Orders of the Day — Defence (Army) Estimates, 1969–70, Vote A

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1969.

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Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr 12:00 am, 12th March 1969

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.