§ 3.28 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF PUBLIC BUILDING AND WORKS (LORD WINTERBOTTOM)
My Lords, I beg to move the first Order standing in my name on the Order Paper. Past practice with regard to these two Orders does not offer consistent guidance on how they are to be dealt with in this House. Last year no Orders were necessary because the Armed Forces Act 1966 continued the Army and Air Force Acts of 1955 in force until the end of 1967. In 1965 the Orders went through without debate, as they also did in 1963. In 1964, however, there was a short debate. If your Lordships agree I propose this year to follow the example of 1964, for this seems to me to be an opportunity to say something about those aspects of the Army and Air Force with which the Army and Air Force Acts are principally concerned. If your Lordships agree, I propose to follow again the precedent of 1964 and deal with both the Army and the Air Force in moving the first Order, the Army Act (Continuation) Order. Then, after the debate, provided of course that your Lordships have no objection, I shall formally move the Order relating to the Air Force.
As your Lordships will be aware, the Army and Air Force Acts 1955 brought to an end the 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 Army and Air Force Act 1961, and the Armed Forces Act 1966, have continued the system of annual Orders in Council and quinquennial 849 Acts. The Orders which are before your Lordships to-day are the first to be made under the 1966 Act.
The Army and Air Force advance with the times like all our institutions, including your Lordships' House, and we hear of newer and better machines and equipment of all sorts and of increased mobility and increased fire power. But confronted with the Army and Air Force Acts we are reminded forcibly that the Services consist of men run by men and that one of the foundations of their success is their discipline. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the state of discipline in the Army and the Air Force is good. I think that this is borne out by the latest statistics associated with the maintenance of discipline. Your Lordships will hear in mind that they include provision for military offences—not crime in the accepted sense of the word. First, the Army. The last 12 months have not witnessed any striking changes in the statistics concerning courts-martial. Thirteen officers were convicted, which is three less than the number in the previous year, and represents about one officer in 1,500. In the same period 1,900 soldiers were convicted, This is a slight decrease in the number from the previous year, and when expressed as a percentage of strength is a reduction from 1.23 per cent. to 1.21 per cent. of the overall other rank strength of the Army. Although there has been a slight increase in the number of convictions for absence without leave, this has been balanced by a decrease in the number of other offences. The slight increase in absence without leave results largely from the reduction in overseas service: there is less excitement at home, and a man is more vulnerable to personal factors outside the Army. All officers are fully aware of this problem, and every effort is being made to minimise it by careful man-management and imaginative training.
There has been a slight decrease in the number of appeal petitions to the Army Board, 16 as against 19 in the previous year, while the number of cases taken to the Appeal Court fell from 10 to 8. No appeals were upheld by the Appeal Court last year, but in the previous year one finding of murder was changed to manslaughter and the sentence reduced accordingly.
850 So far as discipline in the Royal Air Force is concerned, I am happy to be able to say that the steady improvement over the past few years has been maintained in the year 1966–67. The number of courts-martial held was 2.45 for every 1,000 members of the R.A.F., while the number of offences tried summarily by commanding officers has fallen, from 168 per 1,000 personnel in 1965 to 140 per 1,000 of the Service population in 1966.
The court-martial system also continues to work well. In the two years ended September 30, 1967, there were only 24 petitions to the Air Force Board against the findings or sentences of courts-martial, of which two were successful. In addition, there were 18 appeal petitions, all of which were rejected. Seven of those were pursued to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, but only two of those appeals were upheld, and the Court has not yet reached its decision in a third case. The rules of procedure applicable to courts-martial are kept under review to bring them, so far as possible, into line with the rules which apply in civil courts, and I think the very small number of appeals against those decisions of courts-martial which have been confirmed shows that the accused Serviceman is given as fair a hearing as in the civil courts.
The Armed Forces Act 1966 also provided, as the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, will remember, for the basic provisions for enlistment of soldiers to be removed from the Army Act and to be prescribed by statutory instrument. The new Army Terms of Service Regulations were laid before your Lordships' House on July 5 this year, and came into effect on August 1. This means that they are no longer subject to scrutiny by Parliament each year in the way that they used to be. Nevertheless, I think it would be appropriate to continue to regard recruiting as having a strong link with the Army Act.
I think I should remind your Lordships that the Army succeeded in recruiting its full strength of soldiers in late 1966 and the spring of this year. A relatively high rate of prolongation was attained within the Army. This is a success story, for there were grave doubts whether a voluntary Army of 180,000 could ever be recruited. However, I must tell your Lordships that experience since then has 851 not been so happy. We have not maintained the steady flow of soldier recruits for the Army as was the case in 1965 and 1966, and from February of this year soldier recruiting has fallen off. The total intake for 1967 looks like being less than 16,000, as compared with 19,928 and 18,502 for 1965 and 1966 respectively.
Recruitment is generally satisfactory for most branches of the R.A.F., and the numbers and quality of candidates for commissions are such that a high standard of selection can be maintained. The only exceptions are certain ground branches requiring professional qualifications, of which the Engineer Branch presents the most serious problem. The shortage of professionally qualified candidates reflects the current national shortage in this field. The total number of recruits during 1967 for the R.A.F. ground trades is expected to be of the same order as the total recruited during 1966. Adult recruiting for most R.A.F. engineering trades was satisfactory, as was that for the W.R.A.F., though there was a shortage of suitable applicants for some of the less glamorous and spectacular, but none the less important, ground trades. Many more suitable recruits are certainly going to be needed, particularly for the less highly qualified craft and administrative apprentices.
Internal recruiting—that is, re-engagements and extensions by airmen already serving—is running at a reasonably satisfactory rate, although it could be higher. The R.A.F. external recruiting organisation is being kept under continuous review to produce the right number of recruits of the proper calibre. Several careers information offices have been re-sited and mobile recruiting facilities for exhibition, and so on, have been improved. Advertising and publicity of all kinds is, as your Lordships agree, vital.
Your Lordships may ask why we should be so concerned with recruitment at a time when we are faced with redundancies. It is the Government's intention to maintain balanced, effective forces which can play their full part in safeguarding the security of national interests, and to achieve this a steady inflow of recruits is required. Despite the need for reductions it is the Government's firm intention to do all they can to provide the maximum stability and proper career 852 prospects for men and women who wish to make the Services their career.
Your Lordships will not think it unusual of me, at the end of this short speech, to pay tribute to the officers and men of the three Services. For technical reasons our debate this afternoon is not concerned with the Royal Navy, but I should not wish to exclude the Navy from my tribute. The Services have seen many changes in the past, and the reshaping of Defence policy which has been announced in the White Papers since the present Government took office will certainly lead to substantial changes in the numbers, deployment and roles of our forces. I am convinced, however, that the Services will meet these new challenges with their traditional coolness, efficiency, courage and perpetual good temper. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 3.40 p.m.
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, for introducing this Order as he has done. This is obviously not the occasion for a defence debate, but there are a few questions that I should like to put to him regarding the progress of certain schemes which were outlined by the Minister of Defence at the end of the last Session, so that we may know what is going on and what is going to be done during the coming months. I am very glad indeed to hear what he says about the discipline of the Army and the R.A.F. I propose to deal with a few points applicable to the Army, and my noble friend Lord St. Oswald will have something to say about the R.A.F.
Recruiting was most satisfactory, I think it was as good as it was in 1966 and early this year, and we know what the Minister says about the drop-off at the moment. We appreciate that the problem of recruiting for an Army that is going to be based almost entirely at home or in Germany is a big one; and I must say, though it is only a detail, that Malta springs to mind just now. We wish that the Government would consider the retention of a garrison there for a little longer. I believe that £11 million has been spent on barracks and quarters in 853 Malta in the last five years, and the wonderful welcome given there to Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh emphasises their friendly attitude to this country. The economy of the Island, which has had another cruel blow through the closure of the Suez Canal, would also be assisted if we were able to leave our garrison there a little longer. May we appeal to the Government to reconsider the withdrawal of the garrison from Malta?
Now with regard to some of the Government's announced plans, can the Minister give us information on certain matter of which I have given him rather short notice—first of all, a point involving Military Law, the continuance of which is covered by this Order? On October 25 the Minister of Defence said in another place that when the Army Act was next reviewed consideration would be given to re-defining respective civil and military powers of arrest under Sections 74 and 186 of that Act. Can the Minister tell me whether it is intended to proceed with such a review, and, if so, when? Secondly, have the Government any plans for further reorganisation of the Army involving disbandments and amalgamations? How and when is the new divisional grouping system to be introduced? We are worried that the best of the old traditions will not be preserved in this wider organisation, and we should like our minds to be put at rest on that point. Thirdly, regarding the return to this country of units from abroad, can the Minister tell us how many units have already returned? Are they all in barracks suitable for the coming winter? Are there sufficient married quarters? Is the necessary works programme up to date for others shortly returning? And shall we be short of married quarters in 1968? How many caravans may be needed?
These are the only points that I wish to raise at this stage, but I should like on behalf of my noble friends on this side to join with the Minister in paying a tribute to the Army and to the other two Services for their exemplary work during the last year, particularly in Aden. Though much reduced in size—in our opinion, perhaps too much—not only has the Army carried out some difficult tasks in dangerous places, but wherever troops have served abroad they have, by their example and their high standards of dis 854 cipline and efficiency, aroused admiration and envy and brought great credit on their country. We wish the Services all success in the difficult tasks before them.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I should like to say a word on the Army, and that portion of the Army particularly which is Welsh. Your Lordships will be aware that the Government have thought fit to cut down materially the infantry units of the Army. In my opinion this is a most retrograde step, a most foolish step, particularly with regard to the infantry. For a number of years I myself commanded both infantry and artillery units, and I know well that in these days it is much, much harder to train up to a high standard an infantry unit than an artillery unit. This applies to most other arms of the Service.
Always, throughout history, after a great war the British Government of the day, supported by the British Parliament, have proceeded to cut down and pare the Army below the level at which it can properly operate. I am perfectly certain—I say this with all the power that I can bring—that in a few years' time we shall greatly regret the fact that we have allowed this Government, owing to the system of Whips and the machinery of the Parties, to get away with this proposal. We are spending an enormous amount of money on defence, most of which is quite unnecessary and is wasteful. We are also spending an enormous amount on a headquarters, on the Ministry of Defence itself, and we are bleeding the most important part, the vital part, of the Army; namely, the artillery and the infantry.
So far as Wales is concerned, no words of mine can express my disgust at what is happening. We have only three regiments of the line in Wales. These regiments will no longer be Welsh. With all the great traditions of Wales, going back into the mists of time, these three regiments, the youngest of which is over 200 years old, have fought Britain's battles right through the pages of history; and whatever great battle there has been, one finds;—I do not know why this is a laughing matter to Ministers opposite. It is no laughing matter to the men who have been killed on the battlefield. These regiments carry colours blazoned with all the great battles in British history. Take 855 any one you like, such as Waterloo, Mons, and, in the last war, the battles in Burma and in France. In Crete the Commander-in-Chief, towards the end of the battle, sent to Mr. Churchill saying that there were only two regiments still in fighting trim. One was the Royal Marines and the other was the Welch Regiment. Churchill sent back to General Freyberg, saying, "Can you carry on the fight with the Royal Marines and the Welch Regiment?"
The Welch Regiment is now to cease to exist, after more than 200 years. It is to be wiped off the face of the earth. I am afraid that this will have the greatest effect on recruiting. There will no longer be a Welsh Brigade; it will be merged with two English brigades in an administrative division, and the three regiments of Wales will cease to exist. I feel that from every point of view—the identity of Wales, the martial traditions of Wales and the great traditions of the regiments of Wales themselves—this is a bad thing.
It is also bad for recruiting. Up till now, the best recruiting area in Britain has been Wales. Now, unfortunately, in some parts of the industrial areas of Wales unemployment is 17 per cent., as compared with 1.7 per cent. in London. These are the areas from which some of the finest infantry has come; yet we are going to jettison that at this stage, this quite uncertain stage in Welsh affairs, and we are going to risk having but few recruits from Wales. It beats me! I just cannot understand a situation of this kind, where you need good soldiers and you have the opportunity of good soldiers who want to serve in their own regiments with their own kith and kin. I do not understand why the sort of thing envisaged should happen. But there it is. I suppose that, whatever we say, Parliament will approve this policy.
I would ask only one thing, and I do not expect at all to be given a favourable answer. It is that if this foolish and wicked policy of killing the Welch Regiment, merging it in with the South Wales Borderers and making two regiments in the Welsh Brigade, which is no longer a truly Welsh brigade, is maintained, I hope that it will not be done until after the investiture of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, at Caernarvon on July 1. This ceremony 856 is an ancient one; it is the greatest event of its kind for decades, and will be no doubt for decades to come. It will be many years before there is such an important ceremony in Wales. It will be wicked and an insult to the Prince and to Wales if they destroy one of the three Welsh regiments before that takes place.
His investiture will mark a great stage in the history of Wales, and between then and now—and it is less than two years off—to destroy one of our Welsh regiments will make a mockery of the whole thing. I ask the Government not to destroy the Regiment, at all events until after the investiture, so that the Welch Regiment (which is my regiment) can be on parade with the Colours on this most important date in our history. I would ask, with all my heart, that the Government should not do this wicked thing until at least the Regiment has the opportunity and the honour of being present with our Colours at the Investiture of His Royal Highness.
§ 3.52 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, I feel great sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Lord who has just spoken, but I shall, as my noble friend has said, address myself to-day purely to the Order concerning the Royal Air Force. I associate myself entirely with the tributes he and the Minister have both paid to the officers and men in all the Forces, who continually win and deserve our admiration. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for moving these Orders, which we naturally support. But arising from a Continuation Order which deals with manpower, I should like to ask questions which were asked, and never answered—perhaps they might have been answered to-day but they were not specifically answered—at the end of last summer, relating to a reduction of 22 per cent. in the R.A.F. over the next eight years. This is taken, of course, from the White Paper, Cmnd. 3357, under the heading of "Service Manpower" on page 9. The Government's statement is clear in this respect: That the Royal Air Force will be reduced between 1967 and 1971 from 124,110 to 110,500, and that this reduction will be continued at the same rate in the following four years. This means that in 1971 27,000 fewer officers and men will be serving in the Royal Air Force.
857 What has never been explained, in spite of Opposition invitations to explain it, is how the R.A.F. are to fulfil their part in our obligations—and indeed in greater obligations than they have now, once the carriers are withdrawn—when their numbers have been so drastically reduced. It has not even been explained how they are to fly and maintain the aircraft which we expect to have during those years. Will the noble Lord say something in explanation of that to-day? I have given him notice that I should ask this question. We know that no personnel will be required to fly and maintain the Anglo-French V.G. aircraft, once the core of the Government's long-term programme, because that aircraft is now not to be built. But I understand that the Government's hopes remain high, or fairly high, of producing a substitute of some sort which will also require manpower—and highly trained manpower at that.
Since these figures were announced we have had a right to ask. Are there to be fewer aircraft to fly and maintain than Her Majesty's Government have in fact forecast? There is one fairly ominous indication of this with regard to the Phantom. On December 21, 1966, in an answer to a Parliamentary Question in another place, Mr. Healey said [col. 325]:The Defence Review indicated a requirement for about 200 Phantom aircraft for the two Services. Over three-quarters of these have already been ordered.On November 9, 1967, in a Written Answer to a Parliamentary Question in another place Mr. Healey said [col. 159]:The total Phantom order is for 170 aircraft and these are due to be delivered in 1968 and 1969.That is a reduction of 30 aircraft not specifically announced as such in any Government statement. But that would still not explain a reduction of anything like 27,000 officers and men. What may be significant is that in a recent Transport House publication Labour's First Three Years, we find a proud boast:Resources have been switched from Defence to the Social Services, which is the right priority for a Socialist Government.Leaving aside the fact that this Government do not seem to have made the country very much happier by this process of stinting the Armed Forces, I would point out that those Forces stand in pro 858 tection of all the social services and those who benefit, and I would ask what this transfer will consist of. Here is a figure directly related to manpower. Since the Labour Government assumed power in the autumn of 1964, over 60,000 additional civil servants have been taken on to the national pay-roll. Can we be sure that the reductions in the Armed Services will be reflected in at least the same proportion in the Ministry of Defence? It seems improbable that the noble Lord can give such an undertaking to-day, because this is a Government which, to our witness, will joyfully deplete the Fighting Services and inflate every "empire" within the ambit of Whitehall. We think that this Government's priorities have become pretty distorted along the road.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, may I make a slight interjection?—and I hope I am not out of order. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, he referred to recruiting areas as being "satisfactory". May I ask if that applies to the Highland area? In the past, recruits joined a regiment. Now I understand that is not so easy; it is a question of joining "the Army". I am rather diffident about mentioning that because my own regiment, so far as I can see, has not been touched, but it would be interesting to know whether the noble Lord's reference to "satisfactory" recruiting areas still applies to the Highland area.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, I rise to intervene since I was a member of the Select Committee which sat during 1953 and 1954 and recommended the change of procedure that is exemplified by the Orders we are now discussing. I remember, and the noble Viscount, Lord Monsell, will remember, the old days when we had the annual debate on the Army Act, sitting through the night. He had a great responsibility at that time as during several of those years he was Chief Whip for the Government. As the House may know, we unanimously came to the conclusion that what was required was to get away from the annual debate, nearly always going through the night, and to have these periodic Orders, perhaps on a narrower basis than would have applied to the annual debate on the Army or Air Force Acts. Therefore, I think that the recommendations that we made were 859 valuable, and I feel that nothing has been lost by the change of procedure which is exemplified this afternoon.
I should like to make one or two points. I had a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches in his emotional outburst with regard to the Welsh Regiments. Like himself and like other Members of this House, I have served in a regiment, and one becomes very attached to it: one's loyalty is developed in that regiment and its name. But this feeling is not restricted to the Welsh Regiments. I agree with him that they have as good a fighting record as any of the regiments from Scotland or from England, but these changes have taken place both in Scotland and in Wales.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware—and I make no complaint of this; I am delighted—that, in fact, the Scottish Division remains intact with a Highland Brigade and a Lowland Brigade?—and good luck to both of them. I am pointing out that the Welsh Brigade no longer exists as such, and there will in future be no individual Welsh Brigade because it will be lumped into what is, in fact, an English Division.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, I certainly appreciate that point of view, but I am not in a position to reply as to whether or not the recruitment from Wales would have been sufficient to maintain the establishment of a Welsh Brigade. That is a matter which can be answered only by a Minister from the Defence Ministry. All I am saying is that I share the noble Lord's feelings, and I wish the position could have been otherwise.
The other point to which I should like to refer is one that has been raised before in the House—and it was raised again this afternoon by the noble Lord who spoke first from the Opposition Benches—and concerns Malta. I am bound to say that it will seem to me very odd that there should be any question of bringing troops back to this country, unless there is an adequate supply of married quarters, for example, in the United Kingdom. In the days when I was Air Minister shortly after the war, there were numbers of R.A.F. personnel 860 who lived in caravans, but we are now 20 years on and there should be no necessity for that to happen in 1967 and 1968. I associate myself with what the noble Lord said, and I hope that my noble friend will go back to the Department and satisfy himself—and I hope that the Minister of Defence will also satisfy himself—that it really is a practical proposition to bring back all those troops; and that there will be no difficulty about providing married quarters, or barrack accommodation for the single men. Failing that, I think there are political reasons which might make it well worth while stationing anything up to a brigade in Malta. The accommodation is there. Like myself, the noble Lord has seen the quarters and visited them officially, and we know exactly the high standard that was maintained. For the various reasons which I have enumerated, I hope that this matter will be reconsidered, with a view to making use of the accommodation existing in Malta.
I thought my noble friend made a very encouraging statement with regard to the discipline of the Forces, and perhaps not quite so encouraging a statement with regard to recruitment. The ordeal of our soldiers in Aden, for example, is a magnificent testimony to their conduct and discipline, and I believe that we can be proud of them. I am quite sure that my noble friend will not mind my going out of my way to make a special reference to the Northumberland Fusiliers, who come from the county of my birth, and to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who come from the country of my father's birth. They were two of the finest battalions in the British Army and I think they did a magnificent job, as I am sure did any other battalion under similar circumstances.
As regards recruitment, I do not know whether my noble friend can answer the points which have been put to him. But I am not going to go into the wide sweep made by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald. This is not a defence debate, and I am quite sure that the noble Lord does not really expect anyone to deal with the rather sweeping arguments which he put. However, he could be answered, and I should have great joy in doing it, perhaps on another occasion. But the noble Lord 861 put one or two very good, practical questions, and I very much hope that my noble friend will be able to give a satisfactory reply. Apart from that, I should like to congratulate my noble friend on his statement.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, may I just raise one very short point? I feel that it is rather a dull point, after the very interesting speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, and others. It stems directly from the tone of the Minister's remarks, and not from any particular one. He told us that the discipline of the Forces was good. That is very good to hear; and, indeed, it is amply supported by the evidence of the news as we read it from day to day in our papers and see it on television. The noble Lord also referred to court-martial procedure and made the statement (I paraphrase it) that the House would feel satisfied that it was a procedure that was fair to the accused. Later, another noble Lord mentioned the question of a review of court-martial procedure in the future, and particularly mentioned a look being taken at the division between civil offences and offences under the Service Acts.
The question which I should like to ask is this. As one with a great deal of experience of court-martial procedure I, in common with many of your Lordships, know that it is very much slanted in the direction of the accused. This is something which is quite proper, and it is done deliberately, because at courts-martial the judges are men who have no great learning of the law. They have legal advice but they are not trained judges, and that is the chief reason why the procedure is slanted very definitely in favour of the accused. But can the Minister assure us that when the court-martial procedure is reviewed again there will be in mind not only the need to ensure that the procedure is fair to the accused, but also the need to ensure that in bad times as well as good the discipline of the Forces will be safeguarded by the construction of the Act?
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I think the House will agree with my 862 noble friend Lord Rowley, that to-day is not perhaps an occasion when we should have a mini-debate on the White Paper. But I will answer as many of the points put to me as I can, and I should like to start with the plea of the no ale Lord, Lord Ogmore, for the Welch Regiment, which I would link with a question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, about the date when the new divisional system is to be introduced. It has been announced in both Houses (I believe that in this House it was announced by my noble friend Lord Chalfont) that the reorganisation of the infantry divisions will take place by 1969, but details of how this will be done are not yet finalised. Turning to Wales, all disbandments announced are to take place by 1971. The date of amalgamation of the Welch Regiment and the South Wales Borderers is not yet firm. But I will make certain that the noble Lord's strong plea, which was endorsed in other parts of the House, is brought to the notice of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and I am certain that it will receive sympathetic consideration.
Turning to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, I have what is perhaps an unsatisfactory reply to one item. I am afraid that Her Majesty's Government cannot review their attitude to Malta. The statement made in the 1957 Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy must still hold. But, of course, as noble Lords will remember, the programme of reductions in Malta will not be completed before the end of 1971, so there is a reasonable period for adjustment—adjustment both in employment and in adaptation to changing circumstances.
It will not be necessary to use Malta to house returning Forces on a temporary basis because—and here I believe I am able to give the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, a rather more satisfactory picture—from February, 1966, until the middle of this month 3,151 houses had been purchased or were in the process of being purchased for married quarters, and a further 2,024 will be purchased during the next six months. In addition, there are 400 fully furnished hirings, and 150 caravans have also been bought as an emergency standby, although I am 863 glad to be able to tell the House that substantially less than all of these 150 caravans are occupied. If I may say so, this aspect of the operation for rehousing the families of returning soldiers has gone surprisingly well. Looking forward to the return of further units in the future, this programme, too, is going reasonably well. We are not complacent, but we are reasonably satisfied that the units still to return will be well housed. I myself have a direct responsibility for the barrack services, and having visited three of the major centres I can say that things are really going quite well.
May I turn now to the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, which was also touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that is, the question of the revision of the Army Act. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made a very full statement on the subject in another place on October 25. He said that when the Army Act was next reviewed consideration would be given to redefining the respective civil and military procedure. This is a little way ahead—nearly five years ahead—and I hope noble Lords will agree with me that the need for legislation is not urgent. A flaw in the existing system was brought to light in connection with the case of Leslie Parkes, which many of your Lordships will remember, but this was in many respects a unique case and we have been able to take administrative steps to avoid another of its kind pending revision of the Act. I am certain that my right honourable friend will bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, has said about getting a proper balance between the need for discipline and the need for justice towards the accused. I think that covers the Army points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow.
My Lords, I raised one point about the number of troops that have already come back, and the number that are coming back in the next few months.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
Yes. I cannot give the exact total figures, but I can tell the noble Lord that 19 units are to return in the course of the next six months and that arrangements for the 864 necessary barracks and works services for their return are going satisfactorily.
Now may I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald? I think he rather confused the issue by comparing the growth of the Civil Service with the reduction of the size of the Royal Air Force. It is rather difficult to answer in precise figures his implication that the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy provides for a reduction of 22 per cent. in the R.A.F. in the next eight years. I assume that the figures he is drawing on are those on page 9 of the Supplementary Statement.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, the noble Lord will I think recall that separate figures were not quoted for the second four years under review. They were quoted for the first four years under review, from 1967 to 1971, but no figures were quoted for 1971 to 1975.
LORD ST. OSWALD
I am not trying to confuse the noble Lord any further. The words are:The reductions in the later years should be broadly similar for each Service to those to be made by April, 1971".That is rather clearer than the Government are in most of their statements.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
I can confirm that the noble Lord's supposition is right in general terms. It is expected that the reductions in each Service will be broadly similar in each period, and to that extent I must agree that the inference drawn by the noble Lord is not unreasonable. But I can assure him that all the manpower reductions shown in this part of the Defence White Paper faithfully reflect the best estimates that could be made at the time of the consequences of the far-reaching Defence policy and deployment decisions which were also announced in that Paper.
The figures to which the noble Lord has referred also reflected the reductions in manpower expected to come from the changes in command structure and the streamlining of support services mentioned in paragraphs 11 and 12 of the Defence White Paper. The Royal Air Force is confident that, provided every effort is made to recruit and retain the highly-skilled manpower required by the present-day, and even more by the future, 865 Royal Air Force, it will indeed be able to discharge the duties laid on it by the Defence White Paper with the numbers which are shown in the manpower estimates.
Turning to the numbers of aircraft, I am glad to say that here I can give the noble Lord a precise, if unsatisfactory, answer. I understand from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that the figure of 200 "Phantoms" mentioned by him was never intended to be precise. It was based on a firm order for aircraft with options that could or need not be taken up as events turned out. The size of the buy was from the beginning always referred to as "about" 200 and not as a firm 200; and as long ago as last March the Secretary of State went out of his way to say that 200 was not a precise figure. By contrast, the figure of 170 is precise, and represents the exact number that will be bought. Therefore, so far as "Phantoms" are concerned, there will be a smaller number of these aircraft in service than was originally foreseen, and this, of course, must be reflected in the figure for the manpower needed to service them.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have paid their tribute to the Armed Forces. If, in the difficult conditions of contraction mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, we are able to maintain recruiting at its present reasonably satisfactory levels, then I am convinced that we can maintain the Armed Forces at the very high standard of competence and readiness at which they are to-day.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.