HC Deb 28 October 1980 vol 991 cc191-2
10. Mr. Churchill

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total mobilised strength of Great Britain's Armed Forces; and what percentage of the population this represents.

Mr. Hayhoe

The total strength of the Armed Forces, including Reserves and locally entered personnel, on 31 August 1980 was 605,100. This represents approximately 1.1 per cent of the United Kingdom population.

Mr. Churchill

Is it not a matter of concern that 99 per cent of the population should be without a war role in a crisis, and without any form of weapon for self-defence? Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no more cost-effective way of providing for manpower than using the Territorial and Reserve Forces? Is it not urgent that these should be strengthened, at least to the sizes prevailing in countries such as Switzerland, Sweden and Finland?

Mr. Hayhoe

I think that it is important to note that the size of our Regular and Reserve Forces has increased by over 22,000 since the Government came to office and that recruitment of Regulars and the number of volunteers for the Territorial Army are running at near-record levels, if not at record levels. I hope that that will be a matter of satisfaction for all concerned.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Will the Minister confirm that, contrary to the assumption of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), these are the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hayhoe

Certainly. The figures that I have been given relate to the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom. It is important to stress that we are concerned not with sheer numbers but with highly trained professional people who undertake the tasks that are necessary to provide the deterrent capability that this country needs.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

The Minister must be aware that almost all of those who are in the Armed Forces will have to serve in the mainland European theatre in the event of a European war. What steps is he proposing to take to enable the homeland to be defended if the main forces are isolated in Europe?

Mr. Hayhoe

During the Army debate on 26 June I indicated that we were giving fresh consideration to the arrangements for the defence of the home base. I assure my hon. Friend that these studies are continuing. I hope that it will not be too long before some further announcement can be made.

Mr. Hardy

Do these figures mean anything at all? Do they manage to confirm, for example, that pilots in operational squadrons of the Royal Air Force are prevented from flying more than 15 hours per month, and that at well below maximum aircraft performance levels? Since pilots and many other people in the Services are prevented from maintaining their skills, are not the Minister's answers about the numbers and the Government's position indicative of absolute hypocrisy?

Mr. Hayhoe

Of course not. I am assured that in the Royal Air Force, as in the other two Services, the restrictions on training are not interfering with the operational effectiveness of our Armed Services.