HL Deb 01 December 1964 vol 261 cc988-1002

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if we had one debate on the two Orders we have to consider. Therefore, if the House has no objection, I propose to deal with both the Army and the Royal Air Force in moving the first Order, and subsequently to move formally the Order relating to the Royal Air Force.

Taking one year with another, previous practice in regard to this matter has not been the same. Last year, these Orders went through without debate, but this seems to be an opportunity to say something of the state of the Army and the Air Force, particularly in relation to discipline and to those matters with which the Army Act and the Air Force Act a re concerned.

As your Lordships will be aware, the Army and Air Force Acts, 1955, brought to an end a system of annual Army and Air Force Acts and substituted a system of continuation annually by Orders in Council for a maximum period of five years. The Acts came into force in January, 1957, and would normally have expired in December, 1961. As your Lordships will recall, they were extended for a further five years by the Army and Air Force Acts, 1961, subject, of course, to the annual Order in Council procedure. The continuation Orders which are before your Lordships today are the third made under the 1961 Act, no Order being necessary in the first year.

The Army and Air Force Acts, 1955, are concerned primarily with the discipline of the Army and the Royal Air Force and with recruiting to the two Services. Perhaps I may say a few words about discipline. This, I am happy to be able to say, remains, as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, would expect, of a high order. In the Army, there have been no striking changes in court-martial statistics during the last year—that is, to September 30, 1964, Twenty-two officers were convicted, compared with 19 the year before and 28 the year before that; 2,199 soldiers were convicted, compared with 2,521 in the previous year. There were 50 appeal petitions to the Army Board, compared with 59 the year before, and 27 applications were made to the Courts Martial Appeal Court for leave to appeal, compared with 31 the previous year; and none of these 27 applications for leave to appeal was granted by the Appeal Court, whereas in the previous year 9 appeals were heard.

In the Royal Air Force the incidence of court-martial has dropped for the third successive year, reaching this year a new low level of only 2.04 courts-martial per 1,000 officers and men. I apologise to the House because I am giving percentages for one Service and figures for the other. If the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, would like the exact figures, I would hope to be able to give them later, but, broadly, the position is that there has been a decline in the number of courts-martial in both Services. The number in the Royal Air Force is a remarkably low figure. The number of petty offences also shows a marked decrease. I have the figures of these, but I do not think that I need weary the House by giving them, unless any noble Lord wishes me to do so.

Of course, we ought not to judge any Armed Force primarily by the number of offences. My right honourable friend's concern, and the concern of all Defence Ministers, is with the morale and discipline of the Services for which they are responsible. These are not just a matter of court-martial statistics. They depend upon the good sense and judgment of commanding officers, officers and, indeed, the men themselves. I think one can properly claim that both morale and discipline are excellent, despite—your Lordships will be aware of this—the considerable strains that have been placed on the Services in the last twelve months.

I should now like to turn to recruitment. I am in some ways sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is not here to join me in what he used to call the "numbers game". Here we have a quite encouraging situation to report. At the beginning of 1964 the other rank strength of the Army was about 151,500, a deficiency of 8,500 against the target of 160,000 other ranks, or rather more than 5 per cent. The year 1962 was a good recruiting year. We recruited over 28,000 men from civil life and built up the other-rank strength of the Army by more than 13,000 men. This was followed by a relatively bad year in 1963, when less than 18,000 men were recruited from civil life and the Army strength increased by little more than 1,000.

Results in 1964 have fallen between these two extremes. We have recruited 20,589 men from civil life in ten months, and we have so far built up the other rank strength of the Army by 5,481, to 156,980. Of course, included in these figures are the young soldiers of 17–17½, who are making an important contribution. As we have noted before in our debates, they are our great hope for the future in the Army, and the high quality of these young men is something that any of us who have had some contact with them can pay tribute to. The build-up to 156,000 is rather more of an achievement than might appear, because of the heavy run-out of men completing their engagements in 1964. This run-out is expected to be over 9,000 this year, as compared with some 6,000 in 1963. It is mainly due—and it is never quite possible to avoid these peaks and troughs—to the introduction of the six-year engagement at the end of 1957, and the heavy recruiting of 1958. The higher run-out has been partly offset by a slightly lower rate of wastage than last year. The Army is now nearing its target of 160,000 soldiers. Most of the major corps are up to strength, but there are still difficult problems in filling certain corps, such as the infantry and in particular brigades, and in getting the right balance of trades and skills in each corps.

The Royal Air Force, I am glad to say, generally speaking, is up to strength. There are marginal shortages in some trades, mainly on the administrative side. such as nursing attendants, but these shortages have no serious effect on the operational efficiency of the force. Of the operational efficiency of the force, with which I am particularly concerned, I have no doubt whatever. I may say that I had no doubt when I was in Opposition, and I am happy to be able to say that everything I have seen since I took up my present post confirms this view. Over the past eighteen months the reduction in the size of the force consequent upon such things as the disbandment of the Thor missile squadrons, has meant that we have had very few vacancies for airmen and airwomen, and there has been no real problem in filling the vacancies available. This year, as a result of normal wastage, our requirement for recruits will be rather higher, but again we expect no real difficulty in filling the majority of the vacancies. All initial engagements for airmen will be for a period of not less than five years.

As your Lordships will be aware, we decided earlier this year also to recruit men between the ages of 17 and 17½ who had their parents' consent. Up to the end of October we had enlisted 168 of these young airmen. The quality of boy entrants and apprentices has also been well maintained. As has already been announced, from October this year we started recruiting boys for the new categories of technician apprentice, craft apprentice and administrative apprentice. Technician apprentices will provide a higher standard of boy entrant than ever before. Entrants have to have four "O" level passes in the General Certificate of Education, including mathematics and a science subject. To match this, their training will be of such a quality as will enable them to meet the really extraordinarily complex servicing problems of present and future equipment. Craft apprentices will, however, provide the bulk of our technical tradesmen and will be trained to a slightly lower level. Administrative apprentices will be trained for such jobs as clerks. They too will have an important job to play.

Our first quotas for craft and trade apprentices were easily filled, and we expect no difficulties in meeting future requirements. As regards technical apprentices, we cannot be quite so sure, but personally I believe we shall continue to attract the highest quality of youth entrant, as the R.A.F. always has done. The quality of the training we offer will, I think, be a guarantee to that. It is worth noting that boys who undergo this training are given a really first-class training, which many of them are able to put to use later on in civilian life.

The Women's Royal Air Force, like the women in the Army, continues to make an invaluable contribution. Our great problem is that so many of them leave the Service in their early years to get married that there is a shortage of non-commissioned officers. While this is no doubt a tribute to the quality of our air women it does bring awkward problems. To try to meet the problem we have introduced a bonus scheme for those girls who complete a six-year engagement—I should say a six-year engagement in the Service, because, of course, an engagement to marry may also last that long. Similar schemes are being introduced by the other Services.

My Lords, it is to me a great satisfaction to give witness to the healthy state, in the respects in which I have been discussing them, of the Army and my old Service, the Royal Air Force. Although no doubt we shall have some occasions when we shall dispute matters dealing with the Services, I should like to acknowledge the debt that I and my colleagues owe to certain of our predecessors, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I can only say that, from my brief experience of the Ministry of Defence, they were very highly regarded there, and I think we have been very well served by them in this House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Army Act 1955 (Continuation) Order 1964 laid before the House on November 3, 1964, be approved.—(Lord Shackleton.)

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has introduced these matters, and for what he said at the end of his short speech. I remember that when we were discussing education a week or so ago he congratulated a noble friend of mine on having made an admirable winding-up speech for the Government. May I return the compliment and thank the noble Lord for the admirable and favourable statement which he has made about the way in which the late Government administered the two Services about which he has been speaking?

There are a number of questions on Defence policy as a whole which I am tempted to put to the noble Lord, but I will resist most of the temptation. We shall, I trust, have plenty of time before and after Christmas to discuss this country's Defence policy, and I suspect that in any event the noble Lord will merely tell me, in reply to most of my questions, that this or that matter is under review. As the Secretary of State has made clear in another place, the Government are reviewing their Defence policies right across the board, and I, for one, have no quarrel with that. Very big, very complex and interlocking questions are involved here, and it is only natural, as I see it, for the Government to wish to have a fresh look at these things, especially since they have been out in the wilderness for thirteen years or so. Of course, when we come back, we shall obviously not require so much time in which to review these matters.

More seriously, I would express the hope that the Government's review of the Defence policy will be completed before much longer, and that the results of it will soon be made public, certainly to Parliament. I hope that we shall not be treated to a sort of running preview in the Press, such as we have had in the last few days or so, of what the Government may or may not be contemplating. They have managed to create a certain amount of uncertainty, at home and abroad, on a certain number of issues, and there is a danger that they may be creating the same sort of doubt and anxiety among the Services and among those industries that provide the sinews of war for the Services. That is why I hope the noble Lord will be able to assure us that the shape of Mr. Healey's new Model Army, new Model Air Force and new Model Navy will soon be unveiled to Parliament. I hope that he will be able to tell us when we may expect to see this marvellous new creation.

Meanwhile, having said that, I would say how glad I was to hear what the noble Lord had to say about Army recruitment, and about various other measures which have been introduced, such as this long engagement for the Service women. When we discussed Defence, I think it was last February, the short-fall in other ranks for the Army was, as the noble Lord has said, something like 5 per cent. The gap has now been narrowed to something like 2 per cent.; and these figures are, I feel, a real tribute to the intense effort which has been put into Army recruitment over a very long period by everyone concerned, including, not least, successive Secretaries of State for War.

That said, may I put the following questions to the noble Lord? Does he share his colleagues' optimism that we shall hit this total target of 180,000 for the Army not later than the end of next year? Can he perhaps tell us when we shall attain the never attainable 55,000 men in B.A.O.R.?—and here I am using his phraseology. Can he tell us a little more about whether the increased figures for the Army mean that the sharper shortages in certain specialist categories, like the Medical Corps, the Dental Corps and the Education Corps, have been significantly diminished? The noble Lord mentioned this aspect, but anything more he can tell us on this point will be welcome. If he could throw more light on the reduction in shortages in certain infantry units it would, I think, be a great relief to many of your Lordships.

Then can the noble Lord tell us anything further about the net loss by wastage? He mentioned that the figure was being reduced. Three years ago it was 14 per cent., and two years ago it was 10 per cent. What is the figure now? And can the noble Lord say anything about officer recruitment for the Army? Penultimately, can he throw any light on the reports which we have been reading lately that the Government are thinking of raising the manpower ceiling for the Army from 180,000 to, say, 186,000? Finally, since this concerns the Service for which the noble Lord is directly responsible, can he give us any more information about the various limited deficiencies in the R.A.F. manpower position? I take it that when he said the majority of the vacancies are being filled by recruitment, and that, generally speaking, the manpower situation is satisfactory, this means that there are no serious deficiencies in R.A.F. manpower in any categories. If he could confirm this, so much the better.

This House has to some extent pioneered what I might call the functional approach to Defence matters by discussing Defence right across the board, and being the first of the two Houses to depart from the traditional method of discussing Defence Service by Service. I think that is a good thing. and I, for one, should welcome the chance of discussing these manpower problems, which are so vital, and the Armed Forces, at greater length some time after Christmas, presumably after the Government's White Paper has been published. With that in mind, I wonder whether I could take this opportunity of feeding in a number of Defence suggestions to the noble Lord: suggestions to which I should like to revert if and when we discuss Service manpower in greater detail.

I believe that most of us would agree that pay in the Armed Forces nowadays is more or less satisfactory. I am inclined to believe that there might in certain instances be more direct and more immediate financial inducements to re-engagement. I would hope that the possibility of a re-engagement grant was being considered. But although, broadly speaking, pay is, I think, satisfactory at the moment, with the biennial review procedure, I am not satisfied that this applies with the same force to pensions. I feel myself that the link between the cost of living and the rate of Service pensions might be closer and more direct; and, given the biennial review procedure, this could, of course, be achieved by securing a more direct relationship between pay and pensions. I hope that the noble Lord will at least consider pursuing those tentative suggestions with his colleagues.

May I, without in any way wishing to teach my new "grandmother" how to "suck these Service eggs", put two or three more quick suggestions to the noble Lord? I suppose it is a truism, in this era of early marriage, to say that family separation is probably one of the main causes why young men may not join the Services or, having joined, may not wish to stay in them. Of course, this separation can be mitigated by good administration and by accompanied tours abroad. But I think there are various other things which might be considered. A separation allowance, although it sounds a slightly radical suggestion, is something which I believe is worth considering, especially as and when the unaccompanied tour becomes more normal. The possibility of using air transport, so that young men who are abroad for even a relatively short space of time have a chance of a leave at home, or their families a chance of going out to see them, is another idea worth considering, and is one to which the Select Committee drew attention in their recent Report.

In any event I am sure that all your Lordships would agree that when the Serviceman goes abroad unaccompanied he must do so in the certain knowledge that his family is being really well looked after at home; and, above all, is really well housed. That is why I should like, just for a moment, to lean again on this question of Service housing. I am thinking here not only of married quarters—the Service equivalent of the council house—but of more than that: of hirings of caravan sites, of the extension of the housing society schemes and of means of helping Servicemen to buy their own houses. I personally believe that at the present time the rules, so far as hirings are concerned, may be unduly restrictive. Also, I think we could possibly do more for the Service caravanner.

In conclusion, y Lords, I should like to dwell on two points, married quarters and the purchase by Servicemen of their own houses. So far as married quarters are concerned, the noble Lord knows as well as I do that the present three-year programme is by far the largest on which the Services have ever embarked. Because of this I must confess that I was a little disappointed last week at the reply I received from the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, about the possible renewal of the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act. This Act was first introduced by a Labour Government, and it has been reenacted by successive Governments, with the support of all Parties. I naturally welcome the noble Lord's assurance that there is not to be any slow-down in the Services' housing programme, but in view of this assurance, I find it rather hard to understand the hesitation of noble Lords opposite about saying that they will renew this particular measure. Because I believe that this system of loan financing provides the best insurance against possible cuts in Service housing programmes, I shall continue to feel some disquiet, despite the assurance I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, until either he, or perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is able to give me a more definite assurance than the noble Lord was able to give last week.

I would remind noble Lords that Servicemen, like other people, are tending more and more to buy their own houses; and this is, of course, an entirely healthy trend. But quite a few Servicemen who would like to buy their own houses are inhibited from doing so by their inability to make the initial down-payment. If a scheme could be devised—and I believe it could be—in which they were aided in this respect, and if this scheme were linked in some way to re-engagement, then I think the Government would be killing two birds with one stone. That, my Lords, is all I have to say on these matters. I believe that these suggestions which I have tentatively put to the noble Lord opposite are both practicable and desirable, and I hope that when we come to debate Service manpower questions in greater detail—possibly in the New Year—he will be able to tell us that he has not only converted his colleagues to these suggestions but has also managed to steer these proposals, or possibly better ones, past the Treasury watch-dogs. With that, I should like to say that I, for one, am in full agreement with these particular Orders which the noble Lord has commended so ably to your Lordships' House.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is at last freed by the electorate to urge all those matters which he was unable to carry out when he was in the Government.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord just to say, only through the accident of lack of time.


We have had but six weeks so far, and the noble Lord had thirteen years. Admittedly he was not there all that time, but if my own speech paid tribute to some extent to the achievements of the Government, the noble Lord certainly very properly drew attention to the deficiencies of the matters which had to be dealt with. Let me say that I think it is likely—though I hope we shall not be compelled to make too much use of them—that we shall find a number of skeletons in the cupboard, but I certainly have no intention of referring to them to-day.

On this broad question of the Defence review, I think that while it is very desirable that this should be carried out as quickly as possible, I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that it is also very desirable that it should not be carried out too hastily. And I think that the noble Earl, who used phrases such as "marvellous new creation", was indulging in a degree of hyperbole which is not entirely helpful. Indeed, I would not say that all the remarks—though I would not accuse the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, of this—of the Opposition have been helpful to a calm approach. I think it is highly desirable that there should not be undue speculation of a misleading kind, though clearly none of us can, or would wish to, limit speculation. None the less, this review must properly take place and it will be done as quickly as possible.

I would only say that this review must take place against the background of the economic situation. I do not propose to make any points on this matter beyond the fact that all noble Lords will agree that, whatever the pattern of Defence that emerges at the end, it must clearly relate to our economic strength; and, as the noble Earl knows very well indeed, of course any Government are legislating in the Defence field not for the current year or the next year but conceivably for ten or fifteen years ahead. Therefore, the plans that are debated to-day, as with the plans of the previous Government, will extend for many years beyond at least the life of this Parliament, if not of this Government.

The noble Earl made a number of points some of which I should like to deal with, and some which frankly I think it would not be profitable to pursue at this stage, though I would say I have noted them very carefully—and this is no empty formula. I would refer particularly to this really tremendously important question of housing for the Forces, and I am at one with him in recognising the great importance of this. As the noble Earl knows, there has been a change of arrangement by which the previous Government transferred responsibility broadly for housing to another Ministry. But this should not, and I am sure will not, lead to any loss of efficiency in this particular field. Of course, the Act to which he referred, and to which I in the past have equally attached great importance, is essentially a technique rather than an actual provision of funds. None the less, I appreciate the importance of this Act and the role it has fulfilled, and I would only say that all these matters are being taken into account against, of course, a background of a very heavy legislative programme. I do not think the noble Earl would want me to say anything more on this.


My Lords, at the risk of interrupting the noble Lord, may I say it is my understanding that the renewal of this Act will not add very greatly to the weight of the legislative programme? I think it is a matter of a one-line or one-paragraph enabling Bill.


If the noble Earl is prepared, as I am sure he can do, to give an undertaking on behalf of his noble friends in this House as well as of his honourable friends in another place that such a Bill will go through very quickly, I am sure this will be a powerful consideration; but I think we are going a little far afield, apart from my saying that I have noted what he said. There were many other aspects of the noble Earl's speech, some of which I had not anticipated. He made certain points in relation to pay and to family separation, which are matters clearly having to be taken into account. The problems of family separation and of early marriage are of major concern, as the noble Earl himself knows, and are of course frequently under discussion in the Ministry of Defence.

The noble Earl asked certain specific points some of which I should like to answer. He referred to the progress made in reducing the deficiency in regard to manpower in the Army, and it is true that a deficiency of 5 per cent. at January 1, 1964, was reduced to a deficiency of 2 per cent. at October 31. He was undoubtedly aware of the remarks made by my right honourable friend in another place, when he said he was satisfied that the target of 160,000 men would be reached towards the end of next year. That is, of course, assuming that recruiting goes on at the same sort of rate, and we have every hope that it will. But, remembering the disappointments that followed the sometimes over-complacent remarks of the previous Government in this matter, I think one must take into account that recruiting figures in the last two months of this year may not be so encouraging.

Of course, these figures are taken into account in the forward projection, but November and December are traditionally unfavourable for recruiting. I think I would only say that I am confident in the sense that any Minister is confident but with not absolute certainty. I think this is something that any Minister who is making pronouncements in this field, given an opportunity to speak freely rather than shortly, must reserve to himself, because, as I have said, we have in the past had quite a lot of complacency which has led in the end to disappointing results.

There were certain particular points the noble Earl asked me. He asked me about the short-fall in certain branches and the extent to which the general reduction in deficiency, or the improvement, has covered all fields. The reduction in deficiency (I feel one might find a happier way to express this, but since we have been accustomed to deficiency it may be reasonable to talk about it in this way) in the Royal Army Medical Corps has been from 15 per cent. to 10 per cent., and in the Royal Army Dental Corps, where the deficiency was very much greater, as has also been the case in the Royal Air Force, it has been from 41 per cent. to 32 peg cent. The infantry has been a matter of particular concern for a number of years and many discussions have taken place on it. The reduction in deficiency has been from 9 per cent. to 6 per cent. This reduction, of course, has not been uniform. In some units there have been difficulties, but in the great majority of units quite sizable improvements have been made.

Then the noble Earl asked about wastage, and, I think, in particular the percentage of recruits who purchased their discharge. He referred to a figure of 14 per cent. In 1961 up to August the figure was 14 per cent.; in 1962, 10.8 per cent.; in 1963, 11.7 per cent., and it is the same figure for this year. So the marginal, but none the less significant, improvement has been maintained.

The noble Earl asked about officer recruitment. I would rather not go into figures to-day, beyond saying that there is still a deficiency in officer recruitment for the Army. He also asked me a question about the British Army of the Rhine. Again I would rather not attempt any forecasts on this. I think the noble Earl is as aware of the position as I am. We have had some very heavy commitments in other parts of the world, particularly in the Far East, which this Government have fully accepted, as had the previous Government, and which have delayed the build-up of the British Army of the Rhine to 55,000, which is the figure we have discussed so often in the past.

The noble Earl asked also about shortages in the R.A.F. These shortages are, I think, mainly on the administrative side. I am glad to say that in the operational, engineering and technical side there is no significant shortage. I should like to look at these figures again, but, broadly speaking—indeed more than broadly speaking—the position of the R.A.F. is pretty satisfactory in this field. I think I have answered enough questions in what is a very short debate for the moment, but if there are any points which the noble Earl, or any other noble Lord, wishes to pursue I shall he glad to deal with them when we come to discuss the Defence Services. I agree with the noble Earl that your Lordships' House has set a pattern, although we were not able to carry it out last year owing to shortage of time, in seeking to discuss functions and particular aspects of Service operations, rather than just following the pattern of the Estimates. The form these debates take will clearly be largely determined in this sort of matter by the wishes of the Opposition working in consultation with us through the usual channels, and I hope we shall be able to have some of these rather far-reaching debates of the useful kind which your Lordships' House is particularly well fitted to carry out.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would pass on a tribute to the War Office in respect of a rather sad occurrence which happened a few weeks ago. The wife of the porter in my block of flats was dying very quickly. I got on to the compassionate leave department of the War Office. This was at about 12 o'clock in the morning. They had the son at home by 11 o'clock that night, which was a brilliant piece of administration, and he saw his mother before she died. I know that both Gibbons and his son would like to thank the War Office for all they did in what was, as I say, a brilliant piece of administration. I think this shows what can be done to raise the morale of the Army in such circumstances.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am sure that will be noted. I am sure any noble Lords with experience in this field would pay tribute to the humanity of the personnel and the human side of the Armed Forces. It is something which in certain respects one would hope industry might equally be able to take note of.

On Question, Motion agreed to.