Army (Strength)

Oral Answers to Questions — Ministry of Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th November 1960.

Alert me about debates like this

Mr. B. Harrison:

asked the Minister of Defence whether he now intends to reduce the number of units in the British Army; and what commitments he intends relinquishing.

Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West

asked the Minister of Defence what commitments overseas will have to be curtailed, or abandoned, as a consequence of the failure to achieve or maintain a total manpower in the Forces in excess of 165,000.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

asked the Minister of Defence what oversea commitments he intends to abandon, in view of the fact that the Regular Army will not exceed 165,000 all ranks.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

No further reductions in the number of Army units is intended. As regards commitments, the 165,000 force has been planned to meet those foreseen after 1962, and I see no reason to believe that it will not do so.

Mr. Harrison:

Does my right hon. Friend agree that about 182,000 troops will be necessary to fill up the Army as outlined in the White Paper in July 1957, when there were approximately 60 battalions and ancillary troops?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The guiding White Paper in this matter is the 1959 one, which set out quite clearly the position and said that the minimum numbers required were 165,000. It said that that was the floor, but it was hoped—and I am still confident about it—that we could rise above that, to a ceiling of around 182,000.

Photo of Mr Donald Wade Mr Donald Wade , Huddersfield West

If the figure falls to 165,000, is the Minister prepared to give an assurance that Britain can nevertheless maintain her commitments both in Europe and elsewhere overseas?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

In my original Answer, which the hon. Member may not have heard, I said that this force was planned to meet commitments as foreseen after 1962. We have to remember that by then civilianisation will have been completed and certain overseas commitments may have changed.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

If the Minister now foresees a force of 180,000, and is still hoping for it, what did he mean on 4th November when, at Devizes, he said: While the Army might prefer 170,000 or 180,000, a total of 165,000 will be sufficient to meet our world commitments and we shall have to manage."?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for asking that question. In fact, I was answering a question at Devizes. The questioner quite properly asked whether present recruiting figures would not force a return to National Service. I said, "No", because the minimum target of 165,000 was still clearly in sight, and if we had to we would manage it. But I made it quite plain that 170,000 or 180,000 was still the figure that the Army would like and, as I have said this afternoon, it is one that I hope it will obtain.

Photo of Mr Marcus Lipton Mr Marcus Lipton , Lambeth Brixton

Is it not quite irresponsible on the part of the Minister to expect a diminishing number of men to shoulder the same burden of foreseen commitments and, possibly, some commitments which we cannot at the moment foresee? The right hon. Gentleman's policy makes sense only if the major rôle of the Army is to be potato picking, or he is going to sell some of our commitments to Detroit.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The hon. Member did not listen to my original Answer. This is not a new thing. It was clearly foreshadowed in the 1957 White Paper, and reaffirmed in the 1959 White Paper, that there is no change in the general plan. As I have said, a most careful and detailed examination took place before this figure was set as being a realistic floor on which the Army, if it had to, could meet its commitments.

Photo of Sir John Hall Sir John Hall , Wycombe

If the strength of an all-Regular Army does not exceed 165,000, is the Minister quite sure that he will be able to maintain the existing commitments, including the commitment of 55,000 to the N.A.T.O. forces, without either reducing the number of units or, alternatively, reducing the strength of units for operational efficiency?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

That is quite a different matter. I think it arises on a later Question.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Does it not arise out of the Minister's previous answer? He said that, in deciding that this number was enough, account had been taken of the fact that civilianisation would have gone further and that commitments after 1962 might change. May we, therefore, press the right hon. Gentleman to tell us which commitments he has assumed will change and which commitments he assumes we will be giving up?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I will give the right hon. Gentleman one example which has already taken place, and that is Cyprus.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that an expert committee was set up by the War Office, under the supervision of Lieutenant-General Hull, which reported that the minimum requirement for the Army should be 200,000 men? How does that square with the figure of 165,000?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I have no doubt that at various times various committees have set various figures. I have to deal with the figure that is approved and recommended to me by my military advisers, and one which has been in front of this House for something over three years.

Mr. B. Harrison:

asked the Minister of Defence what considerations he took into account in arriving at his estimate of an Army of 165,000; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

An all-Regular Army of 165,000 has been an integral part of our defence policy since 1957. I am satisfied that it will meet our needs.

Mr. Harrison:

Does that mean that the regiments and so on mentioned in the White Paper will be kept up to full operational strength with an Army of only 165,000?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

Obviously the difference in the bracket between 165,000 and 180,000, or thereabouts, represents at the lower figure a certain amount of under-strength and at the upper figure a little elbow room that we shall need.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

If the Minister is now saying that he prefers 180,000, will he explain what the Leader of the House meant on Monday last when he answered a Question by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who asked whether it is the Government's policy that the Army must manage to meet our world commitments on a strength of 160,000 or below. The Leader of the House answered: Yes, Sir."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 31.] That appears to be a direct contradiction of what the Minister of Defence has told us today.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The fact is that the number of units remains the same, whether we have the 165,000 or the 180,000 figure. It does not alter the number of units at all. So that we have this quite plain, what I said was that the Army can fulfil its commitments on the floor figure of 165,000. I shall be very pleased if it can get the upper figure. What I said was that I remained confident that it would achieve it.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

asked the Minister of Defence if he will give an assurance that whatever recruiting figures to the Regular Army are now, or turn out to be at the time when compulsory military service ends, no formation will be called upon to carry out rôles which, unless specified minimum establishments are fully meet, would be incapable of effective achievement.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I can assure my hon. Friend that it is no part of our plans to allocate rôles to formations which are incapable of carrying them out, whether for manpower or any other reasons.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

Whilst appreciating that there must be a total number of men available at one time or another, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he does not agree that the real significance of the future Regular Army is going to be the number of effective formations and whether those formations are each fully up to strength? Can we have an assurance that, so far as the brigade group is concerned, it is not going to have a battalion extracted and brought back into strategic reserve and then be expected to carry out the rôle overseas without that battalion?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

In general, I think I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, because a brigade group must act as a proper functioning unit and it cannot do that if it has a detached battalion.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

asked the Minister of Defence what is the size of the Army now aimed at by Her Majesty's Government; whether he is satisfied that this number will be achieved by 1963; and whether recruiting is up to schedule.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

The aim is an all-Regular Army with a minimum strength of 165,000. We are making steady progress in the build-up of the regular strength, and I am confident that we shall have the numbers we need by 1963.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

First, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's reply, all this talk about extra inducements in recruiting is unnecessary. Secondly, is he satisfied that if we achieve this strength we shall have an Army which can perform its normal liabilities with conventional weapons and will not become more and more dependent on tactical nuclear weapons?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

If we were to have an Army which did not rely in any sense on nuclear weapons of any kind, it would certainly have to be a very much larger Army than this.

On the general recruiting position, all that we need is something under 2 per cent. of the working population to man up all the Forces. I do not mind how much the House goes for me—I am here for that—but I hope that hon. Members will not take the temperature of recruitment too often and will give a little encouragement to those units in the Army which are doing a magnificent job.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman need worry about that. He said that he thought that we would reach the figure of 165,000 in 1963. On Monday, in answer to the question whether it would be reached by 1st January, the Leader of the House said, "Yes, Sir" Does the Minister support that statement?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I quite accept that the right hon. Gentleman is as keen as I am to get recruitment going. I am not going to be pinned down to particular dates in particular years which are two years away. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have not finished yet. My right hon. Friend was perfectly correct in saying that all our plans were made on the basis that we shall reach that target on 1st January.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has completely repudiated what his right hon. Friend said. In that case, I give notice that this matter will certainly have to be raised again. It cannot be left like that.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

The traditional formula seems to be becoming a little expanded.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

asked the Minister of Defence whether it is now Government policy to restrict the size of the Army to 165,000.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

No, Sir. As was announced in the Defence White Paper for 1959 the War Office remains free to recruit up to a ceiling of about 180,000.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

Will the Minister of Defence consult the Leader of the House and ask his right hon. Friend what he meant when he confirmed the statement that the Army must manage to meet our world commitments on a strength of 165,000 or below? Does not this represent a grave division of opinion on the Government Front Bench—in this case, above the Gangway?

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

This is a serious issue. My right hon. Friend was saying exactly what I said at Devizes, and it was this. If we have to manage on 165,000, we can do so. That is a very important point. If we can get more, we need them to give us rather more elbow room, a balance that would help to reinforce units overseas and, generally, a sensible margin that would give the Army a little to play with. I wish to say again, however, as I said myself, that if we have to manage on 165,000 we can do so.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Strachey Mr Evelyn Strachey , Dundee West

The Minister surely must have noticed that that was not what the Leader of the House said. He said, not that we might or could manage on this figure, but that we must manage on 165,000 or below. The discrepancy is just as bad as ever, however much the Minister goes on trying to explain it away.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

There is no question involved in that. It is all assertion. Mr. Strachey.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

If we can manage on 165,000—

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. I called the next Question. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have heard me.