HL Deb 19 July 1965 vol 268 cc450-1

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when their review of Defence policy will be completed, whether the results of their review will be embodied in a White Paper and, if so, when that White Paper will be published.]


My Lords, the Defence review is a comprehensive study of the cost, capability and commitments of all our Forces. In the past there has been a tendency for these factors to be considered separately, but we intend to keep them under review together as a continuing process. As has been our practice so far, decisions will be announced as and when they are reached, and it may be appropriate to publish White Papers on some decisions.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. May straight away say that he is quite wrong in assuming that the factors underlying an effective Defence policy have not been considered together by previous Governments? May I put two supplementary questions to him? In the first place, could he let us know whether there is likely to be a statement made to Parliament before the Recess about the Reserve Forces, in particular so far as the Territorial Army and its future is concerned? Secondly, may I ask the noble Lord whether his attention has been drawn to two circumstantial articles appearing in The Times newspaper to-day, suggesting in categorical terms that the ceiling for the Army was to be reduced to 175,000 men? In view of the fact that the Prime Minister said that any statement arising out of the Defence review will be made to Parliament, and in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, assured me during our recent Defence debate that there will be no reduction in our target, can the noble Lord give an assurance that this report is inaccurate?


My Lords, in regard to the first part of the noble Earl's supplementary question, it is quite possible that what he asks may be so, but I am unable to give him an answer to-day. On the second point, I am grateful to him for raising the question of the articles which have appeared. It is not customary in this House to refer to newspaper speculation, but on this occasion I should like to say that these reports are entirely without foundation. The future level of the ceiling of the Army may of course be subject to the outcome of the Defence review which is still in progress, but no conclusions about the ceiling have been reached, and I wish to emphasise this. The present figure for the Army is 180,000 and that is due to be increased to 181,000 as from January 1, 1966. I should add that the strength of the Army is now within 2 per cent. of the higher figure.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he has told us absolutely nothing in his answer, except that at some time, sooner or later, something, with luck, may emerge? May I ask him whether he is not aware that there are many very important decisions which have to be taken? For example, can he let the House know how many projects are in abeyance because of lack of decision about future Defence policy? Again, for example, is the new carrier proceeding according to plan, and will the noble Lord bear in mind that in Defence projects time is money: the more time one spends building a ship, the more expensive it is?


My Lords, the noble Lord's first statement is entirely correct, but there will be no luck about it; it will be a deliberate decision. On the second point, I am not in a position to conduct the Defence review at this moment in this House.