Before the House enters upon the business of Supply, I would like to refer to the Amendment in the names of the hon. Members for Epping (Mr. Newens) and for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes)—
That the Vote be reduced by 1,000 men.
I cannot forecast whether these hon. Members will be successful in catching the eye of the Chair during the debate, but if either of them is sucessful he, like any other hon. Member, will have an opportunity to move such an Amendment.
I beg to move.
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 210,000, all ranks, to be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1970.
The total of Army Votes for 1969–70 is £598 million. We have had to find about £30 million for pay and price increases and it is notable that this has been achieved and an Estimate produced which is, in fact, about £3 million lower than that for the present year. The largest reductions are those in military and civil manpower, amounting to £15 million, and in purchases of stores and equipment of about £11 million net. We have completed the special housing programme for Servicemen returning from abroad and this has reduced the new Estimate by a little over £11 million.
On the other hand, expenditure on pensions will be higher next year, and we do not expect to receive so much from the sale of land and properties. This means that the measures of economy announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in January last year, and included in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy, 1968, are now being reflected in the Estimates. This is a matter for satisfaction, but a smaller part of the saving is also due to the decline in recruiting in recent month; but that is only about £2½ million.
It has been customary, in the opening speeches in these Estimates debates, to start off by a reference to the Army's operational activities during the course of the year. This year, for the first time for many years, there have been no military warlike operations. All the operations have been peacekeeping operations. They have been conducted with the Army's usual efficiency and discretion. In January, 1968 we were asked by the Mauritius Government to assist in controlling communal disturbances. Troops of the 3rd Battalion The Light Infantry were promptly flown from Singapore and played a considerable part of maintaining law and order. The troops were withdrawn in November. On the other side of the world, the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Rangers were sent to Bermuda when rioting broke out in April. Their prompt response to this threat was crucial in restoring peace to the area.
I am glad to report that the situation in other areas of the world where our troops are still stationed has remained remarkably quiet throughout the year. In Hong Kong, the presence of our troops has done much to kep the peace and to reassure the population of the Government's determination to maintain law and order in the Colony.
Our troops with the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus have continued to play a vital part in improving the atmosphere in the island. As a result, we have been able to reduce our forces there.
The Royal Engineers have undertaken a number of useful tasks, ranging from survey work in Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia, to airfield reconstruction in the Solomon Islands, Gilbert and Ellice Islands and El Adem. At Beef Island, in the British Virgin Islands, the Sappers have just completed the building of an airfield. The task was formidable, calling for a number of skills and trades in which Royal Engineer craftsmen need constant practice for their operational rôle. Besides leaving behind a fine airfield, they will leave a fund of good will. As a sign of their appreciation, the Government of the British Virgin Islands had a stamp issued bearing the insignia of the Royal Engineers.
I approve very much of these activities, but will my hon. Friend say something about financial relations with the Treasury? Some of us feel that these good works should not be put entirely on the Defence Vote.
I shall have something to say about that later.
In Germany, the Rhine Army continues to make an invaluable contribution to the North Atlantic Alliance. Because it is the only all-Regular Army in Western Europe, and because we have equipped it with sophisticated equipment, it has achieved a standard of professionalism which is second to none. Every man in B.A.O.R. knows his job and how much depends on his personal effort. To sum up on the Army's operational activities during the year, it would be fair to say that no blood has been shed, and to great advantage.
Now that a greater proportion of the Army is to be stationed in the United Kingdom, we continue to attach great importance to maintaining a high level of overseas training, particularly for the units stationed in the United Kingdom and in Germany. This will be essential if our forces are to remain experienced and efficient, if we are to preserve our operational techniques and skills in different climates and terrains, and if we are to overcome the limitations of our training areas in this country and in Germany. This will also give Service men opportunities to go abroad.
During the last year, exercises were carried out abroad in 25 different countries by 39 major and 73 minor units of the Regular Army, as well as 10 major and 62 minor units of the T & AVR. These exercises have included six formation exercises, one of which saw 6 Infantry Brigade, now stationed at Catterick and Barnard Castle, training alongside its fellow formation units in Germany.
There have also been N.A.T.O. exercises involving the United Kingdom element of the Allied Mobile Force, and a recent successful exercise involving a brigade of 3 Division stationed in the United Kingdom, which moved to the Baltic area to exercise with units of the German and Danish Armies.
Next year the expenditure for equipment shows a reduction of nearly £9 million on the amount required for the current year. As this includes £3 million for increased price levels, the reduction in real terms is nearly £12 million—without any fall in standards. This satisfactory situation arises directly from the cutting back in our commitments, which should, in the long term, enable us to afford the higher costs of the more complex equipments coming forward.
During the next year, deliveries of Chieftain tanks, Swingfire long-range anti-tank guided missiles, and FACE—the field artillery computing equipment—will continue; while BRUIN—the semiautomatic trunk communication system in B.A.O.R.—has proved so successful that it will be extended in B.A.O.R. and a limited form will be developed for Army Strategic Command. Perhaps the most important item of equipment coming into service is the new Surveillance Drone, which is an unmanned aircraft designed to photograph areas in enemy positions, to identify targets and to collect intelligence. This is a very good example of a collaborative development of three N.A.T.O. countries—Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany and the United Kingdom—with development costs shared on an equal basis.
Among the other more important equipments there are new ground surveillance radar, the starlightscope passive individual weapon sight, and three types of bridging. The German M2B self-powered amphibious bridge-ferry and the British developed medium girder bridge will both be capable of carrying the Chieftain tank, and there is a lighter air-portable bridge. All these new equipments will add considerably to the Army's ability to locate targets, to fight by night, and to ensure that the mobility of its new equipment can be used to the best advantage.
Over the whole range of Army equipment we are continually striving to widen the field of collaboration with our allies to ensure the sharing of development costs and the lower production costs arising from larger production orders. To date, we have entered into collaborative arrangements with the Federal Republic of Germany in the development of a 155 mm towed gun and its ammunition; with the French Government on two helicopters; and a quadripartite project, MALLARD, for the development and production of a fully automatic tactical trunk communication system.
Progress is being made in the reduction in the Army's order of battle by 26 major units as a result of the decision to cut our military commitments and concentrate our major effort in Europe. Already, seven of these reductions have been effected; seven more will be effected before the end of this year; and the whole programme will be completed by the autumn of 1972.
I am well aware that reductions of this sort are very painful for the Army and those involved, and we are doing everything possible to ease them. We are trying to give units concerned an interesting final tour of duty. One of the battalions affected is in Hong Kong, and three others will serve with the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus in due course. Some reductions are being linked with an appropriate ceremonial occasion. The Welsh Regiment and the South Wales Borderers will amalgamate just before the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, which they will attend in their new identity of The Royal Regiment of Wales.
I now turn to the decision to amalgamate the 3rd Carabiniers and the Royal Scots Greys. The Royal Scots Greys are the only Royal Armoured Corps regiment untouched by previous reorganisations. Every other R.A.C. regiment has either been amalgamated or has suffered disbandment. In these circumstances, the choice logically and inevitably fell on the Royal Scots Greys, as many hon. Members expected. The Colonel Commandant of the Royal Armoured Corps recommended an amalgamation rather than disbandment, and the Army Board endorsed this recommendation. This solved one problem, by creating another; the choice of partner.
The Royal Scots Greys are traditionally a regiment of Dragoons. In the past, Royal Armoured Corps regiments have always amalgamated with their traditional counterparts—Hussars with Hussars, Lancers with Lancers, and Dragoons with Dragoons or Dragoon Guards. There remain in the order of battle only four regiments suitable by this criterion; one of these had been amalgamated only recently and had to be ruled out. Of the remaining three, the Army Board decided, after very careful consideration, that the 3rd Carabiniers were the most suitable.
These decisions were taken by experienced senior officers, who have much at heart the honoured traditions of the Royal Armoured Corps.
The House will be interested to hear the progress being made in the infantry divisional re-organisation. The new divisions of infantry were established in July of last year. By the end of June this year, the new headquarters of divisions will have completed their takeover of control, and brigade headquarters will have disappeared from the chain of command.
The new organisation has got off the ground well. There has already been a measure of cross-posting across the division, and a start has been made with the intended improvement in the manning of units. At the same time, we are maintaining the identities and traditions of the individual regiments.
Our own reserve forces play a large part in our contribution to N.A.T.O. That contribution is not only regular forces—the three divisions of the British Army of the Rhine. Our mobilisation plans aim to bring Rhine Army up to a fully mobilised strength of 120,000 men, more than double its peacetime size. The bulk of;his reinforcement is volunteer and regular reservists.
To ensure that our Reserve forces will be effective, we are equipping them, by and large, with the same weapons as the Regular forces, and we are giving high priority to their training. In 1968, over 12,000 volunteers trained in the Rhine Army or with N.A.T.O. headquarters. For their efforts in a recent exercise, the volunteers earned high praise from SACEUR. We are confident that, should the need arise, we shall be able to reinforce Rhine Army with well equipped, well trained, purpose built reserves, worthy to take their place alongside our regular forces. I would be grateful if hon. Members would from time to time visit the volunteers on exercises. I am sure that they would agree with what I have said about the excellence of their morale, their good equipment and the splendid service they give in their voluntary capacity.
Unfortunately, these reserves are not yet quite able to meet with all our requirements, and I must, therefore, turn for a moment to the Army General Reserve, which appears later in the proceedings of the House. This reserve of former National Servicemen would be called on only when the volunteer and regular reserves could not supply particular ranks and trades. When, last July, the Supplementary Statement on Defence policy announced the Reserves Review, it explained that one of the aims was to find a means of providing from alternative sources, the reinforcements now found from the Army General Reserve.
At that time, I entertained some hope that the alternative sources could be tapped quickly enough to enable us to dispense with this reserve. However, the review showed that, with the TAVR below establishment, and the Regular Reserve deficient in some ranks and trades, on current plans about 15,000 Army general reservists are still needed to fill gaps in the mobilisation order of battle.
Although it is about six years since these reservists saw service with the colours, they are, nevertheless, valuable reinforcements. Those earmarked for recall are carefully selected on the basis of the records of their military experience and qualifications. Many of them—such as the medical personnel and pay experts who form a sizeable proportion of the requirement—are in civilian occupations similar to their military roles.
Hon. Members will want to know why it is proposed that the whole of this reserve, numbering 168,000, should be kept in being when we currently need only 15,000. We have tried to find ways and means of limiting the incidence of the liability to those actually needed. Unfortunately, this has not proved feasible. The requirement is for a great variety of trades and ranks in many arms and services. It would be impracticable to define such a varied requirement. The only practicable way of limiting the incidence would be to fix a cut-off date later than 31st December, 1962. Unfortunately, this would deprive us of many individuals whom we want. In these circumstances, we have no alternative but to retain the reserve as a whole.
I hope that the House and the country will put this matter into perspective. In the first place, this is not active liability. The great majority of the 168,000 National Servicemen who completed their service after 1962 are reservists in name only. If they have not been served with specific instructions to show that they have been selected for possible call-out, they are not needed. Further, there is the question of the liability itself. The A.G.R. can only be called out in circumstances of "imminent national danger or great emergency". This means, in effect, in preparation for general war. It is our hope that the liability will never be exercised. It is extremely unlikely that any former National Serviceman will be called out again; if he were it would be a time when all of us, I fear, would be facing a very grave situation.
We are, of course, building up the alternative sources of these ranks and trades. We are taking steps to increase the strength of the TAVR. The strength of the regular reserves is building up over the next few years and as these developments come to fruition, we shall be able gradually to reduce our reliance on the Army General Reserve. In five years' time, by 1974, we expect to be getting all the reinforcements we need from the regular and volunteer reserves. Until then, we shall have to keep the Army General Reserve. Without it we would be unable fully to meet our N.A.T.O. commitments.
I will gladly deal with that point when I wind up the debate. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's mentioning it.
I will now say a word about the steps we are taking to improve the strength of the TAVR. Our aim is to encourage many Territorials to transfer and also to attract new recruits. All the Territorial training centres are being retained and nearly all of them are being used for volunteer units. So Territorials will on transfer to the volunteers, have a chance to continue to serve at the same centre. I appreciate that there may be difficulties where the new volunteer unit is not of the same arm as the outgoing Territorial unit. But experienced reservists are invaluable, notwithstanding differences of arm.
Secondly, we are introducing an alternative lower training obligation designated to encourage fully-trained reservists who have heavy personal commitments to continue to serve. This will currently help to encourage Territorials to transfer to the volunteers.
I very much hope that Territorials will not sever their connection with the reserves, but will seek to continue their service by transferring to the volunteers. Time is being allowed until the end of March for this.
The measures I have mentioned have not only immediate value in encouraging transfers from the Territorials, but will be a permanent encouragement to recruiting and extention of service. As an immediate stimulus to recruiting to the volunteers, we ran in January an advertising campaign. Hon. Members will have seen some of the advertisements in the papers. This is being followed up by local campaigns run by the TAVR Associations.
Recruiting is currently our biggest problem. No doubt it will be discussed during the debate. During the financial year 1968–69, we expect to recruit about 11,700 adult males from civil life and 4,000 boys. Our total requirements over the period is 26,700, but since we include in that figure an allowance for normal recruit wastage, the total shortage will be 9,000 men on 1st April, 1969. Recruiting is made more difficult both by short- and long-term changes. In the short term, public attention on the defence cuts and the change in the rôle of this country from a world to a European Power has led to the erroneous impression that we no longer need a strong and efficient Army. I am confident that this climate of opinion will swing in the other direction once the full importance is realised of our European obligations.
In the long term, recruiting is made more difficult by a number of interrelated factors, such as the demographic one of the shortage of young men aged 17 to 19, and this trend will not be reversed until 1974. There are also changes taking place in our society which do not encourage recruiting for the Army. Young men tend to get married earlier. They tend not to like authority.
There is also the fact, mentioned in the defence debate by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Defence for Administration, that recruiting, particularly for the infantry, suffers because the Army has not recently been in action anywhere in the world. It is an unfortunate fact that a little war acts as an incentive for recruiting.
Having said all this, I should not like to leave the House with the impression that the recruiting situation is all bad. In the first place, we are still recruiting boys at a rate not far below that of last year: 5,300 boys as compared with 5,450 in 1967–68. I am sure that anyone who has occasion to visit the Apprentices' Colleges, or the Junior Leader Regiments, will agree that the training is first class and that nearly all the boys are happy there. If boys are not happy, the Army takes steps to get rid of them and is as anxious not to have them as the parents are for their return home. But this is a very fine part of Army service.
Secondly, as the House will be aware, we are also experimenting with pilot schemes for the centralised selection of adults and apprentices. First indications are that they will significantly reduce "in-service" wastage and lead to a much more economic and efficient use of Army manpower.
Thirdly, there are the comparatively good rates of prolongation of service which are very encouraging—for the six-year men, over 50 per cent. as compared with 42 per cent. in 1966 and 36 per cent. in 1964 and 1965. This clearly shows that men in the Army are of the right type, enjoy the life and are willing to go on to longer service.
Not off the cuff, but they are all conscripts, and my point about prolongation would hardly apply, since most of them take themselves out as soon as they can. The Danes in the U.N. Force in Cyprus are given considerable sums to prolong their national service, but they usually save it for university or college later. We have a voluntary professional Army which we are trying to retain. All the armies to which my hon. Friend refers are conscripts, except for the cores of senior N.C.O.s who run the armies.
Before leaving recruiting, would the hon. Gentleman say something about the apparent absence of any effect on recruiting from the larger unemployment figure? Would he not agree that, historically, high unemployment leads to an increase in recruiting? Why has this not happened in 1966?
When I went to the Army Department, I expected to find a connection between those two things, but all the figures show that there is no immediate connection. There may be a long-term connection in that, in an area with unemployment, people thinking of a steady career might enter the Army, but there seems to be no immediate connection. At least, the Department has not been able to advise me that this is so.
The Government are fully aware of the importance of pay, which is the fourth good feature—I hope that it will be so—in connection with recruiting difficulties. In May last year, the National Board for Prices and Incomes recommended an interim award of 7 per cent. and we hope that a further report will be available in May of this year.
A small Army will require fewer officers and we are obtaining almost enough cadets to meet our target. Voluntary retirement, which was causing concern in the first half of 1968, is now lower. We shall continue to maintain the necessary career prospects and in one respect we have improved the prospects of short service commissioned officers by linking the commission with the very imaginative Confederation of British Industry scheme. This has had a good result already.
Lastly, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration explained in the defence debate, we have decided to extend the three-year engagement to certain categories in the Army. By extending this engagement, we hope to attract many more young men to sample the opportunities that a career in the Army can provide. It will be open to young soldiers and adults of the age of 17 and over, although the number of vacancies will be limited.
To begin with, no one who wishes to become a highly specialised skilled man will be able to enlist on a three-year engagement. On the other hand, it will be possible to enter the Royal Armoured Corps, the Royal Artillery and the infantry on this engagement and in some areas of R.E.M.E. For instance, it will be possible to enlist for three years in R.E.M.E. to become a driver or a storeman, but not a radar technician or vehicle mechanic. Where there is expensive training, the Army wants value for money and requires men to sign on for at least six years.
No corps will be allowed to have more than a certain percentage of men serving on a three-year engagement. The number will be flexible and will vary between corps and trades, depending on the manning requirements and states of recruiting. Probably, it will be 10 per cent. overall to begin with. We are determined to maintain a long-service professional Army and we do not propose to divert extra resources in accommodation and training and staffing of the training organisation.
The Army will have a strong incentive and probably accepts this. We think that it is a good thing to persuade the men on shorter engagements to stay on for six or nine years, so the Army, to some extent, will be on its metal to make the Army career attractive. We want to gain more recruits and to absorb them. Prolongation at the six- or nine-year point is good and indicates that, when a man becomes a soldier, he likes the life.
I am, therefore, sanguine enough to hope that we shall be able to guard against the risk that those who would have served for a long time will now volunteer to serve for a short time, for three years instead of six or nine. We should be able to tap a new field of recruits, of somewhat footloose young men who want to try a number of jobs—this happens in recruiting—and who will try the Army for three years, but would be put off by a longer period. We hope that, having tried it, they will stay.
I wish to say something about military aid to the civil community. This will deal with the point of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Daly-ell). During this year, we published a pamphlet setting out the rules for the guidance of civil organisations. This is not new. The Army has always had a good reputation for assisting the civilian population at home and overseas, but we hope that the pamphlet will make it easier for local authorities and other organisations to understand exactly where assistance can be sought and the conditions which govern it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) will get some satisfaction out of the clarity of explanation of the pamphlet.
Among the most important of the conditions are that tasks of this sort must take second place to normal military training and operational requirements and must have a definite training value to the Services and that there must not be objections by local employers, local associations and trade unions. Normally, work will not be done for political or profit-making organisations. To defend the status quo, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is always raising with me, it seems much better that the Ministry of Defence should keep responsibility for this, since the main emphasis is an making training more interesting and useful to the Army, and, if there is a benefit to the civil community, making that flow from it, but it would be wrong to charge all of this to the civil authorities.
I am sure that there are many areas where the training can be made to benefit the civil community. The general response from organisations and local authorities has been most encouraging and I hope that, as the scheme gets under way, they will lead to a closer integration of Service life with the civil population.
The Army is actively responding to the need to make economies and streamline its organisation in an energetic and up-to-date way. There will be a run-down in the number of civilians employed in the Army world-wide. In 1968–69, there was a reduction of 9,000, from 173,000 to 164,000. This process will continue into the 1970s. A wide variety of studies is now in train covering all the future deployment in the United Kingdom of the smaller Army of the 1970s.
The rationalisation of work to provide a better service at reduced cost is already well advanced in two different fields—the Army pay and record offices and the R.A.O.C. stores depots. On the former, the Defence White Paper announced that the Army record offices and regimental pay offices, now concentrated in 19 different places, are to be grouped together in five locations. They will be served by the computer centre at Worthy Down, which will be re-equipped with modern computers. The flow of information from these computers will enable us to provide a high standard of personnel management and more effective career planning. At the same time, there will be a substantial decrease in manual clerical work in both record offices and pay offices. Reductions in the size of staffs will follow. By the mid-70s, we hope that this project will be saving us £750,000 a year.
As regards the R.A.O.C. depots, the selection of central depots and installations in the long term is not yet complete, but the part covering R.A.O.C. stores organisation in the Home Command is well advanced. It has been found possible to streamline the present system of command ordnance depots, sub-depots and barracks stores, and it is intended to replace these by two new types of units—regional depots and ordnance support units. The former will hold mobilisation stores and pools of equipment for use in training, and the latter a range of faster moving items.
In addition, greater reliance will be put on direct issues to units from some central depots where this is practical. A detailed selection of the regional depots with Ordnance support units is not yet complete but it is clear that the new system, once it is in operation, will lead to substantial savings in staff.
While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of the run-down of the forces, will he tell us how many troops will be left in the United Kingdom for home defence in the event of an emergency?
I would prefer to deal with it then rather than at some length during the course of an intervention. I would say "many thousands", but I will elaborate that later.
In addition to the widespread use of a computer as an aid to management, considerable progress has been made in introducing cost accounting and budgetary control systems. The adoption of these systems enables performance to be continually measured and compared against pre-determined standards. This is increasing efficiency by the best use of manpower, materials and equipment. Already, as a result of advice tendered by civilian management consultants, systems of budgetary control and standard costing are now being introduced into three R.A.O.C. depots and four R.E.M.E. workshops; and pilot schemes are in hand for introducing similar systems into certain Royal Engineers' and Royal Corps of Transport units. Cost accounting units are also widely in use in all Army commands.
The Army is also in the forefront of another technique for the improvement of training, known as instructional technology. This ugly description means the radical reassessment of the objectives and methods of training soldiers, using the most modern teaching aids. It has been used recently with striking success in designing a course of instruction to convert gunners to the use of the highly complicated field artillery computer equipment. This system and method is being applied in a great many areas of training and if hon. Gentlemen care to see something of it I will be only too happy to make suitable arrangements for them to do so.
In June this year the first Junior Command and Staff Course will begin and thus establish an extra division, the Junior Division, of the Army Staff College. The course is to train junior Army officers in all arms tactics and in basic staff procedures. The new course will train officers aged 26 to 29 years to fit them for senior captain's appointments at regimental duty and as junior staff officers. In addition, students will receive tactical instruction in the employment of all arms up to battle group level, and in the specialist command techniques involved in an all arms combat team. The course will be held at the School of Infantry, at Warminster.
In our efforts to achieve greater industrial efficiency and at the same time share the benefits of improve productivity with our employees, we have been making steady progress. Although only one productivity agreement has been signed so far—at 38 Central Workshop R.E.M.E., Chilwell—discussions and negotiations between managements and trade unions have taken place at both national and local levels and we are optimistic that before long we shall have a number of agreements signed to our mutual advantage.
There are some particularly difficult areas from the point of view of work measurement, for example, in the research and development field, or what one might call the domestic field—gardeners, waiters and handymen. But we are hoping that even in these difficult fields we can make progress and I pay tribute to the co-operation we have had from the trade union side at all levels.
In a time of rapid social change in the Army it is heartening to know that the great traditions and achievements of the British Army from 1560 to 1914 will be on display to the public in a suitable setting in a few years' time. Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer has put an astonishing amount of work into this project and the Army is greatly in his debt. Work started on the building of the National Army Museum in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in April last year, a most appropriate place for it, and much of it will be completed by early 1970. So far, £820,000 has been raised towards the cost of the new building by public subscription to the National Army Building Appeal Fund.
I am sure that the museum will prove a great and popular attraction in London to those of the public who have the interests of the Army at heart and I thank Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer for all that he has done in this respect.
The amount is in the Estimates, but I do not want to comment upon it against that figure. There has been a small amount for capital cost. The Army was having discussions on this recently.
I am pleased to inform the House that good progress is being made in the United Kingdom in providing soldiers with permanent modern accommodation as good as they would enjoy in civilian life. I give credit for starting much of that to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Work began last year at Catterick on a new artillery barracks and a contract has been placed for a new training centre for the Royal Signals. Projects in the planning stage include a new military hospital. In the public mind much of the picture of the Army is very out-dated and so is the picture of Catterick as it is in the minds of many who served there in the last war. It is almost a new town.
At Aldershot, the military town plan which was approved in May, 1962, is now more than half completed. During the past year at Aldershot the Parachute and Airborne forces depot has been completed as has accommodation for provost and the W.R.A.C. We expect that next year the R.C.T. Training Brigade barracks will be ready for occupation. Other major projects in other parts of the country are mentioned in the Statement. Altogether 1,160 married quarters were built during the year, and a further 2,100 are at present under construction. The special programme introduced in 1966 to provide married quarters for Service families returning from overseas is now complete and I do not anticipate that any further exceptional measures to house Army families will be necessary. I am glad to see that in the Army Estimates, under "Mobile homes", there is a dash.
I pay tribute to the Minister of Public Building and Works for the kind thought he gives to the Army and for his willingness to consider our projects. There is at present a very imaginative report on using what are called "flexible barracks", a rather more flexible method for grouping Army units together. I have not time to go into that, but it is most imaginative. I am glad that that should be the result of co-operative effort between my former and my present Departments.
A new body responsible for the organisation and administration of Service children's schools overseas, to be called the Service Children's Education Authority—S.CE.A.—will become operative from 1st April, 1969. It will provide one authority for the education of children of all three Services and has been made the immediate responsibility of the Army Department. The mobility of Service children and the incidence of family separation and paternal absence are all causing educational and social problems to local authorities in the United Kingdom; and discussions are taking place between the authorities and the Ministry of Defence to see what can be done about this.
A Youth Service run by a chief Youth Service officer and three assistants to cater for the needs of British Service families in Germany has been established. It will organise activities around voluntary youth organisations similar to those provided in Britain by local authorities.
One of the pleasures of my office is to visit Army units. During the financial year, I visited 70 in the United Kingdom, the Persian Gulf and the Far East. Nearly everywhere I found a progressive attitude to our military problems among generals, factory directors, Under-Secretaries and trade union officials and a willingness to work with or in the Army; and my private office is equally efficient and progressive. Soldiers in our Army are fit and adaptable to the demands and in good heart.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's peroration. He has talked a lot about reserves and the run-down of the forces. Did he, in his travels, go to Hong Kong and see anything of the Gurkha troops there? If so, has he anything to say about them, or are we to have this dealt with, again, during the hon. Gentleman's winding-up speech, when we cannot discuss it?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have punctured my peroration, though no doubt it can be resumed.
I did visit Hong Kong and found the Gurkhas in good form. Their morale was excellent. All from Army Board members down to the warrant officer in charge of the smallest units of the Army, show a professional skill which is quite outstanding. Their devotion to the service of their country deserves the full appreciation of the House and a unanimous vote for them tonight.
I am sure that we are all glad to hear that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army has had opportunities for travel during the past year. We congratulate the Under-Secretary on his presentation of the Army Estimates. However, as I listened to his speech, I could not but wonder what title one might choose for these Estimates, if it were the practice to give these somewhat mournful documents titles.
The Army has not been on active service or engaged in fighting in the past year. Therefore, "In Place of Strife" might have been appropriate if it had not already been pre-empted by the Department of Employment and Productivity. As the hon. Gentleman said, 26 major units are soon to disappear from the Army, so "In Place of Defence" might be an appropriate title, although I doubt whether that would have got through the hon. Gentleman's efficient private office.
Perhaps the best title for the Statement accompanying the Estimates and for the Under-Secretary of State's speech would be "The meek shall inherit the earth—we hope."
I thank the Under-Secretary of State for the rightful tribute that he paid to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) for having laid some of the groundwork for building barracks, which forms one of the brighter aspects of the Defence Statement this year. He might also have paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) since much of the equipment now coming into service, which again forms one of the brighter pictures of the Defence Statement, was developed and ordered when he was in office.
In his Munich speech, the Secretary of State made much of the massive preponderance of Russian tanks now in Central Europe. Clearly, the development and deployment of a cheap and effective anti-tank weapon would have a profound influence on the military balance in Central Europe. What, then, has happened to Vigilant, about which we used to hear so much? I note that the Germans are developing an anti-tank weapon as light and mobile as Vigilant which they believe will revolutionise antitank warfare. The Secretary of State often tells us how close he is to the German Defence Minister. I hope that we are sharing in this development.
Our closest military partners continue to be the Americans. It may not be fashionable these days to talk about Anglo-American projects, but during the past year I understand that there has been some discussion about the possibility of the Americans taking Rapier, our most effective air portable surface-to-air guided weapon system and that as part of the bargain we should take Red Eye, which is an infra-red unit air defence weapon, the development of which is well advanced and which works most effectively, as I have seen. It is similar to our own developing weapon Blowpipe. I wonder whether there are possibilities of this exchange of equipment going through.
I note with regret that, because of our contracting military rôle, the Americans are becoming increasingly reluctant to share certain military information with us.
But it is no good having weapons, however effective they may be, if we cannot raise the men to use them. The catastrophic position revealed by the recruiting figures must be the central point of our debate. The year 1965 was not a good one for recruiting compared with 1961 or 1962. But compared with 1968–69 it was heaven indeed. In 1965 we obtained 13,848 male adult recruits. In 1968 we obtained 8,337. There is no sign of a reversal of this trend.
The full impact of these figures has been obscured by the fact that boys' recruiting has held up very well indeed, and so, to a certain extent, has recruiting for the Women's Royal Army Corps. But there are drawbacks. The enlisted boys' training is, as the Under-Secretary of State said, first-rate, but it is also expensive. I have heard it suggested that it would be cheaper to send every enlisted boy—and there were 5,392 of them last year—to Eton or even Millfield than to train them in the Army. But, apart from the question of expense, we need a man's and not a girls' and boys' Army. If the present trends continues, the dominant groups in the Army will be militant schoolboys and fiery amazons.
We also appear to have reached the point where the number of Servicemen purchasing their discharge from the three Services last year was larger than the number of adult male recruits for the Army—a deplorable, even perhaps a shocking, state of affairs. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) was told on 12th December 1968, by 1967 the number of Servicemen purchasing their discharge was almost 2,000 higher than it was in 1964. We should be grateful if, at the end of the debate, the Under-Secretary of State would give the 1968 figure and could say how many enlisted boys left the Army last year and did not go on to become adult soldiers.
There is the nebulous question of quality. Could the Under-Secretary say how many of the 8,337 adult male recruits last year have already been discharged as unsuitable for military service?
What can be done to correct this sorry state of affairs? It would be churlish of me if, having urged the Government to extend on a much wider scale the possibility of enlisting for a three-year period, I did not welcome the action that they have taken. The six-year term of recruitment is much more convenient for the Army, but I can remember how long that period seemed when, during the middle of the Second World War, I signed on for 'seven and five", the old term of enlistment. At the age of 18 it seemed that those seven years would be a lifetime. Today, young people are even more mobile in their habits than we were in those days, and six years at the age of 18 seems a very long time.
I recognise that the Government are in a dilemma. If they pay a three-year recruit on joining almost as much as they pay a six-year recruit, then people will be tempted to sign on for three years rather than six. If, on the other hand, they pay the three-year recruit much less than the six-year recruit, then Army life will appear to be just that much more unattractive to those young people whom they are trying to attract. The present pay balance is, if anything, weighted against the success of this experiment, and I would like the Government to look at it again, particularly in view of the study of the National Board for Prices and Incomes
Whether or not this experiment succeeds fully, we should all recognise that the introduction of a three-year term is likely to have a bad effect on re-engagement figures in three or four years' time The whole purpose of the scheme is to attract into the Army men who are somewhat uncertain about their taste for military life. One cannot reasonably expect that everyone will like it. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham and my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate said so forcefully in the defence debate, one cannot expect to get recruiting right unless the pay is attractive.
I do not under-estimate the size of the problem. The Services are now regarded by much of the country, only too understandably, but sorrowfully, as contracting dead end occupations which are at the mercy of every Socialist Chancellor's axe. If we are to get anywhere, the new pay award will have to be large enough to create the impression that the Services are well paid.
Meanwhile, the Chancellor has to find the money and to guard against a general reaction in the rest of Government service and in industry. The Armed Forces are never the pace-setters in the wages spiral, but if we are to succeed in getting recruiting trends reversed, and getting the men that we need, then the Army must get its nose ahead for a while.
The National Board for Prices and Incomes might look also at the problem of scarcity in the various arms within the Army. To go outside this country for a moment, in the Israeli defence forces, where pay is organised on a fairly rational system, certain technical warrant officers in the air force get more money than infantry battalion commanders. The reason for this is simple. Twenty battalion commanders could be replaced overnight, but the loss of 20 technical warrant officers could paralyse the whole air force. We may be forced to look at the differentials between the various arms in the Army.
I view with extreme misgivings—and I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State did not refer to it this afternoon—the idea of introducing the concept of a military salary, which was gone into at some length by the Minister of Defence for Administration in the defence debate. The idea is that soldiers in future should be charged something approaching a fair market price for such items as food, accommodation and clothing, which are now provided free, but in return they should be paid a higher cash salary.
This is basically an American idea. The Americans are much further along the road towards this concept than we are, and last week they took another giant step along it with the announcement of a revised pay structure costing an extra 1·2 billion dollars a year. I have my doubts about this. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) so wisely pointed out during the defence debate, much the same system is applied in our hospitals by charging nurses and some doctors for their unkeep, but the friction created by these residential charges is substantial.
The Minister also wisely omitted to mention the tax position that would arise. The American tax authorities estimate that they will claw back in taxes more than half the proposed 1·2 billion dollar Army pay increase. I can see a host of anomalies arising if we try to introduce (his system here.
Then there is the question of danger. What should one's pay be for one's breakfast if one has been shot at during the night? How close does the bomb have to burst before one gets a free lunch?
The Under-Secretary has talked about concentrating all the tax experts in a number of centres. I can see that every battalion in future will have a section of tax and allowance experts. If the scheme should ever come to pass, in future the Army will advance into battle with its accountants at the ready.
While the shortage of other rank recruits has been growing more serious over many months, I am surprised by the optimistic view taken by the Under-Secretary about the position of officer recruitment, because I fear that the situation here is deteriorating even more quickly than is shown by the gloomy position outlined on page 67 of the Defence Review.
Here pay alone is not the answer. Officers of the right quality will not be forthcoming in the right numbers until potential officers can see once again that there is a worthwhile job to do and a sensible career structure for them. I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be able to say more about the future career structure of officers than he felt able to do. Until we have an authoritative pronouncement on the subject, answering such questions as, for example, the age at which a young man of ability can hope to command a battalion, what is likely to be the proportion of officers who will be commissioned after substantial service in the ranks, and the whole picture of the officer position in the Army, I do not think that we shall solve the problem of shortage.
Our difficulties in obtaining regular recruits merely underline the folly of cutting back on the reserves—a policy which, rightly, has been condemned by experts both inside and outside the country. In his farewell testament to Congress after almost seven years as American Secretary of Defence, Mr. MacNamara said:
The greatest deficiency in the European N.A.T.O. forces is the lack of an adequate mobilisation base.
Our own Secretary of State's answer was a further cut in our own mobilisation base.
Adequate reserves give us some insurance against the unexpected, as everyone except the Secretary of State seems to recognise. During the past two years, three wars have dominated the headlines: the Vietnam conflict, the Nigerian civil war and the Arab-Israeli conflict. All three have taken an unexpected turn and confounded the experts, but still the Secretary of State believes that he can foretell the future with precision.
The right hon. Gentleman is most obstinate when it comes to home defence. Of all the statements that he has made, the one which best reflects his frame of mind is his dogmatic assertion, on 16th December, 1968:
If home defence were ever needed in the United Kingdom we would already have gone nuclear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1005.]
How can we be so sure of the outcome of a conflict that we would not need home defence when we do not even know from year to year what defence policy our own Chancellor will allow the Secretary of State to pursue?
During the last 25 years, I have spent some time either taking part in or observing conflicts where a comparatively small number of terrorists have done great damage. In May last year, we saw militant students and strikers in France combining to paralyse much of the capital city of that country. We have not yet reached that position here, but already one English university has made informal approaches to the Army to see what military protection could be given if student rioting got out of hand.
The point can be reached—we have come close to it on one or two occasions—where civil rioting and disturbances are such that the police run into difficulties and the military might be called out to aid the civil power. It is perfectly possible to foresee circumstances in which ugly internal disturbances were timed to coincide with periods of external pressure.
Meanwhile, the Army, whether it be the regular Army or the reserve Army, will not thrive unless it can be assured that it has a worthwhile rôle to perform. The rôle that this Government have chosen is not that of protecting our universities, though it may perhaps come to that. It is to build up our strength in Europe. Yet the Secretary of State has made it plain repeatedly that he does not think that N.A.T.O.'s conventional forces could hold a determined Soviet thrust, although a concentration on Europe might just enable the inhabitants of 10 Downing Street to play their desert island discs once again while a decision was taken in Washington about whether to go nuclear or to surrender. Gaining an extra day or two may be a laudable objective, but is it right that it should be the overriding objective to which everything else in the defence sphere is sacrificed?
Only three years ago, the Secretary of State said in his eagerly awaited Defence Review:
In recent years, the threat to peace has been far greater outside Europe than within it. When such instability leads to open war, it may imperil not only economic interests in the area, but even world peace. … In some parts of the world, the visible presence of British Forces by itself is a deterrent to local conflict. No country with a sense of international responsibility would surrender this position without good reason, unless it was satisfied that others could, and would, assume a similar rôle.
I think that the Government were right then and are wrong now.
I wonder whether any Minister seriously imagines that the prospects for peace have altered materially in South-East Asia, in the Middle East or in Africa during the three years since those words were written. In South-East Asia, where the chances of war are always with us, the Australians, who are obviously more closely involved than we are, believe that even a small force of 42 Mirages, 1,200 men and a small naval force would be of value in——
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will try to return to these shores.
The fact remains that unless soldiers are sure that they have a rôle of value, it will be exceedingly difficult to get the numbers that we require. But, as has been said, the concentration is now to be on B.A.O.R.
It is now five years since the party opposite sat on this side of the House during a debate on the Army Estimates. On that occasion the spokesman for the Labour Party was allowed by the Chair to say that the British Army of the Rhine could be regarded as a disposable reserve for the rest of the Army. In other words, what is now the central core of our defence policy was then looked upon by Members opposite as a sort of "military kleenex".
But circumstances change. I note that the then spokesman of the party opposite went on to make a specific pledge which, as he subsequently revealed to the House, was made with the full knowledge of the then Leader of the Labour Party and also with the full knowledge of the shadow spokesman on defence, now the Secretary of State for Defence. The official spokesman promised, during that Estimates debate, that Service pensioners would have parity. I acquit him of any wish to mislead the House. He made that pledge honourably and he believed that his party would carry it out. But, during the past two months we have had the Pensions (Increase) Bill and the Government's long-term pension plan. No reference has been made in these to that pledge made a scant five years ago.
During the past four years the Government have broken faith with Army pensioners, and during the past two years Ministers have come perilously close to breaking faith with the Army itself.
This is the first time that I have attempted to take part in a debate on defence questions. I have listened with great interest to debates on these matters for some years. I have heard suggestions from hon. Gentlemen opposite that we should continue to spend more on defence and I have heard a number of my hon. Friends suggest that we should spend less, or even very little. These views have been sincerely put. I have always hesitated to join in these debates lest I be caught in the cross-fire that takes place between the military experts on the one side and the paciflists on the other, no matter how sincerely they hold these views.
I have been tempted to enter the debate today because I have been sorely troubled by articles in the Press and suggestions in speeches over the past few months that there should be some sort of return to compulsory National Service, either because people have no alternative to offer to our present recruiting difficulties or because they are bent on creating some kind of political mischief. I know from personal experience that this can happen.
I was returned to this House almost five years ago at a by-election shortly before the General Election of 1964. At that time the Conservative Party in Scotland was very anxious about its political position. The then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, now ennobled and sitting in the other place, came to Rutherglen and solemnly warned the electors that if I was returned, as sure as night followed day, we should have conscription in this country. I do not think that he meant any personal slight on me, nor did he take my personal views into consideration. The emphasis of his suggestion was that if the Labour Party was returned to power we should have conscription very quickly.
That is very different from a compulsory form of national service about which I had been making comments.
The right hon. Gentleman at that time was proved wrong. From the speeches by the Secretary of State for Defence that I have heard over the past few days I am delighted to know that we do not propose to reintroduce national service on a compulsory basis. I feel that compulsory national service would be exceedingly wrong from the individual point of view and because compulsory national service in itself is a bad thing for the Armed Forces.
I want therefore to deal with the narrow point of recruitment, re-engagement and the use of manpower. I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) had to say about manpower and how some of our forces might be used. I do not think that he seriously meant to discuss student unrest—he put it rather facetiously—but I think all in this House have great regard for the way in which these demonstrations, particularly those of last October, were handled by the civilian authorities without any assistance from the Armed Forces. I hope that we shall continue to maintain this situation.
Recruitment in general is a subject that has been raised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and it was raised last week by the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) and other hon. Members. Most of them dwelt on the degree of uncertainty. This is a factor which we all appreciate. Listening to the speeches in the defence debate last week, I got the impression that this had only arisen in the course of the last four years. However, from my reading of defence debates over a long time dealing with amalgamations, disbandments, the purchasing of equipment and the like, I discovered that this factor of uncertainty has been with us for a decade or more.
I think that we now have an appreciation of where we stand. Rightly or wrongly, we know our forces' commitments. I think that this will be to the benefit of the Armed Forces as a whole, and people will be able to make up their minds, on this basis, how they propose to conduct their lives.
During the last few months—as a Scot I might be expected to say a word or two on this—we have discussed the question of uncertainty and the policy of this Government and previous Governments. But, linked with it, has been the question of amalgamations and of regiments being disbanded. This lack of regimental appeal has been a considerable factor in Army recruitment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hear hon. Members applaud this. There is no doubt that there is difficulty in this direction. But I took the trouble—as I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite have—to look back to ascertain whether our record is any better than that of the previous Administration. This point has been flogged wearily. We discussed the amalgamation of Scottish regiments last year and the question of reserves. But I notice that in the infantry alone, between 1955 and 1961 some 30 regiments were amalgamated and 10 others—I could not understand this—were placed in a state of suspended animation. I confess that my mind boggled at the prospect of a regiment being placed in a state of suspended animation nevertheless. Whether it is disbanded, amalgamated, or placed in a state of suspended animation, the effect is that the regiment disappears from the order of battle, and to all intents and purposes disappears completely.
In view of the record of what happened between 1955 and 1964, I thought that it was just a bit much that such a fuss was made about the decision to disband the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. I have a great respect for people who have served in that regiment, and for the traditions of the regiment, as I am sure many people in Scotland have. I am sure that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), who raised a petition, to keep the regiment in being did so from the worthiest of motives, but—I do not mean to be offensive, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands this—I am sure that if he could have got a little political mileage out of doing that he would not have objected.
As I have said, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman organised the petition with the best of motives, but a number of people jumped on the bandwaggon for motives which were not entirely worthy. It became one of the biggest political stunts that Scotland has seen for a long time. Some factions of the hon. Gentleman's party used this issue for political purposes, and, strange as it seems, in my area the spearhead of the attack on the Government was led by members of the Scottish Nationalist Party, whose policy on defence I have had a little difficulty in discovering over the past two or three years.
When people are asked to sign a petition to keep a certain regiment in existence they generally know that if that regiment is maintained some other regiment will have to be disbanded, or that more money will have to be spent on this branch of the Service, but the people who spearhead the attack in my area suggested that we could save the Argylls, and all the Scottish regiments, and at the same time reduce our spending on defence.
I believe that in many areas this petition became a bit of a stunt. It was overplayed and I very much regret that because many of the people who put forward this concept were particularly silent, in the House and in the country, when the previous Government decided to amalgamate the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Scots Fusiliers. They were not nearly so vociferous about that amalgamation as they were about the disbandment of the Argylls. Although that was an amalgamation, both regiments lost their identity and their barracks. Though they now continue under another name, their traditions have disappeared.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Beckenham said about pay in the Army. I do not want to spend any more on defence or to have more people in the Army than are essential, but I am sure that those who are in the Armed Forces should receive a rate of pay which is commensurate with the job they do. It should be remembered that when men go into the Armed Forces they give up a number of privileges which they might have in civilian life. In the forces there is no form of trade union or bargaining to settle disputes, as there is in civilian life. Service personnel are obliged to go abroad, probably without their families. I therefore do not see why a man should be paid less than he would receive in civilian life. On the contrary, I think that he should be paid a better rate.
We have never been able to get across to members of the public that pay in the forces is good. This is generally because pay in the forces is hedged around with all kinds of allowances. I think that we must make it clear what a man will get in money terms if he goes into the Army and the allowances position should be clarified.
There is one further point. If a man is based in an area, perhaps rather an exclusive one where rents are high, he is given a certain allowance for his hiring, but it may not be enough to cover the rent which is demanded. This is a matter of some concern to many people and I hope that this issue will be considered, along with the whole question of pay in the Services.
When we are considering the whole question of Service life, it is easy to try to file the issue down to one or two points, but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said last week, questions of education and demo-graphical factors are exceedingly important. As we know, three times as many people go to universities now as used to be the case, and more young people stay on at school to take their "O" and "A" levels. The difficulties encountered by the Army in attracting qualified people are similar to those found in civilian life, and we cannot deal with the problem by adopting a sort of Gilbertian solution and promoting everyone immediately they join the Army. Still on this question of education, I think that people who join the Army should be given a second chance to acquire the education which they did not acquire under our ordinary education system. They should be enabled to take advantage of the facilities provided by the Army Education Service, and this should be publicised.
We also discussed last week the changes brought about by the demographic factor. I do not think that one can say very much about the reduction in the number in the age group concerned, but one important factor is that young men of 19 and 20 who might now think of joining the Army are often the sons of people who were conscripted into the Army immediately after the war, and we have to bear in mind the impression which those conscripts have made on their sons. They often paint a poor picture of life in the Army in those days. Perhaps conditions in the Army then were not what they might have been. Their judgment has been coloured and they have ever since been poor recruiting sergeants for the Service. I think, therefore, that we ought to paint a picture of better prospects and a better life in the modern Army and show that it offers more than mere ceremonial.
I confess that I am shockingly ignorant about the rôle of certain regiments and I apologise to my hon. Friend for this. However, I was tremendously impressed when I visited the Far East to see the Army in action. I have always thought that the Life Guards spent all their time parading on Horse Guards Parade or performing ceremonial duties throughout London. It was only when I visited the Far East and saw what the Life Guards did in the field with their motorised units and the skills that they could acquire that I developed an appreciation for them. My view and my lack of knowledge are probably shared by many people so, when we attempt recruitment, it should not necessarily be through posters and films, but through exhibitions and physical displays where the young men can meet the people and give them at first hand an idea of what is happening.
The most important consideration to many young people going into the forces is their prospects when they come out, whether they will be fitted to do a useful job in civilian life and can acquire any training which will benefit them. I said that I was impressed, on my visits to the Army, by the skills that could be acquired, but we do not hear enough of this or of whether those skills will be acceptable in civil life.
The White Paper says that Mr. Roberts, I think, will be in charge of resettlement and so on. Will he talk to trade unions and management about acceptance standards? This worries me a great deal. I know that, at this stage, young men and women who are trained in Government retraining centres face a great deal of resistance to their entering certain trades. I hope that my hon. Friend will counse. Mr. Roberts to begin negotiations with trade unions and management about acceptance standards and that some assurances can be given to young men about these points.
I have already raised the second resettlement matter with my hon. Friend. When men leave the forces with a good deal of money, they are often tempted to enter some business—I have brought examples of this to the attention of the Army authorities—for which they do not have much training. Their knowledge of accountancy and book-keeping does not fit them for this job. I understand that welfare organisations associated with the Army are prepared to help them, but it would be no bad thing if the Army authorities looked to the interests of these people for perhaps one or two years after they leave the forces. They have given us service and we should assist them as much as we can.
I turn now to housing. I appreciate the service which the Army gives those who intend to buy their houses on leaving the forces, but many people, on leaving, do not want to buy a house. They might not be certain of their future and tend to rent houses. There are parts of the country, including my own, where renting, particularly from town and county councils, is the normal practice. If a young man leaves the forces and gets married, he often lives in the area where his wife was born and brought up, so he does not qualify for a council house. Repeatedly, my hon. Friend and his colleagues have suggested to local authorities that help be given in this matter, but, unhappily, speaking for my own area, these pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
I should like to think that a good deal of thought is being given to renting houses in this way. The worst advertisement for the Armed Forces is someone who has been refused a house or who finds it difficult to re-settle in civilian life. It is worth remembering that one well-publicised case of someone who cannot get a house or a job will undo all the good which might be done by the most expensive recruiting campaign.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army deserves a great deal of encouragement. The re-engagement figures show that he and his colleagues have clearly been able to persuade young men in the Army to make a career of it and continue to do a useful job, but, unhappily, we have not been able to get this concept of the modern Army across to the public. I hope that he will continue to make these efforts and that my suggestions will be of some help to him.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) declared himself almost a maiden speaker in these defence debates. Perhaps, therefore, I might be allowed to welcome him to the club. Indeed, it would be a bad thing if these debates were participated in only by a very limited number of hon. Members, and it is no particular credit to this House that the attendance at our debates upon the Armed Forces is commonly so scanty, on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member seemed to be anxious about the possibilities of conscription, a matter to which I shall refer later; but all my remarks will be directed towards the single subject of the volunteer reserve. The story of the volunteer reserve in the last three or four years has been a very sad one. We have followed a long, a tortuous and a largely circuitous course which has brought us back, after three or four years, not, indeed, to where we started from, but at any rate looking towards the point at which we started.
Nearly four years ago, it was suddenly announced that the Government had discovered that the only function for the volunteer reserve was to provide certain specific additions to the order of battle of the British Army of the Rhine and to supply men and units, logistic units, to the Army overseas. There was no question, it was announced, of home defence; and therefore the Territorial Army, as we then had it, would be reduced by about two-thirds of its then size.
Six months went by, and the Government were persuaded to think that there might be a rôle for a volunteer reserve in home defence after all. That was when we first heard about TAVR III. Of course, this survival of the greater part of the old Territorial Army was to be treated in a very stepmotherly fashion. They were to have very few arms and very little equipment; but at any rate they existed; they were able to continue the units and some of the traditions of the Territorial Army.
A couple of years after that, it was suddenly announced that they were not to be allowed to exist at all. They were to be abolished and home defence was to be put on a care and maintenance basis. So that was the end of TAVR III. However, they have proved to have a certain resilience; during the course of last year, we began to hear rumours that the execution had, apparently, not been complete and final; and at last, in November, we heard the news of the reprieve.
We learnt that almost all the units which it had been proposed to abolish would be allowed to continue in a "cadre" form. That is an important word. It was the first time it had been heard in recent years in the context of our defence debates. However, I will return to that later. We were told what the function of these cadre units would be. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for Administration, on making the announcement on 28th November last year, said that these cadres would provide nuclei for a number of purposes, including that of expansion in emergency. Better still, we are told in the Defence Green Paper—I am glad that we have got round to using the convention of the Green Paper for our Defence Statements, for a Green Paper indicates provisionality, and, of course, all the Defence Statements of this Government should have been published in green covers—that these nuclei, this reprieved vestige of the old Territorial Army, "will provide the framework for any expansion that might in the future be necessary".
In the recognition, for the first time on the part of the Government, of the prospect of expansion as a function for our volunteer reserve forces—particularly in the concept of having these units as cadres—lies the germ of an important idea. In it we perhaps see the beginnings of our salvation.
Just over three years ago, when the destruction of the old Territorial Army was announced, a remarkable plea was made by six of the most distinguished soldiers in the British Army. They told the country what they considered to be the supreme function of a Volunteer Reserve. It was to be
… a flexible organisation on which to build the nation's defences
… a framework for military expansion in dire emergency.
This concept of an expansion of the Armed Forces, and of the need to have a basis for such expansion, could not exist so long as we lived with the theory that, to quote the memorable words of the 1958 Defence White Paper
The world is poised between the hope of total peace and the fear of total war.
In other words, it could not exist so long as we were taught to believe that any war which threatened the existence of this country would either not happen or would come to a speedy end with our being frizzled to cinders. In such a concept there could be no place for expansion of the Armed Forces.
Happily we are now moving out from under the shadow of that mushroom cloud and all the nations are coming to realise that they might in future, as in the past, have to fight for their survival and that the easy way out, by mutual suicide, might not be available or might not be chosen.
I dated the White Paper from which I quoted. I am well aware of the complexion of the Government in power in 1958, but it will be an ill thing for the nation if any person, party of Government, having once taken up a position, is tied to it for eternity.
As I was saying, we are at last beginning to envisage that salvation for a country in the future, in the supreme emergency, may lie in ability to expand its forces and maintain them until victory is achieved, and that victory may go to the side which can survive and fight the longest. Along with this goes the belief that in the future, as in the past, the survival of a nation in war might literally depend on its ability to expand, to whatever extent may be necessary, its peacetime forces.
For all our continental allies this problem is simply solved. They maintain their armies on the principle of conscription Their regular forces are, therefore, simply a mould through which is poured one generation after another of conscripts, so that there builds up with the years a huge-conscript reserve, trained and formed, ready to be mobilised, as were those masses of men who sprang into existence over Europe in 1914 and again in 1939 Though not again on that scale, our continental allies still have reserve forces which are huge by comparison with ours.
To us, with a professional, long-service, standing Army, that form of reserve—that means of expansion in emergency and war—is not available. We must, therefore, look in another direction. If we were to rely on our Regular Army alone for this purpose, the prospect would be bleak indeed; for a regular, long-service Army, though it produces a reserve, produces only a relatively small reserve compared with the size of the standing forces.
The Regular Army would then itself have to provide the means of expansion, the cadres; but if the Regular Army happened at the time to be heavily engaged in operations, such an expansion would be inconceivably difficult, if not impossible. This is the supreme reason, whatever other reasons there may be, why this country must have, in the words of Conservative policy
… a genuine citizen volunteer reserve …
Its supreme purpose must be, in the words of the Field Marshals, to provide
… a framework for military expansion in dire emergency.
It is to be a cadre: the basis and germ of the future forces.
After the First World War, when Germany was forbidden conscription by the Treaty of Versailles, it formed, partly in anticipation no doubt of the time when it would be freed from those limitations, a remarkable army which was known as the "hundred-thousand man army"—the Hundert Tausendmannheer—of von Seeckt—and the essence of it was that it would be a cadre army. Its function was to be the basis and germ of a future German army. That might serve as an analogy for the fundamental purpose of a citizen volunteer reserve in this country.
The function is a real and vital one, which would give the morale and purpose we must have if we are to recruit and maintain a Volunteer Reserve of adequate size. When the Government announced three years ago that they were going to limit the function of the reserve to providing supplements for B.A.O.R. and for the Army overseas, largely of a logistic character, the Field Marshals observed that this function was
too dessicated and lacking in humanity to attract the right numbers or quality of volunteers.
I believe that that is so. Whatever may be the marginal reasons, the central reason why men voluntarily undertake the obligation of service in a reserve is to be trained as soldiers, in order, if need be, to fight as soldiers in war. They need to see in a real context the function of the reserve to which they are to belong.
If the citizen Volunteer Reserve is to be the basis of an expanded Army, then it must be the shadow of the Regular Army. It must have a correspondence with the Regular Army and, I need hardly add, its units must be closely linked, physically and morally, with the units of the Regular Army. Of course this is not to say that there is any simple ratio—as it were, of one-to-one—between the regular forces and the volunteer forces. The principle we have constantly to remember here is that the function of the volunteer forces is to be a basis for expansion. Certain elements which will be required in a expanding army will be obtainable in emergency and war from the civilian population with relatively little military training and relatively little trained cadre. Others will need just that. Again, of the fighting units of the Army some will require longer in war to raise and train than others.
It is an obvious principle that the longer an element requires to raise and train, the higher relatively must be its representation in the reserve forces. So we have to have a balance in the order of battle of the reserve army which is not related like a mirror image to the order of battle of the regular army, but which is governed by the factor of expansion. The logic of expansion, the rate and ratio of expansion, must underlie the order of battle of our reserve army.
This undoubtedly will result in a citizen volunteer reserve with a substantial preponderance of what are called teeth arms. Sometimes the fact that the Territorial Army has consisted so preponderantly of teeth arms has been made a mockery, as though there were some contradiction between this fact and its proper function. The order of battle will not necessarily be that of the old Territorial Army—quite certainly not—but the order of battle to which the logic of expansion will lead will be one in which teeth arms will still preponderate. Happily, I believe that will be of great assistance in maintaining the spirit, projecting the spirit, of the old Territorial Army, and in recruiting the new reserve.
The word "Army", which one still uses in the context of Territorial Army, is of course an historical deposit. It reminds us that 60 years ago, when the term was first used, the Territorial Army was conceived actually as an army, an army more or less complete in itself; which would go to war as an army; which had its divisions, its brigades, its army organisation; which could fight as an army. That concept in the modern world is long ago obsolete. Indeed, all I have been saying about the citizen volunteer reserve as the cadre and framework of an expanded Army implies that it cannot also be at the same time an army ready to march away when the bugles blow. Yet there is a significance in the term "Army" in this context which ought not to be lost.
The Territorial Army, until its dismemberment a year or two ago, was organised in brigades, divisions and commands. A great deal of fun was made of this, as though it were absurd that a force which was not going to take the field as an army should nevertheless be organised in lower and higher formations. I believe this mockery was entirely misconceived. One of the requirements in expanding an army is to have a reserve of, and a means of expanding, the staffs and the command structure; and the formations of the old Territorial Army did provide a genuine reserve and a genuine basis of growth for the necessary staff and command structure of an expanded Army in emergency and in war.
It is an excellent thing that the citizen volunteer reserve should not only provide unit training and unit cadres, but should also provide, both for regular officers and for volunteers, the means of training staffs and commands and of holding in reserve the staff and command structures which will be required in war. One of the inveterate weaknesses of the British professional Army has been that traditionally, in peacetime, operation with large formations has been foreign to its thought and training. The small size of a professional Army and its wide dispersion over the world, has made it rare and difficult for the British Army to operate in large formations and to practice the theory and philosophy of major war. Fortunately, in the organisation of a citizen volunteer reserve we have the means in part of making good that deficiency and of holding the reserves both of men and staffs and imparting the training which would be requisite in such an event.
In thus speaking up to this moment of the citizen volunteer reserve Army wholly in terms of men, I have been guilty of two grave omissions. The first is material. It is no use talking about expansion of an army in terms of manpower unless one thinks simultaneously about expansion in terms of material. Indeed, the speed and capability of expansion in terms of material may well dictate, among other factors, the size and composition of the citizen volunteer reserve. Obviously, an expansion plan must include an industrial expansion plan. But there is something else here which is too often overlooked and which the world has learned, or been reminded of, by the events of the Arab-Israel six days war—that is, how much can be achieved by a reserve which is armed, not with first-line material, but with second-and with third-line material.
It is again a national characteristic of ours, and I think a characteristic of the British Army, that we tend to be perfectionist in our material. We have tended to say: "Either we will be completely armed with the latest mark and let the rest go, or else it is no use." I think we have to take a different view if we are thinking in terms of a standing Army plus a volunteer reserve. We have to think in terms not only of the material with which the standing Army is equipped but also material held in reserve for equipping the forces that will be raised in the gap between the emergency and the commencement of the wartime production programme, which will thereafter keep pace with the expansion of the Army in terms of personnel. So material is one factor which must be brought into relationship with the factor of manpower.
I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument with the greatest of interest. How does he relate the lessons and conclusions he would draw from the Israeli success in the six-day war to the rather different situation in which the British find themselves?
The point of comparison is that the reserves which the Israeli Army was able to call on, not only from its own population in Israel but from all over the world, were able to be equipped and able to operate effectively with equipment less good, older, more obsolescent, than that with which their standing forces were equipped. Although this equipment was not up to the standard of the arms of the standing forces of Israel, it enabled the reserves on the first impact of war nevertheless to play an effective part in operations. That is the analogy; I do not carry it further than that; but many of the armies of the world have found this to be one of many significant lessons of the six-day war.
The last factor which has to be added is the air. To talk about an army reserve at all without considering the element of the air is an absurdity. There is no such thing as landward operations carried on by an army. Landward operations consist of land and air operations. They cannot be separated. The third dimension is for ever part of war by land and by sea. I do not propose to stray outside the ambit of this debate upon the Army reserves; but be it said, as we consider the citizen volunteer reserve for the Army, that such a reserve would be incomplete—I am prepared to say that such a reserve would be meaningless—unless it were matched by a comparable reserve, to perform the corresponding function, for the air component of our military effort.
So I believe that, at last, after the long and unhappy journey of the last three or four years, there are hopeful signs. There are hopeful signs in the recognition, even amongst hon. Members opposite, that our reserves may have a function of expansion, recognition that the survival of the old Territorial Army, even in the form of cadres, may be of value. This is only a glimmering; but the Conservative Party has pledged itself, as soon as it has the opportunity, to create or to recreate a genuine citizen volunteer reserve. It will be a reserve which will have the spirit and the tradition of the old Territorial Army. Yet it will not be the old Territorial Army. It will be the reserve which Britain will need in the 1970s and beyond. I believe that the greatest days of the Territorial Army, whatever its name is to be, lie not behind but ahead.
I think that on the last occasion on which I had the honour of following the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest (Mr. Powell) I had the opportunity of welcoming him into the defence club, as he today welcomed my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie), and I congratulated him upon his maiden speech in the club. To renew the pleasure of following the right hon. Gentleman has taken some years, but it is none the less real, particularly as he has dealt with a subject which I, too, want to deal with.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I believe that there is a necessity for a volunteer citizen army. I do not think that it should take the form which the right hon. Gentleman suggested, but I shall come to that. I do not think that the concept of the old Territorial Army is probably suitable to the new requirement; this I do not think will fit in. The only party point that I shall make is that the whole trouble now, where we have reached an incredible nuclear capacity and a non-existent conventional capacity, is a perfectly logical derivation from the 1958 revolutionary Defence White Paper—I think that it is in order to describe it as the "Duncan Sandys White Paper". That is where the trouble started. It is from that that we have drifted to where we are now.
I want to deal with the position in Germany, the first commitment we are making and with which I agree. What is the purpose of N.A.T.O's army in Germany at the moment? It is not to defeat a Russian invasion. I think that needs saying and repeating—it is not to defeat a Russian invasion. This decision was taken right back in 1952 when, for political reasons, the N.A.T.O. command had to accept the commitment to defend the borders of Germany. Once that was done, once the forces had to be committed to and stationed forward on that area, it meant that they could not defeat an invasion or, indeed, defend themselves from it. I remember the debate at the time. If an invasion were to be defeated, the forces had to be held back behind the Rhine. Once they were put in front of the Rhine, they were put there as symbols or as trussed up ducks. This is the reality.
I do not think people realise quite how helpless troops are in barracks and cantonments. Our Army—I refer simply to B.A.O.R. in Germany today—is in barracks and cantonments populated with followers, women and children—that outnumber it. It is spread over areas in which units have to move up to 100 miles to get to their deployment situations to meet a Russian attack. Those movements to the deployment positions are, in the main and by and large, across the communications of the country and across the front of the enemy they are to meet. They could not reach their deployment positions, possibly, any of them, in much less than 48 hours. The trouble is that those deployment positions are less than six hours from the Russians.
What do the Russians face? They are in East Germany. In East Germany they have at present 10 mobile armoured divisions with about 4,000 tanks. Behind that they have seven airborne divisions with a simultaneous lift capacity of three divisions. They have 60 or 70 motorised divisions in that part of Europe. What do they face—not so much as a strand of barbed wire, not a mine, not a bridge prepared for demolition. They face a road system designed precisely for conveying troops from east to west at the maximum speed, quite unlike the communications which they had the other day when, with astonishing speed, they moved in Czechoslovakia. As to deployment within that area, they have vastly better security than we have, because theirs is a closed system and ours is an open one. They have a Communist Party in West Germany, barely underground, to give them every possible information on everything in that area, while they are behind a closed frontier. Some years ago they were able in winter to put on six divisional manoeuvres, and they had been going on for three days before we found out about them.
I once worked out—it is true that this was some years ago—a war game as to the capacity of the Russians to act without presenting a nuclear target. We felt that if they set out on a moonlight winter night in the heavy frost which is very usual in that area they could have three divisions on the Rhine before first light, on three separate lines of road communications, that they could have another three divisions in the follow-up, and that within 48 hours they could turn down the Rhine and have their advance units on the Swiss frontier. During those 48 hours N.A.T.O. would be in a position to offer really no resistance, because it could not post its troops. Could nuclears be used on the first night? Inconceivable. Afterwards? In this game we conceived their airborne forces being used behind the armoured spearheads and lining the corridors. I believe that the whole of the N.A.T.O. forces would probably have to violate Austrian neutrality and make for the Brenner Pass as their only escape on about D-day plus four. That is the kind of situation I think we face in Germany.
So what is the object of putting troops into this position? It is an object that I support and believe to be right, but we should identify what it is. It is not to defeat a Russian invasion. It is not to trigger off a nuclear exchange, because I believe that it would be within the Russian capacity to inhibit the use of nuclears at any rate during the initial battle by refraining from offering nuclear targets and compelling N.A.T.O. to do so. They could, I believe, create military circumstances within which it would be suicidal for N.A.T.O. defenders to initiate nuclears.
But the object is one that is sufficient; it is to make general war a certainty, so long as we have forces sufficiently substantial in Germany to make their defeat so serious and humiliating that nobody can doubt that general war must result from that defeat, and that it cannot produce a new status quo that is conceivably acceptable. That is what those troops are there for.
I take it that the hon. and learned Gentleman is using "general" in its literal and not technical sense, not in the sense of nuclear war, but literally of general, international war.
I mean general international war. With the steady, ascending, inexorable pressure of a greater industrial and nuclear power. Nuclears will be involved steadily in this. It is a horrible thing—pressing, indefinite, ascending, uncompromising. That is the deterrent, and it is the deterrent which a force put there to be defeated, and only put there to be defeated, can alone produce. That is the reality of the situation. I feel that there is no harm m saying this, because the Russians must know it as well as we do. They are not fools. They have every intelligence means available to them.
I remember von Rundstedt saying something that I thought profoundly interesting about the time when Hitler ordered von Kleist's forces to withdraw from across our escape corridor to Dunkirk, and by his personal intervention opened the door to the sea to us. von Rundstedt said, "When I challenged him, Hitler's answer was, 'I could not afford to inflict that kind of humiliation on the British. I wanted to make peace'". His calculation was wrong; he could not make peace with us anyway. But it is the kind of calculation people make when they have to price and face the price of a victory. This is what we are presenting the Russians with in Germany.
I regard war as most unlikely, and I do not think that it has been made in the least more likely by the Russian action in Czechoslovakia. In terms of East and West strategy, I believe that that action was purely defensive in concept. From the Russian point of view, the danger is that if the West attacked them Czechoslovakia would take the whole hinges off their defence of Eastern Germany. That is what they feared. Although I think that they paid a very unwise political price to meet a danger that did not exist, their purpose was defensive. It was a very old-fashioned thinking thing for them to do. But I regard it as a purely defensive action, designed entirely to maintain existing stability in Europe.
I feel that there is something to be said for at least doing something to put oneself n a position to meet the contingency for which we are planning—the worst possible contingency, which is that the N.A.T.O. armies have been destroyed and one is committed to a long-term war. What is to stop the Russians adding the occupation of Britain to the occupation of Germany for that war? I would say immediately that it is not the threat offered to them by four Polaris submarines. Whatever else is certain, the Russians know that they are in a position to deter our deterrent. Even if they used nuclears on us, we would not dare to use them on the Russians. There would always be something else the destruction of which we could not accept. I remember seeing the Rand analysis that 13 nuclear bombs would totally destroy this country, and the Russians have 500 medium-range ones on us anyway. It is a game that we can be bluffed out of so easily. This is an absurdity.
The thing that would stop them doing it would be the tremendous weight of holding down a hostile population which is in a position to defend itself. The Russians would already be committed to holding much of Europe and if, by a citizen army, we are in a position to make life hell for an occupation, that occupation will probably not be attempted. It is what I believe to be the most credible deterrent in the circumstances.
What kind of a force do we want? I do not believe in the cadre ideal, because I do not believe that, at the time one wants the deterrent, one would not get an adequate interval to expand. We have to think far more of the resistance force—more of the Hagenau force—more of the kind of organisation designed for resistance. The Swiss give us the best example of this type of organisation.
I should like to see a very small but universal amount of military training as a universal commitment. This seems perhaps to be very wide thinking, but I should like to see every boy at about school leaving age having at least one summer working hard under canvas in a unit, with that unit perhaps almost on a tribal basis, comprising the age group. It would be an annual camp; it would become a social organisation in the locality where the boys lived. It could have its own football team. It would be an organisation and probably it would go to camp for the next 10 or 12 years.
It would be something local, something on the spot. It could be brought into existence at once and it is something which could make the occupation of every single street hell to an occupier. It would provide the kind of localised, almost cellular, organisation for an occupied country which makes life almost impossible for the occupiers.
These are wide ideas at this time but this is the kind of reserve which the country needs much more than the more formal Territorial Army type.
We spent some time last week discussing the general defence questions facing the country and this debate is confined to the problems of the Army. Already, we have heard interesting contributions and I hope to add something myself, particularly on the subject of the reserves, which, I am glad to say, is a major feature of the debate.
First, I want to refer to the Defence Review as it affects the Army. I begin with two or three comments on points that we should rightly recognise and welcome. The first is that, despite the criticisms that many of us have and have had over the years, at this time the skill, training and standards of the Army are as high as they have ever been and probably in some respects even higher. This is a great tribute to those who serve in the forces, subject as they are to all the other problems which we perhaps spend more time discussing than in congratulating them on the work they do.
Secondly, although I have many criticisms to make on the way money has been spent or not spent on defence during the last few years, on the whole we can say that the equipment which is being issued to and used by the Army is extremely good. The Chieftain tank is an exceptionally fine tank of its kind—probably the best we have had, certainly for a long time. All concerned deserve great credit for it. But I must add that I think—and I know why it has happened—that it is probably very unwise to have cut the expenditure on research and development by as much as £30 million in 1969–70.
I sympathise with the problems that any Secretary of State for Defence must have in trying to keep the budget down and to get value for money, but it is my experience—not very long, but genuine—that we have always been struggling against inadequate research and development in providing for the forces. It has always been the case of equipment being ready next year. "You will get new wireless sets next year." "You will get new anti-tank guns next year." It is always "next year". This is the result of the understandable cheeseparing of research and development.
I understand the difficulties. I hope that the Ministry will take these remarks about research and development as a warning. I hope that the Secretary of State will be very careful before he allows any further cutting of research and development expenditure. He should also look carefully at what he has cut this year and consider whether he is not laying up big trouble which will arrive in five or six years' time in order to achieve no doubt welcome economy now.
Thirdly, I want to deal with a rather more local matter which deserves, nevertheless, full mention. This is the outstandingly good work which has been pioneered in Scotland by the Army under the code name of "Op-Mac". This has been an imaginative idea, brought about by the realisation that, as more and more troops will be stationed at home, there is need for two things. The first is to give them more interesting and more useful work to do instead of, as too often happened in the past, their having to stay in a city doing guard duties and fairly ordinary training duties.
The second and more important is to bring the soldiers into a real and meaningful relationship with the civilian population.
I will be delighted to discuss it all with the hon. Gentleman sometime, but it is the case that the Royal Engineers and infantry men constructed two airfields in Scotland in 1968—one on the Isle of Colonsay and the other on the Isle of Unst. They have also constructed not houses exactly, but buildings at Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran, and a water supply for a village at Lochaber which did not have one.
These are examples of what has been done and I want to pay tribute to those who organised the projects and those who did the work, which was extremely well done. I hope that this is a foretaste of work to come in future, because it is excellent for those who do it, good publicity for the Army, and reflects great credit on everybody involved.
I can readily understand the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I hope that he is prepared to add a caveat in that he will acknowledge that there have been some rather disastrous enterprises—for example, the Army exercise at Loch Coruisk. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned two notable projects, but some of the schemes which the Army is engaged upon in assisting local interests should be scrutinised to a degree which some in the past do not appear to have been. An example of this as I have said, was the Loch Coruisk project, which was completely desecrated by Army engineers despite the opposition of the amenity organisation.
I could not agree in any respect with the tone of the comments that the hon. Gentleman has made. That operation may have had problems associated with it, but it was successful, and is not one I would criticise in any terms.
I am grateful to the Minister for refreshing my memory.
Against this background we are facing a real crisis of confidence among our soldiers at the moment. The reason for this is the result of death by a thousand cuts, leading to a tremendous loss of self-confidence among the people thinking of joining the Army. This leads us to the question of recruiting.
The Minister gave us some figures; and we have figures in the Defence Review. It is extremely serious that we are having a shortfall at present of about 25 per cent. of the recruits we need to bring the Army up to even the Government's present planned ceilings. What is surprising is not that this has happened—a year ago this was discussed and forecast; I remember being told that this was an unnecessarily alarmist view to take.
I cannot understand why the Government are surprised that people are having second thoughts before joining the Army. Is not the reason the simplest one of all? The Government have steadfastly refused to believe it; I have been telling them for years. A very large number of people join the Army—and this is certainly true in Scotland—to join a regiment. I have been told time and time again by various Ministers that this is nonsense. In answer to a Question a few weeks ago, about a regiment which was recruiting better than another, I was told that this was "most misleading".
Have not the Government steadfastly refused to believe what is crystal clear to anyone who knows anything about the Army? That is, that men join the Army because they want to join a regiment.
I will not detain the House by giving the figures, but it was one of the highest recruiting figures for Scotland.
One of the chief factors in all this must be the lack of confidence created by the disbandment of famous regiments which had good recruiting records. It does not merely confine itself to the effects on those particular regiments; it spreads a lack of self-confidence in the recruiting function throughout the Army and the divisions concerned. Is it surprising, when the Durham Light Infantry, one of the best-recruited regiments in that part of the country, was abolished a year ago? Was it surprising when the best recruited regiments were involved in an amalgamation of the Royal Scots Greys?
Yes, both selected to be amalgamated.
Then there is the classic case of all, selecting last July, at a time when recruiting was causing trouble, the top recruiting regiment and disbanding it. Much has been said about this. It is not any exaggeration to say that this regiment was the top recruiting regiment of the Scottish Division. Last year, the best of the other regiments in the Scottish Division recruited 58 men; the worst of them recruited 35 men; the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders recruited 85.
That is nearly twice as much as the others, taking the whole of 1968, and comparing the Argyll's recruiting to the total recruits to the Scottish Division. The Argylls alone produced 23 per cent. of the recruits for the Scottish Division and 39 per cent. of the recruits for the Highland regiments.
I am not claiming this is the only reason that recruiting has gone down. But it is straining credibility too far to expect anyone to think that there is no connection whatever between the disbandment of the top recruiting regiments and the fall in Army recruiting generally. I would ask the Government to think about this yet again and to see whether they are not wrong.
Looking at recruiting in Scotland as a whole, about a quarter of the men who join the Army join the infantry regiments in the Scottish Division; adding the Scots Guards and the Royal Scots Greys one gets a figure of a third of the recruits in Scotland joining the regiments. The outstanding and unique contribution Scotland makes to our defence forces is in the provision of outstanding Scottish regiments. We do not perhaps provide as much to the defence of this country as we might. Some of us feel the proportion spent on defence in Scotland is not what it might be, but Scotland's provision to our defence of outstanding infantry and cavalry soldiers is unique.
There has been a great deal of talk about the Argylls' petition since it was presented to the House last December. A number of people have felt that this was a political gimmick. They should pause to reflect on whether, if this had been done as a political gimmick, it would have been done so inefficiently. To make a political campaign of this would have been the easiest thing in the world. It could have been spearheaded in every constituency where the Argylls recruit on a political basis.
Hon. Members who sit for these seats could have been bombarded with meetings and speeches, held by myself and others. None of this happened. The organisers of the campaign have done everything conceivable, within the context of trying to make their point, to avoid any charge of being politically biased. No fair-minded person could deny that this has been achieved to a remarkable extent. These things can never be entirely insulated from party politics.
If it was so non-party-political why was the hon. Member so unwise as to give as the address to which names for the petition should be sent, Conservative Party headquarters in Edinburgh?
The hon. Gentleman is on an extraordinarily bad point. That was one of 50, 60, or more addresses. I can see no reason why any address should not be used—the hon. Member's address could perfectly well have been used. If he believes that there are over I million people in Scotland who will follow, in a docile way, a supposedly political campaign by one political party, then he is very much out of touch with things.
Having produced this petition with over I million signatures, it is beyond belief that the Government have made no effort to meet the wishes expressed in it. Even if they had thought the whole thing to be nonsense, they could have recognised that this was a manifestation of ordinary people, unconnected with me, or anyone, expressing a strong opinion and that something should have been done to meet the feelings expressed.
It has not been stated clearly enough that those concerned have gone to great lengths to suggest alternative ways in which the Government could avoid what must be even to them a distasteful thing. These alternatives have all been brushed aside. They have probably been studied by the Minister, but all I can say is that I do not think that he considered them sufficiently critically. No doubt he got his advisers to tell him what they thought but he went no further. Some of these suggestions must be possible.
Most of the alternatives had been considered long before they were put forward by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. Most had been considered by the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), in connection with earlier disbandments and rejected for the same reasons.
Perhaps that is the trouble. Perhaps fresh minds are needed to consider these matters.
Having produced this massive expression of public opinion, I have been receiving letters recently from people who are against the petition and who have said so, but who have added that while they did not agree with the petition they thought that there must be something very much wrong if the views of over one million people could be completely ignored. The door must surely still be open for some reconsideration of this matter, to see whether something cannot be done to meet the wishes of these people.
Surely it cannot be the case that there is only one way in which the Government's defence policy can be carried out? It is inconceivable that the best brains and resources of the Government cannot devise another way.
All I can say to that is that no proposal has ever been made about amalgamation. It is the Ministry's policy that there shall be no forced amalgamations, and it is one which I support.
I say a word now about the Army reserves. I agree with a great deal that was said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and I agree very strongly with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said. The worrying thing about this Defence Review, as it affects the Army, is that the Regular Army has been cut, some of us would say too low, and at the same time the reserves have been cut. It is possible, either to cut the Regular forces or to cut the reserves, but it is utterly irresponsible to do both, and this is what the Government have to think hard about before their next Review. We have now reached the position where there are, quite literally, no effective reserves to draw upon.
First, we must be clear about what a reserve is. A reserve and a reinforcement are two different things. The TAVR, what the Minister refers to as the volunteers, is immediately earmarked in case of a crisis to make up the regular Army units, to increase them to war establishment. I associate myself entirely with the tribute paid to the TAVR. It is doing very well, with a high standard of training and morale. There has been talk about the two other sorts of reserve we are supposed to have, the Regular Army Reserve and the Army General Reserve—168,000 of them ex-National Servicemen.
It is quite unrealistic to regard these people who did National Service six years ago as being troops which could be used immediately. I call in aid the experience of a previous Government at the time of the Korean war, when troops, including the Argylls, were sent out there very quickly. They had to be reinforced by reservists, and I am told, and I have never heard it denied, that it was necessary to call up twice the number of men that were really needed, because so many had moved away, were sick, were in reserved occupations or could not be found.
It is unrealistic to expect the Army General Reserve to produce men in anything like the numbers needed immediately. The Minister has acknowledged that, because he says that only 15,000 would be needed anyway. It would be impossible to obtain any usefulness out of these men for many weeks after call-up. On the day after hostilities the TAVR disappears, and the Ministry has to call up these reserves. We will begin to get raw people from civilian life, who many years ago, did National Service. There is no command structure, no one will be used to the job they will be doing, no one with a uniform.
All of these people will have to be fitted out and put into new jobs. During that time of national crisis, with, perhaps, a war going on on the Continent, no one will be here, except the eight men left behind as a cadre when the volunteers go overseas. What is to happen? What will protect the bridges from being sabotaged?
Who will protect power stations, and be available to do the numerous internal security jobs which crop up at a time when the country is threatened with danger? Who is to administer the bringing in of the new reserves, putting them into formation, training them and telling them what to do? There is nobody whatever left behind to do these jobs. That is the gravamen of the charge we must bring against the defence policy of the Government over the past four years. They have deliberately squandered an effective reserve and left us today, as we must realise, with no reserve at all to meet a crisis when it comes.
What is the effect? It is that home defence is put on a care and maintenance basis, which means that it does not exist at all. There is no home defence—which is fine as long as nobody decides to attack us. There is nobody to build up the forces called up as reserves or to do any of the kind of jobs that will arise.
What shook me last week was when the Secretary of State for Defence—I thought for the first time, but I now gather for the second—referred to the fact that people criticised him for not providing for the unexpected. Looking round with that look of supreme self-confidence with which we are so familiar he said, in effect, "Really, who could expect me to think about the unexpected?" The one absolutely first principle for everyone who has organised military forces throughout history has been to allow for a reserve to meet the unexpected; and this means something that one cannot at all foresee.
The Secretary of State for Defence may, of course, be right in saying that we cannot earmark forces to do this or that specific unexpected task, because if it is unexpected we do not know what it is. But any military commander who leaves himself without an uncommitted reserve to deal with an emergency is nothing less than grossly irresponsible. The Secretary of State for Defence is not such a Secretary of State at all. He should really be renamed, for it is the Treasury who are really behind our whole defence policy. That policy has been geared to one thing only, the saving of money.
Has it ever occurred to the Government that if that is the only criterion of defence we could save the whole lot if we did not have to consider what defence is for; and some hon. Gentlemen would like that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I do not agree with that view, but at least it is logical. It is absolute folly to gear a massive defence organisation costing £2,000 million to one thing only, what it should cost. The Secretary of State for Defence should be added to the Treasury as a junior Minister. There is now a Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and a Chief Secretary of the Treasury. The Minister of Defence should be added as a junior Minister called the Defence Secretary of the Treasury. That is what it has come to.
I believe that that is why the excellent forces we have are feeling this lack of self-confidence. This is why we cannot get recruits. They do not believe that there is a well thought out rôle for them in the defence planning of the Government. That is the charge which the Government must answer, if not this year, then next.
May I remind the House that there are many hon. Members waiting to speak in the debate. Perhaps, therefore, hon. Members would keep their speeches a little brief and help the Chair.
I want to touch only on the question of the Argylls, to which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) has referred. He has very greatly over-simplified all the issues and it may be useful for me to comment on some of them starting from the last point he made.
The hon. Gentleman ended his comments on the petition and its effects by suggesting that there must be something radically wrong if what over I million people have said cannot be acted upon in some way. For myself, I am in sympathy with the idea that the Argylls should not be disbanded. I believe that this is a bad choice and I would prefer them to be amalgamated. This is the effective choice and I should have thought that the onus of this argument should be brought to bear on the Highland Division itself.
If other regiments in the Highland Division and the Argylls themselves all object to amalgamation, then there is, under this Government's policy, as there was under the policy followed by the previous Government, only the alternative of disbandment. Amalgamation is a very much more sensible alternative. I recall, for instance, the attitude that was taken when, under the previous Government, the Seaforths and the Camerons were amalgamated. There was then not bad blood, but a genuine expression of willingness on the part of both regiments to cooperate and form an even better regiment in the future. I do not know what change has taken place in the Highland regiments now that that outcome is not repeated today for it would seem to be the sensible course.
If the hon. Gentleman is asking for wider consideration in respect of I million signatures he is really asking for some consideration of matters which were begun to be considered about 10 years ago; because no Government, neither this nor their predecessors, reduced—to use the technical War Office phrase—these regiments just for fun; and none was reduced without a great deal of worry in the minds of Ministers, and probably of members of the Army Board and the whole of the senior staff in the Army, that a great many regiments with strong local traditions and very great reputations and records in the past were to be either amalgamated or disbanded.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The great difference is that 12 years ago, when the question of an amalgamation of the Camerons and Seaforths came up, everybody was agreed that the Army had to be reduced. National Service was about to come to an end. Now the Government are making dangerous reductions in our forces as a whole.
The reason the Army had to be reduced in those days was that under the Conservative Government recruiting was so bad that there was no possibility of sticking to the higher figures. The figures were reduced to meet what seemed possible as a top level of recruiting. But the actual business of disbanding and amalgamation and the problems involved are much the same.
When the hon. Gentleman asks for a wider consideration because there was a protest against disbandment he is really asking for a reconsideration, on behalf of one regiment, of matters which, presumably, have been considered in great detail and with great earnestness for the last 10 years; because this kind of thing is not done easily, but only after much thought has been given to it.
The hon. Gentleman said, quite rightly, that the sponsors of the petition had suggested some alternatives. That is true enough, and my hon. Friend in an intervention partly dealt with that. But the Cameronians were reduced before the Argylls. Why should not the Cameronians be put into one of these rôles? The argument behind this is to say, "We pass over the Cameronians. We will not bother with them, but the Argylls should be placed in one of these situations."
There has never been any explanation as to why the sponsors of the petition should take up this attitude, but it is crucial to the whole idea of the petition and what it aims at. No one raised a petition for the Cameronians. No one said, "If there is a possibility of another rôle let us put the Cameronians into it". The sponsors of the petition pass over them and say, "Let us put the Argylls into it".
I understood the hon. Gentleman to repeat the suggestion often made elsewhere, that when we have a petition of this kind with I million signatures we must get an affirmative response to the demand. A petition is a request, in so far as it comes to Parliament—it is not a Parliamentary procedure which has any effect nowadays—for Parliament to do something. That request can be met with a "yes" or a "no". Either is a justifiable, sensible answer, depending on the reasons behind it.
But the hon. Gentleman is associating himself with a certain opinion that when a request like this is made the answer must be "yes" and that it is intolerable if the answer is "no". This is not what a petition is; this is not what Parliament is. When it has a request, Parliament can answer "yes" or "no", and reasonableness or unreasonableness depends on the nature of one's arguments. One cannot say, "If the answer is 'yes', it will be reasonable" and "If the answer is 'no', it will be unreasonable".
I turn to the charge that the petition had a strong Conservative Party political flavour. I observed, as a number of my colleagues did, that there was a good deal of Conservative support for it, which was expressed in very practical ways. I observed, also, that the sponsors took care to dissociate themselves from active connection with any political party. I do not suggest that that was insincere, but it has been unfortunate from the point of view of the petition that so much of the work on the petition has been done through Conservative organisations.
When this happens, people can hardly avoid the charge that they have not been zealous enough, exact enough or thorough enough in clearing their feet from political entanglements. I go no further than that. The charge of political involvement cannot just be swept away. There are some grounds for it.
In our last debate on this matter, it was stated that some of the signatories of the petition came from Omsk, in Siberia. Would my hon. Friend explain how they came to sign the petition?
I have no idea. I was merely quoting one of the local newspapers in Stirling, which is the historic regimental headquarters of the Argylls, that three Russians from the town of Omsk had signed the petition. That is all I know. I do not know anything about those individuals or why they signed it.
That seems to me to form the nucleus of a very interesting speech which perhaps my hon. Friend will deliver shortly.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayr put his argument in a very reasonable fashion, mistaken though I think it is, which is not the fashion always adopted by some of his co-sponsors. He talked about the striking contribution of Scotland to the Army and indicated that Scotland has provided outstanding regiments. That is true. The great Scottish regiments have extraordinarily long histories of achievement. But he is a little late in the day to talk about that now. The Army changes. It is not so long ago, in the long history of the Army, that regiments were objecting to being called by name, like Argylls, Seaforths and Cameronians. They wished still to be called by numbers. But the Army is always being reorganised. It would not be a living, vital Army if it was not.
Scotland's distinctive military contribution to the defence of the country has been outstandingly successful. I was a boy at the time of the First World War. My outlook is still conditioned by the news that I read of the events which took place during that war. Like many youngsters of my age, I felt that the Scottish regiments, and particularly the Highland regiments, were always being put where the fighting was heaviest. That may be unfair to great English regiments, but that was the feeling that I had. It is still my feeling about the Highland regiments.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayr is a little over-simple when he talks about the effect of these matters on recruiting. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders is a well-recruited regiment. I have no doubt about the reason for that. Recently, it distinguished itself in the field. If by chance it had been, not the Argylls, but the Seaforths, the H.L.I., the Black Watch, or the Gordons, in Aden, they would have covered themselves with glory, too, and they would have been the highest recruiting regiment. It is not reasonable or non-partisan—and that is not an accusation but a simple statement, because partisanship cannot be an accusation in this House—to talk about bad recruiting today when at the time of the Sandys White Paper bad recruiting was absolutely endemic.
Recruiting today is low, and one or two reasons have been given for it. It has been said that men wished to join the regiments because of regimental tradition. An hon. Member opposite said that there used to be a general belief that when unemployment was high recruiting was high. This explanation used to be very convincing, but since the days of high unemployment it has not appeared to be sound. Before we accept the hon. Gentleman's point of view, or any other point of view, we need a sociological understanding of why people join the army. Is it regimental tradition? Is it unemployment? I am not asking for another review—we have enough sociological reviews—but, unless we have something like it, what we say is apt to be theoretical and unfounded and have no basis in actual knowledge.
I wish to be brief. I have a lot to say, and I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not mention Scotland. In return, I undertake not to give way to any Welsh Member representing a Scottish seat.
My purpose in intervening is to challenge some of the assumptions which seem to underlie the Government's attitude on the state of the Army. Before I do that, may I say that I welcome one thing which the Minister said. He mentioned that he proposed to introduce a three-year engagment in certain situations. I welcome that. I recall with some wry satisfaction the exchange which I had with him at Question Time on 18th December last year, when he appeared to be against the idea. I am glad that he has come round to it, for I believe that it will do some good, although the fact that he has come round to it also suggests to me that the decision reveals the extent of the Government's worry about recruiting and the state of morale in the forces.
The Secretary of State for Defence, speaking of the Services on 4th March, said:
Their morale is high—as the re-engagement figures show."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 246.]
I do not wish to enter into an argument about the quality of the men in the Services, but I believe that tests can be applied which show that the morale of the men in the Army is not high. The three I shall use this afternoon are all statistical.
The first has already been quoted to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), when he reminded the Minister of the statistics, which I obtained from him in a Parliamentary Answer, of the number of applicants for the purchase of a discharge. I echo the wish expressed by my hon. Friend that we might now have the 1968 figures as well, because of the disturbing increase between 1964 and 1967.
The second figure which is not referred to in the White Paper, as the introduction of the three-year engagement term is not referred to in the White Paper, concerns the incidence of absence without leave. I have had a number of exchanges with the Government on this point and, if I may refresh the House's memory, the answers which I have been given show that the number of Army personnel convicted by court-martial for absence without leave increased from 786 in 1965 to 958 in 1968.
The Minister on that occasion in answer to my supplementary question admitted that this was a serious increase, but suggested that one reason—and it was the only reason he gave—was that soldiers nowadays took far more interest in their own domestic matters. I regard that as a superficial reply. If he had said that a far higher proportion of Servicemen are on permanent home posting and it is, therefore, a great deal easier for them to go over the hill and merge with the civilian community, I would have accepted that as a reasonable analysis of a major cause of the increase, but he did not do so.
Although there are so many factors which may be involved that it is unwise to read this increase as necessarily showing a significant decline in morale, it certainly does not show a rise in morale. This statistic could usefully be included in next year's White Paper, so that the House may know how the trends have gone.
The third test I want to apply deals with the re-engagement figures. I notice with interest that the re-engagement totals of which the Government make so much have not shown a steady upward trend. I have had research done on the quarterly totals for the last three years which shows that from October, 1965, to September, 1966, there were 19,587 prolongations of service. From October, 1967, to September, 1968, there were 19,910, so there is only a marginal increase. Since the figures suggest that the fourth quarter of the year, which is the one missing to make up the 1968 total, is the lowest quarter for the number of re-engagements it produces, I am led to believe that the total 1968 figure will not be significantly above that of 1966.
The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. MacPherson) has reminded the House that during the Minister's opening speech I drew attention to unemployment and its relationship to re-engagement. I agree that we have always historically imagined that in conditions of high unemployment there was likely to be an increase in service enlistment, and possibly one would expect this to be reflected in service re-engagement. The fact that this is not happening today appears to upset a number of preconceived ideas if we imagine that we are comparing like with like, and this I do not think we are doing.
Historically, engagement in the Army has offered a real job prospect, and the fact that it now no longer does so is, to my mind, the real reason why the pattern has not been repeated in the conditions of very high unemployment which we have had for the last two years.
I hope that the Minister will look at these figures; I will not quote them at length, but summarise them briefly. Between October, 1965 and September, 1966, when the average unemployment level was about 250,000, re-engagement averaged out at about 2 per cent. of the total unemployment figure. From October, 1966 to September, 1968, when the average total of unemployment was very much higher, when it made a sharp jump in between the two periods which I am analysing, the relationship between re-engagement and the total level of male unemployed evens out at just over 1 per cent. In other words, there is a definite distinction to be drawn. There has been no significant increase in re-engagement, although there has been a sharp upward change in the total level of unemployment.
I recognise that the Army is smaller, but I do not think that the Army has been fighting off with clubs men seeking to re-engage. The Minister cannot draw much comfort from the idea that because the army is smaller these statistics are necessarily irrelevant. The statistics show that men who might re-engage have lost faith in the job prospects which the Army would offer them if they did. This is a significant indicator of the confidence factor of Servicemen in the profession which they chose six, nine, or 12 years ago.
The Minister may also say that there were no wars last year, but he cannot choose the 1968 figures on which to base that whole argument, because the prospect that there might have been other confrontations was not so remote from the mind of the Serviceman at the end of 1966. I doubt whether there is much comfort for the Minister in the idea that people need to be re-educated about the rôle of an Army in fundamentally changed situations. It is a reflection of a lack of confidence induced by many factors, of which lack of confidence in the Army as a career is a major one.
Another factor, touched on by the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie), is the ability of a Serviceman when he leaves the Services to get himself a house. The difficulty is so acute that it may have an effect in keeping the re-engagement rates artificially high. Again, I will quote statistics to prove this point. Before I do so may I say that I first raised this matter with the Government shortly after I came into the House. I had correspondence with them at the end of 1964 and the beginning of 1965.
It was at my suggestion that the 1955 circular to local authorities was reissued in 1965, and I have been keeping an eye on this situation over a period of four years. What I find is most disturbing. This subject, again, is not mentioned in the Defence White Paper and I would like to see it mentioned next year.
In 1966, the present Minister of Public Building and Works, who was then at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, wrote me a letter in which he said:
In assessing the relative needs of local authorities when agreeing housing programmes regard is had to any special circumstances in a particular district.
My constituency, I claim, is one where special circumstances apply. It is in the South-East, where pressure on housing is intense. The number of council houses which councils can get consent to build is restricted. There are many military establishments in and around the area; the towns of Woking, Camberley and Ash have a military tradition going back a number of years.
But the only way in which a Serviceman in my constituency can get a council house when he leaves the forces is by getting himself evicted. I think that the Minister should know this. I have checked it and I have here a letter from one of my councils which says this:
… 67 formal applications for accommodation have been made by servicemen… during the five years, March, 1964, to February, 1969. Twenty-four of these applications have been received in the last year. As the families concerned were satisfactorily accommodated at the time of the applications,…. none was admitted to the priority list. During the five-year period four Service applications have been rehoused. These were dealt with as eviction cases.
That is not good enough, and it is the Government's fault. Local authorities are in tremendous difficulty when they come to allocate scarce housing resources. There is enormous pressure for accommodation of any kind in an area such as mine—to buy, to rent privately, or to rent from a council.
The Minister knows that there has been an improvement on the eviction side. He accepted my suggestion that there should be a meeting between local authorities and, in this case, representatives of the Brigade of Guards to discuss problems arising in the vicinity of the Guards Depot. There are peculiar difficulties there in that sometimes Servicemen are discharged who have no claim on a housing authority in England having been enlisted from Ireland. In general, we have found that understanding of the problems has improved on the two sides. But Servicemen who do not live in my area and, therefore, cannot be evicted from local Army hirings, but who have longstanding connections with the area have no hope of coming back there to live as matters stand because the pressure is so great, and it is made more intense by the Ministry.
I put a Question to the Minister recently about the total number of Army hirings over the past four years in my constituency, asking what change there had been. I was told that the number had increased by 50 per cent. Those are units of accommodation, houses, homes which have been taken off the civilian market, further restricting the available supply. Once again, the Ministry bears a responsibility for the situation in which my constituency finds itself.
The time has come when the Minister has to consider one or two alternatives. Either he has to represent that there must be an increase in the council house building allocation to authorities which are in this kind of difficulty, and that this should be tied to ex-Service housing, or he has to work out a scheme whereby he will be responsible for and will sponsor a special allocation of mortgages which can be made available through local authorities for ex-Servicemen wishing to purchase homes in the open market. I am willing to meet the hon. Gentleman and talk to him about this at further length, but something has to be done.
I am grateful to the Minister.
I move briefly to another topic which is not mentioned in the Defence White Paper. Again on 4th March, the right hon. Gentleman said of the Army:
Their equipment is the most modern in Europe and they know how to use it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 246–7.]
That may be true in all cases except one, and that is shooting with a rifle. I must
declare an interest at once as a member of the Council of the National Rifle Association, and I admit, too, that I have Bisley Camp in my constituency. However, I will still say what I would have said in any case.
There are two reasons why the standard of Service marksmanship is inadequate. The first has been approached if not wholly covered in the Daily Express, where Mr. Chapman Pincher has drawn attention to the difficulty which has arisen over the demand for snipers in the Services and the way in which Vietnam has revised previous thoughts on the subject. The situation is a serious one. At present, the self-loading rifle is not a sniper's rifle, and it cannot be converted to one. As a result, the Services have had to return to the No. 4 rifle, and, until stocks of the heavy 7·62 mm target rifle barrel can be turned out by the Royal Ordnance factories, sniping will have to be done with ·303 rifles. But even that is only a temporary solution because, eventually, sniping will have to be done on converted No. 4 rifles using 7·62 mm calibre ammunition.
The real key to the problem, which will not be solved by providing new rifle barrels, is that the Royal Ordnance Factory at Radway Green is not turning out sufficiently accurate ammunition, and the Treasury refuses to spend the necessary money to enable the factory to be modernised for the production of ammunition to achieve the standards of accuracy of continental ammunition. This situation must be rectified.
Equally if not more serious is the extent to which rifle shooting is encouraged by the Ministry of Defence, though I have put that the wrong way round because I should have said the extent to which it is discouraged by the Ministry. In answer to a Question which I put to him, the Minister said that a great many rifle ranges have been given up by his Department. He shows little interest in keeping them in his hands. A case in point is the range at Sneedhams Green, in Gloucestershire. The Regional Sports Council and Gloucester shooting interests are anxious to keep the range, but the Ministry of Defence shows no signs of supporting them. There may be complicated reasons concerned with the construction of a motorway, but surely these can be overcome.
The situation has been summed up to me in this way. I have been told that, if the range is closed, the Combined Cadet Force contingents at Cheltenham College, Cheltenham Grammar School and Dean Close School will all cease to be able to shoot on an open range. This is happening all over the country. Combined Cadet Forces find it harder and harder to get full-bore range facilities. The Minister appears to have no serious thoughts on the subject, to view it as a matter of complete indifference. I will not say that it indicates pacifist inclinations on his part, but it does indicate complete irresponsibility. The ability to shoot with a rifle and the opportunity to do so is a powerful inducement to boys to join cadet force units.
This leads me straight to the state of the Combined Cadet Force and the Army Cadet Force. Again, this is not mentioned in the White Paper, but I notice that there has been a decline of over 10 per cent. in the strengths of those units in the past two years. In 1965–66, there were 79,000 on strength. In 1966–67, there were 76,500. According to the White Paper, the figure is now 70,500. I notice, too, that it was said last year—this year's Statement is as bald as it could be—that 24 per cent. of the boy entry and 10 per cent. of the adult entry to the Regular Army comes from these sources. The Minister appears to hope that the House will forget that.
There are a number of other topics which I would like to have mentioned. One of them is the madness of the Ministry in refusing to equip Service free-fall parachute demonstration teams with British equipment and its persistence in sticking to American equipment.
There is the Ministry's treatment of the T.A. in the matter of the officer's uniform allowance. Then there is the extraordinary fact, reported in today's Daily Telegraph, that officers are imagined to have banking accounts whereas other ranks use the Giro. When I was in the T.A., I thought that it was about the most classless society I had ever belonged to, and in many ways the finest. The idea that when a man is commissioned in the T.A. he takes his money out of the Post Office and puts in into a bank reflects an attitude which even the Victorians would have regarded as outmoded.
Then I have some bones to pick with the Minister about the release of military land, but they will keep for next year, if he is still here, which I doubt.
During the course of my speech I have quoted freely from statements made by the Secretary of State for Defence. I return to him. Again on 4th March, he said that he did not object to an attack on the policy of the Government. That is just as well. He went on to ask hon. Members on this side of the House not to indulge in
… a general denigration of the military capability of the Services themselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 247.]
I might say that I shall resent it very much if anything that I have said is interpreted in that way, because I want to see the military capability of the Services increased. There must be an end to Windmill-government by non-stop review with which we have become all too familiar. It is time that we had a Specialist Committee on Defence which could provide continuity of experience. That might see off the right hon. Gentleman pretty quickly. It would provide continuity of interest, it would puncture the complacency which we often get from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and it would keep the nation informed about the real state of its Army.
The annual experience of hon. Members coming here and seeing the serried ranks, the fully-recruited Front Bench, sitting there with the self-same expression on their faces which must have been worn by the "spiv" who sold the Emperor that wonderful suit of clothes, is a travesty of Parliamentary control. We have to find a better system of exposing the Minister's nakedness, and I believe that we will.
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to end his speeches with powerful perorations:
They are doing a job which is vital to the security of the British people.
So they are.
They provide the necessary foundation for every other undertaking in our national life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 247.]
So they do. But how can we expect them to continue to do it under the policies that we have had inflicted on us by that mob opposite?
First, I apologise to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that I shall not be present to hear his reply. I hope that he will not consider it a discourtesy, but I have a previous engagement which will prevent my attendance.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) in many matters. However, I agree with him on one point, which is a common constituency concern, namely, the problem of rehousing the families of departing Servicemen. Like the hon. Member for Woking, I have a military establishment on my doorstep—the R.E.M.E. training establishment at Arborfield just outside Reading—and I am confronted on many occasions with the problems of Service people who find themselves very low down on the list of priorities, or, indeed, with no apparent entitlement to rehousing. It is a social problem of which the Minister is perhaps now more aware as a result of representations that certain hon. Members have already made during the debate but which bear repetition because they are so important.
The chorus of woe from the benches opposite, to which we have been listening throughout the last few hours, is certainly a measure of the partial triumph of those of my hon. Friends and myself—some of us pacifists and some, like myself, not pacifists—who have been putting pressure upon the Government over the last few years. The fact that there is a reduction in defence expenditure—albeit a very small one—stems in some measure from the 62 abstentions that we mustered two years ago ranging right across the party.
That will be denied by the Minister, because Governments, like armies, do not retreat; they merely withdraw to previously prepared positions. Although the gloss may convince a few of my hon. Friends, I do not think that the majority on either side will really believe it. Those of us who are determined to reduce defence expenditure have tasted blood, and we are going out for more. It must not be thought that because we have achieved a partial triumph there will be any let-up in the campaign to reduce the Army to manageable proportions commensurate with the size of a very small off-shore island, which this country now is.
Within the context of this defence policy, which I reject, there are a number of matters which should be raised and a number of items of expenditure which I see referred to in the body of the Defence Review which I wish to question. For example, I note that we are transferring about £19·8 million worth of equipment and facilities to the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore free of charge. I am in favour of overseas aid—I have spoken many times in support of it—but I am not sure that we should leave a large amount of equipment free of charge in a country from which we are withdrawing. Whether this is intended as a goodbye present or as a gesture to try to reconcile the Governments of Malayasia and Singapore to the fact that we are withdrawing—quite rightly, and about three years later than we should—I do not know, but it represents a cost that we should not be called upon to bear.
I suppose the fact that three years ago we were actually engaged in defending Malaysia and Singapore from attack is another matter. The equipment to which my hon. Friend is referring comprises such assets as a fairly modern dockyard and the machine tools and equipment that go with it—cranes, berths, tugs, and a mass of equipment of that kind. Is my hon. Friend seriously suggesting that we should rip it out and take it away or that we should charge for it?
I think that we should charge for it. We should attempt to strike a bargain in the matter.
In so far as we have defence commitments outside this country, with one exception which has not so far been mentioned but which I propose to mention before sitting down, we should, as far as possible, charge a market price for our services. It is all very well, as the Prime Minister did, to adopt a high-minded attitude when I put the suggestion to him in a Question two years ago that British troops are not mercenaries. The fact is that we are poor economically—we are for ever being told so by both sides of the House—and, therefore, we should get value for money wherever we can. We have a Minister charged with the task of selling military equipment abroad. He is supposed to be getting a reasonable price for what he sells. Surely the same principle ought to be applied to the use of men.
It should apply when we are employed in police work—for example, the operation in Mauritius. Happily, it did not require any kind of military action. Nevertheless, Mauritius is an independent country now and, in so far as it called upon us to provide these policing services, it would not have been unreasonable for us to be paid for the inconvenience and expense necessarily incurred in deploying troops there.
We are told in the White Paper that the whole of our defence, with trifling exceptions like the Caribbean, is now orientated through N.A.T.O. In passing, N.A.T.O. has served very little useful function in the last 20 years. It did not help the Hungarians in 1956 or the Czechs last year. I do not suppose it will help the Yugoslavs if they are so unfortunate as to be the subject of Russian displeasure inflicted militarily upon them at any future time.
There is one other aspect I should mention. According to the Motion, we have to provide
for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown…
One territory of Her Majesty's has been in a state of open rebellion for the last three years and nothing has been done to retrieve it from that position.
When I interrupted my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) he was inclined to shrug this matter off. I remind him that the Prime Minister has told us, with his usual consistency, that if law and order broke down in Rhodesia, but only in that circumstance, we might send troops to restore law and order. We hear of the incursions of South African forces, which was at first denied but is now tacitly admitted by everybody. By any concept of international law, that is an act of war in itself. When we consider that and remember the other aspects of disorder which have gradually grown in that part of the world, and in Rhodesia in particular, it surely is not impossible to conceive a situation when we shall be called upon to honour the Prime Minister's promise. Three years ago some of us held that a brigade of paratroopers sent in on 11th November, 1965, would have settled that problem once and for all. Had that been done, we would not now be appearing to allow the situation to slide from our control. But a lot has happened since then.
I shall not be present when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate, but I shall read HANSARD very carefully tomorrow to discover what he says, I want to know what measures are being taken to make that promise of the Prime Minister a reality. I should not like it to be thought that we were going to renage on this matter, because it is no good us burking the issue. Things in Southern Africa are going to get worse before they get much better, and probably very much worse. For once we have an opportunity to be on the right side of a conflict. During the last 23 years we have found ourselves on the wrong side of most conflicts. Here we have a chance to be on the right side.
I did not demobilise them. If my hon. Friend had listened, he would have heard me say that our forces should be reduced. I want them reduced to a size commensurate with the size of this country, which I referred to as an offshore island. I wish to see British troops playing their part as they do in Cyprus, as a component part of the United Nations force there. I should like the Prime Minister's promise to be honoured. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not wish the Prime Minister to renage on his promise. The time for honouring it may not be long in coming, and I would gladly see our forces engaged in that operation, though I realise that it is a hazardous one, and my right hon. Friend has said very little about the ability of British forces to operate at long distances.
There have been criticisms about the Government's proposal to withdraw from east of Suez, and what we do, or what it is intended we should do, as a member of N.A.T.O. Very little has been said about our ability to operate at long range, although something is said in the White Paper about taking part in training programmes in 30 different countries. I do not know whether these countries include Zambia and Tanzania. I hope they do, because these territories abut on Rhodesia.
My right hon. Friend should be in no doubt that many of us on this side of the House are looking for an answer, and that we shall not be satisfied until that answer is quite unambiguous.
The Government's confession of complete failure in Army recruiting demands the closest scrutiny to discover what is going wrong. Who should be blamed? One person we should not blame is the man who fails to come forward to join the Army. It is not his fault. The fault must lie at the top. There is a failure somewhere to provide the conditions under which we can recruit men.
Just as the nation has lost its sense of purpose, so the Army has lost its sense of purpose. Just as, having given up our worldwide commitments, into which we entered honourably, merely because we have discovered that they are inconvenient to keep, we have lost our national sense of purpose, so the Army asks "What is our rôle in the world?", and cannot find it. It is a pretty miserable sort of rôle to be asked to defend an offshore island. We must stop the Army thinking that that is what it is here to do. Is the Army's rôle to provide defence in a world war which is bound to become nuclear? This is an intolerable rôle. I believe, therefore, that there is a great need to reassure the Forces that they are fulfilling an honourable task, that we need their services, and that we shall continue to need them.
The speech of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) is of no help at all. The hon. Gentleman boasts that the Left-wing wags the tail of the Government. He says that the Government will always obey their Left-wing, and will continue to reduce the Forces. Curiously enough, people pay attention to what is said in this House, and HANSARD is read with keen interest in the forces. The hon. Gentleman's speech, and many others that we have heard, will be read in the forces. Service people feel that while this Government remain in office there is a great danger of even further defence cuts.
We have had many White Papers saying that we now have a stable defence policy, and that the forces can look forward to a period of stability. The same sort of thing occurs in the Green Paper this year but we know that once again there will be nagging from the Left-wing and from the Treasury, and that the Secretary of State for Defence will find it convenient to make further reductions in our forces. This goes for the officers and men. Officers are uncertain about their future, and if they are not convinced about the usefulness of their jobs, they cannot set a good example to their men.
Two years ago it was announced that Sandhurst would cease to have any academic periods at all. During the debate on the Army Estimates of that year I protested that that was a thoroughly stupid way to behave, that it was intolerable for a young officer to be asked to give up all academic subjects and concentrate solely on military training while he was at Sandhurst. I seem to have done my job too well, because this year there is a complete change. There is now to be a complete academic year, with no military training at all during that time, in preparation for entry into a university which will be prepared to accept that year as the first academic year of the university. We are not told which university, merely a university. I beg the Government not to go too far in this direction. There has been a complete change round. Let us have a change back to sanity, so that there is a nice balance between academic training and military training at Sandhurst.
The Minister said that the C.B.I. had given an undertaking that it would accept short-service officers for careers in industry, and he suggested that this was a great thing for the Army. I suggest that it is a great thing for the C.B.I. People who go into the Army, receive a useful training, and see the world, will be of great value to industry.
Similarly, for other ranks. It is suggested that if people have the opportunity to learn a trade this will induce them to come into the Army. By all means teach men a trade so that they can move into a good job when they leave the Army, but I am sure that no one will join the Army with the intention of spending from three to six years there to learn a trade to equip him for a job in civilian life. This is not the solution to the recruiting problem.
The three year engagement is a matter of dispute. If we cannot get recruits by any other means, we may get them by offering a three-year engagement, but it is not a useful suggestion, and I trust that the Army will be able to abandon it at a very early stage. It is purely a stop-gap measure.
I must correct the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) who suggested that recruiting for the Army has always been bad, that it was bad under the Tories and is bad now. He forgot that, in 1958, it was decided to abandon National Service and go over to a Regular Army. That meant a huge recruiting campaign so that the new-sized Army of 186,000 could be recruited before the last National Serviceman left. This was a race against time.
Lord Wigg told the House in 1957 when this was discussed that the Army would not be able to recruit more than 130,000 men. He was proved wrong. Gradually, as recruitment appeared to be going well, he invented "Wigg's law". We all remember him waggling his piece of elastic and saying that more men recruited in one year meant fewer recruited the next year and that it was done through special inducements. This is not so.
Although it did not reach the target of 186,000 by the time that we left office, the Army was moving towards it, so much so that, in 1962, the Secretary of State decided to go easier on recruiting and gave the fatal instruction, which the War Office has regretted ever since, that it should be slowed down. This was a tragedy, but it is not likely, at least under the present régime, that it will ever have to be repeated. If the machine is put into reverse, it is very difficult to get it going again. The brake was too effective after the accelerator. This proved that recruiting under the Tories was not a failure.
Although I do not accept that pay is the sole condition which governs recruiting, we must remember that the best recruiting officer is a contented soldier and his present treatment over pay does not make him contented. The Grigg formula may have had disadvantages because it operated in arreas. By all means let us find a new solution, but to throw out Grigg without an alternative, as we have done, "waiting for Jones", is intolerable.
There is now a supicion that we are to have a beautiful Jones-designed omnibus salary. I warn anyone who is thinking of this to remember what happened in 1946, when the Government announced generous increases in Service pay and at the same time made allowances taxable. The net result was that everyone received a smaller pay cheque. This was the Irishman's rise resulting from the promise of the Government of the day. I suspect that this may happen again.
The position of medical officers is a standing scandal. It is intolerable that, for nearly two years, the British Medical Association has refused to recommend its members to join the forces. That they should have to dissociate themselves from the forces is an absolute scandal.
I agree that the Army is well equipped, remembering that it takes up to 10 years after its initial design for a weapon to reach the forces; what worries me is that there is nothing in the pipeline. I gave my views last year on the medium gun which is the only major item of equipment mentioned in the Green Paper, and I will only say now that I hope that the Secretary of State has noted what is happening in North Vietnam, where the North Vietnamese dare not use their towed medium guns because if they open up, they are spotted and shelled at once. A self-propelled medium gun is needed so as to move quickly after firing to avoid retribution. This lesson seems to have been lost on the Ministry of Defence.
The Minister mentioned cost accounting. I wonder what the figures are now for write-offs by commands. When I was concerned with this about 20 years ago, a general officer commanding, with the aid of a command secretary, was allowed to write off up to a figure of £50 and for any larger sum had to make a special submission to the Treasury. That sum might be £100 now. The submission alone costs more than £100 in the time and effort of those involved. I commend the experience of Marks and Spencer's who find that it is not worth accounting for minor items because it is such a waste of money.
The present state of the Army, I fear, reflects the Secretary of State's determination to decide on the probable tasks which it will have and tailor it to fit them. The tasks that he foresees are grim and unpleasant and do not include the exciting worldwide efforts which will probably be the next demands on the Army. We always have to deal with the unexpected. The Army has met these sort of demands brilliantly in the past, but judging from the way that they are being guided now, the forces will be prevented from carrying them out in the future.
I beg to move,
That the said number be reduced by 1,000 men.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments. I understand that the Amendment I have just moved is the traditional way of making an objection to the Estimates, but I want to make it clear that I intend no reflection on the men serving in the Armed Forces or the Army in particular.
I have often taken up, on behalf of Servicemen, cases similar to those mentioned by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), like housing cases. I recognise that the men are doing an important job and I would be the last to argue that they should not be recompensed fairly for that job.
Unlike some of my hon. Friends who may support the Amendment, I wish to make it clear that I am not a pacifist. I believe that we need a strong conventional Army, the men of which should be properly trained, equipped and prepared. I believe in the right of the people to have a defence system to guard the things they hold dear.
While I am not commending the Amendment from a pacifist point of view, I contest the argument that the defence of the country requires certain continuing heavy commitments into which we have entered on behalf of the Army. I refer, in particular, to the stationing of large numbers of British troops in Germany—in B.A.O.R. and in the independent brigade in Berlin—because this policy is based on the British acceptance of N.A.T.O. as the foundation of our defence policy.
During the past year Her Majesty's Government have proclaimed their decision to increase our contribution to the defence of Europe by stepping up material support for N.A.T.O. This is put forward as one of the benefits of our withdrawal east of Suez. I contest the logic of this policy and also the argument that we must maintain large forces in Germany.
Consider, first, the theory that events in Czechoslovakia have proved the need for a stronger defence system in Europe to protect us from Soviet aggression. An article in The Times today, by Leonard Beaton, deals with this matter and says:
The official reasoning that Czechoslovakia and Berlin have produced a new situation cannot be taken seriously. The only significant school of opinion to be reversed by the Czechoslovak events was that which held that the Cold War was a Western invention and the Hungarian uprising was a Western plot".
While I would not wish to be regarded as arguing from the same standpoint a. Mr. Beaton, it is worth noting that he goes on to advance the idea that the reason why we are, so to speak, banging the drum over N.A.T.O. is because we are covering up for cuts elsewhere or because of a new German-based foreign policy. I argue from a different standpoint, although I agree wit. Mr. Beaton that the argument that events in Czechoslovakia prove the need for a stronger defence system in Europe does not stand up to the facts.
I deplore the Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia, as I have made clear on previous occasions. However, I believe that that intervention was the result of the division of Europe and the attempted division of the world into rival spheres of influence and interest as well as the result of a policy of alliances and support for alliance systems. The stronger an alliance may be on one side, the stronger is the tendency on the other side to create equally strong forces. The stronger an alliance becomes, the greater is the desire of its leaders to perpetuate the subordination of the smaller countries within that alliance. This is precisely what happened over Czechoslovakia.
The strength of N.A.T.O.'s ground forces, together with the bellicose statements made recently, I regret to say, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, only strengthen the hard-liners in the Kremlin and weaken the arguments of those who are for pulling back. Just as people in Britain and in the West generally have in some cases mistakenly tended to react to Russian intervention in Czechoslovakia by demanding stronger forces in N.A.T.O., so, if we succeed in strengthening N.A.T.O., the next step for those in charge of the Warsaw Pact countries will be to argue that that justifies even greater strength on the part of their forces.
I believe that N.A.T.O. is part of an American alliance which exists throughout the world. I do not accept this alliance. Hon. Gentlemen opposite and many of my hon. Friends accept the idea of spheres of influence, but I believe that there is a tremendous need today to run down alliances of this sort, preferably by mutual——
I regret that. Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I wished to make it clear that I believe that some unilateral action, such as withdrawing our forces from Germany, would be a much better means of bringing about a lessening of tension in the world and would help to assure the security of Britain than our continued commitment to the arms race.
I no more accept the Warsaw Pact and the policies which it has pursued than I accept N.A.T.O. It would be possible to press ahead with the winding up of these pacts if we took the first unilateral action and did what I am proposing, which is to withdraw our forces from Europe. Somebody must take the initiative and I believe that action of the type I have proposed would be of great help.
Much is made in the Defence Estimates of the need to ensure stability in the developing countries. Frankly, stability in many cases means the preservation of reactionary Governments in those countries. I do not believe that it is any part of British defence to do that. We should question increased expenditure on the Army to enable it to take part in plans to preserve the stability of other parts of the world in this way.
I also contest the policy of stationing large forces in Germany on economic grounds. I understand that the cost in 1969–70 of our ground forces there will be £203 million. I am aware of the offset agreements and that in 1968–69 about 90 per cent. of the overseas currency element will, it is said, be covered. However, this conceals the reality of the situation because the cost of B.A.O.R. is a permanent drain on our resources.
It is said in the Estimates that we intend to make the most effective military contribution possible to the alliance compatible with our economic strength. I believe that we are making this contribution at the cost of our economic strength, that we are underwriting the German economy and, in particular, underwriting the strength of the mark. Twenty-four years after the last war, we must ask for how long this state of affairs can go on.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, answering Questions on 18th December of last year about expenditure on our forces in Germany, said that the net cost in foreign currency was expected to amount to only £10 million for the year. Having tried to unravel the mysteries of this problem, I suggest that there are considerable difficulties in understanding the manner in which this figure is reached. I understand, for example, that loans were made in the past and the interest on them has not been accounted for in this sum, nor the loan repayments.
Consideration ought to be brought to bear on the way in which the West Germans agreed to buy some of our products to offset the cost of maintaining the British Army of the Rhine. Many of these products, I believe, would have been purchased in any case. It seems quite wrong that at this stage we should be subsidising West German prosperity and the strength of the mark when we have been passing through, and still are passing through, a very difficult economic period.
The deployment of our ground forces in Germany, apart from the effect on net foreign exchange costs, represent a considerable drain on our resources. If Britain is forced, as we have been forced in the last few years, to accept cuts in public expenditure, higher interest rates, higher than acceptable unemployment figures and low rates of economic growth, it is time we said we cannot afford to carry on with this heavy expenditure in West Germany. In these circumstances, I advocate that steps should be taken forthwith to move towards the withdrawal of the British Army of the Rhine. That is absolutely essential.
That is one of the purposes for which I have moved the Amendment. I do not believe that we can carry on in this way. I do not believe that we can afford the cost and the burden on our resources which is entailed. We have to recognise that at some stage we shall reach a point at which we must call a halt to this state of affairs. We cannot accept that for evermore we shall have large forces of soldiers stationed in Europe as we have had since 1945.
I am delighted to know that that is the case. I am sure many other eminent authorities agree with that view. It is time people who have gone on blandly advocating that we should continue the present policy considered what its fundamental wisdom is.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) said that inquiries had been made of the Army about the use of forces to quell student militants at Essex University. I do not know what the truth of that statement is, but I very much hope that my hon. Friend when replying to the debate, will say something about it. It is an extremely disturbing suggestion. I argue very strongly that the idea that the Army should be on call for that sort of contingency should be looked into very carefully. I know that in the last resort the Army has to maintain law and order, but the nation that inquiries should be made about using these forces to deal with students at Essex University or elsewhere is very disturbing. We are much in need of some reassurance on this matter.
For all these reasons I have moved the Amendment. It is high time we recognised that we can no longer support the large expenditure called for on ground forces. We have to make reductions in this field. I believe that we could do so and still secure the defence of the country. We should renounce any intention of seeking to maintain reactionary régimes in being elsewhere in the world. For all these reasons the policy on which the Estimates are based should be drastically overhauled.
I find myself in somewhat of a quandary following the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens), as I think that most of his speech, delivered I am sure with tremendous sincerity, was hardly relevant to a debate on the Army Estimates. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] It was on a much wider scale.
If the hon. Member says that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) made a totally irrelevant speech, yet it was allowed by the Chair, that is a reflection on the Chair.
The speech of the hon. Member for Epping could have fitted into the debate last week on the Defence Green Paper. I disagree with the conclusion to which the hon. Member came that we should not have any forces in B.A.O.R. He obviously did not hear his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), or he could not have heard much of the debate which has been concerned with reasons why we have a force in Europe to act as a deterrent to prevent this country being invaded and to stop a war taking place in the European theatre.
I accept that the hon. Member disagrees. Most of what the hon. Member said was in the context of the main defence debate and not of the debate on the Army Estimates, in which we are considering the purpose of the Army, recruiting and so on.
There have been three main themes running through this debate. One has been lack of recruiting. The second concerned the reserves. It was highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). The third was the equipment with which the Army is meant to fight in whatever rôle it is given.
I am sorry that the Under-Secretary, who opened the debate, is not present now. I do not mean any discourtesy if I attack him, but when he presented the Estimates he did so in a complacent way. I have never heard anything quite so complacent. He was a little anxious when he told us about a shortage of 9,000 recruits. Apart from that everything was fine, indeed, he had saved £3 million. That seemed absolutely splendid, but he qualified it two minutes later by saying that £2½ million of the saving was because he had failed to recruit 9,000 men to the Services. So, if the savings were a point of success—which, in my view, they were not—the saving was only £500,000 and there was no question of £3 million. It was a little disingenuous of the Under-Secretary to try to claim credit for saving £3 million. I do not think that this is any credit.
Last week, I said that I thought that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are responsible for our defence have brought the Army to a very low state in both morale and strength. I agree that recruiting levels will not be increased by paying officers and men more. Financial inducements are not enough, although they are an important element in recruiting. A far more important element is for officers and other ranks to be able to know what career structure there is for them. Nobody wants to be chucked out with his career finished at 40, 41, or 42. This is the prospect which faces some people, particularly officers, at present.
As to other ranks, I do not believe that the comfortable soldier will attract recruits. The qualities of excitement, daring and a sense of exploration are what make for good recruiting, but they are sadly lacking at the moment. I do not suggest that this would be a reason to go back east of Suez, because obviously this would be lunatic.
Nor do I believe that the amount of overseas service which the present-day soldier does and which the soldier of tomorrow will do is anything like sufficient. I do not believe that he trains overseas to a sufficient extent. There is not anything like enough acclimatisation for operating in hot climates, particularly in jungle-type warfare, or in arctic climates.
The House knows how many chops and changes there have been in recruiting policy and, indeed, in policy on the Army generally. The size of the Army has been shrinking all the time. This has been an unsettling factor. I come now to a matter in which I am much more particularly interested. I myself became a light infantryman after I left the Gurkhas. I believe that one of the great mistakes has been the moving of regiments away from their territorial affiliations. It is much easier to recruit a Yorkshireman into a Yorkshire regiment, whether it be the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry or the Yorks and Lanes Regiment, than it is into a regiment with no local territorial associations. A Yorkshireman wants to go into a regiment connected with his county. It is better for a recruit from Cornwall to go into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry than into the 1st Battalion, the Light Infantry Division, which is what is happening at the moment.
I believe that this movement away from territorial affiliations will be greatly to the detriment of recruiting. I ask the Government to think about this question again. It is probably right to organise battalions or regiments on a divisional basis in Britain, but why not keep the territorial affiliations and combine the two? Indeed, this used to be the case, but they were called brigades a few years ago. There was the Light Infantry Brigade and the Rifle Brigade.
Another factor which makes it difficult to recruit other ranks is that many people who might join the Army have no doubt that when they get in they will not be given a job which is worth while. They are told by their friends, some of whom may be Servicemen, that they are liable to serve either here in this country or in Germany. They are told, "Germany is a rotten station. B.A.O.R.? Oh dear, no. It is not much fun serving there. If you should join such-and-such a battalion or regiment, you are liable to be in Germany for three to five years, with short periods of leave, and it counts as a home station". All these things, although small in themselves, go to make up important militating factors against recruiting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) mentioned Sandhurst, which is of particular interest to me. When I was dining at Sandhurst recently I met some West Point cadets who are there on an exchange basis. They told me that at the end of a four-year course at West Point recruits come out with a degree or the equivalent of a degree. I ask the Government to give consideration to having a Sandhurst course so designed that at the end of it—not after the recruit has gone on to Shrivenham and done an extra course, but at the end of the Sandhurst course—the qualification is commensurate with an external degree from, say, the University of London? This might be an added inducement to recruiting.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, in a very powerful speech, pleaded with the Government to change their views about our reserves at home. I agree with everything my right hon. Friend said about the necessity to have cadres in Britain for an expanding reserve volunteer Army. My right hon. Friend omitted one vital element. It must be a reserve cadre which can be expanded. The cadre should consist of trained and dedicated men from the regular and volunteer forces. If these cadres are to expand in times of dire national emergency or in time of war, it is no good the House thinking that men who have not done a day's training for six, seven or eight years can be called back from the reserve and trained to peak battle condition in a short time. It cannot be done. It takes at least six to nine months for a man who has not done any service for about six years to be taught the new techniques and the new weapons he will have to handle and to be got fit enough to be put into a battle zone.
I know this, because I was a regular soldier in the period leading up to the Korean War. It took months then to get men who had been out of regular service for nothing like six years back into the state where they were sufficiently fit to risk the hazards of battle without risking their lives unnecessarily by being unfit and to learn the techniques of the new weapons.
Not only in the context of what my right hon. Friend said, but also in the context of the Army Reserve Bill, which will be considered later, if the Army reserves are to be kept in being for a further period to make up for the shortfall in volunteers the Government must realise that these men must be trained at regular intervals if they are to be of any use. When they are called back in times of grave national emergency there will not be six or nine months for them to be retrained. That is the only addition I would make to what my right hon. Friend said about the reserves.
We must have a reserve, volunteer home force. One of the great indictments of the Government is that they have reduced not only the regular Army, but the reserves at the same time. Avoiding doing that is the one golden rule that must never be broken, and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have broken it. That is why we on this side of the House say they are jeopardising the country's defences. I hope that they will look again favourably at the question of reintroducing an expanding reserve force and the cadres in particular from which a reserve volunteer Army can be built up.
The other main stream of the debate is the question of equipment. We have a Strategic Reserve stationed in this country. We have various forces which still have worldwide commitments. It is conceivable that we should have to send out contingents from our Strategic Reserve to help our friends in need in the Middle and Far East. Is their equipment adequate? I do not doubt that it is absolutely first-class for what is needed in Europe. The Army has never been better equipped for the European theatre. But what armour have we that can operate satisfactorily in the jungle and is up-to-date? Are we using old equipment, such as old Centurions? What type of wireless equipment have we? I shall not go into the whole catalogue, but we must remember that we have continuing commitments east of Suez. I only hope that the equipment we are giving our soldiers will be adequate for the job.
I now turn to Europe. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) made an impressive but rather gloomy speech in which he said that the purpose of N.A.T.O. forces in Europe was to be destroyed, which inevitably meant that there would be a long and grinding war; there would be no stopping it. The very fact that the Russians knew that if they attacked and destroyed the N.A.T.O. forces in Europe there would inevitably be a long and nuclear war was the reason for B.A.O.R. in Germany and for N.A.T.O.'s existence.
I think that that is an excessively over-gloomy view. I believe that B.A.O.R. and N.A.T.O. can have sufficient fire power to be able to halt any advance by the Russians on the Western European front. I accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement that the proper defensive posture is not on the West-East German frontier, but behind the Rhine. But even behind the Rhine I wonder whether there would be sufficient fire power not only to stop the armour which might come through, but the men following behind it. I hope that there is, but I do not intend to cross-examine the Minister about this, because it is not the kind of thing one does in a debate like this.
My last point concerns our troops overseas. I was in the Gurkhas during the war, and I have watched with great apprehension the Government reducing the numbers of Gurkha troops in Her Majesty's Forces ever since they came into office. This is understandable when the commitments are on a descending scale, but it is astonishing. Over the years, whenever there has been difficulty in any part of the world, the Gurkha troops have been called upon and have come willingly to help us and fight our battles with us. Now we are to reduce their numbers by 2,000 to 6,000, and they will be mostly stationed in Hong Kong. I think that this year they are to be reduced by another 1,200 men.
The difficulty with Gurkha troops is that they are a long way from their home and, therefore, they should have their families with them. There have to be special arrangements for those whose families are with them, and those Gurkhas who are not married and have not brought their families with them have a very long way to go home on leave. Their leaves are much longer than the ordinary British soldier gets; they are often away for six to nine months.
If there is to be an effective fighting force of 6,000 men, at least another 2,000 are needed to cover those on leave for a reasonable length of time. I do not believe that the Government appreciate that. They have certainly not done it.
All sorts of ideas are being mooted about the Gurkhas. One is that there should be a Gurkha battalion in each British division. Another is that there should be a Gurkha company in each British brigade or battalion. None of these things will work. In the old days, there was a British company in every Gurkha battalion and the system did not work as well as it should have done.
The Gurkhas are fine fighting men and it would be a great shame if the Government reduced the unit below the stage where it could be effective not only in war, but in peace. I do not believe that Hong Kong is the right staging for the Gurkhas and I hope that an arrangement will be made whereby they can serve partly in Hong Kong and partly elsewhere—perhaps at a base in Australia or new Zealand or elsewhere in that region if we do finally remove ourselves from Malaysia. The existing provisions are certainly not sufficient, and I do not believe that a level of 6,000 men will be an effective force. I hope that the Government will re-examine this matter with great care.
The Under-Secretary of State spoke complacently. He seems to be well pleased with what he has done. I do not believe that he has done the right things. The only satisfactory thing about the Army today is that it is well equipped for a European battle, and that is thanks to what the Conservatives did seven to 10 years ago.
The recruiting figures are disastrous and the hon. Gentleman has no real plans to improve them. The career structure leaves a great deal to be done. The Government have stripped the country of military reserves and they will rue this in years to come. I hope that, before it is too late, they will look at their policies again, because they are greatly to the detriment of our country and its safety.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that it is a disgrace to the House and the nation that so few Members see fit to attend this most important debate. It is reducing the whole standard of our Parliamentary system to find only that a handful of hon. Members attend to take part in discussion of a very important aspect of our national life.
I could not agree more. Indeed, I made that point during the debate on the Navy Estimates last Monday. It is a disgrace that debates on Defence Estimates should be curtailed even to 10 o'clock as against the previous convention of the House that they continue till 12 o'clock. Indeed, at one time, they were unlimited. This is a curtailment of the liberty of M.P.s. It must be looked at by the Government. It is disgraceful that it is a Labour Government who are curtailing the liberties of Members of Parliament.
Is my hon. Friend aware that hon. Members are now being given less time than ever in our history—at any rate, recent history—for the Service debates? We have been robbed of six hours.
That confirms what I have been saying. However, I want now to turn to the question of recruitment. Many points of view have been expounded about why there has been lack of recruitment to the Armed Forces. One must make allowances for difficulties in many parts of the country. This has a backlash effect upon the attitude and frame of mind of the inhabitants.
My own constituency is a good illustration of this point. Two defence establishments are to be closed in the near future. One is on the east side of my constiuency at Throsk; and the other is on the west side of my constituency near Kirkintilloch, where the Incherff gun range is to be closed. I am not objecting to those places being closed. I hope to see the day when all military establishments are closed down and our resources used for the production of things of peace.
That apart, the effect on the recruitment to the Army is evident because the Minister of Defence is making no provision that I can see to look after the interests of those employees of the Ministry of Defence who have served so well in the past.
The Minister, in an interjection regarding the equipment to be handed over to the Government of Singapore, seemed to indicate this was the right thing to do. I am not saying that it is or is not, but why not treat our own people as generously? Why should one throw them on the scrap heap, without making any effort to try to help the local Member to get new industry into the area? It is merely indicated to those people that their services will no longer be required and out they go. Does this not have an indirect effect upon the recruitment campaigns? Does all this circulated documentation, sent to the schools and universities, have any effect upon them after the practical experience and knowledge of what has taken place?
One thing had a profound effect upon my attitude in life. My father was in the Argylls and was 100 per cent. disabled. My mother, brother and I were in receipt of a pension from a supposedly generous Government for the services he had rendered to the country. What did we find? We were at starvation level. The pension was paid on a Wednesday and on a Monday night I have seen the last 6d. piece being spent out of my mother's purse. Do you not think this has an effect upon me, my brother and those with whom I come into contact? Do you not think this frame of mind is still prevalent in the places of power in the Armed Forces of the day?
I meant that the Minister or the powers-that-be have not changed their attitude to those matters very markedly. I can understand the sincerity of a person who says that a properly-equipped army could defend us, but surely it is reasonable to see that they are given not only the equipment but the wherewithal to live in a reasonable degree of comfort as do ordinary industrialised workers.
The great fallacy in the thinking of the people who are in control of the Army, Navy and Air Force is that they think in the past. That indicates the sheer inability of the defence set-up efficiently to look after the smaller details.
I will illustrate in this way. On 28th August, 1967, I wrote to Scottish Command because a policeman in a little place called Milton of Campsie in my constituency, wanted to buy, from the Army authorities, a piece of waste ground upon which to build a house. It is land which the Army will never require. I received no reply. On 9th November, 1967, I wrote to the Minister of Defence drawing his attention to the desires of this person, and again I received no reply. On 27th February, 1968,1 again wrote to the Minister, and in March I received a reply, but to this day no action has been taken on this matter. I believe that if the Minister of Defence can be inefficient in small things, then he can be very inefficient with the larger things. I have always believed in the philosophy of looking after the small things properly, because then it will very often be found that the large things will look after themselves.
I would be remiss not to recognise the great responsibilities that any Minister of Defence or any Government has in deciding what attitude to adopt towards the defence of a country and towards the maintenance of world peace. This relates to recruitment, because we must be able to convince people that what we are doing is right. How can we do that when, for example later this evening we will be discussing the Army Reserve Bill, which is tantamount to introducing compulsory service? Were the people involved given any opportunity to express a point of view before the Bill was presented? If not, then they have been hoodwinked, conscripted into a reserve army. This is tantamount to sharp practice, to a swindle.
It is another reason for this "wash-back" against the Minister's recruiting campaigns. The Minister ought to examine his image carefully and ask himself whether he has failed to have his policy accepted by the country. His measure of success must be the success of his recruitment campaigns. If recruitment does not improve, then it is proof positive that the people have rejected this policy. You should, therefore, consider whether or not you are suitable to hold office.
I am sorry. Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister must remember that the extent to which his policy is successful is reflected in the recruiting figures. If he can sell his policy to the country, recruiting will rise, and he will have been successful. This Minister has not been successful.
He talks about a holding operation in Germany should a war break out. He says that for a short time it would be necessary to use nuclear warheads of a limited capacity. What does that mean? It has never been defined. If we use such warheads to halt an advancing army, what will it use in return? Surely in return it will use a larger nuclear warhead he will though the Minister may imagine he will have a breathing space, so that any increase in the momentum will be stopped, I believe he is talking through a hole in his hat. It does not seem to me to indicate that his thinking is on the right lines when one looks at what happened in Czechoslovakia and at what happened with the smaller nation of Israel. As the six-day war showed, speed and surprise is much more important than the breathing space which the Minister seems to think he is going to get should another war, unfortunately break out.
The whole concept of the Minister's thinking on these matters, somewhat like the Government's thinking I regret to say, is as outdated and outmoded as was the thinking before the last war. We saw what happened then and surely the thinking of the Minister at the present time is based, as far as we can see, on much the same concept. In the Defence Estimates there are references which the Minister himself has mentioned to certain monetary sums to provide missiles etcetera—£23,700,000.
But the Ministry has not said how much of that money or how many of those missiles are to be made available to safeguard the interests of the people of Scotland. We have there a Polaris base in the most vulnerable place in Europe and yet we have no knowledge, and nor have the people of Scotland been told, about what defences are at the disposal of the Government to safeguard the populace should a war break out. We have a right to demand from the Minister some indication of what he has provided in this respect.
The Minister also speaks about nuclear tanks and weapons to be provided, and he has talked this afternoon about new bridges that will be capable of being lifted by helicopter and droped in place, over which tanks can go quickly. What use will those bridges or tanks be, or even the forces in Germany, if nuclear war starts there? No use at all. This is not designed to get recruits from this country to go to Germany to be cinders in a very short time.
The Minister has spoken also about Hong Kong. I was there not long ago and an lion. Member who has spoken previously mentioned the 6,000 troops who are there. I wonder why they are there. The Minister should give an explanation. They serve no useful purpose. We may hold on to the Gurkha Regiment from a sentimental point of view but it is no use whatsoever in Hong Kong. The only chance of keeping the peace in Hong Kong is through the police authorities. There is no doubt about that; and whenever this or any other Government use the military force at their disposal there, there is no question but that they will be destroyed.
The only purpose of maintaining Hong Kong at present is for the wireless spying installations there. I have seen them myself. That is the only purpose for keeping Hong Kong.
It is the easiest thing in the world to control Hong Kong by turning off the water supply. But there is no justifiable reason for 6,000 troops being in Hong Kong.
The Minister and the Government must tell us their thinking about these problems, and particularly about Central Europe. Sufficient emphasis has not been placed on the Rapacki Plan for a demilitarised area in Central Europe. Both sides of the House put too much emphasis on the N.A.T.O. Alliance. President de Gaulle has shown conclusively that he has no faith in that alliance; he has withdrawn from it completely. If we withdrew from it, we would be in a position to emphasise the necessity to disband the Warsaw Pact. That would be a great step in the direction advocated by the Labour Party of Britain over the years. We must continue in that direction.
I regret having to say that the Government have seemingly lost their belief in a demilitarised area in Central Europe. Propaganda on this subject helped to get us returned at the last election. We put too much emphasis on the N.A.T.O. Alliance and the Common Market political concept. It is time that we looked at the matter more broadly and forgot that we are here, not as militarists, but in order to try to maintain the peace of Europe and of the world.
On a point of order. I do not make any personal complaint because in previous years I have had more than my share in defence debates and, although I have sat through two days of defence debates, I spoke on the Navy Estimates. However, my hon. Friends the Members for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) and South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and I have been sitting in the Chamber since half-past three. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) came into the Chamber at 24 minutes past eight. Is there any obligation——
Further to that point of order. I would not make this complaint were it not for one fact, and that is the unholy cabal between the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and my hon. Friends——
The hon. Members for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) are right to this degree. When I first became a Member, there was tremendous interest in the Service Estimates. The debates used to go on all night. I was always extremely fortunate to be called very quickly by a predecessor of yours. Mr. Deputy Speaker, Lord MacAndrew, because I think that he knew that I had just given up command of a Territorial battalion and knew what I was talking about. We waited until about six-thirty in the morning before the Minister replied.
I apologise to this degree to the House. [Interruption.] I know that it was not meant personally. I have sat through many debates. I did not take part in them because I was a Whip for seven years.
I return to the question of the Territorial Army and raise my voice about the concern expressed on the lack of recruits. If one is not successful in selling something, it means that there is something wrong with the product. Therefore, there may be something wrong in the career structure offered to potential recruits to the Army. One of the things which has been wrong—and we have pointed this out to the Government—has been the cutting down of the Territorial Army.
By reducing the Territorial Army the Regular Army has been deprived of those Servicemen who enlist in the Territorial Army because they are not sure that they will like Army life. When they find that they like Service life, they leave the Territorial Army and join the Regular Army. By this reduction we have deprived ourselves of a good source of recruitment to the regular Army.
I have always thought that a different form of service should be offered to those on the active list. It ought to be possible to enter the Queen's service for a long period. A man may be hesitant about joining because he does not know what will happen to him when his period of service comes to an end. When the period of service ends the man, according to his capabilities, should be offered similar employment, perhaps in the Civil Service. No one is better trained to look after people than a soldier with the rank of sergeant or above, and suitable employment could be found for him in the Ministry of Social Security or in the Post Office. If a man knew that he would be in the Queen's service until he was 60 years of age he would be helped in making up his mind to join the regular forces.
As has been pointed out, if Regular forces cannot be obtained voluntarily, then inevitably a Government, in facing up to its responsibilities for protecting the country, are led willy-nilly back to conscription.
I still keep in touch with the Army and I visited one of our fine units which was training for two and a half years in Benghazi. It was a cavalry regiment with tanks and lights cars and this was a good training ground. It was most unfortunate that, for political reasons, it had to leave. That unit was on its own and part of a colonel's command, and it was extremely efficient. Such a unit serving abroad and on its own provides the finest training and encourages the men within the unit to rely on each other.
During the Easter Recess I shall be going to the headquarters of our Army of the Rhine for two or three days. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins), I was a Territorial soldier, but anyone who has had anything to do with the Army, whether as a Regular or a Territorial, an officer, a warrant officer or an other rank, is worried. Manpower cannot be completely replaced by science and the pushbutton. Ultimately, particularly in peace time, for policing operations it is essential to have men on the ground. This was brought home some years ago when we were required to go into African countries which had just gained their independence to do policing operations. There are many rôles where it is necessary to have men on the ground.
I hope that the Government will look at their methods of selling a career in the Army, to see whether they have the right career structure to make it attractive. I should like to see the cadres in the T.A. extended to at least 80 so as to get people who might become regular soldiers, and I hope that my party when they occupy the benches opposite will take this step.
If it were the wish of the House that our debates on the Service Estimates should be conducted differently, even if it were the wish that we should return to all-night sittings, as was the practice at one time, we on this side are at the service of the House. However, as I understand, the arrangements for business are in the hands of the Government. This year, these debates finish at 10 o'clock. Last year, we had a Motion until 10 o'clock and two hours thereafter for a debate on Vote A.
Although this has not been a heavily attended debate, it has been a most interesting one. It has been distinguished by several speeches of extremely high quality. I, too, was pleased to find a new member of the speakers' club in our debates on the Army Estimates. I refer to the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie), and I shall return to his speech presently.
These debates may be read by or reported to more people than the number who actually hear them and, therefore, it is worth making the point at the outset that, although in these debates we tend to concentrate on the most controversial issues of policy and on issues which are in dispute between the parties for obvious reasons, those who read our debates or hear them reported ought to be in no doubt of the general good will on both sides of the House towards the men and women in the forces, the civilians who look after them, and all who are associated with them. There is general support for them and what they are doing, and it animates all sections of the House. That feeling has been brought out in all the speeches today, whatever their political viewpoint.
Before coming to some of the more controversial points which have been raised, perhaps I may say how much we enjoyed the Under-Secretary of State's presentation of his Estimates. If I do not comment on all the points that he made, that is not to say that many of them were not of great interest. We were glad to hear that, in some respects anyway, things are going well for the Army and the men and women who serve in it. We were especially glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's account of the way in which equipment is coming forward and the high standard which it has reached.
We were pleased, too, to hear what he had to say about the housing situation, in which context the hon. Gentleman was able to give a more satisfactory report than any that I remember hearing for some years. I make both those comments with sincerity, notwithstanding the fact that I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends may be entitled to some of the credit for the results achieved in both cases.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) raised one point in connection with housing which is important, and it may be that the Under-Secretary will wish to refer to it. Both talked about the difficulties encountered by ex-Service-men in finding houses, when they retire, in the localities of their choice. The Under-Secretary will recognise that, where this difficulty exists, it can be a barrier to successful recruiting. Therefore, it is in the interests of the Defence Departments to contribute as much as they can to the solution of the problem.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary is pursuing the question actively with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and that he and his Department will continue to do everything possible to seek co-operation from the local authorities in the interests of ex-Servicemen's housing. It has always been important, and I am sure that it still is.
The Under-Secretary of State told us that the Estimates this year were £3 million lower than last year. He admitted that £2½ million of that saving is due to a shortfall in recruiting. In other words, if we had managed to get all the recruits that we needed, the saving would have been less by £2½ million. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman admit that. I made the same point in a debate last week, but it was rebutted by the Minister of Defence for Administration who said that the recruits that his Department hoped to get during the coming year were not allowed for in the Estimates and never had been.
No one has ever suggested that. The only point that I have tried to make is that, had the recruiting policies of all three Services not failed so signally, had they been able to get in something approaching the number of men that they wanted, they would have had to budget to pay, feed and accommodate them, and the savings would have been less to that extent. I still think that that is a fair point.
I am not prepared to do arithmetic about the full extent of the figure. It could be wiped out whatever saving has hitherto been claimed.
The hon. Gentleman gave an account of how much training the Army had been able to do in countries overseas. We were glad to hear this. I am sure that, from the point of view of recruitment and any job that the general strategic capability which the Government are planning to maintain, is called upon to do, these overseas exercises are most important.
They are also extremely important for the volunteer, the TAVR. I thought the figures given of the the number of TAVR exercises which had taken place indicated that they are not getting as large a share of this kind of overseas the assurance that, on grounds of training as they might. If that is wrong, I hope that the Under-Secretary will correct me. But I hope it is not the case and that the hon. Gentleman can give us economy, the training opportunities of TAVR II are in no way being restricted. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it is important, if it is to be an adequate reinforcement for B.O.A.R., that it should have the fullest possible opportunity to associate and train with B.A.O.R. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us that assurance.
I shall say something later on the Army Reserve Bill, to which the Under-Secretary referred. It will be more convenient than dealing with it now.
I was glad that the hon. Gentleman made a passing reference to the National Army Museum and the fact that building has started. Having, to some extent, been associated with the early stages of the project, I should like to add my tribute to the drive and energy of Sir Gerald Templer and the amount of time that he has devoted to getting this project off the ground. I cannot find the extent of the Government's capital contribution to the building fund in the Estimates. It may be my fault. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary will be able to put us right.
A great deal has been said about recruiting. Speaker after speaker from this side of the House has underlined the seriousness of the situation. It is my belief that my hon. Friends have not exaggerated the extent of the seriousness of the position. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) said that it is not simply that the Government will not get an adequate rate of inflow of recruits from civil life, but that there is also great cause for concern about the figures for the rate of wastage, particularly through discharge by purchase. My hon. Friend gave some figures. I hope that the Minister will tell us what the wastage figures are, and will give us a rather fuller explanation of that side of the coin, because it is obviously as important as the other one and we ought to have the full picture.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen spoke about the uncertainties which hang over the future rôle and size of the Services, which he rightly said, was a factor in discouraging recruiting. I agree that it is a factor, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that it is a factor which had any effect when my right hon. Friends were in charge of recruiting. I say that because the very considerable reductions in the size of the forces which preceded the decision to go on to an all-regular Army were carried out before we embarked on the exercise of recruiting and of training such an Army, and when we embarked on that exercise we sold it on the basis that it would have a worldwide worth-while rôle providing good prospects, stability, and a sense of satisfaction in the job, and we were able to hold to that.
One of the troubles at the moment is that these factors in the recruiting situation have changed. They are not the only factors, but they are important. It is a fact which has to be faced, and will have to be got over by the recruiting organisation, that the Army's rôle, though certainly every bit as worth-while as it ever was, will be confined to a more limited theatre than it has been in the past. I am sure that this can be got over, but it is a fact which has to be met.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) and others referred to pay. The Minister of Defence for Administration admitted last week that pay is a considerable factor in recruiting, but he then introduced what, in present circumstances, I thought was rather a red herring. He said that it would have been unsatisfactory to have made up the pay last April to what it ought to have been on the Grigg principles by the simple method of a percentage increase deriving from a base year 12 years ago. This may be true, but in the circumstances I think that it is a red herring, because my experience has shown that what makes for successful recruiting is a series of efforts all built on the foundation of comparable remuneration for the Serviceman with his counterpart in civil life.
That has been the basic principle from which all efforts have had to stem. It is the principle of the Grigg formula which has worked over the past few years, and it has shown results. Even when our party had a pay pause, and because of that policy implemented the pay review in two instalments, there was not a severe check to recruiting, and confidence was maintained, because the whole extent of the award was announced at the same time. Everybody knew where they were, and they knew that they would get the second instalment later. This is not what has happened in the way the Government handled Service pay in relation to their prices and incomes policy. It is known by people in the Services that last year's award fell 3 per cent. short and that rates outside have risen since, but how that situation will be met is still not known and will not be known for two or three months.
When the right hon. Gentleman said, at the time of the announcement of the last award, that the Prices and Incomes Board would be asked to report within 12 months, it never occurred to me for a moment, and I do not think that it occurred to any of my hon. Friends, that it would be asked to report at the end of 12 months. We all thought that it would get on with the job, and, in view of the importance of this, let us know something as soon as possible. The effect of what has happened is that recruiting and efforts to bolster recruiting have been hamstrung for a whole year, or rather more, because of this uncertainty about pay.
I must say seriously to hon. Members opposite that they have bungled this situation. Their handling of the prices and incomes issue in relation to recruiting has shown incompetence, and it may take a considerable time for the Army to recover from the effects of this, although I certainly hope that it will, because we cannot go on as we are. That is the first point: confidence about pay and the Government's intentions over pay must be restored.
I am apprehensive about the idea of introducing a new basis for pay at this time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry will keep a very close watch on any bright ideas of the Prices and Incomes Board, because it has had some peculiar ideas about the bases of assessing pay recently in other connections. The concept of the military salary may be all very well, but I can think of nothing which is likely to give rise to more argument than the idea of a salary abated by appropriate deductions in the way of allowances. Although this idea may have merit, if it is to be introduced in connection with this next award, it represents a singularly unfortunate piece of timing.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman's people were doing this investigation, but they were superseded by the Prices and Incomes Board and its activities, and I still do not think that this is necessarily the best possible moment to implement it. The main thing is to get confidence in comparability of pay restored and I hope that this will be done at an early date.
We heard a little more today about the proposed offer of a three-year engagement. I was interested to hear what the Under-Secretary said, because this is an idea which has been floated before over recruiting. Six or seven years ago, when we were being advised by Sir Eric Hooper, its advisability was rejected by him and, I think, by such military advice as we had at the time. It was considered that the three-year short-service engagement was not the best way to recruit long-service Regular forces.
I was, therefore, reassured to hear that the number of men to be recruited on this engagement is to be restricted and that these restrictions are to be of an appropriate size as between different corps. This may go some way to meet the objections. The hon. Gentleman can probably confirm that the numbers which it is hoped to recruit under this engagement will not be so large as to undermine the principle that we are still to have a basically long-service Army. Of course, the pay differential, which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham mentioned, is also very important.
Several hon. Members spoke about the reserves and underlined the fact that the problem caused by deficiencies in Army recruiting is not confined to regular recruiting but extends to the reserves. Anything that we can do to help the Territorials to improve their numbers we will do. The right hon. Gentleman and I were recently associated with the City of London Territorials in an effort to correct the widespread belief in the public mind that there is no more future in the Territorial Army or the voluntary reserve. We should do all we can to correct this false impression and so improve recruiting.
I wish to approach the subject of the reserves in a non-partisan spirit. This is all the easier because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) pointed out, the vicissitudes to which our reserve forces have been subjected during the past four years have led the Government considerably to modify their policies, so that the shape and organisation of the reserves approximates very much more to what we want to see and certainly to what the Territorial Army Council wants to see.
The right hon. Gentleman has followed the wishes of the Territorial Army as far as he could in getting rid of categories, to which a certain exception has been taken. We can now talk about the "T.A." and know what we mean. In deciding that there should no longer be first-class and second-class Territorials—the two categories originally introduced—all units now have equal status. He has also followed the advice of my hon. Friends in deciding that he needs as wide a geographical spread of drill halls and units as possible if recruiting is to get properly under way and if the training liability is to be more realistic than it was under the original plan.
Most important, the Government have at last admitted that the reserves are necessary to give us a capability for the expansion of our Armed Forces should that need arise. As a result of the latest announcement, there will now be cadres, and this means that units will serve as a basis for expansion. That is important because the units will exist, there will be officers and N.C.O.s and they will be able to act as a basis for the enlarged forces which my hon. Friends wish to see recruited and trained.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made two further important points: first, that because of what he called the logic of the factor of expansion, it will be necessary, when it comes to expanding the reserves, to incorporate, as was done under the old TA., a higher proportion of teeth arm units than might at first sight seem essential, and secondly, that attention must be given to the problem of equipment because if it is possible to recruit more men, they will have to be equipped, and that will cost money.
I thought my right hon. Friend right in saying that opportunities for the reservists, to train side by side with the regular Army now that more of the regular Army is at home and to take advantage of the equipment of the regular Army for training should be more easy to provide than they were for the old Territorial Army. As the forces overseas come home, and the plans of the Government for a run-down proceed, I hope that they will husband, safeguard and preserve the surplus equipment which is thrown up as far as they can, not only from the point of view of the Territorial Army and bearing in mind the value that such equipment can have, but also to supplement our war and other contingency reserves upon which economies have had to be made in recent years.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) spoke about the purpose of B.A.O.R. I was interested in his speech. Had he been present now, I would be tempted to reply to it at greater length.
That would make it rather dull for everyone else.
I accept to some extent the hon. and learned Member's careful analysis of the rôle of the Rhine Army, but I think there is a much simpler answer to why the Rhine Army is where it is. It is that as things are that is the only place for it to be. Under the Government's plans, the Rhine Army is to be the only Army we are left with. Even the plans of the present Government, thank goodness, do not extend to running down the Army to a size below that of the present, and this Army has to be somewhere. There is no room for it in this country, certainly not to train here. So it remains in Europe, and, so far as one can foresee the future, there it will have to remain.
I have probably covered most of the points raised by hon. Members in the debate. I end by saying that whatever controversial points arise between the two sides of the House in these Service debates we all wish those in the Services to recognise that the thought which is uppermost in the minds of those on both sides of the House is their welfare and successful discharge of the duties they assume in our service and that of the country.
On a point of order. Since the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) has denied complicity in curtailing the debate, may we have my hon. Friend's version of events?
I speak again in this debate by permission of the House. Most of the speeches have been most thoughtful and helpful. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) for the pleasant way in which they received my speech, I am grateful for the general tone of the House in discussing these Army Estimates.
I was about to interrupt the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and to say something like that when he began his peroration, but, leaving his peroration aside, I am most grateful to him for his constructive comments. I shall be glad to see him about the housing problem. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) that there is no proposal to close Incherff. I am sorry that he should have had difficulties over correspondence with the Ministry of Defence and I shall see if we can iron them out.
I was pleased to hear the remarks of the right hon. Member for Harrogate about TAVR. They were very helpful. Many of the comments made tonight will greatly encourage the Army. We all agree that it is for the good of the country, and we greatly respect the way in which officers and men in the Army are doing their duty.
There seems to be general agreement that the equipment that the Army has is good. I do not for one minute dissent from the right hon. Gentleman's view that some of the credit for this is due to the Conservative Government, as indeed is the improvement in barracks and in the general housing environment. I give the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) credit for that when he was at the M.P.B.W. However, the emergency housing programme was initiated entirely by the Labour Government. This is one of the reasons why the Army's housing situation is much better than it has been. The recent figures on what the Army delightfully calls the state of family union are better this year than they were last year. Only 2 per cent. of officers and 3·5 per cent. of soldiers have been in the year separated from their families at their duty stations.
The hon. Member for Woking spoke about the rather nasty procedure that sometimes operates for obtaining possession of Service houses. When this is set against the background of the numbers involved, it is very tiny indeed, although I do not for one moment make any criticism of what the hon. Gentleman said about this. During the past year there were 11,200 removals of Service families and the number of applications made for warrants to obtain possession was only 68. I insist on seeing all warrants for application; I consider them personally.
I always take, as indeed does the Department, the greatest trouble to ensure that people are dealt with as humanely as possible. Of this 68 only 39 were taken into court, and only four warrants were executed. As the Army is a complete cross-section of life, and as there are a number of cases which are very distressing, this is not so bad. This whole problem is administered with the greatest of humanity.
What I have just said does not affect the case which the right hon. Member for Harrogate and the hon. Member for Woking made about the need for council houses and for soldiers to be able to return to their home towns. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has stressed that local authorities should give soldiers as much priority as anybody else. Many local authorities do, but hon. Members can be of great assistance to my Department if they will refer to me the case of any local authority which is not being helpful.
I should like to express my appreciation of the very sympathetic way in which the Under-Secretary handles these matters. Within the past few days I have had occasion to write to him to thank him for his understanding attitude in a very difficult case concerning arrears of rent. This does not alter the fact that there are problems which need to be discussed and on which I should be glad to meet him.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. The efficiency of the Army is good. The officers and men perform their duty to the country most loyally. Their military morale is very high. We may have discussions about other aspects of morale, but the leadership, whether by commissioned officers or by warrant officers, is very high indeed, as is the efficiency of all concerned in doing their duty when called upon in particularly difficult circumstances, as they sometimes are.
The hon. Member for Beckenham asked what has happened to Vigilant. It is still very much around and is a very useful anti-tank weapon. To take up the hon. Gentleman's assertion that we have not got enough anti-tank capability, the Chieftain gun, which my hon. Friend mentioned in the defence debate, is the best gun that there is for dealing with armour. The Germans are taking it in their Leopard tank. This is perhaps the most effective weapon of its kind in Europe, including the Russians'. We have three main anti-tank weapons—the Wombat 120 mm. gun, the Vigilant, and the Carl Gustav. The Swingfire long-range anti-tank guided weapon will be coming quite soon, and we are also——
I cannot say without notice. It will cost a lot.
We are also working on a new heavy anti-tank guided weapon, and new mines which will have, as the Army Department says, great lethality.
Just as in equipment generally, the present range of weapons is very good, and the range coming in is even better.
I think that it was the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) who commented on the cutting of research and development. But the research and development on the next generation of weapons is going ahead very well and their quality will be good.
A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Beckenham, asked about officer careers. We have gone to a great deal of trouble to maintain the career prospects of officers, and I would say that they are as good as they have been in the past. The average ages of promotion are: 50 to 60 per cent. of majors promoted to lieutenant-colonel at 42; 42 per cent. of lieutenant-colonels to colonel at 45; 55 to 60 per cent. of colonels to brigadier at 47; and 20 per cent. of brigadiers to major-general between 49 and 50. But we hope to improve the proportion of majors promoted to lieutenant-colonel, and there is accelerated promotion for a number of what are commonly called "flyers".
I was also asked about the voluntary retirement rates. These are not satisfactory. I have been charged with being complacent. but perhaps that is because of my mild manner. The figures are as follows: 1965, 521; 1966, 474; 1967, 566; 1968, 612. But the first part of 1968 was worse than the second.
Improvements in the staff college arrangements are being made. The staff college system generally is being reviewed in the Department, and what is in the best interests of an officer's career will come out of this investigation.
I think that it is most unlikely, but the House must given me time to check the authenticity of this, to find out what is going on and give a reply at leisure.
Perhaps I might finish what I was saying about officer careers.
I do not want to press the hon. Gentleman too hard but surely, with all the support he has in the rear, he should be able to give an answer to the House on what one of his own lion. Friends said is an urgent matter.
I should be allowed time to look into this. It is a serious matter. I must have time to investigate it. I cannot be expected to give an answer off the cuff.
The officer career structure is as satisfactory as it was in the past, and a further reason for this, of course, is the success of the short-service commission. As I said earlier, this is going well in conjunction with the C.B.I. scheme and will improve the prospects of the long-term Regular officers. The short-service commission is a satisfactory engagement and recruiting is going well.
I was also asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) about the careers of officers and men as they come out of the Army. The appointment o. Mr. Roberts which was recently announced has been a step in the right direction. He is getting down to the work very hard and all the time arrangements and improvements are being made to the opportunities for resettling both other ranks and officers.
I will write to my hon. Friend in more detail but the arrangements by which tradesmen in the Army have their courses and their careers recognised by the trade unions are well authenticated and very thorough. Soldiers are encouraged—indeed, everyone in the Army is encouraged—to take examinations. The Army makes it easy as possible for City and Guilds and the Higher National Certificate examinations to be taken. Great attention is given in general to the welfare of men and women leaving the Army and going into industry. Indeed, it would be correct to say that the Army thoroughly recognises the need for two careers—a satisfactory career in the Army and a good one in industry afterwards.
Universities and other bodies are very helpful to the Army on this matter and resettlement courses have recently been increased in number. They now count towards Government training courses and, generally speaking, a lot of activity and much thought are going into this matter. I can give my hon. Friend an assurance on that.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) at least cleared up three things about the Conservative Party. It proposes to have a citizen army—and we know the cost of that.
I cannot state it precisely now, but we shall be able to find out. It very much depends, of course, on some of the other items that the right hon. Gentleman put in his programme. There is the industrial base, for example. Perhaps he knows that, in the Estimates, there is £4½ million in Ordnance factories for reserve capacity. Whether he accepts that or goes beyond it I do not know, but from the tone of his speech I think that he has much more grandiose ideas.
The hon. Member for Ayr paid tribute to the equipment of the Army and made a special plea for not cutting research and development. He also referred to "Op-Mac" in Scotland. I was particularly glad to hear him welcome the employment of infantry on projects of this sort. Indeed, there was general support for the maximum use of the Army in this way.
My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson)——
Before the hon. Gentleman goes on to another topic, I remind him that he promised me that he would deal at some length with the question of the number of troops who would be left in this country for home defence in the event of war or emergency.
I will come to that in a moment. I want first to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak. This was his reference to the Loch Coruisk project. I understand that the owner of most of the land involved and of Loch Coruisk was pleased with what the Army did and it seems that most of the objections to the Army activity came from a very small number of people.
I come now to the point mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham concerning the reserves which would be available for home defence. The Household Division is available, along with the men in the depots, in the training organisations and in the workshops, and there are also the cadres which have been referred to. These form a base for ex-Regulars whose reserve service has finished but who can still volunteer in an emergency. A great many people would be available for that sort of emergency. There are regulars from the R.A.F., from the Navy, and there are a great many officers who are not required in the ordinary mobilisation plans but who will also be available.
The whole adds up to considerable thousands. The basic concept put forward is that the defence of Britain does not lie in N.A.T.O. It does, and the general organisation of N.A.T.O. is the basic defence of this country. These form a bonus reserve in England in the kinds of circumstances—[Interruption.]
I have given way many times and I have a list of people to whom I wish to reply.
The hon. Gentleman was most helpful on the question of the Argylls' petition. The Army Board gave a great deal of thought to the reductions. It considered these in a very calm atmosphere. I think it is to be credited with putting the concern for the whole of the Army over sectional interests. One of the difficulties that arises in the sort of campaign that has been launched on behalf of the Argylls is this: It makes for bad blood in other parts of the Army.
The protagonists of the Argylls have been attacking the parachute regiment; they have made claims that are, in many cases, unjustified. I have been put in this dilemma: I said originally that to draw up a league of virtues of particular regiments, and to go about it in that way, would cause a great deal of bad blood and would do the Army no good at all. I admit that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ayr has put his words moderately here, but the way people outside have fomented this trouble makes it very difficult indeed to be fair with the Army as a whole. Assertions have been made about the Argyll and Sutherlands regarding recruitment. They are recruited now into divisions, but the Argyll and Sutherlands, looked at from a number of ways, are not the best recruited regiment in Scotland.
For example, during the first three months of training during 1968, they had the highest but one wastage of recruits and the highest but one wastage of trained soldiers. They also have the largest number of soldiers under warning, on special report. These are the sorts of things which detract from the recruiting claim.
I am disinclined to give those figures, but I felt I must give them as there have been repeated assertions of things which are not strictly true.
The hon. Gentleman has made a great point about soldiers joining a good regiment and not the Army as a whole. We have some rather better, more accurate figures now. They confirm the feeling that we have had. Only 25 per cent. overall—so the figure could be higher in parts of Scotland—come with any firm intention to the recruiting office as to which regiment they shall join. After having had a discussion with the recruiting officer, another 15 per cent. leave the recruiting office knowing what they want to do in the Army.
The proportions are roughly that 40 per cent. have some firm idea of what they wish to do by the time they leave the recruiting office, although some are not quite so certain, while 60 per cent. join the Army and are prepared to go anywhere they are sent. Other figures recently issued which confirm this general feeling come from the pilot scheme for centralised recruitment. They show that of 618 recruits, 38 per cent., were committed, while 384, 62 per cent. were uncommitted.
I now have an answer to the point raised about Essex University. During 1968 the authorities of Essex University asked the Army at Colchester whether Army premises were available for use as examination halls. It was told "no". No other request for military assistance has been made.
I was asked about prolongation rates. They were much worse under the Tories than under this Government. In 1964 the six year prolongation was 35 per cent., in 1965 it was 36 per cent., in 1962, 42 per cent. in 1967, 50 per cent. and in the first half of 1968, 50 per cent. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) asked about absence without leave and desertion. I agree that this is a serious matter, and since I answered a Question in the House, I have asked for the matter to be looked at. Perhaps this is something we might discuss later.
The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire surprised me by what he said about redundancy. As a general rule, the Ministry deals very sympathetically and carefully with redundancy problems. I have said that I will be pleased to see him about this. The hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir H. Harrison) said that training overseas, in North Africa, should be encouraged. I thought that he had the idea that training in Libya had been stopped. Both the Territorials and the regular Army train in Libya, and there is every intention that that should continue. There is no idea in my mind that economies will affect that training.
I still have some questions to answer, which I might have been able to deal with if I had not been interrupted so much. I will write to the hon. Gentlemen concerned on these matters.