HL Deb 23 July 1957 vol 205 cc52-5

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a statement which is being made by the Prime Minister in another place in answer to a Question relating to the various Service matters. The Prime Minister said:

"In the first place I should like to make it clear that the Government have no intention of merging the three fighting Services into a single defence force. The development of new weapons and new techniques of warfare will call for even closer cooperation between the Services in training and in the field; and measures for more effective co-ordination are being studied both in the command structure and also in the central administrative organisation. But each of the three Services will continue to have its separate rôle and function and each will continue to maintain its separate identity and traditions.

"Within each Service, however, far-reaching reorganisation will be required in order to give effect to the reduction in total strengths which has been announced. The Army faces a specially difficult problem because of its structure of separate corps and regiments. But my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War has devised plans which are designed to preserve the regimental traditions on which the strength of the Army is founded. These plans are based on the principle of amalgamation of regiments, rather than disbandment. Details will be given in a White Paper to be presented by the Secretary of State for War to-morrow.

"In all the Services the large reduction in numbers which is to be carried out over the next five years must mean for many officers and men a premature end of their chosen career. For them the Government have undertaken to provide fair compensation which will take account, not only of the curtailment of their service, but also of their loss of prospects. The terms of compensation will be announced in a White Paper which is to be presented tomorrow by my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence.

"The Government also have a special obligation to assist these men to find employment in civilian life. For this purpose the existing agencies are being linked in a Regular Forces Resettlement Service. My right honourable friend the Minister of Labour is appointing a Board, including representatives of industry and commerce under the Chairmanship of Sir Frederic Hooper, to advise on the development of this Service. The details of the Resettlement organisation will be made known separately.

"The radical reorganisation of our defence forces on which we have embarked involves, inevitably, a widespread disturbance of existing patterns—both for the Services themselves and for many individuals in them. We shall do our utmost to see that those who suffer by these changes are treated fairly and honourably. But let us not forget that the purpose of the new de fence policy is to re-shape the Forces so as to enable them to discharge their task effectively in the world of tomorrow. None of the Services will be able to maintain its high traditions unless its officers and men are confident of its capacity to adapt itself to the changing conditions of war. I believe that the new pattern of the Forces—smaller, but better organised and equipped for their new tasks—will continue to afford fine opportunities for service for those who seek their career in the Armed Forces of the Crown."

My Lords, that is the statement made by the Prime Minister. As noble Lords will see, there are going to be two White Papers. Perhaps very conveniently, and by lucky timing, we have a debate next Wednesday on the Army Estimates. My noble friend Lord Mancroft is here and is acquainted with the details, but it might be better, if your Lordships thought fit, to avoid detailed questioning to-day until we have seen the White Papers, and we can probably go into these fully next Wednesday. However, I am in your Lordships' hands.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Leader of the House for the statement he has made, and I agree with the general principle that he has suggested for to-day, with a view to the debate next week. However, I should like to ask whether in the White Paper which is to deal with the amalgamation of corps and regiments there will be given a schedule showing the actual details of which regiments are now proposed for amalgamation, and how they will be grouped. I would say at once that we on this side of the House welcome the fact that in dealing with this matter it is not proposed to deal with it by a ruthless disbandment of the Forces, but rather by retaining regimental traditions by a process of amalgamation. As the terms of compensation referred to in the statement are to be in the White Paper, and provided they are going to be given in detail for all ranks, we are quite happy to leave them for discussion when we come to the debate on the Army Estimates.


My Lords, so far as the compensation is concerned, the White Paper will, I understand, go into great detail. So far as a schedule giving details of amalgamation is concerned, perhaps the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition would wait for the White Paper. I am not quite sure how much detail of that there will be.


My Lords, I must say that unless the White Paper gives the names of regiments which are to be amalgamated, I think it will be highly unsatisfactory. Parliament is to rise in a week or so, and I think that we in this House should have an opportunity of debating the proposed arrangements in detail. Many of us are much concerned in some of these regiments; we all have our own regiments, and we want to know what their fate is going to be before we rise for the Recess.


My Lords, probably we had better wait for the White Paper and we shall have a chance for debate.