HL Deb 24 September 1975 vol 364 cc289-91

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the severe cuts in officers and non-commissioned officers in the Armed Forces have affected the career prospects of members of the Forces at all levels; and whether the balance of administrative and field appointments in senior ranks is adequate to ensure that fully trained Forces can be deployed and expanded at short notice.


My Lords, I take it that in the first part of his Question the noble Lord is referring to redundancies. The greater part of the reduction in manpower strengths will be accomplished by means of normal wastage. A measure of redundancy will, however, be essential in the interests of maintaining a satisfactory balance of ages, ranks and skills, and this will, in fact, assist the career prospects of those who remain. The answer to the second part of the noble Lord's Question is, Yes. The balance is, and will continue to be, adequate to meet the needs of our present and foreseeable mobilisation philosophy.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask him whether he is quite certain that the abolition of a number of high ranks is really leaving the promotion pyramid which is required for somebody who wishes to make the Army his career? Would not the noble Lord agree that the continual threat of these redundancies does not tend to make people who wish to make the Army their career come forward in the quality and numbers required?


My Lords, I think I stressed the point that this reduction in numbers in fact helps the career prospects of those who remain. Of the 38,000 men concerned, 27,000 will go under the normal period of retirement, and of the others quite a substantial number will be individuals who would normally be prepared to serve for a longer period but now there would not be positions for them. The real reason for the exercise is that shortages among junior ranks in the Army makes it necessary for a greater share of reductions to be borne by senior officers and NCOs. It will not affect the careers of young men now in the Army, or those who are intending to join it.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how many Defence Reviews we have had in the last 15 years? Would he also be kind enough to congratulate the Ministry of Defence on the undoubted capability they have for carrying through such Reviews?


My Lords, on the latter part of the question, I will convey my noble friend's congratulations to the Chief of the Defence Staff. With regard to the first part of his question, I am afraid I have lost count.


My Lords, can the noble Lord explain in a little more detail how this decision will help those who are in the Army? One can understand how these reductions may not injure them; but when the potential for them to take advantage of is so much smaller, it is difficult to understand how the decision can help them.


My Lords, I am not talking about the quality of the Army but of the promotion prospects of young officers, and they are in fact improved by the unfortunate departure of senior officers. That is the way of the world.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend—and I do so as an old company sergeant-major of the First World War—whether it is not rather sad that he should be cutting down in the ranks of the NCOs, who are the backbone of the British Army?


Yes, my Lords, I am certain that many splendid characters will be taking up new careers in civilian life rather earlier than they expected; but they will leaven the civilian lump.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the recent abolition of the brigade headquarters in BAOR has caused considerable disquiet within the Army? Is he further aware that I am aware that a number of promising middle rank officers are leaving the Army now, in these very difficult times, precisely because of these cuts?


My Lords, perhaps they are becoming unduly despondent too soon. In this particular restructuring exercise extensive trials are under way, and will continue over the next year or so, to prove the new organisation which will be effective on 1st April 1979. I believe that no damage will be caused, but if tests prove unsatisfactory obviously there will be a rethink.


My Lords, in view of the great inconvenience caused to this House this week, would the Minister agree that if we could perhaps have a little less legislation and fewer civil servants we might be able to maintain our defences with a few more officers?


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us whether his remarks are also relevant to the women's sections of the Services?


Not without notice, my Lords; but I should have thought the balance is probably maintained.

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