HL Deb 22 November 1973 vol 346 cc1232-44

4.58 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, may I crave the indulgence of the Leader of the House for a moment? He knows in what regard I hold him, but I wonder whether, between now and the Christmas Recess, he could find five minutes to explain to me the Rules of Order of the House as they have been working in the last hour or so, bearing in mind the rebuke which he handed out to me on a previous occasion when I was advancing unpopular views and when, being conditioned by the years I spent in the other place, I did not on every occasion pose my problem in an interrogatory form. I am completely mystified.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and to other noble Lords who have been taking part in the debate on the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order. I know only too well what an inconvenience it is when a debate is interrupted, and particularly when the discussion following a Statement takes as long as has been the case with the Northern Ireland Statement. It is quite exceptional that the interruption is as long, but I should like to apologise to the noble Lord and to other noble Lords who have been taking part in the debate on the Order.


The noble Lord humiliates me. I am not seeking an apology; I am seeking to understand. I have a simple rule: I will abide by the rules if everybody else abides by the rules; but I am not having a set of rules made for Wigg, and another set of rules made for everybody else. This is what has been happening. On a previous occasion, which your Lordships will remember, I sought the advice of the Clerks of the House as to where I had gone wrong, and I tried to learn. But the Rules in this House are applied to some, but not to others. It is a fact here that speeches are read by Ministers, every single word of them. This is a place of debate, but we have had speech after speech, and no attempt whatsoever to put them in interrogatory form. But I am not complaining. All I really want to do is to learn, so that what the others have I can have, too. I do not mean to be rebuked and interrupted at every sentence I try to utter while everyone else here has free reign, including the reactionary Lord at the back of the House who is trying to do his best to sabotage the Government.

Having tried to strike an uncontroversial note in my opening paragraph, may I say how glad I am to have the opportunity in this debate to speak after my noble friend Lord Brayley? He and I are old friends. We shared a common experience. It was many years ago when I met him. Indeed, we were both in the ranks of the Regular Army when he was fighting as a very good heavyweight boxer —rather above my weight, if I may say so, and certainly above my abilities in that particular field. But to-day he made a contribution which I think added to our deliberations by the weight of thought behind it. I hope very much that he will continue to speak as he thinks, and to express himself with the same forceful clarity as he did to-day. I certainly congratulate him.

My Lords, when this debate came on the Order Paper I regretted greately that it coincided with the death of a servant of your Lordships' House and a Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Spens, a public servant of great wisdom, who guided us over a period of some three years in framing the measures which your Lordships are considering today. I undertook the discipline of reading what was said on the Continuation Order a year ago, both in this place and another place, because I was abroad a year ago and could not take part. I went back to the first Contivation Order in 1957, and then back to the Select Committee Report, the Select Committee of which I was a member and laboured for three years—many time working through the Recess in order to produce the Report. What strikes me is that a year ago in another place they got in a terrible tangle as to what was or what was not in order. It had been laid down in the 1957 debate by the then Speaker that, broadly speaking the debate—a novel experience—the annual debate on the Affirmative Order, followed for a period of four years, and then followed by a Select Committee, would be related to what were regarded as A. and Q. problems, questions which were norm ally regarded as operational foreign policy for practical purposes. But in another place the complaint was that Members of your Lordships House went far wider than Members of the other place were allowed to go.

That situation arose in part because the Government—for reasons which I think we all understand; at least I try to understand—have the debate on the Continuation Order in this House before it takes place in the House of Commons. I think that is unfortunate, although I understand the reasons. That is not a criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I should think it is probably because the Secretary of State happens to be here that the debate is held here first. But I notice that when he was speaking a year ago he said that it was a tradition of this House to speak on personal questions, and in the other place (this is what we are really arguing about) that they should be speaking on personal questions as well.

I want to remind your Lordships—and I think it is particularly appropriate that we should remind ourselves at this titne—of this debate in its historical setting. I wrote a memorandum for the Select Committee, memorandum No. 38, which was considered by the Select Committee on the 4th May, 1954. I opened it by using these words: The Bill of Rights lays down that the raising or keeping of a standing Army within the Kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with the consent of Parliament, is against the law. And so it was over the years. The Army Act itself was fantastically Out of date because all the Government of the day was concerned with was that by April 30 it had a Motion of the House of Commons limiting the number of men that might be borne on the strength of the Army. The reasons for that were tied up with our liberties. A King lost his head because in fact he spent money voted for rations. on pay. He kept a bigger Army than Parliament wanted him to, and that led to the conflict between Parliament and Charles. A century or more later, another King lost his Throne. That is how the Bill of Rights came into being. That number must not be exceeded. And the debates which take place on the Continuation Order in this form (I am not reading the rest of my memorandum) were worked out in order that Parliament should keep control over this vital question of numbers: and must get the Affirmative Order before April 30 each year to maintain. in some form. Parliamentary control over the Armed Forces.

For three centuries that has never been a question in this country: but in many other countries it is a question. Country after country is falling under the dominance of the armed forces, or is influenced by forces that exist inside the forces of particular countries. With, I think, not wholly beneficial results. That situation has not arisen in this country. From time to time serving soldiers have made statements, have written books, have been questioned and so on and so forth; but basically the tradition has been to keep politics and the Army wide apart. That is absolutely right. It is in order to maintain civilian control that Parliament—both Houses—should maintain control over the Executive. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Brayley, was underlining this afternoon.

We see the results of a very great and expensive bill. I have not checked it, but the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, in a debate a few weeks ago, gave a figure of £40,000 million. I suppose he reached that figure by adding up all the Estimates —which is not the same thing as the amount that was spent. But, taken as a rough. figure, £40,000 million has been spent on Defence, and the public see the result every year. Trooping the Colour —they saw it last Wednesday; and the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh. But what beyond that? Our influence in the world can he measured by the treatment we recently received at the hands of the Americans. We can see just how much we count in the negotiations which are going on currently about the reduction of the Armed Forces in NATO in relation to the Warsaw Pact. Here I must be critical of my own Party. I listened last night to a Party political broadcast by Mr. Callaghan. Mr. Callaghan advocated cutting the Defence bill by £500 million. This is the equivalent, to my mind, of my doctor—or the man who tries to look after me—telling me that I must reduce my weight and, "The best thing you can do is to cut your fingers off, or cut your toes off." It is just about as sensible.

The £3,500 million which is being misspent at the present time stems, of course, from the 1957 White Paper. Over the years I have blamed Mr. Sandvs for that White Paper. Having read the last of Mr. Macmillan's hooks, I have reached the conclusion that that is wrong. The person who will take his place in history alongside Mr. Stanley Baldwin, as having put his Party before his country, his class before his duty, is Mr. Macmillan. This can be traced out through his speeches. The 1957 White Paper, the dependence upon an atomic nuclear defence policy; the decision to get rid of conscription—and accompanied, I may say, at that time by the abolition of the three-year engagement because of the difficulties about recruiting—all that has led us into our present position.

I saw with some amusement yesterday that the understudy of the Secretary of State for Defence in the other place said that our missiles were comparable in quality with the missiles possessed by the Soviet Union. How does he know that? None of them has been fired in anger. But if anybody seriously thinks that we have any weapon capable of doing what the Sam 6 has done, then he is living in Cloud Cuckoo-land. Indeed, the point was made yesterday, and has been made again to-day by Lord Brayley, that if we were asked to put in the field a balanced force—not a force such as that in Northern Ireland, carrying out not a soldier's job but a policeman's job—we should be hard pat to do it.

Since that time, of course, the Government have returned to the three-year engagement. The three-year engagement, when Mr. Healey introduced it, was attractive in the short run. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, thought that this was a good step. He overlooks the fact of the simple multiplication sum that it took years to teach the House of Commons: that if your recruiting figure is 100 and you have a three-year engagement, you will get an Army of 300; if it is seven years, you will get 700; and if you have a high wastage, as you now have, and your re-engagement figure, based upon the net figure, is 50 per cent., it is not very satisfactory never mind what the Secretary of State says. Then there is some thing else. If you have a short-service engagement, where in the long run do you get your warrant officers and your senior N.C.O.s? They are the hones and the anatomy of the Army, and are what it is built around.

The search for the long-service N.C.O. and warrant officer killed democracy in Kaiser's Germany. It produced a capitulant class. It meant that in order to get them they had to give a guarantee that every man who undertook a long-service engagement would be given a job. Noble Lords who remember seeing All Quiet on the Western Front will remember Himmelkop, the easy-going postman, who was a top rebel when he got a uniform on. He was a product of the capitulant class. One of the reasons why Israel at the moment is in the throes in terms of the civilian administration, on the one hand, and its soldiers, on the other, is that they have gone two steps beyond the Germans. Their officers, their N.C.O.s and warrant officers are given jobs which are as economically satisfactory in civilian life as they were in military life, which leads insidiously, almost without your knowing it, into a military approach.

My ways, like Lord Brayley's ways, have been cast along different paths from those of many of the Members of the Labour Party. I joined the Labour Party before I joined the Regular Army: I joined before I was 18, and I joined the Regular Army when I was 18. One of the reasons why I never found any culty (and I still find no difficulty) in staying in the Labour Party was because basically its instincts take it into the ways of peace, co-operation and conciliation, rather than into the paths of aggression and division. I am sure that, in the kind of world in which we live, that approach is fundamentally correct. I am not suggesting for one moment that noble Lords opposite are very far away from that position themselves, although historically the Conservative Party have tended from time to time to "wave the flag".

What I say to the Government is that they are spending £3,500 million on Defence. They are forced, as a result of their own policy, to spend an ever-increasing ratio on pay, allowances and non-effective services: they cannot help it. There is a ceiling of £3,500 million, even allowing for the deterioration in the value of money. That figure cannot rise very much. The Secretary of State has said that he has been conscious of the problem of recruiting for a long time, and he is looking to the pay review next year in the hope that pay increases inside Phase 3 will help him to redress that balance. What does it mean? It means that the ratio of pay and allowances will rise, because the country is in no mood for an increase in the total. That, in turn, means that there will be less money to spend on equipment. That situation faces us. It also faces the ever-rich United States. They have switched, because of the weakness of the Nixon Administration, to a voluntary system. Of course they are helped because of the different standards of life in the South of America and in the North, and they can draw on the recruiting grounds in the South, particularly among the black population, for fruitful recruitment. But they, too, are finding that the ever-rising costs of pay, rations, accommodation, and the need to look after wives and children, is reaching a point when they are having to limit what they can spend on equipment.

In my view, the noble Lord, Lord Brayley, is right. If you are going to have defence, then have adequate defence. But at least be under no illusions about it yourself: because the one thing you can be certain about is that your potential enemy will have no illusions, and when war comes, as it has come in the Middle East, or the threat of war comes, as it has now, the deficiencies in your Defence policy are revealed for all to see, and in a flash £40,000 million spent on Defence in this country, and amounts not so far off that sum spent by our NATO Allies, reveal when the chips were down that, so far as the United States are concerned, that we did not count "tuppence".

What is the political result? I am sure that with an attenuated attendance, the majority of noble Lords present to-day were in favour of a Common Market, a united Europe and a Common European Defence Policy. What does our military weakness reveal but the bulkanisation of Europe? At the present moment, neither singly nor collectively, does Europe amount to "tuppence". We have four nuclear submarines armed with A3. All they are is a provocation, and no more. Their military significance, except posthumously, is nil. If we were called upon to put, say, a division into the Middle East and to keep it there, it would be beyond our capacity. Yet there is the bill. We should be far safer not to do what Mr. Callaghan suggested. That is a fatal policy. To chop £500 million off the bill and think that you have effective Defence is really "conning" yourself. That is not the way to do it. Either have adequate defence, and be prepared to make the sacrifices for an adequate defence, or, better still, have no defence at all. Do as the Swiss do. Although they spend a little bit, I may say that they spend it on a high degree of citizenship. Far better to open all the frontiers and have nothing at all, because at least we should not be as we are to-night: while having half a sting with four Polaris submarines, we could well be the target for to-night. So my reasons for wearying your Lordships are, first of all, the great pleasure that I have in following the noble Lord, Lord Brayley, and to some extent underlining what he has said, and, secondly, pleading for this.

That Select Committee in 1952 was born of a bitter Party squabble. It put the Conservative Government of the day the spot. I well remember the conversations between the then Mr. Eden and Mr. Attlee which led to the setting up of the Committee, but the memorable thing about it was the wise and firm leadership of Lord Spens. From the time the doors were closed on that Committee, which was composed of bitter antagonists from both Parties. for a period of the next three years, the battle was forgotten and what we fought for was just to do the best we could for the Army as a whole. I think that to some extent we succeeded. The evidence is there for any noble Lord to see. The divisions that took place—and there were divisions—were never on a Party basis; they were not vertical but horizontal. All through my political life I have pleaded—and I make the plea again to-day although I do not think anyone will take any notice—that this country of ours, after two devastating World Wars and even though speaking from a weakening world position, still has something to give to the world. But if it is to give it, it must spend the little that it has to give wisely and well, and basically on a non-Party political basis. Of course, there will be political differences. So long as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I live we shall disagree on almost every question, because our outlooks are quite different; and there is the same difference between myself and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. Nevertheless, so far as this question is concerned, what is needed above all is honesty, and if we can achieve that we shall succeed. It will be a long and hard road to get back to that kind of basis, and I have tried to-night not to make a Party political speech, because I am perhaps nearer to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. than I am to Mr. Callaghan on the provision of an adequate Defence.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Brayley, on his maiden speech. I do so with some trepidation since I, too, was a Regular soldier but after some years had only reached the rank of acting, temporary, unpaid, local major, while he is a Colonel-Commandant. Nevertheless, I congratulate him most sincerely on his speech, and particularly since I believe this is the first maiden speech made in your Lordships' House for a great many years on the subject of Defence. One of the things that bothers me as much as it bothers the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, is the lack of interest in Parliament, as indeed outside it, on defence matters. Consequently, to have someone who joins your Lordships' House and feels strongly enough about the defence of this country to make his maiden speech on that subject is something that I greatly welcome. The noble Lord will certainly add good sense and lustre to our debates on Defence in this House, and we look forward to hearing him on a great many occasions.

I thought I would confine myself, in the few remarks that I want to make in winding-up, to answering the questions that have been put to me. I did not know the reason why we were debating the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts, and so I inquired—because when it was pointed out to me by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, it did seem rather odd. It is in fact because there are three separate Acts: the Army Act in 1955; the Air Force Act in 1955; and the Navy Act in 1957. The Parliamentary draftsman had obviously thought that order to be more important than the traditional order of the three Services—I expect he knows better by now! The noble Lord asked me about the X= factor and about Phase 3. I would tell him that it certainly is my intention to use whatever possibilties are available under Phase 3 to get as much money as possible for the Services, whether it be on the basis of unsocial hours or the X = factor. However, I do not think I can go into the details of that at the present time.

If the noble Lord was responsible (he may very well have been) for the idea of an insurance scheme, we are very grateful to him. I should like to say just a little about this subject, because I think there is a misunderstanding about what is available now to the families of Servicemen killed in Northern Ireland. We have recently introduced some very important improvements into the occupational pensions scheme as regards provisions for invaliding and for the widows and dependants of officers and Servicemen. Thus. the widow of a soldier killed in Northern Ireland, or dying anywhere for reasons attributed to service, now stands to receive the following: her husband's pay for three months; then an attributable Forces family pension at the rate of 90 per cent. of the full career pension appropriate to her husband's rank; a lump sum payment of three times the annual rate of her husband's invaliding pension (or twice his full career pension, whichever is the greater); an additional widow's gratuity worth 50 per cent. of the husband's full career pension for a year; and 20 per cent. of the full career pension for each dependent child up to a maximum of four. In addition to those benefits from the Ministry of Defence, the widow stands to get the appropriate pension and attributable allowances from the war pensions scheme administered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security.

All in all, I think the Regular provisions for widows and dependent children are now pretty good, but for those in the Army who would like to make some extra private provision we have recently introduced the scheme to which the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, referred—a life assurance scheme, arranged by a firm of brokers, under which a weekly contribution of 30p buys a pension of £10 a week upon death from any cause up to the time the soldier would have reached the age of 55. This is payable either to the widow or to nominated beneficiaries; for example, the parents. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough—I do not see him in the Chamber at the moment—asked me whether this scheme would apply to the U.D.R. in Ireland. As of now, it does not apply to them, but my Ministry is making inquiries of the trustees of the scheme to see whether or not they will be able to extend the provisions to members of the U.D.R.

Both my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, talked about the results of raising the school-leaving age and the education of young men, suggesting that it might be possible for the Services to educate them rather than that they should do their last year at school. I am sure it will come as no surprise to both noble Lords to hear that this is not a scheme I view with great displeasure; but I think one must be careful about it. One does not want to underestimate the cost difficulties involved in a scheme of this kind. Generally speaking, the Services have never recruited boys below the minimum school age. To integrate the final year of schooling with initial training for a military career and also to integrate the education which the boy has already received would, I am sure, impose quite new demands on the Service; I do not think we should consider starting a scheme of that kind unless first, we were satisfied that it would make a significant contribution to solving the problem, and secondly, that the 15-year-olds who were recruited could really expect to be educated to the same standard as they would be at school. In any event, I do not think that at the moment we ought to draw conclusions until we have seen the results of the first year; but certainly my mind is not closed on the subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, my noble friend behind me and my noble friend Lady Ruthven of Freeland, raised the question of women in the Services. Incidentally, I am looking at what the noble Lord said the other day in a debate, and I hope to be able to write to him. We place a high value on the use of women in the Armed Forces. At present there are about 15,000 in the Services, which puts us, as a matter of interest, second in the NATO league after the United States. There is a problem which the noble Lord knows: they unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, get married very quickly. To maintain a strength of 15,000, we have to enter 6,000 every year. This is not much of a problem so far as recruiting goes—there is not much difficulty in getting the 6,000–but it means that as we expect only a short service from them we cannot afford to give expensive training. That makes the suggestion of my noble friend behind me a little more difficult to deal with. We are examining this and I hope we shall be able to do something about it.

My noble friend Lady Ruthven asked about local overseas allowance and why it is not paid in Northern Ireland. I think she misunderstands the object of local overseas allowance. It is intended to compensate for the difference in living costs between an overseas station and the United Kingdom. Since Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom it would not be appropriate for local overseas allowance to be paid to Servicemen there. The noble Lady and I have been having a correspondence about allowances generally, and I have just written her another letter on the subject of family allowances when soldiers move from one station to another. If my noble friend is not satisfied with that letter I hope she will write again and I will see what I can do.

Those were the questions that were asked. I will not go into Lord Wigg's speech, though one could have a good debate on it. Though he and I have the same approach, we come to different conclusions at the end. But whatever one may say about the noble Lord, Lord Wigg—and I have said some awful things in my time about him—there is one thing one can say and that is that he really is interested in defence, and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful that he attends the House and makes speeches of the kind he has made this evening. Equally I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and who have made constructive suggestions. I will examine them and, as usual, I hope profit and learn from what they have said. 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 Carrington.)

On question, Motion agreed to.