§ 3.20 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE, R.A.F. (LORD WINTERBOTTOM)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Army Act 1955 (Continuation) Order 1968, the draft of which was laid before the House on October 30 last, be approved. In so doing, I will speak also on the Air Force Act 1955 (Continuation) Order 1968.
The Army and Air Force Acts 1961 and the Armed Forces Act 1966, continue the system of Annual Orders in Council and Quinquennial Acts brought into being by the Army and Air Force Acts 1955. The Orders which are before your Lordships to-day are the second to be made under the 1966 Act. Unless unforeseen circumstances arise, we shall not need to pass further legislation until 1971. To-day provides an opportunity to refer briefly to personnel matters. If I use the word "briefly" it is in a relative sense, because I though that it might be helpful if I gave your Lordships a certain amount of statistical information about both recruiting and discipline which might be useful for a future occasion when I understand we shall be debating defence in greater depth than we are able to do to-day.
In the Army, recruiting is currently our most difficult preoccupation. In 1966, the Army succeeded in recruiting 19,500 men from civil life. There was a fall-off in recruitment in 1967 to 15,440 and the trend has continued. The total intake for 1968 looks like being about 11,000 and on April 1 next year we shall have some 9,500 men less than we need. In the Royal Air Force recruitment is more satisfactory. There was a fall-off earlier this year in the number recruited to the ground trades, but this trend has now been halted. Since August the figures have shown some improvement, although we should like to attract more men, especially into the less popular trades. Recruitment of airmen aircrew is limited to air electronic operators, air engineers, and air quartermasters, and the targets for the current year have not yet been fully met. In all, we expect to recruit about 4,700 adult airmen in 1968 as compared with 5,300 in the preceding year.
634 As your Lordships will expect, we are examining all the circumstances which have given rise to these difficulties over recruiting. The main reason is the manpower reductions. Public attention has focused almost exclusively on the defence cuts and not on the many attractions a career in the Services still has. As noble Lords know, the Services offer as wide a range of career opportunities as any other comparable profession. Despite the cut in numbers, a young man joining the Army or Royal Air Force now—in the ranks or as a cadet—has as good a prospect of promotion as ever before. Moreover, he will be promoted on ability and experience and throughout his Service life will be most efficiently trained to cope with his next job. Training at all levels is very good, in quality and progression, and leaves men with many opportunities to use their initiative in their work.
My Lords, once the redeployment of the Services has been completed, the concentration of our Forces in the NATO area will bring a new sense of stability and of purpose and understanding of where they are heading. For at bottom this country's security rests in keeping the peace in Europe. If there is serious trouble on the Continent, there is serious trouble for Britain. The Services have played a full part in NATO's achievement of keeping the peace in Europe for the last twenty years. Their continuance with this vital contribution will be their major role in the 1970s. I am confident that these short-term difficulties can be overcome. But we still have to consider the effect of long-term social and demographic factors upon recruitment. These, I am afraid, do not run in our favour.
First, there has been in the past few years a decline in the number of young men aged between 15 and 19 years, compared with the early 'sixties. In 1966 there were 2.199 million of them: in 1968 it is reckoned that there will be only 1.997 million. The great majority of our recruits are drawn from this age group. The large decline in its numbers is bound to affect recruitment to the Army and Royal Air Force. This decline continues until 1973 and the trend reverses slowly. Secondly, the number of school leavers with higher qualifications and grater ambitions is growing. Traditionally, these men have not looked to the ranks of the Army or Royal Air Force as a career. 635 Not only do school leavers now stay longer in full-time education, but they are offered further training by civilian employers under the Industrial Training Act. Hitherto, one of the attractions of the Army and Royal Air Force has been the first-class trade training they can offer. Attractive conditions of service and work are now offered by civilian employers. The effect of all this is to place the Army and Royal Air Force in keener competition with civilian employers than hitherto. The two points I have mentioned are the most important long-term factors, but it is also interesting to note that the rising proportion of young men marrying early must also have an adverse effect on the number of recruits.
The House should not get the impression, however, that recruiting prospects for the future are of unrelieved gloom. In the first place, we are taking active steps to improve our recruiting procedures. Recruiting work for the Army and Royal Air Force will continue to be centred on Careers Information Offices, and new offices for the Royal Air Force have been opened at Inverness and Stoke-on-Trent. A programme is in hand to re-locate a number of badly sited offices in more suitable premises in town centres. The work of these offices will also be improved and their coverage increased by sub-dividing each area, and setting up local offices run under the direction of energentic warrant officers, as a joint venture by the three Services.
We are also conducting a pilot experiment in centralised selection for the Army in Southern Command. The aim is to increase the proportion of satisfied soldiers and to reduce initial wastage by careful testing and selection before the recruit is allocated to a particular regiment or corps. At the moment it is only when the recruits report to their regiment or corps depots that the process of specialised assessment begins and they are allocated to an appropriate trade or employment. In future this process will take place at the selection centre and there will be a better opportunity to fit round pegs into round holes. This experiment began in October this year, and we are hopeful that it will have promising results.
Second, our recruiting campaign to persuade people that the Services continue to provide a good career, and that 636 they form an essential part of our community, should start to produce results early next year. Third, one good feature of the present manning position is the prolongation of service in the Army continuing at the high rate reached in 1967 for the six-year-men—over 50 per cent. as compared with 42 per cent. in 1966 and 36 per cent. in 1964 and 1965. There has been an increase over last year in the number of applications for re-engagement in the Royal Air Force, with an average quarterly rate for the first nine months of 1968 of 1,116 re-engagements or extensions compared to quarterly rates of 998 and 1,035 in 1966 and 1967 respectively. Within the Services, Servicemen are convinced of the worthwhile nature of their task.
Another bright feature for the Army is that we are now recruiting boys at a rate not far below that of last year, although the proportion of apprentices compared with other juniors has declined. Up to the end of September last year, we had recruited 5,266 boys. So far this year we have recruited 4,978. The third quarter of this year is an improvement over the third quarter of last year. It takes up to two years for boys to enter man's service, but this trend is very encouraging. For the Royal Air Force, the recruitment of engineering technician apprentices has improved, though more are still needed to meet the full requirement. In discussing the problem of recruitment we should remember that we need an average of 16,500 men a year for the Army and 8,500 a year for the Royal Air Force to ensure that in 1974 we shall have a properly balanced Army and Air Force in age, rank, skill and experience.
The question is constantly being asked why we need recruits when men are being made redundant. The point is that soldiers and airmen can no longer be offered jobs in the same rank or trade because there are no vacancies for them in a smaller Army and Royal Air Force. We cannot suddenly ask them to become, for example, private soldiers in an Infantry battalion. The only fair treatment is to make them redundant. Nevertheless, the extent of redundancy has been kept to a minimum, because the drop in recruiting has enabled us to absorb many soldiers and airmen of junior rank to meet deficiencies elsewhere. Volunteers for redundancy are selected 637 wherever possible, and the number of those made compulsorily redundant in the two Services has, up to now, been small: in the Army, 557 out of a possible total of 3,728; in the Royal Air Force, 248 out of a total of 1,416 who have left as redundant.
I now turn to officer recruitment. Here we are just about holding our own. For the Army, while there are some shortages most arms and services are up to strength in officers. The main exception is a shortage of doctors in the Royal Army Medical Corps and less serious deficiencies in other professional Corps. The recruitment of permanent Army Regular officers does not therefore pose too difficult a problem. But there are also nonpermanent officers who play an increasingly important part in the Army. The Special Regular Commission has made a promising start in attracting serving soldiers. We should like more applicants from outside the Army. For the ordinary three-year short service commission we have, as the house will know, made arrangements with the Confederation of British Industry whereby a Short Service Commission will lead direct to a career in industry. The scheme is already proving a success. It has resulted in an increase in the numbers and an improvement in the quality of candidates coming forward for a short service commission.
For the Royal Air Force, the position is much the same as last year. The level of recruitment for most branches of the R.A.F. is adequate, and sufficient candidates have presented themselves for the maintenance of a high standard of selection. The figures taken by themselves do not, of course, indicate the great care taken in selecting and training officers. The high cost and complexity of modern aircraft and weapons systems demand both from aircrew and from those supporting them on the ground the highest mental and physical fitness.
An officer to-day is given educational opportunities comparable to those that exist outside the Services, and is assisted in developing fully the intellectual qualities demanded by a Service career. It is our intention to increase as much as we can the number of officers who obtain places at universities throughout the country, and although the number of university cadets in residence is slightly increased it is not as high as we should 638 wish. We also recruit direct-entry graduates, and here the statistics are encouraging, especially when it is remembered that we are competing for their talents in a very crowded market. There has been a slight, very slight, improvement in recruiting for those branches requiring professional qualifications, but notably in the engineer and medical branches the deficiency still causes some concern. The shortage here reflects national shortages in this field.
I must now pass on from recruiting to discipline which, of course, forms the main subject matter of the Act. I am glad to say that the latest statistics show that the high standard of discipline within the two Services continues to be maintained. In the Army there have been no significant changes over the last twelve months in the overall numbers of officers and men convicted by courts-martial; the pattern of the last few years continues. Our only cause for concern is an increase in absence without leave offences. This offence has constituted a gradually increasing proportion d the total courts-martial convictions since 1964. The reasons for this are complex, but are undoubtedly associated with the return of units to this country and the increasing vulnerability of the m in to personal factors outside the Army. Every attempt is being made to mitigate the problem by sympathetic treatment, imaginative training, improved conditions and sound man-management and administration. There has been a slight decrease in the number of appeal petitions to the Army Board—15 as against 16 in the previous year—while the number of cases taken to the Appeal Court—eight—remained unchanged. No appeals were upheld by the Appeal Court last year, and there were no changes in sentence.
In the Royal Air Force, the number of courts-martial has again shown a considerable drop compared with previous figures, and proportionately far larger than the drop in manpower. Last year I said the figure was 2.45 for every thousand members of the R.A.F. This year it is 2.013. This means a total of only 240, in 228 of which the accused was convicted. The number of offences tried summarily by commanding officers has fallen to 116 per thousand personnel. In the year ending September 30, 1968, there were only two petitions to the Air 639 Force Board against findings and sentences of courts-martial. Both were rejected. Under the Courts-Martial Appeals Act, three appeal petitions were presented. All these were rejected by the Air Force Board and no appellants pursued their appeals to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court. Courts-martial, of course, represent only one extreme aspect of Service discipline and it is happily only a very small proportion of soldiers and airmen who are likely to face a court-martial at any time during their Service career.
To my mind, a much more important aspect of discipline is the self-discipline which springs from good morale and a sense of purpose, the "Service spirit" engendered by co-operative endeavours in training and other activities, and by the high standards set and demanded at all levels. Much of it depends on the common sense and wisdom of commanding officers, and the careful training of officers and N.C.O.s. Good leadership and intelligent persuasion are key factors in achieving the self-discipline which is as vital in the modern Army and Air Force as in modern society. In passing, I should like to pay tribute to the splendid manner in which the Services are responding to the challenges arising from the substantial changes in the numbers, deployment and roles of our Forces. I am confident that, at the end of the reorganisation, our Forces will remain as professional, efficient and highly trained as ever. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 3.38 p.m.
My Lords, first of all, I should like from these Benches to say a word of welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, on now speaking in your Lordships' House on Defence matters. He has had great experience of all three Services, and himself served as a front line soldier in the war. In fact, he narrowly escaped serving under my command in Germany. If I had not got my Brigade completely bogged down in the Siegfried Line he would have been able to get away with his troop of armoured cars and capture the Rhine 640 bridges, which was his role. But I am afraid he was never able to get through the muddle and mess of my Brigade blocking all the tracks.
The noble Lord has had experience as a Minister in the Admiralty, he has been a Minister in the Ministry of Public Building and Works where, of course, he had to deal with barracks and married quarters, and now he is in charge of the R.A.F. By the time he has finished that task he will be ripe to be Minister of Defence in a Labour Government a number of years ahead, but unless he crosses the Floor of the House he may not reach that position in the foreseeable future. His attitude in answering our suggestions and proposals has always been sympathetic, and we are confident that he will give great attention to what we suggest from these Benches.
I want to make a few remarks on these Orders. We had planned to have a full-scale Defence debate on the problems of all three Services, but this we postponed. We had to postpone it because of other business and also because, as another place is having a full-scale debate on Defence on Monday next and are discussing Defence questions next week, it would be as well that we should have our full-dress debate at a later stage.
I am not going to follow the noble Lord in detail on his figures on recruiting, because they need to be studied. I shall have a little to say about them, but I am concerned with a number of rather broader matters which are giving us on these Benches considerable cause for worry. First and foremost, we are convinced that the Government do not appreciate the importance of the part that our defence forces play in the eyes of the world, or the very real apprehension that our friends and allies, particularly Australia and New Zealand, Malaya, Singapore and the Gulf States, feel as a result of the projected withdrawals, the disbandment of fighting regiments and amalgamations.
To-day, indeed, my Lords, the Colours of the Durham Light Infantry are being laid up in Durham Cathedral: the end of a very great regiment. We note the disappearance of what was certainly one of the greatest regiments, which raised more battalions in our hours of need (and, incidentally, kept the pits going at the same time) than any other regiment in the 641 British Army. The Durhams were the first soldiers that I knew as a little boy in Bishop Auckland; and I am glad that my old friend Jack Lawson, who spoke with such pride of his old regiment, is not here to see the sad demise. Then we have a petition of a million people to retain the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders which will be presented in another place at any moment now. As a former member of another Highland regiment already amalgamated, I deeply deplore the Government's decision to do away with such a magnificent and well-recruited regiment. And, of course, there are a number of others with great records of military prowess which are to go.
As regards recruiting, I am very glad to hear what the noble Lord has said about prolongation. I agree, from my own discussions and visits to units during the last six months, that this is very satisfactory. But the recruiting figures have dropped, and though I must study the noble Lord's figures my general impression is that in the last eight months the three Services obtained 25 per cent, fewer recruits than they need. That is a fairly rough figure. But it is useless for the Government to complain, when they are disbanding the good recruiting regiments which are ready to adapt themselves to any role to preserve their names and traditions. I wonder: are the Government satisfied that sufficient publicity is being given to attract recruits? I agree that the Services still offer a worthwhile career, but the reasons for poor recruiting are not hard to find: virtually the ending of the prospect of overseas service outside Europe; uncertainty about the future; frequent cuts in the size of the Forces, involving further amalgamations; four Defence Reviews in two years, and the abandonment of the Grigg formula for pay, being the main ones.
The Government have made the amazing assertion that, alone among all the nations of the world, there is no need for this country to have a Home Defence Force. We are now examining their new plans for the Volunteers, who are to get a small increase, but at the expense of all the Territorials. We should be grateful for fuller information before the Defence debate, so that in the Recess, in our various areas all over the country, 642 we can consider the effects of the proposed changes.
This year has marked the 50th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force—a wonderful milestone and a remarkable achievement of that great Service, when we consider what it has been able to do in the defence of the country in fifty years and the amazing progress of this magnificent Service. I am glad the recruiting figures are not too serious, though I understand there are some very serious gaps among important technical personnel. Though we welcome the announcement of more "Harriers" for the British Army of the Rhine, there are very serious gaps in our air defences caused by the cancellations which we have already criticised—the TSR 2, the F.111 and the A.F.B.G. So we have much to be concerned about.
Those of us who have known the Services through many Administrations contrast the present Government's lack of interest in and encouragement to the personnel of the Forces with the days of Lord Attlee, Lord Alexander and Mr. Shinwell, under whom I, as a Regular soldier, served with confidence and enthusiasm. To-day, in all arms, this is giving way to apprehension and uncertainty about the future. Though none of us would dispute the need for financial cuts in the national budget, our complaint is that the Government have their priorities wrong and are taking unjustified risks with our future security. They are neglecting to make full use of the great potential at our disposal, with those proud traditions of voluntary service which have served us so well when rapid expansion has been necessary. And who knows, my Lords, what the future holds?
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, I must beg the pardon of the noble Lord who has just spoken if I unwittingly gave the appearance that I was trying to jump my place in the queue, but I am still unfamiliar with the ways of your Lordships. I had given my name in and had made inquiries at the barrier and I was told that there was no one else who wished to speak, so I got up. I beg the noble Lord's pardon.
Whilst I plead guilty to being a novice in the procedures of this House, I cannot make the same plea about the matter 643 we are discussing this afternoon. For two and a half years I served on the Select Committee which brought this procedure into being, and I want to remind your Lordships, particularly those noble Lords who are avid readers of The Times and, under the influence of Mr. Rees Mogg, have this week persuaded themselves that political Party controversy is an unfortunate thing, that this major reform of the Armed Forces of the Crown was brought about as a result of the most acute Party controversy. In 1952, those of us who were in Opposition were faced with an Army Act which was almost 100 years out of date. There had been 920 amendments to the original Army Act of 1881; and when we sought to amend it the Government of the day, I think very wisely, set up a Select Committee. That Select Committee was, as I say, born of the most acute and acrimonious discussion on the Floor of the House of Commons, which went on for many hours; but as soon as the doors were closed there was complete harmony. I never remember any single occasion during that two and a half years on which a vote was taken—and there were differences—when the split was upon Party lines. The Divisions were on Questions of fact; and it is from that point of view that I venture to address your Lordships this afternoon.
I share neither the optimism of the Minister nor that of the noble Lord who last spoke. The recruiting figures at present are disastrous. It is not enough to take just the intake: what noble Lords and the country must do is to face the fact that it is a question not only of what goes in but what comes out. The noble Lord who spoke last paid tribute to my old friend Mr. Shinwell. I was with him during those difficult years. But what followed? There followed the 1957 White Paper, the most disastrous Defence document ever to have been placed before this country. And the consequences of that 1957 White Paper have not yet worked their way out.
I am going to trouble your Lordships, even if I bore you, by reminding you of some of the contents of that White Paper. It set out to do four things. First, a Conservative Administration, for Party political reasons, decided to abolish National Service. It laid down a target of 375,000 as the strength of the Armed 644 Services. Mr. Sandys knew very well—it had often been stated; and stated by Conservative Members in another place—that 375,000 was a bogus figure. In 1957 he did not break it down; it was broken down one year later. And when it was, what form did it take?—165,000 for the Army, 135,000 for the R.A.F., and 88,000 for the Royal Navy; making a total of 388,000. Mr. Sandys had fixed a target of 165,000 for the Army which he knew very well was below the recommendations of a Committee of his own Department—because the test of a target figure is the commitments that have to be met. Mr. Sandys based his figure not upon the number required to meet the commitments but upon the number the actuaries told him he might be able to recruit if the recruiting trends stayed as they were.
Two years later things got a bit better. Fifteen thousand was added to the Army target, making it 180,000. The correct target figure was 182,000. As a result of that target figure of 182,000, an undertaking had been given to our friends on the Continent that Britain would maintain on the European land mass four divisions. That figure, again, was bogus from the day it was given. If noble Lords doubt my word I would commend them to read Lord Moran's Diaries, particularly his account of what Sir Winston Churchill had to say of his Foreign Minister's announcement. They will find it under the date October 1, 1954. Sir Winston said, "That! That! We don't mean a word of it." Of course General de Gaulle knew that. Anyone who complains about the intransigence of General de Gaulle should remember that he is a soldier, that he does not test you by what you say but by what you do. The promised four divisions became 77,000; 77,000 became 64,000; and that 64,000 became 55,000. Never from the day that pledge was given has there ever been any serious attempt to honour it.
To-day there are 45,000 in the British Army of the Rhine. But if I were to put down a Question to the Minister who spoke just now, I have no doubt what the Answer would be. He would tell me that the figure was 51,000. Why? Because the Sixth Infantry Brigade, which has been brought back from the Rhine Army and is now stationed at 645 Colchester, has on paper been committed to B.A.O.R. Who are we kidding?—the Germans? the Russian Intelligence Service? Who? Ourselves. And the perfect confidence trickster is the person who "cons" himself. And that is exactly what we have done.
My Lords, coming back to the figures given by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, I thought he made an admirable speech. I congratulate him upon it, but I am going to examine it more closely. The recruiting figures for this year were accurately stated by him—more or less. His recruiting figure includes, of course, the number of young men who join as boys and who will come on to man service in their first six months. But, of course, his overall figure for this year of 11,000 has to be related to a wastage this year of 22,000. So the Army's manpower strength in 1968 sinks by 11,000. That is not the fault of the Labour Government, certainly not the fault of the Minister. This is the fault of Mr. Sandys, of Mr. Sandys in 1962. He doctored the figures; he reduced the age of intake, bringing it down from 18 years to 17½ years; he played around with the medical standards. He was seeking a purely political objective. He had to get rid of conscription by the end of 1962; and he did not care tuppence how he did it. So we, this country, are now left with the consequences of this bogus policy. And there is no hope, in my judgment, of ever putting this right very quickly. This is what we have to face.
The noble Lord, the Minister, spoke about publicity. I wonder whether he will be good enough to tell us what was spent on publicity this year and what was spent last year; and whether there has been any cut recently. But I do not believe that publicity is enough. The young men who join the Army—not always deliberately, but through their actions overall—tend to show a pattern. One of the things which happens so far as recruiting is concerned is that Gresham's Law shows its head. The noble Lord took credit, and rightly, for the increase in the number of prolongations. But what he did not tell us was the number of young men who join on nine-year engagements and those who join on six-year engage- 646 ments; for the gap now has narrowed until they are just about equal.
My Lords, what matters in this game—and this is a line which I took in the other place for many years, often unsuccessfully, although after six or seven years the penny did begin to drop—is that you must not count bodies. If you do the planning exercise on this, what matters is not the number of men but the number of man-years. Of course it is futile for the noble Lord on the Benches opposite to come along and dissociate himself with the cut-down in the number of regiments. When did this start? It was not with a Labour Administration. Sixty-one battalions of the line. 49 Infantry, eight Guards, three Parachute Regiments, and one S.A.S. were cut down a year ago. But that was not the first time it was done.
I am all for presenting petitions to the House of Commons; but if they present a petition for the 91st Foot, wry not present a petition for the 37th Foot, who saw the 91st and the rest off at Culloden Moor? Why not? Why should we not have a petition to a Regiment that wears the Minden Rose? The Hampshire Regiment is as near and dear to Hampshire men as the 91st of Foot is to the Duchess of Argyll. I do not want to see any regiment go. But it is no good complaining about regiments going if you have no soldiers to put in them. The first blame lies in the premature abolition of conscription in this country. That was a political crime, and it was a social crime, because it was something undertaken purely for political reasons.
What is the use of the Foreign Minister of this country going to NATO or to the United Nations and making brave speeches about how we are going to face up to the Czech crisis, about how we are going to do this and how we are going to do that, when we are the only country in NATO, with the exception of Canada, which has no compulsory military service in some form or another. What is the good of going to Commonwealth Conferences and paying lip service to the way of life of our kinsmen in Australia and New Zealand when they have selective service and we have none?
Of course there is another reason: there is a social reason. It is tied up with the procedure that we are engaged in 647 to-day, the whole procedure of this Continuation Order and the struggle in 1952 in another place which goes back to the 17th century. This was born of one thing, the determination of Parliament that civil authority shall be paramount over the military authority. Those who believe in democracy and the civilised way of life must believe in that principle. I certainly do. I have been a Regular soldier, a very humble one, and I am not ashamed of it: if I had to start again I would do it all over again. I started in the ranks, and I enjoyed every minute of it. While I do not want the military virtues to become dominant any society which completely ignores those virtues is virtually removing its vertebrae; because the qualities of loyalty and obedience and devotion to one's friends and to one's regiment or the company in which one happens to be serving are important in all aspects of our national life. They may not be highly esteemed now, but there may come a time when they will be vital. My Lords, I need not remind you of the words of Kipling:It's 'Tommy this' and 'Tommy that'"—I will not repeat the rest. I read the military historians, and of course I pay great attention to the pundits who talk on foreign policy and strategy. I know the forecasts for the future, but I believe that the time may well come again when the country will need just those virtues; and what will then happen if they have been thrown away? That is one of the things that worries me and it is my excuse for coming and worrying your Lordships this afternoon.
I will not detain your Lordships much longer, but mention was made of the Reserve Forces and this is one of the things that worries me more than enough. We have got rid of conscription, and I agree that it is futile now to talk of restoring it; except perhaps in the shadow of some great cataclysmic event. Please God such an event will not happen, because I believe that if it did it would be too late to restore conscription. But having got rid of conscription we are forced to rely on the voluntary principle, and that voluntary principle is not working (or it does not work, according to how you look at it) in the Regular Forces. But it still remains the hair-spring of the Reserve Forces. We are told that T. & A.V.R.II 648 now exists for one purpose, to provide a back-up for the British Army of the Rhine. Very good. I accept the military necessity for that and I congratulate the Minister of State who, on November 28 put the Government's proposals to the House of Commons. I think they are right, so far as they go, but they do not go far enough.
In T. & A.V.R. III there are some thousands of young men prepared to give their leisure time for no very obvious, or at least not at the moment very obvious, military reasons. They give of their leisure time in the service of their country. "Blimp" I may be, but I believe that what they do is of the highest value to the community at large. I believe it is of fundamental importance to the Army. I believe it is also fundamental to the nation. Here I would part company with some noble Lords who have supported what I say. That is not because I believe that the T. & A.V.R. III has any great military value, for I believe that if an atomic war came that would be the end so far as this country is concerned. But if it does not come; if we are confronted by a kind of Czechoslovak situation; if we are faced with external aggression and we get some of the dissident elements which have been present in France cutting across the lines of communication and creating scenes of disorder at a time when the very narrow Regular Army Reserves would be wholly engaged in the business of reinforcing the B.A.O.R. At such a time the existence of a number of T. & A.V.R. III units—I am not pleading for an Army Corps but for about half a dozen units situated up and down the country where even they can be recruited—would marginally be a stabilising force.
Do not let us complain about the cost, my Lords. Those of us who are humble and poor, as I am, have to pay our fire insurance promptly, because if we do not we cannot face the consequences. But we do not complain that it is a waste of money if a fire does not occur. And our six battalions of T. & A.V.R. III are in fact a fire insurance. But there is something, and again I repeat this, of far more importance than an insurance. They are a stabilising force in the body politic. These are the young men who enshrine in their actions the military virtues. I am not asking for them to be given positions of civil authority, but I would ask that 649 they be respected. I would ask that the community at large respects the fact that in two great wars the Territorial Army has made a difference—and sometimes the margin was very narrow—between national survival and national disaster. I hope that the noble Lord will go back to the Minister of Defence and tell him that the message from this House this afternoon is that we want T. & A.V.R. III kept in some form; not necessarily in terms of a General Staff concept, but because we believe that the continuance of this Force is vital.
If I may detain your Lordships for one or two minutes more, I would come back to the Select Committee and the controversy which gave it birth; the circumstances in which it worked; and then apply it to the political situation. I have read with the greatest amusement the articles in The Times and its plea for a coalition; as if there is some great virtue in coalition, some great virtue in burying differences betwen honest men and sweeping them under the carpet. I do not share those views. What I say is that when there are great problems of vital national importance in which there is no political advantage to either Party, common sense demands that—behind closed doors if you like—the Leaders or representatives of the great Parties in the State should get together, if only to master the facts.
If a Select Committee were appointed I hope that Mr. Heath would be a member and that his senior colleagues would be members; and perhaps the chairman might be a senior Minister. They might meet together and come to common agreement on a picture of the Reserves and a picture of recruiting. The difference is reflected in the different emphasis given by me and by the Minister, because we cannot both be right. I am pretty sure that I am right. I am sure that my figures will stand up to the bowling. If they cannot, let them be exposed. But if I am right; if the present wastage continues and recruiting does not improve, we are faced with a Regular Army that cannot meet our commitments. We shall have an Army of about 120,000.
I am quite sure that the Conservative Party think they will win the next General Election. But I would remind them that manpower policies take ten 650 or twenty years to work through, so that there is considerable Political advantage, from their point of view in getting together now to establish the facts. Otherwise they will be left to inherit the situation just is the noble Lord and his colleagues inherited the policies of Mr. Sandys. So far as I am concerned, a coalition in the concept presented by Mr. Rees Mogg would be, if I may use a barrack-room expression, "just a load of cod'swallop". But a Select Committee of senior members of both Parties, seeking only the rational good and not Party advantage, could hammer out the facts and go back to their respective Parties and say, "Lock, this is the picture; this is what we have to do. There is not a single vote in it for either of us". That would be not only common sense but patriotism of the highest order.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords. I think that, like the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, I should say that I did not put my name down to speak in this debate and therefore I will intervene only briefly. What I have to say is to support 100 per cent. what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. It gives me great pleasure to hear the facts presented in that way by a man who knows what he is talking about and who has his country's interests deeply at heart. I would add two points as regards recruiting. I am glad that more is to be done for publicity and greater attention has been given to the subject, but I am afraid that something more needs to be done yet. The Government have to show the people of the country that they really feel a need for an increase in our Forces and that recruiting is something to which they attach very great importance,. At the moment, young men do not feel that. They feel that the Army is a run-down show. And that goes for officers is well as for other ranks.
The other remark I would venture to make is this. I will not follow the noble Lord in attempting to apportion between the political Parties the original blame for what has happened, but I an sorry to say that one of the sections of the community that were responsible for the abolition of compulsory service at that time were the Generals—and obviously 651 this is true of the Admirals and Air-Marshals. They do not really like compulsory service, because it does not give a good peace-time Force, as all their men are engaged in training. That is a matter about which the Government should be careful. While respecting their military advisers and taking their advice, they should be careful on this subject. That is all I want to say. I wished chiefly to support wholeheartedly what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I look forward to the major debate on Defence which I hope will take place early in the New Year, because I think that that would be a more suitable occasion on which we could discuss in greater depth the various problems raised by the three noble Lords who have spoken to-day. Before I reply to what has been said, may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, for his agreeable remarks about myself? He really should not have taken the blame for a slower advance to the Rhine bridges than actually took place. The weather and the terrain were not too helpful for rapid movement, and what was important at the end of the day was that we got to the Rhine and crossed it, and ultimately all went well. He gave me warm encouragement for high promotion when I am about the age for entering Chelsea Hospital; but, like all good Generals, the noble Lord must not win the next battle before it is actually fought. Let us have that contest in due course and see what happens after it.
I cannot help but agree with all my heart with what all three noble Lords said about the importance of individuals who can influence public opinion on the Armed Forces using their influence to the maximum. The importance of the Armed Forces, in my view, is grossly underestimated. We can make mistakes in the social services and disaster does not necessarily follow, but a major mistake in defence policy can lead to national extinction. This is why the subject is of such profound importance.
I do not necessarily agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, said. I nearly said "my noble friend"—I hope he still is but he does not seem to be on 652 the right perch to be able to assure me that that is the case. What Mr. Sandys said in 1957 is not really relevant to-day. We have lived twelve years, or very nearly, since that White Paper, and we have to deal with to-day's problems and with the continuation of policies which were initiated some substantial time ago, and we have to make them succeed. What happened in 1957 does cause us difficulties to-day, but I should not like to look backwards and apportion blame. I want to solve the problems facing us now.
Again, with some humility, I would question whether the attitude taken by the noble Lords, Lord Wigg and Lord Robertson of Oakridge, on the subject of the ending of National Service is necessarily correct. In my comparatively short tenure of office in this field I have seen many things which make me feel that in the world of to-day, with its technical problems of warfare, all-professional Armed Forces are what we must have. May I illustrate this by one point? I remember when, in the early 1950s, as a member of the Estimates Committee I visited Technical Training Command at Brampton, where we were training young men as electronic experts for two years to get about six months' work out of them. That was grossly uneconomic in terms of skilled manpower. This is a field where professional expertise can be achieved only as the result of long training, and if the experts are busy training young men who can only give six months' service, that is surely a waste of professional effort.
I am much consoled by the fact that your Lordships' House as a whole can take a balanced and rational view of the problems of defence, and I look forward to the debate which will take place. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, made one important point. Like myself, he welcomed the fact that men who had entered the Services were prolonging their service within the Armed Forces. I think that is of the greatest importance. It means that the Armed Forces' training, personnel policy and the rest are on the whole right. I think that this is reflected in the very good figures relating to discipline. Discipline is clearly excellent and improving. But I think that the noble Lord did not clarify the picture—and probably this will come when we 653 debate Defence as a whole—in saying that recruiting was 25 per cent. down over all three Services. I am certain that his arithmetic is correct, but that figure does not illuminate the problem or find its solution. For example, the R.A.F., because of its fiftieth Anniversary, has been able to get in a lot of free publicity which we believe has resulted in quite satisfactory recruiting figures, and we are not at all discouraged about the R.A.F. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has said, the Army position is bad. I did not try to cover it up. What I said was that men who were in the Army were prolonging their service and young men were coming in. But the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, is quite right as regards the middle band, between the young recruit and the well-established Regular; there the position is unstable and unsatisfactory.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, asked me about publicity. Last year we spent £3 million on straightforward publicity in the Press, on T.V. and so on, and we are spending the same amount this year. Whether this is sufficient or not is another question. Perhaps when we come to debate the last quarter of this year, we may have evidence on which we may be able to form a better judgment. But there is no doubt that all of us who have a responsibility in this field and all who can influence public opinion must try to support the image of the Armed Forces and let the average man and woman know that the role of the Armed Forces is as important to-day as it was in 1939. We are not living in a peaceful world. For some obscure reason, people seem to think that we are. I believe that the Defence forces of this country are as essential to-day as they have ever been. That is really all I have to say. We are talking about a comparatively limited subject. I hope that I have been able to give your Lordships some hard figures which may be of use in a future wider and deeper debate.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.