HL Deb 30 June 1965 vol 267 cc855-75

2.53 p.m.

LORD THURLOW rose to call attention to the problems of manpower, equipment and training of the Armed Forces, including the reserve forces; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am very grateful for the time allotted for this debate at this crowded period of the Session, but as the review of Defence requirements is still in progress some of us felt that it was important that there should be an opportunity for noble Lords on all sides of the House to offer proposals and suggestions, based on their experience in Service Ministries and in the three Services. I am afraid that I am going to talk for more than ten minutes. I shall probably get a "rocket" from the noble and gallant Viscount, but if I do it will be like old times.

We have had one Defence debate which dealt with many problems. This Motion, which is intentionally phrased to cover a very wide field, has been nicknamed by my noble Leader the "nuts and bolts" debate. I am sure that many noble Lords will have useful suggestions to make about the more detailed aspects of Defence. Though there is sometimes controversy in this House on Defence matters, this rather tends to be disagreement between the House as a whole, on the one side, and the Treasury, on the other. Defence policy, at least so far as the Regular Forces are concerned, cannot be changed overnight. It depends upon factors over which Her Majesty's Government have very little control and on the weapons available and under development which were designed on the basis of political appreciation made perhaps fifteen years before.

Our present difficulties in Defence are largely due, presumably, to advice given by the Foreign Office in the late 1940s. British strategy, tactics, training and equipment have always been bedevilled by the need to provide for three different military tasks: war against a first-class Power, colonial wars, and operations in aid of the civil power. After 1945 it was decided that this dispersal of effort must cease and that in future we should prepare for only one type of war. Unfortunately we chose the wrong type. For some years the tasks of the Services have been, in order or priority, the deterrence of global war, the winning of the cold war, the preparation for, and if necessary the waging of, limited war, the preparation for, and if necessary waging of, total war. And, of course, these can merge into one another.

A limited war East of Suez seems the most likely event. But having spent vast sums in what was, in its prime, a very sophisticated armament, we now find ourselves short of the sort of weapons we need for the sort of war in which we are most likely to be engaged—fighter-bomber "recce" aircraft, of moderate speed and great versatility, operating from short, ill-equipped runways; helicopters; modern weapons and wireless sets designed to be carried for long distances by men on foot; commando carriers, and a Fleet Train as a substitute for those overseas bases which may become politically untenable. In addition, we are short of men, including several categories of technicians, in all three Services.

When we blame successive Governments for failing properly to equip the Services, and the Services for constantly changing their requirements, we must remember that for years they have been trying to do one job with tools designed, on the best possible advice, for another. The main task of the Services would appear to be the preparation for, and the waging of, limited war, while still making a proper contribution to NATO and being prepared for policing jobs in any part of the globe. Experience has shown that it takes a minimum of seven years to develop a weapon, be it a gun, aircraft or wireless set, and probably about the same for a ship. If we want to change quickly, we must purchase from America, who, alone of our allies, can afford separate ranges of equipment for different forms of warfare.

I now propose to take each Service in turn, ask a few questions and make some suggestions, under the headings of manpower and equipment; and, in the case of the Army, training and the reserve forces as well. First of all, on the Navy and manpower, I would ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made to overcome the critical shortage of skilled ratings and the disappointing recruitment and re-engagement figures. Have the two schemes to encourage re-engagement, by assistance in house purchase and re-engagement grants for skilled ratings to sign on, had any beneficial effect? Have any other schemes, such as separation allowance or annual leave for married personnel serving at sea, been considered? So much for manpower.

Now I turn to naval equipment. Mr. Wilson said on September 27, 1964: We need a stronger and more effective Navy. The Royal Navy is not adequate for our needs in the 1960s. It has been run down to a dangerous extent.… I believe we shall need an expanded naval shipbuilding programme. How are we going to pay for it? Out of the savings made through stopping the wasteful expenditure on the politically-inspired nuclear programme. As the nuclear programme is going ahead on four out of five of the Polaris submarines, where is the expanded naval shipbuilding programme, and where is the money coming from to pay for it? As my last point, I would ask: is it right to use modern ships, which are designed to operate with aircraft carriers, on their own in the Far East and in the Persian Gulf, as is happening at present? One or two of my noble friends have far more knowledge of the Navy than I have, so I will say no more on that subject, but turn to the Army, of which I have a little more experience.

Let me take, first of all, manpower. In the last Estimates debate we learned that some infantry battalions are 15 per cent. undermanned, junior officers are 1,000 short, and we all know that the Army is severely overstretched. The effect of this is instability which causes lack of confidence and discontent with the conditions of service. Since the best recruiter will always be the contented soldier—and for that matter sailor or airman—this situation is affecting recruiting. Time-expired soldiers are not signing on; officer material is not coming forward. Only last week I heard of four excellent potential officers who at the last moment withdrew because they had certain doubts about whether or not the Army was a worthwhile career.

These things must be corrected, or we shall never get enough officers and men. To get officers and men the serving officer or soldier, who I say is the best recruiter must, in peace time and in a period of full employment, be satisfied and contented in his career; and if he is married, that means that his wife must be contented, too. In peace time his postings should be at least alternately at good stations, from the point of view not only of family accommodation but of climate and amenities, and the tough spots where he would live a really active service life separated from his family. I think that that the Army is wrongly balanced between the British Army of the Rhine and the United Kingdom on the one hand, and overseas stations where we are so much overstretched, on the other. These overseas stations need more units to effect changes of environment.

As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, when replying to me in the last Defence debate made it quite clear that we could not afford to raise more units, the only Regular reinforcements to put the balance right would have to come from the Rhine Army, unless we give up a major commitment elsewhere, which at the moment does not seem possible. Therefore, I suggest that the Rhine Army should be reduced by one infantry brigade which should be used to reinforce the Strategic Reserve. This would give us three more infantry battalions to relieve the strain overseas. We might then be able to improve conditions by making fuller use of popular overseas stations, for example, Malta in the Mediterranean and perhaps the Malayan Highlands in the Far East, and Hong Kong. Could we not station units occasionally in Australia, in Canada, or in New Zealand, possibly on an exchange basis for a year or two at a time? All this would improve conditions of overseas service and so help recruiting and the manpower problem.

We must do other things, too, to help recruiting. I should like to see some boys' units formed, in addition to the junior leaders units, at all arms and the Army apprentice schools, which are doing a magnificent job and, so far as I know, have no difficulty in filling their vacancies. The growing fears and apprehension throughout the Forces, and indeed of all expatriates, concerning the possible effect of the Rent Bill must be removed. I was dismayed to see that what struck me as a most reasonable Amendment to safeguard Service house-owners serving overseas was defeated in Standing Committee at its sixth sitting. Since then I have seen a new Amendment, to be moved by Mr. Crossman, which goes some way to protect the house-owner when he wants to get his home back after service overseas. But he will still have to go to court to regain possession of his home; and, in that event, who is going to pay the legal costs?

My last comment on Army manpower is to put in a word on behalf of the Royal Malta Artillery. I am sure we must make good use of it. It is now being strangled to death by a ban on recruiting. The Royal Malta Artillery is still a corps of the British Army, the only one belonging to an independent Commonwealth country. Malta, with its surplus of manpower, ever loyal to our causes, is anxious to help to supply one unit or, better still, two units to the Regular Army for almost any rôle that they are called upon to play, provided that the personnel are treated the same as our own when overseas. There is great apprehension among the officers and the men at the moment, many of whom are doing a useful job in the Rhine Army. Some 16 captains and subalterns have recently transferred to other corps. Time-expired men are, of course, leaving all the time, and no recruits are allowed to take their place. I would ask the Government to look most sympathetically at this point.

I now want to talk about the Reserve Army, and by that I mean all the categories of reserves that we now have. There are at present nine: the Army Emergency Reserve I, IIA, IIB, III, the Regular Army Reserve, the Territorial Army, the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve (which we know as the "Ever-Readies"), and the Territorial Army Reserve. I feel that what we need is one Reserve that will produce quickly trained reinforcements for any unit engaged in limited war or policing duties, and still retain the structure of a national Reserve Army for what we hope will never happen again, a major war. As we need more "Ever-Readies", we also need a formation available to reinforce the Rhine Army quickly, and a disciplined force not so ready, not so highly trained, not necessarily 100 per cent. equipped, but available at once for Civil Defence and, after a period of training and equipping, capable of taking its place with the rest of the Army.

I am certain that the existing Territorial Army Association should be used as the main structure of any new plans for a Reserve Army. As regards the "Ever-Readies", I would propose that existing Territorial divisions should be encouraged to produce as many "Ever-Readies" as possible, up to one company per existing brigade, and perhaps one armoured squadron and one battery of artillery per existing division. They should, I believe, be organised and trained in sub-units—that is, batteries, squadrons and companies for the combatant arms, and in complete specialist and administrative sub-units. Combatant units should train annually in regiments and battalions with all their specialists and technicians, all with Regular units. Regular officers should be in charge of all training in and out of camp, though not necessarily in command if suitable "Ever-Ready" officers were available. Although I would have them organised in sub-units for training, this would not preclude the calling-up of individuals and groups when smaller numbers are required; it might be possible for their periods of readiness to rotate, a number of sub-units being on immediate call and in the following year others taking their place. I feel that they must be organised within the framework of the Territorial Army because it has the traditions, the parent organisation, country-wide local support and the drill halls.

It is also necessary to be able to reinforce the Rhine Army, particularly if, as I suggest, a Regular formation were removed from it. This should, of course, be done by negotiation with NATO, and I propose that a Territorial formation should be earmarked for early reinforcement of the Rhine Army and trained there for three weeks every two years. This formation would, of course, have to be well-equipped and trained. The remainder of the Reserve Army should be reorganised on the lines of the existing Territorial Army but embracing all existing Reserves. If finance does not permit, it would have less equipment than it has now. The Territorial Army is at present organised to fit the Civil Defence organisation of the country, and the Civil Defence rôle—which is an important one—should remain unchanged. However, many units of the Territorial Army to-day are so much below strength that they do not justify the expense of retention. There is also need for re-forming the Territorial Army associations into smaller groups, perhaps one for each divisional district with representatives from each county in the area.

With a view to improving recruiting for the Regular and Reserve Armies, I feel we should look again at the Army Cadet Force in the light of the modern youth mentality. As a district commander, I found enormous enthusiasm in the young cadet. Then, as he got older and his training continued, over and over again on the same lines, he got bored and left and did not, as one hoped, join the Territorial Army, let alone the Regular Army. We want to introduce a better training programme so that his interest is held, and so that he progresses into more advanced' fields of military training with the assistance of the Territorial Army, perhaps as a junior Territorial, so that when he is the right age he is prepared to join either the T.A. or the Regular Army, with enhanced prospects of promotion. So much for the T.A. and the Cadet Force.

I am very glad to see in their places to-day, and due to speak, noble Lords from Scotland, Northumberland and Devon with great experience of the Regular and the Territorial Armies. I look forward to hearing their contributions. I am particularly pleased that my noble friend Lord Ridley, who had the dubious privilege of serving in a Territorial Division under my Command, and who has just given up command of a great yeomanry regiment, is going to make his maiden speech to-day. Finally, whatever the Government decide to do, I hope that there will be full consultation with the Territorial and Auxiliary Forces' Association, and I hope that there will be an opportunity to have another debate on this subject when the Government have produced their plan for the Reserve Army.

I should like now to say a word about Army equipment. The Army equipment now coming into service was, on the whole, designed for major war. Much lighter equipment is required for the limited operations which we are now undertaking. Can we be told how the trials on the light automatic rifle (I think that it is called the American Armelite) are proceeding? What scale of issue is envisaged, and when will it come into service? Are there any new developments in regard to portable radio sets? Helicopters are playing an increasingly important part in all operations. I suggest that helicopter flights, some of which are already piloted by Army officers, should be under the command of Army unit commanders in all operations in the Far East. Also load-carrying helicopters should be piloted by Army officers and should be under the command of divisional or brigade headquarters, according to their rôle. They are, after all, only flying lorries, and the time has come for helicopter units to be integrated into the Army establishment when they are required in special parts of the world in active service. The Royal Air Force do not particularly mind this. After all, they want to go faster and faster, whereas the Army want to go slower and slower—and even, occasionally, to park on a cloud.

In regard to training, in March, 1965, the Under-Secretary of State for the Army mentioned the shortage of training land. What steps have the Government taken in eight months, and what are their plans to obtain more training areas? Most successful training of one or two units has been carried out in Canada. Can this be extended? Can more be done in Europe by agreement with our NATO Allies? Recently I was glad to hear that the 1st Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment carried out a period of training in Sardinia, where they were given a very warm welcome, and derived from it a great deal of value and enjoyment. I would ask the Ministers; how much longer will the training areas in Libya be available to us? Where will the Strategic Reserve train, if we have not the facilities in Libya?

I now turn to the Royal Air Force. I had hoped to leave most of this to my noble friend Lord Gosford, but I am sorry to say that he has had to go into hospital and will be away from his place for some time. I am sure that we all wish him a rapid recovery.


Hear. hear!


His contributions to our debates on air matters are always very valuable and we miss him to-day. My only point on manpower in the Royal Air Force is to ask whether recruiting is still satisfactory. Is the R.A.F. getting all the technicians it needs? As regards R.A.F. equipment—and that means mainly aircraft—I understand that the Blue Water project was cancelled solely because the TSR 2 aircraft would render it superfluous. Now that the TSR 2 has been cancelled what is to take its place?

If it is to be the F 111, one school of thought considers that, if it is to be purchased now it should be purchased complete with all the American equipment designed for it, rather than with British equipment salvaged from discarded projects. However, the American equipment for the early marks of the F 111 cannot match the British electronic fit which was designed for the TSR 2. If, therefore, we are going to buy the F 111 future Marks, we should insist on including a British electronic fit which can be fully integrated into the aircraft during the flight trial stages. This can be done if we act quickly. The advantages of such a policy are that we capitalise on the development programme already undertaken, we ensure a fit that will meet our requirements, we save dollars, and we ensure that the military "know-how" is kept alive.

There is still a requirement for the P 1154 or similar type. All the research and development for this aircraft has been completed at great cost. What are the Government's plans? As an infantryman myself, I am most interested in aircraft capable of really close support of infantry engaged in active operations to-day. What have we now, and what is planned for the future? It has been stated in the House of Commons by Mr. Jenkins, the Minister for Aviation, that the day has passed when the Royal Air Force can expect ever again to fly British-developed and British-produced combat aircraft: they are too expensive for our limited resources. We must therefore collaborate on development and production with other countries and share the cost.

The question is: with whom do we collaborate? If we divide the development costs on a pro rata basis, what rights shall we have in the production of the aircraft and in foreign sales? If we collaborate with the United States, we know that their security restrictions might well prevent foreign sales; and we know that the cost of production can be reduced only by overseas sales. There is also the problem of design rights in Government-sponsored developments, which in this country are vested in Her Majesty's Government but in America with the aircraft contractor. Therefore, there are enormous commercial difficulties for British sales of Anglo-American aircraft.

The danger lies in the fact that for prestige reasons we may be tempted to enter into collaborative project agreements with America on what appear to be amicable industrial terms, when the real aims of American business, though not necessarily of the United States Government, will be to run us out of business. All this makes the case for collaborating with the French extremely strong. For a start, France realises the dangers of collaboration with the United States, but she also realises the intolerable strain of "going it alone", if survival of the industry is dependent upon overseas sales in the face of United States competition.

A joint Anglo-French industrial effort, however, more nearly matches the Americans. The joint total market within France and the United Kingdom for a single project will make possible production runs which will reduce costs to a point that may well be competitive with American production unit costs. Rights are more easily negotiable with the French, and language, we already know from experience, presents no real difficulty between the design teams. Thus there is a sound commercial case for collaborative ventures with France. The last thing we should try to do is to collaborate with everybody at once. To build one aircraft with France, one with America, and possibly a third with another European Power, merely establishes a pattern of high-cost, short-run production lines, and security difficulties. This is folly.

I apologise for darting about between the various problems of the three Services, but I hope that your Lordships will follow me in some of these, and I am sure that other noble Lords will make useful contributions to this debate. I have no doubt that it is the earnest desire of all of your Lordships that our Regular and Reserve Forces should be organised with enough men, properly trained and efficiently equipped, so that they can play their part in bringing peace and stability wherever our responsibilities lie, and wherever we can assist, and at the same time give us the shield and deterrent against aggression which they have produced in the past; and that they should be able to do so is the responsibility of the Government and Parliament. I beg to move for Papers.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I am glad that we are having this debate this afternoon. In the first place, it is perhaps a good thing that our time this summer should not be entirely monopolised by my noble friend Lord Arran and his Bill. In any event, I am very glad that the debate has been opened by my noble friend Lord Thurlow, who speaks with such recent and intimate knowledge of the Armed Forces.

There is, of course, a difficulty of timing. I am not a natural pessimist, but I rather suspect that to some of our more pertinent questions the noble Lords who will be replying will say that this or that is under review. Well, there it is. But we avidly await the moment when Mr. Healey will bring down his tablets from Whitehall Gardens. Incidentally, can noble Lords tell us when we may expect to see the fruits of all this burning of midnight oil in the Ministry of Defence, and do the Government propose to embody the distilled fruits of their Review in a special White Paper? Nevertheless, my Lords, despite this review hazard, I think it is very useful that we should have this opportunity now of looking at some of the more terre-à-terre aspects of Defence policy. I propose to be very terre-à-terre myself and, following that, I shall come straight away to matters of equipment, indeed straight away to Army equipment.

The difficulty about the Army, of course, on which my noble friend has spoken with far more expertise than I can posibly command, is that it has two jobs: the rôle of Rhine Army and the world-wide rôle. But the job on which the Army is to-day most actively engaged is, of course, the world-wide job; that of containing limited pressures notably in South-East Asia, and they are doing it, as are the other two Services, superlatively well. I was lucky enough to see at first hand, in Borneo last summer, something of what the Army is up against. I incline to doubt whether most people in this country fully realise that the opponent, whom our Commonwealth Forces are confronting in that fantastically difficult terrain, is becoming increasingly numerous, increasingly well-trained and, indeed, increasingly well-equipped. Therefore, to maintain the ascendancy which Commonwealth Forces have gained in Malaysia, we need to exploit every advantage we possess, including not least, of course, the advantage of superior technology.

Quite frankly—and noble Lords will see by this admission that I am here not making. a Party point—I doubt whether we have yet fully exploited that advantage of technology in terms of simple, robust and, above all, very light equipment, or in terms of mobility. We learned from Mr. Mulley last March that the Government were pushing ahead with studies of lighter and more suitable weapons, not only for jungle conditions, but also for counter-insurgency rôles. Studies are not "much cop" for the chap in the jungle. What he needs of course is the stuff itself, the hardware, and I hope that the noble Lords who are answering my noble friend's very pertinent questions in this context will be able to offer us something rather more solid than studies.

In particular, apart from the question of the lightness of equipment, I personally should be very interested to hear what noble Lords have to say about the Government's intentions with regard to helicopters and light aircraft. No one who has been to Borneo, and who has witnessed the almost total reliance of the troops on the ground on the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy helicopter squadrons, can doubt the importance of the helicopter in counter-insurgency operations. Therefore, I should like to join my noble friend in asking the Government what their plans are, apart from improving the availability of those helicopters which we have at present—which of course is extremely important. Do they propose, as I think my noble friend has suggested, to expand the Army's private air force of helicopters and light aircraft? Do they propose to increase the tactical helicopter lift provided by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, world-wide? I hope that here the noble Lords who are replying will be able to give us something solid to bite on, and that they will not shelter behind the screen of the Defence Review.

This brings me, I suppose logically, to the question of Royal Air Force equipment, and here our point of departure—our somewhat melancholy take-off—must be the Government's decision to murder the nation's three most advanced military aircraft projects. We cannot, I fear, disinter their remains, but we can, and I will, ask noble Lords opposite to tell us rather more about the Government's intentions. In particular, we need to know—the Royal Air Force needs to know, and the nation needs to know—whether their intention is to order this year a long-range tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft.

I remember very well, before I was smitten with 'flu, listening a couple of months ago to what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said about this in our Defence debate. He made out, as I thought, an absolutely clinching case, or so it seemed to me, for such an aircraft. He made out, in short, the case for the TSR 2, and only three weeks ago the Secretary of State himself confirmed this requirement. Why, therefore, are the Government hesitating about exercising their option on the American F 111? Noble Lords opposite may fob us off with talk of the Defence review and verbiage about the "precise definition of task"; but I do not think that procrastination here should really be excused by this talk of the Defence review. The Defence review did not stop the Government from putting the knife to the P 1154, the H.S. 681 or the TSR 2; nor has it inhibited them—and I am glad it has not inhibited them—from concluding a very important deal with the French for the production of two military aircraft. If the Government can embark on a joint project with the French for a plane which we are not going to need until the midlate-1970s, how is it that they are not able to bring themselves to a decision yet to order a plane which we need, on the noble Lord's own admission, as soon as we can possibly get it?

Of course, it may be that there are other factors at play here. Mr. Healey, the Secretary of State for Defence, although not the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has talked of the Buccaneer in this sort of context. With the Rolls Royce Spey engine, the Buccaneer is a fine aircraft. It has still quite a lot of development potential. Do the Government in fact intend to develop it still further for the Royal Navy, for the Royal Air Force or for both? Again, there has been talk of strong French opposition to our exercising our option on the American F 111. In a way, perhaps, it would be understandable if there were such opposition.

The Anglo-French vertical geometry aircraft (as I think it is called now) is, I believe, due to come into service with the R.A.F. in the mid-late-1970s—parenthetically, I must remark how the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, would have twitted us with the use of this magic phrase had we been responsible for it—and then, as I understand it, the F 111, if we do order it, should still have quite a long life ahead of it. The French may, therefore, by a process of reasoning which I need not go through, fear that the Government may try to "do another Concord" on them. In any event, I very much hope that noble Lords opposite will take this opportunity of clearing the air in this particular respect. It is time we all knew whether it is the Government's firm intention to exercise their option on the F 111, and it is also time, I think, that we knew what British aircraft the Anglo-French project, the vertical geometry project, is due to replace.

This is the biggest cloud of equipment uncertainty which the Government have hung over the Royal Air Force, but there are a number of others. First, there is the uncertainty now surrounding the Government's choice of replacements for the murdered P 1154—the American Phantom and the British Kestrel. The Spey-engined Phantom is the best and most versatile aircraft of its kind in the world to-day, but now we hear the Minister of Aviation referring in another place to the "considerable difficulties associated with the time-scale and the cost of this project". This is all rather forbidding and, indeed, rather puzzling. After all, my Lords, it was on the plea of time and of cost that the Government sought to justify their murder of the P 1154. I hope that the noble Lord can dispel at least some of these doubts. I hope in particular that he can scotch the rumour which we have all heard that the mounting cost of this programme will mean a drastic reduction in the number of Phantoms which the R.A.F. and the Royal Navy will receive.

Then, my Lords, what about the Kestrel? The Government tell us it is due to enter service in the late 'sixties—again the magic, vague phrase. I would hazard the guess, however, that, by the "late 'sixties", the Government probably mean, rather optimistically, 1969. My Lords, 1969 is only a year or so ahead of the date by which the P 1154 was due; but 1969 is also only four years from now, and, so far as I know, the Government have still to place a production order for these Kestrels. When do they propose to place such an order? Do they in fact know what sort of Kestrel they really want?

The time-scale for the replacement of the veteran Shackletons also worries me. I am, less charitably, less worried about the replacement of the still youthful noble Lord opposite. A month or two, perhaps, will take care of that, despite the Prime Minister's brave words. But I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whilst there is yet time, on the decision to replace the Mark II Shackletons by the Maritime Comet, the HS 801. Just for once, I think, the Government have got it right. But, here again, they have set themselves a pretty tight programme, and all that they have done so far, as I understand it, is to authorise a very limited development programme. Here again, can they tell us when full production orders will be placed; and can they also tell us what they have in mind for the Mark III Shackletons?

Finally, there is the important question of British equipment for all these American aircraft—the point which my noble friend also, and rightly, referred to. We know the Spey engine is going into the Phantom. Is the Tyne going into the Hercules? Is the noble Lord yet able to give us that information? Again echoing my noble friend, may I ask what British avionics (to use this horrible piece of new jargon) are going into these American purchases? And what about other, very important, ancillary equipments? What, for example, about the wheels, the tyres and the brakes which (although I do not know about the time-scale) British firms could quite easily supply in the Phantom and the Hercules?

Last, whilst I am on equipment, but very far from least, there is the equipment of the Navy. When I left the Navy Department last October I feared that all the planning, all the dedication which had been invested in our Polaris programme, and the tightest and most testing programme that the Navy and the British shipbuilders had ever undertaken, might well be squandered. On the other hand, I was pretty confident about the future of our so-called conventional Navy. For had not the Prime Minister called, with all the sincerity at his command (to use his own phraseology), "for a stronger and more effective conventional Navy"? But what, in fact, have we seen? We have seen the continuation of the much-derided Polaris programme—and I am very glad we have—but what about their programme for expanded naval shipbuilding for which Mr. Wilson pleaded in those far-off autumn days in Plymouth and in Chatham, with all the sincerity at his command?

Now, the Prime Minister, for all I know, may have laboured very hard for this during his first dynamic 200 days. He may have wrestled night and day with his next-door neighbour at No. 10, the gallant Colonel Wigg, whose love of the Navy is, I suspect, less than total. But if he has laboured, the Prime Ministerial mountain has brought forth a remarkably small naval mouse. What have we seen of that great, expanding naval programme? Nothing—in fact, less than nothing. We have seen the cancellation of one Polaris submarine, the cancellation of an ice-breaker; but of new construction, of new orders—nothing, or virtually nothing. I have forborne up to now to question the Government about these matters, but I should like now to put a number of questions to noble Lords opposite. I hope, with all the sincerity at my command, that they can give us satisfactory answers.

What, in the first place, about the new carrier programme? This is probably not the occasion to delve into all the "theology" of the carrier argument. All I would say is that if we are to have important military commitments East of Suez in the 'seventies, in the vast reaches of the Indian Ocean and in the network of South-East Asian archipelago, I find it hard to see how we can discharge these commitments adequately without a modern carrier force. An essential element of that force was the new carrier, CVA 01, which was due to enter service in early 1973. The CVA 01 is, of course, now stuck fast in the toils of that famous Defence review. But can the noble Lord assure us, pending the review, that the Government have in no wise jeopardised the timing of this project, that there has been no relaxation of the design effort and that orders for all the long-lead items have been placed duly and on time?

Next, the programme for the nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, the S.S.K.N.s, as they are called in the vernacular. These vessels are probably the most important components—from the defensive point of view, certainly—of a modern conventional Navy. They will be needed in the 'seventies against even a 2nd or 3rd XI naval Power. We gather that the Government propose to order a further hunter-killer in place of the fifth Polaris. This, too, has apparently managed in some way to slip through the erratic mesh of the Defence review. Or has it? Can the noble Lord tell us whether this order for a fourth S.S.K.N. has been placed? More important, can he give us any indication of the future submarine programme which the Government have in mind?

Then there are the escorts, the backbone of the conventional Navy. We never have enough of them. Last year the previous Government went out to tender for five—two new guided-missile ships and three Leanders. In view of the Prime Minister's call for a larger conventional Navy, I had rather guilelessly assumed that this year we should order rather more. But, so far as I know, not a single order for a single escort, over and above those included in the last Government's programme, has yet been placed by the present Government.

I ask noble Lords opposite—and I trust they will not fob me off with talk about the Defence review—what is the Government policy for escort construction? How many new escorts will they order this year? Is the project for the successor to the D.L.G.s, the large general purpose escort, going forward? Is the surface-to-air missile, with which it would be armed, the Sea Dart—the only large British guided-missile project at the moment—going ahead? What of the possibility of introducing a new class of smaller, simpler escorts? There is much to be said, I believe, for having a ship which is fast, light and relatively unsophisticated, and, above all, not too avaricious for skilled manpower.

Finally, with a look to the maritime future, what can noble Lords tell us of the Government's intentions in two important fields: the military development of the hovercraft and the harnessing of nuclear power to naval propulsion? I should like to know how far the Ministry of Defence have taken their study of nuclear propulsion for surface vessels—a field in which we are regrettably far behind the Americans? I should also like to know about the future developments of the maritime gas turbine engine, in particular, the Olympus, for naval propulsion—a field in which we are, in fact, ahead of the Americans. By the same token, what do the Government have in mind for the hovercraft? Do they believe that it could become the coastal patrol craft of the future? How far have they taken the Minister of Defence's study of the large ocean-going anti-submarine hovership?

Those are my questions on equipment, and I will now turn briefly—because of the time and not because of its relative importance—to manpower. In the debate on the Army Estimates last March, the Minister of Defence for the Army expressed the hope that we should reach the manpower target for the Army by the end of this year, or even earlier, if we kept up the pressure. Now we find that recruiting is slipping. Worse than that, there have been hints in the newspapers—I do not know what credence to put on them—that the Government propose to slide away from the target of 181,100. Worse still, these rumours have gone un-contradicted. The noble Lords who are to reply would do a good deal to reassure us by confirming that the Government target remains unchanged; that it remains their intention to do their utmost to achieve it. Of course, there is one thing that can be certain, and that is that nothing will do more to render this target difficult to attain than the perpetuation of the present uncertainty.

Nowhere do the Government need more to dispel the uncertainty which they themselves have created than over the future of our Reserve Forces, a subject on which my noble friend spoke with considerable authority. Speaking from these Benches, I should like to make it clear that I do not in any way challenge the Government's decision to review the organisation of our reserves. I do not regard the present arrangements as sacrosanct or necessarily immutable. But we believe that two essential principles must underpin any successful reorganisation. First, the decisions on the size and shape of our Reserve Forces must stem from a decision on their operational rôle. They must not be the by-product of purely arbitrary economies. Second, the foundation for a successful reorganisation is, as my noble friend has said, proper consultation. On several occasions spokesmen for the Government have con-finned that they propose to consult with the Territorial Army authorities about this reorganisation. So far so good. But consultation can take many forms. It can be a monologue à la George Brown; or it can be a fruitful dialogue. Can noble Lords confirm not only that they will go through the forms of consultation with the Territorial Army authorities before they take any firm and final decision on reorganisation, but also that they will consult them in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable their views to be taken properly and fully into account?

The problems of Army manpower are fairly familiar friends, or enemies, to us all. We are less accustomed to the idea that the Navy has a similar problem. I hope very much that we shall get hopeful answers to the questions put by my noble friend about the two incentive schemes which my successor in the Navy Department has introduced. I must confess I have some doubts myself; yet I was glad he was able to wring these concessions out of the Treasury. I only wish he had been able to wring rather more; although I am not saying I could have done so. But the taxable re-engagement grants are pitched fairly low, and the assisted house purchase scheme, admirable though it is, has, so far as I know, yet to get under way. The scheme, I fear, will lose all its purpose and impact if it is not put into effect without further delay, and unless it is cast on generous lines. Be that as it may, I am quite certain that these two relatively cheap and modest schemes will not in themselves suffice to do the job.

I hope that the noble Lords who are replying will be able to give us further evidence of the Government's determination to lick this problem of naval manpower. I am quite certain that it can be licked. I am equally certain that it admits of no easy or single solution. It demands a big effort right across the board. To solve the problem will require consideration of the very important question of Service housing and the provision of better accommodation and amenities ashore, Improved living conditions are necessary and, above all, air conditioning in our older ships especially when East of Suez. Those entitled to married quarters abroad should be able to occupy them. I fear that in this respect procrastination at Singapore and elsewhere, on the pretext of the Defence review, may not be helping matters. It will be necessary to apply unorthodox methods. I hope, for example, that the Government will consider the introduction of a special allowance for Servicemen separated from their wives and families for unduly long periods. They should not neglect the opportunities provided by our growing air transport capacity to bring Servicemen and their families together. Above all, the solution of this problem means the steady recognition on the part of any Government that where family separation cannot be avoided its effects can and must be mitigated.

The last Government bequeathed to the present Government what I believe to be the biggest housing programme for the Forces we have ever known in this country. Whatever else the review is achieving, I hope that it is not in any way impairing or holding up that programme. There are many restrictions placed upon the entitlement of the Navy to housing, but if any can be raised I hope that they will be raised as soon as possible.

My Lords, I have fired off a large number of questions at noble Lords opposite. I make no particular apology for that, because until now their activities in the field of Defence have posed more questions for us than they have provided answers. They have posed two great and, as yet, unanswered questions. The first is a rather ironical one to be posed by a Government who came to power semi-pledged to take us out of the nuclear sphere, and totally pledged to strengthen our conventional forces. They have retained the nuclear power, but it looks as if they may be about to weaken the conventional forces. That is the first great question they have raised in our minds. The second is whether it is strategy or the Treasury that will determine the size and shape of Mr. Healey's new model forces. Will they be tailored to our commitments or cut to a purely arbitrary financial pattern? It is the Government who have raised these great uncertainties: it is for the Government to dispel them.