HL Deb 14 January 1971 vol 314 cc283-300

6.57 p.m.

LORD BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a further statement on how far they have accepted the recommendations of the Donaldson Committee on boy soldiers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. First, I should like to express my appreciation of the co-operation of both Front Benches in facilitating this debate to-night, to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and, if I may say so, also to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I appreciate that help. Secondly, I want very sincerely to express appreciation to the members of the Donaldson Committee: to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge himself, and to the members, who were very varied, representing the different departments and other interests and persons. I gave evidence before that Committee and was deeply impressed by the quite evident desire of all members of the Committee to reach a happy solution to this problem.

The Committee were asked to look at the difficulties arising from the enlistment of boys and young Servicemen to the Armed Forces, to the terms of their engagement and the conditions of their service. The basic issue was that from the age of 15½ years, boys, with the consent of their parents or guardians, can enter into an engagement to remain in the forces until they are 30 years of age. From the point of view of the Services, this is very important. In April, 1970, 43 per cent. of the total force had joined as boys, and the figure for the Navy alone was 68 per cent.

This system, which is unique in the world, arose from the impending withdrawal of conscription after the Second World War and the Korean War. An advisory committee on recruiting, known as the Grigg Committee, was appointed and from reading its Report one gets the impression that it took the rather cynical view that it was necessary to recruit at an age when the delights of civilian life had not yet been savoured. The Grigg Committee urged that between one-third and one-half of those recruited into the Armed Forces should be school-leavers or those who had recently left school. The Government accepted that recommendation in 1958, and this system has been in operation for 12 years.

I am going to do something which I have not done before in this House; that is, to repeat the story of how I became interested in this subject, because that will indicate its fundamental character. I was travelling back from South Wales, and in the railway carriage were three young boys and a naval officer who was in mufti. The three boys, who were under 16 years of age, were full of excitement because they were going to join the Navy. They had been at an orphanage which regularly supplied boys at that age. I asked the officer for how long their engagement would be, and was shocked to hear that they would be asked to sign an agreement that they would remain in the Navy until they were 30 years of age. I mentioned my name to the boys, and within a year I had a letter from one of them saying how utterly unhappy he was in the Navy and asking me to do all I could to get him out. It took me one year to do that, and his letters showed that at the age of 15½ he could not possibly come to a decision about swearing away another 15 years of his life.

Since raising this issue in another place and here, I have had a number of letters both from boys and their mothers. I have also been able to see the 300 letters which have come to the National Council for Civil Liberties from boys and mothers. I do not think that on any subject, except perhaps housing, have letters ever expressed such misery, such despair. Sometimes a boy is deserting, sometimes inflicting wounds on himself and, in one case, committing suicide. The letters from the mothers tell of utter despair, and even of homes which have been broken because of conflict with fathers. I recognise that these boys are in a minority, but I am a little disturbed that so many have written, because one's experience of political life is that if one person writes there are probably at least ten who are in a similar situation.

No one can possibly justify this system on moral grounds. Indeed, the Ministry of Defence admitted—if Mr. Gerry Reynolds, who represented the Army Personnel Department at the War Office, spoke for them—that the system is morally indefensible, but that it would be impossible to run a disciplined Service in any other way. It was the dilemma of the moral issue and the needs of the Armed Services which the Donaldson Committee had to face. Inevitably, it has compromised in its recommendations, but it at least recognised that the needs of the Services are not absolute. The history of recruitment has been a continuous conflict between moral principle and the need for men in the Armed Forces. We have advanced from the days of the press gang and flogging round the Fleet. The Donaldson Committee's recommendations now represent another advance reaching out to some moral solution of this problem.

Its principal recommendation is that, except for long-term apprenticeships, boys should be given the opportunity at eighteen years of age either to renew their engagements until they reach thirty, or to give three years' notice which would come to an end when they were twenty-one years old. There are two alternatives to renewing the engagements of long-term apprentices. The first is that they should finish their course of training and serve for five years afterwards, or—rather startlingly—should leave immediately at the age of eighteen.

My Lords, the Minister has pointed out—and I sympathise with him in the problem—that there is the danger of ill-will between the boys who would have to serve another three years and the apprentices who could leave at once. One can understand the reason for the recommendation regarding the apprentices: the Forces will not wish to continue to train them if they have decided to leave after three years. The Minister's effort to reconcile these two recommendations is to say that he rejects the proposal that any apprentice can leave gat eighteen: apprentices must stay, like the boys, for another three years. My Lords, I want strongly to urge that the two recommendations should be reconciled by extending to the boys the opportunity to leave the Services at eighteen, rather than their being compelled to remain another three years. Why delay? On administrative grounds? Surely, six months' notice would be adequate to deal with that problem. Is it from the point of view of the strength of the Forces? I put this point to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, directly: does he really think that the morale of the Forces will be improved by the retention within their ranks for three years of men who are so dissatisfied with life in the Forces that they have indicated that they wish to leave? This reconciliation which the Minister proposes will only increase the discontent that is in their minds.

There is another recommendation of the Donaldson Committee upon which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, commented in his statement. The Committee recommended that the period of service required in the Navy before applications for discharge by purchase were made should be reduced to bring the Navy into line with the other two Services. The present position is that the Navy does not permit an application for discharge, even by purchase, until from 5 to 6½ years of service have been completed, while in the case of the other two Services, the Army and the Royal Air Force, the waiting period is only three years. Again, I put it to the noble Lord very strongly indeed that if there is that different treatment in the Navy, discontent will grow. I found it difficult to believe my ears when I heard him say that it might be 1977 before this recommendation is fully implemented. Six years! I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will be able to develop the point which he indicated in his comment upon the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that in the case of the Royal Marines men have left the Service after one year's notice.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in welcoming a proposed debate, indicated, however, that he accepted the other recommendations except the suggestion that account should be taken of the social and economic value to the nation of the training of the boys while they are still in the Forces. After mentioning one or two other points briefly, I want to conclude by returning to that. I should like to ask the noble Lord this as a technical point. There are recommendations for the abolition of payment for discharge in compassionate cases and in the case of conscientious objectors. I welcome that fact. I wonder if the noble Lord could tell me whether the new arrangements for conscientious objectors, which the Ministry have very kindly sent to me, are to apply to the boy entrants under this scheme.

I put my other points very briefly. I should like to see an Ombudsman who, on the application of a Member of Parliament, would be able to deal with the personal grievances of a man in the Forces, and I am glad that the House of Commons Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration favoured this suggestion. At present, the three Services have three separate committees which consider applications, grievances and so on. I would suggest to the Minister that there should be a joint tribunal for the three Services (otherwise, there might easily be contradictory judgments) and that this tribunal might be formed of a chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor, a member appointed by the Services and an independent member—and perhaps there could be some consultation with the youth employment service and with the National Council for Civil Liberties when that is done. This will be an independent tribunal. At present, the committees are the defence, judge and jury all together.

The next point I want to mention is strongly to urge upon the Minister the Canadian solution to this problem. I have been looking at the way in which different countries have handled it, and I think the Canadian way is by far the best. They recruit at the age of 17 and 18, and they recruit from young men who have been to technical and technological colleges. They then give those young men an opportunity to end their period of service at six months' notice. They pay them well and they give them pensions at early ages; and they have found that when proper advantages have been given to the men in the Forces they have not had the problem of maintaining those Services.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? Is he saying (because I am not familiar with the position) that any Canadian Serviceman can leave at six months' notice? Perhaps my noble friend could specify just a little more what he means by six months' notice. Is it at a certain period of their training, or what?


My Lords, I have the details here. Recruitment takes places between the ages of 17 and 24, for five years. The training is for six months. At the end of the training there is an option to remain in the Services. In the words of one of the senior officers, "Men are engaged if we like them and they like us". They then have the right to give six months' notice to leave. If they leave, they lose their pension advantages, which are very great. For example, at 44 a corporal can retire with a full pension. At 50, a sergeant can retire; and since the age for retirement for civilians is 65 that is a very considerable incentive to join the Forces. I think my noble friend will find that an accurate summary.

I want to conclude with a point which in a sense is the deepest one. It arises from the reservation which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made rejecting the recommendation that the value of training in the Armed Services should be counted when one is thinking of the economic and social advances of the nation separately. From what I have heard, the training given in the Armed Forces is generally of a very high standard. I have had particular reports of the school at Harrogate. But what troubles me is that the boys there are at schools within the Armed Forces taking their technical courses in electronics or whatever it may be, while in the same town are boys in civilian life taking almost exactly the same courses in the sixth forms of some of the schools, in the technical and technological colleges and in the colleges of further education.

As I see it, we have to find a policy that is going to keep the Armed Forces much more closely in touch with the life of ordinary people in our society. There is great danger if the Armed. Forces are thought to be a separate and distinctive organisation. I have one more sentence. I believe that if we could co-ordinate the education given in the Armed Forces with the education given in the ordinary State system, we might contribute quite a bit to the solution of that problem.


My Lords, I was going to say that I think the noble Lord misunderstood the reservation which I had about the last point that he was speaking about. What I was saying was that the Government accepted all the recommendations of the Donaldson Committee except the one which recommended that the size of the Defence Budget should take into account the social and economic value to the nation of the training of boys. We did not think it practical to vary the size of the Defence Budget in that way; nor would it have been very satisfactory. I do not think it is quite the point that the noble Lord is making.

7.22 p.m.


My Lords, in intervening in this debate, I feel rather like a third-division player in a first-division game. When the Minister replies, if he would be kind enough, I should very much like him to bear in mind that so far we have heard all the talk about the unhappiness of the soldier but no very helpful remarks on the effect his unhappiness has on the unit. Every time this subject is raised in this House the hopes of a large number of rather unhappy soldiers are raised, and they are anxious to hear what has been decided and when it is going to come into operation. In the past, during the deplorable time of National Service I had experience of what unhappy and discontented soldiers can do and of what they cannot do, and of how lowering to the morale of any unit or training battalion their presence can be; and how their work and the work of all their associates can suffer.

So far as I can see, this is an excellent Report, and I hope that its recommendations are accepted speedily; because first, we must get the unhappy soldier, as he exists now, out: for this will help in the difficulties of manpower planning and will also stop any delay in the issuing of new recruiting plans. It is important on this matter of recruiting that everybody who joins the Forces shall know from now on exactly where he stands. If these recommendations are to be implemented, I hope that the noble Lord will give us some assurance that they will be implemented as speedily as possible. I have been on the receiving end of Ministerial statements of policy and things like Ministerial inquiries, and I should like to tell him that uncertainty is one of the worst things which can affect the commanding officer of a unit. I think that this is a splendid Report, and I am glad that the Government are able to accept it. I hope that the noble Lord can tell us that it is going to be speedily brought into effect.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps unusually, my opening remarks will be of congratulation to a very large number of people: first of all, to my noble and indefatigable friend Lord Brockway. There is little doubt that his activities, and those of the National Council for Civil Liberties, have played a part in keeping this matter under consideration. The noble Lord has not shrunk from facing Ministers, whether they be Labour or Conservative; and he has been quite right to do so. My second batch of congratulations are to two former Ministers: to that very great and dear man, Gerry Reynolds who died so sadly, and to Mr. Roy Hattersley.

I am mildly disturbed by the noble Lord, much as I like him. There are so few people in the House. I hope I shall be able to address some remarks to the noble Lord, unless there is some critical situation confronting him. I am always nervous when papers or messages are handed to the Secretary of State for Defence. I was about to make some congratulatory remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I was about to say that they concerned the composition of the Committee. I think Mr. Roy Hattersley did well in selecting the Committee. My noble friend Lord Donaldson sits mute behind us; although if we are wrong on any point or require interpretation I am sure that he will be able to help us.

This particular problem concerning boy soldiers used to worry us very much indeed, and repeatedly when in Government we looked at it. We had repeated advice that this problem could not be resolved. There were aspects of that advice based on attitude surveys which I believed to be unsound; but none the less the advice was given. I do not doubt that it was given to Lord Carrington. I wholeheartedly congratulate him on the decision he has taken. It was not an easy decision to take at a time when recruiting was not going too well; and, indeed, in recent years it has been very bad. I hope it has been better lately. The noble Lord took a bold decision; I believe it was the right one.

I think that what the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, said is absolutely true but Governments—and I have to remember that, happily, I am no longer a member of a Government; "happily" because I am a little freer in these matters—now and then have to take very difficult decisions. I think it is right for the Government to have accepted this Report. The fact that I have one or two reservations and doubts is because I think that all Governments, having done well, need to be pursued and urged to do even better. Therefore, any remarks that I make are not critical but are meant to be encouraging. When he made his Statement about the date, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said that the date by which he hoped to implement certain recommendations with regard to the Royal Navy was the last date; and that he hoped to improve on it. I appreciate that this is a very difficult problem, but if he is able to give us any information it would be helpful, and the quicker it can be done the better. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of these young men derive a great deal of benefit from being in the Services, there is no doubt that it causes enormous distress to some.

This brings me to a particular point in the Report on which it would be helpful if the noble Lord could comment. On page 24 there are recommendations relating to penal sanctions. Though the Committee uses restrained language, it is obvious that they were a bit shocked by the rigour or severity of the penal régime, certainly at one establishment. I have reason to believe that noble Lords in the Government have been giving some attention to this matter. It is difficult for a Minister to find time to visit the penal establishments, and I confess—I feel rather ashamed about it—that in my time I never visited one of them. There are some cautious, but none the less rather telling phrases in paragraphs 110 and 111, and I should be interested to know from the noble Lord whether he can say anything further on this matter. If not, I should like to press him to give a little more consideration to it. In particular I would refer to the extent to which discretion should be given to those in command of detention quarters regarding a more immediate discharge.

My Lords, I think we all should try to work towards a more rapid release. A great deal will depend on the progress of recruiting during the next few years. I would certainly not at this moment ask the noble Lord to go further than he has already gone, but if this works successfully, it should be an encouragement to provide even greater freedom. I have no idea whether the Canadian analogy, attractive though it is, is relevant. I understand that the proportion of the Canadian forces to the population is much smaller, and their education system is different.

This brings me to the further point about the harmonisation with the State system. I am all in favour of this. It is the fact that the Royal Air Force seeks to recruit most of its permanent officers through the universities on the ground (this is a matter on which I felt strongly, though not all my colleagues in the previous Government felt the same way) that it was undesirable to create a military university, and more economic and desirable to take officers from civilian life; and this is now the policy. On the other hand, the quality of these establishments is so good at the moment that they are leaders in setting standards for technical colleges. I wonder whether the noble Lord has had the opportunity to visit a place like Halton. It is very impressive, and I would not wish at the moment—I know that the noble Lord was not urging this—to remove this excellent training and recruiting establishment. None the less there is a point of significance that one needs to bear in mind.

It is not for me to answer the various points with regard to Royal Air Force tribunals. It is worth recalling that Servicemen are entitled to write to their Member of Parliament, which is more than civil servants are entitled to do, a matter which causes me some slight anxiety. It may well be that the time is approaching when there should be an Ombudsman, but my experience is that, although they vary, Ministers of all Govments take letters very seriously indeed. Since in most cases one is concerned with judging a decision where discretion is propertly exercised, many of these cases would fall outside the role of a Parliamentary Commissioner who, basically, is concerned with maladministration. One may not like a decision but it has been properly taken. So I would rather continue to focus on this excellent Report and to see how it goes; to see whether one could move to something more like the Canadian system or the system in the Marines. We are glad and grateful that this advance has been made; it is a very important one. It is in the interests of the Services, as the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford said, and I hope that we shall see the excellent step which the noble Lord has taken followed by further courageous steps in the future. I certainly do not intend to press him further now.

7.36 p.m.


My Lords, when I made my statement on the Donaldson Report a few weeks ago I was well aware that the subject was very complex and that your Lordships would need some time to study the Report. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for having put down this Question. Although we have had a very short discussion it has aired one or two subjects which needed airing. I think it will be extremely useful to me, and I hope that, by the end of what I have to say it will have been useful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, as well. I did not have an opportunity of saying it publicly before as he was not in the House, but may I take the opportunity to say how grateful I am—and I know that my predecessor was—to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, for taking the Chair at this Committee and for the excellent Report which he produced. I know what an infinity of trouble he took about it. We are very grateful indeed to him and to his colleagues.

My Lords, may I remind the House of one or two things? The Committee took it as axiomatic that the country has a vital need for strong, efficient, stable and contented Forces. They also accepted that within an all-volunteer system such as ours, binding engagements are essential if balanced and efficient Forces of an adequate size are to be maintained. But the difficulty arises when a boy joins up, full of enthusiasm and determination to make a success of his service, and then changes his mind and decides that after all he would prefer to go back to civilian life. One can over-emphasise this, as in many cases it is just a passing phase from which the boy recovers—if "recovers" is the right word—and he goes on to complete his engagement, perhaps even to re-engage for a further term of service. We all know of cases of that kind. But, of course, for others the disenchantment may be real and lasting.

That has long been recognised by the Services. Various safety valves have always existed to enable the genuinely unhappy Serviceman to leave the Service prematurely. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, knows, all Servicemen have the right to leave the Service during the early months of their service—six months for the boy entrant and three months for adults. There are administrative arrangements whereby unhappy and unsuitable boys are discharged after the first six months are over. I imagine that in the case which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned earlier, the boy was discharged under those provisions, though I am very surprised that it took a year. I should have thought that in most cases, if it were conclusively proved that a boy was unhappy and miserable, he would have got out as soon as the authorities had looked into the case.


My Lords, may I just say that while I welcome the decision in this case—the period was just on a year; as a matter of fact it was eleven months; I do not want to exaggerate— I should think that against that one case there have been ten cases where I have not succeeded in getting a release.


My Lords, I do not know the circumstances of the cases referred to by the noble Lord, and therefore I am not in a position to judge whether or not he should have succeeded; but at any rate I dare say there were some cases where he should not have succeeded.

Servicemen of any age may be discharged in compassionate circumstances—that is, when they are needed at home and their families cannot manage without them. Conscientious objectors are discharged once their cases have been established as genuine. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked me a question about conscientious objectors, to which I did not know the answer. I was in process of being told the answer by my noble friend Lord Denham when I was rebuked by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for interrupting his speech. Therefore I am still as ignorant as I was about the answer to the noble Lord's question and I beg his pardon. Perhaps I could write to the noble Lord about this matter, and I apologise at the same time to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition for having talked in the middle of his speech.


My Lords, I am sorry. I feel very guilty about depriving the House of this answer. I wonder whether by one of the devices which we do not officially know about it would be possible to convey to the noble Lord a piece of paper on which the answer is written and he could read it out to us. His noble friend obviously knows the answer, judging by the length of his remarks to the noble Lord.


My Lords, a piece of paper did arrive just as the noble Lord sat down, but I have not had time to read it. This is one of the many cases when the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has sat down too early. Finally, all Servicemen may apply to buy themselves out without giving reasons—discharge by purchase, as it is called—though the timing of the discharge depends on the manning needs of the Service and it may not always come quickly. In 1969 nearly 12,000 male other ranks left the Services before completing their engagements, under the various arrangements I have just described.

I mention this, my Lords, only to show that the Services were alive to this problem long before Lord Donaldson's Committee was established; and the Committee acknowledged this in Chapter III of their Report. Nevertheless, they concluded that the system was indefensible in the case of boy entrants who undertook long-term engagements before the law regarded them as capable of entering into a binding contract. This view led naturally to their two main recommendations, both of which were based on the principle that boy entrants—that is, those who joined below 17½—should have the opportunity at the age of 18 of shortening their engagements if they wished.

The Committee took pains to combine this with the further principle of a fair return of productive service for training given. This led them to distinguish between apprentices whose training lasted two years or more—about one-quarter of all boys—and the remainder. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has already drawn attention to this anomaly.

For the remainder, the Committee recommended a choice at the age of 18 between confirming their original engagement and serving for three years only—that is, until 21. But the Committee recognised that this would not do for the long-term apprentices (as they were called), who would have given little productive service by the age of 21. For the long-term apprentices, therefore, they recommended a threefold choice at the age of 18: to confirm their original engagement; to leave at once in mid-training; or to complete their training and, in addition, give five years' productive service.

As your Lordships know, the Government accepted the principle of an opportunity to shorten the engagement at age 18, but they felt that the two groups identified by the Committee ought to be treated alike. It was therefore decided to introduce a scheme whereby everyone who joins before 17½ will have the choice at 18 between, on the one hand, confirming his original engagement and, on the other hand, deciding to leave three years after his 18th birthday or three years after the completion of his training, whichever is later. This will avoid the discrimination which would have flowed from acceptance of the Committee's recommendations, whereby some would have been able to leave at 18 and others not until 21. In some cases both groups live, work and train side by side, and the difference of treatment would not have been understood. I think that this has been recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway.

When I announced this decision in your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked me exactly the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked this afternoon: why the Government had not given all boys the opportunity to leave at 18 as the Committee had recommended for long-term apprentices only. My answer is that this course was rejected and is rejected by the Government for the same reason that the Committee rejected it in Chapter VI of their Report, because the manpower cost would have been much too high. The Government believe the decision they have taken meets the criticism which the Committee rightly made of the old arrangements, that boys should not be committed to long engagements until they reach the age of majority. Your Lordships will realise that when the school leaving age goes up this problem will be less acute by one year than it will be under the arrangements we are making here this afternoon. My noble friend Lord de Clifford asked me when the arrangements would start. The arrangements will start on April 1 of this year, and the Government have decided to apply them not only to future recruits but also to those under 18 already serving who joined under 17½ years of age. On a previous occasion the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition was kind enough to say—and he repeated it agreeably this afternoon—that the Government have acted not without some courage in this matter. To have gone further than this would have been foolhardy in the circumstances we have at the moment of grave manpower difficulties, and I, for one, could not have been party to such a decision.

The Committee rightly looked beyond the narrow question of engagements and considered what sort of life the Services offer to young Servicemen. I am sure that what they have said will be noted with interest by parents and career advisers and all who influence boys in the selection of their careers. I hope that your Lordships will have read what the Committee have said about the advantages and opportunities of boys' service. They consider that the enrolling and training of boys in the Services is thoroughly desirable. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, touched on this, but I hope he will forgive me if I quote two or three sentences from the Report about training establishments because I do not think it is fully realised how good these establishments are. The Committee said that the Training Establishments are: thoughtfully managed, well staffed, welt equipped and well furnished with social amenities … In the technological fields some are unsurpassed in the total further education provision in Britain … They provide for the great majority of their Boys a communal life and an environment of challenge and stimulus entirely without counterpart in the civilian world … The Armed Forces have for a long time been acknowledged pioneers in the field of industrial training and Further Education. They consider that it is high time that this was acknowledged. I think that it is well worth repeating that tribute from a Committee of the size and distinction of the Committee which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.


Yes, my Lords; but if that is the case—and I pay my own tribute particularly to Harrogate—is it not desirable, from the point of view of the State and the community, that these should be integrated with the State system as examples of what we desire?


My Lords, these are always things we should try to do, but I hope that the State system will gradually become as good in what they do as the Services are at the moment. If we are an example to them, so much the better. But, of course, we must look and see whether any integration is either desirable or possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, asked me, on the original occasion when we discussed this matter, what reserve liability there will be for those who choose to shorten their engagement at 18, and I should like to answer him, because I did not answer him then. The answer is four years for the Army and three years for the Royal Navy and the R.A.F. Four years is the standard length of reserve service for soldiers on three-year engagements, while three years is the maximum period for the Navy and the normal period for the R.A.F. In each case we have made a logical extension of existing practice.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, asked me about paragraphs 108 to 111 of the Report regarding detention quarters and punishment. I have visited detention quarters, although not since I have held my present office connected with the Services. I went to Portsmouth when I was a First Lord of the Admiralty, and I know that that has changed a great deal since those days, when conditions were fairly harsh. I will most certainly look at this again, and be very willing to have a talk with the noble Lord about it, if he so wishes. This is something we always want to keep under review. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in his recommendations, said that if we accepted what he proposed he felt that the disadvantages which he set out in paragraphs 108 to 111 would very largely disappear and be overcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked about the Ombudsman. He knows that this is a matter which is under consideration at the present time. I am not sure that an Ombudsman is entirely appropriate in this case, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, because he is dealing only with questions of maladministration, and perhaps something wider might be necessary to serve the noble Lord's purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, also spoke about the discharge by purchase for adults, not boys. I said that the Navy should allow men to apply to purchase their discharge after three years' adult service in line with the Army and the R.A.F., compared with five and a half and six years, which is the present rule. We have accepted this recommendation, as I made clear, despite the fact that it will lead to significant losses of trained manpower in a Service which is already short of men. The Committee realised that this change might have to be phased, and so it has proved.

We shall make steady progress so that at the latest by 1977 the Navy will be in line with the other three Services. I wish it were possible to do this earlier, and perhaps it will be. I shall certainly do my best to see that it is done as soon as possible. The noble Lord will realise that I would be failing in my duty if I so arranged things that the Royal Navy were not capable of carrying out its task and of manning the ships which it is necessary to do for the defence of this country.

As I said at the beginning, I am glad that the House has had the opportunity to discuss these changes. I hope that noble Lords will feel, as I do, that the Government have struck the right balance in this problem, and I hope that they will think and believe that we have done it without jeopardising the manpower prospects of the Services.