HL Deb 23 June 1977 vol 384 cc856-84

8 p.m.

Earl CATHCART rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what reductions are to he made to our Reserve Forces and stockpiles of key stores as a result of the recent series of cuts in Defence expenditure and to what extent these cuts will reduce our ability to transport essentials to BAOR quickly and in time. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. When we debated the Statement on Defence for 1977 in your Lordships' House on 12th May, I asked for an assurance that the defence cuts, then announced, would not adversely affect the size or equipment of our Reserves nor inhibit our ability to reinforce the British Army of the Rhine effectively and in time.

My Lords, I find that I am not addressing any Member of the Government at the moment. I wonder whether perhaps we should wait until they return. Would that be in order? Is the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, coming?


My Lords, a search party is now looking for the noble Lord. There was an impression that the other debate we have now suspended would have gone on until 8.15 p.m. Apparently there is a misunderstanding.


My Lords, would it be in order if we adjourned during pleasure until the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, is available?


My Lords, the noble Lord has arrived. The situation is now saved.


My Lords, perhaps I should start again. I should like to repeat one sentence. When we debated the Statement on Defence for 1977 in your Lordships' House on 12th May, I asked for an assurance that the defence cuts, then announced, would not adversely affect the size or equipment of our Reserves nor inhibit our ability to reinforce the British Army of the Rhine effectively and in time. For reasons which are well understood, the noble Lord who replied to that debate on that occasion was unable to answer my questions. But the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, acknowledged that it was an important matter and encouraged me to raise it again in the manner in which I am now doing.

I shall not repeat my speech of 12th May, except to remind your Lordships that I stressed then the essential part that our Reserves must play in our strategy from the very outset of hostilities, and even before that. I also stressed that these hostilities, if tragically they are ever to occur, are likely to occur swiftly and suddenly and without a long period of rising tension. We had been told that these cuts have not been made to the teeth arms, and therefore my anxiety is that we must assume that economies will have to he made to our reinforcement capability and our logistic units, many of which are part of our volunteer Army. If economies are made in training time, or training ammunition for these Reserves, or if slippage occurs in the rate with which they are issued with the most modern battle equipment, we cannot expect them to be fully operational to complete the British Army of the Rhine to war establishment and to take their place with field force units immediately on mobilisation.

Equally, if proper reserve stocks of essential stores and equipment are not pre-positioned to the correct scale and in the correct locations in peacetime, the fighting capability of the 1st British Corps will be badly impaired and the task of moving those stores on mobilisation will be extremely difficult. I hope that in order to economise in the expenditure of foreign currency, these British reserve stockpiles are not being run down on the continent in the central region of Europe and set up again instead in this country.

The other matter that I dealt with at length on 12th May was the very difficult problems that this country would face next time during the period of mobilisation; more difficult than any previous experience this country has had, since mobilisation next time will not be carried out at the leisurely pace we experienced in the last two wars. With this in mind, I asked whether Her Majesty's Government would undertake to consider the speeding up of their modernisation programme for the military port at Marchwood.

Before I sit down, I should like to thank all those noble Lords who will be speaking in this small but important debate, especially in view of the lateness of the hour. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, in anticipation of his reply, and also for the good natured and patient way that he always listens to us on these subjects. Finally, I should like to say how much I am looking forward to the speech of my noble friend Lord Avon, not only because it will be his maiden speech, but because, as happens so frequently in your Lordships' House, he will bring experience in the matter on which he will be speaking. He commanded a volunteer battalion of a very distinguished regiment with a most important operational role on mobilisation, and on giving up that command he was promoted to colonel; and in the appointment of volunteer colonel he was responsible for advising his superior officers on all Volunteer Reserve matters. I know that we all look forward to his speech with very great interest.

8.6 p.m.

The Earl of AVON

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for those kind remarks, and indeed for raising the subject of our Army Reserves in relation to their BAOR commitment. I believe that any more cuts in expenditure on the Reserves at this moment could seriously harm their efficiency, credibility and even their morale. At this point I believe that I should declare an interest. I am currently a vice-chairman of a Greater London TAVR Association.

I should like to put forward this evening four major reasons why this is not a good moment to cut the Reserves in any way; indeed, why it is a time when thought should be given to expansion rather than to curtailment. First, there is the increased importance that this Government themselves have given to the TAVR by making many units of the TAVR on mobilisation an integral part of the Army in BAOR. Having given them this task, the TAVR should have been equipped and established to work alongside regular battalions. This has not yet been completed. There is, for instance, a general shortage of radios and FFR vehicles; infantry battalions are equipped with Wombat and not even with Mobat; they have a smaller allocation of Carl Gustavs, and thereby a lower anti-tank capability. Some of their equipment is old: the expression "beyond economical repair" is not unknown in the TAVR. The TAVR is proud of its role in BAOR, but to carry it out, and thereby fulfil this country's commitment to NATO, the TAVR units need more equipment, not less.

Last September I was able to witness in Germany part of the preparation for an exercise in which regular and volunteer troops worked together. It was carried out by an airportable brigade. But the participation of the TAVR in the infantry units was seven companies, which amounted to 842 men out of an infantry total of 2,100; just over a third. The Reserves also provided over 1,000 personnel in the Logistic Support Group, making the total TAVR share of just under 2,000 in a grand total of 5,500—again just over a third. That such an exercise can happen is proof of the viability of the TAVR; but the value of their performance would be considerably enhanced if their equipment and establishment more closely resembled that of their regular counterpart.

My second reason is that the TAVR remains our only reserve against the unknown. It stands at 60,000 strong—a ludicrously small number. Sixty thousand is the highest figure that it has been for some time. Is this not the moment to increase it? In fact to invest in success, rather than to make cuts? Much in this country is in disarray at the moment; it would be a gross pity to jeopardise this excellent investment. May I remind your Lordships that the TAVR was conceived under a Socialist Administration. It was ten years ago that the Government set the liability bounty at a maximum of £60 per annum. It has never been increased. No account has been taken of the fall in the value of the pound or of rising prices. Should not some increase now be given to them, rather than wait for them to come and beg for it? It would ease recruiting problems. It would take no mathematician to work out that the cost would be minuscule. Many members of the Reserve are out of pocket and, to give one example, their petrol allowance is 4.9p per mile compared with your Lordships' 12p.

My third reason is the shopwindow that the TAVR provides for the Armed Services. The presence of the Reserves and their drill halls up and down the country are part of this country's way of life. Throughout the United Kingdom they are taken for granted, like the local town hall or police station. It is essential to maintain their outward and inward condition, otherwise it will lower the standing of the soldiery in the eyes of the general public. Of course economies are necessary, but the postponement of painting and refurbishing is just bad housekeeping; as we all know, the putting off of a decision nearly always leads to more painful answers later. Cuts in this direction must surely end; the alternatives will be difficulties in recruiting, bad morale and lowering standards.

My last reason for an expansion rather than a retraction is on a more general note, and I should like to include the Army Cadet Force in this plea. There are over 200,000 people in the tri-Services cadet forces and Reserves. When discussions take place on the permissiveness of youth or the selfishness of the new society and we worry about future standards, many of us are frustrated that there seems little positive that we can do about it. I believe that in this body of boys, young men and women we have available just such a positive opportunity. Here are organisations that train citizens to be responsible, to help others, to be a member of a team and to understand that service to Queen and country is a healthy and worthwhile idea. Could not Ministers persuade the Treasury that this is an occasion to invest in the youth of tomorrow? Incidentally, this group of 200,000 also provides many good recruits for the Regular Armed Services.

The direct expenditure on the Reserves is such a tiny portion of the total defence expenditure that it makes this force the best possible investment. I hope the Government will continue to support these loyal citizens, will encourage them by positive means, and not cuts, and will ensure that more, not less, of the defence budget is spent on the Reserves. I can assure the Government that some cuts are already having an adverse effect on morale. I trust that the Ministers responsible are aware of this and that they will commit themselves to the maintenance of the TAVR at its present good level and will reject any further cuts in this direction. I conclude by quoting from the Defence Estimates published earlier this year. Paragraph 126 says: States that wish to preserve peace have never achieved that aim by neglecting their own security". I recommend that maxim to the Government, particularly in relation to the Reserves and their role in BAOR.

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, I wish at the outset to congratulate my noble friend Lord Avon on his interesting and well-informed speech, and I am sure it will add a great deal to our defence debates to have somebody with first-hand knowledge of these matters. I also thank my noble friend Lord Cathcart for introducing this Unstarred Question and I agree with all that he so wisely said, which, luckily for the House, cuts down enormously the speech I had intended to make. I must say that I am shocked by the lack of interest being shown on the Government Benches for a Question of this paramount importance at this time.

I suggest that there are two main factors: Do we have the time or capability to back up our forces in BAOR if war breaks out? First, the question of time. I reckon that, if attacked, our aggressors would be at the Channel ports in one week. How on earth could we get our Reserves from the United Kingdom and Ulster to BAOR in less than one week? It is not possible. Secondly, our capability. We do not have the reserves of equipment in the United Kingdom, or large enough stockpiles in BAOR to make it possible for our forces to stand fast in Europe. Her Majesty's Government must realise that by the continuous cutting down of our reserves they are making it impossible for our troops in BAOR to withstand an onslaught from the East.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, I too wish to start by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Avon, on his maiden speech and I hope we will hear him often again on this subject, on which he is so well-informed. I should also like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for raising this Question again—it is not the first time he has raised it—and at the same time I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, for encouraging him to ask the Question; obviously he did not know the answer on the last occasion and wanted to dodge it in that way.

When I first came to your Lordships' House I happened to be the Territorial Army ADC to the Queen and the noble Earl was then commanding a TA brigade. He was in those days still living in Devonshire and many a time and oft—not in the Rialto but anyway in the depths of darkest Devon—did we discuss the frightful proposals which were then in the air and which preceded the Healey massacre. Going back to those days, and particularly on the subject of the Reserves, it is well to point out to the Government that the strongest critics of their policy for reducing our Reserves were the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, in this House and Mr. Crawshaw, another member of the Labour Party, in the other House. However, as so often happens, the sensible Members of the Government did not have their way.

The Reserves in this country in the modern concept really sprung into life about 140 years ago when our Regular Forces were all overseas. The Duke of Wellington, then in his 80s, issued a warning to the House about the danger to the country from all our Regular Forces being overseas. That was followed up by a well known admiral of the time who pointed out that we had only 50 artillery pieces in the whole of the United Kingdom, with not one fixed gun on coastal defences between Land's End and Portsmouth. From that time, the volunteer movement started and it was a movement which came from the people; the first volunteer battalion of that era was raised by a doctor, at his own or other people's expense, in Exeter, and the descendant of that battalion I had the honour to command many years later.

Then in the Boer War the volunteers produced the Imperial Yeomanry and volunteer companies served with the Regular battalions. In the Great War the first thing that happened was that the TA battalions replaced the battalions in India and elsewhere so that they could come back to reinforce the troops in Germany, and later all the Service battalions were built up from that. In those days, when Aden was defended by an Indian brigade, it had one English battalion. When one of these TA battalions went out, the English battalion always had a detachment on Kamaran Island, so that when the battalion arrived out there off went this company to Kamaran Island. They were not used to overseas service in those days and on one occasion, about a week after they had gone out there, a message came to battalion headquarters saying, "We have one case of beri-beri". A reply went back from headquarters not long afterwards saying, "Give it to the sergeants' mess. They'll drink anything".

In the last war, the TA produced, inter alia, nine full infantry battalions. What are we reduced to now? The TAVR II which, as your Lordships have heard, is committed to reinforcing Germany, and the TAVR III which is, I suppose, the only thing we have in the way of home defence. I happen to be the honorary colonel of a TAVR III yeomanry unit and all one can say is that this is completely, utterly and entirely inadequate. I went to Sennybridges in Wales only a few weeks ago to visit them in camp and there was this one yeomanry unit in that camp which, the last time I went there when I was a deputy brigade commander, had a complete brigade group plus divisional headquarters. To see what the country is letting itself in for by not having adequate Reserves is absolutely appalling.

We have heard so much about the increase of the Russian navy and about what we have in the Reserves being committed in Europe. There will have to be more because the forward theory of defence which I believe will have to take over in NATO will mean that we in this country shall be back at the state we were in 140 years ago. The TAVR II will be in Europe. All our Regular Forces will be there. What will be left here in case this very superior potential enemy force should try to land?

There is a crying need for more and more Reserves. Earlier this afternoon I was talking to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and I feel that I cannot do better than quote him. He said, "If I were Minister of Defence, I would double the largest number of Reserves we have ever had, pay them the highest bounties, give them the best equipment. Then the country need never fear an attack." My Lords, that would be the cheapest way of defending the country anyway.

8.23 p.m.


My Lords, when I spoke in the defence debate, I mentioned the scarcity of noble Lords with any recent experience of defence problems, so I should like now to say how glad I was to see from the Birthday Honours that that deficiency was about to be remedied. Equally good is the appearance of my noble friend Lord Avon, who brings such great knowledge and recent experience of the Reserve and cadet forces to this House. It is a delight to one Greenjacket to say how pleased he is to see another make his maiden speech, and only the lateness of the hour and great self-restraint prevent me from expanding on what my noble friend has said, particularly about the cadet forces. All I shall do is to say that, as a former Director of the Territorial Army and the Army Cadet Force, I agree with every word that he has said and hope that his speech has registered with the Benches opposite.

I want for one moment to look a little further back at the origins of the trouble which my noble friend Lord Cathcart has so clearly outlined this evening. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will be able to answer, but I am bound to say that I do not think an Unstarred Question a very suitable vehicle for a debate like this for, although the reply that the Government make is very interesting, it cannot be debated. Therefore, we shall perhaps need to put down another Unstarred Question later on in order to debate what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, the noble Viscount might organise a mini-debate of two and a half hours.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. I should like to go back to the origin of some of the troubles that Lord Cathcart mentioned; that is, the 1957 White Paper. Everybody knows that, in that White Paper, the policy was laid down that the deterrent fear of nuclear retaliation was likely to keep the peace. At the same time, however, the White Paper emphasised the importance of reserves. Alas and alack— from that day to this, the importance that the authors of the White Paper attached to reserves of equipment and manpower has been very largely honoured more in the breach than in the observance, by, I am sorry to say, successive Governments of different complexions.

There are other factors involved. One is what I see as the stupidity of trying to divide nuclear from conventional warfare so that one was followed by the snobs and the other was unpopular. Then there is something that always conies up in considering modern warfare. It is the blurring of the old-fashioned 18th century line between peace and war. We have cold war and guerrilla warfare which may or may not legally be war under international conventions. It means that one never knows whether one is at war or peace and that war is no longer confined to the battlefield.

I should like to mention one other matter. I go back to 1921, when the late Lord Trenchard had an idea, which turned out not to be right in practice, that peace could be kept in places like Iraq and the North-West Frontier purely by aircraft; it was not necessary to have people on the ground. That, again, seems to have been forgotten and now we have here a White Paper which, although it tells us the number of Reserves, does nothing to indicate whether or not they are sufficient. However, I fancy that, if one knew the figures since 1957, one would find that the number and the quality of the Reserves had steadily declined every year. A point which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, touched on just now was the cadres of TAVR III, for example: if they have not been destroyed they have been as nearly destroyed as makes no difference. I should like to come back to that in a moment.

I am not myself competent to talk about the Naval or Air Force Reserves but, as to the Army Reserves, one wonders whether they are sufficient to cover the needs which I imagine still are the needs for Reserves. They certainly used to be in my time. Those are transition from peace to war establishment; the provision of the first reinforcement, and the provision of what was called the "three months' war wastage" to tide over the time before the people enlisted on mobilisation can be trained.

Then, as I believe I said in the defence debate, there is the factor that the National Service Reservist has run out. Nothing is said about this in the White Paper, but it is very hard to believe that that run-off of the National Service Reservist has not had a very significant effect on the total Reserve position. I hope we shall be allowed to hear something about this, though I am not quite confident.

It is very easy to make a speech advocating the building up of Reserves, but I think that one should be realistic and should say that it will not be nearly so easy in practice as we should like it to be. Equipment can be developed and built to quite an extent while the public is not looking, even if foreign Powers know what we are doing. One does not have mass demonstrations by polytechnic students because someone has invented a missile to outrange any other. If there are any demonstrations, they are much more likely to be in places such as Barrow-in-Furness because someone has stopped building a cruiser and a lot of people are out of work.

Successive Governments—and here should like to mention the Attlee Government—have, in the past, had good records in developing equipment when nobody has been looking. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, if he were in his place, would probably agree, especially as I think that he had some hand in it and ought to take some of the credit. But with manpower it is a different matter. Nothing can take place behind the scenes, because one is dealing with people. One is making demands, if not on the full-time on the part-time activities of a very large number of individual men and women, and also, as I said just now, with things as they are the cadres have to be built up almost from the start. So there are plenty of opportunities for interference with any action, however necessary it is to rebuild the Reserves. It is not merely the students and the Left-Wing; there would be many more respectable people who would complain that to do this would spoil their efforts towards detente and the rest of it.

There we are, my Lords, and the hour is late, but not so late, I hope, that we do not realise the very great importance of the matter which the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, has brought to our notice, together with the hope that we may hear something tonight which will make us feel that, in the modern jargon, there is credibility in our Forces, that there really are the men and the Reserves to keep them at the proper degree of readiness for war.

8.31 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Avon. It is good that a Territorial soldier should make his maiden speech on this occasion. I had the privilege of serving his noble father as military adviser in Geneva at the Indo-China and Korean conferences of, I think, 1955. This is an important subject; it should not be lightly treated tonight. The first point on which I should like to know more—and I hope that an answer may one day be forthcoming—concerns the fear, at least in the Rhine Army, and in some ways in the Territorial Army, that the shortages of equipment are in fact affecting the role of the Rhine Army and affecting the role of the Territorial reinforcements of the Rhine Army. The role is being altered to suit the shortages. I hope that this is not so, but it is a very strong and popular feeling in both the Regular and the Territorial Armies at the moment. It was introduced by my noble friend Lord Cathcart in his opening speech.

My next question is: what fighting Reserve Forces are left in this country after mobilisation, after the Territorial units have gone to the Rhine Army? What is left here to guard the home base? I believe that what my noble friend Lord Bridgeman said on manpower may not be quite as bad as that. I believe that if we were given the go-ahead we could increase manpower now. Certainly in the unit in which I work—the Yeomanry in Kent and London—we could increase. We only want the go-ahead to be allowed so to do.

Finally, my Lords, I ask one more question which may seem small, but the effect is large. Rumour, again, but fear, again, has it that the Regular Army appointment of the Director of the Territorial Army (he is called something else now) is either to be downgraded to a brigadier's appointment or to be absorbed into the appointment of one of the United Kingdom Chiefs of Staff appointments. I hope, and ask, that it should not be so. As a Regular who has never worked with the TA before, I know the importance of the rank of the man representing the Territorial Army at the Army Council level. It is essential that he should be a major-general. It is essential that it should be independent from any other appointment, and perhaps he should be brave enough to resign when he thinks he should resign, as a friend of mine did once when occupying the same appointment. My Lords, as usual I have kept to my time limit, and I hope that these points may at some time be answered.

8.34 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, first I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for introducing this subject. We all know that he has spent the greater part of his life in serving his country as a soldier, and we are very grateful to him for the knowledge that he brings to this House and for the work that he does here. I should also like to take the opportunity of congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Avon, on his excellent speech. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Ward of North Tyneside, and myself are the only two people in the House tonight who served in the other House with the noble Earl's father, and therefore we are delighted to see that he is following so well in his father's footsteps, and we hope that he has an equally good career.

I am of course a little nervous of speaking in front of so many "brass hats", but I should like to mention the other Services; in other words, the RAF and the Navy. I understand that the RAF has very little in the way of Reserve Forces. In fact, with the virtual disappearance some years ago of the old RAFVR, its Reserve Forces are very small indeed. Transport Command having disappeared, I suppose that in an emergency the RAF would have to commandeer civilian aircraft. In view of the fact, as I mentioned in the previous debate, that so many pilots have left and are serving now, for example, with the Cathay Pacific piloting VC 10s, I wonder whether any of them are being asked—for, after all, we paid a great deal for their training—when leaving the Service and taking up other jobs as pilots, whether they would sign a contract to return to serve in case of war. I have in mind a kind of Supplementary List.

The Royal Navy has already had to "hire" merchant ships in peace time to transport the Navy and the Royal Marines to Norway. In regard to transporting equipment to BOAR quickly, can the Minister state how the Army is streaming the system and improving the flow of men and stores? Has the implementation of the cuts affected this work, which I gather was going on very well?

The total cut affecting the TAVR is not quite as bad as one had anticipated. What I really want to know is whether the noble Lord can give an assurance this evening that there will not be any further cuts, especially affecting training or equipment. Can he also say what is happening to the weapons needed in the future, especially in regard to the Centurion tank which I gather will have to be used until the 1990s and will by then be out-gunned?

Though today the Minister may be able to say that cuts have not affected the TAVR too badly, it is the long-term aspect which is at present the worrying factor. I understand that 30 per cent. of our NATO Army strength comes from the citizen Reserve, and about 3 per cent. is the cost to the defence budget, so we in the United Kingdom should offer grateful thanks to the Reserve Forces. An interesting point to my mind is the fact that the Territorial Army Volunteers have become part of the Regular Army, with the 289 Commando Battery of volunteers as the first unit. Should an emergency occur on NATO's Northern flank, within less than a week I understand that barristers and businessmen, builders and bus drivers, who form this élite unit, would be on duty in Northern Europe. Perhaps the Minister can confirm this? I gather that on 4th May the 289 celebrated its integration with the 29th Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, which supports the third Royal Marine Commando Brigade in East Ham, and the red berets of the paratroops were also exchanged for the green ones of the Royal Marines. I should like to hear a little more about that, if possible.

With regard to the Royal Navy, I understand that on 1st March last year the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Command assumed responsibility for the RNR, and for the WRNR, and for the nurses. I should like to know whether this arrangement is working, because I gather that it was designed to achieve closer integration between the Royal Navy and its Reserves, and to ensure that the Reserves are better placed to keep up to date with the present rapid changes in maritime technology and tactics. Is this proving to be successful? I gather that the RNR are to man the minesweepers and the mine countermeasures vessels, and I understand that they are very keen to do this. In fact, on 14th December last year these Reservists were in Portsmouth to celebrate their centenary.

The reorganisation of the Royal Naval Reserves has meant that part-time volunteers must be kept up to date, and I hope this will continue. Perhaps I should mention that there are others. For instance, at the present time there are, I gather, only 2,253 officers and 3,125 ratings in this Reserve Service. Then perhaps we might think of the Royal Marine Reserves, whose training is designed to support the commando forces. They have been doing this since October 1976; and I think there are 66 officers and 863 men. I was very glad that the University Officers' Training Corps was mentioned. Could I just say that I myself have had the benefit of knowing how well these Reserves of the Royal Navy can work. When I was helping to evacuate from Indonesia prisoners who had been imprisoned under the Japanese, except for the engineer all the officers and men were Reservists, and they were working on a very uncomfortable ship—a utility ship lent by the Americans. The work that they did among the women and the children on that ship was absolutely magnificent, and they rescued a great many of them.

My Lords, I understand that the last Minister for the Navy in the Conservative Government set up a Departmental Committee in regard to the future of the Royal Naval Reserves. I wonder whether their report has yet been published, whether it is going to be published or whether, anyhow, the Minister could let me know what is happening to it.

8.41 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to intervene in this debate which has been initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and distinguished by the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Avon. I should like to make two points which I made in the last defence debate but which seemed to be overlooked. In that debate I said: The most serious effect of the British cuts has already been automatically to brine the theatre nuclear threshold closer". [Official Report, 12/5/77, col. 420.] The Government do not seem to mind that. That is a terrible thing, to my mind. That leads to the all-Party report by the Expenditure Committee in the House of Commons, from which I quoted in that debate. It said: We are bound to report to the House that we have come to the conclusion that the cumulative effect of the cuts has been and is likely to be increasingly felt not only by the Services' support structure, itself important, but also by the frontline forces". My Lords, it could not have been put clearer, and yet the Government have not answered it. Incidentally, we have a lot of catching up to do. I reckon that 5 per cent. a year, which is the Supreme Commander's estimate, is 62 per cent. over ten years; so we are 62 per cent. behind the Russians already, and we ought to catch up at that rate.

My second point is this. In that same debate the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, said that there was no such thing as "teeth and tail". I myself was corrected by a very senior officer in the Defence Ministry when I underestimated the number of riflemen, or active fighters, in the divisions at 15,000, and I said, "40,000 administrative tail". This very senior officer corrected me and said that there were 55,000. As we were fighting Germans at the time, I think it ought to he taken seriously. Anyway, the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, said: If you cut anywhere, you cut the whole". [Official Report, 12/5/77, col. 433]. That is proved by the all-Party report of the Expenditure Committee in the House of Commons, so I think that point must be answered. My suggestion is that we ought to do these things only by agreement with NATO, and that we ought not to spring a surprise on them by saying that we are bound to do this and that for economic reasons, for financial reasons. We ought to consult NATO.

8.46 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will allow me to intervene at this rather late hour and before the winding up speeches, more especially in the rather unexpected absence of my noble friend Lord Kimberley who was going to make a speech for the Liberal Party. Perhaps your Lordships will therefore permit me first to make a few comments from the Liberal point of view on the debate which has just taken place. It seems to me that all noble Lords who have spoken—and all without exception are men of authority who know what they are talking about; they do not speak foolishly or without profound knowledge—have said that our present Reserves are totally inadequate. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, especially has said that it would be extremely difficult in any case to get them to the right spot in time. There is no doubt about it: anybody who knows anything about it thinks that that is the situation. The noble Earl, Lord Avon, in an excellent maiden speech, made essentially the same point. He said that in his view the present cuts have had their effects on the British Army of the Rhine. He spoke of reported shortages which we have discussed very often before now, and of the very low level, unfortunately, of the TAVR. To sum up, all noble Lords have said that the Reserves are insufficient and that they would not be easy to reinforce at the present moment.

My Lords, I should however like to raise just one other point of substance. In the last debate we had on this subject on 12th May the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said: The new clement that is being injected into our discussions at this point, which I find most interesting, is that for the first time I have heard that the flexible response doctrine is being challenged. It is being challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Giadwyn". [Official Report, 12/5/77, col. 444.] It was very interesting for me to hear that declaration because as a matter of fact I have indirectly, and more and more of late directly, been challenging the doctrine of flexible response in every conceivable forum: first of all in the Western European Assembly, then in the European Parliament and lately elsewhere in articles and speeches all over the place. I have never hesitated to challenge it because I think it is fundamentally wrong and is becoming increasingly incredible. We cannot get—as a matter of fact we shall not be able to get—the Reserves into the front line in sufficient time. That will become increasingly clear as time goes on; and even if we did, the Reserves are not sufficiently trained or armed to have any effect on the battle.

The only hope, in my view, is for us to build up—and I have said this time and again—a credible conventional defence in Western Germany with our allies, more particularly with the Americans, and let us hope also with the French, which with the use of modern weapons would be able to establish a line which it would be very difficult for the Russians to penetrate by conventional means, thus forcing the Russians if they want to achieve a victory—although it would hardly be a victory—to employ tactical "nukes". And they would not employ tactical "nukes" if they thought that they were going to be held up by conventional means. It is as easy as that. It is easy to understand.

Why can that not he generally accepted? It is logical, it is reasonable and it would not cost very much more if we got together on such lines. Why not? Well, reason has not much to do, I am afraid, with policy, a conclusion I have come to at my advanced age. The only things which really dictate policy are greed and fear. Reason plays a certain role, but greed prevents us having the forces which are necessary. Fear? Well, we might be able to depend on that if people thought they might be menaced by the Russians—but hardly anyone does. Détente has the field at the present time.

For that reason I have ventured to put down for July 28th an Unstarred Question addressed to the Government, asking whether they think that the flexible response doctrine is likely to be credible for much longer and, if not, what they propose to do about it. Then I hope that we shall have a debate on what the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said the other day was "a matter of enormous importance" which he would "like to discuss at length". So should I, my Lords, and I hope that all noble Lords interested will do so too, on July 28th.

8.51 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for another opportunity to hear what we hope are going to be some forthright answers from the Government to the many questions which have been put time and time again on the many defence debates. I must offer my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Avon. He has a great deal of first-hand knowledge. He has given many figures and facts and has also asked a great many questions of great import. I hope that the Government will pay deep attention to what he has said from the knowledge that he obviously has. This is not a defence debate, as such, and therefore we must try to contain some of the anger that is certainly felt throughout the whole country and the worry about the state of our Armed Forces. I must add my voice to those noble Lords who have already expressed their wish to see, occasionally, a Labour voice in defence debates. We know that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, has to reply, but once again to have no Labour Members to speak is, indeed, sad.

My Lords, we are part of NATO and our major contribution to NATO is in BAOR. We have Standing Forces and we have Reserve Forces. The problem, really, is to ensure that our resources are available at the right time. NATO is very heavily reliant upon reinforcements. The question is: will they get there? And if so, will they be in time?




My Lords, the Government know of the enormous amount of opposition to their cuts which exists on this side of the House. The cuts have reduced spares and ammunition. They have definitely reduced morale and people and, certainly, conclusively, reduced the ability of the fighting forces to do their job. They have so reduced the Regular Forces that the Reserve Forces have an increasing role. But what are they given to do it with?

There is no point here in going into the argument about how many days the war would last. This is a matter for debate by the military. The Government must look again very hard at the availability of Reserves without which BAOR cannot operate as it is required to operate. There are 101 questions which one could ask. For instance, do we really have to hire 2,000 "B" vehicles in BAOR when the balloon goes up? Will they be available anyway? Will the Northern Ireland Forces come soon enough? And what about the troops training in Canada? A great many deficiencies will certainly come to light only when battle commences. There are a great many problems like this which are not being faced by the Government.

In the early days of a war, undoubtedly, casualties will probably be heavy. I am sure that the Government will be aware of the enormous shortage of field hospitals and the terrible shortage of doctors. The doctors are so short-staffed that they can hardly cope with the families and the soldiers at the moment—without casualties and without movement problems. When will they get more doctors? What are the Government going to do about it? We have heard from several noble Lords about the few aeroplanes and boats available to transport troops. I am not suggesting that we should have enormous boats waiting in case they should be wanted to transport troops. But will they be able to do the job that we expect of them? The Reserve Forces are totally dependent on civilian transport.

So far as spares are concerned, a great deal has been said already. There are a great number of instances of spare parts and replacements not being available at all. Two of the larger ones come to mind. They are helicopter spares and tank engines. I think, too, that I should mention to the noble Lord opposite that we seem to have reached a pitch where recently, according to my information, a particular spare part for one of our military vehicles had to come from Russia. When we reach that stage it has gone too far and the risk of military problems there are too great to think about. Ammunition is very short; not only for training but, certainly, if there is any decrease in expenditure, it will be a hopeless situation. Undoubtedly, forward dumps are required. I believe that something is going on in this area; but when will it happen? How far have the Government gone in arrangements to place dumps for ammunition and fuel? It is not only spares which are short; there are too few drivers to cope with them when the action comes. I wonder how it is going to be coped with when the situation arises.

My Lords, I should like to mention again something that I raised in a defence debate: the problem of the political decision of when to call for Reserves. Have the relevant Ministers ever given enough thought? Have they been trained and exercised in this vital area so that they know when to call up Reserves? We do not want them to arrive too late. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, brought out the argument of "teeth and tail". It is a ridiculous animal that the Government have dreamed up from somewhere. There is no such animal. The cuts over the past few years have seriously affected our Forces' ability to perform the tasks for more than the briefest period. I cannot do better than to quote my honourable friend Sir Ian Gilmour when he said: There is not much point is having front line units which look strong if their weapons are not fully up to date, if they cannot be transported to the place where they are required, if they do not have enough fuel to move about when they get there, if they do not have enough spare parts to keep their equipment serviceable, or if they do not have enough ammunition to fire their weapons as often as they need. Those are the functions of the support arms, and indispensable they are. It is untrue to suggest that to cut them does not harm our contribution to NATO. Of course it does." [Official Report (Commons) col. 1345; 31/3/761] My Lords, there are serious deficiencies in the equipment and supply of our Forces which a Conservative Government will endeavour to put right as soon as they are able to do so. Meanwhile, we can only hope for reasoned and accurate answers to our questions, if not tonight than at some stage where we can all get to see them. Meanwhile, we can only hope for some improvement in the commonsense of the Government in this area and I hope that the Government will remember that the first duty of Government is to safeguard the people.

8.58 p.m.


My Lords, before I answer what I think is an exceptionally interesting debate on this Un- starred Question, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Avon, on his maiden speech. May I say that it was a model of what such a speech should be: it was informed, short and to the point. I can say that this House will be most disappointed if the noble Earl does not continue to take an interest in the defence matters which concern your Lordships' House to a great degree and in many other matters in which the noble Earl is interested.

May I say that I am pleased that the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, put down this Unstarred Question so that we are enabled to debate it. As I have said previously in our defence debates, it is a fundamental point in our defence thinking. I am grateful to him for indicating that it is a combined operation between us. Noble Lords must be aware that the Defence and External Affairs Sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee in another place—the one that conducted the inquiry which the noble Lord, Lord Newell, mentioned and which was so relevant to our problems—has conducted an inquiry into Reserves and reinforcements, the report of which is likely to be published shortly; and by that I mean in the course of two or three weeks. The Government will present their observations on the report when it appears.

This evening I am somewhat inhibited in my reply because I must not pre-empt the Government's response to what will be a very important report, which was carried out at a very high level of security clearance. It will be as important a report as the previous one on supply. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, considers that this is not the way to conduct a discussion on defence. It is the second best action we can take. The best we could do would be to have a 2½ hour mini-debate on certain elements on defence policy. Those of us who are interested in defence might consider this for some future date.


My Lords, does the noble Lord consider that if this report is forthcoming from the Committee in the other place, we might have an opportunity to debate it when we know the views of the Government on it?


My Lords, there are things called "usual channels" which we must all obey. They are responsive and if it were the feeling of the House that this would be of value, I am certain that time will be made available, possibly not before the House rises in the summer, but in not too far a distance in the future.

I should like to start by giving your Lordships a categoric assurance that our ability substantially to reinforce BAOR and also RAF Germany and to provide reinforcements of all three Services for NATO headquarters is unaffected by recent cuts both in terms of the level of reinforcement and the speed at which it can take place. Indeed, on the latter point we have achieved real improvements over the last couple of years, and studies continue. Equally our War Reserves will continue as at present to be generally in accordance with NATO's stated requirements.

As your Lordships are aware, the question of the time available for reinforcement of BAOR is closely bound up with the assessment of the threat that NATO faces. There has been widespread recent public comment on the increasing strength of the Warsaw Pact forces and the implications of this growing imbalance in conventional forces for NATO's policy of deterrence and flexible response. Perhaps most disquieting of all, is the apparent increased preparedness of the Warsaw Pact forces leading to speculation on their ability to launch a surprise attack against NATO. Your Lordships will appreciate that the intelligence assessments of these matters are highly sensitive and not something that can be discussed in public.

I should like, however, to put this into context. To begin with, there is no evidence to suggest that deterrence is yet failing, or that the Warsaw Pact is contemplating aggression against the West. Secondly, military indicators are not the sole guide to national intentions and a marked deterioration in the political climate might be expected prior to any attack. On the basis of the information available to him, General Haig, who as SACEUR is the supreme NATO operational commander in Europe, has recently reaffirmed his view that although a surprise attack cannot be ruled out, it is more likely that a period of warning will be available. This is an assessment with which we concur, although that is not to say that either we or our NATO allies are complacent. The state of readiness of the Alliance is kept continuously under review and we do, of course, maintain in Europe a substantial Army with a significant fighting capability even before reinforcement. But we are working hard to ensure that BAOR can be reinforced quickly. We have made improvements and hope to do better still.

It may be of value to your Lordships if I outline, as far as is possible in public, what our plans are. In the first place, the Government are committed to returning to Germany those units temporarily redeployed to Northern Ireland—who normally number some 4,000 personnel—within 72 hours in an emergency. Plans also exist for the early return of individuals on training or leave in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, and the effect of all these measures will be to ensure that BAOR is fully up to its peace time posted strength of some 55,000.

Before leaving the subject of units from Northern Ireland, I should also mention that the operational role in Germany of Headquarters 39 Infantry Brigade, which is located in Northern Ireland, has from the 1st April this year been taken over by the 5th Field Force, the major part of the regular element of which is located in BAOR in peace time. This is a new formation that has been created as part of the restructuring of the Army in BAOR which has concentrated on improving our numbers of front-line troops within the framework of our Brussels Treaty commitments. The effect of this change is both to enhance somewhat the readiness of BAOR, and reduce the need to withdraw troops from Northern Ireland to BAOR at a time of tension.

Moving on to the reinforcement of BAOR, my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Army has repeatedly stated in another place that it would be more than doubled in size upon mobilisation. While these reinforcements will contain an element of Regulars, they obviously contain a significant proportion of Reservists, both members of the Regular Reserves and the TAVR. The efficiency and rapid mobilisation of Reservists are therefore matters of the utmost importance. I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, has once again underlined this point. It is no good having Reserves if they are not there when the balloon goes up.

Let me first assure any noble Lords who have memories of the old Territorial Army—an admirable organisation which served the country well in two World Wars, but which was founded in a period when we went to war at a more leisurely pace—that the modern TAVR is alive and well and living at a high state of readiness. By 1st April 1978 there will be no complete operational Reserve formations (in fact at present there is only one, and the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong, 44 Parachute Brigade); TAVR units being used instead to reinforce Regular formations. That way, we believe that they will be ready to fight more quickly. The TAVR units are ready to move at very short notice; many units with a NATO role have a proportion of their equipment stockpiled in Europe—where it is inspected annually by the unit commanding officer or his representative—and there is close contact between the units and the formation commanders under whom they would come in war. Their tasks will have been reconnoitred in detail, and the complete units will train on the Continent at least once every three years. This training involves some 16,000 TAVR members travelling across every year and provides, among other things, an opportunity to exercise parts of the reinforcement machinery.

The noble Earl, Lord Avon, in a very interesting speech, raised a number of points; but he will forgive me if I mention only one in particular. We accept that some TAVR equipment is older than we should like. We have adopted in the past few years the concept of "one Army"—an integrated force of Regulars and Reservists. Under this concept, TAVR units shall be comparably equipped to Regular units with a similar role. As part of this policy, we have started delivery of the new "Fox" armoured car to the TAVR in advance of delivery to some Regular units, and it is intended that they, as well as the Regulars, will also receive the "Blowpipe" low-level air defence missile system and Milan anti-tank guided weapon system.

Noble Lords have also mentioned the question of TAVR recruitment. Over the past two years there has been a steady upward trend in recruitment. Recently the strength exceeded 60,000 for the first time: I believe the establishment is 72,000. While it is too early yet to assess the full impact of the recruiting campaign held this spring, preliminary indications are that it will give added impetus to this upward trend.

Of course, not all the Reservists we plan to use are members of the TAVR. There are also regular Reservists; that is ex-Regular soldiers who accepted a period of Reservist service as part of their regular terms of service. These men will be used principally as individual reinforcements to ensure that all units, both Regular and TAVR, are right up to strength. Although they do no training, the types of men who are posted to front-line units, so far as possible, would have left the Regular Army only comparatively recently and are therefore able to fit into the military environment. These Reservists hold documentation in peace time that tells them where to report upon call-out, and also mobilisation travel warrants to enable them to get there. Unlike members of the TAVR, they do not already possess their personal equipment but draw it before moving forward to join the units to which they are assigned.

The call-out of all Reservists, both Regular and TAVR, will be by a combination of broadcasts on radio and television, postal notices and notices in the Press, as deemed appropriate at the time. The use of postal call-out has been the subject of some misinformed comment in the Press. It is important to realise that the Ministry of Defence will not be acting in isolation, but rather that it forms a part of an integrated crisis management system in which principal decisions will be taken by the Government and measures co-ordinated centrally. The recall of Reservists should be seen within this framework. Without going into detail, I can assure noble Lords that, depending on the circumstances at the time, use is expected to be made both of the news media and of special arrangements that exist to ensure the rapid delivery of postal call-out notices.

Finally, the crux of the matter must be our ability to ensure that the planned reinforcements for BAOR can be transported there with sufficient speed to ensure their timely arrival. This is the very essence, without which no amount of training or call-out planning will be of any avail. Noble Lords will be aware that purely military transport resources will not be sufficient to meet this task, and that civil resources will also be employed. It is always a matter of surprise to me that such an arrangement meets with criticism. After all, it is the method that we used with complete success to transport our Forces to the Continent in 1914 and in 1939. The size of the task and the speed with which it must be accomplished would necessitate an inordinately large expenditure on transport equipment alone, were it the intention to use solely military ships and aircraft; this could not but be to the detriment of the Forces themselves. Presumably, the criticism of the use of civil resources springs from a belief either that they will not be available at the time or that they will be available only after protracted negotiations or Parliamentary activity.

That is a fear which I myself have shared, as some of your Lordships will know. Quite simply, it is not the case. The plans, which are based on a worst-case assessment of the numbers of ships and aircraft required, envisage the use of both independent operators and the nationalised industries, in addition to military resources. In the first case, dormant contracts or letters of agreement have been or are being negotiated. The two major nationalised industries involved are British Airways and the Sealink Division of British Rail, which is a major operator of cross-Channel roll on/roll off ferries. No legislative or other Parliamentary action is required to place those organisations at the disposal of the Government, provision for this being embodied within existing Statutes. All that is required is a Cabinet decision, followed by the necessary executive action.


My Lords, may I ask a question of the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom? Do the measures he has described in some detail amount to what General Haig asked for in April in Paris, that is, an increase, a regular annual increase, of 5 per cent. in NATO?


My Lords, I think that this is an entirely different point. We have certain Reserve Forces in existence; we have to get them to agreed positions in Western Europe at a time of crisis, and the question is: Have we the transport rescources to get them there? This is a different point from increasing our contribution. It is a question of how we get our existing contribution to the location where it will be required in Germany and the Central Front. I am now satisfied that the transport resources are available to get them there, without legislation and simply upon the basis of a Cabinet decision.

In the course of the discussion, the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, and the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, raised the question of what forces will remain upon mobilisation within the United Kingdom. I am unwilling to go into detail on this, but I assure your Lordships that substantial forces, both Regular and TAVR, will remain in all districts. Indeed, this year's White Paper mentioned the recreation of a new formation, the 8th Field Force, containing both Regular and TAVR units with a specific rôle of home defence. This formation came into existence and raised its flag in South-West District on 1st April this year.

To summarise, I assure your Lordships that there will be no cut in the size of our Reserve Forces as a result of recent cuts in defence expenditure—indeed, as I have indicated, we hope that they will increase in size—that the cuts will in no way impair our ability to provide effective and timely reinforcement to BAOR, and that our holdings of key stocks will continue to be generally in accordance with NATO's stated requirements. Of course, at the end of the day, we all know that everything depends on a timely decision by the Government of the day to order mobilisation. This is part of the business of training Governments to act. But assure noble Lords that, if it has to be done, this Government will do it.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he can give an undertaking to answer many of the questions that remain unanswered and which are not affected by the two to three weeks' delay in the coming out of this Paper.


My Lords, I will, as usual, carefully study the discussion and, where necessary, will send written answers. I am thinking particularly of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and for the benefit of the record, will he answer my question about the military port of Marchwood?


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl. I forgot that this was an important element in this defence debate. The position is that in the debate some weeks ago the noble Earl questioned whether the commencement of the proposed redevelopment of the military port cannot be advanced from 1980–85, as presently planned. My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army has said in another place that this is part of a complex plan, which has to be considered on both operational and economic grounds. Though we are pressing ahead with planning for the redevelopment, the issue has not yet been resolved; it is still, to use a cliché, actively under consideration and there is nothing that I can usefully add at this stage, except to say that the cost is considerable and would have to be justified in operational terms.