I am grateful to the House for having approved formally the necessary Army Act and Air Force Act (Continuation) Orders, thus permitting a wider and more interesting debate on the Services than would otherwise have been the case within the narrow limits of debates on the Orders themselves. In particular, it allows us to discuss the Royal Navy and it is the intention of my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy to reply to the debate.
I should make it clear at the outset that I am not able to deal with the broader issues of defence policy and priorities, and I must disappoint any hon. Members who may expect me to deal with the range of subjects in this field—N.A.T.O. strategy, nuclear weapons and disarmament. We have already had one debate on this theme. My right hon. Friends returned only recently from a successful visit to Washington, and tomorrow there is an important meeting of the N.A.T.O. Council. I think, therefore, that it would be for the convenience of the House if hon. Members would await the opportunity to be provided later this week for my right hon. Friends to report on these discussions themselves.
There remain, however, many topics which can be usefully dealt with and in making my first speech at this Box I am very conscious of the responsibilities that I carry both for the Army and across the board. From the other side of the House, on more than one occasion I urged the value of debating Service questions ahead of the Estimates debates in the spring, and I believe that the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) also thought this a good idea. I am glad of the opportunity that we have today.
It may be helpful if I try, first, to sketch the background to our problems and indicate the factors which carry most weight. I will start by looking at the Continuation Orders which are indirectly the occasion of this debate. They continue the Army and Air Force Acts for a further year and provide the basis for the administration and discipline of the Army and Air Force. They provide for other things, notably in the "A" and "Q" fields. For convenience, I shall speak of the Army Act, although the Air Force Act is, of course, very similar to it.
The history of the Act is significant. The Act which is being extended is the 1955 Act. This Act was the result of a revision by a Select Committee of this House, which sat for two years. Its recommendations were far reaching. Among them was the proposition that the Army Act should be available for a period of five years, renewable annually by Orders such as we have just approved. In putting forward this proposal the Select Committee—which, I should emphasise, was an all-party Committee—recommended a departure from the tradition of the House, namely, that the House should directly and annually control the right to have a standing Army.
This control was expressed in the old annual Army Act, which the present procedure of affirmative Resolutions superseded. The Select Committee, however, asked for a limit of five years on the period for which any Army Act could be extended by Order. Hence, there was an Army and Air Force Act in 1961 which extended the 1955 Act for a further five years. This means that we can continue the present Act next December by one further Continuation Order, and that will be the last without fresh legislation. A new Army Act will be required to come into effect not later than 1st January, 1967.
The Select Committee also recommended that when a five-year period was up fresh legislation should be submitted to a Select Committee. The Government of the day accepted that recommendation, and in 1961 a Select Committee, of which I was a Member, was set up. This recommended, inter alia, the renewal of the Act for a further five years. Whether we should set up a Select Committee again after 10 years is a matter which the House will have to consider nearer the time. The Select Committee which was responsible for the 1955 Act did a notable job. Its work has stood the test of almost 10 years extremely well.
I now wish to ask the House to consider whether the same may be used of the Army, to which the Act applies. In any examination of this sort some factors stand out very clearly. I wish to deal with these factors and to explain how radically they have altered the background of any approach to Army problems today. There are two main points, cost and manpower. These factors are, of course, related, but to bring home to hon. Members how much the cost factor has changed there are some simple comparisons which may be made and which are relevant.
If we compare the cost of equipping certain units in B.A.O.R., for example, we find that in 1968 an infantry battalion will cost six times as much, based on 1964 prices, as it did last year. A gunner regiment will cost three times as much; an armoured regiment twice as much. There is a similar escalation to be found in the Royal Air Force. The cost of a Lightning is about four times that of a Hunter. The TSR2 is likely to cost about ten times as much as a Canberra. On the Navy side, for example, a Sea Vixen costs approximately seven times more than its predecessor, the Sea Venom.
These costs are not the result of decisions which we have taken. In saying that there is no intention on my part to make party points, but simply to point out that the sophisticated weapon systems of the modern Services are extremely costly. The House will agree that in the present climate we could not possibly continue on the basis of those costs with which we were faced on taking office without some form of review. This review is now being undertaken and will take into account many more factors than I can deal with today.
There are two aspects to which I want to refer, weapons and manpower. It is necessary to correct some misapprehensions about the relationship between these two factors. There seems to be a generally held belief that there are a great number of options open to Governments in the defence field, but, in fact, the room for manoeuvre is a great deal less than is supposed. In the case of the Army, the 1964–65 Estimates which were presented last year by the right hon. Member for Monmouth totalled £523 million. Of this sum the "hard" element, that is, the figure which has to be accepted as broadly predetermined by the size of its Army—its civilian backing and equipment which it already has and which, therefore, is not susceptible to reduction in the short term—is £450 million. That is the amount of the £523 million which is pretty well determined before one begins to put the figures into shape.
This is not substantially true in respect of the other Services, but the principle is valid. It means that there is relatively little to play about with as regards new equipment. Even in the equipment field the long interval between research and development and acceptance into service means that the opportunities for revision are much more limited than is supposed. It is difficult to influence costs in the short run. During the next year or two we shall be meeting the bills for equipment ordered by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite—often equipment which should have been delivered and have been in service several years ago.
What does all this add up to? The sum of it is that since we took the decision to abolish conscription and to equip an all-volunteer Army with modern weapons, the cost implications are just beginning to be understood. The costs are high and, short of reducing commitments, and hence reducing manpower, they will continue to be high, but defence costs must be understood for what they are. Even if all the waste and muddle—there is quite a lot of it around—is eliminated, the costs are bound to be high. Indications are that they will get higher.
In this situation what are the remedies? The first answer must be that we must look at our commitments. As I have said, these are being currently reviewed and I do not propose to go into them now. There are, however, important areas which may be discussed here and now, and which I should like to put before the House. Faced with a highcost Army, and assuming that we accept the need for it, it is an absolute necessity to obtain the maximum value for money. This means a determination to get the best at a price we can afford and to ensure that there is no waste or muddle in administration. This has two aspects, which I will take separately. The first necessity is that in taking decisions about defence costs those responsible should have available to them the best possible information.
I am sure that this has not always been the case in the past. So far as the House is concerned there are the Estimates. Many hon. Members, I know, believe that these are designed to conceal rather than to convey information about expenditure; indeed, on more than one occasion I have myself expressed this view. Even their most convinced advocates could not say nowadays that the Estimates provide in themselves an adequate basis on which to take decisions or to make or extend policies. While it is true that the Departments have, of course, used more elaborate methods of presentation internally, it is not at all clear that a consistent or satisfactory practice has been adopted. A much more sophisticated planning instrument is required. We are developing such an instrument and I should like to tell the House a little about it.
The traditional form of estimating and accounting for public expenditure is reflected in the Estimates presented to Parliament, where money is appropriated under various categories distinguished by their being placed in separate Votes. Thus the Service Department Estimates are each presented with 11 Votes, divided according to the type of article or service being acquired. For example, Vote 1 is Pay and Allowances of the Service concerned; Vote 2, the Pay of the Reserve Forces; Vote 7, Production Expenditure; Vote 10, Pensions; and so on.
This system has been described as appropriation on an "input" basis. In other words, the objects of the expenditure bear no visible relationship to the "output" which, in the case of the fighting Services, can be measured only in terms of the combat forces, base facilities, and so on, which result from putting together the various items of input.
On the basis of Estimates presented to Parliament, or of the 10-year costings prepared annually in the Ministry, it is impossible to determine how much money is being devoted to specific combat formations or units. Hitherto, if it has been necessary to assess the cost in any year, or over a period, of an aircraft carrier, an infantry battalion or a fighter squadron, it has been possible to do so only by an ad hoc costing by the Department concerned.
As the right hon. Member for Monmouth told the House on 6th May last this is an unsatisfactory method, apart from the time and labour involved. Questions of definition and attribution of overheads may lead to large inconsistencies between one ad hoc costing and another and it has been extremely difficult to identify and eliminate such inconsistencies.
The advantages of having a regular annual "output" costing across the whole of the defence budget are that they will provide indications of areas in which exercises of this sort would be useful; they will make available a good deal of the data required for ad hoc investigations; and, once the system is perfected, the attributions of overheads will be reasonably consistent.
Nevertheless, if the material available in standardised form is not to be too unwieldy, it cannot be expected that a study of this material will always provide, in itself, all the relevant information required for taking decisions. Ad hoc exercises will still be necessary, but it should be possible for them to be done more quickly, more confidently and with less work. An "output" or functional costing has also advantages for planning purposes. Defence financial planning is essentially a matter of seeking to match strategic requirements, expressed in terms of forces of a particular size and shape deployed in a particular way, against the resources available. What is wanted is the facility to contrast alternative "mixes" of forces. Estimates and forecasts in traditional Vote form are of only limited assistance in this task.
The functional costings, however, provide a broad picture of the relative total costs of forces and weapons systems, including year by year expenditure on equipment, manpower, works, other direct costs and supporting research and development. All this underlines the fact that it should be emphasised that functional costings are primarily a planning tool and that, while accurate enough for that very important purpose, they do not purport to have the accuracy of an accounting document.
Provided that the main principles underlying the systems are generally accepted, that should be of value. It is always necessary to look beyond the surface of what they appear to portray. Our immediate task is to improve the system—still at present in the prototype stage—so that it can be used with reasonable confidence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to make a report on progress in next year's White Paper and it may be possible to produce one or two examples of this type of functional costing. In the longer term, it may be possible to present Parliament with a fuller functional picture. There is, however, no possibility in the foreseeable future of using the system for a purpose for which it is not designed—that of management and parliamentary control of expenditure. Even in the prototype stage it can, however, be used to assist in the review of defence expenditure which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now undertaking.
In another direction, we are endeavouring to get value for money by examining the best ways of applying the techniques of value analysis or value engineering to the production of weapons and equipment. We want to inculcate cost consciousness at every stage, from design to final production, with the object of achieving not only cost reductions in manufacture, but cost prevention in planning and use as well.
While on the general theme of value for money, I should like to turn now to those areas in which we hope to achieve a gain in efficiency. I refer to the defence reorganisation and how we propose to go on developing it. While it is not the intention to produce a structure which would destroy the identity of the separate Services, we are not yet satisfied that the present organisation of the Ministry is that best fitted to achieve the fullest possible co-ordination between policy making in its widest sense and the efficient management of the three Services.
My right hon. Friend is studying the very complex problems involved in this question of organisation. He is concerned to find the most efficient means of achieving an end product in terms of combined forces fulfilling certain military rôles in various parts of the world. He has no preconceived ideas, nor any desire to realise an abstract institutional ideal. The institutions must be determined solely by the criteria of economy and efficiency in producing that end product.
Meanwhile the rationalisation of management between the three Services is the subject of continuing study. Certain decisions in this field have already been reported to the House. From next April, all responsibility for defence lands will be centralised in my Department. More recently, my right hon. Friend announced that responsibility for all forward airfield construction should be given to the Royal Engineers. I can also inform the House that it has been decided to centralise under the Air Force Department the administration of what is known as accommodation stores and furniture of all sorts. It is hoped to effect this transfer of responsibility by 1st April, 1965. Other rationalisation studies are being pushed ahead as fast as possible. However, the House will, I feel sure, agree that these matters demand very great care. We are changing an organisation, old personal bonds are being lessened and new ones are forming slowly.
I have largely dealt with the broader issues. I will now turn——
The criterion is not whether it is new or old, but is related to a combat area. It is in the forward areas that the Royal Engineers will have this responsibility.
I should like now to look more closely at the Army's manpower problems and to deal with recruiting, including the Brigade of Gurkhas. I shall not endeavour to cover naval recruiting, since my right hon. Friend will be dealing with this later. In the field of recruiting, the Army can claim considerable success. The obstinate deficiency of about 8,000 or 9,000 other ranks, which persisted throughout 1963, has been cut down this year to about 3,000. On 31st October, 1964, the other rank strength of the Army was 156,980, near enough 157,000, against the requirement of 160,000 other ranks.
This build-up was achieved despite a greatly increased run-out in 1964. Run-out is the term used to cover men coming to the end of their term of service, and must not be confused with wastage, which relates to other losses. During the last 12 months, run-out has exceeded 9,000, compared with 6,000 in 1963, the high rate being mainly due to the introduction of the minimum six-year engagements at the end of 1957 and the heavy recruiting of 1958.
The build-up, which since 1st January, 1964, has amounted to 5,481, was attained through a slight reduction in wastage, a considerable increase in the number of boys maturing to man service and a larger increase still in recruiting from civil life. Including young soldiers—that is, young men recruited between the ages of 17 and 17½—we have recruited 20,589 men from civil life in the last 10 months, as compared with 17,628 in the whole of 1963.
The Army is now within 2 per cent. of its target of 160,000 soldiers. Most of the major corps are up to strength. Our greatest numerical shortage is in the infantry, where there is a deficiency of 6 per cent., as against 9 per cent. at the beginning of the year. We have one or two other shortages, proportionately worst in the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Royal Army Dental Corps. Certainly, the picture is much brighter than it was a year ago, but we still have a very long way to go before we secure and maintain a full and a properly balanced Army.
The improvement in recruiting has been due to several measures. The introduction of the Young Soldiers Scheme on 1st April last has been very successful. Until then a youth of between 17 and 17½ was unable to join the Army, either as a boy because he was too old, or as a man because he was too young. The Young Soldiers Scheme enabled him to join at 17, with his parents' consent, on a lower rate of pay. Over 4,000 young soldier recruits have joined the Army, and they are shaping very well. A higher proportion of the applicants reach our standards than in the case of adults and their wastage so far has been noticeably lower.
Secondly, we have developed the Army Youth Team Scheme, which was introduced at the end of 1963. The task of these teams—there are 78 of them—is to bring the young serving soldier of today into direct contact with his civilian counterpart in civilian youth organisations. They give assistance to youth organisations in a wide variety of ways, and they have been warmly welcomed throughout the country.
Another idea, launched this year, has been the Junior Army Association Scheme. This scheme is intended for boys who have shown interest in the Army by applying for entry as boy soldiers but for whom vacancies did not exist. In the last 12 months, many boys have had to be disappointed in this way. Those who are up to standard are now offered membership of the Junior Army Association. They receive a badge and membership card, and through a Regular or Territorial Army sponsor are kept in touch with Army and unit activities in their own home district. It is hoped that many of these boys will come into the Army later as adults or young soldiers.
Apart from these measures we have been pressing on with Army publicity, and no doubt hon. Members are familiar with advertising on television, in the Press and on poster sites. The theme of this campaign is to show the Army in a factual and challenging light. The use of unscripted and impromptu interviews with serving soldiers has, I believe, done much to make the campaign convincing.
Regular officer recruiting this year has been good; the entries to Sandhurst in both January and September were full. But we are not getting all the graduate officers we would like. We have appointed a University Liaison Officer and have begun to implement a University Cadetship Scheme. I hope that these measures will improve the position.
Our most intractable problem is the recruitment of short-service commission officers. We could do with far more of these than we are at present recruiting. There is a certain shortage of young officers—captains and subalterns—generally. There are shortages, too, in the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Royal Army Dental Corps and the Royal Army Educational Corps. But the position, particularly in regard to doctors, is far better than was at one time expected and is steadily improving.
On the question of improving the recruiting of short-service commission officers, could the right hon. Gentleman say what are the prospects for those who want later to get a permanent commission?
There is, of course, the prospect that a successful short-service officer may be offered a regular engagement, but I have not with me the percentages of those who succeed. This is certainly a point which I will try to stress. In our advertising we try to make these short-service commissions attractive. It helps enormously in meeting this shortage of young officers which we face in a number of cases.
The Women's Services have a vital rôle to play in the Army. As in the case of men, the recruiting of women in the last 12 months has been better than in 1963, although not as good as in 1962. The high marriage rates and other wastage means that recruiting for Women's Services must be at a high level even to maintain the strength. In fact, during the last 12 months the Women's Royal Army Corps fell by 240, while the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps rose by only seven. The Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps can now offer two training schemes up to State Enrolled Nurse and State Registered Nurse standards.
In the hope of encouraging suitable women to enlist for a longer period, a scheme has now been introduced under which women who enlist for six year will be paid at the end of this period a taxable bonus of £130. Women already serving will be paid a taxable bonus of £65 if they complete an additional two years' service.
In the case of boys, measures taken over the last two or three years to increase the number of boy entrants are now bearing fruit, and about 5,000 boys, including 1,500 apprentice tradesmen will have matured to man's service during 1964. This is 1,000 more than the 1963 figure, and we are aiming to increase the output of the boy's units still further over the years by gradual reduction in the length of the training courses.
As for the future, we are now getting near our target. If we can recruit about 21,000 men in the next 12 months—and I am confident that we can do this—we should be there by this time next year. But even when we reach our target, we shall still be faced with getting the right total into each corps, and within the right total the right number of clerks, drivers, technicians and so on. In the infantry, we have not only to get the corps up to strength as a whole but to correct the balance between brigades. These are not easy tasks. We face, too, a continuing heavy commitment to replace run-out and wastage.
The House should be aware of an important factor which affects recruiting, and which has not been greatly stressed in the past. The number of possible recruits is inevitably related to the size of the pool in which we are fishing. Our recruits come to a large extent from the age group 17 to 19, and our pool is, therefore, related to the birth rates of 17 to 19 years previously. In 1964 and 1965 the field includes men born in both 1946 and 1947, which were years of high birth rates. Thereafter, the size of the pool becomes progressively smaller, and we shall be approaching the end of the seventies before we again have anything like as large a field of recruitment as we have today. In other words, we must take account of the bulges in the birth rates which have for so long been a factor in determining educational policies.
While I remain confident that we shall reach our target next year, it will be a hard struggle to maintain it thereafter, for, among other reasons, the one which I have given—the fact that the number of men becoming 17 to 19 in each year will be getting smaller and smaller. But, of course, by far the most effective recruiting medium is the example and recommendation of the contented soldier. Equally, one of the most valuable additions to our manpower is the extension of the initial term of service by the trained soldier.
We are conscious that we must not only provide a worth-while career—which we are doing—but must also provide an environment for the soldier and his family consistent with the rising standards of living of the community.
While on the subject of recruiting, I should like to mention the Brigade of Gurkhas. I realise that there has been a good deal of uncertainty among the members of the Gurkha Brigade since the issue of reorganisation was first raised in 1962. We have since then had the confrontation in the Far East with Indonesia, and, as the House knows, the reorganisation of the Gurkha Brigade has been postponed.
I can give the House this assurance—that so long as our commitments in support of the Malaysian Government in this situation continue substantially unchanged, we have no intention of going ahead with the reorganisation of the Gurkha Brigade. It will give satisfaction to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have often in the past expressed concern about Gurkha recruitment to learn that we are already planning to recruit 900 men and 100 boys for the Brigade in 1965. This is the same number as was recruited in 1964 and it represents the full capacity of the Gurkha training organisation. I hope in January to visit the Brigade in Malaysia, Borneo and Hong Kong and to convey to them our great appreciation of the distinguished part they are playing in helping us meet our commitments in the Far East.
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that this recruitment rate will keep the Gurkhas up to 14,000? Is he suggesting that the average length of service is 14 years?
I am not suggesting that it maintains them at any particular strength, but that we are recruiting the maximum number that the training organisation is now able to take. I am also saying that the proposed reorganisation, which was introduced by the previous Administration, is not taking place at this stage.
I have looked at the entrants for Sandhurst who have chosen the Brigade of Gurkhas. I think that it was believed that some of them might be passing out with perhaps slightly lower marks than in previous years, but, in fact, this year we had 12 officers up to a very high standard compared with the 10 who chose the Gurkhas last year. I do not think, therefore, that there is any need for real concern on this point. I am satisfied that, even if the reorganisation scheme had gone through, there would still be a worth-while career for any officer in the Brigade. While I agree that this matter needs to be closely watched, there is no need for concern at present.
Generally speaking, the Air Force is up to strength. There are marginal shortages in some trades, mainly on the administrative side, such as nursing attendants, but these shortages have no serious effect on the operational efficiency of the force. In the past 18 months the reduction in the size of the Air Force, consequent upon such things as the disbandment of the Thor missile squadrons, has meant that there have been very few vacancies for airmen and airwomen, and there has been no real problem in filling the vacancies available.
This year, as a result of normal wastage, requirements for recruits will be rather higher, but, again, no real difficulty in filling the majority of the vacancies is expected. All initial engagements for men will be for a period of not less than five years. As the House will be aware, it was decided earlier this year to recruit men between the ages of 17 and 17½ who had their parents' consent. Up to the end of November we had enlisted 168 of these young airmen.
The quality of boy entrants and apprentices has also been well maintained. As has already been announced, from October this year the recruitment of boys for the new categories of technician apprentice, craft apprentice and administrative apprentice was begun. Technician apprentices will provide a higher standard of boy entrant than ever before. Entrants must have four O-level passes in the General Certificate of Education, including mathematics and a science subject. To match this, their training will be of such a quality as will enable them to meet the extraordinarily complex servicing problems of present and future equipment.
Craft apprentices will, however, provide the bulk of the R.A.F. technical tradesmen and will be trained to a slightly lower level. Administrative apprentices will be trained for such jobs as clerks and suppliers. They, too, will have an important part to play. The first quotas for craft and trade apprentices were easily filled and no difficulties in meeting future requirements are expected.
With regard to technician apprentices, the response has been very good, but we cannot yet be certain that we will be able to find enough boys with the qualifications required for this job. I am sure, however, that the R.A.F. will continue to attract a high quality of young entrant.
The Women's Royal Air Force continues to make an invaluable contribution. The great problem is that so many of them leave the Service in their early years to get married that there is a shortage of non-commissioned officers. While this is no doubt a tribute to the charms of airwomen, it does bring awkward problems in its wake. Indeed, in all three services the slogan "Join the Forces and see the world" seems to have been replaced by "Join the Forces and find a husband". To try to meet the problem, a bonus scheme for those girls who complete a six-year engagement has been introduced. [Laughter.] It would, perhaps, improve the situation if they completed their six years and then had a six-year engagement.
I have not dealt in any detail with the Navy, since my hon. Friend will be dealing with this later, but I can say that it is subject to similar manpower difficulties. Recent ships and weapons call for a degree of sophistication of equipment that imposes a heavy strain on the Navy's resources of technical manpower. My hon. Friend will also say something on the problems of all three Services in building and accommodation.
I am aware that in this sketch of the background of our problems in dealing with the future needs of the Services I have not covered all points of interest to hon. Members. No doubt they will be raised in the debate and it will be of great help to us to have the views of hon. Members before the shape of next year's White Paper and Estimates are decided.
In conclusion, I emphasise that my hon. Friends and I are very conscious of the needs, no less than the traditions, of the Services and that we shall do our best to see that they are fully considered and take their proper place in the scale of national priorities.
Since taking office I have been greatly impressed with the high standard of efficiency and enthusiasm displayed by all the Army units I have visited, in this country and B.A.O.R. I am hoping to go to the Middle and Far East in the Recess. As Opposition spokesman in the last Parliament for the Air Force, I had formed and expressed a similar view of the quality of their personnel. I am certain that this is equally true of the Navy.
It is our intention to see that the Services will have the conditions, facilities and weapons required for the efficient discharge of the responsibilities placed upon them by this House and the nation.
The right hon. Gentleman has given an interesting, if somewhat limited, opening to the debate. Naturally, we understand his difficulties, but I hope that he will forgive me if, in spite of his invitation to follow the line of his remarks exactly, I somewhat broaden the debate and do not wait until later in the week to ask one or two questions. If it is possible for his hon. Friend who will reply tonight to answer any of them, that will be of great help.
Before the hon. Gentleman asks his questions—and, of course, we cannot stop him asking them; indeed, we will be interested to have his questions—he will realise that whether or not he gets answers is another matter.
This is something to which we are becoming rapidly accustomed.
On a less controversial note, I would like, first, to tell the right hon. Gentleman how much we welcome him in his new appointment as Deputy Secretary of State. For many years he has specialised in the study of the political problems of defence. He has even gone so far as to write a book on the subject—and the other day I went so far as to have a look at it.
The right hon. Gentleman has always taken a great interest in these matters and those who know the work he has done in the various Parliamentary assemblies of Europe are particularly pleased that he has been given a special responsibility for the whole spectrum of defence alliances. He will know that alliances, like living plants, need constant care and attention. If neglected, they wither and die. Both need support to stand against the harsh winds which may threaten them and both can be improved and strengthened by an occasional pruning. I am sure that he also knows that if the requirements are misunderstood—if the work is done at the wrong time, or if the treatment is too rough—damage, rather than good, may well be the consequence.
Before I go any further, I think that we should remind ourselves of the background of this debate. On 23rd November in the House, the Prime Minister stressed that the degree to which a country can exercise influence and authority over others is directly dependent upon the strength of its economy. We would all agree that this is a most important factor. But the preelection readiness of some right hon. Members opposite to belittle the achieve-ments of British enterprise; their subsequent eagerness to manufacture an atmosphere of crisis, and the headlong rush of statements to which we have been subjected in recent weeks—in particular, those from the Chancellor himself—have not exactly helped to present the economic image of the nation in terms calculated to add to our national authority and influence. Throughout the country, and even, I regret to say, beyond it, there is uncertainty about the next steps that the Government may announce and their competence to take them.
There has been far too much generalisation from the Government and not enough precision. This has been very noticeable in their references to defence. The Chancellor has cast doubt on the future of all our overseas defence commitments "in order", as he put it, "to secure a reduction in the burden of our balance of payments", and the Secretary of State for Defence has under review every major project required for the re-equipment of the Forces. In short, the entire disposition of the Armed Services and the reasons for their existence are in question.
Uncertainty has also been caused by the many contradictory statements which have come from Government benches generally. Some have favoured one sphere of influence against another; some see the need for bases, others do not; some want us out of Europe, others want us out of the East. And, as right hon. Members themselves are frequently being reminded by some of their less brotherly comrades, there are many on the benches behind them who are acutely embarrassed by any manifestation of British military strength anywhere. Busily buzzing in the midst of them is the Prime Minister himself, flirting, first, with one group and then with another, and all the time adapting his remarks to give maximum pleasure to his audience of the moment. So, before the House rises tonight, and despite what the right hon. Gentleman said in his very non-controversial opening speech, we really must have some further clarification of the Government's thoughts and intentions.
What is to be the rôle of our Forces? How will they be deployed? What will be the nature of their equipment? In fact, and most importantly, what is to be the order of priorities in defence of the new Government? Of course, we do not expect detailed answers to all these questions at this time. We recognise that Ministers will need time to assess the full implications of the commitments we already hold and we are acutely aware that important consultations are now taking place. We welcome the fact that consultations are taking place. We would not seek to interrupt or disturb them in any way, but all this should not excuse the Government from giving us at least the broad outlines of their policy. By now, they should be able to set out the basic principles which will guide their thinking in determining the shape and size of the Forces.
Defence expenditure always, of course, has to be related to the national prosperity. This has always been the case and we well recognise it as a fact. I absolutely agree with many of the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman, particularly in so far as they dealt with cost effectiveness and the need for developing new procedures and techniques to ensure maximum value for money. We also welcome what he had to say in other regards, all of which indicate that the policies begun by my right hon. Friend are bearing fruit very successfully, and we are glad to hear that these are being followed on by the right hon. Gentleman.
But I suspect that there will be, as he rather indicated, no net reduction in the total of the burden on the Exchequer. This is really a question now of priorities rather than of abolishing items altogether. But since the Secretary of State has frequently emphasised that we cannot do everything at once, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that he is looking for substantial savings in defence expenditure overseas, I think it fair to assume that a choice is about to be made between the various rôles to which our Forces are committed. This cannot be an easy matter to decide, for there are strong reasons to be advanced in support of each.
At present, the Forces are engaged in three principal spheres of activity—in Europe, in the East and the Far East, and in a world-wide policing rôle. These, of course, should not be seen as watertight compartments. There must be, inevitably, continual interchange between and within these various rôles. I would not wish there to be any too rigid definition, because I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the paramount need in the structure of our Forces is for maximum flexibility.
It is, however, possible that the Government are seriously contemplating the abandonment of one or more of the rôles to which the Forces are now committed. They may well be planning, for example, to scale down our operations east of Suez in order to strengthen our position in Europe. They may feel that independent police actions, even within the Commonwealth, are no longer desirable and that British units should, instead, be earmarked and assigned for service with a United Nations force. But if it is their intention to continue as at present, to honour all these obligations, then they must see that our troops are equipped for the job. They must avoid at all costs claiming to fulfil every rôle and failing to provide the instruments with which to carry them out.
Turning, then, first, to Europe, may I question one or two points on what the right hon. Gentleman spoke. The strength of B.A.O.R. is now, as I understand it, about 51,000. The aim and the treaty obligation is for 55,000. This used to be a Labour priority. Hon. Members opposite were great advocates of concentrating all our effort in Europe. Many, in fact, regarded our position in the Far East as little more than a colonial adventure. The right hon. Gentleman himself is on record, both in this House and in various European assemblies, as having called loudly and clearly for honouring and fulfilling our treaty obligation of 55,000. Is this still the first priority of the Government?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman referred to the efforts that I have made in W.E.U. and elsewhere to try to defend the late Government, because at the time it was his own Government who were under attack for not keeping their commitments. It is a little quick for hon. Members opposite, not having fulfilled these commitments over the last 10 years, to expect us to have done it in less than 10 weeks.
I wanted to make quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman got his answer out before the 100 days were up.
We must know the order of priority here. This used to be a major priority with the party opposite and, if it still is, very important factors flow from it. If it is not, we want to know about it.
It appears that recently—and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is amongst the number—the more thoughtful members of the party opposite have realised that the situation is changing and have concluded that their previous judgments may have been wrong. If the target is still to be 55,000 men, how is it to be achieved? In any case, whether it is 55,000 or less, the Government must clearly reserve the right to move units from B.A.O.R. to other spheres should the need arise.
The Deputy Secretary of State will recollect that we were criticised by the then Opposition for doing, or nearly doing, just that. I hope that this will not compel the present régime from regarding the placement of troops in B.A.O.R. as a fixed commitment, but able to be drawn on, should the need arise, to bolster our positions in other parts.
In opposition, we are inevitably bound to have some regard to newspaper stories. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is, curiously enough for him, somewhat sensitive to stories in the newspapers. As Leader of the Oppotion, he both fed on them and fed them, and it therefore comes ill from him to criticise the newspapers for one or two occasional flights of fancy.
One story that certainly needs answering, and answering as soon as possible, is the story that in some way the Government are contemplating putting a body of British troops permanently into N.A.T.O.—into N.A.T.O. uniform, required to answer primarily to N.A.T.O., and never to be made available to the service of the Crown I hope that this is not so. I hope, at any rate, that they are not contemplating putting our men into the same category as the British nuclear shield, and handing them over irrevocably to N.A.T.O.
But if this were, in fact, to be the case, who would pay for the British military contribution? And would the Government make certain, if British troops were to be handed over on a permanent basis—if that could be achieved—that they would go with their full equipment? In that case, there is not likely to be much saving to be found here. But if it is the Government's intention, in concert with our allies, to seek some modification of our commitment in Europe, we must know how far they are prepared to go? Are they to try to negotiate for the withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons? They will know that nothing on those lines can be achieved to alter the structure of N.A.T.O. without the full agreement of all our other partners in the organisation.
We cannot be absolutely certain, at so early a stage, what will be the policies of the new Russian régime, but I agree that, in Europe generally, there appear to be grounds for optimism. The situation is very much calmer. This is very substantially due to the progress made under our previous Government. Very little credit—indeed, quite unsufficient credit—has been given to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Harold Macmillan, and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when Foreign Secretary. Their efforts led us to the Test Ban Treaty, which was not only the culmination of months of negotiation but was also a significant milestone on the long road to complete and controlled disarmament.
But the time is ripe, as the Prime Minister observed, for a fresh Western initiative, and that initiative will be taken by the United States of America and by this country together. We both have responsibility here because, if I may interject this in the debate, we are both major nuclear powers. All of us in the House would naturally, wish every possible success to attend any endeavour towards achieving a nuclear non-dissemination pact but, for the purposes of this debate, we must recognise that if something along those lines were to be achieved it must lead to substantial reappraisal of the rôle of our conventional forces in Europe.
At this time we see the emphasis in N.A.T.O. going the other way. Everyone seems to be pressing us to strengthen our position in Europe, to add to everything, to build up our conventional strength, to improve our armaments, and to join, probably at vast expense, some form of multilateral force. If this is the direction of Government policy, it seems clear that it can be achieved only at the expense of our effort elsewhere.
If it is not the intention of Government policy to add to and build up our strength in Europe, will some of the troops be withdrawn from Europe? If they are to be withdrawn, where are they to be withdrawn to? Will they be brought back home? In that case, we will have to build new barracks. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about the Knightsbridge Barracks. Is that programme to go forward? The need for modernisation and improvement there has been apparent for some time.
The point I wish to stress is that, whatever the emphasis on policy which the Government may ultimately decide upon, there are not likely to be any savings found here. Further, if we are to reduce our commitments in Europe, we must recognise that this will not be just a military decision, but a major decision of foreign policy which will need to be taken in the closest possible consultation with our allies. Such consultation has not been helped by earlier decisions of the present Government.
What, then, is the Government's policy towards Britain's rôle in Europe? Perhaps, in winding up the debate, the Government spokesman can answer this specific point: do the Government agree with the views once expressed by the First Secretary of State, who called for a more effective contribution to N.A.T.O., or do they still hold to the views that the Prime Minister expressed in the House on 16th January of this year, when he said:
If we are to deploy our full influence in the world, I would myself at the margin regard 1,000 men East of Suez, with the fullest provision of mobility … as preferable to another 1,000 in Germany."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 450.]
May we have an answer to that?
In that comment the Prime Minister clearly recognised that, apart from Europe, we have a variety of other responsibilities. We do not need a balance-of-payments crisis to remind us that as a great trading nation our interests are world wide. The basis of our strength is and always has been transoceanic rather than continental. Trade can only flourish in conditions of peace, and in the past we backed up our early commercial activities with a firm resolve to prevent war and preserve order. Many of the undertakings and guarantees we then gave have come down to us today, and they are as valid now as they were then.
Although the realities of power have changed, the pattern of our worldwide interests is still essentially the same. Indeed, as new Commonwealth nations have emerged, we have found our commitments increasing rather than diminishing. So whether the major element of our strength is maritime or airborne, or, as it is at present, a balanced combination of the two, there is a clear need for a network of bases and satellite supply areas to supply British Forces.
Do the Government expect to find their savings in this sphere? This seemed to be what was implied by the recent remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Do the Government intend to find substantial savings by eliminating bases overseas? I agree, of course, that savings along the lines outlined in a recent Estimates Report could be achieved in the management of bases. There is clear scope for greater efficiency. Many of the supply services to the Forces could be substantially reduced in cost by sharing between the Services. As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a matter of management, and there is obviously room for improvement here. In a number of minor developments, certain projects could be abandoned, but substantial savings will not be found.
We may even find that costs will tend to increase, because I suspect that there will be a need for additional forward base areas for servicing, refuelling and supply, rather like the Island of Gan. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman said nothing about that base. We would like a definite assurance that the Island of Gan, a most important refuelling and supply base for the Far East, is firmly to be maintained by Her Majesty's Government. We are now virtually down to the minimum number of bases, and if any change is to take place at all it will most likely be towards an increase rather than a reduction. At least there must be no closure of the two main bases at either end of the Indian Ocean—Aden and Singapore.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies has experienced at first hand the importance that the people of South Arabia attach to the Aden base. We did not get from the right hon. Member the other day what was his assessment of its value. What is the Government's assessment of its value? They have been very careful in phrasing an Answer to a Question in this House. They have not committed themselves firmly to the maintenance of the British base in Aden. Surely the Government, and, in particular, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, have had clear evidence of Egypt's imperialist ambitions in that part of the world. There is vital necessity for a continued British military presence there. I hope, therefore, that the Government will at least take the opportunity of making their position abundantly clear. Will they assure the House that no time limit has been set to the tenure of the Aden base?
While on the subject of the Middle East, I hope that we are to avoid in future the sort of unseemly wrangle which took place between the Minister of Defence of the Royal Navy and his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. One was saying that the maintenance of the status quo in the Middle East is the prime need and the other, the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), was describing our treaty arrangements in the Persian Gulf as "anachronisms". I hope that there is no question of progressive British disengagement in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East went a little further than that. In a recent issue of a delightful little document called "Venture", I read that he described our presence in the Persian Gulf as
a passing historical phase and not as a permanent peace-keeping rôle".
Let us get the position absolutely clear. I hope that these are not in any way the views of the Government, but, if they are, they should realise what is at stake. I know they are the views of the hon. Member, but if they are the views of the Government of which he is now a member, I hope that they will realise exactly what is at stake. I hope that they will realise that it means the evacuation of this area by British military power and abandoning the whole of the Middle East to Nasser. If that is what they want, let them say so.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for drawing attention to this admirable article, which hitherto had been somewhat obscure. I wonder whether I may be allowed to make two corrections. I am grateful to the hon. Member for the warning he gave me that he would quote it, but, first, may I quote in full the sentence which he partly quoted? I said:
Personally, I feel strongly that our special position in the Gulf should be regarded as a passing historical phase, and not as a permanent peace-keeping rôle.
I also said:
Clearly, we cannot suddenly withdraw and leave our treaty partners in the lurch. Whatever its inclinations, and its estimates of Britain's real interest, a Labour Government could not simply abandon the responsibility it would have inherited of security in the Gulf.
Now that the hon. Member is a member of the Government he has a duty to tell us on which side of the fence he is coming down. Tonight, in winding up the debate, he has an opportunity. I hope that he will take it, because these are views which individual members of the Administration have no right to continue to hold on becoming members of the Government. I hope that we shall get absolute clarification on this point.
This is just the sort of situation we must avoid, because it leads to confusion. [Laughter.] I am serious about this. It is no good the hon. Member laughing, for he is now a member of the Government and has great responsibility as such. When he speaks he speaks as a member of the Administration with the great responsibility which goes with that. I hope that when he answers he will make the position—not his position, but the position of the Government—absolutely clear.
We need the same assurances about Singapore. Before the General Election many people expressed doubts about the attitude of the Labour Party towards Singapore. We need to have a clear statement on that. A clear statement may well be unpalatable to certain sections of the Labour Party, but the reason we ask for clarity, for firmness, for precision, is that it makes all the difference to the attitudes of people out there. That is what matters. If the Government here are weak, undecided, or vacillating, that is damaging to our trading interests and—most important—it is damaging to the interests and security of our troops. At present, we have troops in operation in Borneo. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for the Army did not give us much information. What is going on in the actual campaign there? There are indications that the Indonesians are planning further operations.
Has the right hon. Gentleman any information which he can give us in this regard? How long can we expect this military campaign to continue? Does he see the end in sight, or does he see the severity and intensity of these operations increasing? The whole House welcomed what he said about the Gurkhas. As an ex-Gurkha officer, I am particularly grateful for the remarks he made about the conduct of the Gurkha Brigade. We are glad that a firm statement has been made and that we know what the position is.
If the hon. Member looks at that statement he will see that firmness in the matter of commitments to Malaysia is underlying that statement. I would remind him that, despite attempts by himself, many of his hon. Friends and many on this side of the House, we could not get a statement like that from his right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise the importance of seeing that our men, in action in most difficult circumstances, should have a really clear statement showing that we are absolutely resolved to contain the Indonesian insurgents. I take the opportunity of welcoming the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is himself to visit the area in January and I wish him every success on his journey.
In turning to other aspects we are, of course, glad of the assurance that we have had in regard to Cyprus, with the diminution of overflying rights in certain areas the Sovereign Base Area takes on added significance. I should like to find the same degree of conviction expresesd by the Government about the importance of maintaining our position in Hong Kong. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will at least say something about that tonight.
Turning to a wider question, I am bound to refer to the Washington talks. We cannot conduct a debate on the Services without speculating about what took place at Washington. There is, of course, widespread gossip and speculation that the Prime Minister has struck some kind of a bargain with the United States of America, a sort of package deal involving the whole vast area east of Suez. America is already very fully stretched. I doubt very much whether America would welcome taking on any additional commitment in Singapore or Malaysia. I doubt very much whether, for example, America would wish to replace British naval operations in the Persian Gulf with American naval operations. They already seem to have enough on their plate, as Mr. McNamara himself indicated.
As with N.A.T.O., so with the other treaty organisations, CENTO and S.E.A.T.O., we welcome any opportunities for closer co-operation and integration with our allies and, in particular, in these fields, with the United States of America. But we should know how far the Government are prepared to go, and especially whether any further British involvement in Vietnam is contemplated.
The Middle East and the area of the Indian Ocean have always been regarded in the Western Alliance as the British sphere of influence. If we are to go on with this—which is what I believe the Deputy Secretary of State would wish us to do—then we must come to some agreement with the United States about, for example, the purchasing of weapons and the sharing of costs.
I can see many advantages in closer co-operation with the Americans. There is clear need in many instances for better co-ordination of our policies. But interdependence in defence must presuppose interdependence in foreign policy. There are substantial long-term considerations here and the Government must avoid seeing this solely as a way out of their financial difficulties. The same holds for changes which may take place in the availability of British units for what have come to be called "policing duties". I hope that the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy will enlarge upon what the Minister of State, at the Foreign Office, said last week about the earmarking or assigning of British units for United Nations emergency forces.
Who would pay the bill? There would be no savings there, one would suppose. What would be the effect upon our Strategic Reserve? The position of the Strategic Reserve was the subject of some criticism in earlier debates in this House. It has undoubtedly been stretched in the past. The fact that we had to do so many operations in various parts of the world all at the same time made it extremely difficult to meet these commitments. But that they were all met simultaneously indicates that the Strategic Reserve was, after all, about right, and we are glad not to be subjected today to further criticism on that score from the Paymaster-General.
The point that most concerns me about the possibility of assigning units to the United Nations in connection with policing duties is whether this may inhibit our freedom of action in coming to the help of our friends. Speed of decision and execution are of the essence here. Without instant reaction, the cause may well be lost. This was clearly demonstrated in East African operations. With the example of the Congo and with Communist Chinese agents hard at work, who can say for sure that we will not be called upon again in an emergency, this time, perhaps, ourselves to go to the rescue of British nationals?
I cannot see, therefore, how the Government can abandon any one of the rôles I have described, certainly not in the short term; and in the short term no substantial savings are likely to be found. Perhaps, then, the Government are to reduce the size of the Forces, to disband regiments? Or perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer's hopes are concentrated mainly on the outcome of the review of defence projects. Everybody in industry and in the Services is most anxious to know as soon as possible where the cuts are to come.
I am trying to find out what the policy of the Government may be. This is very important. What my views are do not really matter in this. We want the views of the Government. For example, do they plan to make savings on heavy armour or is the TSR2 still their target? There are rumours that it was high on the list of projects to be dropped. Is this true? I hope that it is not.
The Deputy Secretary of State knows very well how urgently we need a Canberra replacement. The Labour Party is in some danger of becoming pathological about the TSR2. It will be a most important addition to the armoury of the R.A.F., with worldwide applications and the ability to use a wide variety of airfields. In considering the aircraft, we should bear in mind the example of the V-bomber force which, in its conventional rôle, has had a most significant impact on the Far East. The steadying influence of a British bomber cannot be over-estimated and in this context we should realise that we need to have not just a nuclear deterrent but a deterrent to conventional wars as well.
The main point about the TSR2 is that, with its terrain following devices, it will be capable of penetrating the most advanced defences. Some people claim that it is too sophisticated, too complex, that we should turn instead from this highly efficient product of British technological skill to the less sophisticated and less complex TFX. It would be a great mistake for anyone to underestimate the standard of the defence systems against which our forces may be committed. It would be, I submit an act of criminal folly for the Government to authorise only second-best equipment.
We must give our fighting units the advantage of the very latest in weapon development even although initially the cost may seem high. To give them something less advanced just because it is cheaper would, in any case, be a false economy, for we would be supplying them with equipment which might not be able to do the job to which they have been assigned.
The same argument applies to the Hunter replacement, which has been a long story. I have for many years, as have many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, pressed for the introduction of the P1154, but I do not like the rumours which seem to indicate that the Government have finally made up their mind against a supersonic aircraft. Is this so?
What then has been going on in the United States? I cannot see that many benefits are likely to come to British industry as a whole from an agreement which requires us to purchase most of our military requirements from the United States. What we need is a resolve by the Government to encourage the Services to get out and sell British equipment—and by equipment I mean military equipment. Let the Government face up to this fact. If they continue the policies such as they have adopted towards Spain and South Africa, and extend them to other arms sales in other parts of the world, it will do lasting damage to British interests, both military and economic. Do let us have an end to "mincing" around with these matters. Let the Government finish their arguments quickly with the extreme Left-wing element of their party and determine what their policies are to be.
One aspect of cancellations the Government should keep in mind. These would doubtless have a bad effect on the retention of some leading brains of British industry. There could also be a serious impact on recruiting to the Royal Air Force. If the R.A.F. were to be denied the very best equipment in the future it might well be—I hope not—that some men would feel that this was no longer the Service that they would wish to join. A close relationship has been built up between the middle ranks of the Air Staff and Farnborough which has proved most invaluable, with cross-feeding of ideas. I hope that this continues, whatever happens, for it is of benefit to industry as a whole.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Royal Navy and left the rest of the points he did not deal with to be taken up by his hon. Friend. The Prime Minister has already referred to the Royal Navy. He has made it clear that no savings are to be found in naval expenditure. He criticised the fact that not enough seemed to be spent on the Royal Navy. So the Chancellor will have to look elsewhere again. My right hon. and hon. Friends will no doubt take up some points with regard to the Royal Navy.
The question to be decided is not so much what is likely to be cut, but what is to be ordered. The impression is that some members of the Govern- ment see the diminution of over-flying rights as an end to the significance of air transport. They rather suspect that sea transport will be more important in future. That is a curious view on the part of those who attack our tenure of the Simonstown base, which now has added importance with the need to have available to us all possible means of approach to the East. The fact is that whether it is to be air or sea transport, or both, we need bases.
Perhaps the position will be eased in two respects. Perhaps the Government will develop a 5,000-mile-range aircraft to go in the opposite direction to the East, or perhaps they will add one further carrier to that already under construction. What is the progress of the carrier now under construction? If it is the intention to keep a carrier permanently on station east of Suez, the right hon. Gentleman, with his experience, will recognise that one will not be enough and that there is clearly need for two. We would, therefore, like confirmation that it is the Government's intention to proceed with the construction of another carrier to come into service in the 1970s and 1980s.
On equipment generally, as with other matters, we want the earliest possible statement. The Government have a duty to end the prevailing atmosphere of uncertainty. We understand the need for review, but that is always the case. Equipment is a continuing process. Never at any time will it all be up to date. There will always be the need for replacement somewhere. In view of the rapid pace of technological and scientific development, promising new projects may well have to be dropped to make way for even more advanced and improved techniques.
One thing, however, which is clear, as the right hon. Gentleman said, is the need for us to maintain balanced, well-equipped forces. Before all else, therefore, we need to have a decision from the Government about the rôles they will be called upon to discharge. Today, we are members of three alliances for collective security. We have stood firm in their support and have responded readily to the calls from friends and allies. We are meeting worldwide obligations fully within our capacity and at a cost of about 7¼ per cent. of the gross national product.
We have today an integrated, highly efficient fighting machine, which the right hon. Gentleman himself has fairly described as the best weapon that any Defence Minister in this country has yet had. If it is his wish to preserve it and if, as I believe, he intends to improve it, he must tell his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it cannot be done on the cheap. He should tell the Prime Minister that if he is really determined that Great Britain should continue to be a Power with world influence and authority, he should get his order of priorities right. He should stop trying to dislocate the ccuntry's economy with quite irrelevant programmes such as the nationalisation of steel and he should stop seeking to threaten the key industries on which the strength of our economy depends, namely, aircraft and electronics. The first priority which the Government must recognise is that we can never have an eflective defence policy unless behind it and backing it there is a clear, firm foreign policy. I hope that this will be made abundantly clear to us later this week.
The Government must show that they intend to honour Britain's obligations. They must demonstrate that they will stand by our treaties and, if necessary, that they are prepared to defend them by force. The arrival of the Labour Government has not, alas, brought any sudden diminution in world problems, the solution of which will not wait conveniently while Ministers make up their minds. We need, therefore, to have an early statement. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will emphasise to his right hon. Friends that well before March do we need a statement giving the broad guidelines of Government policy so that all may know exactly where Britain now stands.
It is a considerable pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) after his first visit to the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member has a distinguished connection, sinister only in the heraldic sense, with my borough, of which his father-in-law was an honoured and greatly missed citizen.
I also congratulate the hon. Member on the manner and vigour of his presentation. I find it a little more difficult to congratulate him on the content of his speech. He seemed to me to go very wide indeed for an occasion such as this. The mere Motion to renew the Army Act proved too narrow. It may be that an Adjournment debate is proving too wide. My right hon. Friend the Deputy-Secretary of State for Defence and Minister of Defence for the Army, in his opening speech, seemed to indicate the kind of things which can be valuably discussed at this time of year before we get the Estimates.
In view of what the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West said, there are one or two points which he raised which I must take up with him. When he says that the reputation of the country was damaged because the Government had cried down the economy, what can one say about the people who did not cry down, but ran down, the economy? For two years, we had a Government who did not dare to face the electorate and who were engaged in postponing the evil day and creating as much chaos for their successors as they could. Before the hon. Member says that we have lowered the prestige of the country by crying down the economy, which his party ran down, I commend him to the story of Belisarius and the palisades, of Byzantium. We have to go back that far to find a claim as impertinent.
The hon. Member's next complaint was that we were looking at the various equipment in the pipeline for the Forces. Considering that during the tenure of Government of his party something over £1,000 million was spent on the pipeline that never got to the Forces, it is not unreasonable that we should look at that pipeline and ascertain a little what is there for the Forces and what is there to support the aircraft industry. To turn the whole balance of equipment of the Forces simply to support an industry which would be short of business otherwise does not make very good sense.
I hope that the decision as between the TSR2 and the TFX will be made on the basis of what will provide the best value for the Forces. I certainly do not agree with the hon. Member's suggestion that only the best will do. That is the way to utterly reckless expenditure. That is the kind of idea of putting a Rolls-Royce engine into a Land Rover and producing the "Champ", or the astonishing equipment which his party put into a Scout helicopter which cost three times as much as the French one and requires twice as much maintenance. The attitude that only the best will do, with utter recklessness as to price, means not that the forces get the best equipment, but that they are short of all quipment. That is what we have to put right. We must try to get away from these astonishingly extravagant ideas.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the B.A.O.R. was still a priority. I think that it is, in a different sense. When one looks round at one's strategic involvement, equipment and commitments, one must consider the politics of the world and see where difficulties emerge and where they recede. At the moment the presence of B.A.O.R. in Germany is not to meet an immediate invasion of the West. Nobody seriously regards that as being "on". Much more is it there as a military presence of enormous value if Western Europe is not to fall apart.
The first unifying thing of every nation and every federation is the recognition of a common task of defence and the common creation of the means of defence. That is the first responsibility of all human government. One can talk about the Common Market, tariff arrangements and all sorts of economic unities such as the European Coal and Steel Community and the C.E.R.N. But, basically, it comes down to this: where do we look for our security and our defence? The vital thing is that we have created a defence which is European and Atlantic. The military presence in that defence is what the unity of the West has. That is the prime importance.
But while we should maintain and raise it, if we can, to its treaty limits, I do not think there is any objection—and I do not think our allies would object—to it being used as a strategic reserve. Equally, I feel that troops in Germany can probably be given the kind of training in Germany which they would require if they were moved to other fields where engagement of and requirement for troops in a military sense seemed more likely instead of what has now become a somewhat unrealistic exercise, which is preparing and training for nuclear war on a European battlefield.
In my view, that is the kind of change which has happened concerning the B.A.O.R.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Aden and Singapore. I certainly agree that if we are to remain in the Gulf we must remain in Aden. But I am not confident that that will happen. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies made his statement the other day, I asked him whether he thought that any Arab political leader who tolerated, and went on tolerating, a British base on Arab soil was a very brave man, and my right hon. Friend replied that Arabs were very brave men. If that is the proposition on which the life and future of our Aden base is founded, I do not think that we should spend much more money on it.
If we are out of Aden, I think that basically we are out of the Gulf. But I cannot regard that as a great tragedy. It seemed to me that after Suez we were effectively out of the Middle East and that we had better recognise it. We must take the attitude that we expect the courtesy due from a seller to a buyer and nothing else. If we do that, there will still be equal pressure to sell the oil. The oil must go. It cannot be used there; it cannot be retained. The war which is fought upon the basis of vulnerable oil supplies being cut off is not the kind of war which one visualises today. A war of slow strangulation, of industrial potential, is surely the least likely of all wars which one can conceive taking place in a nuclear age.
Singapore is an entirely different proposition. That is the base which the local government is only too anxious for us to have and use. That is the situation which faces us. It just is not on to try to work a base against a hostile population. It just will not work.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to Hong Kong. I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that when a community enriches itself at the astonishing rate at which Hong Kong is enriching itself and paying Income Tax of 2s. 6d. in the £, it is time to say to the people of Hong Kong, "You will not have a penny's worth more defence than you pay for."
The hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question of selling military equipment. I say very seriously that it is utterly wrong to treat arms as merchandise. Arms are ingenious devices for killing people; they are nothing else. To treat them as ordinary goods to be pushed by clever salesmen regardless of where they go and for what purpose is surely deeply shocking, apart from anything else. Arms trade is a matter of foreign policy. It should be dealt with as foreign policy, and as nothing but foreign policy. Certainly, it should be no business of the Board of Trade.
Those are the few points which in a speech which I had intended to be very short the hon. Gentleman tempted me to deal with.
I have a paternal interest in this Army Act. I claim to be its inventor. The then Government were being obstructed and we were holding up the Act, which at that time was hopelessly obsolete and was renewed annually. Minister after Minister said that it would be too complicated to deal with it. We put up an obstruction and, I think, tabled the largest number of Amendments which the House has ever seen.
I remember that on one occasion, at about two o'clock in the morning, Lord Head, who was then Secretary of State for War, came to me and said, "What are your terms?". I said, "What we want is a Select Committee to review the matter and to work in parallel with a Committee from your Department so that we can work out this Measure step by step with the people who will have to operate it when it is passed." This is a system which I have been pressing on the Government concerning aliens' legislation. When we produced our Act, the Government and the House accepted it without a single Amendment. I think that it has stood the test of time pretty well.
Turning to recruiting, we can congratulate my hon. Friends and their predecessors—indeed, the whole of the War Office, because this has been a War Office problem—on having done very well in this respect. We have now got volunteer forces, and permanent forces should always be on that basis. The purpose of conscription is not to produce an Army. It is an astonishingly inefficient and expensive way of producing an Army. The function of conscription is to produce reservists, to produce the people who can be called up when we want to increase the size of the Army—again, a very unlikely requirement in a nuclear age. What we want is an Army that is fully trained, highly proficient and available for immediate use. I think that this was a concept which we originated.
We got out the first paper, with John Strachey as chairman of a committee which got it out, advocating the end of conscription. I remember that my right hon. Friend the present Paymaster-General was very indignant with us and resigned from his first tenure on the Opposition Front Bench. He was also at that time, I remember, very pessimistic as to the future power of the West, which, he said, was being rapidly overtaken by the Eastern Powers.
It seems a little odd to think that today we have both a highly successful professional Army and an overwhelming Western superiority over the East which is reaching a point at which it is so absolute as to be almost alarming. It is, I suppose, an example of one of the rules of politics. It just does not matter how often you are wrong. That does not matter a bit. But never be right, because if you are right the people who were wrong will never forgive you.
Let us take the recruiting situation as it is at the moment. Of course, it is good, and there is great reason for congratulation. Equally, it is not perfect, and, equally, it can go bad again. There must be no kind of feeling that we can let up on recruiting. It is not as big nor is it of as good a quality as we should like. That is not to say that it is of a bad quality. It is not. In both directions, I believe—and always have believed—that the most important source of Army recruiting certainly, probably naval recruiting too, is the Service family. It is not necessarily officers' families. It is N.C.O.s' families with a tradition of service, and we are not getting anything like enough recruits from that source.
The reason for that is quite simple. It is that the potential recruits from that source have all got a relative who has had a shockingly bad deal, because the pension which he contracted for and which was an enormously important part of the remuneration of the Service has depreciated until it is probably less than one-third of what he expected, what he was entitled to expect and what he earned. We have, in fact, defaulted on our own soldiers and on their widows. It is not only the uncles, it is the aunts as well who are in distress. When young men who are members of Service families are thinking of joining the Forces there are always people saying to them, "Look how I was treated. Look how I find myself. Look what happened to my pension." That will go on happening so long as we are dishonest with these older men.
It is a bad business, apart from anything else. Doing justice for them would be a good deal cheaper than trying to attract more men into the Services by raising the pay. It is not enormously expensive. Earlier this year, in a Question I addressed to Mr. Kirk, who was then a Minister at the War Office, I said:
… all pensions should be paid on the basis of what would have been paid had the pensioner retired at the time of the introduction of the latest rate.
And then I said:
I do not know whether the Under-Secretary could give us a figure.
I had raised this matter previously on the Estimates. Mr. Kirk replied:
I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman the figure of £75 million across the whole field. I think I am right in saying that that the total for the Armed Services is about £12 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th March. 1964; Vol. 691, c. 98.]
That does not seem to be a very large figure. Last week another figure was given by my right hon. Friend, of £25 million. I wonder why it is that the figure has rather more than doubled in a matter of a few months. Equally, I do not think that we ought to confuse this matter with Civil Service pensions. I agree that justice would require us to do the lot, but the injustice to the Armed Forces was much greater than the injustice to the Civil Service, because in the forces the man who is really being hit is the man who retires as a major or a lieutenant colonel. His pension and his widow's pension is based on what he was earning when he retired.
The civil servant's pension is also based on what he was earning when he retired, but that is 20 years later, so with the Service pension we have an average of 20 more years' depreciation than we have with the Civil Service pension. We discussed this matter over two years ago within my party. I put this case strongly because I believed that it was something that we ought to do. It went up to Hugh Gaitskell, who was then our Leader, and it was sanctioned as something that we ought to do.
I then had the task, the very pleasant task, of being the spokesman for the Labour Party at the Dispatch Box on the last two Army Estimates and of making this pledge in most specific terms, which was that we would take the first opportunity to raise the pensions of the retired Service people to what they would have been had the man retired upon the latest pay scale. This, in fact, is a good deal cheaper than bringing the pensions up to the purchasing power which they bore at the time the contract was made. It is a much cheaper way of doing it and it is a way which, I am sure, would be accepted as just by the pensioner. It is certainly the one which is accepted by the Officers' Pensions Society and, I think, by the other ranks too.
I was authorised to give that pledge, and one does not give a pledge of that sort in a casual way. It was discussed, first of all, with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who was at that time in charge of defence. It was discussed with the then Leader of the party, Hugh Gaitskell. When I came to make the pledge at the Dispatch Box, the present Secretary of State for Defence was sitting beside me on both occasions. I had consulted him before speaking and he expressly approved what I had said afterwards.
So far as I can see, this is as clear and emphatic a commitment as any party in opposition can make. We do not discard an undertaking of that sort merely by discarding the spokesman whom we put up to make it. I feel honourably engaged on this issue and I feel that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is equally honourably engaged on this issue. He should make it very clear to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this is something which is justice, something required, by the Army, at any rate, and almost certainly by the Navy, too, if they are to get, both in numbers and standards, the men they want. This is a sanctioned promise which no doubt caused a number of these Service families to vote for us. It is an undertaking from which it would be monstrous to back down at this stage.
That is my principal purpose for intervening today and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take what I have had to say very seriously.
In rising to ask the House for the indulgence which it is custom to accord to maiden speakers, I have a slight confession to make. It is that I find myself seeking to make my first contribution rather sooner than I had first intended.
When I first came to the House, I discovered from a board on the wall of the Library that the year 1965 would mark the four-hundredth anniversary of the election of the first of three members of my family to the office of Speaker of the House of Commons. I am sorry to say that although this seemed to provide an excellent reason for deferring my first contribution until after the new year, further research has revealed that this anniversary is not falling due until 1966, and even to my unskilled eye it seems that it cannot be taken as a matter of complete certainty that this Parliament will go quite that distance.
Nevertheless, I am very glad to have the opportunity to intervene in this debate for two reasons. The first is that I represent Woking, which has a very powerful and close interest in Service matters. The second is that the constituency was previously represented, for 14 years, by Harold Watkinson, as he then was, a Member who served his constituency, the House and the country with great distinction and who was one of the best Ministers of Defence of the post-war era. I need not remind the House that my predecessor continues to serve Britain in another place. He pipped me at the post by making his maiden speech there last week.
When I came to prepare what I have to say today, I looked up what my predecessor said when making his maiden speech in March, 1950. As his theme on that occasion, he used the motto of the naval gunnery school at which he had
served, It is, "If you want peace, prepare for war". He added:
That is a good motto, but it needs a qualification—that we should prepare for the next war and not for the last."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1350.]
We all want peace just as much now as in 1950, if not more, and it is as important now as it was in 1950 that we should be sure that we achieve peace by preparing for the right war, in this way hoping to prevent it.
When we come to consider this issue, we have to ask ourselves where the war is likely to come. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) that conventional war in Europe is scarcely a possibility now. Immediately after the war, those of us serving with the occupation forces in Germany may have been firmly convinced that there was a possibility of conventional war in Europe and the events of 1948 may have added to that conviction. But this is scarcely so nowadays.
Without entering into any controversy about the rights or wrongs of maintaining B.A.O.R. at its present size. I must confess that I see very little good military reason which can be adduced for increasing it—even the possibility thrown out by the hon. and learned Member of putting forces in reserve through training in the tropical rain forests of the Westphalian Plain and providing what was known in my days at Sandhurst as a jungle exercise without trees.
The truth of the matter is that the most likely place for us to be involved in a war, on behalf of members of the Commonwealth, our own allies in S.E.A.T.O., or the United Nations, is Asia, South and South-Eastern Asia, and we have to calculate accordingly. We need the men with ,the weapons who would be able to discharge their responsibilities in such a war if it ever came. This is just as true on whosoever's part we are required to intervene, because, however much we may look forward to the time when we have British Forces in a United Nations peace-keeping force, we are still a long way from the point when all such forces will need are a gross or two of pick helves and a plentiful supply of blue paint. We need weapons to wage war against an adversary armed with modern weapons and we must be seen to be strong enough to deter the possibility of the occurrence of such a war.
A particular point is that of the TSR2. This is an aircraft which is designed for service in the tropics and to carry out the sort of functions likely to occur in a war in that part of the world. It may cost ten times as much as the Canberra, but it will be ten times as useful as the Canberra, simply because we find ourselves up against an enemy with defences which, in the context of that war, would make the Canberra as difficult a weapon with which to penetrate as were the Swordfish or the Gladiator in the war of 1939–45. We do not want a string-bag Air Force. We must not put too high a premium on the sheer gallantry of those who serve us. We must not have a force which is equipped with second best weapons. If we want to be seen to be strong, the way to do it is to provide the weapons that we might need.
Although we get calls for economy, they are not new. They do not necessarily occur only when the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes panting into the House to announce that there are gnomes at the bottom of his garden. We have a constant duty to maintain a watch on defence spending, and I think that it has been discharged; but it must not be false economy. Economy which would send our Forces ill-equipped into any battle would be false economy.
So, too, would be economies which had the effect of blunting our industrial spearhead, because our defence industries are a powerful means of technological advance. I am sure that I need not remind the House that the progress made in the last 50 years in the design and production of the motor car or aeroplane is very largely due to the tremendous sums of money which had to be spent on those articles because we were involved in two world wars. The defence production fall-out is still there, and if hon. Members need any evidence of this it is only necessary to ask: if there were no TSR2 would there be any Concord, or would there be any British Aircraft Corporation to build the Concord?
On my final point I find myself in agreement with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton, and I should like, if I may, to express my pleasure that I do. It is on the Service pension. We have always a difficult task in maintaining strong and efficient volunteer forces in peace time, and it is most encouraging to see, and to hear from the Minister, what has been done to raise the standards of the young men entering the Army.
I was lucky enough, last Friday, to attend the passing out parade of the Junior Guardsmen's Company, at Pirbright, where I saw and heard of the remarkable strides made in recent years in training and educating boy soldiers. Yet it is true that the Services are living organisms, that tradition plays a vital part, and that old soldiers are just as important to morale as young soldiers.
I have no wish to enter into controversy between the hon. and learned Gentleman and his own Government, but, at the same time, I have no wish to be thought ungenerous to the late Government. I recognise that they did a great deal to improve the Service pension. I believe, however, that there is still more to be done, and that the House will agree on that. I take one point in particular. We have the prospect before us shortly of agreeing that the widows of Members of this House should be entitled to half their husbands' pensions. Why, may I suggest, could not this right be extended to Service widows whose present entitlement is to merely one-third of their husband's pensions? I hope we shall hear from the Government that something is to be done about this, and done soon, because, I believe the House will agree, there should be in future no need, at any regimental reunion, to lay a place for the spectre of poverty, however genteel.
I am most grateful to the House for its patience and indulgence.
I am delighted to have the opportunity of following the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who made his speech in such cogent, eloquent and well-informed terms that I know that the House as a whole will look forward on future occasions to hearing him, especially on this subject, on which his speech was so informed by his own experience.
I also have a special pleasure in following him knowing that he is a descendant of a very famous Speaker of this House. Mr. Speaker Onslow has a special claim to fame. Before his day, I believe, it was the custom for retiring Speakers to have the opportunity of choosing and accepting a collection of plate. With the years this tended to increase, until the day of Mr. Speaker Onslow; when he retired it was such a massive collection of plate that it was decided that it would be cheaper to pension off future Speakers and suspend the custom. I have no doubt that, when in the fullness of time the hon. Gentleman may repeat the distinction of his predecessors and his ancestors, he will give consideration to reintroducing the older custom.
This debate must necessarily touch on the question of the equipment for the Royal Air Force, but we are to some extent in the dark because unless one knows exactly what the function of the Royal Air Force is to be it is impossible to discuss the equipment with which it should be provided. So we are to some extent inhibited. Nevertheless, there are certain general questions we are entiled to ask.
The first question seems to me to be fundamental, and that is whether there is to be an independent Royal Air Force of any kind. Is there to be a Royal Air Force which will have a function, perhaps east of Suez? Is there to be a Royal Air Force which will be a self-contained element, and which will not be attributed to any future defence arrangements which may be made?
In that connection we are entitled to ask what, I think, is a question relevant to the discussion, whether there is going to be a properly balanced British aircraft industry capable not only of producing civilian aircraft but of equiping the Services fully and in that way acting as the infrastructure of our Air Force. I want briefly to develop this point about the future infrastructure of the Royal Air Force, because it seems to me that the inter-relationship between it and the economy, and in particular the most advanced technological section of our economy, is of cardinal importance to the future of the Royal Air Force. To that extent I think it proper, even although the debate is in a sense limited, that we should nevertheless dwell, for a few minutes at any rate, on the question of the future of the British aircraft industry.
Let me say immediately that I personally am in favour of maintaining a strong British aircraft industry. Nevertheless, it ill-behoves hon. Gentlemen opposite to put down a Motion criticising the present Government for failure in connection with the British aircraft industry. When for 13 years right hon. and hon. Members opposite mismanaged and bungled the whole operation of the British aircraft industry it seems to me an effrontery for them to attack the present Government for failures and short comings in an industry which they were administering for such a long period.
I personally find it extraordinary that, feather-bedded by the Treasury, and hampered by the Ministry of Aviation, the British aircraft industry should, despite all that, have been able to preserve its dynamism, and to create, if only in embryo, at any rate a complex of aircraft which, I personally believe, will prove to be among the finest in the world, and which I should like to refer to tonight.
The importance of having an independent aircraft industry reinforcing the Royal Air Force is that if we are to take part in any international organisations for defence our prestige and authority must necessarily depend on the contribution which we are able to make to those organisations, and I believe that it is through the aircraft industry that we can make great contributions which will ensure that our voice is heard in any political decisions which may be made in connection with those defence organisations. I believe that the Air Force, backed by a first-class British aircraft industry, is the best contribution that Britain can make, and for a few moments, therefore, I should like to turn to the question of what I call the complex of aircraft now in an embryonic or semi-developed form which are threatened—I think I can use that word—by the review which the Government seem about to undertake.
I am strongly in favour of a review of the aircraft industry; in fact I have urged on many occasions, and I have urged it in this House, that there has been poured into the aircraft industry a great deal of money which has proved unproductive, which has been wasteful, which has been dwindled away, for which the taxpayers have not had an adequate return, and for which the country has not had the equipment and the means of defence which it deserves.
Nevertheless, I want to repeat today, not because it is a King Charles's head of mine but because the matter is still under consideration, that a project like the Concord, which of itself gives our aircraft industry a technological lead over the aircraft industries of the whole world, which incorporates the Olympus 593 engine which also powers the TSR2, is a project which must go on, and the sooner the Government make a decision—or announce a decision, because, according to various leaks and reports, a decision seems to have been made—the sooner will the undesirable uncertainty depart from the industry, and the Services, which have to use the aircraft which depend on engines which power the Concord, will feel at last that that is settled, and that they can proceed to train the men who will have to fly the aircraft.
I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend say that the qualification for entry—I think he was talking about the R.A.F.—was two passes at O-level. At the beginning of the age of automation in which the processes of cognition through electronics have become so rapid, we need modern men trained and equipped in the products of this automatic revolution who will not just be qualified at O-level, but will require much more advanced qualification in order to make the best use of the best equipment.
In connection with the Concord, which is relevant to the debate because of the engine it is going to use, I should like to quote a passage from an editorial in that most respected aviation journal in the United States, "Aviation Week and Space Technology". It is signed by Mr. Robert Hotz, who said that
the repercussions from scrapping the Concord would bode ill for Britain and the rest of the Western Alliance.
The future of the British aerospace industry is based on an Anglo-French technical alliance that covers a half-dozen other specific projects in addition to the Concord and ranges across the technical spectrum from missiles to helicopter. If Britain unilaterally abandons the Concord programme, which is a top-level government-to-government agreement it hardly can expect the French to maintain confidence in the rest of these joint ventures.
This is important, because, in equipping our own services in the context of Europe, and in the wider context of the Atlantic Alliance, taking into account the economic stringency which we face, the fact that we can co-operate with European countries in joint projects—I am told that at present there are 175 joint projects in which we are co- perating—clearly means that we can reduce the costs of production. The sharing of costs, the division of labour, and so on, must obviously be advantageous to the British aircraft industry, to the Royal Air Force, and to the taxpayer.
This is something which creates good will within the Western Alliance, and to that extent it is to be commended. I therefore hope that the Government will make a prompt and clear decision to dispose of the miasma of ill will generated by the premature suggestion that Concord might be abandoned. It is not too late for a fresh start to be made in technical co-operation in the civilian sphere, and in the sphere of aircraft as well, between our two countries. If that co-operation is renewed, it will undoubtedly have a most salutary effect on the whole of Western Europe.
It is not only in connection with the Concord, or the TSR2, that the hesitancies of the previous Administration have produced an ill effect today. I think that the sooner a decision is made the better it will be for all concerned. I would be inclined to acquit the previous Minister of Aviation, who has come under strong criticism, and attribute the whole of the responsibilities for the delays and the doubts to the Ministry of Defence. A major handicap of the British aircraft industry in the past has been the hesitations, the self-doubts, and the neuroses in general which have afflicted the Ministry of Defence. There has always been somebody prepared to raise doubts on a project.
There is a French proverb Le mieux, c'est l'ennemi du bien, which, translated, means that even if one has a good project, one must dither and delay because one thinks there may be something better which will turn up. It is this sort of paso doble of the Ministry of Defence—two steps forward, three back, and shuffle sideways—which has led to a stasis in these major projects of the aircraft industry.
These doubts and hesitations exist through the whole spectrum of the aircraft industry which I believe to be vital for the technological advance of Britain. If one looks at the Concord, at the TSR2, at the HS681 and the P1154, one finds all these hesitations and doubts. I believe that at some time or other a decision will be made, and that when the decision is finally made, and all the time has been wasted, and after a great deal of uncertainty has been caused to the people concerned with the production of the aircraft, someone will say:
I think that my hon. Friend will have to wait for that answer until the aircraft is completed and has passed its tests, and then those qualified will be able to tell him. I do not think that that is relative to my point. My central point is that here is an aircraft which leads the world, and which gives Britain prestige. I am not one to underrate the value of prestige. Prestige, after all, is something to which everyone can and should aspire, and I believe that an aircraft of this kind will serve the interests of Britain, and therefore I commend it.
There have been some reports that it is intended to cut the aircraft industry by about a fifth. There may be very good technical, practical and economic reasons for doing so, and I am open-minded about whether that should be done. I should like to hear the argument for doing so. I should like to see the alternative projects presented into which these highly equipped and skilled engineers are going to be transferred.
If the process of reduction is going to take place before the Committee of Inquiry on the aircraft industry reports, if the process of reduction is going to be done by slashing projects, simply because a block of men or an isolated factory can conveniently be lopped off, I have grave doubts about the effect on these skilled men who could otherwise be used in other areas of defence production. Whereas in the past it was possible for men to be transferred from the aircraft industry to the motor industry, today the beneficial situation does not exist in which men can easily be removed.
The motor industry is under severe pressure, not only in this country for domestic reasons, because of the inevitable increase in the Bank Rate, but even abroad in some of the markets to which we traditionally send motor cars. France and Italy also have difficulties, and therefore we have to think carefully about the way in which the aircraft industry is reduced. In saying that I am not saying that we should hold on unproductively to men in the aircraft industry merely to provide employment. What the Paymaster-General once called the "soup kitchen" approach to the aircraft industry is the wrong one. I do not like the term, but I know what my right hon. Friend meant. It is not an approach which I would commend.
On the other hand, if there is to be a reduction in any areas of the industry, alternative sources of valuable employment should be made available. The high conversion factor of the aircraft industry is such that we have to look very far to find an equivalent industry capable of providing the same sort of return for an aircraft worker's skill. I ask my right hon. Friend to think very carefully about this point. I believe that our aircraft industry should be part of, and integrated with, our air space and air travel industry, and should include the Services and the nationalised air corporations. It should have a planned programme, with reference to the Services, and with a limited number of projects. It should not be subsidised in areas which are not usefully productive, or which cannot be rewarding in terms of research and development.
Lots of dead wood can be cut away. There should be a total rationalisation in the division of labour between associated firms in this country. If we can get over the unhappy obstacle which has been created by the doubts cast on the Concord we can proceed to try to produce a rationalisation of the European aircraft industry, in which we will work closely with our European friends, who are now our competitors.
There is one more important point I want to make, because it affects the Services directly. It is illustrated by the case of the HS681. A short time back it was a transport aircraft in which the Minister of Defence was closely concerned. Admittedly this project seems to be under some threat, but there was a time in the past when it was under a specific threat. The threat, which may have originated in the former Ministry of Defence, was that instead of a domestic aircraft being produced in the shape of the highly advanced HS681—part of which is now being produced in my constituency—we were to make an American aircraft—the C141—under licence.
I mention that only as an illustration of the powerful lobby which exists today. It is primarily American, but it has British supporters. They are in favour of running down our design staffs and hiring what remains of the British aircraft industry to make American aircraft under licence. If that happens it will be the end of the British aircraft industry. All the skills, direct and ancillary, and all the associated skills which have gathered round the British aircraft industry—in electronics and hydraulics, for example—will be dissipated, and serious injury will be done not merely to the aircraft industry but even more, to our general economy.
I am strongly in favour of British co-operation with the United States, but the United States will respect Great Britain to the extent that Britain has the economic authority and influence—illustrated by the prestige, skill and value of her own domestic economy and her own industries—to impress upon the Americans the fact that Britain still counts in the world. If the very powerful American aircraft lobby really gets going with its very high pressure methods, and we agree that our British aircraft industry shall be run down and that the American industry should take over, licensing us, by patents, to make their aircraft, it will not only damage our economy but it will damage the rôle of the British Services.
If we have a strong industry, not only the Services will benefit; the economy as a whole will benefit, and we will also be able to produce the kind of modern man who is equipped for the greatest transformation that is taking place, not just in the history of our times but in the history of humanity. The fact that we have new processes of cognition, by the use of electronics, means that the new men will have to be modern men to find places in the Services, especially in the Royal Air Force, using modern machines produced by modern industry. In that way we shall be able to create two things—a highly efficient industry and a highly efficient Service. There are four short words with which the British Government can give faith and hope to the Royal Air Force, to 250,000 aircraft workers and another 1 million workers in the ancillary engineering industries. Those words are "Concord," "TSR2," "HS681" and "P1154".
I join with the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). I, too, hope that we shall hear my hon. Friend many more times and that he will last a great deal longer than his distinguished ancestor. I believe that he was for 33 years in your Chair, Mr. Speaker, which must be counted a long time.
I have always taken a keen interest in the Services, but I got an entirely new view of them when I read the Labour Party manifesto for the last election. I should like to give two extracts from it. First, it said that
our defences are weaker than at almost any time in our history",
and it also said:
Our stress will be on the strengthening of our conventional regular forces …
I was looking forward with keen interest to the speech of the Deputy Secretary of State and Minister of Defence for the Army, who, I hoped, would tell us in what way our defences were weaker than at almost any time in our history, and
also tell us about the appalling shortages. But what happened? We did not hear anything about them. Instead, we heard a paean of congratulations about the great success in recruiting that took place under the last Government. As the Minister said, we are now up to 98 per cent. of our required conventional strength for the Army.
Many hon. Members will remember the Cassandras then sitting on this side of the House who told us that we would never get near the necessary strength, and that we would have to go in for some form of conscription. But here we are told that we are reaching full strength next year, on the basis of the perform ance of the last Government.
If the hon. Gentleman is talking about Cassandras in regard to recruitment, he should remember that there were a dozen on his side of the House to every one on my side.
I can name two, certainly. There are two on the Government side of the House who now have very high places. If their advice is the same as it has been in the past I can imagine that the Prime Minister is having a little doubt as to the best way to formulate his great new policy. The Minister did not make any suggestion that he would increase the strength of our Regular forces. He said that next year we should be able to reach a strength of 180,000 for the Regular Army, plus 14,000 Gurkhas. He did not suggest that we should be going above those figures.
During this last year the Army has had an enormous number of commitments all over the world. One thing after another has cropped up, and on every occasion the Army has met it. I remember that at the time my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Defence for the Army said that he was not going to promise anything, he preferred to be judged by results. The results have been that the Army has met every cornmitment with the sole exception of the provision of 55,000 men for B.A.O.R. We could, of course, meet that commitment now at the expense of other commitments, but is it right to do so? I know that we have a treaty obligation to meet that commitment if we can, but it could be met at a very short notice at any time that we were really called on to do so. As many hon. Members have said the need is not now so great. We could easily call up 3,000 "Ever-readies" and so meet our treaty commitments in Germany, but what would be the point? I suggest that the more satisfactory way is to be short in B.A.O.R. rather than in respect of the many commitments which we are meeting elsewhere.
The Minister mentioned the success of the young soldier scheme under which a man may enlist at 17 instead of 17½. If he becomes an infantry soldier, the period which he spends at a depot is probably about three months and then he can join a unit. I hope that these young soldiers are being allowed to do that rather than being kept at depots until they are 17½ and so old enough to go to B.A.O.R., if that is where they are needed. But such people should not be left kicking their heels in a depot, it is much better to get them away to units.
The Minister told us that he was keeping the strength of the Gurkhas at 14,000 for the time being, and he regarded that as an extremely satisfactory statement. I do not think that it is satisfactory for the Gurkhas. They have a long-term outlook. There is a worry in their minds about the future. Just to be told that so long as there is confrontation in South-East Asia; so long as Indonesia is misbehaving, as at the present moment, their strength will be kept at 14,000 is pretty unsatisfactory. I humbly suggest that it would be more satisfactory to give an undertaking that the figure will be kept at 14,000 for two, three or five years, for some definite period, rather than to say that the moment confrontation ceases we shall start to reduce the strength of the Gurkhas. The indication of this may be seen in the numbers being recruited.
The Minister said that there were 1,000 men under recruit training. He gave the impression that this was the necessary number to keep up the Gurkha strength, but of course it is not. The Gurkhas do not spend 14 years in the Forces. The average length of service is more like seven years. Instead of taking pride in having 1,000 now undergoing recruit training, the Minister ought to be studying plans for next year's recruiting. There is one recruiting period in the year, between August and October. The Minister should be setting about making plans for that period and recruiting more like 2,000 instead of 1,000 to ensure that the strength of the Gurkhas is kept up to 14,000.
We have not so far heard very much about the Reserves, but they are tremendously important. I have mentioned the possibility of using the "Ever-readies" to reinforce B.A.O.R. These are our best pre-Proclamation Reserves. We need men who could be called up before a Proclamation because, by the time that is necessary, it is much too late to start getting men and equipping them and sending them to the right places.
We shall not get Regular soldiers unless they are treated well. This was very much the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). He spoke about the necessity for having satisfactory pensions after service, but the question of providing proper quarters during the period of service is tremendously important. Since the Ministry of Public Building and Works took over responsibility for Service quarters a Minister from that Department has usually been present on the Government Front Bench during these Service debates. I deeply regret that I have not seen a Minister from that Department present on this occasion. I gave notice to the Parliamentary Secretary that if I were called, I should mention the subject of quarters and I asked her to be present. I regret that the hon. Lady has not seen fit to be present. I hope that this does not indicate a lack of interest in Service quarters on the part of the Government, but it looks like that.
When there is difficulty and uncertainty in places overseas where our troops are stationed we find difficulty in providing quarters. Naturally, the Treasury will not agree to building fresh quarters in places where our guaranteed security of tenure may extend perhaps for only three years. At Aden, for example, it is difficult to know what will be the position after 1968. In such a situation it is difficult for anyone to say to the Treasury with his hand on his heart, "It is quite safe, we shall be there for years to come and so it would be quite right to put down money for the building of quarters there."
One solution would be to have temporary mobile quarters. They would be more expensive to provide but they could be taken away when our tenure of a base ceased. Although it might be expensive at least it could be indicated to the Treasury that the money expended would not be lost, even though the sum involved might be greater than the Treasury would prefer to pay. In the end it would be an economy. Another means of dealing with the problem of the shortage of quarters overseas would be to adopt the system of an unaccompanied tour of one year for units. Their families would be left in this country while they went abroad. From some points of view this scheme would have advantages. It would be possible to get more work out of the "grass bachelors" but it is not at all a satisfactory scheme for wives and families who are left behind. They might put up with it once or twice, but if it happened regularly one can imagine that the wives would revolt.
We must therefore proceed very slowly with the idea of introducing a year's unaccompanied tour. One of the objections is that families left behind would probably have to fend for themselves. If there could be quarters provided for them in the barracks which the outgoing unit was leaving as well as quarters for the families of the incoming unit, one unit could look after two sets of wives. That would mean that there was provision for the wives left behind. As it is, they have to fend for themselves, although their needs are met to some extent. They are allowed to go anywhere in the country and can take a hiring, preferably somewhere near their own family homes, which the Government will pay for. This is something in the right direction. It would be far better if there were proper quarters if we had to use this system of unaccompanied overseas tours. One of the reasons why there are too few overseas quarters is because we find it so expensive to set up all facilities for the families overseas. As it is, we have more wives and children in the Army overseas than soldiers, with all the necessary schools and hospitals.
The argument runs that the Services have to pay for the schools; if they were back in England, the Services would not have to pay for them and therefore it is an economy. It is not an economy for the whole nation, however, because these schools have to be provided, either in England or in Singapore or somewhere else. This is something which could be usefully costed if we are starting this new costing system, because it is a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul, if one pretends one is saving money by not taking the families overseas. Rest camps are tremendously important overseas. In the Far East, in the Malayan area, there is an excellent rest camp at Penang, an absolute paradise island.
For Aden, the facilities are not so good. There is a rest camp in Kenya, but that is inadequate to the needs of Aden, and I think it is hardly likely to be extended at this time, even if we wanted to. The Government ought to have a look at Ethiopia, at Harar where there is a pleasant hill station 9,000 feet up equivalent to the hill stations which we knew in India before the war. It could well be used. The Government should have a close look at that, because it is feasible to set up a hill station close to Aden where people could go and get a breath of fresh air and get rid of the effects of prickly heat. This would be a tremendous advantage to those serving in Aden.
At home, perhaps the worst barracks are the Knightsbridge Barracks, though the Minister of Defence for the Navy will probably disagree with this and maintain that the title should go to Woolwich Barracks. But Knightsbridge Barracks are appalling, rotten barracks which are falling down. There is a rumour now of a review on foot to see whether these barracks should be rebuilt at all. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works gave me an undertaking that they would start on the rebuilding in 1966, but if this review is taking place, there is a danger that the preliminaries may not start and families may not be moved to Wellington Barracks, where they ought to go in 1965. If this review is taking place, may we have an assurance that all the moves necessary before the barracks are finally evacuated will not be held up on that account?
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton has left us, because he perpetuated the myth of shortages of equipment which I have heard so many times in the past. Where are these shortages of equipment? They just do not exist, except in the imaginations of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I hope we shall have a firm denial from the Front Bench about these shortages. The only real shortage I have ever managed to find in the Army is for a medium gun with a really good range and high rate of fire. This is something which the Army needs, but something which does not exist in the whole wide world.
This is not a case of there being one in America which we could buy; there is not one anywhere. There is a necessity for this gun, but it does not exist. We could design such a gun which could sell world-wide. I do not agree with those hon. Gentlemen who think that it is immoral to sell arms anywhere. If we could sell a medium gun to the Americans I should be absolutely delighted. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to think about whether he could not institute a design study on this gun. Unless it looks a real winner it should not go into preproduction, but quite a small amount of money would make it possible to start on the design, which takes a long time. This is something which I commend to him, something which he might think about.
Helicopters too are mentioned in the Labour manifesto as being in terribly short supply. In fact, the shortage is in the very light helicopter. Already, the Bell is coming into service with the Army and, as hon. Members will know, is being flown by unit officers as it reaches the unit. These will be of tremendous value in the Far East. This two-seater can take the light jobs—moving men up to a conference and to have a look at a battle. In the past this has had to be done by a heavier helicopter. I make no apology for the fact that these are American helicopters, because they are the best ones for the job. It is sad that the British aircraft industry cannot produce a light helicopter equivalent to the best of American helicopters, but we ought to get the best. That is what has been done by choosing the Bell helicopter.
These are being sent out to the Far East now. I should be interested to know whether they go by air or whether they are being shipped by sea. That would give us an indication of the urgency with which their delivery is being treated. In general terms, the supply of the heavier helicopter is adequate in Borneo. Naturally, whenever one talks to the Services they always ask for more. Any Minister of Defence would be delighted if he could spend twice as much money as the Chancellor of the Exchequer will allot to him. It is always a matter of pruning one's requirements. I think that it is totally false to give the impression that there is an appalling shortage of helicopters in the Forces.
In the Labour Party manifesto we were told that our defences were weaker than at almost any time in our history. I appeal to the Government Front Bench spokesman to tell us the truth about this. Let him come clean. Is it the truth that we are desperately weak? It would be a great surprise to me to learn it. It would be fairer if he would admit that Labour have come to power on a bogus prospectus.
Last week and the week before we were discussing an economic and financial crisis and the Opposition benches were full of indignant hon. Members who were very angry about increases in national expenditure. But today the financial crisis seems to have disappeared completely and we are back again in the days when we had, from the Conservative benches, a long series of demands which could only increase our national expenditure and add to our financial and economic difficulties. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) said that we should order helicopters from America.
But I understood that the hon. Member was in favour of an increase in our buying from America of certain military equipment which we could send to other parts of the world.
That was not the impression which the hon. Member left on me. I listened carefully to his speech, as I did to other speeches by hon. Members opposite, and they all add up to increasing our national expenditure on defence. The defence estimates introduced by the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) amounted to nearly £2,000 million. By the time the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) had finished his catalogue of our requirements, I made a rough estimate that a further £200 million was required. In addition, an aircraft carrier costing £60 million had been thrown in. Thus, the economic crisis had disappeared again and hon. Member opposite were calling for an increase in unproductive national expenditure. They had forgotten all about the need to increase our exports and the deficit of nearly £800 million, much of which has been accumulated because these very large sums of money have been spent on defence.
Surely when we were in financial difficulties, when we were face to face with an economic crisis and when the £ was in danger, all hon Members should have welcomed the moderate suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we should review this expenditure. All that the Chancellor said was that we were reviewing the defence expenditure, but the Leader of the Opposition rose to his feet as if my right hon. Friend had suggested something obscene. We need to examine this expenditure. If we do not succeed in increasing our exports, our economy will be rotten and we shall be unable to pay for an increase in defence expenditure. I therefore welcome the examination by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that he will do it thoroughly, without sentimentality and ruthlessly, taking into account the economic state of the country. I hope that he will bring in Dr. Beeching, and, if necessary, half-a-dozen other Dr. Beeching's to help him examine this expenditure which has been accumulating for so long.
It seems to me that the hon. Member's argument is upside down. We on this side of the House have maintained in recent months that the levels of the Forces are more or less adequate, whereas the Labour Party have maintained that they are woefully inadequate. Surely it follows that the proposal of the Labor Government is that these Forces should be increased. We say that they are large enough. It is an upside-down argument to maintain that it is the Labour Party who wish to reduce defence expenditure. On the contrary, from everything we read during the election campaign they were proposing to increase it.
I am sure that the hon. Member cannot be familiar with my point of view, which, unfortunately, does not coincide exactly with that of the Government Front Bench. I have no doubt that the Government Front Bench will be able to reply to all the points of view which they put in the manifesto. I may say that they were not in the message to the electors of South Ayrshire which I sent out.
I want to look a little more realistically at some of this expenditure purely from the point of view of the country's economic position and the grievous danger to the country, with the £ still in danger. The first thing that we must do if we are to maintain the necessary stability in the country is to improve the export position. That is my text. When the hon. Member has listened to me a few times on the Defence Estimates, I am sure that he will be one of my most enthusiastic converts.
I turn, first, to the British Army of the Rhine. If I had had my way the B.A.O.R. would never have been there in the first place, because back in 1948 I was one of the Tellers against the Labour Chief Whip when we entered into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I appeal to hon. Members opposite not to listen to the old brigade but to listen to those who have new and scintillating ideas and to help us to "Go with Labour".
We have 51,000 men in B.A.O.R., and we are told that we must make that up to 55,000. I submit that the gallant soldiers in the B.A.O.R. are simply wasting their own time and the country's money. That is a clear proposition. At a time when we need to export to all parts of the world, these men, instead of being in dungarees and on the factory floor, are wasting their time in unknown activities in Germany. They are rehearsing for something which is never likely to come off and, if it did come off, would be nothing like the rehearsal.
These men are expensive. They are consuming a large amount of our national resources. As I discovered by a Question last week, they are consuming a very considerable amount of petrol. In addition, they have to be looked after by quite an expensive military police; 50 officers and over 600 men are employed in the military police of B.A.O.R. All of them could very well be used in fighting the enemy at home. By that I mean the enemy of the British people—those who rob the wage packets, the vans and the banks at the end of the week, the train robbers, the thugs and the bandits who break into banks and pinch the hard-earned money of the people who do the work in this community. We cannot track them down. We have not even found those who went off with the pay at London Airport two years ago. We are told that we have not enough police.
The Home Secretary told us on Thursday that we want to build up a new, strong, intelligent and powerful police force. The people employed in the military police force in Germany would be far better employed in this country looking after the interests of the ordinary men and women of this country against thieves and bandits who use every kind of violence to take money which they have not earned.
B.A.O.R. is at least five years out of date. I recall it being founded, when that distinguished military architect, Lord Montgomery, was sent to command it. If hon. Members opposite wish to know all about B.A.O.R., I can sum it up by using the word "racket", the word used by Lord Montgomery. We cannot afford rackets if we are to save the £.
Then there is the question of Cyprus. As a result of asking Questions in the House I discovered that during the term of the last Administration £200 million was spent there. I understand that we are still spending about £20 million a year on Cyprus. When I was given that information I could not help saying what a lot £20 million a year could do to provide employment in Scotland. Let us face it, we will have to wind up Cyprus sooner or later, just as we had to wind up Suez. Would it not be better to spend that money at home and employ our men on the home front?
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West argued about the economics of this; that spending money in this way gave us prestige and trade advantages abroad. Are we not already finding hot money coming into Britain? Are we not finding the speculators transferring their money from this country to Switzerland, a country which has no nuclear weapons, not even a defence programme?
I do not know whether the hon. Lady is advocating conscription. I am not. I am pointing out that the speculators and other moneyed gentlemen, in seeking a safe place for their money, went to a country which, if it has conscription, has no nuclear weapons and no heavy defence expenditure. Indeed, Switzerland does not have a seat at the conference table and is not even a member of N.A.T.O.
Hon. Members opposite should get their economic priorities right. They must get rid of the idea that we are living in the days of Imperialism. This might jar some of their preconceived ideas about old-fashioned Imperialism, for they must eventually realise that British money, resources and energy must be kept at home if we are to succeed in the export markets of the world. Our money must be spent here if it is to benefit the people of this country.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend visits the various bases abroad he will ask whether Britain is getting its money's worth in Cyprus, Aden, Singapore, B.A.O.R. and elsewhere. If this problem is to be faced realistically, the Government must conduct a complete reappraisal of the vast sphere of defence expenditure. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not listen to the voices of those who speak about the prestige, skill and know-how of our engineering and other industries being devoted to military production.
I recall asking the former Minister what it would cost an ordinary citizen to travel from London to New York by Concord. He said that that was not a question he could answer. I hope that the Government will turn a deaf ear to the specious pleas which come from the aircraft centres. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) will make a plea on behalf of the dockyards. We will have the traditional appeals for more money to be spent here and there to ensure that employment is maintained in this or that industry.
The Government and hon. Members who make these pleas should remember that we must change people's habits of working as well as our industrial set-up if we are to put the country on a sound economic footing. How fantastic it is to talk about £60 million being spent on one aircraft carrier. That sort of money would provide a lot of useful work for people here at home, and when hon. Members speak about the shipbuilding centres being employed making expensive but obsolete aircraft carriers and other vessels they should realise that those sort of activities will not put the shipbuilding industry on to a firm footing.
I read yesterday an interesting article in the Observer about the shipbuilding industry of Japan. While our shipbuilding industry is being devoted to the building of aircraft carriers, frigates and other obsolete vessels, the Japanese have been so successful in developing their industry that they will, before long, capture the shipbuilding markets of the world.
I hope that the Government will ensure that the inquiry which they are conducting is thorough and searching. I am sure that if they do the job thoroughly we will not each year be discussing the expenditure of fantastic sums of money on making aircraft and other equipment for the Army and Navy, and the other paraphernalia, which is becoming more and more obsolete.
I always find it difficult to speak in a debate immediately following the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). His speeches always range over the entire field of defence and he always speaks with great eloquence. His speeches, however, invariably have one common theme—abolish the lot.
The position of my hon. Friends and myself is that we believe that strong Services are the country's best insurance policy. We fear that the disastrous economic policies of the present Government may lead to serious cuts in that insurance policy, cuts which could be dangerous for our future. I hope that the Minister who will reply to the debate will study the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), who spoke eloquently about the alarm and despondency the Government's present review of defence affairs is spreading not only among the Services but, perhaps more important, among the industries backing those Services. I am sure that those industries, as well as the Services, require to know what decisions have to be taken following the defence review at the earliest possible moment, and I hope that the desire of both sides of the House that these decisions should be made known as quickly as possible will be represented to the Prime Minister.
As I understand it, we are concentrating in this debate on limited warfare; that is, warfare not leading to a nuclear exchange. If so, we must consider the threat of certain middle powers, such as Egypt and Indonesia, the need for Commonwealth defence, the safety of British nationals, the maintenance of sea and air communications and of our trade routes. It follows from that that the danger area we should be discussing is that of the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia and, possibly, to some extent the Eastern Mediterranean.
It is clear that the Soviet threat to Europe and the possibility of a nuclear exchange in Europe is decreasing. I believe that the real threat to peace in the next five or 10 years is that of Chinese infiltration in Asia and Africa, infiltration designed to overthrow the pro-Western and even the unaligned Governments in the Indian Ocean area. The Communist technique has been developed successfully and is designed to exploit pan-Asian and pan-African emotions and to encourage the anti-colonial pressures in the United Nations.
This is undoubtedly the cheapest and most effective way to reduce British influence in these areas and I believe that this modern form of attack can be answered only by a combination of diplomatic, economic and military counter-measures. In this debate we must particularly concentrate on the last of these counter-measures.
I will therefore concentrate my remarks on military counter-measures. To sum up these counter-measures, I believe that we need mobile task forces, embracing all three Services, which are capable of being reinforced rapidly by sea or by air and which are backed by adequate administrative support from suitable bases. I should therefore like to consider bases in the Indian Ocean area and then say something about the organisation of forces which, I believe, should be operating from these bases.
Our present overseas command structure is organised to cover geographical regions centred on land bases designed to protect certain vital areas. This is the traditional system and it was inherited from our Imperial past. But it is clear that the effort required to maintain such a base may be disproportionate to the assets afforded by that base. I think that is clear from recent history, whether in Palestine, the Canal Zone, Cyprus and Kenya, and possibly, in the future, even Aden. What is also clear is that major bases in this area have now been reduced to the minimum, and it is therefore important for us to calculate the cost of effectiveness of each of the remaining bases.
I believe that most hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that it is still essential to maintain bases east of Suez to protect the oil supply, our trade routes and, possibly, to evacuate British nationals in East Africa, to maintain our obligations to our Comonwealth partners, and to support our alliances and obligations. I think, however, that we should consider what these bases actually do to support our military strategy.
Firstly, they provide docking for ships and workshops, stores dumps and recreational facilities which are essential for all three Services. They also provide airfields and facilities for exercising command and control. But it is really only two major bases that can provide all these facilities. These are Singapore and Malta. But even these two bases have no real industrial backing. In the next war—if it ever comes—as in the last war, I believe that we shall find the ports of Durban and Perth absolutely essential to us, as these are the only two major bases which are backed by an industrial complex, one in the case of Southern Africa and the other in the case of Australia.
It is quite clear that the importance of Southern Africa is increasing day by day. It is only via Southern Africa that we can reinforce our growing naval strength in the Indian Ocean, and it is only there that we can be guaranteed overflying rights. Yet the Government appear to be deliberately antagonising the Governments of Southern Africa. I hope that they will realise how vitally important that part of the world is bound to be to our Commonwealth strategy in the future.
To turn to the smaller bases, I believe that they should be small and provide only airfields and facilities for dumping stores and that they should not be sited so as to control Colonial Territories. If possible we should exploit small islands such as Gan. That may be a counsel of perfection, but I think that it is of great importance to obtain sovereignty over these island bases. If they are small and have virtually no local population, it does not seem to me beyond the bounds of possibility for us to obtain such sovereignty over these small islands sited in a vitally important strategic area.
I turn to the question of cost effectiveness. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire spoke of the cost of some of these bases. He asked a lot of questions some of which I shall refer to now. In a Parliamentary Answer the other day we were told that the total military cost of Britain's overseas defence expenditure was about £264 million a year, of which about £100 million went to B.A.O.R. We were told also that Cyprus had cost us £210 million in the last 10 years. In Aden we were spending about £20 million a year and were accommodating about 12,000 troops which were supporting about 2,000 troops on the frontiers of the Southern Arabian Federation and the Persian Gulf. In Singapore, we were told, 32,000 troops were supporting about 10,000 troops in Borneo. It seems to me that there may be a danger of providing defence forces for the sake of defence. I should like to suggest some methods by which we might be able to economise and by which, certainly, we would obtain better cost effectiveness.
I believe that we should start investigating the problem of exercising joint command and control from afloat. It is extremely important that we should put our modern communication equipment in a ship perhaps of the class of the U.S.S. "Northampton". I believe that such a ship lying in the port of Aden today would have considerable advantages over the headquarters command and control organisation now sited ashore in that area. If we ever had to relinquish Aden, this ship would be valuable to us and in war she would have the great asset of mobility. I hope that serious consideration will be given to this question which I have raised in the House on previous occasions. Equally, I believe that stores and workshop facilities for the three Services could be to some extent maintained afloat.
I revert to Aden because Aden after all is of vital importance to us. Aden will be independent by 1968 or sooner. If we are to retain a useful base in an independent Aden we must have an agreement for a sovereign base area. It is unlikely that we should get such an agreement for a base which at the moment is mixed up in the town and the middle residential part of Aden. It might mean that we should have to rebuild part of the base elsewhere excluding, of course, the existing airfield which is outside the town and over which we should have a sovereign base agreement. If we do rebuild, it makes an even stronger argument for rebuilding some of our base afloat on the lines that I have outlined.
I now turn to the forces which would operate from these bases. It is clear that our geographical commands overseas spring from our imperial heritage and are based on the theory of the importance of local planning and the acclimatisation of troops to campaigns in any tropical area. I believe that these factors are no longer so valid today. I think that the Suez operation showed the dangers of separate control and separate planning, part of which was carried out locally in Cyprus and part in London, which led to a considerable muddle.
Our geographical commands, which are today non-functional, should be reorganised. We now need a centrally-controlled joint task force organised on a functional basis and operating both in the Indian Ocean and the Far East. This joint task force should have its command and logistic support largely afloat, and reinforcements could be maintained by means of various air staging posts on the smaller islands. The commander of the force should concentrate on the military task and not on commanding geographical land areas. This would give a far more mobile and useful force, and I believe that it would be considerably less expensive than maintaining and containing some of our major land bases.
It is clear that the previous Government made a start along these lines in laying down the two assault ships "Fearless" and "Intrepid", in completing the conversion of the two commando carriers and in building the first of the Army logistic ships. I hope that the new Government will follow on by laying down fairly rapidly a joint command heaquarters ship on the lines I have mentioned and will consider building small helicopter carriers which would be cheaper and less vulnerable than the commando carriers—does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?
If the hon. Member had really been listening he would know that my argument was that by better organisation and administration we would be able to streamline the very large sums of money that, as the hon. Member elucidated by Parliamentary Questions were being expended on land bases. I believe that modern history shows that such expenditure on land bases becomes wasteful, as we move out of one and then another.
I would much sooner see the expenditure concentrated on such a force as I have outlined, which could make use of existing land bases for recreational facilities, married quarters and the dumping of certain kinds of stores and for workshops but which, when the country in question became independent and wanted to exercise its sovereignty as far as its command and support organisation, would be mobile enough to move elsewhere. I believe that that would save a good deal of money—
I have just now pointed out that the previous Government had indeed made a start. They altered the fleet carriers to commando carriers, they built the first of the assault ships and the first of the Army logistic ships. My argument is that the new Administration should follow that excellent example and that, if they do so, they will not only create a better force but will also save some money.
Before leaving the question of forces operating from bases, I want to refer to a point brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden)—and I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on what I thought was a most excellent first speech from the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that we will hear a great deal more from him from that position.
All these forces, be they operating in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean or the Far East must have support—the day of the battleship and the cruiser have gone. Support is now afforded by aircraft carriers, and all expert opinion will inform the Minister, although I am sure he knows it already, that the irreduciable minimum of support can only be afforded by four aircraft carriers. To have two aircraft carriers operating in the Indian Ocean, we must have at least four modern aircraft carriers built and operational by this country. Personally. I think that four are too few—I should like to see five aircraft carriers—that is the minimum to give reasonable safety.
The Minister will probably agree that all professional opinion has told him that in order to have four aircraft carriers operating in the 'seventies we must start laying down the first aircraft carrier within the next two or three years. All professional thinking will also have told him that if we do this we must start a second replacement carrier in the following year. Presumably, as this is not a matter affecting nuclear warfare, we can have an answer to this question tonight.
May I also suggest that it is not much use talking of new carriers without modern fighters, and I hope that the present Government will follow the good example set by the previous Government in buying American Phantom II aircraft with Rolls-Royce engines—has the hon. Member something to say?
If the hon. Member works this out carefully he will find that it comes to about as much as has been spent on defence every year since the end of the war—about 7 per cent. or 8 per cent. of the gross national product. That is, of course, unless the gross national product starts decreasing under the present Administration. Under our administration, it increased year by year, so that we could afford to spend more on the Services.
I turn now to the organisation of the Services at home. If the House accepts the argument for a functionally organised task force abroad, it will probably agree that we should apply the same principle at home; and that the future rôle of the defence forces should determine their organisation, not the other way about. The reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence started last year should be carried several stages further. The Deputy Secretary of State told us earlier that he was considering various aspects of better functional accounting so as to allow the House to debate the Defence Estimates with more knowledge. That is excellent, but I hope that he will very carefully consider going much further.
For example, I hope that he will consider setting up in the Ministry of Defence at home four functional organisations. The first would be a strategic deterrent force which would first consist of the V-bombers and then the Polaris submarines. The second would be a force designed for the defence of the European base, that is, the British component of Saclant and Saceur, including B.A.O.R. The third force would be designed for the strategic defence of trade and communications. It would also embrace Commonwealth defence and the defence of N.A.T.O.'s flanks, and it could, organised on the lines I have already suggested, consist of a functional joint task force operating in the Mediterranean and/or the Indian Ocean and the Far East. Finally, there should be a further joint task force operating as a strategic reserve at home, with dumped stores abroad and with adequate sea and air lift to get it to any seat of action as rapidly as possible.
I believe that if the Ministry of Defence were reorganised on those lines, the three Services would be retained, but their job would be to supply men and materials to the four functional commands and, in the course of time—and I admit that it would be a considerable time—that this could lead to a joint service for administration.
To sum up my suggestions on reorganisation, I believe that the Services of the future would be better capable of performing their military functions at less cost if organised at home into four functional commands, supplied by the three Services giving the necessary administrative backing, and that overseas we should have two—or, if we can afford it, three—joint task forces with command afloat, with logistic support afloat, and backed by airfields and at least one main base supported in war by the industrial complex of Southern Africa or Western Australia.
The cost effectiveness of such a system should be much better than the present one. I hope that the Minister will at least look into the matter and, perhaps, cause it to be studied by some organisation such as the specialised N.A.T.O. inspection teams, perhaps backed by various operational research units. I believe that, if he does, he will find that we might be able to save money, and certainly will have more effective forces.
While talking of better organisation, I believe that the system we have in Parliament for discussing defence problems is rapidly becoming out of date, and that the American system of congressional committees should be adopted for our own use. We should have some organisation on the lines of a Select Committee to take evidence on Service matters, a committee with the present powers of the Estimates Committee but specifically authorised to go into policy matters. I will not develop that suggestion now, as it is a matter that must be considered by the Committee soon to be appointed to consider procedure. Nevertheless, I believe that we must make advances along these lines. The American Congress and Senate are able to go into defence matters far more efficiently and effectively than are hon. Members of this House.
I want now to refer very briefly to two questions, one affecting personnel and the other affecting weapons.
It is clear that for a considerable time ahead we are to have three separate Services. I believe it to be very important to start the joint training of officers of all three Services at an early stage. I suggest that a training pattern should be worked out for the future on the following lines—combined cadet colleges, followed by Service training in the Service to which the officer belongs. Then the officer should be appointed to one of the functional commands I have described. After that all the appointments should be on an inter-Service basis. This would bring in to a lower stage the joint system of promotions and appointments which now start from flag general and air rank.
There is therefore a need for a central career authority which could greatly improve the cost-effectiveness of officers. To give an example from my own old corps, the Royal Marines, the strength of officers is based on Royal Marine requirements. I am told that lieutenantcolonels now retire at 47, colonels at 49, and majors at 51. This is a clear waste of trained personnel. All these officers could be given additional employment on inter-Service staff or international staffs if their numbers were not solely based on Royal Marines' requirements which necessitate early retirement so as to give a freer flow of younger officers for promation. Another example from the Royal Navy is that the re-engagement rate of petty officers in the Navy is now very low and that one of the reasons is that many are highly-skilled technicians.
The Navy wishes to give more technical pay to these petty officers, but the Army which has a much larger number of technicians does not wish to do so because that would make its bill too high. The Navy cannot increase its technical pay, and re-enagement has therefore fallen. All these inter-Service problems could be ironed out by a central career authority on the lines I have indicated.
I think the Minister will also agree that family problems still tend to be dealt with on a piecemeal basis. I shall not go into this, but I suggest that there is need for a joint Services administrative authority, certainly for housing and education. I go further and suggest that the Services need some form of building mortgage corporation which could provide homes on retirement for N.C.O.s and petty officers, and later perhaps, for officers and other ranks. This would enable the Government to save money on married quarters abroad, and I am convinced that it would step up the re-enagement rate. What men in the Services are particularly concerned about is that the breadwinner of the family should be able to find suitable accommodation on retirement in the area of his choice.
I believe that money can be saved on better organisation and administration. I suggest that it could be spent on better weapons. As far as the air is concerned, we all congratulate Transport Command on improved efficiency, new aircraft, and the extremely able way in which it carries out its task. We can also equally deplore the way in which Coastal Command has become the Cinderella of the forces. Afloat we still have no surface-to-surface missiles. We are told that the carrier provides a more flexible weapon, but we have too few carriers.
One of the cheapest weapons would surely be to provide some surface-to-surface missiles, mounted possibly on a light coastal craft of the M.T.B. type. We used to lead the world in light coastal forces, which are the cheapest form of support, but now we have only two such vessels in commission. Perhaps the answer could be found in hovercraft. When he replies to the debate, can the Minister tell us whether any experiments are being carried out on these lines?
I turn now to the Army ashore. It is clear that there is a grave lack of modern missiles in B.A.O.R. The United States Army has missiles for the replacement of both long-range, medium and field artillery. They have 14 operational missiles and the British Army has only two, "Corporal" and "Honest John", both American and both now obsolete. The United States Army has eight operational surface-to-air missiles and the British Army has only one, "Thunderbird". I am convinced that the time has come to provide our Army with up-to-date missiles.
To conclude, I would hope that the reorganisation of our Forces, initiated by the last Government, is only just starting. We should press ahead with our cost-effectiveness studies. If we do so, it will, I believe, lead to the creation of functional forces at home and abroad. Parliamentary procedure should be reorganised so that Parliament can play a full and effective rôle in modernising weapons, streamlining organisation and improving the life of the sailor, the marine, the soldier and the airman. The Government Front Bench appears from time to time—as all Front Benches do—rather to neglect speeches from the back benches. I should like the Minister to say something about some of the subjects I have raised.
I should like him to say something about the Government's defence policy in the Indian Ocean which, I think he will agree, is the key area for the future. I should like him to give the Government's views on bases in general and on Aden in particular and to say whether he thinks Aden can be maintained in the future unless we have a sovereign base area agreement. I should like some encouragement on the question of command and control communications afloat. I should like to know how far we are moving on the functional organisation of the Services. We did not hear much about that from the right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate.
I should like the Minister replying to the debate to say how he thinks we can foster joint service training and postings and what degree of amalgamation and civil- ianisation of welfare services is thought to be possible. Finally, I should like him to say when, in view of the mess they have made of the economy of this country, we can expect the better armed and equipped conventional forces which hon. Members opposite always spoke about when they were on this side of the House.
I am very much tempted to follow the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) about the economic policy followed by the new Government. I hope he does not think that the economic crisis which faces us started on 16th October. I hope he will accept that people abroad are not very much interested in whether it is a Labour balance of payments or a Conservative balance of payments crisis. They regard with some amusement any postures we might adopt when talking about independent foreign policies or independent defence policies when every so often they know that the posture is rather that of going to them cap in hand. I resist that temptation.
I was far more tempted to take the point the hon. Member made about the new mood of Communist China. This is something that all of us in all parts of the House will increasingly have to consider in the years to come. I content myself by saying that I, and I believe, many other hon. Members on this side of the House believe, we could cope with these problems far more if we could get Communist China admitted to the United Nations.
I want to raise two rather prosaic matters which do not range over defence policy in 20 years' time or enable me to dazzle with a knowledge of pre-emptive strikes—if that is the phrase—in 1980. They are very prosaic matters on which I should like an answer from my hon. Friend when he winds up the debate. The first concerns the accounting procedures of the Territorial Army. I raise this because of publicity given to a court martial which took place on 13th October concerning a Leeds Territorial Army unit. I should be the last to suggest that the events I shall unfold are typical but my postbag shows that people are concerned about this matter. On the following day the Yorkshire Post said:
Although it was strictly against regulations"—
the W.R.A.C. sergeant concerned
was put in charge of two cash accounts at her unit.
I do not condone what she did; nevertheless it was the unit which broke Army Regulations on this occasion.
As I understand it, under the system of Territorial Army accounting, the unit receives its money from the, county Territorial association. This cash is used for what used to be called "drill money"—for travelling and training expenses. The county association payments are accounted for by an account holder who, I understand, must be of the rank of warrant officer or above. I understand also that Army regulations are very firm on the requirement that these accounts should be checked every three months. The fact that this could not possibly have been done in this case has moved me to raise the matter in the debate.
It probably is an isolated case but I should like an assurance that public money used for the Territorial Army is being used properly. There is a great deal of talk—we have had it again today—about the saving of money on the cost of very expensive weapons, nuclear and otherwise, but sometimes I think we forget the smaller sums of money which could be saved in the Armed Forces and everywhere else by proper attention. I want to ask also what is the annual sum paid through the Defence Department to the various county Territorial associations in the country.
My second subject is more general. It concerns the status of nurses in the Armed Forces. I can best illustrate what I have in mind by a letter I have received from the assistant matron of a hospital in Preston, who is a male and fully qualified. Indeed, he has all the qualifications and more required for the Armed Forces. He writes:
In my capacity as Assistant Matron, I am jointly responsible with the Matron for the hospital administration, and my subordinate staff … is comprised of Senior Nursing Sisters, Staff Nurses and Enrolled Nurses.
Should I decide to embark on a Military career—I can assure you I will not under the present policy—my administrative experience and training would not be given recognition like that that would be given to the most junior member of my Nursing staff. I hate to think what positions we Male Nursing Administrators would hold if called to serve in a National Emergency.
I have also had a letter from another male nurse, from Sheffield. He and a female colleague, equally qualified, went to join the Army Emergency Reserve. He was told that he could enrol as a private and she was told that she could receive a commission in Her Majesty's Forces. I understand that female qualified nurses may indeed be commissioned in the Army and the Air Force and, I presume, that is also the case in the naval nursing service. But male nurses are recruited as other ranks.
I understand that the various professional nursing bodies have pressed for a change in this respect, against this discrimination against mere males, over the years but have not got very far. Is it fair that Service life should be so different from civilian life? Are there enough qualified nurses in the Services? I do not believe there are. My information—I believe that it was confirmed today—is that there is a shortage. Male S.R.N.s are able to do the job in civil life. Why should they not be able to do it in the Services?
I have had brought to my notice the experience in the United States. I would be the last to suggest that we should do this because it is done over
there, but the American experience may be sufficient evidence to prompt my right hon. Friend to look into this matter very closely. A letter from the American Nurses Association says:
Pressure to secure the passage of legislation by Congress to ensure the commissioning of male registered nurses in the American Armed Forces was strongly exerted in 1950. This was finally approved and from 1955 male nurses were commissioned in the Nursing Corps which prior to this time was exclusively a women's corps. The A.N.A. was in full support of the male nurses' claim for equality, and assisted in breaking the opposition in the Defence Department. It is understood from the Defence Department, and from the medical and nursing directorates, that male officers of the Nursing Service are making a fine contribution.
I want also to quote from the American publication Nursing Outlook of September, 1964. It says:
The Army Nursing Corps medal for outstanding academic achievement by a student of the advanced military nursing course … has for the second time been won by a man.
The report then gives details and adds:
He joined the Army Nursing Corps in 1963, and was commissioned Captain. Among the 33 nurses enlisting at that time 12 were men.
The report adds the very important point:
There are now 313 male nurses serving as officers in the Army Nursing Corps, and 293 commissioned male nurses in the United States Air Force Nursing Corps.
I ask my right hon. Friend to look at this matter, I understand that there has been a growth in the number of qualified male nurses in this country in recent years. It is often said—and I do not know which way round it is—that the emancipation of women was connected with the growth of the nursing profession in the last century. Which came first, I do not know. But two of the important social trends today—and they are linked—is the growth in the number of young men and young women staying on at school beyond the age of 16 and the growth in the number of people in new professional occupations, one of which is nursing.
I believe that the Americans have accepted the fact and have realised that there is a career for men as trained nurses. They have realised their use in the Armed Services. I simply ask that male nurses in this country should have an equal chance. I suppose that it is a change for a mere male to be asking for equal rights for men. I do not think that male nurses will chain themselves to statues in the Palace of Westminster to get this done. I hope that they will be able to get their rights without taking the sort of drastic action that women had to take 40 or 50 years ago.
I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), but I agree with the general sentiment behind his argument. The Deputy Secretary of State attempted to confine the debate within limits of his own choosing to the rather more pedestrian aspects of the three Services. Since then, of course, the debate has expanded and hon. Members have gone their various ways—some very various. I confine myself to one matter mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman.
The Deputy Secretary of State said that he was to visit Malaya and Borneo in January. I was there in August as a rather small financial burden on his Vote 2, which, I understand, deals with reservists. If it is any consolation to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), the cost of my travel there and back was not really excessive.
In that theatre, where British troops are actively engaged, one sees a training ground for the Services which is far more realistic than the war games held in Europe. One sees the troops actively engaged, and it will be a reassurance to the right hon. Gentleman to learn that morale, as always happens on these occasions, is very high. The standard of welfare is excellent and, at the risk of sounding too facetious, I would add that there is very little in the way of married family problems largely because married families are not present in that theatre. However, it is only right that I should pay some tribute at this stage to the non-military activities of the soldiers in the area. Their participation in what is a political campaign, the "Hearts and Minds" campaign among the people in the Borneo jungle, has produced enormous success, and it is all credit to the British Service men there who have taken on not only a military but a political task.
There is only one thing which I will say about the actual equipment of the forces in the area. It is inevitably a theatre where there must be an enormous amount of improvisation on the part of the men actually using the equipment. This is where one sees the bureaucratic machine at its worst. It is not a matter of the large pieces of equipment; it is not so much a matter of tanks as of trouser buttons. May I remind the Government of the processes through which all the Services go when they start to consider any new piece of equipment?
I will take the example of trouser buttons. First, there is a committee which examines the general principle, for instance, the use of trousers. It says that over many years of glorious history the Services have worn trousers and in future, at least for a decade, they will continue to wear trousers and that with trousers go trouser buttons. That general principle having been accepted, a design of the trouser button is considered and eventually a prototype trouser button is produced which, I imagine, is stared at by all the members of the committee. Eventually, one unfortunate, or perhaps fortunate, regiment or battalion is singled out to be equipped with the new trouser button. There then take place user trials of this trouser button and reports go back to the committee and after a considerable time the trouser button is adopted. I say "considerable time" because the general average for this process is seven years.
This is not a political point. This is a matter for any Government. It causes a great deal of annoyance and frustration to the average Service man. I saw a lot of improvisation of military equipment in Borneo and Malaya and always in the background was the thought that to get any reasonable change one had to go through the machinery of all this committee work and all this time of seven. years. I only throw out the suggestion. I am told that other European countries take considerably longer, but our standards should be higher than that.
I am not here to contribute in any way to the fallacy that any government is able to create a perfect defence force perfectly equipped for all conditions and all theatres in the world, ready to move at a moment's notice to any part of the world. I do not regard that as my task, but I should like to say something of a more general nature about the campaign in Malaysia, because it provides rather more than tough conditions of terrain and climate, highlighting some deficiencies in the system of providing equipment and emphasising the necessity for the rotation of units.
It is an unreal war, not for those who are taking part in it, because, of course, they experience the hazards, hardships and dangers, but unreal when one considers the strength of the opponents. Malaysia itself has a strength of 22,000 Regular Service men with some 27,000 conscripts concerned with the Armed Forces or civil defence work. On the other hand, Indonesia has 412,000. Its parachute army of 30,000 alone outnumbers the regular strength of the Malaysian Forces. Britain has some 9,000 Service men deployed in the area. The figures alone demonstrate the importance of our Forces there and the vital part they play. This is a limited war, limited in the same technical sense as the Korean War was, with both opponents determined not to allow the conflict to escalate. This may be a pattern in which British Forces will be employed even more in future.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has made some mention of employing British Forces in future as a United Nations security force. That would have no affect whatever on the situation in Malaysia where one is dealing with a United Nations recognized frontier—that between the former British Borneo Territories and Indonesia. There has been a United Nations resolution that the frontier should be recognised and a rather watery resolve that President Soekarno should cease to be aggressive. It had little effect upon him; in fact, the aggression was stepped up and parachute landings were made on the mainland of Malaya, as distinct from Malaysia, for which on no grounds could there be any excuse, as President Soekarno recognises Malaya if not the Federation of Malaysia. Aggression is aggression in any language.
Nevertheless, the war is limited not by the, troops deployed in the area but by the potential strength of Malaysia's principal ally, ourselves, who are bound to her by the 1957 Treaty. Our responsibility is discharged by the use of our forces. This is not a Kiplingesque military adventure with little point or purpose, or future. This is not just a bit of active service experience for a certain number of soldiers. Far more than that is at stake. One's military policy does not exist in a vacuum, and I would not be out of place in a debate on the Armed Services if I said something about the future of this campaign which inevitably affects the Service men in this area.
I will not hazard many guesses about the aggressor. His health has made some newspaper headlines and one knows about the shaky economy in Indonesia and the possibility that at some future date that republic may be divided with different policies. One accepts that we have reached the maximum volunteer strength for our Services and that they are as well equipped as they can be. However, it is dangerous to suggest, as has been suggested by hon. Members opposite, that the fire power and mobility of conventional forces can be increased and increased beyond a certain limit. It is not a complete substitute for manpower.
Like many other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, I look forward, perhaps with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity, to the Prime Minister's coming announcement to the House about the whole picture of our foreign policy and the pattern of our defence forces. I will only say that if that statement contains any possibility of a diminution of the strength of our forces, their overall strength, not only numbers but the weapons they control, from the smallest to the ultimate deterrent, that change, if change there is announced, may well affect the balance in South-East Asia, the very balance which imposes the limitations on this rather curious war, the balance which affects the use of British Forces. One cannot properly consider the use of these Forces without also considering the wider issue with which, I hope, the Prime Minister will deal when he makes his statement. Changes go all the way down the line. If these changes were made, risks would be taken in South-East Asia.
It is a reasonable view of the situation there that United States policy and United Kingdom policy do not fully coincide, especially in the attitude to Indonesia. More is the pity, but that is so. We in Britain must still regard Malaysia as a prime responsibility of ours. In addressing these remarks to the right hon. and hon. Members now sitting on the Government Front Bench, I hope that they realise that such a risk in the use of our own Forces is quite unacceptable to my right hon. and hon. Friends. It would, no doubt, prove to be unacceptable to many of our friends and allies abroad, and I suspect it might well prove unacceptable to the whole country.
I think that what divides the House on defence is our priorities. Apart from one or two hon. Members who feel that we should not have any defence forces, it comes down to the vital question of priorities.
First, I must take up a remark made by the hon. Member for Bournemouth. West (Sir J. Eden). He said that we had a seat at the conference table because we had an independent nuclear deterrent. I do not want to make much of this, but I should like to point out that it is no good having a seat at the conference table if we are not consulted. Had we been consulted at the time of the Cuba crisis I might have subscribed to that view, but the hon. Gentleman knows that we were not asked. Therefore, there does not seem to be much point in having a seat. The view of my hon. Friends and I is that the independent nuclear deterrent is not for us. That brings us to the conventional forces, with which I want to deal.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said many things which I would have wished to say. He spoke about task forces. We hear that the forces are up to the numbers required. But is that the important point? Is not the important point the efficiency and mobility of those forces? Without efficiency and mobility, the question of whether we reach the target is immaterial. That is why I should like to spend a few moments reiterating some of the points which the hon. Gentleman made on the question of task forces. With this goes the subject of our bases.
We should ask ourselves in respect of each base, "Have we any moral right to be there?". This does not mean that I am one of those who wish to throw away the defence of the Commonwealth. I believe that we must ask ourselves that question because if we have no moral right to be in that base any money which we spend on it will be wasted, since we will lose the base in a matter of years. We have seen this happen in numerous bases throughout the Middle East—more and more money poured into them and an eventual withdrawal, with all the waste of money which that entails. That is why it is important that we should at least start to think of our defence being based almost solely on task forces with two or three bases in strategic areas throughout the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia.
With these forces we could do what we cannot do at the moment. If we wish to intervene in an area now, we have to drag forces from all four corners of the world. Any hon. Member who has had experience of it knows how long it takes to integrate forces into a fighting body and to put them into action. The value of a task force would be that at a moment's notice we would be able to put troops on the ground. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides would accept that a battalion today is worth a division next week.
It is said that bases must not be maintained to show the flag. That is the answer which we always get when we talk about giving up bases. I do not wish to speak as a jingoist, but I believe it is necessary for the flag to be shown. I think that it has some effect on maintaining peace throughout the troubled areas. But is it not more important to be able to show the flag with sufficient force and not leave troops in outlandish places rotting away year in and year out? It is generally the infantry whom we cannot get up to strength, primarily because they are the ones who are left in these backwaters without any interesting job to do.
I believe that it would be economical to base our defence on a task force for this reason. We could do away with a considerable number of our expensive overseas bases. If it were possible to have a turn round of the force, it might not be necessary to have families overseas with the units, in the same way as many wives of members of the Royal Navy are in this country.
I am certain that many hon. Members will have blood pressure when I talk about regimental traditions. Traditions are fine when they are combined with efficiency. I believe that many of the difficulties which we face are caused because we subscribe too much to traditions without achieving efficiency. In advocating the formation of task forces, I believe that the time has arrived when we should start recruiting, particularly officers, not on an Army, Air Force or Navy basis, but on a task force basis. Too often different Services have been depleted because other Services have put in requests for things which they know they do not really need. It is said, "My regiment must have this, whether it is right or wrong". This is not being disloyal to my regiment, but I know that it happens. One always wants the best for one's own unit. The Army wants the best for the Army, even though it may not fit the picture of a co-ordinated defence.
Until we start allocating money for a particular force which is required for a particular job, we will dissipate our money, as we have done in the past. I do not believe that we can ever get to that stage until we have a corps of officers who can look at the system and say that so much is required for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and arrive at a combined figure rather than a figure for a particular Service, as has happened in the past. For that reason, we have, I understand, reached the stage when we are likely to get such task forces and it may be well worth considering whether we should not begin to recruit for such a force as opposed to any particular element in it. It will be said that an officer could not be expected to be transferrable between the different units but this can be done, it has been done and I think it must be done.
The other point which I want to mention relates to pensioners and the Territorial Army. I subscribe to the views of those who say that the best recruiting officer for the Forces is the family which has had people in the Forces and who have been given a square deal. In all too many cases, however, people who have retired from the Army, the Navy or the Air Force have done so in a disgruntled state. We behaved very badly towards those who give their services to the country. Certainly when we talk about pensions we should keep in perspective rather the sort of pension that people expect to get and not exactly what they are given with the diminution of the value of money over a period of years.
I am sure that every hon. Member would wish to pay tribute to the Territorial and Auxiliary forces who give of their time often at great inconvenience and to the detriment of their work to serve the country. Many of these units unfortunately have been given jobs to do which are not exactly those for which they joined. They enlisted for a life of activity and interest. Many of them are being diverted into the defence forces. I ask that this matter should he looked at again.
We have had a good response from the "Ever-readies" but again people joined these units to work and to be with those whom they knew. As things stand only a certain percentage of each unit comprise the "Ever-readies" which means that if they were called up they would not go together as a unit. There is something to be said for having units in certain towns detailed as "Ever-ready" units to serve as complete units if called up. Comradeship means a great deal between members of the Territorial forces.
I am convinced that only by a completely integrated force based upon past forces can we ever hope to fulfil our commitments. I believe that we are merely crying after pie-in-the-sky when we talk about the independent nuclear deterrent because to my way of thinking the main threat which we must face over the next few years will be in the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia. Those are the places. Can any hon. Member opposite imagine that we would use an independent nuclear deterrent in those circumstances? The reason why I am against it is that we are dissipating our efforts and because whilst we are spending the money that we are doing on those weapons we are falling down on the very forces which we should be building up and those are our conventional forces.
"Prestige" sometimes becomes a dirty word. I do not believe that it is. This country can still have great prestige and give a lead to the world but I do not believe that it will ever do so by having expensive nuclear forces and at the same time not having the conventional forces to back up our commitments in various parts of the world.
I am sorry that the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), is not in his place, because I want to quote from the Daily Herald of llth July, 1951, in which he said:
The hard truth is that expenditure on defence will lessen the chances of world war more than expenditure on welfare at home and abroad.
The hon. Member's realistic approach is one of the reasons why we welcome his appointment to his new office.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) was somewhat contradictory during his speech. Towards the beginning, he suggested that we should break down the old traditions and rely to a much greater extent upon task forces, and I agree with him that a percentage of the Services should be task forces. The hon. Member went on to say, however, that the Territorials, or "Ever-readies", should be kept together as units, because they knew each other and they enlisted for reasons of comradeship. One thing that the individual regiments in particular enjoy is comradeship and discipline, which helps the men in the Services to work together.
I should like to follow the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) concerning pensions. We have had several debates in the House of Commons concerning elderly pensioners, particularly those who retired before 1948. This is a non-party matter. We have had Adjournment debates on the subject and we have had debates on Motions by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I wish particularly to draw the attention of hon. Members opposite to those in the Royal Navy who opted for the "B" scheme, who seem to be particularly hit.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton referred to B.A.O.R. I agree with him that military presence is essential, but we have to consider how big the presence should be. I could not possibly agree with the hon. and learned Member when he suggests that we are spending too much on weapons and that we should not put a Rolls-Royce engine into a Land Rover. Of course, one does not usually do that type of thing but I suggest that we will not get recruits to join the Services if they are not to be equipped with really good and adequate weapons. It is frightening to run the risk of being attacked when one's weapons are inferior to those of the enemy.
I should like also to mention Aden, the fact is that we still have Treaties with the Trucial States, and so need this base. Our presence in Singapore is of great importance for the economy of Malaysia. I gather that we spend about £75 million a year there and employ about 45,000 people. When there is any thought of doing away with bases, perhaps I should mention also Gibraltar and the difficulties which the workers there now face, we must also ask to what extent withdrawal would affect the people of the countries concerned.
I recently had the privilege of attending a Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Jamaica. On Armistice Day, we had a remarkable service in the Church of England, to which Christians, non-Christians and Moslems came. Afterwards, we had a moving moment with the two minutes' silence and representatives from the 32 Commonwealth countries, including Malta, placed wreaths on the war memorial. I thought that if we could spend that time as a Commonwealth getting together to remember the dead, how much more we should try to co-operate to help the living. I hope that we shall get far more co-operation with the Commonwealth in the future in regard to defence.
At the Conference, a plea was made by nearly all the representatives of the Federation of Malaysia about their country's plight. I am glad to say that they were given verbal assurances by most of the Commonwealth countries who were represented that their difficulties were understood, and they were given verbal support. This was a great step forward. I have lived in both Malaya and Indonesia and I know the countries well. I know the difficulties of fighting in the jungle in Sabah and in Sarawak, and I should like to pay my tribute to our forces there in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
The Malaysian incident is not, however, a very small war. It is not a very small commitment to undertake. We call the men in the service security forces, but really they are undertaking full-time war service. We have spent on this operation alone an extra £5½ million, and 49 men have been killed and 82 wounded. I think it is time that some action was taken. We cannot possibly allow this war to drag on as it is at present. I would ask: What are the terms of service of the men serving there? I know that the Royal Navy is at fully stretch in providing skilled men needed in this area. I believe it is time there was some consultation between Malaysia, Indonesia and the United Kingdom to see if we can bring this war to an end and get some kind of settlement.
I would also ask what is happening to our troops in Malacca. I understand that they were sent there by a special arrangement in order to protect the internal security of Malacca itself and were not to be used in any other way. I should like to know whether those troops are still locked up in Malacca; there is a Commonwealth force with New Zealanders and Australians. What is happening to these troops at the present time? And how much is Malaysia contributing to the expense of the forces serving in the area.
I read in the Sunday Times that the Prime Minister said:
From now on defence expenditure at home and abroad must be strictly related to what the country can afford.
I think that that was a reasonable remark, but I wonder how we are to find out exactly how much we can afford. What are our defence commitments, and to whom and to what are we committed? I ask because I feel that we have a great commitment first of all to the Commonwealth. Naturally, we have commitments to our allies, but I consider that it is absolutely essential, if we are to keep the Commonwealth together, to have troops available at all times to be able to give protection to the Commonwealth, wherever in the Commonwealth they might be asked for. In view of the fact that so many changes are going on within Commonwealth countries, we may need quite frequently a force to help them temporarily.
We are required by agreement to have 55,000 troops in N.A.T.O. I think we must now make arrangements to have, say, an expeditionary force which can be removed at any time when needed in the Commonwealth. What is happening now is that we are placing certain regiments and the Royal Navy under a great strain. I suggest that there might be a swifter turnover of duty of regiments in the Army in Germany, so that no one regiment would bear too much strain.
I suggest that the Government should consider calling a meeting of the Ministers of Defence of the Commonwealth, because I think we must know, in the face of our commitments, what the countries of the Commonwealth can do for themselves. I remember how at the end of the war India had a magnificent Army of 2 million men and it was largely disbanded. Now, regrettably, owing to the attack by the Chinese, she has to arm herself again. This is going to interfere with her economy. I suggest that we give her arms to help her with her necessary army but that we do not charge her for them, then this will give further employment and will not interfere with the economy of India.
It is absolutely essential, in my view, that we should have a conference of Defence Ministers of the Commonwealth to find out how much they can depend on their own resources, because this will help us enormously in calculating what forces we need. We know that Australia, because of the situation in the Far East, is now having selective conscription. There may be other countries within the Commonwealth willing to play a part. Thus the responsibilities would be divided between the member countries of the Commonwealth. This would relieve us of having to have different sections of regiments, scattered about the Commonwealth and would relieve us, perhaps, of having to move our troops from one side of the world to the other as we have had to do on many occasions.
Like one of my hon. Friends, I should like particularly to refer to the Far East, because I think we need to consider this very seriously. Mr. Khrushchev, I think, realised that priorities in defence were needed and placed the priority on the Far East. When I was in Peking three years ago I listened to a speech by Chou en-Lai, who said that if his country had to go to war against territories who wished to have war China would not mind losing 100 million men. It was not a question of nuclear warfare at that time; but now, of course, they have the bomb. I feel that this situation in the Far East is one we should discuss with the Commonwealth to see how we are willing to combat together. The European tension has lessened since the Test Ban Treaty, and so I feel the consultations we need most now are about the Far East area.
Now I should like to come to a completely different subject, the Royal Navy, because in my constituency the Prime Minister said during the General Election:
The Navy has been run down to a dangerously low level and is now pathetically inadequate in numbers of ships in commission, in manning, and in most modern types such as nuclear-powered hunter-tracker submarines.
I suggest that the Navy has done a good job. One has only to read pages 22, 23 and 24 of the Defence White Paper, No. 2270, to find that the Navy has not failed in any of the commitments it has been asked to undertake.
I want to know, therefore, what is the expansion going to be? What is to be the Government's new naval shipbuilding programme? When is it to start? Where is it to be built? Having built it—and this is the most important matter—how is it to be manned? Because the Navy is still short of recruits. Recruiting is not as good as it has been, and in fact re-engagement is down now to 53 per cent. The Navy is short of skilled men—electricians, electrical fitters and artificers. It may be remembered that when we were in office we were criticised that, after H.M.S. "Blake" had been refitted, she could not be manned.
One has evidence, too, that owing to the shortage of airmen in the Fleet Air Arm men are being so overworked that when their service comes to an end they join the Royal Air Force instead. So how are we to expand the naval programme? What do we mean by new ships or more ships? We have at present a great many ships in mothballs, which means they can be taken out and in a week or two put into service again. We have 30 ships under construction, and there should be 77 new ships by 1971. Therefore I would hope that tonight we may have some answer to these questions. Do we really need a new Navy? What type of ships are to be built, and how are they to be manned?
Some of my hon. Friends have discussed the question of aircraft carriers. We have at the moment, the "Eagle", the "Ark Royal", the "Centaur", the "Victorious", and "Hermes", which is undergoing a two-year repair. It has been said by the Minister of Defence that in ten years' time we shall probably have no bases overseas. He said that on 27th September this year. If this is the case, then I can see that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said so well, we shall need aircraft carriers to take the place of the bases. I hope, however, that great consideration will be given to this question of not building other ships which we cannot man.
I should like to suggest, too, that for the unskilled Service man in the Royal Navy there should be a shorter period of service. He now has to sign on for nine years, and I understand that three years would be sufficient for an unskilled man. Nine years is a long time for which to commit oneself. One does not enter into such a commitment with a civilian firm. A man might not like the type of service, and if the unskilled man could enlist a shorter time it might be helpful for recruiting.
I hope that the Government will consider employing more Chinese and Goans in the galleys, because they make excellent cooks and would help greatly with the problem of recruiting. [interruption.] These men will have to be found for the mixed manned force in the future.
If there is to be full integration of the force, we might have Chinese as well.
The Royal Marines have always been able to recruit in adequate numbers, and I should like to see them recruiting people for a technical branch. In olden days the Royal Marines travelled on ships as an assault force. Now that they are so much better at recruiting than are other branches of Service, why not have a technical branch in which they can play their part on ships afloat?
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) twitted me earlier with the fact that I should be mentioning the dockyards. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is interested in the question of employment. I am not advocating that there should be more ships or fewer ships, but in a town in which the dockyard provides the principal employment, it is essential to know what is planned for the future. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are advocating regional planning. How can we plan employment if we have no idea what the Admiralty is going to do about the dockyards in the future?
In May of this year we were told by the previous Government that £3 million would be spent over the next three years. I want to know whether the present Government will hold to that, or whether there is to be a change of policy, because about £400,000 was to be spent on new machinery. It is of vital importance to the working of the dockyard to know whether that is still the policy of the Government. I want a guarantee that there will be no change in the programme in the dockyard for the next three years. In 1959 we had more than 4 per cent. unemployment. We are now down to below the national average, and it is of tremendous importance to know whether the dockyard is to continue to run on the present numbers. If it is, we do not have to bother about bringing in new industry, but if there is to be a change of policy, we must be told to enable us to bring new industries in as quickly as possible. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will realise the importance of this. It affects not only those working there now, but the new apprentice scheme, and so on. It affects the lives of many people in the West Country.
I hope that the reorganisation, modernisation, and planning of the dockyards will continue, and that there will be a readjustment of some of the wage scales. The other day I asked a Question about the wages of lower paid unskilled men. The basic wage is £10 8s. and I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that that is hardly a living wage for someone who is unable to earn overtime. If the wage is improved, it will help to obtain the unskilled men who are needed to balance the labour force in the dockyard.
I hope that what I have said will elicit some definite answers from the hon. Gentleman, particularly about the size and shape of the Navy. I want to know whether there is to be new tonnage, whether the ships are to be brought out of their mothballs, how they are going to be manned, and what is to be the position of the naval dockyards from the point of view of employment in the future.
One or two of the points made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), are worthy of further consideration, particularly the one she made about the situation which exists between Malaysia and Indonesia. One hon. Gentleman said that 9,000 troops were involved. I have been informed that the number is much greater and that about 20,000 troops are at present engaged in this security operation.
I do not want at this stage to get involved in any arguments about the rights or wrongs of this conflict, but I suggest that while we have troops in Malaysia—while our men are dying there; and the hon. Lady told us that in reply to a Question she was informed that 49 of our troops had been killed, and 82 wounded in that area—it is obviously our duty to ensure that they are given the fullest protection.
The interesting and important question is, ought they to be there at all? The only solution to this problem is a political one. No military operation will solve it. It seems to me that the time has come for some definite initiative to be taken by our Government to find a solution to this problem.
Earlier today I referred to a statement in The Times of 2nd November. The representative at Kuala Lumpur said
While Dr. Sukarno has continued to call for new efforts to 'crush' Malaysia, some diplomatists in Jakarta were convinced that Indonesia would welcome a new formula that would permit both sides to accept a settlement without obvious loss of face.
If that is true—and I think that the matter should be probed—some new initiative ought to be taken by the Government to try to find a peaceful solution to the problem.
Mr. Julian Critchley, in an article in the Spectator of 28th August this year, said:
This is a war that may well last for ten years. Such was the view of a senior British officer in Borneo. If his forecast is only partially correct, then the consequences for British policies in South-East Asia will be immense as well as unforeseen. Confrontation in Borneo is a euphemism for a bitter little war, sustained largely by Britain at the cost of a million pounds a week and over a hundred casualties. What is worse is that it is a war in which "victory" is impossible, and to which we seem indefinitely committed.
Although his figures may not be absolutely accurate, the point made by Mr. Julian Critchley is a very important one. We cannot allow this situation to go on indefinitely. Sooner or later there must be a solution. Some initiative must be taken to bring this conflict to an end. I am intervening primarily because this point must be stressed. The hon. Lady made a valuable contribution to the debate when she stressed its importance.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). He asked a series of questions which seemed to me to add up to the demand that we should keep all our bases and should redevelop a policy which is based—no matter what is said to the contrary—on the assumption that Britain is still a major imperialist Power, living at the back end of the last century. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) pointed out that we had to decide whether we had a moral right to be in any of our bases. Experience over the years has proved that although we have conducted last-ditch fights to maintain some of our bases, step by step and base by base we have been forced to give them up and to retreat, at considerable expense and loss of life which could have been avoided.
We are now in a serious economic situation which has been brought about by the policies pursued by the previous Government. I say quite categorically that one of the answers to the economic crisis is undoubtedly a drastic cut in our military expenditure. This is not only in respect of our nuclear deterrent; equally, it involves a serious examination of our bases throughout the world and an honourable withdrawal from those bases where this is considered to be practice- able,either immediately or over a period of years, until we have got rid of our military commitments overseas and can pursue a policy similar to that pursued by Sweden, which has the highest standard of living in the world and has no military bases anywhere. If Sweden can do this, surely we can follow her example.
If we are going to be great again it will not be in the military sense; that is no longer a possibility. But we can be great in giving the right sort of example, by pursuing a policy which will eliminate, stage by stage and in a sensible and practical fashion—and here I do not suggest that we can give up Singapore tomorrow, or even next year, or the year after that—
The hon. Member suggested that we should liquidate our bases overseas, but went on to suggest that he is not arguing that we should liquidate Singapore. Can he make himself a little clearer, for the benefit of hon. Members?
I shall be happy to do so if the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not understand what I am saying. I have said that we should pursue this policy in a sensible and practical way—stage by stage and in an honourable fashion, by way of negotiation and discussion, so as not to be forced out of bases as we have been in the past because the local population does not like us, and has waged a sort of war against us. The result has always been that we have had to go in the end, with considerable loss of life both to ourselves and to the local population, not to mention great expenditure on our part. We must have a new approach to this question.
That is why, although there must be a political solution to the question of the Far East or South-East Asia—a solution which can be arrived at by negotiation round the table, in which we must take an initiative—I do not suggest that we should give up Singapore tomorrow. For the very reasons mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport it would not be economically sensible to give up bases tomorrow or the next year.
We have to reach a state where, sooner or later, having got a peaceful solution to the problems in the Far East, we could withdraw honourably from the bases. This would ease the position in the Far East, from a military point of view, and would improve our position in the world. Then we should be listened to by the ex-colonial countries. This is a way in which we could deal with the problem presented by the bases.
My main, indeed my only, reason for intervening in the debate was to refer to the question of Indonesia and Malaysia, but I now wish to bring the attention of the House to the Ninth Report of the Estimates Committee which dealt with military expenditure overseas. While we have soldiers, sailors and airmen overseas we must concern ourselves with the sort of accommodation which is provided for them. The Report makes a number of pertinent points about Service accommodation overseas which I hope this Government will remedy. The Report states:
To take one example, some naval officers' flats in Gibraltar are expected to cost over £9,000 each to build and some other quarters inspected by Members were extremely luxurious by almost any standard. Yet, not far away, over 200 Service families were having to live in hirings and private accommodation which, to put it at its highest, were well below the standard that a Service man overseas is entitled to expect as accommodation for his family.
The Report points out that this does not apply only in Gibraltar but in other countries as well. Service families at Tobruk were living in squalor—
I realise that the hon. Member was not a Member of the House during the last Parliament. The Report to which he refers was presented to the last Parliament. We went into the allegations in it in great detail and found that they were virtually completely untrue. No flats of that kind were being built. If the hon. Gentleman will correspond with the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, he will get a complete and absolute rebuttal of the charges he has just made.
It is not I who make the charges. They are in the Report. If the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) says that the Report is completely untrue I shall have to accept his word. I shall correspond with the members of the Government Front Bench who, I hope, will give me the information.
I will draw this matter to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Navy. I think that he will wish to say something about it this evening. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that the Departmental replies to the Estimates Committee have not yet been published and he might well wait until they are published before accepting completely what is said by the Estimates Committee.
That leaves me more confused than I was before the hon. Member for Henley intervened. In view of the statements that have been made, I feel that I cannot pursue this point any further and I have no intention of doing so. I shall listen with great interest to the replies given in relation to it. I shall follow the matter as closely as I can. On that note, having, I feel, made my point, I shall cheerfully sit down.
I think many hon. Members will agree that there is a slight element of unreality about this debate. I am not saying that in any offensive sense to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer); I am saying it because, quite clearly, the future of our independent deterrent is the 64 million dollar question which dominates all other Service matters at the present time. It concerns, as a matter of interest, almost exactly 64 million dollars. The uncertainty which surrounds this question must be causing grave concern to most hon. Members on this side of the House and also to some hon. Members on the other side of the House, albeit for absolutely and entirely different reasons! This is not the principal subject of our debate, however, and I should like to refer to some matters concerning the practical, day-to-day work of our conventional forces.
First, I should like to emphasise something which is not always remembered when we are talking about weapons and equipment; which is that men are a great deal more important than weapons or equipment. British Servicemen do a remarkable job for peace in many parts of the world every day of the week. They face danger and discomfort, they face boredom and family separation, they face blistering heat and freezing cold, all in the sure knowledge and understanding that the work they do is worth-while. The hours which they cheerfully work—without any overtime, of course—and the conditions under which, perforce, they live would be a revelation to many millions of civilians. There are no men in the world who are better at cold war police force work than British soldiers, sailors and airmen. A well-deserved tribute has been paid to them during this debate.
These men must not, however, be taken for granted. They are as efficient and as effective as they are for one reason and one reason only—that they have a uniquely high morale. I should like to remind the House of some of the factors which influence the morale of our Service men. If I speak mostly about the Navy, it is because I have more recent experience of it, but similar considerations undoubtedly apply to the Army and to the Royal Air Force. At the present time, our Forces need a continued supply of good and modern and reasonably simple equipment. I can assure the House that the effect on morale of sailors who serve in a brand new ship has to be seen to be believed.
At the same time, such equipment need not be fantastically complicated or unduly sophisticated. I think that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who has now unfortunately left the Chamber, was quite wrong to call the peace-keeping forces unproductive or to say that our soldiers are wasting their time. He is absolutely wrong to say such a thing, and I cannot imagine anything less conducive to the succes of the recruiting campaign which I am sure his right hon. Friends on the Front Bench wish to see reach a successful conclusion.
Secondly, for the Navy a new generation of aircraft carriers is an absolute necessity. I know that this point causes genuine worry for many hon. Members opposite, but I would emphasise that this is not for any aggressive purposes; it is simply because it is quite essential for any naval task force to take its own favourable air situation around with it, on the spot and on the dot. This lesson was learned during World War II, and learned the hard way. I suggest that we do not want to learn it the hard way again. Even in peace time, or so-called peace time, our ships and aircraft must be ready to look after themselves in a confrontation—to use the current jargon—with even quite minor powers, who can, nevertheless, nowadays deploy some extremely useful surface ships and aircraft and submarines. Let us not forget the submarines. Much of this equipment is of Communist origin. I am thinking, in particular, of the areas in the Indian Ocean and the Far East.
Talking of the Far East, may I turn aside for a moment and pay tribute to the Royal Australian Navy, which has already been mentioned in the debate. It is perhaps not as widely known in this country as it should be that the Royal Australian Navy has been contributing to the strategic reserve in the Far East and has been working extremely closely with our naval and air forces out there for many years. The members of the Australian Navy are extremely fine people with whom to work.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of the River Plate Battle, when the German battleship "Graf Spee" came out and scuttled herself outside Montevideo. It is of interest to remember that one of the three cruisers taking part in that action was the New Zealand ship "Achilles." The New Zealand Navy, too, in recent years has been making a most useful contribution to the maintenance of our strategic reserve in the Far East.
Thirdly, I come to the importance and value of the commando carrier in the situation East of Suez. The commando carrier is the most interesting and useful new idea we have had since the end of World War II. In these commando ships the Royal Marines—and, incidentally, the 300th anniversary of the Royal Marines occurred this year—have an opportunity to continue their long service with the Royal Navy. But I do not think that it is sufficient just to consider commando carriers as means of carrying Royal Marines around. We should as quickly as possible advance to the stage where every infantry battalion is trained and experienced in working from these ships. I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on the subject of joint Service control in this context.
I want to refer, particularly, to a problem affecting the Royal Navy which I wish to bring specifically to the notice of the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy. I am referring to the difference in conditions for men serving ashore and men serving at sea. In recent years a great deal has been done to improve the lot of the lower deck. Married quarters are still scarce, particularly in the Navy, My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) made an interesting point when he referred to the difficulty of men serving abroad putting their families in married quarters. It would probably be more profitable to put the families of men who are overseas into the married quarters and to move them out of married quarters when their men come home and are available to obtain private acommodation for their families.
With the exception of the married quarters difficulty, new barracks and accommodation blocks, with single cabins for petty officers, plus sports facilities etc. have been built at home and abroad in very great numbers in recent years. This improvement is very much to the good, but, in a way, it emphasises of itself this difference which I mentioned between the conditions for those serving at sea and those serving ashore.
Two petty officers, for example, might undergo a training course together at Portsmouth. One is sent to sea and one to shore duty in Singapore. The first roan lives in a hot, overcrowded and steamy mess deck, and when his ship visits Singapore he finds his friend living ashore in comfort, with his wife and family, in a house and probably running a motor car as well.
Nobody grudges the man serving ashore his good conditions, least of all his chum from sea. The curious fact is, however, that the man at sea draws far less pay than his counterpart on shore. A man with a family on shore duty in the United Kingdom draws about £2 a week ration allowance to enable his wife to feed him at home. As soon as he goes to sea that allowance ceases, and rightly so. What it comes to is that a seagoing draft note has come to be regarded, in the eyes of a sailor, with both domestic and financial dismay. One realises that sailors must go to sea. They enjoy it when they get there, and a foreign commission in a good ship is one of the most happy and satisfying events in any naval career. However, it is extraordinary that the system does not reward a man for the discomfort of living in a ship. Instead, it pays him less.
The Treasury has for years refused to countenance financial compensation for service at sea. Its resistance on this subject may partially account for Treasury officials having become known, semi-affectionately, in the Royal Navy as the "Abominable No-men". The Treasury has for years played off one Service against the other in this and other matters.
This problem is peculiar to the Navy, and I urge the Minister to consider this whole question of encouragement and inducements for men who are serving at sea. I hope that he will make a long overdue reform in this connection before he is driven to do so by a drop in recruitment or re-engagement.
I hope that the Government will not allow themselves to be seduced by the philosophy put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who said: "It does not matter how often one is wrong, the thing is not to be right." There are a whole range of subjects concerning the Royal Navy and Royal Marines to which I would like to refer, but time is limited and I will confine myself to one other aspect of the matter, which brings me back to the subject of the deterrent.
Just prior to the General Election, the Labour Party emphasised in its manifesto the importance of our having large and well equipped conventional forces, and with that I absolutely agree. But conventional forces do not consist solely of tanks, ships and aircraft. They must, most of all, consist of proud and devoted crews. I can assure the House that nothing could be more disastrously damaging to the morale of our soldiers, sailors and airmen than to be told that the new Government have voluntarily abandoned the British independent nuclear deterrent.
There is a massive inconsistency in Government policy on this subject. On the one hand, they are continually talking about the importance of conventional forces while, on the other, uncertainty is brought about by their own actions, actions which are potentially disastrously damaging to the morale of those conventional forces.
We do not know what arrangements the Prime Minister made in Washington. There are ominous rumours in the newspapers, but presumably we will not know the full story until Wednesday, if then. I hope that this will not become the subject of yet another review, for Servicemen are accustomed to definite orders and clear-cut decisions, and as St. Paul said:
… if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
Of course, the Prime Minister is in a tight spot. He knows that when he speaks here on Wednesday he will have several different categories of people sitting on the benches behind him. Opinion among them is very divided. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) has pointed out, opinion among them is very divided indeed. I notice three main groups among hon. Members opposite. There are those who just do not know the basic facts of life about defence at all. Anyone who saw a recent "Gallery" television programme will realise for himself that this is true, certainly of some hon. Members opposite. With the greatest respect, I think that we heard similar performances which emphasise the composition of that group here this afternoon.
I now go on to the second category. Category B are those who have considered defence problems really carefully and taken trouble to inform themselves but who have come to the conclusion that they genuinely are opposed to the deterrent. One can perhaps respect the sincerity of this group, but certainly not their judgment. The kindest thing one can say about them is that they are what Disraeli called "cosmopolitan critics: men who are friends of every country save their own".
I listened with some interest to the hon. and gallant Member, but I thought when he introduced remarks of that kind they were rather pompous. I am an ex-Service man myself. There are hon. Members on this side of the House who fought for Queen, King and country in both wars. I suggest that rather than spend his time analysing his so-called three groups on this side, he should look about to see if there is one group over there at the moment.
With respect, the hon. Member has not listened to my group C, that is the third group. They are those who know, who realise, and who appreciate the need for an independent British deterrent but who for party political purposes do not dare to say so now. I think it is for hon. Members to decide for themselves to which group they belong. This group C, if they learn on Wednesday that the Prime Minister has sold the pass at Washington will, I suggest, be facing the most agonising crisis of conscience.
I do not want to end on a note of party strife. As a plain matter of history, the original decision to produce British atom bombs was taken by the Socialist Government in 1947 under the then Mr. Attlee. As a result of his wise decision, Britain was able to take part in the long and difficult negotiations which eventually led to the signing of the test ban treaty. But, in all fairness, the credit for the test ban treaty must go to the Conservative Government and, in particular, to my right hon. Friend who is now the Leader of the Opposition. It may be that the test ban treaty will prove to have been the first glimmer of dawn, the first step of recognition by East and West alike that nuclear war is unthinkable. When so much has been done, this is surely not the moment to surrender all that has been gained. All Members of this House will, I feel sure, willingly pay tribute to Lord Attlee and his Government for the wisdom of their original decision: but let us hope that his successor, now the Prime Minister, will be statesman enough to remember the words of Sir Francis Drake's prayer:
Oh Lord God, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour in any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the full glory".
I should first like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) upon the distinction with which he made his maiden speech. Over the years, some of us sometimes forget the strain under which maiden speakers labour, but this evening, speaking from the Dispatch Box, I am very conscious of it.
While I am in a congratulatory mood, I would also congratulate the Ministers opposite on the high office they have come to. I dare say that in the weeks and months ahead we shall criticise them for being shortsighted—and, on occasion, downright foolish—but I do not think that we shall ever have to criticise them for any lack of desire to serve, and serve honourably, the men in the Services for whom they have the honour to speak in this House.
It is a common complaint of Opposition Members that they do not receive enough information about what is going on in defence. The Labour Party raised this theme, somewhat half-heartedly, in the Estimates Debate last March, but if the theme of lack of information could be raised at all in March then, plainly, the situation now is quite catastrophic. Any new Government, of course, have the right to review the defence policy of their predecessors, but on this occasion every facet of our defence system has been put into doubt.
It is clear that the House as a whole does not know what the Government's defence policy is. It is clear that most of our allies do not know what the Government's defence policy is. It is clear that most of our enemies do not know what the Government's defence policy is. The real question is when responsible Ministers will be in a position to know what our defence policy is.
Initiative tests have had a great vogue in the Armed Forces recently, and the Commandant of the Imperial Defence College might well consider letting his students loose for 48 hours to see whether they can find out what the Government defence policy is. I do not think that they would get much guidance from the speech of the Deputy Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of a number of decisions that have been taken but, I think without exception, every one of the decisions about which he spoke so warmly had been taken by Ministers who are now on this side of the House.
If the speech of the right hon. Gentleman does not give us much clue, I wonder whether the speeches of right hon. and hon. Members opposite when in Opposition provide any better clue. At the risk of some mental intoxication I have recently been reading column after column of their speeches in Defence Estimates debates earlier in the year. Every single one of them called for increased expenditure on our conventional forces in matters both large and small.
I am sorry that the Paymaster-General is not in his place this evening. After all, he travelled down alone with the Prime Minister to that well-guarded weekend at Chequers. Therefore, possibly he knows more about our defence policy than almost anyone else. The Paymaster-General, in his speech in the defence debate last year, gave his colleagues some advice. "Do not promise anything now" was what he said, but he hardly followed this austere advice himself.
In the course of four successive speeches, lasting three hours and 54 minutes, the right hon. Gentleman called, among other things, for higher pay in the Territorial Army, completely new equipment for the Territorial Army, for a completely new reactivated civil defence policy, for more men, of course, and for new equipment and new missiles. There are some people who think the Paymaster-General's speeches are worth a guinea a minute. If any Government took his advice seriously it would cost the taxpayer a million guineas a minute.
Then there is the Minister of Defence. He wanted high priority for a real strategic air freighter. He thought our tactical airlift was deplorably small. He seemed to want more aircraft carriers and more men. The present Minister of Defence had this to say about his predecessor's handling of the aircraft industry:
I happen to know that the firms concerned with these aircraft are disgusted and appalled at the Government's continuous shillyshallying about their future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 463]
How those companies must long for a return to that sort of "shilly shally". I cannot think of any industry which has
ever been thrown into greater turmoil and disarray by a new Government than our aircraft industry has been in recent weeks.
The Ministers of State taking part in this debate made rather more modest attempts when they were speaking earlier this year. The present Minister of Defence for the Army made some sensible suggestions about educational allowances and overseas allowances and the Minister of Defence for the Navy made what can only be called a great constituency speech on the Army Estimates. The topsoil of Woolwich Common, it seemed, was being torn to shreds by War Office contractors who were making no effort at reseeding. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is still looking after his constituents' aesthetic interests. Perhaps the whole problem has been handed over to a combined Services horticultural command with an air commodore in command of chrysanthemums.
Not a single Front Bench speaker for defence in the Labour Party in this year's Defence Estimates debates suggested a single cut in spending on our conventional forces. If past speeches of Ministers do not seem to make a reliable guide to future policy, no more reliable a guide than the Labour Party manifesto or Labour Party conferences, which have not been allowed to discuss defence at all since 1962—I hope we shall have a more lively debate next year—where can one turn? Perhaps one may turn to the Press. It is, after all, the chosen instrument of the Government for letting us know what changes in our tax structure we can expect, but alas, this channel does not seem to have worked particularly well. Only a couple of days ago we had the Prime Minister attacking the way in which his actions have been misrepresented in the Press in the defence field. But I am not sure that all the boots are on the same foot.
Two weeks ago I was surprised to see a rash of stories on the front pages of our leading Sunday papers under headlines which said, starkly and unequivocally, that the Rhine Army would be cut. The House will recall that, a few days earlier, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had flatly told the House that massive cuts would be made in overseas military spending.
In the days that followed, other Ministers confirmed that we would stay in Cyprus and Aden, while the Prime Minister himself told the House that our support for Malaysia would become more effective. It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that speculation about the cuts should centre on Germany. But it is quite plain from the way in which these stories were presented that guidance had been given from the very highest level.
I was somewhat surprised to see these stories because I had listened, in this House and in the Assembly of Western European Union, to the First Secretary of State and the Minister of Defence for the Army stating that, in good financial times and in bad, the build-up of B.A.O.R. to its full treaty level of 55,000 men must be our first priority. I was, therefore, not altogether surprised to see that the headlines on that Sunday were denied the following day by other headlines which said that B.A.O.R. would not be cut.
Indeed, a few days later—and this was confirmed in Washington and again today, if the B.B.C. gets things right—we learned from the Foreign Secretary, as he moved over to Paris, that the important thing is not so much to cut the number of troops in B.A.O.R. but to prevent any further build-up of forces in Germany. One does wonder where on earth the Press briefings by Ministers will lead us in future, because certainly they have led to a very sorry tale in recent days.
Part of the hon. Member's difficulty is that he only reads the newspapers and does not take account of official announcements. On the day after the Sunday to which he refers, my right hon. Friend answered a specific Question about B.A.O.R., confirming a statement I had made in Bonn over a month before.
That makes it all the more perplexing as to why all the major Sunday newspapers gave these great headlines saying that the Rhine Army was to be cut. Clearly, the right hon. Gentleman must look most seriously into the question of who does the briefing in the Government on defence matters. With so much uncertainty, it is hardly surprising that a number of hon. Members on both sides are beginning to suspect that the clearest descriptions of the Government's present defence policy—certainly towards conventional forces and perhaps ultimately towards nuclear weapons—have been made in past debates by my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft). Some hon. Members opposite fear that this is true. I, for one, hope that it is.
It is certain that at the Brighton Conference there was a lot of talk about big cuts in current defence expenditure. Addressing the conference, the Prime Minister said that Tory defence policies did not add up. He said that they were not related to what the country could afford, whether in terms of money or real resources. I therefore all the more regret the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for the Army has just been removed from the National Executive of his party. He is not the first intelligent man to have been removed from that executive because of the suspicion that he held moderate and sensible views. Certainly it would have been better if that part of his speech this afternoon relating to the hard element in defence estimates and how the major part of our defence spending could not in any circumstances be touched in the coming months had been addressed to his own party executive rather than to this side of the House, where it is already known.
I only hope that Members of the National Executive will read that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech and I hope that the First Secretary will do so and not make statements about the massive savings in defence which can be made very quickly.
Presumably, cuts in defence are the policy of the Government and I should like to know in which broad respects Ministers believe that quick savings can be made. In manpower? Even allowing for the run-down in the strength of the Royal Air Force, there are now more men in the Armed Forces than there were a year ago. Ministers have said that they are confident that in the coming months there will be more again. I presume that rates of pay will not be cut. The cost of manpower must therefore be higher next year than now. If the numbers rise, surely the cost of accommodation is not likely to fall. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) pointed out in a powerful speech, as so many Service men are married, the need for married quarters is rising. The Minister of Public Building and Works recently gave me a promise that the rate of married quarters building would not be cut in the coming year. It is difficult to see how the savings can be made on the accommodation side.
Then there is transport. Are there any grounds for thinking that this bill can be cut appreciably with so many men east of Suez? Recent political changes in countries with which we have over-flying rights may make transport costs more costly. Can any major savings be made in transport?
That leaves us with equipment. As the House realises full well, once work has begun on a submarine, or once a production line for a Chieftain tank has been set up, the savings which can be made by stopping a project are small. Of course, it may be possible that in future we will be able to work out more effective methods of weapons supply, but, in the short term, savings are hard to come by. Can the Minister who is to reply to the debate say whether any equipment contracts have yet been cancelled by the Government?
The question remains: in what broad areas will the savings demanded at Brighton most probably be found?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware, as we are now, that one of the reasons why the equipment bill for the Army is going up is that his right hon. and hon. Friends over the past five years have been deliberately cutting down everywhere? We have got to the position where it can no longer be done and the bill must be paid.
That would seem to make it plain that the Ministers sitting on the Front Bench opposite, if not the Government as a whole, do not believe that the equipment bill can be cut in the months to come. We shall be very interested to see whether they are able to live up to that.
I put the question broadly because I appreciate that the Ministers are in the middle of a large-scale review of our defence policy. This puts us in a quandary. There are many questions which we should like to ask Ministers, and some of them have been put in this debate. What is going on in Borneo? How long do we think that the conflict there will last? The Royal Navy has been in action today. Do we expect that coastal infiltration by the Indonesians is likely to increase?
What priority do Ministers intend to give to joint production projects with our European partners—projects which have been put in jeopardy by the handling of the Concord project, as the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) so courageously pointed out? Do Ministers intend to raise the manpower targets when they have hit them? What about the powerful arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who pointed out that the Labour Party was bound in honour to introduce a sharp increase in Service pension rates?
There are a great many questions which we should like to put, and yet we are on the horns of a dilemma. We believe that if we do not press Ministers too hard at this moment, as they get into the work of their Departments they will progressively realise that the policies which my right hon. and hon. Friends have been following are the right ones and that they will be driven into the paths we have marked out. Therefore, on the one hand, we want answers, but, on the other hand, we do not want Ministers to give too hasty replies.
There is, however, one thing in respect of which the House and the Alliance as a whole cannot wait. A measure of domestic uncertainty within the House, even within the Services, and among the hundreds of firms and tens of thousands of workpeople who provide Service equipment may be unavoidable. It causes anxiety and discomfort, but it can be borne. However, uncertainty about the nature of our commitments can produce bloodshed as well as anxiety. In 1950, a mistaken belief that the United States of America had no intention of maintaining its commitment to defend South Korea against aggression helped to bring on a conflict which costs tens of thousands of lives.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that overseas expenditure should be cut. The Secretary of State for Defence said in the House of Commons three weeks ago:
There may be cases—I believe there are—where we find ourselves inheriting commitments from an imperial past which have lost their relevance in the modern world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 1028.]
The Government must recognise that statements of that sort promote alarm among our friends and allies. I do not believe that the Secretary of State intends to use that form of words to cancel our commitments in Hong Kong, Cyprus, Aden, the Persian Gulf or Gibraltar. The Government must, however, realise that uncertainty and alarm have been spread abroad.
Clearly, much as we admire his talents, the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, who is to reply to this debate, is in no position to give a solid assurance on matters of this importance. I hope that the Prime Minister will do something to clarify the position when he speaks on Wednesday. Continuing uncertainty can only harm our joint cause.
When it comes to the question of support for our friends and allies, we simply cannot hope to reserve our position for months on end. Not only must we stand by our commitments, but we must also persuade our friends and allies that we intend to back them up honourably. That is the position that the Government must make abundantly plain.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on his promotion as "shadow" spokesman for the Army, a distinguished post recently held both by my right hon. Friend and myself. The hon. Member may find his task as critic a good deal more difficult than ours was. I sincerely hope so. I have the pleasant task also, I understand, of congratulating the hon. Member on the birth of a child today, which I warmly do. We might have wished in the circumstances that his speech would have been a little more creative than it was. It contrasted well, however, with the speech of his fellow "shadow" spokesman, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), who opened the debate for the Opposition and about whose speech I shall have more to say.
We were puzzled by the enthusiasm of the Opposition to hold a debate on this subject at this time. The Order Paper states that the proposed subject for debate was the Armed Services. Had it been a debate about the Armed Services, if the "shadow" spokesmen for the Opposition had done their duty and asked us questions and, perhaps, criticised us about the administration and organisation of the Armed Services, or if they had made constructive suggestions about the Armed Services, that would have made sense to us. Although from the back benches, on both sides, we have had a number of thoughtful and well-informed speeches about the Armed Services, we have had nothing resembling any concern for the Service man from the two "shadow" spokesmen on the Opposition Front Bench.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West spent his entire speech of 45 minutes churning out all the old debating questions from the last defence debate on 23rd November, trying to do a little better what his right hon. Friends so signally failed to do on that occasion. Surely it is understood that while the review of our defence policy is going on it is really not possible for me or anyone else to answer the innumerable specific high level questions of policy put to us by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am coming to that. They accept the need for a defence review. The hon. Member for Beckenham said, "We acknowledge the right of a Government to a defence review". I think all hon. Members in the House have done this. I recall the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West saying that consultations are taking place now and obviously we must give them a good run, and he said, quite correctly, that the disposition and even the rôle of our forces are in question, and he is right.
All the questions we were asked depend on the result of the review we are making, but hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite plainly do not understand all that is involved in a large-scale review of defence of this kind. It is a problem of enormous complexity, with all the factors interdependent, involving £2,000 million and hundreds of thousands of people's jobs all over the world, and with repercussions in foreign policy, industry, home politics, in every possible way. If they understood these things, they would not stand there and declare that within eight weeks of the Government taking office they should get answers to all the questions they have put to us. It is perfectly ridiculous. It is a sign of their lack of sophistication in these things.
It is, I suppose, perfectly natural that the first time one turns up as shadow spokesman at that Despatch Box one likes to make a polemical speech of the kind the hon. Gentlemen did, but if they understood the size and complexity of the problem they would not have spoken as they did. They would have understood that from the point of view of the Servicemen it is much more important to come to the right answer rather than to a quick answer about these things, and they might have been a little more responsible and a little more restrained in the speeches they gave the House today.
I had no idea I should have such a quick success in completely changing the attitude of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West. I invite him to consult his own speech tomorrow morning in HANSARD to see whether what he said was right.
Of course I am going to give answers to a number of questions raised in the debate, but not to the high level strategic questions put to me from the Opposition Front Bench. It was said that uncertainty grows with delay. The point was put to me. What do they expect? What really is the attitude of hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Front Bench? That we are entitled to make our review; and we are entitled to take our time, we are now told; but at the same time everyone must know exactly where he stands, they say. Is that their position? What an irresponsible point of view it is. It is obviously inevitable that the rôle of the Armed Forces is bound up with the defence review we are making.
This is the kind of of partisan attitude to these problems which I, for the rest of my speech, shall abjure. To consider the problems of the Armed Services objectively is always a difficult thing to do, but to pronounce decisions while a review is going on, and within eight weeks of the new Government being formed, is a folly I do not propose to follow.
However, I am going to answer one or two of the questions put from the back benchers. The question about the Knightsbridge Barracks I can get over quickly. This was one of the better points raised by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West and also the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason). This is a question which I shall answer. The project to rebuild Knightsbridge Barracks will now go ahead. I can also answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead. The House will recall that it is necessary to rehouse the Household troops at present in Knightsbridge, and the contract for the temporary accommodation for this purpose will be let shortly. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.
We then had a typical speech from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I am sorry that he is not present now. He showed an extraordinary conservatism in his outlook by stating that the defence policy outlined by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West would cost £200 million a year more than current costs. This is plainly absurd. The costing that I have done shows that it would cost at least £500 million a year more than the current defence budget to create the defence policy which he was so irresponsibly outlining to the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) asked about the status of nurses in the Armed Services. The Services need many more female nurses than male nurses, simply because the medical treatment given by the Services is given to the wives and children of members of the Services. There is a demand for the direct recruitment of female officers in the nursing services, but the few posts available for male nursing officers are needed to provide openings for promoting male nurses already in the ranks.
I know that I shall not have satisfied my hon. Friend with that. I have been into this in considerable detail, and I know that it is a great deal more complicated, but perhaps I may satisfy him by telling him that although I have looked into it, in the light of what he said this evening I shall look at it again to see whether I can meet him on the point that he made.
I shall write to him about the problem of accountancy in the Territorial Army which he also raised.
A number of hon. Members, and particularly the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), raised the question of Service pensions. My hon. and learned Friend asked me to explain the apparent discrepancy between £13 million which Mr. Kirk announced to be the cost of raising pensions as my hon. and learned Friend wanted, and the estimate of £25 million which I gave in answer to a Question last week. I can only state that I have checked my own reply, and that the cost of moving up retired pay and pensions of former naval, military, and air personnel retired under earlier scales to scales applicable if their retirement were taking place now, would be £25 million out of a total cost for all public service pensioners of more than £100 million.
My hon. Friend the Chief Secretary told the House that the whole question of pension increases for public service pensioners is under review, and I cannot say anything further until the review has been completed. The House should know that the cost of parity, as it is called, for all the public services would be £100 million a year, and therefore we shall have to think very carefully about that.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) made a number of constructive suggestions and asked a number of questions. I am sorry that I cannot deal with them all. I assure him that the principle of joint training at staff colleges is well understood by us. We provide quite a lot of joint training at staff colleges, although there are great difficulties about joint cadet training. A cadet has a lot to learn from the single Service angle before he starts joint Service training. This was raised by the Select Committee. I know that hon. Members will be familiar with this Report, and we are looking further into the possibilities of action here.
A number of hon. Members referred to the key question of married quarters for the Services. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) raised again the question of the cost of certain flats alleged to have been built for officers at Gibraltar. This was mentioned by the Select Committee in its Ninth Report. We have an answer in the machine to the Select Committee, and perhaps it would not be proper to go into great detail, but I assure my hon. Friend that there is no question whatever of discriminating against other ranks on this question of building flats. The figures show that the previous Government built 100 married quarters for other ranks before building a single married quarter for officers. That should be on the record.
I appreciate what the hon. Member for Haltemprice said about the building mortgage corporation or some such organisation. We must agree on the vital importance of housing finance for Service men. The hon. Member's point of view has been firmly imprinted on my mind.
A number of hon. Members referred to the importance of increasing the number of married quarters. Speaking with a single Service hat on, as a Minister for the Navy, I must say that the Navy's problem is much more urgent even than that of the other Services. I find that there are naval married quarters for only one man in three who are eligible for them. A proportion of men have their families in council houses, or own their own houses, or fend for themselves in other ways, but one-third is a bleak proportion, and is responsible for a good deal of the well-justified disappointment and frustration which remain. We are following the line that our predecessors did.
One of the follies of being polemical in these matters is that inevitably we have to take into account the ideas and started projects of our predecessors. Our programme provides for 5,000 married quarters over the next three financial years and 2,000 a year thereafter, for the Navy. I have been asked from time to time by hon. Members—and this matter was raised in another place—about the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act. That has been useful to all three Services since it was introduced in 1949 by a Labour Government. It was continued twice by hon. Members opposite, with general all-party support, and we have every intention of including it in the legislative programme of the Session.
References were made to re-engagement and recruiting. Perhaps I may again speak from the naval point of view. I was struck by one or two hon. Members saying that, somehow, the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or other of my right hon. Friends had caused such unsettlement in the Armed Services as to damage recruiting, re-engagement, and so on. I do not know about that, but recently I have been to several naval establishments, including Chatham and Portsmouth, and a number of ships, and have taken the opportunity of questioning men whose engagements were due to run out in the next year or the year after, asking them what factors they felt influenced their friends and themselves in making up their minds whether or not to sign on again.
Many are proposing to re-engage, and almost all have friendly or favourable things to say about the Service. But many spoke of the lack of secure family life—too much separation, too few married quarters and too much moving around on short shore stations at home. They talked about their families having to leave their married quarters after their period had expired, when, perhaps, the husband was overseas on duty. Many of the older men spoke nostalgically of the days when it was possible to rely on coming home to one's own specific home port where, as one man put it, "You know the man who sells you the evening paper at the dockyard gates".
I ask hon Members to consider whether anything could be more frustrating than, for example—as cases have been put to me—to settle one's family, say, in Portsmouth, and perhaps even to make a down payment on a house there, and then to come back from overseas and be posted to Devonport. It is a tremendous human problem to spend one's home service shuttling uncomfortably from Devonport to Portsmouth in the early hours of Saturday morning to get a glimpse of one's family in one's own house.
These are some problems put to me as being the real cause why our re-engagement rates are unsatisfactory, as they are; I do not conceal that from the House. This and the pull of civilian life are the reasons I was given. These men spoke in friendly terms, and frankly, and without the slightest bitterness or disrespect. Yet, strangely enough, not one of them mentioned the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
Of course it may be said that my experience is not typical, and that the Service men hon. Members opposite talk to pore over the Parliamentary reports in The Guardian and in The Times. I wonder how many of these men really act like that. I wonder whether the whole thing is not a figment of the imaginations of hon. Members opposite, or an actual invention. I should not be surprised. I am pretty certain that if there is any feeling of insecurity in the minds of Service men today, it is less likely to be due to the Government's review of defence policy than to the partisan propaganda on this point of hon. Members opposite.
It may be asked, what about the overall man power position, and I must say a word about that. This is the biggest problem for the Navy at the moment and the biggest headache that I have to face. It is not a general problem over all the Services, as was shown in his speech by my right hon. Friend. The position in the Army and the Royal Air Force is much better. It is not a general problem even in the Navy, but I find an acute shortage in particular categories. It is a platitude to say that the Services need many highly trained specialists. It is true of all three Services that they are in the throes of a technical revolution which puts a tremendous premium on skilled and trained men. The problem facing the Navy is made worse to the extent that we cram more and more complex equipment into smallish ships. The Navy has more jobs to do under existing arrangements than trained men to do them. I will not forecast whether and how arrangements may alter so as to change our overall need for men, but it is clear that we need more and more skilled men in various categories.
I have been surprised to find how far the new equipment in our ships represents a technical revolution in every aspect; in propulsion, weapon systems, communications—the whole integrated ship system, as it is now called. I have been vastly impressed by what I found. But whatever the change in policy, whatever the decisions on the big questions thrown at the Government Front Bench, we cannot make the best use of our excellent ships without a higher proportion of skilled technical ratings, and particularly of professionally qualified officers. In this field we compete directly with industrial competition, and it is stiff competition.
There is a serious danger that if we do not take vigorous action, a downward spiral will set in. Too much strain could produce a drop in the re-engagement rates in these categories. The drop will increase the strain in these categories and there is a serious danger of a vicious spiral which we must do everything to stop.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any men from the Navy had anything to say about their worries over the new Polaris programme that this new Government are bound to produce?
In connection with re-engagement, no.
Today of the first nine years of a typical rating, two-and-a-half years may be spent east of Suez; three and a half years at sea west of Suez and three years at home in the United Kingdom.
No. This may not sound too bad, but within shortage branches there is serious danger of ratings spending more time at sea and more time overseas. I have well in mind the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) about sea service. This part of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman was extremely well-informed, and again I can only say that his point has gone home with me. I shall certainly bear it in mind.
Worse than that, the demands on men in these categories are such that they have to be moved round and so spend less and less time with their families at home. It is not only the difficulty at sea. Then down goes their re-engagement rate and life gets still harder for those specialists left behind. The overall rate of re-engagement of men finishing their first period of service has been going down steadily for the last five years. It was 65 per cent. in 1959 and it is 50 per cent. now. In the shortage categories the rates are worse.
It may be a more recent figure, of course. We are dealing with the continuous service engagement, the 12-year men. Much more worrying are the coming re-engagement rates for nine-year men when they come out next year. This is because in 1956 the first engagement for all accepted apprentices became nine years. We call it the first long-service. Next year, therefore, and for the next three or four years, the main flood of the new engagements will mature and will be added to the steady loss of about 1,000 a year from the old 12-year engagements we are getting. Last year, about 5,600 ratings left. This year, about 6,000 will leave. Unless the re-engagement rates rise, the actual loss could average 7,500 in each of the three years.
It has been argued that recruiting is going up, but, as was explained at Question Time last week, this does not solve the problem. The people we are losing, if they do not re-engage, are senior, experienced, trained men and the time and cost of replacing them all with new recruits would be prohibitive. Including major capital items, the cost of training a man varies from £4,000 to £10,000, depending on his trade. The cost of training naval air crews, I find—and this is a most acute shortage—varies between £60,000 and £100,000. There is also the fact that to train them one has to bring skilled men off the ships and into training establishments. A few simple sums show that we cannot do it this way. I hope that the House is not expecting me to set out the solutions to the re-engagement problem. We are studying most urgently the precise causes of the drop in re-engagement rates and the best ways of reversing the trend. We are taking careful account of ideas on which our predecessors were working when we took office.
I should like to turn to the subject of dockyards to which the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) referred. As the Member for Woolwich, East, for many long years I share some of the anxieties which I know many hon. Members feel who have dockyard responsibilities. I know that they will not expect me to make any assurance about the distant future; that again will depend on our review of defence policy. We foresee that during the next year there will be no serious problem of unbalance, between load and capacity generally or between one dockyard and another, or between trades—nothing, that is, which cannot be overcome by normal methods. This assumes our maintaining a labour force of between 35,400 and 35,800. I hope that this is some reassurance to the hon. Lady.
Hon. Members who have more experience than I have of these matters know how demanding is the work of getting a balance between the load and the capacity. It is the other side of the picture which I was describing earlier about having to go from Devon-port to Portsmouth when the ship goes to Devonport instead of its proper home port of Portsmouth. It is because one has to get some balance in the dockyard to secure the employment; that is the other side of the picture which I was mentioning earlier. I know that hon, Members who represent dockyard constituencies will realise this very well.
My right hon. Friend is responsible for that, and I think that he will be making a statement shortly. We all have our constituencies.
It is important to keep up the load in dockyards in order to keep the extraordinarily good industrial relations which we have in the dockyards. There have been no serious strikes there in living memory; there is a comprehensive system of Whitley committees at all levels from the shop floor up; demarcation disputes are rare and work has always been carried on while such disputes were being settled. This seems all the more creditable when one looks at the antiquated system of the traditional arrangements. I was at Chatham recently and I shall be going to Portsmouth tomorrow with one of my hon. Friends.
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
If hon. Members look at how ancient are some of the arrangements, it is surprising how smoothly they run. I found that the rates of pay for Admiralty shipwrights, including overtime, subsistence and all kinds of extra payments, can be traced back to the 1400's and some of them have not been altered since. In spite of that, labour relations are excellent.
I am not altogether blaming hon. Members opposite, but three years ago the dockyards were grossly overloaded and a year ago they were underloaded. That is the kind of thing which the Government should have tried to avoid.
It may be argued that, in spite of the low re-engagement rate, the recruiting figures are reasonable. It is true that the annual entry—I am speaking from the naval point of view—of recruits has increased each year since 1960 and amounted to nearly 7,200 in 1963–64. But I am not at all happy about the trend so far this year. In addition, these figures do not match the need. We need well over 8,000 a year in the next few years simply to help us through. We have to fight against a number of factors beyond our control which are very adverse to recruiting—for example, the population bulge, which moved into the recruiting age band in 1961–62 and which helped us in the last three years, and which is now passing beyond that. More boys are staying at school, more are choosing a career early and higher bids for them are being made by civil employers.
Having said that—and it needs to be said—I do not want to give an impression that we are helpless in dealing either with recruitment or with re-engagement. We are looking at various projects in recruitment and we have already taken some steps. We are by no means without hope of overcoming the difficulty.
At times this has been an unexpectedly combative debate—in my view inappropriately so. Once or twice I myself have been combative. But I concede to hon. Members opposite that I still have a lot to learn, especially about the Navy, and a lot to do. The important aim on which I think we all agree is to define our commitments and objectives and to ensure that the Services have the men, the training, the material and the organisation to carry them out. That is our aim, and if we succeed we shall do something which our predecessors never did. They never matched commitments to the resources which they had. The right hon. Member for Monmouth must know that, because he resigned on this point.
That is our aim. I am not only thinking of our immediate predecessors but also thinking from vivid personal memory of 1939—of landing in France in September of that year with the first of the Territorials, very good men but seriously under-trained and wretchedly equipped. [HON. MEMBERS: "Whose fault? "] It is quite absurd for hon. Members opposite to hold at our doorstep the unpreparedness of the Army in 1939.
But that was a long time ago. Now my right hon. and right hon. Friends and myself have some responsibility in this field, and we are determined that the Services will never be put in that position again. I know that both sides of the House will agree with that principle.