HL Deb 23 July 1991 vol 531 cc665-80

3.58 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Minisiry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on the restructuring of the Army. The Statement is as follows:

'For more than 40 years the British Army has stood in the front line in Europe with our NATO allies. For more than 40 years we have had to maintain, even in peacetime, very substantial force levels on the Continent of Europe against the risk of a massive surprise attack across a wide front by the huge military strength of the Warsaw Pact. But suddenly, after all these years of confrontation, the Warsaw Pact has collapsed; East Germany is no more; and Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and? thus all seek closer links with the West. Only last week in London at the G7 Summit, President Gorbachev came not as an adversary but in search of support for his economic reforms.

"Nonetheless, tensions and risks remain and the Soviet Union is still the largest military power in Europe. That underlines the importance of maintaining the NATO Alliance.

"NATO's strategy for the Cold War was built on deterrence and strong defence. NATO's new strategy is to sustain these policies that have served us so well, but to achieve them within lower levels of forces, which will be more flexible and mobile.

"NATO's decisions in May opened the way for us to make changes to our own force structure. Since the greatest threat previously came in the central region in Europe, it was on Germany that the major part of our Army was focused and it from this area that the largest part of our reductions now comes.

"NATO decided in May that the UK should join and lead the new multinational rapid reaction corps. This challenging role is welcomed by the Army and well suited to our all-volunteer professional forces. In addition to providing the commander and a significant proportion of the headquarters, we shall also be providing some corps troops, a powerful armoured division based in Germany, a more flexible, mechanised division based in the UK and a strong air-mobile brigade based in a separate multinational division.

"This NATO decision was the essential component in deciding the future strength of the Army and enabled me to announce on 4th June that by the mid-1990's the strength of the Army would be 116,000. In deciding this, we also took account of our needs for the direct defence of the United Kingdom; for responsibilities overseas in our dependent territories and elsewhere; and to help the Royal Ulster Constabulary to uphold the law in Northern Ireland. It was then possible to start consulting widely within the Army on how the restructuring should be achieved. I would now like to report to the House on the outcome of this consultation.

"I turn first to the supporting corps, often less noticed but playing a vital role in the fighting effectiveness of our Army. We have already announced our plans covering personnel and administration. We will be bringing together in a new Adjutant General's Corps the Royal Army Pay Corps, the Womens Royal Army Corps, the Royal Military Police, the Military Provost Staff Corps, the Royal Army Education Corps and the Army Legal Corps.

"We now intend to concentrate the support functions into two new corps. The first, for service support, will comprise much of the existing Royal Corps of Transport, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, the Royal Pioneer Corps and the Army Catering Corps, and will handle all aspects for keeping combat forces supplied in the field. The second, responsible for equipment support, will he centred upon the existing Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. The effect of these changes will be to reduce the number of support corps from 18 to 10.

"There are ten army districts in the United Kingdom each commanded by a general. This number will be significantly reduced; as a first step, a new combined Wales and Western District will form in September replacing three existing districts. We shall also rationalise the Army's training organisation, concentrating training on a much smaller number of larger and more efficient establishments.

"We are anxious to manage this reduction of more than 40,000 in the Army over the next four years in the most considerate and fair manner. Most of the reductions will be achieved by natural turnover, but there will be significant redundancies particularly affecting middle rank officers and senior NCOs. As far as possible, we shall seek voluntary redundancies but some may need to be compulsory if we are to maintain a proper balance of ages, ranks and skills in the Army for the 90s. The normal redundancy terms will apply; all those leaving the Army will have access to full resettlement assistance. My honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces is giving details of redundancies in the other services in a separate Written Answer today.

"I turn now to a subject that concerns both those leaving and those continuing to serve in the Army. Under this Government there has, over the last decade, been a major extension of home ownership, including new forms of co-ownership and part-ownership, made available through new organisations in the voluntary housing sector. These developments have not been matched by new opportunities for service personnel. The proportion of home owners in the Army is on the whole low. We intend to make comparable changes in the housing opportunities open to servicemen and women, and to bring service housing policy up to date with developments in the community.

"This Government have always ensured that service personnel are properly rewarded for the work they do. We also wish servicemen and women to have the best possible insurance cover for serious injury as well as death, off duty as well as on, and we are planning new initiatives to bring such arrangements within the reach of all our services.

"I turn now to reserves. Our volunteer and other reserves will continue to make a vital contribution to our defence effort. They, too, will need to adapt to changes in the Army as a whole and have regard to how many they can realistically expect to recruit and retain, given the unfavourable demographic trends. We have taken no final decisions on the Territorial Army, and we do not wish to turn away willing volunteers, but we envisage that the long-term future strength will settle at between 60,000 and 65,000 against 75,000 today. We are studying the best mix of regulars and reserves and we are consulting with the Territorial Army associations. I hope to make further announcements on the way ahead for the TA later this year.

"Turning to the changes in front line forces. I deal first with the particular issue of the Gurkhas. In May 1989, my right honourable friend the Member for Ayr announced the plan to retain some 4,000 Gurkhas following withdrawal from Hong Kong. But he also made clear that it might be necessary to reconsider this if circumstances changed, such as the size of the British Army as a whole. This is now the position and we have reviewed our plans for the brigade along with those for the rest of the Army. The Gurkhas play an important role in Hong Kong and Brunei. We intend to retain Gurkhas within the British Army after 1997; but we believe, subject again to any major change in circumstances, that a smaller force of around 2,500 based on two infantry battalions and support units would be more appropriate. As a first step, two battalions will amalgamate in 1992.

"Reductions in the combat arms will reflect the needs of the new force structure. There will, for example, be no change to the present number of six Army Air Corps regiments, reflecting the increased importance of the armed helicopter on the future battlefield. By the mid-1990s there will be 11 armoured or armoured reconnaissance regiments compared with 19 today. The Army will reduce from 50 United Kingdom and five Gurkha infantry battalions to 46 and four respectively by the end of 1992 and progressively thereafter until, by 1997, there will be a total of 38 battalions of which two will be Gurkha. Together with the three Royal Marine Commandos we shall then have available a total of 41 infantry roled units.

"The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment will remain unchanged and the Life Guards and The Blues and Royals will form a combined armoured reconnaissance regiment retaining their separate identities. In the Royal Armoured Corps, the Queen's Dragoon Guards, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the 9/12th Royal Lancers will he unaffected. The six regiments of Hussars will amalgamate to form three regiments, the two regiments of Lancers will amalgamate and the four Royal Tank Regiments will amalgamate to form two regiments. The Royal Regiment of Artillery will reduce from 22 regiments to 16, the Corps of Royal Engineers will reduce from 15 regiments to 10 and the Royal Corps of Signals will reduce from 15 regiments to 11.

"Turning to the infantry, we plan to make changes over the next four years as follows. In accordance with precedent, the second battalion of each of the Grenadier, Coldstream and Scots Guards will be placed in suspended animation. The Irish and Welsh Guards are not affected. The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Royal Anglian Regiment, the Light Infantry and the Royal Green Jackets will all reduce from three battalions to two. The Queen's Regiment will amalgamate with the Royal Hampshire Regiment and form a regiment of two battalions. The Parachute Regiment is unchanged.

'Within the Prince of Wales's Division recruiting from Wales, the Midlands and the West Country, the Cheshire Regiment will amalgamate with the Staffordshire Regiment; and The Gloucestershire Regiment with the Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment.

"The following will be unaffected: the Devonshire and Dorset Regiment; the Royal Welch Fusiliers; the Royal Regiment of Wales; and the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment.

"In Scotland, the Queen's Own Highlanders and the Gordon Highlanders will amalgamate, as will the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers. The Royal Highland Fusiliers, the Black Watch, and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are unchanged.

"In the King's Division we are taking the opportunity to bring the Ulster Defence Regiment more fully into the Army by merging it with the Royal Irish Rangers. The new regiment will comprise one battalion for worldwide service and up to seven battalions for service in Northern Ireland only; its likely title is the Royal Irish Regiment.

"In the remainder of the King's Division covering the North of England, the King's Own Royal Border Regiment, the King's Regiment, the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire, the Green Howards, the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, and the Duke of Wellington's Regiment are unchanged.

"The restructuring of the Army along the lines I have described has inevitably required painful choices and difficult decisions. While there are no actual disbandments in the armoured or infantry regiments, nonetheless I recognise that there will be sadness at the amalgamations and at the possible loss of some famous names. Everyone who recognises the great benefits that flow from regimental loyalty and tradition understands that, but also understands that, as with amalgamations in the past, that same spirit is carried forward into the reformed regiments. That has been the strength of the regimental system which we are determined to maintain.

"The Army which emerges in the mid-1990s will meet the challenges for the next century. It will have a new and demanding role. It will be fully manned. It will be properly supported, and it will be well equipped. I am in no doubt that it will continue to offer an attractive career to the high quality young men and women who have served us so well in the pass and whom we shall continue to need in the future. I commend my Statement to the House". My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.13 p m.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, the House is grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State. I have to tell the Minister that I find the contents of the Statement profoundly disturbing. I do not know, and I have asked the Minister on previous occasions, how the figure for the number of troops and battalions in the Army has been arrived at. What magic calculation has led to the Statement today? It seems to us that the strategic problems outlined in the White Paper which the Statement introduces cannot be met by an Army of 116,000 men.

It may be that our strategic requirements are less than the White Paper says, and there may be extenuating circumstances. But we cannot see how the number of battalions and troops that the Minister suggests will meet our strategic commitments, as the Government outline them in their White Paper.

Will the Minister clarify the assistance that the Government propose to give to those who are made redundant? In the White Paper the expression used is, "We will be considerate"; in the Statement, the Minister said: Most of the reductions will be achieved by natural turnover, but there will be significant redundancies particularly affecting middle rank officers and senior NCOs". Those are people in the middle of their lives. They have served Queen and country well. It is no good merely being considerate. There must be some clear arrangement for ensuring that if there are redundancies there will be proper compensation and support from Her Majesty's Government to ensure that those faithful soldiers will be able properly to integrate into civilian life. Nothing else will do.

My next question to the Minister is about the reserves. I understand that he will make a Statement about the reserves. It is our belief that, although no final decisions have been taken on the Territorial Army, if we are ever again to put an Army on the ground against a European threat, we need a proper emergency reserve. That cannot be done by having 65-odd thousand people turning up for the occasional weekend. It must be done in a professional manner in the Army—and if I may say so, in the RAF and the Navy. I hope that the Minister will take seriously the future of the Territorial Army and the reserves because that is the only way, and it is a cheap way, of ensuring that, at short notice, we can put armies on the ground in strength. The Americans do it; the Australians do it; why should not we do it?

The Minister reflected on the Army. I have no wish to go into the allocation of regiments and regimental amalgamations that he announced. I am sure that many noble Lords will comment upon them. But it seems odd—I speak as one who was a subaltern in a regiment that was amalgamated—that we can just amalgamate regiments, apparently without serious regard to the local loyalties that they inspire.

Perhaps I may put in a plea for Wales. I am glad that the Royal Welch Fusiliers has been preserved. On the other hand, I have to tell the Minister that in the White Paper—not the Statement—the Government announce that in the new districts: As a first step, Wales, Western and North West Districts will form a new Wales and Western District in September. The new District will be commanded from Shrewsbury". Does the Minister have any idea what offence that will give to the Principality? Has anyone consulted anyone in Wales on that? Scotland will remain a district in its own right, although I understand that it will be downgraded a grade from Lieutenant General to Major General; but Wales is merely to be subsumed into Shropshire so far as defence is concerned.

The Statement does not say much about civilian employees, but the White Paper does. Again, many people will be put out of work at a time of high unemployment with no clear idea of what their future career will be. The Government should take that much more seriously.

I have a residual worry—no doubt others of my noble friends will take up the issue—about the amalgamation of the Ulster Defence Regiment with the Royal Irish Rangers, but that is something upon which I shall not concentrate. In the Statement, the Government have, in a sense, given Parliament a challenge. The strategic criteria are laid out in the White Paper—I am sorry that the noble Lord the Leader of the House does not feel that this matter is interesting enough for him to stay—and I believe that the Government need to justify the numbers that they propose.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, in the light of the extraordinary changes that have taken place in Europe in recent years, the scale of the reductions in the Army proposed by the Government seems reasonable enough. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, it is true that the number of commitments remains the same. However, the big commitment and by far the most important military commitment we had in Europe and Germany is now only a shadow of what it used to be. In my view, the Government would have been very much to blame if they had not adapted to the new situation and adjusted the Army to meet the situation that now exists.

The proposed reduction was agreed by NATO in line with the NATO conference in May. Those who believe that the reduction is reasonable enough cannot fairly object to each individual proposed cut. I do not wish now to go into the detail of what was announced by the noble Earl. We shall examine the proposed changes with great care. We regret that the Recess is upon us. It was a fortunate coincidence for the Government that the long, difficult and politically dangerous task of sorting out the cuts should come to fruition just two days before the Recess. However, when we return we shall no doubt have a great number of questions to ask about the detail of the Statement and in particular about the amalgamation of the regiments.

One point that we can make straightaway about the Statement is that we should have expected a long and clear explanation of the criteria used by the Government in amalgamating or ending the lives of the regiments. What were they? Is morale a factor? Is the record of recruitment a factor? Is the record of retaining servicemen in the regiment a factor? Is fighting efficiency a factor? I may have missed all that in the noble Earl's Statement, but I saw no reference whatever to the criteria used in reaching these decisions. That makes one a little suspicious that the Government have been responsive to pressure rather than deciding what needed to be done and then firmly imposing the best solution from the Army's view.

We were told little about the procedures used by the Government in reaching the decisions. We should have liked to know more about them. Another point puzzles me about the number of battalions remaining —38. Previously it was 36. What does that mean? Since the manpower total is the same, does it mean diluting the manpower of the battalions? Perhaps the noble Earl will explain.

One good feature is the advancing of the concept of the multinational formation. On these Benches we warmly welcome it. We believe that it can go further, especially with multinational formations of the countries of the Western European Union.

One point which applies to all the Options for Change statements is the lack of any distinction between those commitments such as the Falklands which we might have to handle on our own and the other commitments which we know we shall only undertake with the support of allies. In military planning to decide the nature and structure of the Army one would have expected that distinction to be clearly made. I see no sign that it is made either in the Statement or in Options for Change.

However, I do not wish to end on too critical a note. On these Benches we are glad that the Government have not been pushed off their manpower targets by the heavy pressures put upon them from various sources.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I should straightaway make it quite clear to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the noble Lord the Leader of the House was forced to go to a Select Committee meeting. He in no way intended any disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, nor to your Lordships' House. It was a matter of urgency for him to leave at that moment.

I shall deal first with some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised and, secondly, with those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. The former was concerned that we did not have sufficient troops both for our requirements for commitments abroad and for the defence of the country. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that we are completely satisfied that there are sufficient infantry battalions in the proposed force structure to provide an appropriate balanced commitment to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and to the defence of the United Kingdom and our overseas garrisons.

I am sure that very much in your Lordships' minds will be the point that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, quite rightly brought up on redundancy and pension schemes and how they are to work, since there may have to be some compulsory redundancies in the future. Much of the reduction will, we hope, come from natural wastage, but there will be a requirement for a substantial redundancy programme among officers and NCOs to ensure the balanced structure of age, ranks and skills.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the noble Earl tell me, as a matter of clarification, what "substantial" means in this context? What are the numbers involved?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will allow me, I shall reach that point later and will clarify it. The precise numbers will depend on many factors but are likely to be in excess of 10,000 between now and the mid-1990s. Volunteers for redundancy will he sought, but compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out. It is not expected that British personnel with less than 12 years' service will be made redundant. The financial terms will be similar to those in all previous service redundancy schemes since 1975. They will provide immediate pension and capital payments. Of course, in addition, resettlement support will be provided and a careful eye will be kept on it in order to see that integrity, honour and decency are put forward on both redundancy schemes and resettlement schemes of the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, asked about the territorial reserves. All our volunteer reserves will continue, as they always have done in the past, to make a vital contribution to our defence effort. However, they too will need to adapt to the changed commitments of the Army. Some TA units will be part of the ARRC while others will take over responsibility for direct defence of the United Kingdom from regular units. We must also have regard to the numbers we can realistically recruit and retain, given demographic trends which affect them as much as their regular counterparts.

Although no final decisions have yet been taken on the future role, organisation or size of the TA, as I stated in the Statement we would not wish to turn away willing volunteers. We envisage that the long-term future strength will settle at between 60,000 and 65,000, compared with 75,000 today. We have set in hand a study of how best to balance a mix of regular and reserve manpower in the new force structure. Consultations will now take place with TAVRAs and others We hope to make a further announcement towards the end of the year.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, commented upon a few aspects of the Statement and certain anxieties that he had. He was particularly concerned about the restructuring of the Army. Under the new structure, the Army will reduce progressively from 50 United Kingdom and five Gurkha infantry battalions today to 46 United Kingdom and four Gurkha battalions by the end of 1992. Then it will reduce to 36 and three by 1995. There will be a reduction of one further Gurkha battalion by 1997, following its withdrawal from Hong Kong. Together with the three Royal Marine Commandos, we will then have available a total of 41 infantry roled units. By the mid-1990s there will be 11 armoured or armoured reconnaissance regiments, compared with today.

The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, also asked what was the rationale behind all this. How and why was it done? The answer is that it was done with extreme care and great understanding by the Army Board. A wide range of factors was taken into account, including past and present manning considerations; future recruiting projections; the history of amalgamations; the need to maintain representation across the country; future accommodation, deployment and equipment plans and views expressed during the consultation process.

Given the scale of the reductions, difficult decisions and painful choices have had to be made. The outcome represents the collective judgment of the whole Army Board as regards what is best for the Army. We recognise that, inevitably, there will be those who will disagree and wish that different decisions had been taken. But those are the criteria and the rationale upon which the future manning of the regiments was based. I hope that answers some of the questions that have been raised.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating this important Statement. I welcome the Statement if for no other reason than that, defence expenditure having already declined by some 11 per cent. over the past five years, while commitments, force structure and spending have remained largely unchanged and in certain areas have had to be increased, decisions on Options for Change were most urgently needed if the defence programme was not to get even more out of alignment than it already was and thus leave itself open to the Treasury imposing arbitrary "salami" cuts of the most illogical kind without a proper strategic basis from which to argue the case.

This review was therefore highly appropriate and some of the force level reductions now announced by the Minister were bound to be necessary, whatever strategic rethinking took place, just to get the defence programme into better balance and correct the mismatch. So my first reaction is one of relief that the nettle has been grasped. Indeed there are certain points in the Statement which I warmly applaud, for example the improved housing opportunities for servicemen and women—that is long overdue—the need not to turn away willing volunteers from the Territorial Army, the need to keep the third battalion of the Parachute Regiment and the need to rationalise the logistic corps.

However, in this still dangerous and uncertain world it is essential for our national security that all the decisions now announced, which have been taken either in whole or in part—there are still many details to be filled in—are the right ones on the periphery as well as centrally, with the Government seen to be giving a clear lead on what they now require the armed forces to do and, just as importantly, what they are now prepared that the armed forces should no longer do, and providing the force structure and the resources to make that strategy possible.

Some cynics may say that that is a Utopian world, but that is what ought to happen. I have to say that neither the Statement nor the White Paper—leaving aside the rhetoric —offer much prospect that, with resources continuing to fall so sharply in real terms, and commitments other than the forward defence in Germany and Berlin staying virtually the same for the immediate future, there will not still be a debilitating mismatch with now the added disadvantage—the point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams —that there will probably not be quite enough men and units in the Army to perform the tasks and commitments which have little to do with the Russian threat, or the absence of it, but which occur every day of the week from Belize to Hong Kong and from Northern Ireland to the Falklands.

Time alone will show how much damage has been done to the spirit and the effectiveness of the armed forces. Presumably, after this hotch-potch of amalgamations, some people will be a good deal happier than others. But in any case the debate after your Lordships' House reassembles will be the proper time to pry into the more suspect and vulnerable areas of Options for Change right across the board, including the indescribable organisational muddle that the infantry seems to have got itself into. But that is beside the way.

At this stage I wish to ask the Minister two questions confined largely to the Army. The first follows on from what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said. Is the Minister really confident that the British Army will be left with enough units at a proper establishment to carry out its everyday commitments in a professional way without undue overstretch? Secondly, can the Minister give an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and myself that the two extra infantry battalions—they are extra, over and above the much bandied around figure of 36—which, for whatever reason, whether military, because of concern about overstretch, or political, the Government are now prepared to retain, will be backed by the necessary manpower and finance? If that is not the case, it will merely mean that the remaining units will be even weaker than they are now, or the rest of the tightly drawn-up programme will be seriously unbalanced across the board.

Finally, does the Minister really believe that, with a level of resources pegged over a year ago, before the Gulf War and before it was known how NATO strategy, force structures and our part in them were to be revised and whether or not we were to retain a general war capability—both points now answered by the requirement for a rapid reaction force—and with only 116,000 men, when as far as I know the professional advice has never deviated from the figure of 120,000, the Government can deliver the rhetoric that is expressed in chapter 4 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates? That rhetoric states unambiguously what the Government wish to do. I hope your Lordships' House will bear with me while I read from page 40 of volume 1 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates. It states that, the requirement remains for armed forces that are properly manned, supported and well equipped. They should be able to engage in high-intensity conflict". The White Paper also states that the armed forces must be modern, sophisticated and versatile, capable of rapid deployment to respond to a wide spectrum of possible changes away from Europe and, should retain the organisation, skills and military technology to permit a rebuilding of larger military capabilities to meet an increased threat should the need arise". Does the Minister really believe that the armed forces can do all that, operationally and logistically, and cover all the restated commitments of today with a defence budget that will decline by 6 per cent. over the next two to three years for starters? As I have said, the professional advice has always been that the armed forces should be much stronger. Until those questions can be answered positively and with conviction, the anxiety must remain that despite our unique commitments in Europe and the exemplary record of the armed forces in peace and war, with many chestnuts pulled out of the fire, we shall end up with smaller armed forces which are equally underfunded and even more overstretched. That is scant reward for the past and augurs ill for the future.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I say straightaway to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that unless we thought that we were fully equipped and properly manned and could carry out our current requirements in this country and Germany and our other out-of-area requirements, we would not have introduced this Statement to your Lordships' House. I can certainly say that the 38 battalions will be properly manned, properly equipped and properly financed. It is extremely important that your Lordships understand and appreciate that fact. We are satisfied that there is sufficient capacity within the infantry, the Royal Marines and other sectors to meet the full range of peacetime operational commitments, while permitting training in wartime roles and meeting the readiness requirements of the ARRC.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred to housing. He asked about the arrangements that were being made for housing ex-servicemen. I stress that we expect the majority of those taking redundancy will be in a position to make firm arrangements for their future housing needs. We shall assist those who experience difficulties in a number of ways including giving them priority should they wish to buy married quarters under the discount scheme. We shall give sympathetic consideration to those who will lose their entitlement to service quarters as a result of redundancy. The resettlement package will include advice on how to set about the matter of housing and how to put redundancy payments and pensions to best use in this regard. Where possible we shall make available to housing associations some surplus property to provide short-term help to those personnel in severe housing need.

As regards the remaining points raised by the noble and gallant Lord, of course the Government understand the pain and grief that will be felt among the armed forces as a result of some of the decisions which have been made today. But it is extremely important that, in spite of these painful and difficult decisions, once regiments have sorted themselves out, the very high morale that has always existed in the British Army will return once again.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that many of us who have had great loyalties to the Army in the past now have great feelings of sadness for much that is likely to happen, albeit understandably? I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to understand that his somewhat overt party political approach did a great deal to hurt people like myself who do not like being hurt in that way row. I do not feel it is in the sort of traditions I should like to see.

Given, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall said, that commitments and resources are dangerously balanced, will my noble friend make certain that when we debate this matter in the autumn, as I trust we shall, he, his right honourable friend and the Government will be prepared to consider carefully, and will not have a totally closed mind towards some of the considerations which will inevitably be put forward as a result of the Statement.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, as my noble friend said, there will certainly be a chance to debate this matter in your Lordships' House, I think on the Wednesday when we return from the Recess. As regards the considerations that my noble friend has asked for, I shall certainly pass those remarks, and indeed other remarks that your Lordships may make today. to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, while accepting that there must be substantial reductions, I wonder whether it would not have been better if the cart had been put before the horse and if we had had a clear statement on the reduction of commitments before the reduction of the manpower to match them. It will be in the recollection of the House that the Army has been greatly stretched over the last 30 years. Every time there has been a crisis, whether in Aden in the 1960s, Northern Ireland in the 1970s, or recently in the Gulf, the necessary forces to meet the commitment have had to be brought out of Germany in default of our treaty commitment to maintain a force of 55,000 troops there. That has been practical and it has had to be done many times. However, in the new context of an ever ready reaction force, I imagine that it will not be possible to take a battalion here and there whenever one feels like it.

As regards the infantry, I hope we can have an assurance from the Government that they will not seek to make good their numbers, matching the number of battalions, by reducing the establishment of those battalions. My experience in the 1970s was that allowing, as one must, for people being sick, on leave or going on courses, no battalion when I took office in 1976 was really in a fit state to go to war had it had to. I found a very urgent need to increase the establishment of the Army to make up that deficiency. I hope that we can have an assurance that the establishment of the individual battalions will be as important as maintaining the numbers that are given.

It is some satisfaction that my own regiment, the Worcestershire Regiment, having already merged satisfactorily with the Sherwood Foresters (usually it is the older members of the battalion who make the trouble rather than those serving), has been kept. But it is important that we seek to clarify our commitments before we cut further into the forces.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, we have carefully planned the strategy of our world requirements and military presence. I refute any suggestion that this was resource driven. It was certainly not.

At the same time, the noble Lord makes a very good point. From the point of view of the full manning of the battalions, one of the reasons for having fewer battalions is that whereas they have not been fully manned hitherto, and many of them have been under strength, in the future we hope they will be fully manned and therefore able to play a much more effective part.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, we must recognise both the changing circumstances of our time and the fact that the need for our armed forces on the vast scale no longer exists. But, as I have done before, I urge the Government not to cut too far and too fast. Professional servicemen are not trained overnight. Therefore, I appreciate the statement that there will be a four-year programme to achieve the cuts.

As one who had to undertake that painful task way back in 1975 on a similar scale, I have in mind that cutting our defence requirements—a measure affecting the security of the realm must be done with full consultation and with the utmost caution and sensitivity. In that regard, the welfare of those who are to be demobbed should be at the top of the scale, whether it concerns housing, pensions or finding them jobs.

There are three matters that I must raise. First, there should be a determined effort to cut administrative and military staff at the top which is in need of vigorous pruning. Secondly, to be fair to the Army's cutting edge—the teeth units which are to be adversely affected—the units and forces of pomp and circumstance should likewise be reduced. They have not been touched at all. Thirdly, I urge the Government to maintain the strength of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve. When the professional Army is being cut the reserve arm must not be weakened. Indeed, I believe it should be strengthened. If we had played a bigger part in the Gulf War the Terriers would have been required. They were trained and ready. The Americans recognised the value of their reserves on that occasion. So let us maintain substantial reserve forces.

Finally, I hope the House can be assured that we shall have sufficient professional servicemen, adequately equipped with both conventional and nuclear weapons, to play a prominent role within to stave off any new threat that may emerge as a result of the unsettled state of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think I can satisfy the noble Lord on all those points. Certainly, he is right to mention the welfare considerations. I hope that I have given your Lordships some notification and some idea of where we think those particular considerations will fall, particularly with regard to redundancies and housing.

If I can go further and reply to the noble Lord about the programme that we have already set out, next month in August the Defence Council instruction will be issued to the Army inviting volunteers, setting out the terms of the redundancy scheme and giving notice that any shortfall will be made up by compulsory redundancies. During the winter applications will be sifted, and in March of next year redundancy notices will be issued and appeals will be sifted. April next year will be the first opportunity for volunteers to leave, and between September of next year and March the following year, 1993, the main period of redundancy exits will take place.

The noble Lord raised a point concerning the support areas from the point of view of cutting similarly from teeth to tail. What he said is very important. From the point of view of support we are cutting approximately 20 per cent. from teeth to tail, but at the same time we have to be careful about cutting support too much, for we must remember that support is extremely important from the point of view of supply of the front lines in war and at every other time.

Lord Alport

My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question for information. Can my noble friend confirm that the headquarters of Eastern District will remain in Colchester?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, no decisions have yet been taken on that matter.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us are grateful for the rethinking that has taken place between the publication of the White Paper and today's Statement? Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that there are many people in Wales who are even more grateful than I am for that rethinking. However, is the Minister aware that there are still suspicions among knowledgeable people that resource pressures have been given a disproportionately higher priority than political considerations as to the kind of armed forces that this country will need in the 1990s? As the Minister will be aware, there are many people in the armed forces who believe, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said, that, as a result of that, our armed forces are now not large enough to discharge the commitments with which they will be confronted. As other noble Lords have said, I hope that we can return to this matter after the Recess.

Finally, I hope that the words that have been addressed to the Minister on the subject of the 40,000 men and women who are about to become redundant from the armed forces will be given very special attention. This is not simply a question of another resettlement plan. It is not a question of a marginal increase in the number of unemployed. It is a special case which happens only once in the lifetime of a serviceman or servicewoman and I hope that special attention will be given to their future.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government take seriously those final remarks of the noble Lord. As regards his other remarks, we shall have a chance to debate those matters in the debate in October.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am sorry—

Lord Coeks of Harteliffe

My Lords, I should have thought that the Deputy Chief Whip would not wish to intervene in a matter of such national importance at this stage.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am sorry, but your Lordships have agreed a time limit of 20 minutes for discussions after Statements. We are now in the 21st minute. We could make exceptions, but if we did so on this important Statement I think that the House would be making a mistake. I suggest that we proceed to the next Statement. I remind your Lordships that we shall have a debate on the White Paper when we return after the recess.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will excuse me. I must support the Deputy Chief Whip. The Procedure Committee has approved a time limit of 20 minutes after the Front Bench spokesmen have sat down. We must observe that rule.