the capital of Uzbekistan, now a city of 2 million, in Tashkent. There are elites there who see—rightly, probably—that the Soviet Central Asian republics are the disadvantaged parts of the Soviet Union. Indeed, what Afghanistan is about is the internal problems of the Soviet empire.

Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

Devolution problems—what else?

Mr. Dalyell

Very much so. Precisely. I take the hon. Member extremely seriously. Part of the reason for the speech that I make is the obsession on my part, which I admit, about devolution problems and about central Governments handling minority peoples. That is what it is about. The only difference is that Tashkent is about 5,000 miles from Moscow and Edinburgh is 400 miles up the shuttle or up the railway line. There are differences. But, as a Scot who has taken part in the devolution problems, this is precisely what prompts me to display the interest that I do.

I am not alone in this view. I owe something of an intellectual debt to Professor John Erikson of Edinburgh. I put it on record that I gather that it is the Romanian view, for example, that a lot of Afghanistan is about the problems of the southern half of the Soviet Union contiguous with Asia. But by background, putting oneself, as I think one must, in the shoes of these bewildered men in the Kremlin, they have had number one fiasco in Egypt with the Muslim world, and a second fiasco in Syria with the Muslim world, and whether, given their own internal situation, they can have a third fiasco in Afghanistan at least raises questions.

This is not a justification for the Red Army being in Afghanistan. It is a judgment that the kind of things that concern the right hon. Gentleman are in fact misplaced, and that, whatever else Afghanistan is about, it is not a reason for—I shall not say "getting into a panic", because all who know the right hon. Gentleman know that he is not a man who is given to panic, but at least this is about things different from calculated world aggression.

I ask the House just to look at a map. I refer to a map in Le Monde Diplotmatique of January 1979, giving the ethnic populations of Afghanistan. What do we find? We find that northern Afghanistan is populated by the Turkmens, the Uzbeks, the Tadjiks, and the Kirghiz peoples who straddle the border with the Soviet Union.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

I hope that as the hon. Gentleman develops his argument he will move beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan and how they relate to the Soviet Union's internal problems, and bring into his argument how Somalia, Egypt and Angola, and all the other peripheral areas in which we have seen aggression within the last year or two, fit in.

Mr. Dalyell

You of all occupants of the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are rightly concerned with motions, and the motion refers to Afghanisan. I would very willingly dilate on not so much Somalia but certainly South Yemen, and I do not think that I would stray out of order, but certainly my speech would be much longer than it should be. I refer to Afghanistan in detail because it appears in line 4 of the motion.

I point out that the facts are that in the south part of the Soviet Union there are on average five per family; on average, one and a half per family in Byelorussia, Moscow and Leningrad. The projections—and these are hardly beyond dispute—are that by the year 2000 there will be 100 million Muslims in the Soviet Union—that is one-third of the population—and not only Muslims, but Muslims with their own particular organisations in each state of the Soviet Union—this is not a global figure—are as critical of Moscow, and probably a great deal more so, as the Scottish National Party was of the Government in London.

I return to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). I think that it is highly relevant to draw the attention of the House, briefly, to the 1977 popula- tion figures. In the RSFSR—the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic—the birth rate was 13.8; the death rate was 10.2. In the Ukraine, for the same year, the birth rate was 14.7; the death rate was 10.5. In Byelorussia, the birth rate was 15.8; the death rate was 9.

Then we come to Georgia, where the birth rate was 17.8 and the death rate was 8. I have not been to Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan, but I did go on a science delegation to Georgia some 15 years ago. Anyone who has been to Tbilisi knows how the Georgians, who are a very charming and outgoing people, do not have great faith in the wisdom of "them" in Moscow. That was 15 years ago. I have not been to the Soviet Union for 15 years, but from all accounts, none the less, one gets the impression that the feelings of criticism have mounted far more powerfully than those of a decade and a half ago.

We then come to the borders of Afghanistan itself. In 1977 the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic had a birth rate of 34.2 per thousand and a death rate of only 7.7 per thousand. That represents a major population explosion, and the Turkmen people straddle the border with Afghanistan.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the gentlemen of the Kremlin are quite capable of managing death rates in areas of the Soviet Union if the birth rate seems to be a problem to them?

Mr. Dalyell

I do not see it that way. I take a different view of the sophistication and, indeed, humanity of the present occupiers of the Kremlin. There is no point in arguing this matter. I can say that the hon. Gentleman is a cold war warrior, and if he wishes he can say that I am naive and dewy-eyed. In any event, there is a difference of argument and judgment between us, and I hope that we can politely leave it on that basis.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a relative matter? If he means that the present occupants of the Kremlin are less oppressive in some respects than previous occupants, he is right. But, other than that, he cannot argue that the leaders of the Kremlin are starry-eyed idealists who are concerned about human rights and do not have labour camps, and so on, because that is not true.

Mr. Dalyell

I would not put myself into the ridiculous position of saying that the people in the Kremlin are starry-eyed idealists. But, in fairness to me, the point that was put was that they would manage the population explosions of the Muslim world. I do not believe that they go in for any kind of operation such as that, even had they the power to do so. Some of us very much doubt how far the power of Moscow in some respects operates in the Soviet Central Asian republics at the present time.

I give the figures again—because they are highly relevant to Afghanistan—of the Tadzhik Soviet Socialist Republic. The birth rate is 36.5 per thousand and the death rate 8.8 per thousand. I understand from those who know about these things that in the capital of the Tadzhik Republic—Dushanbe—a city roughly the size of Edinburgh, there are elites who think that the Tadzhik area could be better run as a separate State than from Moscow. Here again, we come back to the devolution experience.

Crucially and most important, there is the issue of Uzbekistan. If one again refers to the ethnic map in Le Monde, Diplomatique one sees that the whole of north Afghanistan is Uzbek populated. There are roughly 10 million Uzbeks in Soviet Uzbekistan who absolutely straddle the border. The birth rate is 33.7 per thousand and the death rate 7.1 per thousand. To complete the picture, I had better say that in Kirghiz the birth rate is 30.2 per thousand and the death rate 8.2 per thousand. I am told that there are people in Frunze, the capital of that beautiful mountain area, who think that they ought to be a separate State.

In those circumstances, given that we ourselves were apparatchiks of a central Moscow Government, one wonders how we would start reacting. I suspect that the truth is that the central Government in Moscow are appallingly bothered by the rise of militant Islam on their borders on account of its effects inside Russia. Furthermore, as we all know, central Governments are not all that good when it comes to making rational decisions about minority peoples. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) will forgive me if I say as an aside, and I hope fairly lightheartedly, that if it is possible for my good senior colleagues to make the kind of mistake about the reactions of the Welsh—when there was an 8 per cent. vote for devolution in South Wales—it is certainly possible for central Governments in the Kremlin, who are far less enlightened than my senior colleagues, to make mistakes about their minority peoples.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that if the Soviets are worried about Islam the invasion of Afghanistan would not make that danger even greater?

Mr. Dalyell

That is a fair question. They thought they had to stop the rot. As I understand it, there was a third puppet Government in Afghanistan, because there is a 50-year relationship of great Soviet help to Afghanistan. They were a puppet Government, who have gone terribly sour. I shall not draw too close an analogy with Northern Ireland, but we all know the problems. The puppet Government have gone appallingly wrong, and 58,000 people had had their throats cut by them in four or five months before the Soviet Army went in. I am not saying that that in itself is a justifying reason, but we must face the fact that a sort of Pol Pot type situation was developing, and someone somewhere thought that the Russians had to do something to stop it. What does a white-skinned Politburo in Moscow do, faced with a cataclysmic prospect of the potential desire of certain Central Asian republics to hive off from Mother Russia?

Heaven knows, in the last decade, there were forces in Edinburgh that were strong enough in their endeavour to hive off Scotland from the British State. From personal experience, I know what a lot of this is about, because I have fought the chairman of the Scottish National Party at seven elections. I think it is a record in the "Guinness Book of Records" that never have two men fought each other for so long in British elections. It is because of that that I understand something of the motivation of the Soviets, which must be much stronger when the distances are that greater and the religion, colour and race are different from Scots and English.

Far from drawing the conclusions reached by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone I draw conclusions about the pressures in Tashkent to form a separate republic in Uzbekistan, the pressure in Frunze to form a separate republic in Kirghiz, the pressures in Dushanbe to form a separate Tadzhik republic and the pressures in Ashkhabad to form a separate Turkmen republic.

Coupled with all that—and here one is on contentious ground—some of us think that it is no less than a tragedy to compound the situation by the fact that SALT II seems to have been rejected by the United States. Here, again, I would expect nothing but boos and catcalls if that were the nature of the House of Commons on a Friday morning. But in cold blood I honestly believe that a great deal of the American response to Afghanistan has been about getting President Carter off a hook. It has been about Iowa, primaries in New Hampshire and caucus politics.

As we all know, in domestic politics when one is in a difficult situation—dare I say it, when one has problems such as the United States or problems such as the steel industry—it is very tempting for those at the highest level of central Government to raise great issues, take positions and posture on foreign affairs.

I do not think that the Russians imagined in the Kremlin in their wildest dreams that their action in Afghanistan would have this effect on the West. We are getting into a position of extremely dangerous talk. If we are not careful, we shall talk ourselves into a very dangerous position in the world. For example, I do not think that there is any intention of or threat to Pakistan. If there were, the Russians would have had 1 million men in Afghanisan, and we know that they have nothing like that.

I reiterate that it is my judgment, for what little it is worth, that the Red Army should not be in Afghanistan. But it is there, rightly or wrongly, to keep Mother Russia intact, rather than for world domination. That is very different from threatening Belgrade, let alone London. I believe that the Russians were sucked into Afghanistan just as we were sucked into Northern Ireland.

Above all—this is why I strongly oppose the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone—we are in danger of talking ourselves into a cold war. That is why I say, with all the force that I can, not that the right hon. Gentleman's motion is mischievous—he is not that sort of man—but that it is highly dangerous and highly irresponsible.

10.30 am
Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him at length in his travels through Soviet Central Asia. All I will say about the cast of his speech is that if he thought when he began there were bewildered men in the Kremlin, he should know that when he sat down there were bewildered men sitting closer to him than that. It was difficult to see precisely what he was driving at. For that reason, I do not want to take too much time analysing his arguments. I wish to turn to the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser).

I have no quarrel with my right hon. Friend's motion until I come to the final words. I must make it clear to him that I, and, for all I know, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, find it difficult to follow the line of logic that he sought to establish. As a member of the Select Committee on defence—I see that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is another member of that Committee, is present—I have to disappoint my right hon. Friend if he thinks that the subject of conscription and the use of manpower is likely to be high on the Committee's agenda in the immediate future.

Whereas my right hon. Friend may well be right—I think that he is—in his analysis of the threat, he has identified an inappropriate response—in many ways one of the most inappropriate responses that could be made in the present circumstances. Having said that, I am under some obligation to say what I believe the correct responses are and I shall attempt to do that.

The right responses are that this country, and other Western countries, should act in a way that would effectively persuade the old men in the Kremlin that they are on a wrong and dangerous course and that they should turn back before they have gone too far. I do not wish us to think in terms of some permanent escalation of the measures that we feel obliged to take on the East-West plane. I want to see us take action that will have the effect of restoring a healthier situation. So action has to be constructive wherever possible.

I leave aside the Olympic Games, except to say that whatever happens that problem will eventually disappear. They will either happen or not happen. There is a fixed point in time when the Olympics will cease to be a political counter. Therefore I enter a plea to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, and others, that we should think of taking action that has some direct relation to the pressure that we wish to bring to bear on the Russians, and that will be seen by them to have a continuing effect.

I am in favour of the action taken by the EEC on butter, as I am in favour of some of the other economic steps that we have taken. But I see no reason why the Russians should be allowed to continue dumping their motor cars on our market. I should have thought that there was scope for action there. I see no reason why they should be allowed to continue to enjoy an imbalance in the air services agreements between our two countries, or why we should have so many Russian ships calling at our ports and so on. If we took measures that had the effect of curtailing Russia activity of that kind, the message should get through. Those are the right kinds of responses and those that we should explore.

Naturally I accept that if we take action of that kind and it produces no result in the Kremlin, it is right that we should also consider what my right hon. Friend at one stage termed an insurance policy. The question then becomes: what sort of insurance policy makes sense? I do not think that drawing up a register, of itself, makes any sense.

What is required to back that register up if it becomes a reality? It requires a considerable administrative effort, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. But, my goodness, if the names on the piece of paper, or the computer printout, were to be ever turned into men and women capable of contributing towards the defence of the country, what then does it need? We should need cadres, the skeletons of the units into which these people presumably would be drawn. They would need uniforms to wear, barracks to live in, doctors to give them medicals and cooks to feed them. We should need an enormous amount of paraphernalia which my right hon. Friend, somehow or other, omitted to draw to our attention. And above all, these men and women in uniform would need training.

Mr. Hugh Fraser rose

Mr. Onslow

I shall just develop this point, because I do not wish to detain the House too long.

If these conscripts are to be turned into trained soldiers, only the professional soldiers whom we have at present can train them. What a diversion from their priority task of contributing to the front line of our defences that would be—and how, incidentally, they would resent it!

Mr. Fraser

In military terms, all that we are asking for is registration now, and if the worst comes to the worst it would cut what is termed our response time to a crisis to about nine months, which is vital.

Mr. Onslow

My next point was to be about time. I am not sure that if the Russians are set on bringing upon us a third world war they will give us nine months' warning. I am not sure that even if we had nine months' warning, the war would be likely to last so long that these reserves, who might just be trained by that time, would be able to make a useful contribution to defending this country. In the meantime, our professional army would have spent the nine months in which it should have been preparing for war training many people who would be totally unused to the tasks that were to be imposed upon them.

Mr. Marlow

Like many others in the House, I have done a certain amount of military service—11 years. Ninety per cent. of the time of people in military service is taken up by driving, working wireless sets, field craft and general military duties. The specialists that are required are fairly limited. Sixty per cent. of soldiers are not specialists. The skills necessary are basic and they can be quite easily acquired.

Mr. Onslow

My hon. Fieond is fortunate in having spent 11 years as a soldier. We are talking about whether we can produce a soldier in nine months. I do not suppose that my hon. Friend is arguing that these conscripts should serve for 11 years. He did not indicate how long they might be obliged to serve. I have spent a day of two in uniform, so I do not find that a particularly impressive argument in the context of this debate.

I know that there are those who would like to see the Armed Forces turned into a sort of youth club. They believe that it would take the lay abouts off the streets, get their hair cut, make them stand up straight and take a manly attitude to life. If there are people in the Chamber today who think like that, I hope that we shall hear from them. I do not concur with that view. I can think of nothing worse than treating the professional soldiers, who are trained to defend this country, as uniformed youth leaders.

Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)

Is that how my hon. Friend thinks the Swiss, the Swedes and the Yugoslavs regard their citizen armies?

Mr. Onslow

If they have a voice, the Swiss, the Swedes and the Yugoslavs can speak for themselves here.

Mr. Lyell

That is not a good answer.

Mr. Onslow

Perhaps it is not, but if my hon. Friend wants to see some form of conscription and national service, he must say how long he wishes it to last, and where the money and the trainers are to come from.

I was very depressed, when I got the drift of my right hon. Friend's argument about getting soldiers on the cheap, to discover that he appeared to believe that it would be a good idea to go to a conscript bachelor Army, Navy and Air Force rather than to have, as we have now, a professional volunteer Army, Navy and Air Force whose members naturally tend to get married and have children. That comment is likely to be resented by the Forces. I hope that my right hon. Friend can understand why.

Having said briefly that I do not think much of the proposition before the House, I accept that I must respond by suggesting alternatives. I am certainly in favour of action to identify the sort of people whom we shall really need if it ever comes to a war, and to make sure that they are trained, know where to go and are available, under whatever powers are necessary to call them to the Colours, as soon as an emergency arises.

It is clear that we shall need many more doctors. It would be much to our advantage to overhaul the arrangements for calling up doctors in time of emergency to serve with the Forces. We may need helicopter pilots and people with other skills of that kind, which cannot be acquired in nine months anyway. We should consider establishing a selective register of certain categories that can be clearly identified.

I was depressed by something else that my right hon. Friend said. I do not think that we should dismiss the volunteer. I do not think that my right hon. Friend said anything about the possibility of attracting as volunters people who might more effectively meet the kind of need that he sees. Here I must ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a question.

My hon. Friend probably watched, as I did, the recent television programmes about the Staff College. In the last programme we saw a full colonel from somewhere in Whitehall, who, winding up the presentation on civil defence, said something to this effect "We hope to make use of the people that we expect to flock to the Colours".

I am sure that if an emergency were clear and imminent, there would be a rush of volunteers. I am glad to know that the Government—or at any rate someone in Whitehall—are thinking about how to make use of them. It would be useful if we could be told a little more about what is involved. If they are to be deployed in a civil defence role, well and good. But they will need to be prepared, trained and organised, so that on the day there is not simply a mass of people in civilian clothes milling around and demanding to be given a job to do.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

We need a register.

Mr. Onslow

A register of volunteers. My right hon. Friend gives me the point. Let us have a register of volunteers, but do not let us go to the fantastic inconvenience and expense of registering entire age groups, without any real knowledge of whether people are fit or whether they will stay where they are, with all the complications and confusions that the Americans had over the draft, all the questions about exemptions and all the bureaucracy. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend has thought his proposition through.

I should like to say one more thing to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. A Reserve Forces Bill is coming to us shortly. I have looked at it, and I see that it appears to be a consolidation measure. Is there any proposal to speed up or ease the process of calling reserves to the Colours in an emergency? Are we to be left with procedures that some people feel would have a very inhibiting effect on getting urgently needed men forward to units in BAOR simply because the procedures of call-up are rather complicated and delaying?

Perhaps I may end on a personal note. I was serving in the Territorial Army in 1952 when the Z-men were called back to the Colours. I am not sure that all hon. Members will remember that day.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

I was a Z-man.

Mr. Onslow

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Z-men were colleagues to whom we had said "Good-bye" in 1946. They had not expected to see us again, any more than we expected ever to see them again. On reunion we had a slightly traumatic 48 hours while we all sorted each other out. But at least they came back willingly enough, and they had not lost their basic skills. Our equipment was broadly the same as they had been using when they signed off six years earlier. They were quickly integrated into the unit, and I think that at the end of a fortnight it was fairly efficient. But they were trained reserves. It is trained reserves that we need. Untrained reserves are nothing but an embarrassment.

Today, trained reserves are probably more essential than ever. That is why I very much hope that the House will concentrate its attention on that positive, constructive, realistic matter, instead of constructing a paper tiger. A register would be just that. The Russians would see it as that, and would think to them- selves "If the people in the West are not prepared to do more than that, if they are prepared only to get a lot of names on a piece of paper and not follow the matter through, why do we have to take them seriously? What evidence are they presenting to us that the West means to make a positive effort in its own defence?".

In answer to a question by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) recently, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said in regard to economic relations with the Soviet Union that we had no intention of doing anything over Afghanistan that would hurt ourselves. If the Russians think that that is our attitude—that we shall not do anything that might cost us a little—we shall never be taken seriously.

I repeat that the motion is a paper tiger. I cannot believe that it will be taken seriously in the Kremlin, and I do not believe that it should be taken seriously in the House.

10.48 am
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I do not know whether one result of belonging to a Select Committee is that one is forced into a consensus. I hope not, but I must admit that I share every syllable and sentiment of the speech made by a fellow defence Committee member, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). If there is a desire to establish a register and see the virtues of lots of bits of paper with names on, I advise hon. Members to rush to their town hall and obtain a register of electors. As Jeremy Bentham would have said, the whole process of establishing a register of names, as proposed in this motion is "nonsense upon stilts."

I do not speak as someone who belongs to the "lie down and throw yourself prostrate before the enemy" brigade. If I have something as coherent as a philosophy of defence, it has two pillars. The first is that we should have a viable, credible defence at a cost that we can afford. The second, which is a corollary, is that we should work for detente and disarmament, although I must concede that the times are not at all propitious for any significant advances in detente in the immediate future. However, when the hullabaloo about Afghanistan has died down, as I hope it will, perhaps we can get down to the serious business of negotiating ourselves away from the abyss.

I do not want to talk about Afghanistan, or the threat posed by the USSR. I do not underestimate that threat, but I do not want to over-react, as some have tended to do. I regret that the motion is something of an over-reaction.

It is unfair of politicians to criticise other politicians for looking for easy publicity, because we are all guilty of that, but hon. Members are often guilty—I am criticising myself as well as some of my colleagues—of responding to events by performing like little boys playing football, with everyone chasing after the ball; when the ball goes to the wing, everyone goes out to the wing. We should stand back and try to look seriously and dispassionately at the problems of manpower planning. We should not be stampeded by what might be temporary scares.

I am not adopting the John Wayne or Errol Flynn approach. I wish to concentrate on the serious issue of military manpower planning. President Carter said recently that he intended to revitalise the selective service system. He proposes to send legislation to Congress so that registration can begin in America. The fact that the Americans see the need to do that is no reason why we should follow. We are not a major world Power any longer. We are now a second-rank Power, and I hope that we shall not drop to a third-rank Power. If the United States, with its many global obligations and resources, seeks to return to a selective service system, there is no reason why we should follow blindly behind. It would be folly for us to do so.

Historically this country has always relied on the volunteer system or the militia system. That goes back to Anglo-Saxon times. In many ways I regret that the military is unpopular, except in times of conflict. There are not many Labour Members who would want to quote Kipling. Certainly I shall not do so again, but I believe that he summarises this matter when he says: It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute! But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot. I do not approach this debate from an anti-militaristic perspective. I simply believe that in present circumstances we do not need a return to conscription. Hon. Members who call for a return to national service should not underestimate the opposition that they will receive from the silent majority in this country, if it can be shown that conscription is superfluous to our needs and we can find all the military manpower resources that we require much more cheaply and effectively within the existing system.

Dr. Glyn

I think that the hon. Member has made a mistake. In fact there was conscription in Saxon times.

Mr. George

My history is rather hazy, but I think that we actually lost the battles in those times. Perhaps that is an indication of how unsuccessful the whole operation was.

Clearly in times of war there has been a need for conscription. However, there is a danger in thinking of fighting the next war with the strategy of the last war. In the past there was time to call up the lads, allow them to get together and train them. The enemy was some distance away, and because of the Channel we were able to keep him away until such time as our troops were trained. If anyone thinks that the time of conflict next time will be nine months, or even nine days, he is wrong. We would have a hard enough job in getting the troops in Germany fully mobilised. It would be even more difficult to get a fully trained reserve over to the Continent by Sealink, Townsend Thoresen, by yachts, rowing boats or anything else. If anyone thinks that in a time of conflict or in a period preceding conflict we could use such a register to get the lads together, call them up, train them and get them abroad, he is wrong. The war would be over long before that.

The suggestion that we could compel people to be Tornado pilots is beyond belief. It costs about £2.5 million to train a Tornado pilot. We cannot simply say that as we do not have enough pilots, and we cannot pay them more, we will twist people's arms and make them become pilots. That is ridiculous. One cannot force a person to obtain the intense specialisation necessary to provide the necessary expertise to fight in a modern war any more than one can force a person to become a Ph.D. candidate.

The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) did not analyse what he meant by "registration". Perhaps he wanted to mask the issue with a smokescreen, or perhaps he did not have time to research and develop his ideas. We have an obligation to look at this more closely. How many men would be involved? If one considers all people in this country between the ages of 18 and 24—men and women—one is thinking of 5½ million people. If one concentrates on males between the ages of 18 and 20, one has about 1,309,400. These are the figures that we must consider when we talk about the register, which would be a major bureaucratic exercise.

How much would it cost? What would happen to those who did not register? How could we constantly update the register? It would be a major exercise. If we were just collecting names that would be fine. However, if we want to medically examine, collect and direct we must consider whether we have a sufficient number of doctors. The costs would be absolutely astronomical. The 64,000 dollar question—or 64,000 million dollarquestion—is what we would do with the list once we had it. If we did nothing but just update it, it would be a waste of time. But if those on the register were needed, they would be useless and would get in the way of qualified people in any conflict.

To sum up—if the list is just to be a list we are wasting time, wasting millions of pounds and creating more and more civil servants at a time when the Government argue otherwise. On the other hand, if we intend to categorise these people, test them and medically examine them, it follows that we have an obligation to train them, and the cost of that training will be absolutely incredible.

The next war will not be fought like the last. There was an American Civil War general who advised that the aim must be "to git thar fustest with the mostest". That applies just as much today as it did in the 1860s. The aim must be to get our trained personnel to a combat zone as quickly as possible. That means having people who are highly trained in modern warfare and who can be mobilised and transported swiftly. The idea that untrained personnel can be used in modern warfare is, with the best will in the world, utter nonsense. The costs are astronomical.

For example these people would have to be supplied with equipment. There must be a balance between manpower and equipment otherwise it would be like the Canadian army, which has a lot of men on high pay but not enough equipment to work with. Other costs would include housing, transport, food and pay. If one paid these people over two-thirds of the minimum wage, the costs would be out of reach.

There would be an increased demand for land. We have conflict now with people whose land is being taken back into private use. Where would these military personnel go? Would Britain become a vast armed camp with people in khaki driving up and down motorways? I do not think that this is something that the public would want. We could not send them abroad as we did in the past because we have no Empire now. Therefore, if we did not use the register it would be superfluous and if we used it, the costs would be way in excess of the demand.

If it is suggested that we would not necessarily use all 5 million people on the register, that would mean even greater difficulties. Which people would we use? The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone mentioned seventeenth century Colonel Rainborowe, who said that the poor had the same rights as the rich. In military matters the poor are called upon far more than the rich. We have only to look at American experience of selective service to see that the American war in Vietnam was fought largely by poor whites and blacks who often did not have the expertise to find a way out through the many loopholes that were available to undergraduates, graduates and the sons of intelligent parents who were able to get out of the draft, or trick their way out, or worm their way out by getting to know the members of the local draft boards.

Mr. Lyell

Perhaps the hon. Member would say who won the Vietnam war. Was it not won by a nation that was prepared and committed?

Mr. George

The argument could be used both ways. Perhaps the war was lost by America because the people who were sent out to fight were not committed. They were people many of whom were press-ganged into fighting. The emigration to Canada and Sweden was an indication of the futility of forcing people into something that they did not support.

I remember a very brave and able speech of Kingman Brewster, then President of Yale, who said in 1966—and it took some courage in 1966— Service to America has been mocked by a policy which offers no reason to justify the imposition of involuntary military service primarily upon those who cannot hide in the endless catacombs of formal education Therefore, if we decided that we did not need all those on the register, how would we decide whom we would have? What tricks would some people use to get out of service? Would we use the unemployed, the unintelligent and the inarticulate who are unable to say "I am not needed, others will go and I will stay at home"? That is injustice and inequity, and it causes many problems. Clearly, there are manpower shortages. The Secretary of State made a speech to the Society of Conservative Lawyers last June in which he said that the Army was now several thousand officers and men short of its establishment. Is that a shortfall of 5 per cent. or 10 per cent? Perhaps the Minister will tell us. Any shortfall can be met by means other than this stupid proposal to have a register.

We heard the even more stupid suggestion of a return to national service. The arguments against national service are overwhelming, even from the perspective of meeting British military demands. I do not say that because I am a pacifist. I am not. We simply do not need conscription. If one asks full-time members of the Regular Army whom they would prefer to fight alongside—a Regular reservist who is trained, someone from the Territorial Army who may have spent 10 years off and on in Germany, or a conscript who has been press-ganged—the answer is clear. The MacMahon plateau points out that a full-time conscript takes 12 months to be trained, is gone in 18 months, and therefore is of real use for only five or six months.

Are we to subject 1½ million people to training simply to get six months of fighting work from them? What about the expense? We would do better to rely on conventional resources. Perhaps it will be said that that 1½ million can be put into voluntary service.

One argument in favour of conscription is that it will improve literacy. If the Government wish to encourage literacy, let them pump money into adult literacy schemes. If it is argued that conscription improves skills, the Government should not close skillcentres. The Government should revive the temporary employment programme. Let them not kill off many of the TOPS schemes. Does anyone believe that voluntary services can cope with 5 million people? That would mean more equipment and more people involved in the supervision of enforced conscripts than would be performing the essential services.

Major-General A. H. Farrar-Hockley wrote a book on national service in 1970. I have not spoken to him since that publication, and I do not know whether his views have changed. He said: The simple fact is that national service has not been reintroduced because there is no requirement for it. If, at some future date, recruitment in peace for the armed forces should fall away so much that conscription was the only alternative form of manning, then we have a fund of experience on which to draw to avoid the mistakes of the past.…The nation should recognise that it would be considerably more expensive in resources". To say glibly that we can get defence on the cheap by national service is absolutely wrong.

I do not wish to be politically contentious as I think that there is some consensus. However, the Government were elected with a platform of infinitely expanding defence resources. Despite the rhetoric of the election, it is as much as the Government can do to maintain the commitment made by the previous Labour Government. I have seen press reports of Tory Members being "shocked" at defence cash limits that may be imposed. It is no use saying that we should do this or that. Any expenditure on defence must be met from existing financial commitments. The Government will be hard pressed to meet their existing obligations. Adding replacement of Polaris and the mere contemplation of national service will have such a devastating effect on investment and the economy that that which remains will not be worth defending.

What then, is the alternative to conscription? We need to reform internal procedures within the military. We need to make more effective use of existing resources. The military must show the outside world—which pays for its existence—that it is seeking every means by which it might become more efficient, or, as one American said, to see that all feasible non-resource additive alternatives have been considered". If the military is more efficient it will be more cost-effective.

We should encourage Armed Forces personnel to remain in the Services. Clearly, some reach an age when they wish to get out. Up to September 1979, the outflow from the Services was 47,288. If that outflow can be stemmed, our total force of trained personnel will increase considerably. A corollary to that is to boost recruitment if we are to raise levels of personnel. That can be done by normal and conventional publicity means, and improving pay and conditions. The Minister is aware of my argument that the best means of improving defence is by expanding the Territorial Army.

Many people believe that the Territorial Army was abolished in 1967. However, 3.4per cent. of the Army budget and 1.2 per cent. of the defence budget provides almost one-third of BAOR strength. There are 33 TA regiments out of a total of 88. In Germany, in war, that is an enormous contribution. It is an incredibly cost-effective element in our defence. It embraces the enthusiasm and commitment of the population. As has been said, it breaks down the idea of a military caste.

In order to boost the TA we need to solve some problems. I do not underestimate them. We must cut down the high turnover. As the Minister told me in a written answer, there is now a gross turnover of 37 per cent.—or a net wastage of 33 per cent. We need to cut that figure down. It can be done. The Shapland committee recommended increases, but those increases are not enough. At the moment the TA forces are at only 80 per cent. of establishment. The TA should be made up to establishment. If establishment were raised we should be able to meet our military requirements more readily.

Therefore, we need more vigorous recruitment, improvements in pay, and more training visits with fellow members of NATO abroad. We should encourage employers to be more co-operative. Perhaps the Government could give a lead. Private employers should realise that they should not put any obstacles in the way of personnel who are in the TA, Indeed, tax concessions could be made.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

I do not wish to raise a party political issue. However, presumably the hon. Gentleman realises that the Labour Government made six rounds of defence cuts, which greatly damaged our reserve forces. In the Conservative Party manifesto we pledged to increase numbers and to provide better equipment. We warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman's recommendations.

Mr. George

I had not intended to be too partisan. However, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the background paper "Statistics on Defence" in the Library, he will see that the biggest drops in defence expenditure occurred under a Conservative Government. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will not like that, and I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) will not like it. In 1952 expenditure on defence represented 11.4 per cent. of the GDP. In 1964 it represented 6.8 per cent. of the GDP. I had not wished to make that point, but I do so in response to that of the hon. Gentleman.

If one suspects my figures and thinks that they were inflated by the Korean war, let us take another year. In 1955 defence expenditure represented 9.1 per cent. and that figure dropped to 6.8 per cent. by 1964. In 1971, defence expenditure under the Government of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) represented 5.6 per cent. of the GDP. In the last full year that the Tories were in office it represented 5.4 per cent. and in 1974, 5.6 per cent. Let us not hear that the Labour Party is unpatriotic and that only the Tories have any concern to defend.

Perhaps the Prime Minister does not wish to be seen as the next Tory Prime Minister to follow the inevitable law of defence politics. That law dictates that one shouts in Opposition but when in Government that policy becomes little different from that of the former Government. The last election was fought on the bandwagon of more money for defence. Judging by secret reports, I wonder whether such vast increases in expenditure will come about. Will the mouthings of the Prime Minister be supported by a genuine increase in defence expenditure?

There is an enormous difference between mouthing and doing in defence aspirations and performance. Perhaps the Government will look at their election speeches six months from now. They will see that talk of a treacherous Labour Party—full of moles undermining defence—has no substance. The Labour Party was obliged, sometimes unwillingly, to maintain defence. I challenge Conservative Members to see whether there is any major qualitative difference.

There are therefore problems with the TA. They relate to training, the need for better equipment and the need to ensure swift mobilisation. However, a rejuvenated TA offers an alternative to the dilemma of choosing between an incredibly expensive large conventional Army and a suicidal dependence on nuclear deterrence alone.

Let us therefore use our TA and our Regular reserves better. There are 100,000 Service men who have left the Army in the last four or five years. They may be called up under Queen's Order if national danger is imminent or if a great emergency arises. There is a training obligation that has never been invoked. Those 100,000 men could be encouraged to come forward. They are registered. There has been reference already to the difficulties of keeping tabs on these 100,000. If that is difficult, how much more difficult it will be to keep tabs on 5 million people between the ages of 18 and 24.

I support the recommendation of the previous Select Committee on defence and external affairs, which said, in the report on reserves and reinforcements: We strongly recommend that the Ministry examine the feasibility of invoking from time to time the training liability of the Regular Reserve and arranging for them to train with the Unit to which they would be assigned in time of war. So there are about 100,000 men. If we boost the TA, stopping the outflow, that could provide another 20,000 men. If we stemmed the outflow from the Regular Army, that would provide a saving of a further 20,000 men. So, without resorting to the stupidity of a superflous register, or the even greater folly of conscription, that is a way of boosting our forces.

I regret that I have taken so long, and I regret that the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone did not spell out the arguments in fuller detail. If we are to vote today to commit 5 million people to a break in their careers, if we are to commit this country to spend an extra £100 million that it cannot afford or find, we have an obligation to analyse the arguments in detail, and we desire more information on the subject than we have received hitherto.

11.12 am
Mr W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) on initiating the debate. It is immensely valuable, whether or not his motion is carried—and I have grave doubts about the motion's nature and terms.

One of the most vital factors is that by this debate we might be able to demonstrate some of the essential need for a campaign to secure not only voluntary recruitment into the Regular Armed Forces but—and I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—a substantial increase in recruitment to the Territorial Army.

In the general world scene, it is not just Afghanistan that represents the danger. We are concerned that the Russians are in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola. There is a great deal in what the hon. Member for Walsall, South said about the effect on the Soviets of events in the Muslim world. There is no doubt that there is a real fear in the Soviet Union of the militant rise of Islam. However, I am not sure that the hon. Member drew the correct conclusions. I think that the Russians will merely continue their active militant attitude to Islam and take those countries on board together with the countries of the West.

There is great danger in Yugoslavia with the possible death of Tito. There is little indication that the Soviets have changed their attitude, which is one of steady, merciless aggression and the taking over of other States when they can further to add to their empire.

I share the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and others that, although we can and ought to have a selective register of those who are needed to ensure that we have the kind of Armed Forces that are necessary, I do not for a moment believe that it is either necesssary or practical to have national conscription.

A substantial expansion of the training of volunteers for the TA is both desirable and eminently practical. If we have an efficient public campaign not only for recruitment in to the Regular Army but for an extensive increase of volunteers into the TA, I believe that we can achieve what is necessary and train the right type of person in order to overcome the shortages in the Armed Forces.

There are problems. At present the unemployed cannot undertake service in the TA during the working week without losing unemployment benefit. They must therefore carry out, as is normal in the TA, only weekend duties. That position needs to be reviewed if we are to expand service at weekends and during the week for some members of the TA. The TA terms of service are good, but, to provide for a substantial expansion, a review is needed. At present a volunteer undertakes 12 days or six weekends minimum each year plus two weeks at camp along with drills during the course of the year amounting to two hours. That minimum should be increased to 20 days or 10 weekends. It would extend the work that the men do.

We must then turn to the question of pay. Pay is excellently handled at present, as it reflects the Army rate divided by 365 and multiplied by the number of days' service. That is plainly right. The Government honoured their obligation and increased the bounty to £100 for the first year, £200 for the second and £300 for the third. That will need to be reviewed again next year to encourage volunteers, who, if they realise that they can do the work, get a good summer holiday afterwards and do something of value for the country, will come forward. Of course, we must make sure to continue the basis that they must guarantee a three-year period of service as a minimum.

The greatest need mentioned to us by those in the TA—and there is an effective TA in Thanet, where officers and volunteers can easily be obtained—is equipment. It must be up-to-date, but it is not. Much of it goes back almost to the days when I was in the war, and it must be modernised.

There must be more officers and NCOs for training purposes, but how is that to be achieved? At present, men are allowed to join a squadron, a company or a battery of their own choice, and that must continue. It is an incentive for men to be allowed to go where they want to go. But how are we to get the additional NCOs and officers? In future they would not retire at 55 as at present. Instead they would have to carry on for an additional three years to train the necessary volunteers in the TA.

They would receive their pension and be paid for that service. I am certain that they would be happy to carry on until they are 58, and thereby facilitate training for the expansion. The proposal can take effect immediately. I do not believe that it requires legislation. Many people who leave the Forces at the age of 55 find it difficult to get full-time jobs, and they will have the opportunity to devote time to the necessary training.

Training at universities is a complicated question. Each university has an OTC, but these units need to be substantially expanded and turned into a real training ground for future officers and NCOs for the full period of the three years that they are at university. At the end of that period they would be adequately and properly trained in the areas necessary—scientific, mathematical, medical, and so on. That would provide the Services with the type of personnel that they want.

Summer camp would need to be extended from two to four weeks for university units. After all, they are paid, and it is during their vacation, which lasts at least eight weeks. They will still have plenty of time to engage in their other activities. Those measures would provide first-class training.

I hope that it will not be necessary to pressurise the universities. However, the Government may have to indicate plainly, with the mailed fist, that they are determined to secure that training. It could be indicated that the grants for universities would always have to be carefully looked at to make quite sure that we achieved what we needed.

It is in that area that I come close to the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone. I do not believe that we need conscription. I am convinced that we can achieve the results voluntarily. However, as the Army well knows, there is voluntary and voluntary. The right approach is to encourage the universities to the maximum degree, with financial advantage to them, if possible. OTC training could be expanded so that within the next three years we have a first-class force.

I am sure that substantial numbers of volunteers will come forward if they understand the terms of service in the TA. Members of the public, in the Gallery and throughout the country, are unaware that the TA offers them a first-class club, a good bar and a pleasant association with others. It involves only one weekend a month, with a fortnight's camp in the summer, and adequate pay throughout. How many people in the country realise that that is an admirable situation for men and girls—and I hope that we shall see girls being trained, as well as men?

It is essential that there is a special register of the needs of the Forces. That can be done extremely well in the TA. Through the Army, the technical people who are required can be recruited into the TA. For example, it would be easy to deal with special registration for doctors and other medical workers. If they attended for the occasional weekend, that would help establish the medical corps—and the same applies to nurses. Once that practice is built up, it will give us the type of personnel that we need in the Forces, and that will be achieved relatively cheaply. By using our own officers and NCOs for training, we would train the necessary personnel for the future.

My right hon. Friend is right to introduce the debate. The way that it is developing is interesting. I profoundly hope that the Government will follow it up with a substantial campaign which, if effective, will achieve what we need.

11.25 am
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) for his excellent speech. It was well researched and thoughtful, and within reason I agreed with practically everything that he said, although not with every dot and comma. It was a speech of some moment, and I hope that it will be noted by the country, the Government and the Opposition. I shall not follow my hon. Friend, primarily because I have not done the research that he has. In any case, it is not my field. I should like to deal with the political aspects.

The motion states: noting the successive acts of military aggression organised by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I apologise to the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser). Although I made the effort, I was not here for his opening speech. However, I understand that he looked back to 1939 and to what he regarded as successive acts of aggression by the Soviet Union since that date.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

I quite understand that the hon. Gentleman could not be here, but I did not go back to that period.

Mr. Heffer

I apologise. That is the advice that I was given.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman will accept my word when I say that I am no apologist for the Soviet Union and Soviet leaders. Their so-called brand of Socialism is not Socialism at all. Socialism cannot be built without democracy. I therefore take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, who tended to slide over the question of human rights, as though loss of human rights was rather unpleasant, but that, nevertheless, we had to look at the real politics of the world.

To me, human rights are very much the real politics of the world. That is why I often challenge hon. Members on the Conservative Benches when I feel that they have not been even-handed—when they have criticised what has happened in the Soviet Union and East Europe but have tended to remain silent on Brazil, Chile and Spain. If we genuinely wish to stand up for human rights, we cannot have double standards. We must fight oppressive acts of Governments, wherever they are, including, if necessary, those of our own Government.

Having made it clear that I am by no means an apologist for the Kremlin, I go on to consider the atmosphere that is being created in the country at present. I am very much afraid of it. When the right hon. Lady became Prime Minister, she immediately started to make belligerent statements about the Soviet Union. We are returning to the philosophy of the two camps—the Soviet Union and the United States of America; freedom versus oppression. It can easily lead us—

Mr. Marlow

Who started it?

Mr. Heffer

That is typical of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). In the past the hawks on both sides started it—American military hawks and Soviet military hawks. The only sufferers are the mass of ordinary people throughout the world.

Mr. Marlow

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could say how many American hawks there are in Afghanistan?

Mr. Heffer

How many American hawks were there in Vietnam, and how many are there throughout various parts of the world today? The United States of America has played its part in overthrowing democratically elected Governments. Conservative Members did not stand up and protest about that. We did. We protested in the same way that we protested when the Soviet Union marched into Afghanistan and took military action. We cannot allow ourselves, as a country, to take sides and help the war atmosphere.

I return to my point about the aggression of the Soviet Union. Why did the Russians move into Czechoslovakia? Undoubtedly that was an act of military aggression. The Russians were afraid that if a Socialist democracy developed in Czechoslovakia, it would affect the power and privileges of the bureaucracy in the Kremlin. Conservative Members do not think in those terms. The Russians were defending their power and privileges, just as Conservative Members are defending the power and privileges of the Establishment in Britain. That is the point that must be made. It is an entirely different way of thinking from that of Conservative Members, and even from that of some of my hon. Friends.

We must be very careful about creating a war atmosphere. There is a danger that we could drift blindly, stage by stage, step by step, into a war that no one wanted, and where the entire world would be vanquished. The next war will not be fought on the basis of the numbers of troops in the Territorial Army or whether there is conscription. That is irrelevant. The next war, if it is a global war, will be fought with nuclear weapons, and there will be no victors.

I can see the drift of events, and it is very worrying. I am old enough to have served in the Second World War. We should remember the atmosphere that was created before 1939. Part of the Russian fear was the growth of Nazi Germany. It was our fear also. At that time we were sliding into a situation which we could have avoided if we had taken other steps.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

Ought not we to forget this nonsense of comparing the present with the 1930s and compare it with the period prior to 1914, when increasing mobilisation and armaments dragged us into a war? The 1939 atmosphere was fundamentally different. Adolf Hitler was grossly unstable. There is no similarity to that previous period, or to the present period.

Mr. Heffer

I agree with my hon. Friend to a certain extent, but not entirely. I agree with him in the sense that had the British Government acted sensibly prior to 1939, and had they not given way to the Nazis, and had they reached agreement with the Russians, we might not have entered the Second World War, and we might have defeated the Nazis without the trauma of it.

I am against the idea of a register. Either we go the whole hog, or it is useless. But what is the purpose of a register? Is it really intended that we should move towards a war? A register will not deter anyone. If it is not for that purpose, for what purpose is it?

Some people might argue that it is to deal with the so-called subversion in this country. I am not particularly happy about the appointment of General Kitson as the deputy commander of our land forces. Having looked at his book, and having considered the type of philosophy that he has developed, I get the impression that we have a bigger internal enemy—perhaps workers involved in strike action. During seamen's strikes in Liverpool, men were called up. Is that why a register is proposed? If there is a dispute involving trade unions, are people to be called up? That is another aspect of the matter with which we should concern ourselves.

I am worried about the war atmosphere that is being created, and about the objectives of such a register, which will lead ultimately to conscription. I do not think that we can go along with the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone on that proposal. I have the greatest respect for his courage, honesty and integrity, and I hope he takes that in the spirit in which it is meant. I have the highest respect for him, but I do not agree with him. I hope that the country will not agree with him. I am pleased to note that some of his hon. Friends do not agree with him. I hope that the House will not support the motion.

11.38 am
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

I am glad to follow the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer). We know well that he is no apologist for the Soviet Union, and we listened carefully to what he said about the dangers of people getting carried away with a war atmosphere. I think that the point at which I and some to my hon. Friends part company with him is perhaps best summarised in a remark made by President George Washington in his first address to Congress in 1790. He said: To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace. This debate concentrates on the way in which to be prepared for war in order to preserve peace.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and. Stone (Mr. Fraser) not only for giving the House the opportunity of debating this important subject but for his distinguished speech. In his opening analysis of the darkening international scene, he was right to stress, above all, the rise of Soviet militarism today and the dominance of certain military leaders within the Politburo. That is the sombre background to today's debate, and it bears an ominous comparison with the rise of German militarism in the 1930s. We were unprepared then, just as we are unprepared now, as witnessed by the discordant voices and theories that have been raised today, not only from the Opposition Benches.

Recently I read Malcom Muggeridge's book on the 1930s, and I recall a passage describing the attitude of Europeans to the rise of Hitler. Muggeridge said: People shouted their indignation, wrote it, made films and plays of it, conferred on it, and longed for an opportunity to prove it with deeds. Yet when they sought to grapple with their enemy they found themselves only grappling with one another. In this House today we are arguing about a subject that is such a minimal precaution that I wonder whether it needs to be argued about seriously at all. I can only explain our reluctance as a House, and perhaps as a nation, to take this minimal precautionary step of having a register of the kind that President Carter now seeks to introduce with much less controversy in the United States, against the fact that we are historically an eleventh-hour nation.

So often it has been said of Britain that we can never see the writing on the wall until our own backs are up against it. We do not like the idea of compulsory conscription until we are convinced that it is absolutely necessary. Alas, at this stage in the twentieth century we cannot afford the luxury of sitting around waiting to be convinced of that necessity without at least making some preparations for it.

The register that my right hon. Friend proposes is, as he said, the minimum instalment of an insurance policy that a great nation should make in today's worsening international situation. If the sad day came when we had to mobilise—and pray God it does not—what would a register do? It would, of course, speed up the administration of the call-up. It would make it possible for specialists and professionals to be identified and allocated areas, tasks and responsibilities in advance. It would allow people in reserved occupations and conscientious objectors to be sorted out in advance. It would avoid the kind of muddle that we saw in 1939 because the register was introduced too late and the even greater muddle that we saw in 1914, when there was no register at all. We have heard from my right hon. Friend and others about the chaos that existed at the beginning of the Second World War because the register came too late, but that muddle compares favourably with what happened in the First World War, when we tried to mobilise on a volunteer basis only.

My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) made a ringing cry for a register of volunteers. We have tried that once this century, and it was a disaster. It may be that in the rosy hue of historical memory one thinks of Kitchener's efforts to raise volunteer armies as a great success. In a way, it was. A poster saying "your country needs you", with a good photograph, encouraged more than 2 million men to register for the Colours. But one tends to forget more than 60 years later that Lord Kitchener's nickname at the time was "K of chaos", because the volunteer armies led to far greater muddle and inefficiency and, incidentally, created a much nastier atmosphere with young girls presenting white feathers to men who had tried to enrol but could not do so. The volunteer system of call-up failed in the First World War and, in the end, it had to be replaced by national service and conscription.

My right hon. Friend's proposed register has many more advantages than the practical results that it would achieve if mobilisation ever had to take place. It would be a visible sign to our own people, to our European allies, all of whom have national service, and of course to the United States, that this country was on the alert and ready to play its part in the defence of the West against aggression from any quarter. It would be a symbol that would be good for national and international morale.

But we must not see my right hon. Friend's proposed register in military terms only, or even in compulsory terms only. His register has one other advantage, which has not yet been mentioned to date. It is that such a register could be a most useful catalyst for voluntary service in both military and civilian activities.

We heard, in the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), his plans for rejuvenating and expanding the Territorial Army. After all, we are a volunteering nation. From the WRVS to the TA, the readiness to serve the country and the community on a voluntary basis is writ large in our social history, and it survives and flourishes today.

But this spirit of volunteerism is not being appealed to or communicated with in an effective and right way today. One advantage of the register is that one at least knows where so many potential young volunteers in good physical condition are, and one can then circularise them, write to them and advertise to them to try and persuade them to volunteer for community service, voluntary service and, if necessary, military service, through voluntary means such as the Territorial Army. Before we start talking compulsory national service we should talk about voluntary national service in both military and civilian activities.

A national voluntary service should not be limited to the Armed Forces. Serving volunteers on a regular basis could be welcomed enthusiastically in such areas as the special constabulary of the police, in the auxiliaries of the fire service, in the rescue services and the emergency relief corps, in our hospitals, in the community service corps, in the conservation corps, in certain urban and rural task forces such as those which used to be run by the Young Volunteer Force Foundation, and in civil defence.

Mr. Rees-Davies

My hon. Friend is developing the theme of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) on this aspect. I touched on it in my own remarks. What my hon. Friend is really saying is that we need a special register to ensure that all the services that he has just adumbrated can be identified so that volunteers may join them either on a permanent basis or on a "Terrier" basis. But I venture to point out to my hon. Friend that for that purpose it would not be necessary to have a register of between 1.5 million and 2 million people throughout the country, which would cost a great deal and would merely seek to bring into the net a very large number of people whom the Armed Forces could never possibly want. I think that that is the only difference between a number of us when we talk about a register. Should it be a register which is special in the sense of being confined to specific needs, or should it be a complete register?

Mr. Aitken

I always listen to my hon. and learned Friend and neighbour the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), but in discussing the many purposes that a register might have he is missing the point. The fundamental insurance policy is to have a register that can be used in time of war for compulsory conscription, but compulsory conscription will be accepted by the British people only if it is absolutely necessary and seen to be absolutely fair.

I know from my brief experience as a correspondent in Vietnam how badly astray the American call-up service went as a result of what was fundamentally an unfair selective service through conscription. The point was made about how the poor and the blacks were discriminated against in that call-up.

I part company with my hon. and learned Friend when I say that the register ought to be a multi-purpose one. It could be just a small register if we were not still interested in the fundamental last-call alarm of mass mobilisation, but that is the basic purpose of my right hon. Friend's motion and that is why it has to be brought in on a full-scale basis.

My hon. and learned Friend spoke of the cost of the proposal. It would cost a certain amount of money in terms of bureaucratic expenditure. But let us not be bowled over by the figure, even in today's economic circumstances. President Carter's register for a nation of more than 200 million people will cost £5 million. For a nation a quarter of that size, the cost would be about £1 million. I think that we can and should afford it.

One of the most striking themes aired by my right hon. Friend was the failure of our Armed Forces today to be in a state of readiness, even on a limited basis. Ships of the Royal Navy are mothballed because of the shortage of sailors. We may not even have enough ships to protect the vital oil routes in the Gulf, or even our own North Sea oil installations. Surely this is an indication that a register would be a valuable contribution to remedying that kind of shortfall. That is why, with the ultimate sanction of total conscription in mind also, I am proud to support every word of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone.

11.50 am
Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I am glad to have the opportunity to support the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser). It is difficult to follow the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), who speaks with great fluency and knowledge on this subject. I shall make a brief speech and put what I see as the most important points.

This motion should be seen not in terms of Left wing or Right wing but in terms of defending this country and enabling our citizens to become involved in, and committed to, the defence of our nation and the type of society in which all of us, with the variations that pass between the two sides of the House, believe. It is difficult to gainsay that in Western Europe we are under defended in conventional terms. There is a serious threat from the Soviet Union arising from the increased size of the military elite in that country, which bears too close a similarity to the position before the Second World War rather than the First World War, although I believe there was a similar problem in Germany at the time of that war as well.

Our defence depends on the credibility of the nuclear deterrent. The nuclear deterrent is credible only if the countries which are likely to deploy it—we all trust that it will never be deployed—are seen to have the will to defend themselves. On going around my constituency of Hemel Hempstead, which is probably as close to the good society that we seek to achieve as any constituency in the country, and visiting schools, where one is asked more intelligent questions than anywhere else, I find a lack of understanding among those reaching the sixth form about our defensive forces and the role that they might play in our defence. We have a small professional Army, but it is remote. It is known to be inadequate in numbers. People do not know, and I do not know, how it is intended to respond in an emergency. I believe that the Government and the Opposition are failing to give a lead in explaining that to the country.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East, I do not believe that the register will cost an enormous amount. I see it leading neither to immediate conscription nor, necessarily, to full-time conscription, but as a means of mobilising and directing the intelligence of the country towards the problem. Our defensive forces and those of Western Europe are essentially and inevitably defensive. There is no question whatever of our attacking the Eastern bloc. Everyone knows that. The Eastern bloc knows it. There is a danger, I hope remote, but one that cannot be overlooked, that in certain circumstances the Eastern bloc might be led into a military expedition. It is clear that our so-called flexible response lacks flexibility. When one hears generals of great influence say that they can provide only a few days for political response to be built up before nuclear weapons would have to be used, one realises that one is ill-prepared to meet the situation.

Mr. Soley

If the Soviet Union were faced with a war on the Chinese front—which it has recognised as a possibility for a considerable number of years—would not the logic of its situation—not ours—mean preparation for war in the West as well, in order to maintain the peace?

Mr. Lyell

Yes, but the hon. Gentleman must realise that, in order to defend itself in Europe, which is what the hon. Gentleman means, the Soviet Union does not need a superiority of 19,000 battle tanks, an offensive force, compared with the 7,000 existing in rather less efficient form among our allies. That military posture cannot be ignored.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) and the hon. Member for Walsall. South (Mr. George) about the object of the register. I feel however, that the hon. Member for Walsall, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) fell into the trap of elitism which, I suspect, is infiltrating the Select Committee on defence. There is a danger of the professional forces of this country resisting any involvement among the citizens as a whole. They feel that the money which they would like, rightly, for increased weaponry and increased assistance for themselves will be diverted. I understand their need for further funds. I hope that the Government will rise to the challenge of the hon. Member for Walsall, South and those interested in defence about whether defence spending is to be adequately maintained. I share that concern.

I do not see the role of the professional forces as that of training the rest of the population. That can be done perfectly well by those who have retired. The role that young men and women, middle aged men and women, and the whole country, have to play in civil defence and in home defence will be, essentially, a simple one. But the posture of this country and the credibility of our deterrent will be greatly enhanced if we are all, once more, involved and know what we have to do.

I believe that this register, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East and the hon. Member for Walsall, South have said, will enhance the number of people who volunteer, because they will understand, see the need and recognise that it is interesting and fun to train for something known to be worth while. People will come forward. I see the register that my right hon. Friend proposes as a catalyst to a new spirit of credible defence in this country, which we cannot do without.

11.58 am
Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I was stimulated by some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) and also by the presence on the Government Front Bench of my neighbour from Hounslow, the Under-Secretary of State, who looks as though he may eventually reply to the debate. I am interested in the idea of this register, although not for the reasons adduced, I gather, by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser). I could not be present, unfortunately, when he spoke.

The right hon. Gentleman suggested a national military register as a prelude to conscription. For some time I have had, at the back of my mind, an idea for a different sort of register. It is what I would call—it is not perhaps the best name—a national community service register.

The idea is that when youngsters reach the age of, say 18—I shall not argue about a year or two, either way—they should be asked, when they register for their vote, to fill in a form containing about 30 choices. Three of them would relate to the Army, the Air Force and the Navy—or rather the Air Force, the Army and the Navy, in descending order of importance—and the rest would relate to such things as the fire service, the emergency services, the afforestation services, the care of old people, and the various other things that we as a community have found it desirable on occasions to encourage volunteers to enter.

It would be voluntary in one sense, but not voluntary in another, if you see what I mean, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The idea would be to grade, on a scale from 1 to30, the youngsters' order of preference for a year of community service. Some would straight away help to fill up the Army, which I am sure some hon. Members would like to see much bigger than it is; others would opt for voluntary service overseas. But they would all have to make a choice.

It would be rather along the lines of the system under which we vote in Australia. We have preferential voting. We do not simply put X; we put 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, in the order of preference. The result is very different from the first-past-the-post system—but I shall not comment either way on that.

In relation to the situation in the country at the time, the Government would be able to decide how many people were needed for the Air Force, for the Army and for the Navy, how many people should be looking after the old, and how many should be engaged in various other activities. It would, in other words, enable an intelligent distribution to be made of the resources a t the Government's disposal.

I am simply floating the idea, and my colleagues will be painfully aware that it is coming off the top of my head. I beg their indulgence for that. Nevertheless, I urge them to give a little thought to it.

It could have one other and even more important advantage. As a member of the wartime Air Force, I found it of tremendous value to be thrown together with people from all walks of life. We all came out, three or four years later, very much bigger and better people than we were when we went into the Service. Many of us in this place have had that experience in one form or another. I am not trying to glamorise the life—it had its nasty moments as well—but most of us benefited very greatly from the experience of being thrown into the deep end of the pool, so to speak, during wartime. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) will agree with me. Having gone in as boys, youngsters emerged later as men in the true sense.

I commend the idea to hon. Members, again apologising for the fact that it has been very roughly expressed. I look forward with neighbourly interest to what the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe) may have to say about it in due course from the Government Front Bench.

12.5 pm

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr), who has expressed sentiments which are shared, I am sure, by hon. Members in all parts of the House. If I may say so, he underestimated the quality of his speech. It is clear that he is seeking to restore the sort of spirit of community that we had during the war—the sense of all belonging to one nation.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) for introducing the motion. It has given us the chance of discussion over a very wide area. The debate is about the defence of our nation, and it is taking place on a non-party basis.

We all know that we are in fear of the nuclear deterrent. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for bringing home to all of us that we are living in dangerous times. We could be on the brink of a confrontation—I shall not say a nuclear war—which could develop into something very serious.

Afghanistan has been mentioned. It is no exaggeration to say—I have said it before in the House—that this is another example of Soviet expansion. There is evidence all over the world of a desire of the Soviet Union to become a world Power. I cannot accept what was said about frontiers and about consolidating the position of the Soviet Union. That argument did not apply to Hungary. I was lucky enough to be there during the revolution. There was no excuse for the Soviet Union to invade. Indeed, as the treaty with Imre Nagy was being signed, the troops were coming in from Debrecen to attack Budapest.

There are two things that we lack in the country at the moment—a Home Guard and an organised civil defence system. They are needed in any major or minor confrontation. I hope to say something later about our reserve forces. My right hon. Friend was right to emphasise the important role of defence. He referred to the American cruise missiles, which are to be based here, and to our oil rigs. He also mentioned the withdrawal of troops from Northern Ireland.

These things have brought to a head the difficulty involved in providing adequate reserve forces. It is no good a Government saying, especially in relation to civil defence, "Everything is all right, our plans are laid". That is no good. There must be advance notice of what people have to do if and when a crisis arises. The question of reserves and of a call-up enters into this. I was interested in what was said about the Z Reserve. I remember having to train members of this Reserve, which was readily absorbed into the Regular Forces.

We need a register of skills that can be used in a modern Army, Navy and Air Force whether people are doctors, mechanics, tradesmen with special qualifications, engineers or computer operators. We need to be able to put our fingers on these people.

I am not entirely sure that a compulsory national register is the right way forward. The alternative is to proceed on a voluntary basis. For example, a person could say "I am trained specifically in a form of computer operation. This information may be of value to the Services. I am prepared to use this skill". As my right hon. Friend said, the completion of a national register would enable the Government to know where everybody was. If that were done, I think that it should be followed up. We should ascertain whether those on the register were willing to volunteer. If we found that they were not, we would have to ascertain what their reaction would be if they were called upon to serve under compulsion.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone made an important point about doctors. We know that there are not enough doctors in the British Army in Germany. We so often rely upon doctors from other nations.

The concept of compulsory service is to some extent alien to us. However, it is not a new concept. From Saxon times, and right through feudal times—indeed, long after that—it is something with which we have been familar. It was not until 1916, two years after the beginning of the First World War, that conscription was introduced for those between 18 and 41.

Conscription has always been describes as selective and too late. In the 1930s Germany and Italy were rising as the Soviet Union is rising now. It was not until 1939 that the Military Training Act was enacted. It applied to British subjects between the ages of 20 and 21 years. I remember the days of mobilisation and training. It was far too late to train the reserves. In 1939 the age limit was raised and the span became 18 to 40 years. It was not until 1941 that civil defence was included.

Civil defence is important. Indeed, it is vital. The national service liability was two years in the Regular Forces followed by three years and six months in the auxiliary forces. As I have said, we have had conscription throughout the ages. It was known in Saxon times. The Conqueror came to the throne of this country on account of one thing and one thing only—the lack of preparedness on the part of the Saxons to resist. That is a historical lesson that none of us should forget.

I was in this place when the abolition of compulsory military service was announced in 1960. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate he will probably advance the same reason. It was said in 1960 by the powers-that-be in the military Forces, and said quite rightly, that from their point of view national service meant that they had to employ a large number of skilled men to train people for a short period of military service. That was the argument that was advanced, but it is one that can be overcome.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) said that the problem could be overcome by allowing officers and NCOs in the Forces to extend their engagements to enable them to supply the necessary training. If that training is to be provided, we must supply the equipment and ensure that we have the ability to offer proper training.

I like the idea of the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston that we should start at the schools. However, I think that he will be the first to recognise that there would be a gap. If we started such a scheme now, there would be many whom we would not be able to get in the net of choice of the form of service that they would like to adopt. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman and the approach that he suggests, but I think that we need to have a small gap before such a scheme is implemented.

As the hon. Gentleman said, I think that the Forces should come first, followed by other services of a technical nature. The list should continue with civil defence, ambulance workers, the fire brigade and the auxiliary fire service and other similar services.

Mr. Russell Kerr

I should not like to be misunderstood. I mentioned first, by way of example, the Armed Forces. It was not my intention to convey any sense of priority. The basis of my hastily thought-out scheme is a wide range of choice. Those taking part in it would opt for their preferences. They would choose the service in which they wished to spend their one year of community service, including the Armed Forces. I was placing no priority on the Armed Forces.

Dr. Glyn

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I misinterpreted his scheme. Normally we run through the Services in the order that I set out because there can be conscientious objection to the Armed Forces, whereas it is much more difficult conscientiously to object to being an ambulance worker or to undertaking some other civilian task. That applies especially to the capacity of special constable. However, there has to be much more selectivity for the special constabu- lary. There is a range of non-combative duties.

It is clear that we must increase the size of our reserves. Secondly, we must ensure that they are properly trained by Regulars and that they have modern equipment. It is no use training the reserves with equipment that is out of date. As I have urged previously, it is important that the units of our reserve forces are trained as units, and not as individuals, to go abroad. We know that men like going abroad with their comrades. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will confirm that that is an important part of the training of Territorials.

Whether we like it or not, we must spend money on providing our reserves with proper equipment with which to train. We must ensure that we do not milk our Regular Forces of officers, and especially experienced NCOs, to provide training. We should try to use the men who are leaving the forces to train the reserve forces.

I was interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East about OTCs at universities. I was in the OTC myself, but in those days it was slightly different. In the OTCs we have men who could perhaps extend their period of service. For example, they could do six weeks or a little longer. In that way we would establish a cadre of officers and some NCOs—probably mostly officers—who would be properly trained.

A reserve scheme would require the co-operation of employers. It is much more difficult for a man running a small business with two men on the bench to release one of his employees for military service than it is for ICI to release some of its employees. That is because large companies are able to spread the load across the board. This is one of the great problems of maintaining a reserve army.

There was an organisation called the Supplementary Service, which I joined after the war. Those who were members of it were allowed to spend up to six months a year in training. In other words, the Territorial was not confined to a set period. He could be paid for a longer period of service if he so desired. I served for a longer period, but had to do so at my expense. However, that is another matter. We should be rigid about the minimum period for reservists, but we should not be rigid about extending the maximum period.

We must be prepared for war. We must ensure that we have adequate reserves. We must have a register, either voluntary or compulsory, of those able to step in, especially in the technical area, if there should be a war.

We hope that nothing will happen, but let us not fall into the trap of 1939, when we were ill-prepared and paid the price. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone was in the House at that time.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although we were ill-prepared in 1939, we were prepared in 1956?

Dr. Glyn

I agree that we were better prepared in 1956. We had learnt our lesson in the 1930s, when we faced the build-up of Hitler's forces. In the 1950s we realised that we faced another danger, and we were better prepared. Until 1960 there was still an element of compulsion in military service.

The question of military service is one on which the House is divided and on which the nation is not entirely satisfied. If there is to be national service, there should be an opportunity for choice of service, whether it be military or community. Everybody must recognise that he has a duty to society. The gap between the school leaving age and the age at which youngsters go to work is a difficult period. It might be necessary to reduce the age at which they can undertake service, so that the gap does not arise.

12.23 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

We are grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) for introducing the motion and for drawing our attention once more to the menace of Soviet aggression and imperialism.

Opposition Members have spoken of an unstable regime at the time of Hitler. I suppose that they believe that there is now a certain amount of stability in the Kremlin. I would hate to rely upon that stability. It is only prudent that we should take action to prepare our- selves and to be ready should something go wrong.

My right hon. Friend spoke on the subject of registration. That has several important characteristics. First, there is the question of allocation. If people are registered they could be allocated. A system could be devised where they would know where to go, how many would be needed, what uniforms and equipment would be required, and how to deal with their training. It would be a contingency plan so that action could be taken when it is needed.

Secondly, there is the characteristic of acceleration. If, heaven forbid, Russia became more active, dominant and aggressive, we would be faced with the question what, if anything, we should do. Could we do it, dare we do it, and how long would it take? If we introduced the proposals suggested by my right hon. Friend, six months would be saved—lead time, reaction time and response time would be saved. We would have made half of the political decisions that might be difficult to make in difficult circumstances. All that we would have to do is to activate certain categories, as required, within the register.

Thirdly, there should be a national awareness that, regrettably, is lacking in many areas at present. When that buff envelope arrived on the doorstep of an 18-year-old and he opened it and saw that he had been allocated to the 11th Northampton shire infantry regiment, or whatever, he would know what he had to do if the balloon went up. It would give him a sense of identification with the nation. That is important.

Fourthly, I turn to recruitment to the reserve forces. If a man thought that he was involved in an organisation or movement he might wish to find out more about that organisation. It would encourage recruitment to our reserves, which I think everybody in the House would agree are not as strong as we would wish.

I wish to associate the reserves with national service. When we had national service we had also a large reserve army. Many hon. Members, especially those on the Select Committee, have said that the Regular forces do not wish to have reserves because they are not up to date and do not have the skills or the background. As I have already submitted in an intervention, I believe that 90 per cent. of the skills required could be learnt in a short period of training within national service. The skills of communicating by radio, driving a vehicle, weaponry, fieldcraft, general military movement and mobilisation could be imparted in a short time.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) mentioned another reason for wishing to increase our reserve of disciplined manpower, although I believe that he is a little frightened of that reason. I take an opposite view. In a time of national emergency, perhaps at the time of some future steel strike, where industry is grinding to a halt, unless there is a reserve of manpower available to take action to sustain the nation, we are deprived of one valuable option. I stress that it is not an option that we wish to take at this time, but who knows what circumstances may exist in four or five years? With our armed and reserve forces as small and as stretched as they are, there is little that we could do.

We are speaking of national service, but there are other needs in our society with which we are currently dealing inadequately. There is the problem of our urban environment, the graffiti, destruction, vandalism and devastation. We must devise a solution and find people to carry out that solution. There are problems in the rural environment. Our canals need attention. There are many things that could be done if we could find and afford those who could do the work.

In social work there is a growing army of elderly persons, and we have yet to begin to devise the resources to deal with that problem. There are problems in our hospitals and we require volunteers.

I was very pleased to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr). I found it a most encouraging speech and I agree with everything that he said. I hope, in a few minutes, to develop my proposals much in line with those that he put forward.

Also, some form of national service would be highly educational. At present, many of our schools, unfortunately, due to difficult circumstances, may not be giving good academic education. But there are many aspects of education—community living, working together, social responsibility—which I am afraid they cannot even begin to approach or tackle. If we had some form of national service, these problems could be taken on board.

I should like to suggest a scheme of national community service. This is not something that I alone have suggested. Many people in many fields have also recommended it. Some of my inspiration comes from the Birkenhead Council for Voluntary Service, which suggested just such a title. One of the points that the council makes is the need for a sense of purpose in our young people. I quote from a letter: For many of our young people when they leave school the outlook is bleak, not only because of the lack of opportunity of employment but also because they have not developed the resources which can enable them to live positive and creative lives, and the result is that so many become discontented, frustrated and aimless. We believe that it is a crime to neglect these young people in their most formative years and we therefore recommend a scheme of national community service which will give them not only something to look forward to but also will inspire and draw forth qualities inherent in youth such as idealism, enthusiasm, courage, ability and creativity, This is the time to grasp boldly the opportunity to give our young people a sense of purpose. I believe that the opportunities for this at present are very limited indeed.

As hon. Members will know, there was a debate on this subject in the other place in November—a debate introduced by the Lord Bishop of London, who made a very positive speech in favour of what he called a national youth service. He implied in that debate that one of the things that he would like to see was a period of residential living together within the community. Also, interestingly enough, he referred to another important speech, given by His Excellency Kingman Brewster.

Another organisation of which hon. Members will be aware is Community Service Volunteers, whose honorary director is Alex Dickson, who founded the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation. Hon. Members will be aware of the magnificent work that this organisation does, involving 20,000 people, from managerial trainees all the way through to borstal boys. I quote from a letter that Alex Dickson sent to me: Emphasis should be on the word 'service'; that is to say, that young people would have the satisfaction of feeling that they were responding to genuine needs and making some personal contribution to the solution of problems that beset a community, the nation or individuals. It is a kind of marriage of two things, the need of young people to be wanted, to be challenged, to feel that they are doing something positive to make the world a better place, and the needs of all those things which require to be done but which are not being done or are being done quite inadequately, on the other hand. Another organisation is doing excellent work in this field—the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. This, again, is a valuable and imaginative body. It currently organises over 200 weekly residential projects within the environment. The director, Charles Flower, says in a letter: In brief, we aim to mobilise young people to undertake practical conservation work in Britain, and through this active participation in a conservation project, to teach them to care for their environment. They won't cut down the trees or smash up the fences if they put them up in the first place. We are encouraged in all by the vast amount of countryside work…that needs to be done by a whole host of bodies, from the private landowner to the local authority… This type of involvement of young people turns vandals into citizens, makes them work together with others as a team, to find out what leadership is all about, to learn about themselves and to do work which otherwise would not get done.

Mr. Lyell

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware of it, but I am sure that he will be interested to know that the Royal United Services Institution is trying to promote exactly the kind of ideas that he is putting forward. I wondered whether my hon. Friend had been in touch with the institution.

Mr. Marlow

I thank my hon. Friend. I am well aware that the Royal United Services Institution is involved in these discussions. I intend to get in touch with the institution.

I should like to conclude by briefly outlining the scheme that I propose. It is slightly different from the scheme proposed already by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston. Some aspects of that scheme may be appropriate; some of mine may be appropriate. It is for others to judge.

As I say, I should like to see a scheme of national community service. Many hon. Members, if not all, will have been involved in national service and will remember it. They will remember its bad aspects, such as the boring things that had to be done, the bullying drill sergeant, the days that they crossed off on the calendar to check how many days they had to go before they could come out. On the other hand, I suspect that most hon. Members have far stronger memories of the benefits, the advantages and the enjoyment of national service, the friends made, places visited, opportunities presented, and the things that they did that they would otherwise never have had the opportunity to do.

National community service would offer many of these benefits that we have had in the past and others as well. The scheme would be voluntary. It would be for those between the ages of 16 and 21. There would be an encouragement to join, in that unemployment benefit would not normally be payable to those under the age of 21 unless they had joined the scheme.

It would be for both sexes. It would probably be of a year's duration. It would start with three months of something like Outward Bound training, where the young people would come together as a team and work together on tasks, on adventure training, and so on. They would get outside and get fitter. They would get to know each other and to learn how others think and feel and how to react to their peers in a way that most have never had the opportunity to do.

Having done their first three months of introduction, they would have the option to go in one of a series of directions—as has already been suggested by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston. They could work either in the environment or in the local community. They could do social work. They could visit old people. They could help with social services. They could help in hospitals and schools. They could do some of the jobs that are currently being done by local authorities—I know that this will be an unfashionable idea on the Opposition Benches—and they could do some of the more boring humdrum jobs, as one regards them if one has to do them for a lifetime, but jobs that can, for a short period of a few months, give a great deal of satisfaction. One would gain another point of view in approaching such tasks.

Mr. Soley

I am becoming very encouraged by the hon. Member, because I cannot help feeling that he is saying that we ought to be spending more on the social services. Is he aware that to organise such a scheme one needs organisers to go ahead and set it up? That is already being done, but one of the problems is that, because of cuts in the social services budget, we no longer have enough people being paid to do that job. How will these people be paid when the scheme that he is suggesting is set up?

Mr. Marlow

I accept that point. I was going to move on to the question of payment later. Perhaps I may just dwell on how the scheme would go and how it would be set up.

After the first three months, it would be quite optional. It would involve environmental or social work or, alternatively, if people wanted to do it—and no one would force anyone to do anything—people could join the Army, the Navy or the Royal Air Force. Having done a period of nine months further training there, they could move on to the reserve. But I do not suspect that they would be the majority. I suspect that the majority would take the other options.

It could be a flexible scheme. The nine-month period need not necessarily be in the same place. It could be three months doing social work and six months doing environmental work.

There would be the opportunity for people either to return to the place where they were born, or where they came from, or, alternatively, to do their work in some other part of the country. There would be an opportunity to travel and to do jobs that people would never otherwise be able to attempt to do. They would have the opportunity to see places and people whom otherwise, in their lifetime they would never see.

The scheme would be educational and broadening, and it would give our young people a chance early in their lifetime to be able to assess and decide how they wanted to settle down, what sort of job they wanted and where the wanted to go—whether it be into a caring profession or into the building industry. They would have seen for themselves what the scheme involved. They would have seen a bit of the world. They would have become mature. At the end of the scheme, they would be more valuable to potential employers.

I approach the question of cost in three ways. It is not an issue that I wish to duck. First, at the present time we are spending a lot of money on unemployment and supplementary benefit for the under-21s. I do not have an exact figure, but I would not be surprised if it amounted to about £300 million a year. Secondly, as I have suggested, some of the work that is currently undertaken by local authorities could be undertaken by the scheme at much less cost, and I believe that much more work would be done. Thirdly, some of the scheme's activities could be chargeable and could be paid for by local authorities or private individuals. For example, work carried out on estates could be paid for.

The participants in the scheme would be paid pocket money, just as we were during our days in national service. They would live communally in sparse, bare accommodation, such as old churches, old village halls, houses that have been boarded up by the local authority, schools that have become surplus to our requirements and, in certain circumstances, even tents. I am sure that the young people would not mind. I am sure that they would love the challenge and experience. In those circumstances, the cost of looking after these young people would be minimal, but the savings would be quite large. It is perfectly possible for such a scheme to be devised on a break-even basis.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) will talk about training. This would be a voluntary scheme, and it may be that in its first year only 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 people would join. We may need some people from the Armed Services as a back-up. Lance-corporals could become corporals, or corporals could become sergeants, and they would gain experience. Alternatively, we could use school teachers. Heaven knows, there is a surplus of school teachers, and I am sure that some of them would rather be involved in this sort of activity than the work that they are doing at the moment.

I do not believe that there would be a problem in getting personnel to train the participants in such a scheme. As the scheme developed, people from it might decide that they wanted to stay on, and some of the management and leadership could be allocated to those who had participated in it.

I could say more, but I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I should very much like my hon. Friend and others in the Government to consider the possible development of such a scheme, because I believe that it would do a great deal for the less fortunate in our community, for our environment, and, above all, for those who participated in it. It would give them an education that they do not have the opportunity to receive now. On top of everything else, it would give them a sense of nationhood, a community responsibility and a feeling of caring for others, which, sadly, so many people lack at present.

12.43 pm
Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

The debate has ranged widely, possibly well outside what one would have thought to be the scope of the motion. During my 14 years in the House I have never managed to have my name drawn from Ballot Box, not even among the first three. I have never even managed to get on the list of 26 Private Members' Bills, but I live in hope.

My constituents, like many others, are being hammered by hospital closures, unemployment, cuts in social services and things of that sort. If I ever did manage to emerge first in the Ballot, I am sure that the people of Mansfield would suggest other topics for me to discuss.

I am slightly perturbed about the motion. It might be the will of the House to allow a debate on the next motion, the needs of the disabled, so that it can be passed. With that in mind, I do not intend to go over the speeches that have been made during the past fortnight, or the statements that have been made. Nor do I wish to reiterate some of things that have been said in this debate.

I thoroughly agreed with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). I am sure that all hon. Members will wish to read it diligently. To my mind, he showed how impractical a register would be. On top of that, my hon. Friend put forward his own views. If at some time he cares to read my maiden speech, he will find that it was on the subject of the Territorial Army. It is a brave act for an hon. Member to make one's maiden speech on defence, but I managed to do so.

If acted upon, I believe that the motion before us would be seen as another over-reaction. I do not believe that it is necessary, and certainly I think that it would be misunderstood. Such a measure is not required by the Armed Forces, and I am sure that the nation's youth would react most strongly to it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, those are my views and I shall try to expand on them.

Many hon. Members have referred to 1914 and 1939, but attitudes have changed since we last had conscription. It is 20 years since we last had conscription, in 1960, and during that time the image of the Armed Forces has changed. They are professionals in the truest sense, and they pride themselves on that image. They have thoroughly earned that title.

What worries me and other hon. Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) put his finger on it—is that we can talk ourselves into attitudes. We are sometimes accused of being Atlantic hoppers or Senate watchers, inasmuch as we must imitate whatever happens over there.

The terms of the motion are one thing, but the speeches that have been made are quite another. I agree wholeheartedly with a lot of what was said by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I have been a volunteer all my life, and at times I have suffered for it. I readily agree with some of his sentiments about voluntary work. If we can instil that attitude into the community, all the better. However, I do not accept the view that someone should become a compulsory volunteer and register for this or that. I believe that the youth of today would resent such an attitude.

I am sure that there will be some misrepresentation or misinterpretation of the intentions of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) as a result of some of the speeches that have been made. What worries some of us is that some people will always try to jump on the bandwagon. Indeed, some are already doing so. Only yesterday a newspaper was sent to me about something entirely different, but what caught my eye in the Stafford Newsletter was the headline: Fraser calls for National War List. That is something that might be misinterpreted. Many people believe—there has been a tendency towards it today—that a year in the Army will be good for the youth of our country. It is thought that it will make them stand up straight, as one hon. Member said. Many believe that 12 months with a good regimental sergeant major, such as I had, will make better men of them. Some think that conscription will solve all our problems and that hooliganism will cease overnight—that is if the offender comes from a comprehensive school. If he is from other seats of learning, the same action is considered to be high spirits or signs of leadership.

We still hear from time to time—I am thankful that we hear it less and less as time goes by—magistrates threatening offenders with a term in the Army. When I read such comments in my local paper it makes my blood boil. They remind me of magistrates who, at one time, thought that the crimes of the Ripper were on a par with somebody who had been caught taking a couple of rabbits in the squire's wood.

What we should be able to get over to people is that the Army is no longer like that. The few cases that surface now and again of offenders in the Forces—we have had a spate of them lately—are embarrassing to the Forces, and they are well rid of them.

Our Forces have carried out the will of Parliament over the years. They have had some dirty jobs given to them. We have asked them to perform some unpleasant tasks, both of a military nature and on the home front, especially over the last year.

I have looked at the list of campaign medals awarded since 1945. I make the total 16 plus three awarded by the United Nations. I wonder where the honourable soldier is who holds the record for having gained the most of those medals since 1945.

Members of our Armed Forces, as privates and junior NCOs, are expected one day to man our nuclear deterrent and then virtually the next to be on the streets of Belfast and the borders of Northern Ireland. They are expected to operate highly technical equipment one day and the next day to behave with tact and diplomacy of the highest order on the streets of Northern Ireland.

No one can convince me that conscripting young people into the Army for nine months or a year will be beneficial for our Armed Forces. Some of those who have spoken today seem to be talking in a vacuum, as if we had no Armed Forces. Our Armed Forces are the envy of the rest of the world, and we ought to maintain that reputation. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South and the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) demolished the practicality of a register. I am all in favour of volunteers.

I made my maiden speech on the subject of the Territorial Army and its equipment. I remember that the same complaints were made about its equipment as have been made about today's equipment. Fourteen years ago we were still using radios with Russian symbols on them. One can see how far we have come. The radio equipment that we used had been sent to Russia on a lease-lend basis and brought back and given to us at the end of the war.

There is resistance by some employers to voluntary work by employees. If we are to have the kind of voluntary work that has been suggested we must instil a different attitude into the people of the country and also into the minds of management. We must see that those who volunteer are allowed to have time off, and are even encouraged to do so.

My admiration for the modern Service man is, I think, well known. After being in Ireland for five years, my admiration knows no bounds. The modern Service man has served in all corners of the world and is expected to carry out his duties with diplomacy and tact.

For example, we have only to consider Rhodesia. Throughout the world politicians got their heads together, and after weeks of negotiations an agreement was reached. To make the agreement work we sent a few hundred of our Service mento Rhodesia to monitor it. The remarkable thing is that that was done quickly, quietly and with the minimum of fuss. That is a great credit to our Armed Forces and the system in which they work.

There has recently been a series on the television about the Army. Whatever the faults of that programme, one officer made a remark which I think is interesting. It summed everything up for me. He said "What we need, and what we have finally got, are thinking soldiers". At one time I would have given much to have some thinking officers.

The structure of the Armed Services has changed since my time. The attitude of my RSM used to be that a soldier was paid not to think but to do. When I remember that the pay was about 4s. a day—in today's money 20p—I am not surprised. I do not know how anyone could call that amount pay. That is not to belittle the non-commissioned officer of yesterday or my RSM. My RSM was a giant of a man in all respects; he was man's man. But he would have been out of place in today's Army. The Army has a different structure today and is given different tasks to carry out. My RSM will probably not remember me, but I certainly remember him, as do many thousands.

To those who wish to use the motion, as some will, as a vehicle for their own prejudices, I say that they should reconsider, because the Army cannot help and has no wish to help.

Another aspect of the motion, which shows how we move on, is that it will have an effect on our youth, who cannot remember conscription. Does the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone think for one moment that women will not demand equal treatment? We have had women's rights and equal opportunities thrust upon us by women's liberation movements over the last 20 years. They will demand to be treated equally.

To show that I am not biased or chauvinistic, I ask "Why not?". In my time I have seen many women soldiers and women terrorists in many parts of the world. Women soldiers do their duties well, and I know that female terrorists stand up to interrogation very well. Many of our young female soldiers perform dangerous tasks in Northern Ireland. They have been brought out from behind the typewriters and out of the telephone exchanges to perform new tasks. I have had brushes with women soldiers throughout the world, some of which I have not cherished.

Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us about them?

Mr. Concannon

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman some time in a quiet corner. I might say that it was something for which I was not trained or prepared.

I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion. He has given it an airing, but let us put it back on the shelves.

Youth will ask more questions these days. Young people have been taught to ask questions. They will probe and want to be satisfied about the justification for any action. We should not insult young people by asking them to go on a register in readiness for something that is unknown, unnecessary and not wanted. If the time comes when we need a register, or need to have a call-up—which we should all dedicate ourselves to avoiding—I think that the justice of the cause will be all that is required. I think that the youth of today, like the youth of yesterday, will not be found wanting. If we put more trust in our young people, if we show them in a responsible way what is required, we shall not find them wanting if the time comes.

Some hon. Members today have asked our young people to respond. It is much better to do that on the basis of the old adage that one volunteer is worth 10 pressed men. I am in favour of the volunteer aspect. I agree with all those hon. Members who have talked about volunteers. What will dampen people's spirits is to be forced to do things.

1.1 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Barney Hayhoe)

I join the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) in his warm and well-deserved tribute to the Armed Forces. He speaks from great knowledge and experience of Northern Ireland. I was delighted, as I am sure every hon. Member present was, by the way in which he commended the behaviour of our troops in Northern Ireland in dealing with a very difficult situation, a way that has won my profound admiration when I have been privileged to see them.

The right hon. Gentleman was also right to mention Rhodesia. When the contribution of the British forces there as observers becomes public knowledge, it will rank with many more publicised, perhaps more dramatised, contributions that they have made in other parts of the world. I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman should have paid that tribute in such well measured terms. I underline and reinforce what he said.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) on initiating the debate. It has been a very good debate, with sensible, constructive speeches and an absence of mere party political propaganda. The whole debate has been extremely valuable.

There is a great deal of public interest and concern about national service. There have recently been more references to it in the newspapers and on radio and television. I do not know whether that is wholly due to my right hon. Friend's motion and publicity. Certainly, I find as I go around the country and talk to people that many of the sentiments that we have heard today about a return to national service are being expressed in the pubs, the streets and homes.

The discussion has not been generated only by the Soviet Union's cynical and callous invasion of Afghanistan, to which there has been much reference in the debate. I admired the ingenuity of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who has had to leave early because of a threatened strike at Edinburgh airport, in expanding upon the brief speech that he made on Monday. If we look at column 1028 of Hansard for 28 January we see in succinct, note form the basic framework of his interesting and elaborate description today of the population explosion of those of the Muslim persuasion in the southern parts of the Soviet Union. However, I must repudiate the way in which the hon. Gentleman linked the situation in Northern Ireland with Afghanistan. That detracted very much from his interesting speech.

I should like to reiterate briefly—because it was said earlier this week so much better by some of my right hon.

Friends—the Government's condemnation of the Soviet action, and to draw attention to the significance of the United Nations vote on Afghanistan. Perhaps in the longer sweep of history the fact that the Soviet Union's action has attracted such widespread condemnation throughout the world will have an impression upon future developments that it is hard to foresee now.

The problem of the formidable threat posed by the Soviet Union's heavy commitment to military spending has been underlying our thought as we debate the motion. I say "military" spending because it is certainly not for defensive purposes. As my right hon. Friend made clear in his vivid and powerful description of the Soviet war potential, it cannot conceivably be justified as being purely for defence. Therefore, it is right that we should continue to be concerned about a nation that is spending 12 per cent. to 13 per cent. of its national income on military purposes. One rouble in eight is going to the Soviet armed forces.

The Russians have now produced weapons systems of very high quality and sophistication. I do not wish to repeat what was said in our defence debate on Thursday of last week, but I must mention in passing the SS20 and the Backfire bomber as indications of the sort of weapons systems now being deployed as a result of that immensely heavy commitment to military expenditure in the Soviet Union.

It would be wrong to re-run last week's debate on defence or this week's debate on the situation in Asia, but I must repeat the Government's clear commitment to give priority to defence and our support for NATO. The threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact is very real. It cannot be shrugged aside.

I do not accept the analysis of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), who spoke of an atmosphere of war hysteria being whipped up. Like him, I can remember the period from 1937 to 1939. I remember it dimly, for I was then a child, but I knew that war was coming. As I go around the country today I do not believe that there is any similar feeling.

The hon. Gentleman does a disservice to sensible discussion of these matters by trying to suggest that the feelings then about the inevitability of war can be compared with our feelings today.

Mr. Heffer

I was not a child in 1939. Within two years I was in the forces. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not asked such questions when he goes round the country, but I am being asked in my constituency and elsewhere "Will there be a war? We are very frightened about it." Perhaps other hon. Members are not being asked the same question, but I am, and it worries me no end.

Mr. Hayhoe

I accept the hon. Gentleman's testimony, of course, but even with my experience as a younger person of those immediate pre-war days in the early 1930s I see no similarity between the mood of the country now and what I remember of those days.

The motion refers to "national or military service". I remind the House of the United Kingdom's long tradition of having all-volunteer forces. I have not had the advantage of the academic background of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn), with his considerable researches into conscription in the Saxon days, but if we look broadly at the way in which we have organised our Armed Forces over the years we find that it has always been on a voluntary basis.

Compulsory service was introduced in the last two great wars. It was introduced in 1939 by the Military Training Act, which, in the early part of the year, placed the liability on all males aged 20 and 21 to register for military training. That was followed by the National Service (Armed Forces) Act of September 1939, which gave much wider powers and allowed the Government by Royal Proclamation to impose the liability on particular grounds to register at local labour exchanges. At that time we knew something of the problems of deferment and of conscientious objectors and elaborate arrangements were made to give effect to that legislation.

Conscription was introduced to meet the manpower needs of two world wars but in both cases it was abolished as soon as practicable after those wars. It was abolished after the Second World War as a result of the 1957 defence re- view. We returned to all-volunteer Armed Forces in the early 1960s. I believe that this has brought many advantages. There is absolutely no doubt that voluntary service is more cost effective and less wasteful. The rapid turnover which the previous form of national service required needed substantial administrative back-up and a much larger training organisation than the modern Army requires.

The modem Army requirement is for a highly trained, well-motivated body of men and women who are, not without reason, called "the professionals". They are professional. They belong to a specialised and well trained professional force. Numbers are certainly not the requirement at present. The right hon. Member for Mansfield says that we need quality. I am delighted to tell the House that we are getting high quality recruits.

On the manpower question, when we came to office we inherited shortages of many thousands of officers and men, and as a result some of the battalions have one of their companies in cadre form because we are still short of men. We have ships that have been transferred to the standby squadron because the trained manpower is not available. We have shortages of pilots in the Royal Air Force.

One of the problems facing the Armed Forces was that of premature voluntary retirement—PVR. People were leaving the forces at an unacceptably high rate and the loss of skilled NCOs and experienced captains and majors in the Army and the equivalent ranks in other Services, was a haemorrhage that was very damaging and very difficult to repair.

However, the overall situation has much improved. The latest figures show that in the third quarter of 1979—the latest date for which figures are available—recruiting was 27 per cent. up on the same period in 1978. That is a substantial and useful increase. Since the end of national service in 1960 these 1979 figures have been exceeded only twice—in 1961 and 1971. This is a good indication that we are getting recruits of the right quality as well as getting close to the right quantity that we need and can cope with in the training organisation.

In addition to the rise in recruiting, applications for PVR have gone down by 30 per cent. for soldiers compared with a year ago. Both in recruitment and retention the Armed Forces are getting stronger, and at present their overall strength is increasing for the first time for many years.

Mr. Heffer

I am not against this recruitment, but is it not true that the basic reason for it is rising unemployment? These lads have nowhere else to go. I think that the Minister will find that as long as unemployment rises, recruitment to the Armed Forces will increase as well.

Mr. Hayhoe

The hon. Member allows his political prejudices to overcome an elementary acknowledgement of the facts. When unemployment doubled under the last Labour Government—when it rose more sharply than at any time since the Labour Government's period of office in 1930–31—recruitment did not increase. A serious analysis shows that there is no clear correlation between recruitment to the Armed Forces and levels of unemployment, either locally or nationally. If the hon. Member wishes to intervene in such matters he should take an elementary look at the facts before making his absurd contentions.

I do not believe that conscription will solve any of the Armed Forces manpower problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) made clear, conscription would almost certainly make things worse by compounding our difficulties. It would require the diversion of trained manpower and the dilution of training effort. It would absorb scarce resources. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone cannot suggest that we would resolve the problem of the shortage of doctors in the Army, artificers in the Royal Navy or pilots in the RAF by having a system of enforced service. I would not want to be operated on by a doctor who had been pushed into the Army against his will.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

The Minister is hardly trying to reply seriously. My point is that there are very large gaps in the Army that must be closed. One way of closing them is by registration. Then we would know whether we could meet the needs on the outbreak of war.

Mr. Hayhoe

One cannot meet a shortage of doctors by the act of registration. Registration could be a prelude to something else, and something else is the compulsion on a person to give service. There is no evidence to show that that would resolve our manpower problems.

Mr. Lyell

Has the Minister plans to do anything else?

Mr. Hayhoe

If I continue my speech, hon. Members will hear what I have to say. What I have already said is significant. We are getting a greater number of recruits, and the figures are 27 per cent. up on a year ago.

There is a greater retention of Service men in the Armed Forces. The number of those who retire prematurely is falling. Premature retirement from the forces often includes those who have the specific skills mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone. We are tackling those problems. Some improvements are being made. If more resources were made available, better use could be made of those resources in meeting manpower requirements. Better use can be made of them if we follow our present policy rather than switch to the idea of compulsory service.

In pure defence terms, we do not believe that there is any advantage to conscription. However, several nonmilitary arguments have been put forward. Within the context of the House of Commons, we have seen an interesting combination of my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) with the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr). They have commended voluntary service and have demanded increased support for it. I was delighted to see that combination. In terms of the old national service, it is possible to argue—one accepts such arguments immediately—that in terms of discipline, comradeship, adventure, team work and interdependence, advantages do flow. People who work together, preferably voluntarily, can overcome the needs of the community.

I reiterate the importance of voluntary service. I was particularly delighted when my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, made a specific reference to Alex Dickson. I have worked with him over the years—first in Voluntary Service Overseas and later in Community Service Volunteers. He has done a great deal for his country and can continue to do so. I am delighted that support and encouragement are given to him by the Government. This debate may help to encourage more support for his work. There are many other voluntary groups—some have already been mentioned—that should be encouraged.

Mr. Soley

As I said earlier, where will the money come from? Organisations in my constituency are collapsing through lack of resources. They are folding up because no money is available from the Government. The Prime Minister has said that those resources must be cut. Is the Minister saying that he will find money for those organisations?

Mr. Hayhoe

If the hon. Gentleman were to talk to Alex Dickson and others concerned about this subject, he would discover that such people do not wish to be too reliant upon Government resources. There is more opportunity for such organisations to draw support from the communities that they serve. I am happy to give every encouragement in that direction.

I believe that it has been argued that such community service should be made compulsory. That is a very different question. Are we to say that the—

Mr. Marlow

I did not suggest that community service should be compulsory. I said that it should be voluntary. However, I further suggested that unemployment pay should not be payable to those who have not gone through the scheme. They would be refusing the opportunity of work by taking unemployment benefit. They would have the opportunity to work in this scheme but if they did not wish to do so, they would not get unemployment benefit. Once they had worked in the scheme, they would get unemployment benefit like everyone else. However, there are exceptional cases—married mothers and so on—whom one would wish to look after.

Mr. Hayhoe

I am delighted that my hon. Friend recognises the dangers of compulsory community service. It would lead to the problem—which my hon. Friend clearly recognises—of what to do with 750,000 school leavers. Would compulsory service apply to all, or only to some? How could one differentiate?

What would one do about those who have a job to go to, or who may have a job to go to, in a month's time? Severe problems are involved once one departs from the voluntary principle and once one seeks to make compulsion the order of the day.

An all-embracing compulsory scheme would cost a great deal of money in administration and supervision. Quite a bit has been done for young people leaving school. The Manpower Services Commission and the youth opportunities programme dealt with about 200,000 young people this year. That is a 30 per cent. increase as compared with last year. Moreover, there has been a reduction in the cost of the programme of about £25 million. Such schemes underline some of the comments that have seen national service in terms of a national community service. We should get the background into a better perspective. However, such matters are largely for the Home Office, the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science. I shall not tread further on their grounds.

One aspect of voluntary service is of dear and important interest to those who are involved in defence, namely, the Territorial Army. That involves the whole question of reserves. Reserves are extremely important, because the speedy reinforcement of our forces in the BAOR is of great significance. It is a question not of months or weeks but of days and hours. There are time constraints in terms of getting reinforcements to the right place. Those constraints can be severe. Many references have been made to the Territorial Army. I was particularly pleased by the contributions made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) and by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), whose speech has received great praise and support from all quarters of the House.

I add my tribute to the work of the Territorial Army. In my present job I have been privileged to visit it. You know the TA well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not know the TA very well before, but I have been impressed by its dedicated capability. I have seen the TAin Britain and on exercise in Germany.

It was right of the Government to carry out at an early stage some of the major recommendations of the Shapland report. I think that it has been well received that we restored the name of the TA. As the hon. Member for Walsall, South, said, many people thought that that change of name some years ago meant that the TA had vanished. However, as many hon. Members know, it is in good condition and is making a substantial contribution to our military capability.

I am sorry to say that the TA is still below strength. We have made improvements as regards its name and the giving of increased training bounties. We have improved equipment and we have given opportunities for training overseas.

I was delighted by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead, because he stressed the importance of training side by side with those units that it would reinforce in time of war. At present, the basic strength of the TA is about 12,000 men short. However, recruitment has greatly improved. Again, I am delighted to be able to report that since September, when we launched a recruiting drive giving details of the changes made and the improvements to training bounties, numbers in the TA have increased by 2,000. Recruits are still flowing in. I hope that this debate will have given more publicity to the important role that it plays.

I hope that the comments addressed from both sides of the House to employers urging them to do all they can to release employees who are members of the TA for their essential training exercises will be heeded both in the public and private sectors. Of course we recognise that employers in small concerns have particular difficulties, and they deserve commendation for the extent to which they already allow their employees to participate in TA activities.

Mr. Banks

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Royal Naval Reserve does a remarkably good job, and will he couple that Service with the TA in the sentiments that he has expressed?

Mr. Hayhoe

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. As an Army Minister I have tended to think primarily of the Army, and that has been the tone of the debate, but the reserve and volunteer elements of the other Services are of equal importance.

The volunteer reserves such as the TA are not our only reserves. When Service men leave the colours they join the Regular reserves. To ensure that we make the best use of those reserves we have produced individual reinforcement plans which will speed their mobilisation. It is well understood that under the scheme an individual keeps his uniform and equipment—though not his weapons—at home. He reports yearly for a check of fitness and availability and is paid a bounty for being ready to respond extremely quickly to a mobilisation call. Our present estimate is that this arrangement would probably reduce the time for effective mobilisation by 50 per cent., a significant gain.

Mr. Concannon

I have been involved in mobilisation on two occasions, once while I was in the Army. Surely the arrangement the Minister has described is the best and most efficient, as well as being highly selective. I remember the call-up of selective people for the Suez campaign and how quickly and how well that went. It is as well to stress that this group of highly trained people is available on call at just about any time.

Mr. Hayhoe

That is certainly true, and it applies as well to people with specialist skills. The shortages of such people in the Services have been referred to. Hon. Members have today genuinely sought ways of dealing with the problem. They have suggested a register—either compulsory or voluntary. We shall study that possibility. However, by far the best way of compiling a voluntary register is to persuade people to join the TA or the other reserves where they will receive basic military training. They will become used to the Service environment in time of peace and be ready to be called upon in an emergency. We shall study the other suggestions, but I strongly recommend that people should be encouraged to join the existing voluntary reserve forces.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West referred to university OTCs. They are important. I am immensely impressed by the quality of young men and women joining OTCs. Like my hon. and learned Friend, I should like to encourage them. I hope that we shall encourage those who join OTCs to carry on into the TA. They are just the sort of people we want for that longer commitment.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Since my hon. Friend is reaching the end of his remarks, perhaps he could address himself to the motion, which states that because of the shortages we need a system of legislation. That is all that the motion asks. He is demonstrating those shortages minute by minute.

Mr. Hayhoe

I have mentioned specialist skills. The best way to get hold of people with the skills that we badly need, such as doctors, is to persuade them voluntarily to register to join the TA. Indeed, within the Territorial Army we already have doctors of international repute. They give up their time for the TA and are performing an admirable service for their country. It is more effective to encourage such people than to set up a bureaucratic system of registration, which may be in the minds of some hon. Members who support the motion—any motion can be read in a variety of ways.

The responsibility for a register would probably be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. What would that system involve? First, it would require legislation. Staff would then be required to administer the scheme in local offices throughout the country. National records would have to be checked to ensure that registration details were complete. Reserved occupations would need to be considered. Would women also be required to register? It would be a difficult task, involving decisions that are bound to cause controversy.

The financial and administrative burden would be considerable at a time when we are trying to cut the public expenditure and the size of the Civil Service. Moreover, it would inconvenience those involved and create a climate of uncertainty for young people, those in higher education and employers.

The hon. Member for Walsall, South mentioned the problems of medical examinations, individual qualifications and so on. I do not believe that a general register covering an entire age group would help the country's military capability.

Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)

Does my hon. Friend realise that he is making a strong case for the establishment of a register now? The processes that he has adumbrated would have to be carried out in a short space of time in a state of of emergency. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) is suggesting that they should be carried out at greater leisure by establishing a register now. The exercise could be carried out in a more refined way than in the chaos resulting from a state of emergency and mobilisation.

Mr. Hayhoe

I do not for one moment accept that. It is not the reality of the position, and it is not the advice that I have from those professionally involved in leading the three Services. The possible circumstances in which we might be engaged in war will not be the same as in the past.

I do not think that it would be right—history is littered with occasions when it happened, with near-disastrous effects—to prepare for a war by taking action that we saw appropriate for wars of the past. I hope that in these circumstances my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone will be willing to ask leave to withdraw his motion. If he is not willing to do that, I hope that I have made the Government's position clear. The Government have no intention of reintroducing national service or conscription. Indeed, I do not believe that any hon. Member who has participated in the debate has called for such action.

The Government do not believe that there is a military or defence need for a register. Legislation to that end would be difficult to introduce into an already crowded parliamentary agenda. However, I understand how my right hon. Friend's motion can be read in a looser fashion and how it can be read to incorporate some of the suggestions that have been made for a voluntary register.

It would easily create the wrong impression outside the House if I were to suggest that the motion should be defeated and if I were to recommend to my hon. Friends that we should seek to oppose the motion. Such a decision could be misrepresented and misunderstood. It could be seen as a lack of resolve by the British Government, as hesitancy in the face of increasing international dangers, or as a weakening in national and governmental attitude towards the Soviet Union's aggression.

Therefore, having made clear the Government's position and reservations, and although I think that on balance it would be best if my right hon. Friend asked leave to withdraw his motion, if he is not willing to do so, I do not believe that it should be opposed.

All the many constructive and helpful points that have been made in the debate will be studied with great care and attention. If recruitment to both the Regular and volunteer forces receives a boost as a result of the debate, as many hon. Members have suggested, that will be an additional bonus, about which I, and I hope all hon. Members, will be well pleased.

1.43 pm
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I am in agreement with the convincing and conclusive case put forward by the Minister. I am sure that we are right to concentrate on building up our Regular forces, stopping the wastage that has been so damaging, and building up our reserves and giving them better equipment, as we pledged to do in our manifesto.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) for proposing the motion today, and particularly for its wording, which allows us to discuss wider subjects than simply the register. I should like to comment on some of the wider issues before dealing with the register.

When he was President of the United States, John Kennedy once said: It is the fate of this generation to live with a struggle we did not start, in a world we did not make. I suspect that many people who have been reading their newspapers in the last few weeks have had that feeling. There is one issue that towers over all our puny lives at the present time: how are we to live in a nuclear world with Soviet imperialism?

An obvious starting point, perhaps, is what I describe as the fatal discussions among Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin after the war, when Roosevelt was more worried about British imperialism than Soviet imperialism. The record is that since those times Britain has given freedom—"a participation in freedom", to use Burke's phrase—to about 600 million people in the world at the same time as the Soviet Union and its supporters have taken over about 14 countries, including Afghanistan. We recall the fate of the Germans in 1953, of the Hungarians in 1956, the Czechoslovaks in 1968 and, in my time in the House, we have had the invasions of Angola and Ethiopia.

Khrushchev once said: The day we Communists give up our struggle for the world will be the day the shrimp has learned to whistle on the mountain tops. I confess that I sometimes wish my own Front Bench used such vivid terms in presenting our case.

We start the decade with an elderly leadership in the Kremlin jockeying amongst themselves for power and finding it increasingly hard, if not impossible, to control their military industrial complex. I might add that we start the decade in the worst international climate since the Cuban missile crisis, which I remember so well as I was serving in West Berlin at the time.

We have had a number of important references to the Soviet defence effort. The Russians are devoting almost 20 per cent. of their gross national product to defence, a figure about three times higher than that devoted by the United States, and, of course, they have far lower living standards than those of the West. They have two years' conscription or more. About 200,000 more men have been recruited to their already massive forces in recent years. The Soviet northern Fleet has been strengthened greatly. Currently, the Russians are building nuclear submarines at the rate of one every seven weeks. They have developed a deep-water navy designed to control rather than to deny. Admiral Gorshkov, in his book "The Sea Power of a State", has laid down the philosophy which they have adopted and which they are using very effectively.

We should take special note of the Russians' development of an offensive capability in chemical warfare. There have been reports in Afghanistan of the use of chemical weapons.

The Soviet Union has been deploying—it is almost impossible to believe this, but so we are told—one SS20 warhead in Europe approximately every two days. Of course, they have been carrying out underground nuclear explosions, and their civil defence is remarkably well organised—unlike ours.

I go further. I believe that their population has been brought up to believe in the inevitability of armed struggle and possibly nuclear warfare. We are told sometimes that they are arming against China. But, if we consider the sophistication of their weapons systems, for example, their bombers and their electronic gadgets, it becomes clear that they have the West in mind rather than the less sophisticated forces on the China front.

The invasion of Afghanistan brings a chilling reminder of the step-by-step approach adopted by the Nazis in the late 1930s. I ask whether my generation has really forgotten the lesson of those years.

The invasion of Afghanistan has given the Soviets a stepping stone into the Muslim world. It has given them a springboard from which to mount an offensive against the main sources of Western oil. Of course, the Western world looks to the United States for leadership and firm response. It is suggested in The Times today that Moscow ignored five American warnings before attacking Afghanistan. I should be happy to give way to the Minister if he cared to comment on this allegation, which is most important. Perhaps the Russians saw those warnings in the same light as they saw the American warnings over Angola, when, in a fatal fashion, the Americans used strong words and then did nothing.

Harold Macmillan has described President Carter as the weakest American President in his lifetime. But, supported by a new mood of resolution in his country, he has acted promptly and effectively. Western Europe has an obvious duty to back him to the hilt, as President John Kennedy was backed during the Cuban missile crisis. If the West is strong, its strength will speak for itself. If it is weak, its words will be in vain.

I believe that the Prime Minister's international stature was enhanced by her perceptive warnings as Leader of the Opposition. But, apart from her magnificent response and that of the Government, the European Community has been disastrously confused and divided. Butter, according to today's newspapers, is still to be sold to Russia.

What more should the British Government do? I believe most strongly that we must deal in conciliation with the Soviet Union from a position of strength. In time we shall have to negotiate again on such matters as disarmament. Our concessions should be given only in exchange for Soviet concessions. Otherwise, detente becomes capitulation to Soviet blackmail and political pressures. There have been members of the Labour Party who have been all too willing to exchange an apple for an orchard.

My father saw the beaches of Dunkirk, my grandfather those of Gallipoli. So far, my generation has not been thrown into the crucible. We must toil ceaselessly for European unity and for the bringing together of NATO and the European Community. We should give a lead to NATO in military professionalism and dedication, and strengthen the Alliance through the contribution of our enhanced nuclear deterrent. I say without hesitation that the British nuclear shield has contributed to our survival and the survival of those ideals that we cherish and constantly search for.

We must keep one step ahead of the Soviets in research and development. That is the only way to compensate for our strictly limited manpower. What foolishness it was so heavily to cut back on research and development in former years. The Government have a duty to educate our people in the reality of the Soviet State and the aggressive foreign policy of that State. We should remind them of the basic Soviet commitment to what it calls encouraging the world revolutionary process. We, as members of this House, have a duty to draw public attention to the vicious treatment of Soviet dissidents such as Sakharov and Shcharansky. As we speak, we know that Mrs. Sakharov is appearing before the courts in Moscow.

NATO must be persuaded to move on from what I regard as a Maginot line concept of the defence of the West and to consider the defence of regions well to the south of the Tropic of Cancer. What happens outside the NATO area has become more important than what is happening inside the NATO area. Some of our NATO colleagues will not easily be persuaded. But the thickness of a diver's helmet could impede him if a knife is aimed at his windpipe. I suspect that one of the few actions taken by President Carter that will give Brezhnev a shiver of doubt over Afghanistan will have been the increased defensive links being forged between the United States and China. I have no illusions about the nature of the society in China. In a world crisis, we must look for potential allies.

We are committed to selling the Harrier jump jet to China. Now is the moment, as part of a wider policy of increased trade with China, to consider selling more military hardware to the Chinese.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he then was, expelled 105 Soviet diplomats from London. That sort of action is respected by the Soviet Union. I ask the Government today to look at the number of Russian inspectors in British factories that are supplying equipment to Russia as a result of various trade agreements. In1975 there were thought to be about 70. How many are there today? Are the Government convinced that they do not represent an intelligence threat in the heart of our industrial activity?

The motion has given the House another chance to discuss our response to the taking over of a non-aligned country. I do not support the idea of registration. I would strongly oppose any suggestion for bringing back the old form of national service. That is the wrong road. Defence forces today need highly skilled men and women and should not have to be given the task of training conscripts. The concept of national service as a panacea for social ills is plain nonsense. I entirely support the economic and other measures that the Government have announced. The Soviet Union must be left in no doubt about the sense of outrage felt by the British people and their Parliament. Above all, the Soviet Union must be left in no doubt of this nation's resolve to defend freedom.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said about five years ago: It is not your liberty I am criticising but the way you surrender that liberty step by step. Totalitarianism is born from a weak will and an ill-prepared democracy.

1.55 pm
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

I have enjoyed some of the contributions that have been made, but at the same time I am a little annoyed, apprehensive and disappointed about some of the other I welcome the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and I welcome the contribution from the Minister. They have brought a bit of sense into the debate.

I am amazed by some of the things I have heard. Several Conservative Members seem to think that they are General MacArthur. That is the feeling that I have after listening to them. I believe that people outside would have the same sort of feeling. I have been here only since 3 May, but I sense that the theme coming through in many respects—not just on the question of defence—is confrontation. That is how I have read it before and that is how I read it this morning.

There has been a big cover-up. If the motion had been split into two parts, it would have been acceptable. Instead, we have community service being pushed in front of conscription. There are several hon. Members—

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stour-bridge) rose

Mr. Haynes

I have only just begun my speech. There are people in the House and in the nation who would like to have a go right now. I am convinced of that. We have to be sensible. I accept that in 1939 we were in a mess. There is no doubt about it. We had to have conscription then, and it had to be organised properly. But I remind the House that in 1956 we were the aggressor. That is what frightens me when proposals of this sort are made in the House on the motion today.

Mr. Stokes

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that time is very short. May I point out one thing? The motion contains no mention whatever of the word "conscription".

Mr. Haynes

It means just that, anyway. I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says.

I am convinceld about the feeling on the Conservative Benches about having a massive Army in our land—the land that belongs to us. I fear, like many hon. Members, the movement of Communism towards us. It creeps slowly but surely every day, and that really frightens me. I do not want that regime. I believe in the one that we have right here—democracy and freedom. At the same time, I believe that we should have the facility to defend ourselves. I am not arguing about that. What I am arguing about is a preparation for war. That phrase has been used on several occasions this morning. That is why it bothers me, and it would bother the people outside as well. It will bother the youngsters.

I have a suggestion to make. If we are to go down the road offered by Conservative Members, let us start with hon. Members. Let us make an example of ourselves. Let us give a lead. Many suggestions are made in this Chamber, so surely it is right that we set an example. If that is the proposition, I shall go along with it.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are some hon. Members who already serve in the Territorial Army?

Mr. Haynes

I am aware of that. There are others outside this place who will wish to serve in the TA. I welcome the contribution made by the Under-Secretary of State and by others on the Government Front Bench concerning the TA. I remember reading in the press and seeing on television the Secretary of State for Defence engaging in activity that amounted to canvassing. We need to maintain the TA.

However, I return to my main argument. Many of the contributions made by Conservative Members have been in the wrong direction. I am not one of those who are prepared to have a go at the Russians right now, but that is the message that I am getting.

I felt it necessary to make a short contribution to the debate. I realise that time is pressing and that we are trying to conclude this debate and to start another one. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me.

2.1 pm

Mr. Michael Shaw (Scarborough)

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). The hon. Gentleman's speech, like so many made from the Opposition Benches, was full of inconsistencies. He agreed that conscription and other such matters could be considered in 1939 because we were in a mess. The purpose of debates such as this is to avoid Britain getting into the mess with which it was faced in 1939. That is why we are considering these matters today. It is by blinding ourselves deliberately to the dangers that are closing in about us that we get into that sort of mess.

Mr. Haynes

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not long ago the Under-Secretary of State made a statement that was inconsistent with many of the remarks that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have made? Recently I read a statement in the press that was supposed to have been made by the Prime Minister. I did not read any suggestion that Britain was in a mess. It has not been suggested by Government spokesmen that we should do what is being suggested by Conservative Back Benchers. In fact, they are opposed to such action.

Mr. Shaw

I never suggested that we were in a mess. I suggest that these matters should be discussed so that we may ascertain whether it is necessary to carry them forward. As I shall develop in my short speech, I do not believe that it is appropriate to do so now. However, it was right for my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) to introduce the motion. It is right that we should discuss it fully and frankly. The dangers could well increase.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that when he went round his constituency he was asked "Is there to be a war?" I do not know how the hon. Gentleman answers that question. I should reply "I do not know, but I shall do my best to ensure that there will not be one." It is only by making preparations now and by considering the choices as best we can that we shall be able to take the best course of action.

I am convinced about the feeling on moving the motion. He is not saying that we should have conscription now. None the less, he is putting the issue into people's minds. I remember the discussions that took place before 1960 on the question whether conscription should be removed. It is relevant for me to say a few words on that matter.

I can confirm what has already been said in the debate. At that time the Army was against conscription, because it meant that there were two sorts of Service men—those serving a short, compulsory term and dying to get out of the Army and those who wished to make the Army their career. Those two did not mix. There were not enough trained men and women to carry out their normal duties whilst at the same time training conscripts. That is relevant also to the present position.

In principle, I am not against some form of national service. However, I insist that it must be shown to be necessary and helpful to the defence of Britain. On present evidence, I have yet to be convinced that it would be useful.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone is not seeking that in his motion. The question is whether there should be compulsory registration. When I first saw the motion on the Order Paper I felt considerable sympathy with it, but, having considered the matter more deeply I feel that it is not the appropriate time. However, I would have hoped for a little more sympathy from my hon. Friend the Minister towards the motion. I wished to feel that not only was he considering my right hon. Friend's remarks but that behind the scenes preparations were being made in case it was necessary at some time to take action. I am rather sorry that I did not get that feeling from the Minister, but I may have been wrong, and I hope that that is happening.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

Does the hon. Member agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) that it would be fitting if the House could have an opportunity, however briefly, to debate the next motion on the Order Paper? We could then say a few words about the victims of previous wars, and other disabled people. I hope that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) will have the opportunity of moving his motion.

Mr. Shaw

I have sympathy with the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), but we have also this motion on the Order Paper. I have been sitting in the Chamber since 9.30 am. The debate has gone much deeper than I thought it would, and that is not regrettable. It is regrettable—it happens every day—that something is squeezed out. However, there will be other occasions for that debate. My hon. Friend, or other hon. Members, may raise the matter again.

If we were to take the suggested action now, I agree with the Minister that much work would be involved as well as much expense. New staff would have to be recruited and various Departments would be involved. Another reason against such action—interestingly enough, the Minister raised the same argument—is the uncertainty that it would cause among young people. It would not be useful to have registration at this time.

I turn to another of the issues raised. So many of the speeches in the debate have returned to the recent invasion of Afghanistan. I believe that the lesson to be learned from that invasion is that Russia, in seeking to expand, will in the first place always expand by means of subversion or even of revolution in those countries in which she wants to sustain her direct influence. If that is so, it means that our forces must be strengthened and kept as mobile as possible, so that they are ready to go as quickly as possible to the assistance of our friends, wherever they may be. That being so, it makes it even more important that there are trained forces of various sorts—they can only be voluntary—to take the place here at home of our Regular forces.

This emphasises once again the point that has already been made about the need for voluntary services in a very much expanded form, both in the Territorial Army and for civil defence. I am convinced that any such voluntary services must be backed up by modern resources and equipment. Otherwise, the enthusiasm of those who have volunteered will quickly be destroyed. If people are to be prepared to volunteer and to work hard, they must believe in what they are doing and they must feel that what they are doing fulfils a useful purpose.

2.11 pm
Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) for placing the motion on the Order Paper. There have been very few occasions on which there has been such a thoughtful debate. From both sides of the House the contributions have been excellent and well worth while.

The vast majority of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have a very clear picture of what is required. We are all concerned and worried about the situation that we now face in international terms and what our reaction to that should be.

In his opening remarks my right hon. Friend said that we must have an adequate and enduring response. I know that he does not believe that a register is an adequate and enduring response in itself. He takes that as a first step. I can understand that. My personal point of view—this is where I part company from my right hon. Friend—is that an adequate response is already in the making. I should like to see the response that we have been making for the last eight or nine months given a little more time, because I do not want us to arrive back at national service.

There was an excellent article in The Daily Telegraph recently which discussed the need for us to draw upon the volunteer spirit of this country. I believe that that is the base on which this country works best, and that is the way for us to try. If we do not succeed, we turn to the second course.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when he says that we are facing a different situation. A register would be no use to us in the war that we may unhappily have to fight in the future, because one needs a time lag to use such a register. I joined the Army in March 1943 It was nine months before I was very inadequately trained and produced as a platoon commander. That seemed adequate at that time, but in the war that we would have to face now the time lag would be very different.

The one thing on which there should be no doubt is that the defence situation last year, when the present Conservative Government came to power, was desperately unhappy. One could rehearse various articles that have been written on this matter. There was one in particular in June last year in The Times, in which Lord Chalfont pointed to the fact that our Armed Forces at that stage were incapable of carrying out even their normal task and that in an emergency situation they would be quite incapable of reacting at all.

I believe that in the last eight months we have taken certain steps that put us on the right track. The first and immediate thing that we have done has been to staunch the outflow of trained people from the Armed Forces. Portland and Bovington are sited in my part of the world. A lot of highly skilled people work at those establishments, and it was they who were leaving in large numbers. We were faced with a desperately serious situation. That has now been changed, and those people are staying and will remain in the future.

Secondly, we have given a green light to a large number of equipment projects that have been deferred year after year. From talking to people in the Services, one discovers that this equipment is now being ordered. The members of our Armed Forces must be given time to train on that new equipment as it comes forward.

My third point relates to the Territorial Army, and I agree very much with the Minister and others who have spoken on this subject. We do not yet know what the effect of the measures that have been taken will be. I gather that the new bounty does not come in until the start of the new training year, and it may well be that many people are looking forward to its introduction. Recruits are already flowing in. I think that the Minister mentioned a figure of 2,000. I hope and expect to see 15,000, 20,000 or 30,000 people entering the Territorial Army, thus bringing the units up to strength so that they can play their full part.

All these measures have been taken in the first eight months of the Government's period of office. I have no quarrel at all with my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone about the value of service, but I happen to believe that it is through voluntary service rather than through pressed service that we can achieve the result that we both want.

Bearing in mind the troubles experienced by the Armed Forces, and the fact that there will be new equipment as well as an increased Territorial Army commitment, I believe that during the coming months they will be overstretched and overstrained, without thinking of the possibility of taking on an additional commitment, such as a levy en masse or national service, which Labour Members have deplored. That may be too much and may overstretch our Armed Services.

We need constantly to extend our voluntary services through what I would term "a call to service". That is not a demand for service. Let us see how that goes first. In my view, such a call would be readily responded to by our young people. The framework for this already exists and it could easily be built upon. The range of service that can be offered exists, and the people with the necessary background and training are ready to take on new recruits as they come forward.

I am disappointed that the Government do not give Army cadets free boots. I have written to the Minister on this subject, because I believe it to be important. After all, many Army cadets go into the junior leader regiments and play a major part there.

On the civil defence side, we have our retained firemen. We also have the elite of our reserve forces—the parachute battalions of the Territorial Army and the SAS. I shall not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, dwell too long on the fact that I was G3 at 16 Airborne Division when you commanded what was the best and most efficient Territorial Army battalion of 16 Airborne Division in Liverpool. I hope that you would expect me to say that, because it is true. What has happened since then? That force of one division—nine battalions—has been reduced to three battalions.

If we had the will to ask our young people to give their services voluntarily, I do not believe that we could not increase the number of battalions to five or six. As the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) said, this is the cheapest and most efficient way to achieve the immediate reserve that we so despera- tely need. We could make a start there.

One of the happiest days that I have known for many years occurred about two years ago when my right hon. Friend, then the Leader of the Opposition—the first leader of any political party to do so—came down to see 44 Parachute Brigade, as it then was, and stayed for a full day while it carried out parachute training.

Mr. Best

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great sadness that was felt by those who served in 44 Parachute Brigade, including myself, when it was disbanded?

Mr. Spicer

Indeed I am. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Many of us believe—though we do not hold here a battalion or regimental interest as such—that this is the most efficient form of reserve. We have been pressing upon successive Ministers the need to enlarge upon that reservoir of skill and immediate reserve. My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the need for a reserve that could be moved in straight away. At the moment we do not have those immediate reserves, and many of the Territorial battalions, good though they may be, that are destined to carry out immediate reinforcement duties with the British Army of the Rhine are not at full strength and not up to the job.

I do not want to embark upon a discussion of foreign affairs, but if we are to look at our responsibilities in the world we must consider an extension of the area that we cover in NATO, and it is through our airborne and mobile forces that that will be achieved.

This motion is a call to service. Let us try it that way. Let us give it a year. If at the end of the year there has been no dramatic improvement in the capability of our Armed Forces, let us by all means turn our backs on the voluntary side and reconsider, as we should have to do, whether we should embark upon a register, with all that that means.

My view is that to have a register, as was said by the hon. Member for Walsall, South is a meaningless exercise unless it is carried through to the ultimate conclusion, which is compulsory national service for all young people. We have not yet reached that point. My hope is that we never shall.

2.22 pm
Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

I am grateful to be able to participate in the debate. I have the privilege of being a serving member of the Territorial Army. I welcome the exhortations of my hon. Friend the Minister to employers that members of the Territorial Army should be given more time off to carry out their military duties. I am not sure how I shall be able to achieve that, but I am hopeful.

My experience in the Territorial Army has shown me that those in the Services are against compulsory military service. I am aware that the motion calls attention to the establishment by law of a register of those eligible for national or military service, but I think that I do no disservice to those who are behind it if I say that that must postulate, at some stage, a form of compulsory military service.

If the register is to be used only in time of war, nothing is gained. No doubt we would have a general call-up in any event. One does not achieve any degree of training whatever merely by establishing a register. The motion contemplates a form of compulsory military service at some stage. That is regrettable, because the arguments against it are overwhelming. I shall not go into them in any great depth at this stage, but I should like to rehearse just a few.

I have already mentioned the Service attitude. I believe that that was exhibited most cogently at the end of the 1950s when compulsory military service was coming to an end. Certainly at that stage the Territorial Army was torn by unwilling conscripts within its ranks. In addition, both the RAF and the Navy were finding it increasingly difficult to employ conscripts other than in menial, servile tasks, so they were not in favour.

What would one do with conscripts today? Should we employ all young people over the age of 18? I suggest not, because the number of 18-year-olds now exceeds the number of Service men by about 50,000, and I do not believe that we could find jobs for all of them.

Therefore, there would have to be a measure of selection. Should it be done by a ballot or by imposing fairly high health standards, or should it be done by reference to people's occupations? Any of these methods could lead to a degree of unfairness and an arbitrary form of manipulation which would be regrettable and would only cause resentment among those who are called up.

When I was travelling to the East some years ago I met many young Americans who were escaping the draft, not because they were being asked by their Government to go to Vietnam and suffer the rigours of war, but because they felt bitter resentment that they had been called up while some of their colleagues, in precisely the same position, had not, for a purely arbitrary reason. That is unfair.

We must next consider the question of conscientious objection, which also leads to the possibility of a great deal of abuse. In the Federal Republic of Germany about 35,000 people apply for exemption every year on the ground of conscientious objection. Only about half are successful. I wonder what the other half feel when they are called to the Colours.

I have already asked what the Forces are to do with conscripts. One of the gravest problems confronting a Regular Army in time of peace is what to do with its soldiers, who must necessarily be under occupied when they are fully occupied only in time of war. There can be resentment among conscripts not only at having been called up but, beyond that, at being made to do what they regard as futile tasks. That inevitably leads to two classes of Service men—the professional and the conscript—which results in great dissension within the Services.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke of costs. I need say no more about that than to ask where we could find the weapons to give to conscripts and to mention the question of the diversion of resources for training.

Let us look at the European experience of conscript armies. Luxembourg is the only country in Europe, other than the United Kingdom, which does not have a conscript army. We have seen the difficulties in the European conscript armies. I have seen the Bundeswehr on exercise, and I have no wish to be a part of the Bundeswehr. Its exercises compare most unfavourably with the exercises of our own troops, who are professionals in the true sense of the word.

There was some controversy not long ago when the Federal Republic had to order 30,000 hairnets for its Service men. The Federal Republic has the concept of the citizen within the military, rather than the professional soldier in the army. Consequently, the conscript Service man has all sorts of civil liberties, and that leads to a great deal of difficulty. A White Paper published in the Federal Republic in 1973–74 stated: Like any other citizen the Serviceman has the right to protect and further his economic and social interests by forming, joining and working for trade unions and vocational associations.

Mr. Heffer

Hear, hear.

Mr. Best

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) says "Hear, hear". I suspect that in his more rational moments even he realises that trade unions in the Armed Forces would be a most regrettable development—

Mr. Heffer

No, I do not.

Mr. Best

The hon. Member has only to look—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

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