HL Deb 22 November 1973 vol 346 cc1198-211

3.25 p.m.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE (LORD CARRINGTON) rose to move, That the Draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1973, laid before the House on October 30, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the custom in your Lordships' House on these occasions is to debate Service personnel matters, and perhaps I may start off by saying a few brief words on those cornerstones of service man-management—discipline and morale. I should then like to touch briefly on the related problems of recruiting, retention and pay.

Your Lordships will, I am sure, be pleased to know that discipline throughout Her Majesty's Forces continues to be very good indeed and morale is as high as ever. It is perhaps worth emphasising that nowhere is this more evident than in Northern Ireland, as I saw on Monday and Tuesday of this week. In maintaining morale in Northern Ireland we are particularly conscious of the effects of turbulence and separation caused by the movement of units to, and the provision of individual reinforcements for, the Province. We are doing all we can to alleviate the problems that have arisen, both by providing good conditions of service and welfare facilities in Northern Ireland and by looking after the well-being of the families separated from the Servicemen. To the many improvements made since the emergency started we have recently introduced an additional four days leave with free travel to Great Britain or to B.A.O.R. to allow those on emergency tours to take a period of rest and recuperation during their mid-tour breaks.

My Lords, I should like now to turn to the question of recruiting. I forecast in the spring that the Services would face problems of recruitment in 1973, and indeed for the next few years; and our experience so far has certainly borne this out. We knew that raising the school leaving age to 16, and the resulting shrinkage of the recruiting pool, would cause particular difficulties this year. For example, the ending of the Junior "U" entry to the Royal Navy has simply chopped off a supply of about 2,000 boys a year, and the Army loss of juniors from this cause alone has also been very severe. However, there have been other factors, too, which have combined to depress re-cruiting. Your Lordships will have noticed, from the figures we published last week, that the number of Servicemen entered for all three Services in the twelve months up to the end of September this year was a little over 28,000, compared with nearly 44,000 in the twelve month before that. The number of officers entered is also down. Clearly, we cannot afford to allow such a situation to continue for very long.

What then are the causes, in addition to the raising of the school leaving age, and what can we do to cure them? First, I should explain that we must distinguish to some extent between the position of officers and of Servicemen, and between the three Services. All are affected to some degree, but the problem is most severe in the case of soldier recruitment. The problems of officer recruiting are on a relatively smaller scale, though they give us some awkward moments. The Royal Navy are not yet suffering as steep a drop in entries as the Army, but experience suggests that they follow the same course after a time-lag, while the R.A.F. are getting fewer recruits than they need even though there are now no restrictions on R.A.F. recruiting.

Thy Army's difficulties can be put most bluntly if I say that compared to a "steady state" requirement of about 26,000 soldier entries a year—that is the number we need to maintain trained strengths at about the present level—our current forecast of entries for 1973–74 is about 13,000. If, as we suspect, the loss of juniors as a result of the raising of the school-leaving age accounts for about one-half of that shortfall, the rest of the loss must be attributed to various other factors. It is not possible to list all the many factors which affect recruiting in a precise order of importance, but there are clearly several which head the list. The economy has continued to grow, and there are many opportunities for young people, to compete with the attractions of Service life—and I am not going to grumble about that.

Another cause of our problems is, without doubt, that Armed Forces' pay has fallen away from the standards of comparability with civilian earnings which were established in 1970 and confirmed by us in 1971 and 1972. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body in 1973 recommended increases of the maximum amount consistent with Stage 2 of the incomes policy, and we accepted their recommendations. The Review Body are currently considering what ought to be done at the regular, biennial review which is due next April, against the background of Stage 3 of the policy. May I say that it has been a great help to the Services (I know that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, would agree with this) to have the benefit of the expert, and indeed the sympathetic, advice of the Review Body during the past two years, and we look forward to their next recommendations.

I have already spoken about the good work of the Army in Northern Ireland, but from the point of view of recruitment there is some evidence to suggest that the emergency, which was at first a mild stimulus to recruiting, is now no longer so, and that it may also be causing more soldiers to leave the Army. If this is so, I can only regret it, and endorse what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said recently: that everyone in the Army can justly feel proud about what has been done to keep the peace in the most trying circumstances a soldier can encounter. The long history of voluntary recruiting has been one of ups and downs, and when one is on the downward slope it is a little nerve-wracking to wait for signs of the next improvement. I take a little comfort from the fact that the decline in Army adult and young soldier enlistments, at least, was less severe in July to September than in the previous quarter, even though intakes were still at about two-thirds of last year's level; it is also reasonable to expect some improvement in junior recruiting for all three Services, once the pattern of school leaving returns to normal next year. In the meantime, I intend to see to it that whatever good management suggests, is done. We shall be increasing the amount of money to be spent this year on our recruiting advertising, and the man management of the Services, which in my view compares pretty well with anything found in civilian life, will continue to make the best use of this rare and expensive commodity.

In this context, it is clearly important to encourage the men we want to stay in the Armed Forces. Your Lordships will be glad to hear that prolongation rates among senior men continue to be very satisfactory. Indeed, for the Army and the Royal Navy they were generally even better during the twelve months up to June, 1973, than in the previous twelve months. In the RAF, we have to place limits on the numbers we let prolong their service even from the 9-year point. However, I am concerned that nearly half of soldier recruits enter on 3-year engagements, and of these only about half reengage, which would mean that about a quarter of the total strength will consist of 3-year men. Another doubtful factor is that we shall not be able to start to assess until early next year the effect of the introduction, in May. 1972, of the "notice engagement" Over the next couple of years, these two points will be almost as critical for Army manpower as the trend in new recruitment.

The third critical factor, besides recruitment and prolongation, is wastage: that is, failure to complete the engagement to which the Serviceman has com mitted himself. Wastage at the recruit stage continues to run at about 25 per cent. This sounds high—though it is broadly in line with current experience in civilian occupations; for instance, the Merchant Navy—but then this is the stage of a young man's career when he has to decide whether lie likes the Services, and the Services have to decide whether they like him. I am sure it is right that there should be ample opportunity for both parties to decide that a mistake may have been made; and though one is always sorry to lose recruits so soon after joining, there is much less waste of training and other resources than if the parting were longer delayed. Nevertheless, we are examining very urgently the underlying causes of this wastage to see whether it can be reduced. After six months, the rate of wastage drops to around 5 per cent. This is manageable, and there are plenty of employers who would be delighted to have the same figure, but of course I should like to reduce it still further, and we are looking for means to achieve this.

My Lords, if I may sum up on the manpower situation, the difficulties we foresaw have certainly come upon us, and they are likely to be with us for some time before they can be put right.

But I should not like to leave your Lordships with the impression of grave deficiencies in strength. Remember that we recruited very well indeed, better than planned, for a couple of years before the lean period started; perhaps one might say we even overfished the pool and now we are paying for it. But the trained strengths of the Services are not depleted and I do not intend that there should be any serious deficit. We are seeking ways to make even more effective use of the men we have. My Lords, let us remember that the Armed Forces of Britain have been manned by volunteers for a very long time. We have always managed to look after ourselves in the past, and I am quite sure that we shall be able to continue to do so. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1973, laid before the House on October 30, be approved.(Lord Corrington.)

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, we are today indulging in a pleasant convention by which we are keeping the Armed Forces in being for one more year. I am certain that this is something for which our fellow countrymen should be grateful. While we are touching on pleasant conventions, may I ask the Secretary of State—and he need not answer this important question in the House—why the Navy has been degraded to the last position in the Motion, instead of taking its traditional order of precedence? I think this brief discussion is always pleasant and useful. We had the recruiting figures presented to us about a week ago and this discussion enables us to have an autumn review of the state of play within the Armed Forces. The Secretary of State is quite correct: we knew that we were, or might be, coming on lean times in recruitment. It is good news to know that the actual effective strength is not affected, but of course we have to think further ahead than one year.

May I make one or two points in relation to recruiting? Perhaps the Secretary of State and the House will forgive me if I ride two favourite hobby horses of mine in a few minutes. May I first turn to the problem of pay which the Secretary of State mentioned. It is perfectly true that the principle of comparability was established between the Armed Forces and life in the outside world, but we must not forget that there is an x factor. I have never been able to define the x factor except as an intelligent guess as to what an individual might accept as recompense for loss of his civil liberties. It has always been my view that the x factor was anything you like to make it. If you were not getting the recruits you wanted you "upped" the x factor—the unknown quantity. I do not know what Phase 3 does about the x factor if pay is unsatisfactory, but if the x factor is as important as I believe it to be then perhaps—what is the phrase?—unsocial operations—




Yes, unsocial hours might also apply to the x factor. If this is any help to the Secretary of State I, for one, would certainly support it.

Then there is the question of service in Northern Ireland. I do not think the difficulty arises from the troops concerned; I think it is from their wives. The wives stay at home and it is not a happy position. May I ask the Secretary of State to tell us, when he winds up, something about a subject which I raised last year, which was about a form of insurance equivalent to the insurance which backs the police forces in this country and covers the individual policeman who may suffer injury or death in the course of his duty. What are the details of the insurance scheme that, in a fleeting moment, reading the papers, I saw had been introduced? I suggested that some such scheme should be introduced, and in the course of my journey I saw that something had been done. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would tell us what has been done. I think this matter is of prime importance. I know that young Air Force officers often cripple themselves with insurance to cover themselves against death in the course of their duties, and there are special policies available. I feel that if the wives felt more secure, perhaps their nerves might be somewhat steadier. A young soldier killed in Northern Ireland often leaves his wife in a very difficult situation. I should like to know what has been done to counter this.

May I for a moment ride my two hobby horses? The first is the problem of the recruitment of juniors—again, I think I raised this last year when the Secretary of State mentioned the subject. I suggested then that an additional year of education for young soldiers, airmen and sailors should take place within one of the Army training schools. We all know of the excellence of these schools. At that time, the Secretary of State said that this was administratively difficult, but I feel that because of these figures it is worth a second inspection. The second point is my favourite one of the role of women in the Armed Forces. I made a speech last week on the Equal Opportunties Bill and the Commission, but I wish that people would organise their military affairs to suit my convenience in debate and not their own because reading my Times I see that within the lase week a conference has been held in Brussels of the Women's Armed Forces within NATO, where a very distinguished body of women got together to talk about the role of women in the Armed Forces in the defence of the West. What really pleased me was the resolution that was passed at the end of the conference which said: Representatives from the women's military services and nursing services agree that women should share fully the obligations to defend their countries. I suggested in my speech on the Equal Opportuntities Commission that the opportunity to suffer the discomforts and dangers of a military career might not be considered as an opportunity, but I argued that most women—in fact all women—were as concerned about the defence of this country as were their men-folk and I am very glad to see that the women serving officers at the Armed Forces of NATO meeting in Brussels have said this in very clear terms.

The only other point I want to make now—and I think this is something that is coming anyway—is that equality of treatment should be applied to the Women's Services immediately. The Americans have reached the point of equal pay and two-star rank for women and I believe that we should at least match them. I believe that in that way a suitable number of women could be recruited who could in part replace men. I do not think it is a total panacea, but if one remembers that there are seventeen individuals behind one man at the sharp end, then there is obviously a good opportunity for the role of women in the support functions.

My Lords, that is all I have to say to-day. This debate is usually short and to the point, but I should like to feel, as I know the Secretary of State feels, that the Armed Forces of this country are serving their fellow countrymen as well now as ever they have done, and if the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is going to announce some good news later to-day it is very much due to the steadiness of the Armed Forces in that part of the United Kingdom.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask the Secretary of State three questions of which I have not given him notice but about which he knows? First, why do not the Forces in Northern Ireland get overseas pay as they do when serving in Germany? They are in much greater danger in Northern Ireland than they are in Germany and yet they do not get (I do not know what it is called) danger pay or overseas pay. My second question concerns the wives of troops who are moved from, say, Germany to, say, Northern Ireland and the difficulties they suffer in getting their allowances. The Secretary of State knows about this because I put a question to him in June and again later in October. They have the greatest difficulty in getting their allowances. They have to fill up forms and it takes a long time. Thirdly, what is the position of the recruitment for the Women's Services at the moment? I should like to know whether it is going up or is steady.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am told that your Lordships regard with indulgence the first occasion on which a newcomer to your Lordships' House makes his maiden speech. This is a tradition for which I am particularly grateful, because the path of life which led me to become a Member of your Lordships' House started more than 40 years ago when, a lad of 17, I joined the ranks of the Regular Army. I had the honour and good fortune to join the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and being something of an athlete I reached non- commissioned rank as an Army physical training instructor. My Service experience in the ranks instilled in me the respect for discipline and comradeship which are such ennobling features of service in all ranks of the Regular Army. My interest in the Army has continued to the present day, and I have been honoured by being appointed an honorary Colonel Commandant of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. I dare say that I can claim, with modesty, that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who has become art honorary Colonel Commandant having risen from the ranks. I hark back to my service life because it leads me to the subject to which I venture to refer in this my maiden speech.

I recollect, in a defence and foreign affairs debate at the beginning of this Session, speeches calling for the need for a European defence policy. I listened to many speeches referring to the essential need for such a policy, but no speaker whom I can recall went into the details of how a policy could be brought into being and how it could be sustained. This reminded me of the hoary wartime story which I have no doubt everyone in your Lordships' House has heard, when Generalissimo Stalin was being talked to about the influence of His Holiness the Pope, and his remark was, "Well, how many divisions has he got?" Surely to-day those who talk about European defence should ask themselves the question, "How many divisions can Europe put in the field? How many in six months? In a year's time? In three years' time? And what kind of divisions would they be?" I am sure that the planners in the Pentagon, as indeed the planners in the Kremlin, will ask themselves, "How many divisions can Europe put in the field and what will be the quality of these divisions?"

So far as Britain is concerned, her capacity to make a contribution to the manpower needs of Europe was decided more than a decade ago when, for political reasons, all three Parties in the State decided to rely upon voluntary recruitment. The figures for recruitment are published every month, and they demonstrate very clearly that Britain, at least so far as the Army is concerned, lacks the necessary manpower to meet her current commitments, and to talk of our making a contribution in terms of conventional strength to stand up to the Warsaw Pact countries is not a very convincing exercise. However, this is only part of the story. If we have not the manpower, neither have our Allies. The point I seek to make is that it is no good our talking about a European defence system, nor can we expect the Americans to listen to us, unless we are prepared not only to put our hands in our pockets to provide the finance necessary for an effective defence system but also, somehow or other, to find the manpower. Or do we expect our NATO allies to impose conscription upon their young men while, we comfortably jog along, hoping that our awkward recruiting figures will change for the better?

To turn to the question of equipment, we have recently witnessed a conflict in the Middle East which was basically a battle of electronics. Sam 2, Sam 3 and Sam 4, supplied by the Russians to the Arab countries, were neutralised by the Americans during the Vietnam conflict. Sam 6 was a surprise and it inflicted losses on the Israelis, for there was no current answer to it. I have no doubt, now that the Americans have obtained a complete set of Sam 6 equipment, that the answer will be found. But we have to take note that the Russians produced Sam 6, and if this particular box of tricks could inflict unacceptable losses on the Israelis it calls into question the possible efficacy of the counter-measures possessed by ourselves and our NATO allies.

We also need to remind ourselves that if Sam 6 was a surprise it is more than likely that the Russians anticipated that sooner or later the Americans would find an answer. But we should remember—and well—that the Russians still have Sam 9 and Sam 10 coming along; and I believe there may well be other surprises in store. The Middle East War, like the Spanish Civil War, was a testbed for military technology. In the Spanish Civil War Hitler tested weapons for his blitzkrieg. In the Middle East the Kremlin and the Pentagon tried out their most modern weapons, and they are still evaluating the results. But there is one conclusion that it is not too early to draw: a new demonstration, a new dimension, the power of the missile. We in Britain, if our defence policy is to be meaningful, must learn this lesson.

My Lords, I have one urgent proposal to put to the Secretary of State for Defence, which I hope he will study. I believe that the Government should seriously consider the establishment of a Missile Command. The Russians have organised their defence on this basis, and their resources are infinitely greater than ours. We and our NATO allies need to study the recent conflict and try to learn from it. We certainly cannot afford to spread our scientific resources, or indeed our financial resources, in such a way that we produce separate missile systems for each of the Services, on the basis that each must have something. We cannot afford three missile policies in Britain, any more than we can afford several missile policies inside NATO. I believe that our need is urgent. We certainly cannot go on spending £3,500 million a year on defence which, at the end of the day, does not contribute to our overall defence needs. So my plea is that if we are going to have defence it must be adequate; it must be looked at in the light of British needs in relation to our financial and scientific capacity and to our capacity to provide the manpower. This needs to be done, of course, in the light of our NATO commitments, although our shortage of troops is a great embarrassment.

Before resuming my seat, I should like to pay a tribute to our troops in Northern Ireland, who are fighting a war for which no Army was ever trained: to fight the unseen urban guerrilla where any bullet can kill anyone, anywhere, any time—even a child. Yesterday, questions were asked about Britain's contributing to a peace-keeping force in the Middle East. From where would these troops come? From Ireland? From our NATO forces? Or by withdrawal from some of our other commitments? This is a very serious problem. My Lords, I have wearied you with thoughts which I have been turning over in my mind for a long time, but I have done no more than underline one or two rather obvious facts. I hope your Lordships will not feel that in so doing I have trespassed on your indulgence. If I have, I shall be only too ready to apologise.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brayley, on a quite admirable maiden speech. I have heard several in this House but I have not heard a more constructive or better informed speech, and I think we should all like to congratulate him and hope that he will add to our debates from time to time. I rushed to Who's Who when I learned from the "batting order" that I was to follow a maiden speaker and I notice that with becoming modesty, in spite of everything he has told us, he never mentioned the fact that he won a most gallant M.C. during his service in the Regular Army. We know that he has a deep knowledge of industry, and that knowledge also will be most valuable to this House. His recreations I found most entertaining. I doubt whether anyone has previously put down ten recreations in Who's Who. I could not find anyone; he is right in a field of his own. He starts with politics—well, it's great that he is here. He goes on with books, letters, charities, flying—and he is a qualified pilot; yachting, shooting, fishing, horse racing—that will please the next noble Lord who is going to speak —and last of all, though it will not be universally acclaimed on the Benches opposite I am afraid, boxing. It was appropriate that on this very day we should have had a Question about that sport because he was an international boxing champion in his early twenties. It is quite clear that he certainly has not suffered any softening of the brain, as the noble Baroness suggested is a possibility.

I merely want to add two small points. I am very much in tune with what the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said; he and I made similar speeches last year. I ask my noble friend, in view of the really alarming recruitment figures for the Army, in view of the extension of the school-leaving age and the result this has had with regard to young recruits, to examine whether some of these boys would not be more usefully employed and would not in the end become better citizens if they were allowed to spend their extra year of education in a Service establishment—of course with the agreement of their parents.

When I was coming to work I listened to the car radio, as many of us do in traffic jams, and heard a schoolmaster complaining that he had gone into a classroom and found thirteen-year-old and fifteen-year-old boys now compelled to stay on at school, playing cards. This is not a very constructive occupation in the extra year of education, and proves the point that there are much better things to do for boys who are restless and who would like to accept the challenge of a Services career. It would be wholly admirable both for them and for the nation if they were allowed to do it. I cannot believe it is right to compel young people to stay on at school for an extra year when they could well benefit from doing other things.

I have another plea in accord with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, on the increasingly valuable part that women can play in our Armed Forces. I spent the whole of my war career in radar. In this country more than 90 per cent. of our radar stations were operated by dedicated women who were so conscientious and efficient that they not only startled the men-folk, but all our allies as well when they saw the extent of the perfection of the job the women were undertaking. To-day, there are many sophisticated jobs women could do, and do rather better than some men. I refer to intelligence work, photographic reconnaissance interpretation, in which they were outstanding, and as the noble Lord, Lord Brayley mentioned, electronic warfare. They could well apply their basic expertise and dedication to these activities, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will look most seriously at these points. There are many willing people who would gain immeasurably from that extra year being spent in the Armed Forces, and not necessarily at school.