I beg to move,
That a number of Land Forces not exceeding 201,600, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, and that a number not exceeding 55,000, be maintained in the Regular Reserve, that a number not exceeding 80,000 be maintained in the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve, and that a number not exceeding 6,000 be maintained in the Ulster Defence Regiment, during the year ending on 31st March 1971.
Can you give us some guidance, Mr. Speaker? It is not easy for us to follow why the figure of 201,600 has been put into the Motion, because the White Paper which we are discussing lists it as 175,850. Is there any relation between those two figures? I thought that it was this White Paper and the supporting White Papers which we were discussing. How does this figure arise?
May I say, at the outset, that the point raised by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) is one which will be investigated as a matter of urgency and will no doubt emerge during the debate, but not during the first five minutes of my speech.
This year, for the first time, the House is asked to approve in one Vote A resolution the maximum numbers of officers and other ranks of the reserves to be maintained, as well as of the Regular Army. This new arrangement is in accordance with the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure in its Second Report of the last Session, and it stems, of course, from the new structure of Defence Votes.
The Army's budget for 1970–71, within the total of the Defence Estimates in their new form, is £615·6 million. This is £22·2 million more than the original Estimates for the present year, but the Supplementary Estimate for £6·5 million now before the House for this year will have the effect of reducing the difference to £15·7 million. Of this amount, £11·4 million is for pay and price increases, mainly for civilian pay improvements. At constant prices, therefore, the real increase over the present year is £4·3 million. It is due mainly to provision for higher expenditure on equipment partly offset by lower military and civilian strengths.
The Estimates do not provide for all the recent recommendations of the National Board for Prices and Incomes on the Services' pay. The details of the military salary rates were not known in time for inclusion in the Estimates. The House will be asked later to approve Supplementary Estimates for the military salary.
During the past year, the Army has again carried out its many and varied tasks quietly and effectively. Clearly, the most important operational rôle of the Army during the last 12 months has been in Northern Ireland, and I shall come back to the Army's task and commitment there later on in my speech. First, however, let me refer briefly to the Army's activities elsewhere.
I am glad to be able to tell the House that the British Army in 1969 outside the United Kingdom was not involved in any major operations. However, in March, 1969, the Battalion Tactical Headquarters and two companies of the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, together with a detachment of Metropolitan Police, were flown to Anguilla to help in restoring peace and stability on the island. Demonstrations which took place there were contained without force being employed, and conditions improved quickly enough to allow the parachute troops to be withdrawn by September, 1969.
A force of Royal Engineers has, however, remained in Anguilla to complete various civil projects in aid of the local community. In other overseas theatres the Army has been able to concentrate on training, and in Malaysia and Singapore, the Persian Gulf and Libya, on the necessary preparations for withdrawal.
In Gibraltar, the Army has had to face the inevitable difficulties consequent upon Spanish policy. They have concentrated there primarily on two main tasks, namely, helping to maintain essential services and assisting the civil community in improving some local amenities. A substantial part of an additional infantry battalion has continued to be deployed in Gibraltar on an emergency unaccompanied tour.
The number and variety of tasks carried out in aid to the civil community has grown substantially in the last year. This type of work is, in the Government's view, extremely important and valuable. Naturally, the work concerned must be visibly of social value to the community, and have definite training value, for I would certainly not be prepared to see the Army being used as a source of cheap labour. That is not its function.
I have recently had the opportunity of meeting and talking to some of the soldiers who have been engaged on M.A.C.C. projects in various parts of the world. A man who, for example, has helped to build a bridge in Ethiopia which has opened up a whole province can and does feel justifiably proud of his achievements. He brings credit not only upon himself, but upon his Service and his country, and, therefore, the Government are keen that this type of work should go ahead.
The Royal Engineers have over the past year undertaken a large number of such tasks ranging from design planning and management of large-scale industrial work to well-drilling, excavation, airfield and bridge building. They have been employed all over the world, and among the examples I can mention are the completion of a permanent all-weather airfield at Beef Island, in the British Virgin Islands, to which some reference was made last year: the construction of a school, roads and a jetty in Anguilla: aid to village development by water-drilling in Kenya: and design, planning and supervision of contract works in Malta, as recommended in the Robens Report, covering, among other things, two major industrial estates, a minor airfield and general development projects to an overall cost in the order of £2·8 million A squadron of Royal Engineers is currently at work clearing out wells, repairing pumping equipment and constructing protective works in the Gafsa region of Tunisia as part of the Government's assistance in the enormous task of reconstruction in that country following last year's disastrous floods.
There are, of course, other examples of this valuable work to which I could draw attention. Suffice it, however, for me to refer to emergency aid given in providing electricity to Whitby in Yorkshire, and to isolated farms in the northwest of England during the severe weather in March last year: the erection of a heavy girder bridge at Caernarvon for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales; and, more recently, the construction of a heavy girder bridge 537 feet long, at King's Lynn, to take a diversion of the A.47 road over the Great Ouse. As the House will know, too, the Army helped in the recent emergency in South Wales, when it became necessary to reduce the water level in the reservoirs above the Rhondda Valley.
In the defence debate last week, my right hon. Friend dealt in detail with the rôle of conventional forces in N.A.T.O. strategy. I do not think that I need repeat the arguments which he then used, since they were broadly acceptable in most parts of the House, although I recognise that some of my hon. Friends found the starkness of the logic unattractive.
So far as Britain is concerned, our main contribution to those conventional land forces is, of course, B.A.O.R. It is an extremely well-trained and well-equipped Army. The re-equipment programme of the Royal Armoured Corps with Chieftains is now two-thirds complete. We have recently completed a development programme to improve the reliability and life of this very fine tank and also projects are now in hand to improve its battlefield mobility further by increasing engine power and to enhance the effectiveness of the 120 mm. gun by means of an improved fire control system, based on a laser range finder.
We are also thinking about the possibility of a further development programme to improve the tank's night-fighting capability. The results of these development programmes are being incorporated in new tanks as they are delivered and existing tanks are being modified, so that we are confident that the Chieftain's position as a world-beating tank will be maintained for many years to come.
In the anti-tank guided weapon range, we have purchased a limited number of the French SS11 missiles to fit to our current generation of Scout helicopters and are now equipping units in B.A.O.R. with Swingfire fitted to the FV438 Armoured Fighting Vehicle.
For the future, development is proceeding very successfully of the new tracked and wheeled family of combat reconnaissance vehicles to replace the Saladin, Saracen and Ferret fleet. Aluminium armour has been used extensively to keep the weight of these vehicles as low as possible. Production orders will shortly be placed for Fox, a wheeled vehicle fitted with the new 30 mm. Rarden gun; and Scorpion, the tracked vehicle with a 76 mm. gun, is now entering the final phase of development. These two vehicles have recently been shown in public and are arousing considerable sales interest.
The effect of this re-equipment programme is that B.A.O.R. will be fully capable of discharging its allotted rôle in the overall strategy of the alliance. That strategy as it has been developed by N.A.T.O. over the past five years, with the strong support of Her Majesty's Government, has placed greater not lesser emphasis on the rôle of conventional forces and this fact is becoming more widely appreciated.
As my right hon. Friend said, the only final answer to a deliberate major attack can be strategic nuclear retaliation. But the strategic nuclear forces of the West present a credible deterrent only in conjunction with conventional and tactical nuclear forces which are themselves capable of resisting any aggression short of general nuclear war with sufficient vigour to demonstrate N.A.T.O.'s determination to resist, and for a sufficient time to enable diplomatic processes to bring the aggression to a halt, or, failing that, to enable a decision to use nuclear weapons to be taken rationally and with a full knowledge of the facts. As one American writer put it, to object is to create the time needed for the "hot line" to warm up.
The point is that, if an attack takes place, the overall deterrent has, at least temporarily, failed to deter and the aggressor has misjudged the defender's will to resist. The defender must respond immediately and vigorously to demonstrate his determination to resist, and to restore the credibility of his overall deterrent.
It is to this revised strategy, therefore, that B.A.O.R. and our policy on the shape, size and rôle of our reserve forces is directed. Moreover, it is a strategy which makes sense to the people who might have to do the actual fighting. Indeed, if one believes in the theory of the deterrent at all, it is the only strategy which makes sense.
I know that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South-West (Mr. Powell) holds different views, He says, "Ask them". We have.
My attention has been drawn to an editorial which appeared recently in the New York Times in connection with the recent visit of Herr Brandt and the Government's announcement that 6 Brigade is to return to Germany. The editorial reads:
Britain has chosen the best possible moment to announce the restoration to its Army of the Rhine in Germany of 4,500 men brought home for economy reasons in 1968. This provides a timely psychological boost for N.A.T.O., but even more of a forward thrust for the cause of Western European cooperation and for Britain's ongoing bid for membership in the European Community.
As one result of that visit, Bonn will buy British military goods to offset 80 per cent. of the expenses of maintaining the returning British brigade and will contribute to the cost of resettling it in Germany. The psychological importance of this demonstration of Britain's commitment to Europe's future—in defense and everything else—far outweighs the actual value of the additional troops on the N.A.T.O. defense line.
It is essential to the operational efficiency of the Army that it should maintain a high standard of training. This
requires that the Army should train overseas as well as in the United Kingdom. Such training is already undertaken on a considerable scale in many parts of the world, and will continue for reasons which are readily evident. Our forces must not only remain experienced and efficient. They must overcome the limitations of, and familiarity with, the training areas in this country. They must preserve their present operational techniques and skill in different climates and terrains if they are to retain their ability to assist in peace-keeping. Finally, we must give Servicemen the opportunity to train overseas, at least for short periods, if only for a change of atmosphere and background.
We currently maintain, or arrange as required, a number of agreements with other Governments to use areas of their country for our overseas training. These agreements are constantly reviewed to ensure that they meet our requirements but do not exceed them.
It cannot be said that soldiers will have fewer opportunities to train abroad in the future. Last year, for example, the Army trained in no less than 26 different countries overseas. They included British Honduras, Canada, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand, and, for example in Europe, Norway, Italy and France. Our plans for this year are broadly similar and they ensure that the majority of field force units have a real opportunity of training in a varied and overseas environment at frequent intervals.
Where practicable, our military training overseas is so arranged as to enable projects which are of direct benefit to the local community—for example, road construction—to be carried out at the same time under the MACC overseas scheme. I have referred already to some of the many examples of this scheme in operation.
As training areas in Libya are no longer available to the Army, we are currently examining possible alternative areas for use in the long term, but it would be premature to give details of this study at this stage. Over the next year or so, we have been able to plan on meeting this Army training requirement by making greater use of existing facilities elsewhere. Our arrangements both for the short and long term are designed to ensure that there is no reduction in the level of operational efficiency of the Army.
I now turn to the operation with which the Army has been most concerned during the past year—Northern Ireland. As right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are only too well aware, British forces have been engaged in internal security operations in Northern Ireland since the middle of last year. These operations are unique in British history for two reasons. First, it is the first time that the techniques of internal security operations so well understood by British forces from their experience abroad have had to be employed in the United Kingdom, and, secondly, possibly because it is the first time British forces in action have been readily visible on television at home.
I am sure that the whole House would want to pay tribute to the skill and expertise with which the British Army has discharged these responsibilities. Indeed, it is one of the unique characteristics of the British soldier that responsibility for maintaining law and order is one which he discharges with humour, skill and great success. Recently, I have seen British soldiers performing this type of operation in Cyprus as part of the United Nations Force. I never cease to be amazed at the intelligence and, indeed, charity which the ordinary fighting soldier brings to this difficult, taxing and at times explosive duty.
When the Army in Northern Ireland was reinforced last year, in response to the calls for assistance from the Northern Ireland Government, it was, of course, hoped that its intervention would be short and temporary. Regrettably, as the House knows only too well, this has not proved possible. In some ways, the initial phase of the operations may now be said to have concluded, and law and order have, in fact, been restored throughout the Province.
I think that both sides of the House would agree that the presence of British forces in what would normally be considered to be a disproportionate number in the Province has been a major factor in preserving law and order. Were British soldiers to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland, then law and order in the Province would break down.
The initial phase of the operations was perhaps the most obvious and to that extent, the most simple one. There was an urgent and visible threat to order and stability in Northern Ireland which required the immediate presence of British forces in strength. But I believe that the phase that we have now moved into could turn out, if anything, to be more difficult and more intractable. This is now the period of the "long haul" in Northern Ireland for we are now engaged in trying to produce a return to normality in Northern Ireland in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary can again, without military help, enforce law and order.
Naturally, the Army will remain, but one hopes more in the background than hitherto. The degree of co-operation which has existed between the R.U.C. and the Army has been strikingly successful and, without it, things would have been much more difficult. The present series of bomb outrages in Northern Ireland creates security problems which I am sure the House would not wish to minimise, but, compared with the situation as it existed in October of last year, for example, there is a marked improvement.
It would be very wrong of the House or the country, however, to assume that, within an immediately foreseeable time span, it will be possible to reduce the size of the Army commitment in Northern Ireland to something approaching its 1968 level. There is bound to be a continuing need for the Army's presence, and, while this is not a commitment that any Government would wish to accept, nevertheless it is one which we are determined to discharge successfully and well.
In the light of the overall reduction in tension, we have been able to reduce the size of the garrison from 10 to seven major units in the infantry rôle. We are continually looking at the numbers which are required in Northern Ireland, but do not think it practicable at present to reduce further than this.
As the House knows, the standard of accommodation for the enlarged garrison in Northern Ireland has improved a good deal over the last few months. A further satisfactory development is that the number of personnel serving in Northern Ireland on accompanied tours will, under present plans, go up. H.Q. 8 Brigade has already taken over from H.Q. 24 Brigade on an accompanied basis, and, as was announced in the House last December, we plan to station an infantry battalion on an accompanied tour at H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" when, later this summer, the Navy hands over to the Army. This will mean that the number of accompanied units will be increased, since the Government believe that the obvious presence of these in Northern Ireland is perhaps a greater guarantee of stability and law and order that the more temporary presence of unaccompanied troops.
The 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery comes to the end of its unaccompanied tour in Northern Ireland during the next few days. It is being replaced by the 1st Battalion, the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment), which is being temporarily redeployed from B.A.O.R. This is the first unit that it has been necessary to redeploy from B.A.O.R. for the Northern Ireland emergency.
The main reason why, with so many battalions available in this country, we find it necessary to call upon B.A.O.R. at all is that, at any one time, many of the units serving in the United Kingdom have recently returned from unaccompanied tours in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Naturally, we try, wherever possible, to give such units a reasonable period with their families before sending them on further spells of unaccompanied duty. In Northern Ireland, we have felt it right to restrict unaccompanied tours to four months only. This creates a larger turnover problem and hence the need to use more units.
It is being redeployed from B.A.O.R.; in other words, it is being removed from Germany and sent to Northern Ireland. As to the precise location of the families, I will let the right hon. Gentleman know that, during the course of the debate.
This does not mean that these units could not be used elsewhere in a grave national emergency—of course they could. But, in present circumstances, it does not seem to us right to breach the general principle of giving units who have had an unaccompanied tour a period with their families before sending them on to another one. Neither does it seem right to breach this general principle in order to avoid the minor and temporary change in the deployment of B.A.O.R. to which I have referred. Moreover, this decision must be seen against the background of an increased United Kingdom contribution to the alliance. In 1964, the strength of B.A.O.R. was 50,160, including men and women, officers and other ranks, and the Royal Malta Artillery. The corresponding figure for December, 1969, was 53,109, an improvement of virtually 3,000. The improvement in the manning level of B.A.O.R., in other words, the extent to which actual strengths meet establishments has been about 4,300.
Furthermore, we are now in a much stronger position to cope with the manpower problems caused by the Northern Ireland emergency than, for example, in 1964. Although our forces are now substantially smaller overall, we have at present 29 battalions in the United Kingdom—excluding B.A.O.R. units in the United Kingdom—whereas there were only 22 during most of 1964 and, indeed, only 191⅓ at one point.
Can the hon. Gentleman say what the position was in 1964? How many troops had then been withdrawn because of confrontation? Will he also explain that, in referring to December, 1969, he is using a figure which includes 6 Brigade in the United Kingdom.
Both the figures that I have given include 6 Brigade. The 1964 figure for B.A.O.R. of 50,160 and the 1969 December figure of 53,109 both include 6 Brigade, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. Therefore the improvement in B.A.O.R. was virtually 3,000. Those figures have been given the right hon. Gentleman before. He did not seem to accept them and, in view of that, it seemed worth repeating them.
I need hardly tell the House that the morale of officers and soldiers in Northern Ireland is high. There has been more than ample evidence shown of this in recent Press and television coverage, and I have seen proof of this myself at first hand, as have other members of the Army Board during recent visits. That morale is so high is all the more praiseworthy in view of the difficult and demanding tasks which have fallen to their lot.
They have carried our their duties with zeal. efficiency and, above all, an impartiality which I sometimes think has come to be taken for granted by the general public, but which, I am sure the House will agree, should be generously commended.
As the House knows, the Ulster Defence Regiment will, as planned, assume operational duties on 1st April. As my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration said last week, this is a force on which the people of Northern Ireland can place absolute reliance. It is part of the Army and is controlled by Regular Army officers. Recruiting to this new force has gone well both in total numbers and in relation to religious balance.
As of last Friday, the total of applications stood at just under 4,000, of which 750 were from Roman Catholics. Slightly over half of the 4,000 came from members of the Ulster Special Constabulary, and well over one-fifth of the applicants have had previous military experience which should prove invaluable at the beginning of the force's life. We have every confidence in this force.
The Ulster Special Constabulary is to be run down during the month of April and will be finally stood down at the end of that month. This will complete a further step in the policy for future security in Northern Ireland agreed between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Northern Ireland last October.
It would be premature to give figures now. However, it is significant that the number of applications as of last Friday stood at about 4,000. This is an important and significant figure from which the House can draw its conclusions.
Some of my hon. Friends have consistently expressed concern at the numbers of arms held at home in Northern Ireland, and they will know from what was said from the Treasury Bench during the debates last year that our policy is to reduce the number of arms held at home very significantly. As regards the Ulster Special Constabulary, some progress has been made over recent months, but, even so, at 31st January, of the 8,026 members of the U.S.C., 6,789 still kept their arms at home.
It would have been completely irresponsible for us to have centralised the holding of arms in perhaps insecure storage accommodation which might have increased the temptation offered to those who are acting against the security of Northern Ireland. Our policy, in recent months, therefore, has been to finalise our arrangements for centralising the storage of arms in relation to the needs of the Ulster Defence Regiment. and I am pleased to tell the House that for the regiment a number of secure arms stores have already been provided and that work on all armouries is due for completion by the beginning of April. Nevertheless, in view of the operational tasks of the force as defined in last year's White Paper, it will still be necessary for some arms to be held at home. I can, however, assure the House that the bulk of arms for the U.D.R.—over 80 per cent.—will be kept in central armouries.
As the House knows, we attach much importance to the achievement of a reasonable balance of religion in the Ulster Defence Regiment. We believe that this has been achieved so far—750 Roman Catholic applicants out of a total of nearly 4,000 as at 6th March; that is, nearly 20 per cent.
In this essentially local and part-time force, it would, of course, be unrealistic and unreasonable to expect the overall picture to be reflected exactly in every constituent part of the regiment, in every battalion, every company, every platoon, every section. That would be a pattern of perfection which it would be virtually impossible to achieve.
Just as the pattern of population varies from county to county, so, also, will the response to the recruitment campaign, on which the balance of the force largely depends. In one or two counties the proportion of applications from Roman Catholics is greater than might statistically have been expected; in others, it is less.
We shall continue to watch the progress and balance of recruitment closely. The Advisory Council for the Ulster Defence Regiment is continuing to play its part in achieving this balance. Whatever the outcome of its activities may be, I trust that the House will agree that any unevenness in the pattern of recruitment from county to county should not be allowed to detract from the satisfactory overall balance which has so far been achieved, nor should it be allowed to frustrate an enterprise which is so fundamental to the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland as a whole.
The success of recruiting policy overall is, of course, vital to the maintenance of an all-volunteer Army, a concept held to by the Government at least. But success in recruiting has increasingly to be fought for, and demographic trends are moving against us. As my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration explained last week, the Armed Forces must expect that the target population from which they draw their recruits will decrease between now and 1974. The number of males available for employment in the 15–19 age group, from which most Army recruits come, is estimated at 1,102,000 in 1970, and this number will drop to 964,000 in 1974. In addition, we must accept that there will be increasing competition from industry, and the planned raising of the school-leaving age, however desirable in itself, will clearly have an effect.
Will the Minister tell us more about the make-up of this figure? I understand that there are certain exceptions from a net census total in these age groups on grounds of employment and otherwise. It will be interesting for the House, and of importance, to have the fullest information on this point.
Certainly. I should say at this stage that both the figures have the same deductions. One is comparing like with like. Therefore, if certain deductions are made to arrive at the first figure of 1,102,000 in 1970 and the same deductions are made to arrive at the figure of 964,000 in 1974, the trend is still down; that is the point.
It is against that background that recruiting policy and recruiting figures have to be judged. The Opposition have still not told us where and how they believe they could improve on these figures. Are we not advertising enough? Are we advertising in the wrong way? Is the image of the Army wrong? None of these questions has been answered, and it is perhaps time that the Opposition tried to answer them. Of course, it may be that, like so much of their defence policy, they have just not bothered to think it through sufficiently.
The hon. Gentleman has anticipated me by about a page and a half of my notes. If he will be patient, I will try to answer his question.
The only way in which to achieve lasting success in recruiting policy is, I am certain, to concentrate on demonstrating to the potential recruit that the Army offers him an attractive, interesting and well-paid career, and I see no reason at all why concentration on a European rôle is in any way incompatible with this aim. We seek to present to the public an Army which is highly professional, highly skilled and successful, in which both "Blimp" and "bull" are frankly out of date.
Among our best arguments are the success and skill of our forces today and the fact that, at last, they are being paid the rate for the job. The public will I am sure be aware that a private soldier can now earn over £1,000 a year, and that a recruit, on first joining, is paid between £14 7s. and £17 17s. a week.
Turning to actual recruiting performance, the general picture for officers is encouraging, though it leaves no room for complacency. At present, there is no serious overall deficiency in officers, although certain arms and corps are better off than others. This year, unfortunately, we shall be short of our requirement for cadets for permanent regular commissions into Sandhurst in April, and there will also be a deficiency in candidates for the special regular commission. However, the short service commission continues to bring good results, particularly through the success of the scheme which allows young men selected for this commission to negotiate their subsequent employment with firms in industry.
I believe that the advantage offered to subalterns by the military salary will improve the officer recruiting position. It has not been recognised sufficiently that the young Army officer of today is highly trained and carries much responsibility; from 1st April, he will be paid accordingly.
I am glad to be able to say that recruiting for other ranks in 1969 showed a welcome improvement. We hope that the figure for the current financial year for the Army will be near 15,000 adult male recruits, and that the total figure, including boys and women, will be around 24,000. Following this, in 1970–71 the effect of the new pay scales should be felt.
The introduction this year of the three-year engagement, which has proved very attractive, has, I am sure, had much to do with the improvement. Between April and December it alone produced over 3,000 adult male recruits. I do not think that one can attribute the entire increase this year to the shorter engagement, since I believe that we would have seen an upswing without it. It is, of course, misleading merely to add the three-year men to last year's figures, since some men who would have joined in any case last year will have chosen, to begin with, the shorter option rather than the longer one. Thet evidence we have of prolongations of service is also encouraging.
I have already referred to the importance of prolongation; and the rate at which men prolong their service in the Army is, of course, crucial. This, also, continues to be reasonably satisfactory. In general, despite the fluctuations in recruiting, the evidence is consistent that most soldiers find Army life satisfying and desire to continue their Service. Hon. Members will have seen that the White Paper figures show that 53 per cent. of soldiers who enlisted on six-year engagements prolonged beyond the six-year point, and that 51 per cent. of those who completed nine years' service prolonged beyond that point.
We are paying particular attention to the prolongation rate of those who have joined on the extended three-year engagement introduced last year. Of the soldiers who enlisted on this engagement in the period between 1st April and 1st June last year, and who were still serving at the end of the year, 37 per cent. have already chosen to transfer to the six- or nine-year engagement, the great majority of these choosing the nine-year engagement. Hon. Members will appreciate that this 37 per cent. are men who are still in the first year of their three-year engagement. This is a satisfactory pro portion. It shows that the three-year engagement seems to be justifying our hopes that it would attract men who would afterwards decide to remain in the Army.
We believe that we can get an Army of the size we propose. We do not believe that we could get a voluntary Army which was substantially larger. No doubt the Opposition will tell us how they would propose to get that voluntary Army if, as looks increasingly unlikely, they should ever be given that responsibility.
As was indicated in the debate on the Army in November, this has also been a very good year for junior recruiting to the Army. Already, the performance exceeds that of the last financial year by 1,000. Again, this is very encouraging. The House is already aware of our plans for extending the centralised selection of recruits. This is a valuable improvement in the machinery for identifying the potential skills of the individual recruit, and for guiding him into his new career. It also provides us with a means of identifying right at the outset those recruits who may have made a misjudgment and would not be suited to an Army life.
The introduction of the new military concept and pay code is, of course, very much in the mind of the Army; and I have already referred to its importance in the context of recruiting. The first reactions and impressions on how the new pay code is being received by the Army are interesting. People are still reacting to the introduction of the new pay code. They need time to weigh up the pros and cons of a radically new concept. Teams of Army experts are touring the commands world-wide to explain to the maximum possible number of individuals both the concept of the military salary and its application.
First impressions are already emerging and there is no doubt that the initial reaction is favourable. Indeed, perhaps the best commentary both on the military salary and on the Government's handling of this part of defence policy was a remark made to me recently by one officer who, perhaps unconscious of the political overtones of what he was saying, told me that this was the "best deal the Services had had since 1946".
It is a little unfortunate that the behaviour of the benches opposite so marred the closing stages of the defence debate last Thursday. Otherwise, the House and the nation would have heard my right hon. Friend reiterate yet again that if hon. Gentlemen opposite are serious in what they appear to be saying then they will not achieve the manpower that their policies demand without resorting to some form of compulsory military service. In The Times today there is a call for a serious examination of this aspect of the matter. And in a somewhat petulant letter to the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday this week, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) accused the Government of
mounting a smear campaign on conscription".
Nothing could be further from the truth.
What is important, however, and I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite, in their more reflective moments, would agree—when I first wrote that sentence I almost substituted the phrase "Hon. Gentlemen, in their more sober moments, would agree", but after last Thursday's incidents I thought that the word "reflective" might be more appropriate—is that at the election, whenever it comes, the country should be presented with a clear and obvious choice between the defence policies of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and those advocated by the Government. Nobody on this side of the House has argued that the Opposition have contingency plans drawn up for the introduction of a compulsory call-up. Indeed, my right hon. Friend in a statement he issued over the weekend said precisely the opposite. But the true nature of the dilemma which faces the Opposition on this point was expressed, incidentally, in an article appearing in of all places the Daily Express on Monday of this week. As the House will appreciate, it is a somewhat novel position for a Labour Party defence spokesman to find himself able to quote from the columns of that paper, hut, nevertheless, its politi-
cal correspondent, Mr. Wilfred Sendai], put his finger on the difficulties that the Opposition have created for themselves. He said:
True, it was perfectly reasonable for him (the Secretary of State for Defence) to argue that Tory defence policy is impossible without conscription. But that means Tory defence policy is impossible.
Hon. Members will remember that the main purpose of that article was to castigate my right hon. Friend for raising the issue of conscription.
It is, of course, perfectly true, as a matter of logic, that two possible conclusions flow from the bold statement that Tory defence policy is impossible without conscription. Either it follows that the Conservative Party would introduce conscription, or alternatively, that its defence policy is impossible. What is important, however, is that we should all be clear about which of the two it is contending for.
Tory defence policy as recently explained is quite impossible without a measure of compulsory military service. If one needed confirmation for that, it has come this week in the speech made in Kuala Lumpur by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). The right hon. Gentleman is quoted in The Guardian as having said:
The Conservative Party would like Britain, Australia and New Zealand to contribute troops to
—and I ask the House to note the following words—
a Commonwealth counter-insurgency force in South East Asia".
The right hon. Gentleman then apparently went on to say that he saw the force as being intended to deal with guerrillas infiltrating from outside Malaysia. He even went so far as to argue that guerrillas infiltrating into Malaysia were the "most likely" type of aggression for this country to face and that a Commonwealth force of Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia would "deal with guerrilla incursions".
The House will appreciate that this is an extraordinary proposition and leads to a somewhat extraordinary conclusion. The Opposition have consistently denied that they envisage a commitment in the Far East anything like approaching that which was found necessary to deal with the Indonesian confrontations. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) wrote an article in The Times making this very point, and it was reiterated in the debate last week. But if ever there was a case of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire calls "Guerrillas infiltrating from outside Malaysia", then confrontation is the classic example.
It is precisely that type of operation which was involved in the Malayan emergency in the 1950s. It was guerrilla warfare from outside which then had to be dealt with; and the House should perhaps not forget that it is precisely this type of threat which is the justification given by the United States Government for their commitment of no fewer than half a million men in Vietnam.
The trouble with this type of commitment, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to appreciate, having been in office at the time the Indonesian confrontation started, is that it is perhaps superficially attractive to have a small number of men stationed in the Far East as a deterrent or as an aid to stability. But if the commitment has to be honoured, then the small number of troops that one has there will almost certainly be insufficient.
The history of the Indonesian confrontation is an almost copybook example of the successful application of limited force in the Far East. But, nevertheless, we must recognise that it sprang from precisely this type of commitment which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire has now reiterated, namely, to deal with guerrilla incursions in Malaysia, and at the height of confrontation it demanded no less than 60,000 British troops.
I will give way in a moment when I have finished the sentence.
It is just not credible to claim that, having undertaken this type of commitment, then if they were ever called upon to honour it, they could honour it with a small number of troops. Not only is that claim incredible; it is dishonest and they must know it. Certainly, one could not argue that a commitment of this type could be fulfilled by what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has called somewhat coyly a "modest presence".
We have said, as the hon. Gentleman knows, consistently since decisions were taken in 1966 and 1967, that we would renegotiate the commitment. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are saying that they want to renegotiate the commitment under the Anglo-Malaysian defence agreement, let them say so. But it is not what they have said. The Leader of the Opposition did not say that he would renegotiate the Anglo-Malaysian defence agreement. If that is the policy of the Opposition, I trust that somebody will say so today.
No, I have given way a good deal already.
I have considered some of the ways in which a force could be maintained in the Far East, and this has served only to underline in my mind the real problem which would have to be tackled if anyone wants to put flesh on to the meagre skeleton of policy that the hon. Members opposite have so far offered us.
I must ask a number of questions that deserve serious answers. Are hon. Members opposite envisaging a continuing United Kingdom contribution to a Commonwealth brigade? If so, what have they in mind as the size of this contribution? A thousand men? Would anything less be at all credible or indeed worth while? What sort of backing do they envisage a force of this size would require? Will they be accompanied or unaccompanied? What reinforcement capabilities do they envisage? Would it be extra to, or part of, our N.A.T.O. committed forces? A single battalion alone, without any reinforcement behind it, would be merely window dressing.
Perhaps this is not what the hon. Members opposite mean. Perhaps they mean more than that, something in addition to our existing capability, in which case, to do the job properly, the need substantial extra forces and then have to answer the question: where are those forces coming from?
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said in the defence debate last Wednesday that his party was pledged to
… restore the T.A. to its proper rôle in the defence of our country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1970; Vol. 797, c. 451.]
That, of course, begs the Question. What is the proper rôle of volunteer reserves in the 1970s? If what is envisaged is a continental-type of reserve forces, this would require a compulsory call-up, as Europeans with this policy have found, because this is the only way in which a sufficiently large reservoir of trained men can be built up.
If they are envisaging a return to the old-style Territorial Army, nothing could be more futile or less appropriate to the real needs of the country. Our reserve forces, arising from the reorganisation under the present Government, are at last on a sensible basis and one which relates, as it should, to our overall strategy.
Last autumn, two hon. Members opposite, one of whom is to follow me, I believe—the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart)—produced a Conservative political pamphlet called "Twice a Citizen", which discussed the history of the reserve forces in this country and came out with the flat proposal for restoring, in effect, the TAVR III with wider terms of reference. It envisaged an increase in the size of about 20,000 to 25,000 men for a home defence rôle. The rôle which it was to fulfil was described as
… home defence, in conventional or nuclear war, including defence against sabotage; a framework on which to expand in emergency, and aid to the civil power, especially the police, in any emergency.
Hon. Members opposite are entitled to their opinions and to lay their policies before the country. And lest it be thought that these views were an error, the coauthor with the hon. Member for Beckenham, the hon. Member for Lewes (Sir Tufton Beamish), repeated these views recently at a dinner of the London and Kent Regiment, when, speaking on behalf of his party, he said again:
As a first target, we propose quite a modest T.A.V.R. establishment of about 85,000. That is less than 25,000 above the present establishment.
Later, on the question of cost, he said:
We concluded that the extra 25,000 well-equipped extra men could be provided for well under £10 million a year, which is peanuts …
The only merit I see in the document which those two hon. Members produced was that it was at least a much more detailed and clear presentation of part of Opposition defence policy than we have been given about their policies east of Suez. That is about as far as one can go, however, in commending the concept and the policies in the document.
As my right hon. Friend said in the defence debate in March, 1969:
We believe that it is very much more sensible to prevent this contingency"—
he was referring to invasion of this country—
ever arising by preventing a war through our contribution to N.A.T.O. We believe that this is a problem which should be met on the Elbe and not on the Thames."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 549.]
What we need, of course, is what, since we reorganised the reserves, we have had. That is to say, a force which is specifically designed, trained and equipped to reinforce the Regular Army in Europe. What we inherited from the previous Conservative Administration was an all-purpose force, fitted to no particular strategic concept, trained and equipped far below present standards. Such a force might, indeed, have had a rôle had this country been attacked by conventional forces, but who could envisage such a thing happening in isolation from a general attack in Europe? And if things were to reach that state, how much value would a part-time reserve of 20,000 to 25,000 men provide?
What about finance? Hon. Members opposite costed their 25,000 as at least f62 million a year. I want to give them credit for on at least one occasion having produced a costing of Conservative defence policy, but what about the priorities in military spending? Do they really think that, in relation to the effectiveness of our contribution to N.A.T.O., which must be our major priority, this is the right way to spend any of the extra money which they they are proposing to spend on defence? But, if they are not proposing to make any extra money available, they have a duty to say what items in the present Government programme they would delete as being, in their view, of lesser priority.
Finally, there is the narrower point of priority within the T.A.V.R. itself. Recruiting for the T.A.V.R. is improving, but we have still some way to go before the establishment is fully manned. Surely it is only prudent and sensible to put all one's effort into achieving one's first priority, before diverting effort into recruiting for what is, on analysis, frankly an out-dated charade.
I should like to summarise the current position of the Army. I apologise for having taken longer than I had intended, but I have given way no fewer than nine times, so perhaps I may be forgiven.
As to the quality and character of the British Army, there can be little argument. Anyone who joins it is, in a very real sense, joining an élite. It is generally recognised and accepted by our friends and potential enemies alike that we have the best-trained and led army in Europe. It has been fashionable lately on all sides to quote from newspapers, so let me refer to General Sir John Hackett's recent article in the Sunday Times. In an article which was not overwhelmingly in support of Government policy he said:
Divisions of the Warsaw Pact are smaller than those in N.A.T.O. and are certainly less well-equipped and organised than the best of those in Allied Forces Central Europe—which are unquestionably the British.
There is no doubt that the Army is now settling down well after a difficult period of turbulence and upheaval, necessary though that was. There is now a recognition in the Army that these times are over and that the size, shape and rôle of the modern Army is now settled. Britain does not now need a mass Army or mass reserves, as it has perhaps needed them in the past. The threat to these islands is now different and needs to be met differently.
The soldier of the 'seventies is better trained, better equipped and, at last, better paid than at any time in the history of our Armed Forces. He is, in the truest sense of the word, a professional, with professional skills, fully capable of playing his allotted rôle in modern warfare. The knowledge and expertise now required of a soldier in this new Army is infinitely more complex and technical than ever before, but the quality of those join- ing the Army is rising to meet these requirements.
We tend in this country to take both the existence and the performance of the Army too much for granted, but if we do, they are entitled to ask from us in return that we ensure that they are properly equipped, properly backed and properly paid, and that we ask them to undertake only those commitments of which they are capable. The Government believe that we have now succeeded in doing precisely this.
We must congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on the characteristically robust and aggressive way in which he has presented the Army Estimates. He is clearly an apt pupil of the Secretary of State for Defence, particularly in the passage in which he tried to prove that 6 Brigade, which in 1969 was part of the British Army near the Tyne, was or should be counted as part of the British Army of the Rhine.
But these are his first Estimates and, despite the aptitude which he has shown, it also appears that they will be his last, for Paragraph 58 of the Defence White Paper says:
While the long tradition under which there has been a Minister associated specifically with each Service has been borne in mind, it has been concluded that decisions would be reached with greater speed and efficiency if these Ministers were replaced by one or more Parliamentary Secretaries with responsibilities covering all three Services.
Perhaps one can understand that, but there are many people with reservations about the abolition of single Service Ministers. There are those who are concerned about the breadth of advice which will be available under the new arrangements to the Prime Minister and, indeed, to the Secretary of State. Clearly, Service Ministers have a rôle to play in seeing that important Service arguments are not overlooked in the press of events. This is of particular importance when one has a Secretary of State renowned for his dogmatism.
Meanwhile, one can only wonder what made the Secretary of State decide that decisions could be taken more quickly without the presence of the Under-Secretary for the Army and his colleagues. Did the Under-Secretary raise objections to the rate at which his right hon. Friend is deliberately running down the Army? Did he suggest, as my hon. Friends and I have done time and again, that the right hon. Gentleman should review the whole decision to disband further major units? It would seem that the Under-Secretary did not put this case. I had hoped, for the sake of his conscience, that he had earned extinction by his insistence that we needed a genuine reserve force for home defence, but it was clear from his speech that that was not true, either.
However, I congratulate the Under-Secretary and his staff for the part that they have played in preparing the detailed work for the military salary. The Report of the Prices and Incomes Board pointed out that
… the services have hitherto been seriously underpaid".
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) reminded us in the defence debate, the Government's failure to implement the old system to the full in the last four years has contributed to this situation and to the present serious shortage of recruits.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary realises that publication of the military salary is the beginning, rather than the end, of the arguments that Ministers will have to face, for not everyone does equally well out of the new system. I welcome the fact that it makes it easier to give financial recognition to the skills of senior fighting soldiers in the Infantry, the Royal Army Corps and, to an extent, the Royal Artillery, but some senior married technical N.C.Os. will not be any better off. Today greater emphasis has been laid on comparability with civilian rates, and dissatisfaction among this important group will occur.
Then there is the important question of the X factor. In paragraph 46 of the Third Report of the P.I.B., the Board described the factors that it had taken into account in assessing the X factor for the military salary, and it said:
The Service man is faced with the following combination of factors: He may be exposed to danger in the course of military operations; is subject to military discipline which involves restrictions on personal liberty not normally endured in civil life; and is bound to a period of service which he cannot terminate at will. Any one of these features may possibly be found in civilian life, but not the combination. … In short, therefore,
we regard the X factor as comprising the combination of exposure to danger, discipline, total commitment to the Service and the frequent uprooting that is inseparable from Service life.
In paragraph 51 of that report the Board admitted that it did not know how to estimate with confidence precisely how large the X factor should be. In paragraph 52 the Board said:
In view of this uncertainty, the X factor element in the salary we recommend has been set at 5 per cent. and is being made subject to the upper limit of £200 a year.
Many years ago the late Montagu Norman was asked by an investigating commission how he had set Bank Rate during a certain period when he was Governor of the Bank of England. He replied that the chosen rate had occurred to him "in church". I am sure that the whole Army is united in thinking that the choice of 5 per cent. for the X factor owes nothing to divine guidance, but everything to the subterranean machinations of the Treasury, which will, in any event, claw back through extra taxes more than one-third of the increases in pay.
The introduction of the military salary also produces problems for the Gurkhas, a point which many of my hon. Friends regard as being of the highest importance. Many of us think that it is ludicrous to run down this superb body of men at a time when recruiting poses special problems. I appreciate that we are not free agents when it comes to Gurkha pay, which is linked to the pay of Gurkhas in the Indian Army. However, we have freedom to pay allowances and at a time of uncertainty it would be wrong for the pay of the Gurkhas to slip even further out of line with that of British soldiers serving alongside them, and particularly at a time when it is alleged by some that Gurkhas who have retired from the Indian Army are doing better than those who have recently retired from the British Army.
As for the Army as a whole, the question which most concerns it is whether it will get whittled away in the years to come. By changing the emphasis from free maintenance and tax free allowances to cash in hand, the Government have ensured that future battles with the Treasury will be fought head-on over the most sensitive ground. There will be pressure to have a full-scale review and a full job evaluation exercise more often, certainly once every six years. It seems certain that the introduction of the military salary will make the Army far more cash conscious than it has been, and it will watch wage settlements outside with greater awareness.
We hope that the advertising campaign which is to be launched on 1st April to spread more widely the news of the new military salary will prove a success. The stark fact is that the Secretary of State would never have got an increase of this size approved by his colleagues if it were not true that the Government's recruiting programme stood on the edge of disaster.
I was astounded to hear the Under-Secretary say that he considered that the position of officer recruiting was encouraging. We warned last year that we were on the edge of a precipice and, if one looks at the figures, one can only conclude that we have slipped further over the edge in the past year. Entry into Sandhurst is down, university cadetships are in the doldrums, with less than 50 per cent. of the number available having been taken up, and there has been a calamitous fall in the number of medical cadets entering the Service and graduating from medical school. We are particularly vulnerable in the medical sphere, and that vulnerability is growing. Meanwhile, for other ranks, the figures given tell a sorry tale.
Let us consider the figures over the years which the Government have chosen. In 1966 adult recruitment on short-service and regular engagements amounted to 15,442—approximately the figure that they hope to get back to this year for adults. In 1969 the figure for adults had fallen to 11,200—a fall over the years for recruiting of 4,200. But that is only half the picture, because in 1966 some 7,000 men purchased their discharge from the Army. This year the figure is 7,675. In other words, the net adult recruitment in 1966 was more than 8,000 men. In 1969 the net recruitment was under 4,000 adults. What saves the situation is the continuing enrolment of boys and women which together has remained constant at more than 11,000 a year. Under a Conservative Administration the Army attracted men; but this Government's recruiting record is saved from total disaster by the fiery Amazons and militant schoolboys.
In the last defence debate the Liberal spokesman said that he hoped that all juvenile recruiting would eventually be stopped. But if that were to happen in present circumstances, the result would indeed be a calamity. This explains why the Government have not accepted the Latey Committee's recommendations about an automatic optional break in engagement at 18, but has set up the Donaldson Committee to ascertain facts about the attitude of young Servicemen which could have been ascertained years ago if the Government did not wish to waste time.
The right hon. Gentleman has been responsible for defence for nearly six years. If he wished to find out the attitudes of young servicemen on any aspects, surely he has had the opportunity to do so. But it is perfectly plain that the Secretary of State wants to divert attention from his appalling recruitment record by introducing the red herring of conscription. But the Government's record, bad as it is, does not mean that our sensible proposals for a limited redeployment east of Suez cannot possibly be achieved.
The hon. Gentleman has used the word "redeployment". This is the first time that we have heard the suggestion that the force that the Opposition would plan to put east of Suez would be taken from the N.A.T.O. area—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Is this the case, or is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Conservative Party would halt the present run-down of the forces, as some years ago it appeared to suggest but has since been retreating from? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what he means?
That includes a large number in Hong Kong, who will stay there under our plans, and those who will be removed from the force ceiling. I think that the Opposition must come clean about this matter with the country. They have protested by a three-line Whip in every defence debate for the last five years about every reduction in the size of the forces carried out by this Government. We still want to know whether they plan to restore the manpower ceilings which we have reduced and whether they plan to cease the reduction in manpower which we still plan to carry out? Until they are honest with their supporters on this matter they will be suspected, I think rightly, of humbug.
If the Secretary of State wants further figures, I should point out that, again in Annex G, there is reference to a further 6,510 sailors at sea in the Middle and Far East. The Secretary of State now tries to argue that a presence east of Suez would be an intolerable burden on our manpower position. But when we think back to that now forgotten grand defence review that took two years to complete, there was no mention then that any commitment east of Suez was bound to be open-ended and would inevitably lead to the introduction of national service. It was argued that this could and should be borne.
The hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House on this matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I know that the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) is always unwilling to listen to facts or even to answer facts with facts. But I remind the House that at the time we planned to keep forces east of Suez we fixed a limit on the time that they would stay, and we had not made the substantial increase in our commitment to N.A.T.O. that we have now made. The situation in Europe is different from what it was in 1968–69. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen must say whether they plan to reduce in Europe in order to increase in the Far East, and if not, how they will get the extra men.
The men are there, as the Secretary of State knows perfectly well. He knows that we do not intend to maintain in the Far East even half the number of Servicemen there at the moment. Does the Minister really think that the new pay rates, weighted as they are towards young unmarried men, will not substantially increase recruiting rates? If this is not as successful as we hope, has he really no other ideas for increasing recruitment?
Certainly. We welcome the three-year recruiting period last year. However, I should warn the Under-Secretary of State that some of the good signing-on figures for which he was taking praise may be due to the fact that those who have signed on for three years realise that it is better to switch to a six or a nine-year period of recruitment than to buy themselves out at the three-year period.
The hon. Member has submitted, and we all agree, that the increase in pay rates will help recruiting. I think that many hon. Members would like to see contracts with breaks in them. Would the hon. Member agree that one way in which recruiting could be greatly helped would be an assurance given to all Servicemen, whatever their rank or rating, that they will be properly qualified with qualifications, recognisable in "civvy street" and by organisations and institutions? This perhaps would be a bigger incentive than increased payment.
I disagreed with the hon. Member a few moments ago, but on this point I find myself entirely in agreement with him. To give credit to the Government, some considerable efforts are being made already in this direction.
The Secretary of State must realise that the policy of shuffling the Army between Germany and Great Britain in itself discourages recruiting. Many men like the idea of service outside Europe. It is noticeable that during the two years in which the Government got rid of their own east of Suez policy, recruiting fell by 6,000 men. The knowledge that there is still a chance of service in more exotic places should itself have a beneficial effect on recruiting.
Then there is the question of our military strength on the Continent. The Secretary of State talks about the possible need for massive reinforcements of manpower, Ministers must realise that in conventional terms what matters in Europe is not manpower but fire-power. If Communist aggression comes, not bodies and bayonets will stop it, but bullets and high explosives could. In Chieftain we have the best tank for that sort of country that there is. The armoured personnel carrier programme has made considerable strides. The medium machine gun gives infantry sections improved fire power, but there are gaps and our forward communications are still vulnerable.
I am glad that the highest priority seems to be going in the development field to a joint development with Germany of the towed and self-propelled medium gun. There is a gap here. Of course the gun of the Chieftain tank is a superb anti-tank weapon, but it is also immensely expensive. In view of the preponderance of the Soviet armour, the provision of anti-tank weapons for the infantry seems exceptionally limited. Surely Ministers cannot believe that Swingfire is the answer to long-range anti-tank warfare.
Then there is the Government's curious shuffling on helicopters. No one believes that in Europe they could have the vital rôle which they played in confrontation or still play in Vietnam. Our ability to move troops by air in B.A.O.R. is virtually non-existent. I am informed that we have a two-company capacity, a level which would have been regarded as low 10 years ago. There are inspired stories that the Government are now thinking in terms of deploying heavy helicopter gunships in Europe, but our attempts to question the Minister of Defence for Equipment in last week's defence debate merely proved that stonewalling sounds better with a Welsh accent.
It is a matter for thanksgiving that the British Army has not had to use in anger any weapon more deadly than a rifle during the past year. Today the British soldier is less likely to hear shots fired in anger than a jewellery salesman in Bond Street. But it is sad to find that the one major operation of the year should be peace-keeping within United Kingdom. I was in Belfast at Londonderry soon after the riots and I can speak from personal experience about the marvellous soothing effect that the arrival of British soldiers had on the bitter disturbances.
I am sure everyone in this House hopes that Army troops will not become a semi-permanent feature of the Belfast scene except at some times of special tension, it is desirable that the military presence on the street should be as unostentatious as possible. I am sure we all agree that whenever possible police duties should be undertaken by policemen and not by soldiers. Conversely, we do not believe that military jobs should be done by policemen. That is why we welcomed the Hunt Report and supported the Government against their own back benchers during all stages of the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill.
The Ulster Defence Regiment Bill came into operation because there was a threat to home security so plain that even this Government could recognise it. On this side of the Irish Sea the Government seem to be as blind as ever. The passage on home defence in this year's defence statement, at 130 words, is almost twice as long as last year's reference, but it is just as arid and desolate. Ministerial replies to our probing on this subject have been pitiful. After they have finished pointing out that there would still be some thousands of troops available in this country from the Household Division, from depôts, at headquarters and training establishments, one almost expects them to argue that the new Army of civil servants who have joined the defence establishments will be available to guard vulnerable points with sharpened pencils.
The fact is that we are vulnerable. As one violent demonstration has followed another during the past few years, it has been plain that the threshold of violence in this country has sunk dangerously low. If the Secretary of State for Defence has learned nothing from those violent events, it is certain that our enemies have learned something. Before the last war our enemies concentrated on infiltration, but they have advanced a long way in the techniques of subversion since then. I do not think anyone would claim that the group of activists who seem to be on the rampage in various parts of the country are controlled by hostile foreign Powers, but it must be plain that they are vulnerable to manipulation by those who wish to see us defeated and humiliated. At moments of international tension we might well find that disorders and riots were aimed at premises with much greater strategic interest than the offices of university vice-chancellors.
I have given way constantly during my speech and cannot give way again.
The sad fact is that we have no reserves in the true sense for the bulk both of Regular and Reserve units in this country have been assigned to reinforce B.A.O.R. That policy makes sense if the threat develops in precisely the way the Secretary of State foresees, but the one thing we can be sure will happen in any conflict is the unexpected.
Every hon. Member on this side of the House, I am sure, has his own special candidate for this year's twisted statistic prize. My candidate is Table 3 in Annex A which suggests that between 1st January, 1969, and 1st January, 1970, our volunteer reserve forces increased from 49,808 to 56,046—an increase of almost 7,000. If we look back at the Estimates, in the Statement for 1969 the figure is 61,087. In other words, instead of an increase there has been a decline of 5,000. This is because the TAVR III which was concerned with the home defence rôle has been disbanded. In the pamphlet to which the Under-Secretary referred, written by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) and myself, we argued that TAVR II should be brought up to its present establishment of 61,000 and that we should recruit beyond that 25,000 further men. We estimate that the cost will be £6½ million a year, the cost of two Phantoms.
I am happy to say that this pamphlet has been widely commended by those associated with the reserve forces, from field-marshals to privates. It is not altogether surprising, that it should be regarded as a realistic contribution, because we have had the advice of a number of officers intimately associated with the reserve forces and the invaluable assistance of Major-General d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, who resigned as Director of the Reserve Forces at the Ministry of Defence because of his disgust at the ruthless way in which Ministers were cutting this vital arm of our defence.
I note that our costs are much more generous than those allowed by the Government for the Ulster Defence Regiment. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) has pointed out, we are almost the only country in the Western world with virtually no home defence of any kind. The Conservative Party has given a positive pledge to recreate a citizens' volunteer reserve for home defence and duties in aid of the civil power, which could serve as a framework for expansion in the event of war.
Overseas, our military capability is being deliberately cut back, but we cannot claim that the threat has also been cut back in any way. We on this side of the House remain determined to honour our obligations and retain our Army at a strength which will sustain our commitments, our interests and our national security.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman one question before he concludes? The pamphlet he has referred to says, somewhat coyly, that this is a personal contribution by the authors and not an official party pamphlet. Can we take the figure of an extra 25,000 to which he has referred as being the official target of the Conservative Party for the TAVR?
The Under-Secretary will have noted that the Leader of the party in his introduction to the pamphlet said that this was a valuable contribution to the debate on the subject.
I should like to join with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and the Under-Secretary in their tribute to the conduct of our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland and in other territories of the world. This country does not always fully appreciate the special qualities of the British soldier abroad—that combination of tact, good humour and plain commonsense, which is so invaluable to our defence commitments. Having seen the conduct of other armies abroad, the Americans in Vietnam, the French in Algeria and the Russians in Czechoslovakia, this House should always be deeply appreciative of the actions of our Armed Forces.
This is the first time that I have attempted to take part in this debate on the Army Estimates. I am well aware that it has a formidable reputation. It is primarily an exchange between Defence Ministers, Shadow Defence Ministers and ex-officers. From what I can see it has all the prospects of being a further highly incestuous occasion today. The case that I want to make, quite apart from the debates about our presence east of Suez and the rôle which our Armed Forces should play in Europe within N.A.T.O., springs from a remark of the Under-Secretary about military aid to civil projects in Anguilla, Malta and Kenya and about training for peace-keeping activities undertaken by Army units in the last year.
In previous Estimates debates we have had accounts of our exercises and these accounts provide a possible rôle for the Army which has not been mentioned. The hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) will appreciate what I have to say in this context, which is to do with the United Nations. When an hon. Member mentions the United Nations in a defence debate there is a tendency for other hon. Members to think that it will be a "wishy-washy" interlude before getting back to tactics and tanks. I am thinking specifically of the British Army's rôle in Cyprus at the moment, with our base in Dhekelia. We are servicing the other United Nations elements on that island in a peace-keeping operation, preventing war and bloodshed between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. We are supplying the transport and communications equipment, medical equipment and food to some extent. This may be the harbinger of a type of Army action that may take place on other occasions throughout the rest of this century.
Should there be a four-Power settlement in the Arab-Israeli dispute, one element of that settlement will undoubtedly involve a United Nations presence. It is quite possible that we would be able to provide the infrastructure requirements from Cyprus for armed forces from Denmark, Sweden or Norway, for instance. It is possible that Dhekelia could be part of this United Nations rôle. The days have gone when a British Army was automatically suspected of being guilty of some imperialist intervention. Having been in the Middle East recently I am glad to say that the memories of the Suez escapade are quite gone from the minds of many of the leaders in the area.
I found in talking to them that they would welcome a British presence in any peace-keeping force. While infantry units would not be possible, the infrastructure would provide a valuable peace-keeping asset. This is not a purely abstract thought, because we have to ask Army Command what it is doing, what kind of materials and transport is available in Dhekelia should some request be made. In the Carribean we had the Anguilla operation which required a rapid movement with logistic difficulties. It might be possible to share on a Commonwealth basis. There might be a supply base with infrastructure equipment in Jamaica. On a Commonwealth basis, should there be a problem in Ghana and Barbados, again the British Army would have the infrastructure ready and could move in supply elements. In my submission, it is not entirely out of consideration that such a position should exist in South-East Asia.
I know that this suggestion of a United Nations base in Singapore has been made before and one is well aware that in a dispute between, for example, Malaysia and the Philippines one could not expect the British Army to adopt a U.N. rôle because of our Commonwealth relationship with Malaysia. But there will be a time when the question of Timor will be a matter of dispute between Indonesia and the Portuguese Government in Lisbon and again a United Nations intervention could be possible. I am simply asking that the Under-Secretary of State should perhaps ask the Minister of Defence for Administration to inform the House, when he winds up, what kind of thought has been given to this emerging United Nations rôle. When we have, for example, a training exercise with Norwegians and Danes, while admittedly it is in a terrain which is quite different from the Middle East, thought should be given to this kind of special quality which Scandinavians and the British in the new rôle have in a United Nations aspect.
In talking about the expanding rôle of a U.N. force with which nobody disagrees would the hon. Gentleman give us his views on the right level of pay within this force? I am sure he is aware that British forces pay is well down in the scale compared with that of other forces. Does he not think that this presents a problem?
It is something which is discussed in Cyprus because this is one area where it is possible for the observer to have an immediate contrast, but my experience of the British soldier in Cyprus is that this is something which he accepts. For example, the Swedish and Finnish contingents in Cyprus are recruited for a very brief period and are not comparable in terms with the normal long-service British soldier in a regular context. My opinion is that this would not be a serious difficulty. Certainly, if the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Army should upgrade the rate of the British Army soldier to the equivalent of the temporary service of the Swedes and the Finns, this is something one could not possibly contemplate.
Surely, one wants to be comparable in regard to rates of pay. If the hon. Gentleman is talking of expanding this into a large world force with operations all over the world, one would want to have comparable rates of pay and one would either have to upgrade the rate of the British forces or bring down the rates of other forces. There must be comparability.
One would find that the opposite would apply if one had armed forces in the Caribbean; the soldiers of the Jamaican contingent would be paid lower. There is one further detailed aspect of the rôle of the Army in the coming 12 months which I should like to draw to the attention of the House and ask a question on: the position of our officers and the small number of men at present seconded to the Trucial Omanate Scouts, in the Persian Gulf. I have ben somewhat disturbed at the general pattern of development in this region, for two reasons. First, there has been an unfortunate tendency of individual sheikhdoms within the Gulf, with military advisers from the United Kingdom, to have some kind of go-it-alone, empire-building plans of their own.
In Abu Dhabi, to my own certain recollection, there is one brilliant British officer who had positively Wellingtonian ideas of the scope of the Abu Dhabi armed forces which could have grave repercussions on the rest of the Trucial Omanate area. Its exacerbating effect may lead territories like Quatar also to wish to push ahead with their own armed forces. Could we have from the Ministry of Defence spokesman today a guarantee that these fine but slightly self-aggrandising officers will be kept in check within this area?
Secondly, can any consideration be given to an extension—I choose my words very carefully here because I am advocating a new east of Susez policy—of the rôle of the Trucial Omanate Scouts and their British officers in that force for a period slightly beyond the end of 1971?—because it seems to many observers that the actual final establishment of the union of emirates may not be achieved by the end of 1971; and to my mind it would be premature and disastrous if for a small expenditure on the Scouts, which I understand is slightly over £1 million, we were to cut them out simply so as to perfect a target date of departure. It is not a question of major British armed units being retained in the Gulf but simply a matter of giving the federation of emirates a better chance to survive satisfactorily. I hope these points can be answered at the end of the debate.
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson). I suggest that he should not have been so humble. I welcome his contribution, if it is his first to Army debates, because he has gone out and seen our soldiers on the ground and has spoken from practical experience of the difficulties they are facing. Far too often hon. Members who rise in this House do not speak from practical experience. I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman made this contribution and I hope that in other Army debates he make a longer speech.
When I became a Member of Parliament I always felt that I was rather well qualified to speak in Army debates, because only just before I came here I gave up command of a Territorial Army battalion. Now, as the years have gone by, I can speak only from close and personal contact, but with the authority that is exercised by others of my colleagues and hon. Members here who have served, because I keep up my contacts and am in close touch although not practically taking part.
I want to raise as my main point something touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) which was widely discussed in the defence debate, the question of reserves. I do so because I believe that it is behind the whole of our policy and not only in our own country but in the countries in Western Europe.
I believe that we are lamentably short of reserves. I know that the figure that is put out in these very short Army Estimates that we get now is 55,000. But we are really relying on men who have come fairly recently out of the Regular Army with some commitment to return. How many of these men would report fit and well within 24 or 48 hours if they were required because there was a sudden, great emergency? We over-estimate the value of those reserves. It is the same on the officer side.
Then there is the difficulty which we have always had that the Regular Army cannot function completely because it has not enough specialists, all of them being in the reserves. How much of their specialst knowledge is being kept up to date? As the Minister rightly said, we have a highly professional, efficient modern Army, but as they go out people very rapidly get out-of-date.
All those of us who served in the Second World War, and the young men now in their thirties who did National Service afterwards, may not quite be counted in our reserves, but as a manpower reserve for this country they are very out of date from a military point of view. They would require a great deal of training. They have little military knowledge beyond the basic drill and handling of weapons, so they are not available for immediate action. I stress "immediate action", because I believe that if we had an unpleasant situation it would be very immediate.
I have talked to other Members not only of this House, but of Parliaments of foreign countries who attend N.A.T.O. conferences and discussion groups in Europe. They leave me very alarmed as to whether the real strength of other countries divisions on paper is there and whether the reserves that they say have exist and could be called upon. My opinion, gathered from speaking to other people, is that the N.A.T.O. countries are tending to inflate particularly the numbers of their reserves. This is very worrying.
We must train our Army for war, although we hope that it will not happen. We always have a peace-time establishment, which we now have a job to meet, and then there is an establishment for war-time. At the time of the last war each battalion had to have an immediate reserve of an extra company as first-line reinforcements. I am very worried about where if anything happened quickly with conventional weapons in Europe, a brigade or division badly mauled in the first two or three days would find its reserves, not from within itself, to become effective again. I would like the Minister to pay particular attention to this problem.
I was connected with the Territorial Army for a very long time and I suppose that I always look at matters from my own point of view and my own training. I indict the Government, and shall continue to do so, for their appallingly stupid decision, which might even provoke a wicked decision, to reduce the size of the Territorial Army to what I regard as a nominal level. The whole exercise was to save £20 million. That was the figure we were given at the time.
I always thought that the Army got the best value for money in all its spending from what it spent on the Territorial Army. It produced formations and trained men. I would not have quarrelled quite so much with what the Government did if they had made the cadres bigger than eight men. Eight men is no cadre. If they had numbered about 125 that would have been a cadre in which we could have trained our officers, N.C.O.s, key men and everyone else, and have said that we had an embryo formation.
Even the present Government have had to wake up to the fact that recruiting is bad. I shall not be happy until I see the Territorial Army re-formed and increased. It was a very good recruiting force for the Regular Army. I remember perfectly well that as a platoon or company commander I would give a very bright fellow his first stripe and the next week he would come to me and say, "Do you mind? I am going off on Monday to join the Army?" I cursed inwardly, but congratulated him and realised that it was for the country's good. One of the difficulties the Government have got into over recruiting results from their reduction of the Territorial Army.
Because I still serve on my County Association, I see that much Territorial Army property, like drill halls, has been sold; what has happened to the money? Has it just been spent by the Army as a buckshee extra? Is it spending a bit more because it has that money?
The Minister made a great deal of the increased gross pay. I think that he is right, but I hope that everything is going as well as he thinks. We must wait and see what the real net value of the increase to the different ranks is after all taxes have been paid. My impression is that those we want to encourage most in the Regular Army, the captains and majors, who are the young married men, with the corporals and sergeants, are those who will come off worst. They are the key part of the Army. They have had all their original training and they are the ones who go on to take command of battalions or become R.S.M.s, and so on. But as I move around I meet a tremendous number of young men of that sort of rank who have left the Army at a time when they are most valuable to it and are back in civilian life. I hope that in the new way of accounting that the Minister has promised in the Supplementary Estimates we shall see not only the big increase in the Army Vote, but will have some idea how much of it will go back into the Treasury in the form of income tax.
I was very glad that the Minister made a great deal of the many countries in which the Army can train. We lose some of our training grounds because of political upheavals in countries over which we have no control. I am thinking now of Libya, where we have lost extremely good training grounds. About three years ago I was fortunate enough to visit one of our most famous armoured regiments in Benghazi. There, it had one of the finest training grounds possible for that type of regiment. The regiment had a very high morale, out on its own training in a foreign country away from all home commitments.
I do not want to go into the whole question of pensions, including the rights and wrongs of higher pensions, but I have always thought that one of the best recruiting agents for the Army was the satisfied ex-soldier. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham about the poor number of men coming forward for officer rank. Are not many young men of 18 being discouraged by their fathers, retired majors, colonels, or even generals, because those men find themselves hard up in present economic conditions, some of which are brought about by the Government? They are not encouraging their sons to go into the Army or the other forces as they did in past generations.
The same applies at the corporal and sergeant level. I have said to some of our generals that when they were on the Army Council they were always thinking about pay for the Army, but did not think enough about pensions, not realising how good old soldiers are as recruiting agents—or how bad if they are dissatisfied.
Another reason the Territorial Army was good for the Regular Army was that it took a few Regular soldiers as adjutants, brigade majors, and permanent staff-sergeants to instruct the men. This gave them a very good insight into civilian life. It has been amazing to me to find the number of generals who have had higher command who have said how valuable was their training with a T.A. regiment, which widened and broadened their whole outlook on life and enabled them to carry out their command in a better manner.
I have been for a long time against conscription. I feel that it had a bad effect on the Regular Army because at a time of a highly-trained professional Army an enormous number of young officers, sergeants and corporals had to be taken off to train recruits who were only to be in the Army for a limited period. Equally, I want the reserves and the Territorial Army.
I turn to an aside which was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), in his speech on the defence debate, when he referred to the Gurkhas. I was always very disappointed that my own party, when in office, reduced the number of Gurkha soldiers to about 15,000, because all of us who have had any experience of their fighting, or have been alongside them and seen them training, know what fine troops they are. Now we hear that some of them are living in great poverty many of them, I am sure, would rather be serving today.
As I understand, the Government will, by 1st April next, have brought the number of Gurkhas down to 9,000 and are to reduce the rate until it is 6,000 a year later. Surely this is not wise, in view of their fine fighting record, if we are not getting the recruits in this country to cut down on this supply of very good troops we can get from there.
I should like to say one other thing which goes with pay—that is, the conditions under which soldiers work. I saw the Minister shaking his head a great deal when my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said that soldiers do not just want short service between England and the Rhine Army. Many of them do want to go a great deal further afield. The Minister—and I congratulate him—used his words very carefully when he talked about our troops in Northern Ireland. This has been a very disagreeable job which the Army has had to do and it has done it extremely well. I do not necessarily think that it is a good job if it goes on too long and is bad for recruiting. Therefore, I was delighted to hear the Minister say that the Government hope to cut down on the Army which may still have to be helping in Northern Ireland and get it back to more normal peacetime training then instead of carrying out all these guard duties.
When he referred to our Army in Germany, the Minister referred to an article written in the Sunday Times on 1st March by General Sir John Hackett, who was recently our Commander-in-Chief out there. He referred to it rather in the way—and I criticise the Minister on this—that the Secretary of State for Defence reads all the best into any article and all which suits him and does not give the rest of it.
The Minister said that the article was a great tribute to the Government. I do not think that it was at all. I read the article very differently. Sir John pointed out that the N.A.T.O. forces in Central Europe comprised 23 divisions, of which nine have only two brigades each. In a quick line-up we are outnumbered three to one. The Warsaw Pact countries can immediately put 56 divisions in the field and raise them within eight to 10 days to 89.
In the final paragraph of his article, General Hackett said that the West
may have just enough to be free from an absolute requirement for a very early nuclear release. Some might not agree. What would command pretty well universal agreement is that any further reduction in the availability of M-day conventional forces in the central region would bring us perilously close to the choice between surrender or suicide …
I do not think that that article commended the Government's policy quite as much as the Minister led us to believe.
I hope—and it is the wish of all of us—that we shall not have to meet a critical situation in Europe, but even the Secretary of State for Defence, in his inter vention today, said that the situation was graver than it was a year or two ago. I have a feeling—again, it is my own—that the Communist aggression may not be head on in Europe, but that it will be much more, as it is now, in Africa—particularly the east of Africa—and in Asia.
Therefore, we must look at Asia. This is why I support—and I know that the Conservative Party itself supports—what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in the defence debate, about east of Euez and reiterated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), when he was out there.
I speak with some feeling because of the fighting I saw out there in the war. I know how vulnerable this part of the world is and that if it had not been for our troops out there in the post-war era it might have been all under Communist domination today. None of us can be happy about what is happening in Laos. I do not believe that it is so much the strength of our forces in the air or on the ground or at sea out there which is important, but that it is the knowledge that we are there alongside these other countries. Malaya and Singapore are good examples of the types of country and Governments which we want to see in that part of the world. We should give them all the moral aid that we can and what they require. Over the years they have expected us to do this, they expect us to go on doing it, and they know that we have no territorial ambitions.
I was in the United States in January, 1968, when Mr. Harold Macmillan—a great Prime Minister—made a speech in California. He said how disappointing it must be for American troops not to see British troops—and by this he meant troops of the United Kingdom as distinct from Australia and New Zealand—alongside them in South-East Asia. The United States have taken on the rôle of the policemen of the world from us. But not entirely. It is the feeling of security that we are there behind them that these countries want to feel.
I did not say that I regretted it. I was referring to what Mr. Macmillan said in a speech in California, two years ago.
I have here a letter from one of our more clever and brighter younger commanders in the Army who says quite clearly that he thinks that it is there that we may find ourselves willy nilly, intended or not.
In South-East Asia, in the future. We should think about this, and that is why I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said.
All I say is that I am not sure that in our training of the Army we are thinking enough of amphibious warfare, at which we were so good. It is difficult for those who have not been out there to appreciate some of these problems. I only wish the country could spend a little more money to enable a greater number of hon. Members to travel to these distant places.
The defence policy of the Government, particularly as it relates to the Army, is full of alarming possibilities. I do not share the complacency of the Secretary of State. I have a feeling that, when we take over as the Government in a few months' time, the situation will be far worse than we fear. I only hope that I am wrong.
I shall not follow the theme of the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). I am not primarily concerned with suggesting methods of raising more soldiers for use in Europe or the Far East, whether by conscription, by increasing the reserves or by making voluntary service more attractive.
I welcome the Government's decision to withdraw from east of Suez. I think that the country as a whole will have very good reason for supporting the Government at the next election precisely to see that we do not allow ourselves to be pulled back to that part of the world, particularly in view of the attitude of right hon. and hon. Members opposite as indicated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
I do not support the United States presence in Vietnam or in Laos and I think that the sort of ideas advanced by hon. Members opposite about east of Suez are extremely dangerous. This is not to say, however, that I do not appreciate the need for a conventional Army, and I pay tribute to the job which the Army has been doing in Northern Ireland in preventing bloodshed. I visited Northern Ireland last August and recognised that the Army is carrying out a very important task.
I also recognise that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson) pointed out, there may be a rôle for the British Army in peace-keeping operations under United Nations auspices. But I do not consider that the part which is to be played by the Army overseas is anything like that envisaged by hon. Members opposite or what it has carried out in the past.
Least of all do I consider that there is need to build up the Army to keep the peace and to prevent subversion from spreading out from the universities, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) was hinting. Last year, he and I had an exchange in the House about Essex University. I was later assured by the authorities of the university that he was totally wrong in his statement about an approach having been made by the university to the Army for assistance in dealing with student activities. It would be highly dangerous to follow the lines which the hon. Member suggested even today.
Those who are in the Army should be properly paid and equipped and their conditions maintained at a high standard. Their service should also be recognised, when complete, by providing them with all possible assistance for a return to civil life. I welcome what the Government are doing about Servicemen's pay. But there is one aspect of the problem of reinstatement in civilian life which gives me cause for concern—the provision of housing for demobilised men.
Service men often write to me to say how they have been forced to serve abroad or in different parts of this country and have not, therefore, been able to establish a residential qualification in the area where they wish to settle. It is extremely unfair to men at an advanced stage in their careers to be pushed around and separated from their families when they leave the Services owing to housing difficulties. I hope that we can do something about this in future.
The main reason for my intervention, however, is the continued stationing of British troops in West Germany. In December, 1969, there were 48,200 soldiers assigned to B.A.O.R., although 4,800 of them were in the United Kingdom. In addition, 31,340 civilians were engaged, 29,340 of them locally. The total cost of B.A.O.R. in 1969 was a sum approaching £200 million. The cost is rising annually by a figure approaching 4 to 5 per cent.
It seems intolerable that we should continue indefinitely to maintain this large force in West Germany and carry this ever rising financial burden. I say this particularly in the light of the prospect of eventual American withdrawal of troops from Europe which is now looming up and in the light of the arguments which have been advanced—from both sides of the House, I regret to say—for increasing our commitment to N.A.T.O. and in West Germany in particular.
Some years ago, hopes were raised that a much more favourable offset agreement could be negotiated with West Germany. The present agreement is still very unsatisfactory and by continuing to station troops in Germany we are making a permanent subsidy to the West German economy. If reflation takes place here and our trade surplus diminishes, I believe that we must look to B.A.O.R. for further economies and recognise that we cannot continue to afford it, let alone afford the dreams of hon. Members opposite about stationing forces east of Suez.
I should be less than honest if I did not make it clear that I do not believe that renegotiation of the offset agreement is enough. I believe in cutting the commitment in West Germany completely. I recognise that I am in a minority in arguing this case, but I recall that those who advocated the withdrawal from east of Suez some years ago, of whom I was one, were also in a minority. Yet what they said then is now becoming the conventional wisdom, at least on this side of the House, and I suggest that shortly it will become the conventional wisdom on the other side of the House as well. It is intolerable that we should accept a state of affairs in which British troops would remain in Germany indefinitely, perhaps until the end of the century and beyond.
I should be out of order if I were to argue the case in detail, but I believe that the strengthening of Western forces in Europe often provides the best possible argument for the suppression of the reformers in Eastern Europe. Although the argument has been advanced on many occasions that because of Russian intervention into Czechoslovakia we have to station more troops in West Germany, I personally believe that the opposite is true. I believe that we can best help the Czechs, struggling against the oppression enforced by Russian troops, by working towards disarmament, and withdrawal, in particular, from B.A.O.R.
Frankly, I am not a supporter of N.A.T.O. or the Warsaw Pact, and I do not believe Britain should be a member of either. I want to make that quite clear, because it may be suggested that I am in some way a fellow-traveller because I am against N.A.T.O.
I will try to avoid pursuing ideas which are developed as the result of remarks from the other side of the House. I believe that cuts in military expenditure must go very much further than they have gone at the present time. The vast majority of the people of this country believe that education, welfare and housing are far more important than stationing troops abroad.
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who want to embark upon the sort of policies which they have been advocating both last Thursday and today, should realise that this will mean a vast increase in expenditure, which will hit at many of the cherished ideals and objectives of many of our people. Under these circumstances, the Opposition should be frank and make clear to the public what would be the cost of the sort of commitments which they are proposing to continue with.
Many of us on these benches feel we are reflecting opinion outside the House very accurately indeed when we say that we want further cuts in military expenditure, and that these cuts ought to include an early reduction in the stationing of British troops in Western Germany. I believe that it is quite wrong that my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends on the Front Bench should imagine that the only pressure that they have to face is from people who want to prevent the reduction which is being carried out by this Government. There are many people on these benches, and I believe that the vast majority of our people, who welcome and support the sort of policies to reduce military expenditure which have been embarked upon by the Govermnent, but they want these policies to go very much further.
It is in this particular respect that I address my remarks to the House this afternoon. Although I know it is some- what out of line with the normal discussion which goes on between the two Front Benches here, I believe that people are probably far more interested in this aspect of the problem than they are with some of the discussions which often tend to dominate defence debates and debates on the Service Estimates.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) who has just given a classic presentation of the sort of views that I believe, between the wars and since the war, have led to reductions in our fighting services far below the level of safety.
I have sought to intervene in this debate because I have become more and more worried by the Government's continuing rundown of our fighting services, especially the Army, and I find that I share this worry with many of my constituents.
By this April the Government will have reduced the Army's strength by 17 major units, and they plan, by September, 1972, to reduce the strength still further by nine major units. We should now halt this rundown. Looking to the future, what is almost as serious is, first, the low level of our reserves compared with those of our main allies in N.A.T.O.; second, the mutilation of the Territorial Army, which is an essential source of front-line reserves and reserves for home defence, and a source of recruitment for our volunteer and professional Army.
It may be urged that there are now prospects of negotiations between the United States and the U.S.S.R. aimed at limiting armaments. I join those on all sides of the House who hope that real progress will be made. In the meantime, surely the Government should be replanning their defence policy, and the rôle and strength of the Army, in the light of a major new factor: the imminent rundown of American forces in Europe, now about 300,000 from the middle of 1971. It is the Americans who bear nearly all the enormous cost of the nuclear defence which serves all N.A.T.O. countries. And their conventional forces under N.A.T.O. are the largest in Europe. But they are now expecting Europe, with its renewed industrial strength and great prosperity, to take a greater share of its own defence burden. This seems to me just. They have carried far too much of the burden for far too long, and Western Europe must now become more self-reliant—at least in conventional forces.
I will do my best to do that. It is because of the American intended withdrawal that I criticise our Government's Army Estimates, which represent a continuing run-down of Britain's forces at a time when it should be halted. Not only does the American decision argue that way; it is the strength of the Russian forces opposite. Their defence forces, according to the latest Defence Review, comprise ½ million in the Navy, 3 million in the Army, and 1 million in the Air Force and rocketry. These forces are far greater than N.A.T.O. forces. And now we have to face this reduction of American forces. The time has come when N.A.T.O. should decide what additional conventional forces the West European members should maintain in Europe, both in the field and in reserve. Our own future contribution, especially that of the Army, must depend on N.A.T.O.'s reappraisal of the needs of Europe in the light of the American withdrawal.
To concentrate for the moment on our current Army contribution to N.A.T.O. in Europe, our forces are claimed to be the best trained, the best equipped, and the most effective of all the European forces. If this is so, I am glad. But it seems to me an over-complacent assessment. First, a minor example: we are having to borrow helicopters from the Americans and the Germans, and, as I know even from as long ago as Cyprus experience, helicopters are vital to the mobility of the Army today.
Also there is the point of the credibility of the Army. For a rôle in a protracted conventional war against the Warsaw Pact countries, which is, in my view, the only realistic threat in Europe in the near future, the Army must be up to strength; it must be backed by proper reserves and capable of rapid expansion. As to strengths, over the last two years, recruiting for the Army has fallen far short of the target, and the reduced number of units are well below establishment.
I do not find this difficulty in recruiting for the Army very surprising. I know that we face demographic factors, which will be of increased importance in the next few years. But our young people see this Government, spurred on by a clamant and persistent Left wing of whom the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) is an eloquent spokesman. continually cutting back on our Armed Services—the Royal Navy, famous regiments, and the Royal Air Force. Many of the young have taken the warning, and so have many outstanding young officers in all three Services. I regret this bitterly.
I know that the Government have just made a major improvement in Army pay. I greatly welcome that. It should help. However, it is not on its own enough. Young people will be influenced by the basic attitude of the Government to the Armed Services. I fear that only a change of Government can alter that attitude.
A Government who show by their actions that they are determined to restore a proper priority to defence and to the maintenance of their Armed Services should be able to recruit the volunteers required by our professional forces. Both for voluntary recruiting and for the rebuilding of our reserves, the immediate re-establishment of the Territorial Army as an active reserve for front-line units as well as for home defence is essential.
I do not accept that, for the forces that we shall require, a reintroduction of National Service would be inevitable, though this Government's weakening of the Territorial Army must make that possibility more likely. As we know, our Services are professional and they clearly prefer volunteers. It was the Tory Party which, on the assessment that our needs could be met by voluntary recruitment, decided in 1958 to bring National Service to an end.
However, if the changing needs of defence in Europe and our other smaller commitments elsewhere, about which the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson) spoke with knowledge and conviction, demanded an expansion and if voluntary recruitment could not meet the needs, we should not hesitate to bring back some form of National Service.
Here, I wish to associate myself with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) said in the defence debate last week. If Great Britain had to take this step, though I do not accept it as inevitable, we should be doing no more than our allies in Western Europe do already. I think that most of our young men could gain greatly from serving their country for a time in the Armed Forces. Certainly that was true of the great numbers of National Service men whom my wife and I met during our time in Cyprus from 1955 to 1960. Many a young National Service man told us that he would not have missed it for all the tea in China. They had a rôle and were doing a job which their country valued.
Order. I am trying to get the debate in order. May I read to the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) a classic Ruling from Erskine May? It is as follows:
Debate is allowed to cover the whole of the service estimates concerned"—
these today are the Army Estimates—
and any detail included in those estimates or complementary matter contained in the relevant explanatory memorandum, but not to extend to foreign affairs or defence in general.
I stand corrected. If I may, I shall now deal with the matter of reserves, which is an integral part of the Army Estimates.
Our main Western European allies can claim far greater numbers of trained reserves than we can. We have roughly 100,000 effective trained reserves, the Netherlands claims 170,000, Belgium 226,000, West Germany 448,000, France 470,000, and Italy 565,000.
In my view, one of the most damning charges against the Government's defence policy is that they have allowed our reserves to fall so low while weakening the Territorial Army as a major source of reserves and an important basis for expansion in time of need.
We shall not maintain our reserves at a reasonable level unless we revitalise the Territorial Army. Earlier today, the Under-Secretary called some cadres of the Territorial Army "an out-dated charade". I hardly think that that will be appreciated either by present members of the Territorial Army or by the families from which they come, many of whom have a long tradition of service in the Territorial Army. At any rate, the country has a very different assessment of the Territorial Army from that summed up in that remark of the Under-Secretary.
Since the hon. Gentleman is quoting me, I think that he should do so accurately. What I described as "an outdated charade" was the attitude evinced by right hon. and hon. Members opposite about the reserves which our Armed Forces needed. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that I used that expression to describe the Territorial Army. I am reluctant to take up time in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I have the relevant sentence before me and I will read it again if necessary.
I am content to let the matter rest on the basis of what appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I believe that the country has a very different view of the Territorial Army from those words used by the hon. Gentleman. The T.A. has proved to be one of the most effective means by which people of this country have voluntarily offered their services in peacetime for the defence of their country, if required.
The Government's weakening of the Territorial Army is widely resented over the country and, in particular, in my constituency, and I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), in the course of last week's debate, reaffirm our party's pledge to revitalise the Territorial Army.
I wish to make one last point on manpower. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Good-hart) mentioned the Gurkhas. They are an integral part of the defence Estimates. I cannot understand why it is planned to run down the Gurkhas, who are some of the finest troops ever to have served Great Britain. Is it really sensible to reduce their strength from 15,000 to 6,000 in the face of our recent recruiting figures and the needs which we may have in Europe, let alone those which we may have elsewhere, even on this Government's commitment east of Suez, which is quite considerable? This process of running down the Gurkhas should immediately be halted and then reversed. I am told that there is no lack of Gurkhas ready to serve with us. India has in her Army about 10 times as many Gurkhas as the Secretary of State aims to retain in ours.
I join the tribute to the Gurkhas, paid at the beginning of last week's debate by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham. I wish all success to the Gurkha Welfare Appeal launched a few days ago by my former chief, Field-Marshal Lord Harding, who sent me a short letter which, with your forbearance, Mr. Speaker, I should like to read. It is important. It is from former No. 18299 J. A. Caudwell, Royal Scots Fusiliers, and it is from Lancashire:
Dear Lord Harding,
Enclosed is a 10s. postal order for your fund for the Gurkhas. May I tell you why? Early in July 1916, I was wounded on the Somme in both my forearms by an explosive bullet, and, coming down, me and another wounded soldier came across this camp of Gurkhas. One of them came to us and sat us down on a box, He came to me, and, seeing that I could not hold anything he held his dixie to my mouth and made me have a good drink of black tea. I think that the rum in it got hold of me, because I do not remember anything more until I came to in hospital in Le Havre. I am 74 years old and glad to spare 10s. for a very good cause. You may do what you like with this letter.
I hope that it will not be regarded as an impertinence that a Member for a Northern Ireland constituency should seek to take part in a debate on the Army Estimates, but I feel justified in doing so, because the Army has been so recently in Northern Ireland and, I estimate, will continue to be there for some considerable time.
I agree with what has been said about the Army's peace-keeping rôle in Northern Ireland. The whole community, on both sides of the political fence, owes a debt of gratitude to the British Army for its action over a number of months. On 14th and 15th August, I was making urgent personal representations to have the British Army brought in, particularly to Belfast, where their presence on 15th, 16th and 17th August saved many lives, which otherwise might have been lost during the communal violence on those dates. One could not pay too high a tribute to the officers and men who have given such service during this time.
The Under-Secretary said that he felt that the Army had succeeded in restoring law and order in Northern Ireland. I would not go all the way with him. Certainly, the position is much better than it was a few months ago, but there is not law and order in Northern Ireland at the moment. The very fact that explosions are taking place almost every weekend, that 20 have taken place since the begining of this year, that Mr. Austin Currie, a Northern Ireland M.P., has had the gable blown out of his house only last Sunday morning, the fact that, when I left my home this morning, it was under police and military guard, shows that law and order has not yet been restored in Northern Ireland. I believe that it will he a very difficult job for the Army and the Northern Ireland authorities to ensure that law and order is brought about in the shortest possible time.
I have to question—in doing so, I am voicing the opinion of many members of the British forces now serving in Northern Ireland—whether they are getting the degree of co-operation to which they would be entitled. I know that the Under-Secretary said that there was a great deal of co-operation between the Northern Ireland police and the British military Forces, but I am not too sure about that. The number of explosions which have taken place since the beginning of this year and since the outbreak of communal violence last August suggests that, with the combined forces of the R.U.C. and the British military intelligence D.16, someone should have been caught for perpetrating those explosions.
I believe that General Freeland who, at the moment, is in complete charge of security all over Northern Ireland, will have to take some very serious action to ensure that these explosions are not allowed to continue. It is a mercy to God that no lives have been lost so far, but sometime, one weekend, an explosion will take place and lives will be lost, which will bring about another holocaust in Northern Ireland, with a consequent loss of human lives.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is necessary as soon as possible to get hold of those who are perpetrating these things, but he said something earlier on which I hope I misunderstood. Was he suggesting that there was not sufficient co-operation from the R.U.C. with the military in this task? I hope that he was not.
I would not put it as high as that, but I suspect that there are security forces in Northern Ireland which are not co-operating to the extent that they should be. I can readily understand that, with the British military presence, the English, Scottish or Welsh soldier or officer in Northern Ireland is unaware of the geography of the area, having only recently entered the Northern Ireland scene, and, obviously, he cannot act without the co-operation of each and every person involved in the security of the Northern Ireland side.
In view of the number of explosions which have taken place, the fact that no one has been brought to justice is surprising. Indeed, some people were brought to the courts of justice for explosions which took place last year under a different Prime Minister, and we all know the verdict which was given then. That verdict should attract the condemnation of everyone who believes in the concept of law and order in any part of the United Kingdom. I am glad to have the opportunity to say that on the Floor of this House, and I am sure I would have the support of many people in Northern Ireland.
I doubt whether it is wise of the hon. Gentleman to make that kind of condemnation in this House, because it is a reflection on the judiciary, apart from anything else. But, since he has made it, perhaps I could point out that it is not the view of any lawyer who has studied these cases, on either side of the political fence.
I would not agree with that. The hon. Gentleman says that I have made a reflection on the judiciary. I have not. But the day before the verdict was to be given, an explosion of gelignite took place in the confines of the court. How could a jury be other than intimidated in those circumstances? These are the people who, I say, were intimidated. When explosions were allowed to take place within the precincts of a court, how can we ever expect to bring law and order back into the streets of Northern Ireland? It would be absolutely impossible.
I want to speak about the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment, since this is the first debate we have had about it since its formation. It will be no surprise to the House that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) would want to take part in this debate. During the debate on the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill, many of my hon. Friends voiced the opinion that this regiment was unnecessary, that it was an expenditure of £1 million which was unwarranted and still is unwarranted, that the regiment was being created as a sop to the then B Specials.
I am still of that opinion. I do not believe that there is any necessity for the existence of the Ulster Defence Regiment, or for the expenditure by Her Majesty's Government on its creation, but I am enough of a political realist to recognise that that force now, de facto, exists. It is the Government's duty to ensure that that force is what the Government intended it to be, representative of the whole community in Northern Ireland, and that it will not be B Specials in another uniform. The figures given by the Under-Secretary of State today are giving rise to serious concern in Northern Ireland. I would not be doing my duty as a representative of my constituency if I did not voice that concern.
During the debates on the regiment we were told that it would not be a force of 6,000. The figure of 6,000 was to be a ceiling, but the force would start off with a minimum number of 4,000 and would comprise a figure between 4,000 and 6,000. It would now appear from the Estimates which we have before us that the optimum figure will embrace a force not exceeding 6,000. Therefore, the force numbers over 4,000 at the moment.
I recognise that the regiment is now in existence, and this goes very much against my political principles, but now that the force exists we should try to make it work. I never wanted the force, but now that it is there it is our duty to make sure that it is a balanced force.
The Under-Secretary said that the pattern of population in the different counties of Northern Ireland should be a reflection of the number of recruits who are coming forward for the new force. But that is exactly what is not happening. In the three hard-line counties of Tyrone, a Catholic county, Fermanagh, again a Catholic county, and Derry, where the proportion is 50–50 parts of Armagh are overwhelmingly Catholic—the number of recruits who have joined the Ulster Defence Regiment range from 75 to 92 per cent. Protestant. This, again, is causing concern.
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that in those three counties a great deal of trouble has arisen in recent years with discrimination in housing, jobs, and so on. In those three border counties it is more essential to have a balanced force. It does not matter so much in Belfast, where the Unionists and Protestants are in an overwhelming majority, but in the border areas, in counties with such a troubled past, it is essential that there should be a balanced force representing the whole community.
I was delighted to hear the Under-Secretary say this afternoon that 20 per cent. of the force was Roman Catholic. This is a good start. But the Ministry of Defence should not be satisfied with that figure. It should be dramatically increased to 30, 40, or even, 50 per cent. There is no reason why there should be a majority of one religion over another. If Catholics come forward in their numbers and wish to join this force, though I am not telling them to do so, they should not be prevented from joining in those areas where they have been subjected to barbarism in recent years by the Ulster Special Constabulary.
The most amazing statement by my hon. Friend this afternoon which will certainly shock many people in Northern Ireland—I have no doubt that the publicity media have already told the people in Northern Ireland—was that at present about 6,000 B Specials still possess arms. We were told when General Freeland took charge of security in Northern Ireland that the B Specials were to be disarmed. Those who wanted to see peace in the country were of the opinion that arms should be taken from those men immediately. But we are now told that the B Specials still have arms.
Can the Under-Secretary say what type of arms they are? Do they still have machine guns, rifles, revolvers? Unless those arms are taken into a central armoury in the shortest possible time, I foresee dangers and terrible troubles in Northern Ireland. It is no secret that at present a political crisis is looming on the horizon in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Prime Minister, and I commend his stand, which will be debated next week in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, faces a vote of confidence which may lead to his downfall. I hope that it does not, but it is possible that the hard line, extreme Right wing of the Unionist Party will succeed.
Yes, Mr. Speaker, I will, since that regiment and the B Specials are under the control of General Freeland. This House is paying for the security of Northern Ireland and that item is included in these Estimates.
What will happen if there is a political crisis there? Will my hon. Friend keep in touch with General Freeland to ensure that the B Specials whose arms are kept in central armouries will not use them to back up the Right wing of the Unionist Party if forced to take to the streets? I see danger in the fact that those arms are still in existence. We all know that the Army has a peacekeeping rôle and could be rushed from the Caribbean to Carrick Hill, but the House will forgive me if I am more concerned with Carrick Hill at the moment. The Ministry must make certain that the regiment turns out to be what it has been said to be.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, in the debate on the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment, said that it was not so essential to stick to the original operational date of 1st April, and that if a clash occurred between that date and the setting up of a balanced force then the operational date could be put back. I would ask my right hon. Friend not to stick so rigidly to that operational date for this force and not to make certain that the force is at its full complement of 6,000 men on 1st April. I ask that the date should be set some months later, or, indeed, early next year, to make certain that other sections of the community are represented. Could my hon. Friend keep in touch with the advisory committee which has been set up to oversee the regiment to ask if they have any schemes to ensure that larger numbers of the minority can come forward for service in the regiment?
I realise that the regiment is now in being and cannot be swept away overnight. Therefore, we must take every possible step to make sure that the number of applicants from the minority who are at present seeking to join the regiment are increased since I feel it would be for the good of the whole community. I do not put this suggestion forward as a political ploy, nor am I saying that all Protestants or all B Specials are unfitted to serve in the regiment. It is conceded that a number of them are so fitted, but for the good of Northern Ireland and its future the numbers in the regiment must be balanced more favourably than they are at present.
I had not intended to take a serious part in this debate, but I feel that I must follow some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I was glad to hear him say that he now accepts the Ulster Defence Regiment as a fact. I was sorry to hear him attempt to give the kiss of death to a Prime Minister who is not entirely unknown to me. I hope that it will do him no harm that he has support from such an unexpected quarter.
I am glad to join with the hon. Gentleman in the tribute he paid to the British troops who have been serving in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friends and I recognise full well the delicate and difficult task which they have performed, with a few exceptions—as there are always a few exceptions in any force—with considerable efficiency, and with humanity and concern for the people with whom they were dealing. It has been an appallingly difficult task which has been, on the whole, very well fulfilled.
I was a little sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that there was lack of co-operation between the military forces in Northern Ireland and the police. I have not heard this suggestion from any other quarter and I hope that in winding up the debate the Minister will comment on this, because I do not believe it to be so.
I join with the hon. Gentleman and with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) in a total condemnation of those who have perpetrated the bomb outrages in the last few weeks. I think that we all share a sense of horror at what has been happening and hope that these people will be swiftly brought to justice. Although I have no special knowledge on this, I feel confident that the forces of law and order are not very far behind the people who have perpetrated these crimes.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned central armouries. Somewhat earlier this month, the Minister of Defence for Administration said that about one in eight of the B Specials still held arms. I think I am right in that, no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong.
The figures for the B Specials who hold arms at home are not dissimilar from those given by my hon. Friend. The figure which the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) quotes is the figure for arms held at home by the Ulster Defence Regiment when it is eventually formed and effective. It is very important that we should not confuse those two figures. It is one of the arguments for not postponing the vesting date from 1st April.
It is useful to have that information, but, as I think the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, it makes no difference to the argument which I was about to put forward. There are problems about central armouries. It may sometimes be necessary for the men in the Ulster Defence Regiment to work in wild, uninhabited terrain, in which the possibility of ambush is apparant to anyone who has studied the country. Men who are called out suddenly to guard an installation or to repel an attack have to get their arms. Are they to undergo the risk of ambush and attack while they are unarmed and on their way to their objective? Alternatively, are the arms to be brought out to them individually, or collectively at some central spot? Again, there is the danger of ambush. How is it to be done? I say to the hon. Gentleman, and I am sure he will take this from me, that he should consider very carefully the case he has put forward. Anything that the right hon. Gentleman can do to clear up the doubts on this score which are in the minds of people who might still enlist in the U.D.R. will be welcome.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke of the difficulty of bringing about what he called a balanced force in some of the western counties. I accept that this is a difficulty. Roman Catholics living in those areas—and here I expect to be contradicted, although there is force in what I say—tend to be in whole-time occupations in the cases where they are, happily, employed. They are likely to be small farmers who would find it difficult to accept the conditions imposed by service with the U.D.R.I do not see the way round that difficulty at the moment. I have heard the view expressed that it is also extremely difficult to find any Roman Catholic officers for the U.D.R. in those areas. The officers are bound to be men who have a certain amount of experience and, whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not, in the initial stages, they will be men who have served as officers in the Ulster Special Constabulary. It may be said that officers could be found from among retired Servicemen with experience. Unhappily, there is not much new employment in those areas, despite the improvement in recent years, and retired Servicemen who are looking for a job do not go there. Those who have retired will in the main be too old to be eligible to join the Regiment.
One difficulty in recruitment has arisen over trained instructors. There are, in the Ulster Special Constabulary, a number of instructors who are near the age limit of 55, which would make them ineligible to remain long in the U.D.R. Those men stand to gain fairly good compensation if they simply retire from the U.S.C., and this could be extremely unfortunate for various reasons. There is no provision for men who exceed the age limit by a few months to become store-men, or anything else. Some will therefore opt out of joining and the result will be a shortage of good and experienced instructors. These men are held in high regard by the men whom they train. This will possibly lead to a holding-back by men whom we would wish to see in the new force and who might otherwise join. If the uncertainty over the instructors goes on, it may even lead to some of those whom they have trained and who have put their names forward opting out at the last minute, and none of us would like to see this.
I do not think that the whole debate should be taken up by what is only a part of the problem of the Army Estimates, so I shall say no more. I have tried to put forward, in a moderate way, what I hope are some constructive thoughts.
I hope that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) will forgive me if I do not follow him even in his tribute to the British troops, because during the debate on the Army Act, last October, I put on record my admiration for the way in which the troops had behaved in Ulster following the troubles in August, and I do not think I can do better than to refer back to that debate.
May I return to the subjects which were informing the debate before the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and the hon. Gentleman. The subject of conscription is being discussed in the Chamber as it was last week. We all know the general arguments both for and against conscription, but I would like to put to the House an argument against conscription which occurred to me as a result of my experience in industry which reinforces the attitude of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and the stand which they have taken.
We are not talking about the possibility that we may not be able to obtain sufficient recruits by voluntary means to undertake the commitments set out by my right hon. Friend. We are anxious to avoid adopting a defence policy or strategy which necessitates the Army having to resort to compulsory recruitment.
One of the troubles with schemes of that sort is that young men best learn to be soldiers when they also best learn the industrial skills which are of benefit to industry and the economy generally. The two tend to clash for the amount of time available to young men and women for learning skills which are of use to industry. From that point of view, conscription is a grave danger to the nation, for our future influence in the world will depend primarily on the strength and efficiency of the economy and on the way in which we can make goods to be sold at home and abroad.
My experience of industry is that a great many young men and women who embark on a career in industry start in their 'teens with enthusiasm and dedication and achieve qualifications with the minimum of upset to their course of study. Generally speaking, there is no problem there. But if we are to get sufficient skilled men and women in future, it is another group of people on whom we should be concentrating; those who could achieve the qualifications and skills necessary for industry if they were given every possible chance to do so.
The trouble with national service or conscription is that the people in this group often fail to pass an examination during their industrial career, are drawn into the forces—they may enjoy their life there—and then, when they are demobilised, lose their desire to study and work. Too frequently they slip into semi-skilled or unskilled occupations, and perhaps decide, being about 20, that they should get married—
I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, and I am explaining the various reasons why a form of compulsory service which takes people away from industry would be an unfortunate way of recruiting young people for the forces. I am emphasising the damaging effect that that can have on industry. For this reason any form of conscription should be opposed.
I appreciate that this argument is not necessarily a military one, but it is a telling one when discussing the question of filling gaps in the ranks. When I was in industry I found that conscription as a means of filling those gaps had a serious effect on the way in which we were able to produce industrially skilled people. For this reason I reinforce the line which my hon. Friends have taken against the case which has been advanced by the Opposition.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite are hoping that they will be able to provide any extra men they need for the forces—if their policies are implemented they will need considerably more men—by an expansion of the reserves. We could spend much time discussing this subject. I will merely say that, contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair), I do not believe that the Territorial Army is necessarily the best way to provide sufficient reserves today.
I concede that many people are happy with the thought that they are doing a useful job in the Territorial Army. Many of them no doubt enjoy themselves while doing it. However, I question whether the Territorial Army could provide the reserves we would need in a conflict in the 'seventies, compared with its ability to provide them in 1914 and 1939.
There is a small number of civilians who, although they do not wish to be regular soldiers, are keen to undertake part-time activities to equip themselves with the necessary skills and disciplines for worthwhile full-time soldiering, should an emergency occur. However, that number is severely limited and while those people provide a useful service to the community, they would not be capable, for personal and other reasons—most of them have family commitments—of forming a massive Territorial Army.
The hon. Gentleman must not say that my hon. Friends are advocating compulsory service. Not even his right hon. Friend said that. The hon. Gentleman has already gone far enough to distort our case. He must not go further and say what is not true.
It has been advocated by the Front Bench opposite that we should expand our reserves on a Territorial Army basis as a way of filling gaps in the ranks. However sincere hon. Gentlemen opposite may be in claiming that they do not want conscription, I firmly believe that if they carried out the military and defence policies which they are advocating, they would be driven to accepting it.
The House must bear in mind that a period of emergency in Europe in a modern age would be extremely brief. Any reserves must, therefore, be highly trained and capable of reacting with speed to such an emergency. One could argue with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that all the various paraphernalia of nuclear weaponry would be so incredible that, in practice, it would not be used. Unfortunately, the security of the West now depends on the credibility that it will be used.
I was explaining that if we are to maintain the credibility of our nuclear weapons, we must support them with reserves who can operate with extreme rapidity in a state of emergency. I was referring to the nuclear deterrent, in passing, to emphasise that any reserves must be trained and mobilised in a way which will make it demonstrably clear to all that they could be brought into action with speed and efficiency.
If we allowed ourselves to build up a massive Territorial Army of the type that I believe hon. Gentlemen opposite want. we would destroy that credibility, because it would be patently obvious to any potential opponent that we were producing reserves who could not get into the field with any degree of military skill and efficiency quickly enough; and then all the dangers inherent in the situation from the point of view of the credibility of nuclear weapons would come to the fore.
I come to the hopes and aspirations of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens). I share his general aims. but I am not sure that I agreed with him when he seemed to imply that an element of unilateral action by Her Majesty's Government was necessary to secure a reduction in military commitments on the Continent of Europe.
I hope that one day we may be able to dispense entirely with our Rhine Army and supporting troops on the Continent, but if we are to do so and to release expenditure committed to military needs, it cannot be done as a unilateral exercise by the United Kingdom. It has to be an operation organised not only in the Western Alliance, but in the Eastern Alliance as well.
I hope that before long the Rhine Army will be the subject of negotiations for mutual force reductions and also for reduction of auxiliary forces, but these have to be balanced between the Western Alliance and the Warsaw Pact as a whole. There are a number of problems here which are not capable of simple solution. I am not putting them forward as insuperable obstacles to mutual force reductions, but when we enter negotiations for mutual force reductions they should be balanced and we should take account of the various difficulties which might arise.
It is not simply a question of withdrawing one Warsaw Pact division eastwards for every one N.A.T.O. division withdrawn westwards, for the obvious reason that the American forces would have to be withdrawn 3,000 miles across the Atlantic whereas Russian forces would be withdrawn 1,000 or 1,500 miles to the western borders of the Soviet Union. That is an obvious example, but if we pursue the matter further we find that it becomes more complicated.
I appreciate the point, Mr. Speaker, but if we are to reduce the Estimates for the Army we must reduce the Estimates devoted to Rhine Army. If we do that, the whole thesis of my argument is, we cannot do it unilaterally. We must bring into consideration the forces of the N.A.T.O. alliance and of the Warsaw Pact in Europe. Therefore, I find it impossible to suggest to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench ways of reducing the Army Estimates without to some extent alluding to the dispositions of other forces in the Western and Eastern alliances. I should be grateful for any guidance you can give me, Mr. Speaker, on the complexity of the problems I face.
The position gets rather more complex the more one thinks about it. For example, if we were to withdraw a British division in North-West Europe to the United Kingdom, the Russians might riposte by saying that they will withdraw one Russian division, but if at the date of the withdrawal it happens to have been in Czechoslovakia since 1968, one wonders whether that would be a balanced force reduction.
Another example, speaking against us rather than against the Soviet Union because I am not grinding a particular Western axe, is that the Russians have two-and-a-half tanks in Western Europe to every one that we have. It would appear on the advice of experts that British tanks are rather better and more effective than Russian tanks. Therefore, it would be unfair to the Russians if, for every two-and-a-half tanks they withdrew to their borders we withdrew only one towards the United Kingdom. The complexities of the problem would be even greater if we took into account anti-tank weapons in which as an alliance we have a general superiority over the Russians.
These are the problems I put to my hon. Friend to reinforce the stand he has already been taking on these negotiations. I hope that the negotiations for mutual balanced force reductions get under way, but we should not think that it is a simple matter of one for them and one for us across the board. Asymmetries is the term used in these negotiations. That we shall have to bear in mind when they start.
First, I apologise to the Minister for not being here when he spoke. It was because I was present at an Estimates Sub-Committee, discussing recruiting. There has been a considerable improvement in the buildings for the Services in my constituency. There have still been delays which are to some extent rather worrying. The Minister will remember that the Army Catering Corps building, which is a tower building, was nearly completed when it was found that the pipes for the upstairs cookery floor were inadequate to carry the hot water that was required there. The effect was a delay of over six months. I have mentioned this before.
A complementary side to this problem is important because it was thought that the old Army Catering Corps building would become available to be cleared for the building of married quarters. The vacating of the old building has been delayed for over six months and it follows that there has been a delay which is interfering with the programme of married quarters. This is the kind of case which should be looked at very carefully by the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
I understand that the Cambridge Hospital, in my constituency, will eventually be replaced by a new Service hospital. It does a very good job not only for the Services, but also for civilians in the district. Everybody wishes it well. It is not known to me that any indication has been made by the Minister about the possibility of building this new hospital. Married quarters in the area are good and so are barrack quarters, but there is an absence of adequate accommodation for officers. That is not nearly so satisfactory. I hope that steps will be taken to look into that matter.
What perhaps is more important, and is becoming worse, is the situation of those leaving the Army. Fixing them up with accommodation is becoming increasingly difficult. It is probably necessary for something to be done to make better arrangements for those who come from abroad. More are coming back to this country and they want accommodation when they leave the Services. The local authorities are doing their best, but there seems a general difficulty in meeting civilian demands regardless of the Services.
In one case it was necessary for the Army to ask for eviction. The Army tried to get accommodation for the ex-Serviceman, but the local authorities were not able to provide it. He was put into the position of either going to the county welfare officer and, as a result of the efforts of that officer, being separated from his wife and four children, or losing a job which he had obtained since he left the Service and going to relatives in another part of the country. That is one example of the way that matters are not operating satisfactorily. The difficulties are not decreasing; they are increasing.
I should like to refer to a Ministry of Housing document, "Council Housing Purposes, Procedures and Priorities", which, dealing with ex-Servicemen, states that
once they are on the list they should be considered on the same basis of housing need as any other applicants'. We would go further and argue that ex-servicemen, like other migrant workers, should receive special consideration simply because they are migrants.
The last sentence of that passage on ex-Service men states:
We think that local authorities should try to be specially helpful in such cases and certainly not insist on a job being obtained before a house can be offered.
This does not make the difficulties easier. The point that concerns me is that this kind of thing has a bad effect on recruiting. Families which have experienced this kind of thing will always discourage people connected with them going into the Services because they have been treated in that way.
I am particularly interested, because I am in the Chair on the Estimates Sub-Committee considering Service recruitment. I have something to say about the Ministry of Defence on this matter. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) raised the question whether information had been withheld from the Estimates Sub-Committee during the course of the debate on Navy Estimates. I would not use the expression "information withheld", but it is important to mention what has occurred.
It was known to the Ministry of Defence that the Estimates Committee was going into the question of recruiting. The Committee has, indeed, proceeded a considerable way. Then the White Paper was published and, in paragraph 19, page 72, for the first time we learn:
The Army Recruiting Organisation is also to be reorganised during the next two years following the report of a firm of civilian management consultants.
This was the first intimation that not only had the Committee to look at the recruiting position prior to this time, but that it would also have to look, to evaluate the Estimates, at a completely new proposal for recruiting.
This investigation is very complicated, and to find, half way through, that the Committee has to consider and express views on reorganisation is, to say the least, rather tedious. I am sure that the information will be given to the Committee, but it should have been given before, because it would have helped the investigation.
I do not want to say anything further on recruiting, though there are a number of matters I should like to mention, because the Committee is going into it with considerable care. But I should like to mention the Arabian Gulf, because I had the opportunity of going there. I thought that the troops there were in very good heart, but that their accommodation was not in good form. The reason the accommodation for the troops was not in good form was because there was a feeling that the place would be run down.
On the other hand, I was amazed to see what an important place the Arabian Gulf had grown into. I found friendliness towards us everywhere. Although the defence mechanisms, the troops and the aircraft were there, I could not see any reason why there should not be left some minimal people of the Services, particularly ground forces, to help in any trouble of a small character which might arise.
When I consider that some years ago there was nothing at all there and now the oil was flowing plentifully, the development is almost like seeing New York for the first time—a large number of skyscrapers. There are big aluminium smelting works in the desert. All these things are very impressive, and the troops to whom I spoke were saddened by the fact that they would be leaving shortly.
Another difficulty in the Arabian Gulf concerns the camp at Sharjah, which is very suitable as it is within flying distance for the conveyance of troops from this country to the Gulf. Sharjah is at the tip of the Gulf and is probably as far as a fully-laden aircraft can fly. I do not think that there would be any difficulty in keeping troops there.
Finally, I am always suspicious of the Treasury. Perhaps it is wrong of me. So far, the Treasury seems to have accepted that the pay scales have to be good. But I am anxiously waiting to hear what will be done about pensions in the light of the new scales. I am also concerned about pensions which have already been awarded. The pensions paid before 1958 were very inadequate. There are some widows in my constituency whose husbands were not in a position to make retirement arrangements for them and they are virtually living on social security. This ought to stop, because it is another deterrent to recruiting. I hope that the Minister of Defence will not allow the Treasury, in this regard, to overlook or to erode what should be a valuable help well earned by our Services.
I am grateful for the opportunity of intervening briefly to pay a tribute, which I believe to be extremely well-deserved, to the Royal Engineers. I must sharpen the focus a little, from the grand sweep of world affairs to a local battle which took place recently, a battle fought not against humans but against time, tide and weather in the most trying circumstances. The emergency arose a few weeks ago and could not possibly have been met without the intervention and help of the Royal Engineers.
What happened was that the main bridge over the A47 across the Great Ouse started to give way. This would have caused almost impossible difficulties for hundreds of thousands of people. The financial penalties, had the R.E.s not stepped in, are difficult to estimate, but would have been about £2,000 in transport costs alone. Hundreds of jobs were at stake and, I suspect, lives, too, because the alternative roads were in a most dangerous condition because of the adverse weather.
At very short notice the Ministry of Transport approached my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who agreed to request the co-operation of the Royal Engineers. They stepped in and in the most appalling weather, against ice, snow and driving rain, they erected a temporary bridge, 537 ft. long, in 10 days—a record-sized bridge in a record time.
I went to see them at work and found it a most exhilarating experience to see the spirit with which they were tackling the job. I believe that they saved a tremendous amount of money, jobs and some lives. The people in my constituency have shown their gratitude in a number of ways and I am grateful for this opportunity to add my sincere appreciation of a grand job, wonderfully well done.
I am grateful, too, to my hon. Friend and his Department and, above all, to the officers and men of the Royal Engineers. My constituents showed their appreciation by presenting them with washing machines, so I hope in future they will not only be the most efficient Engineers in the world, but also the cleanest.
I am sure that every hon. Member could call to mind some instance similar to that which the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Derek Page) has just mentioned, when the Services, particularly the Army, have helped our constituents. I certainly can and I join with him in paying a tribute to the Services for the work that they do in helping in disasters and to avert them.
One of the main themes running through the debate, begun by the Under-Secretary and carried on by one of his hon. Friends, was the charge that Conservative policy means conscription. My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) made it clear in an intervention that we have never said, and we will not say, that we intend to bring back conscription. This is absolutely certain. This should be heard loud and clear by everyone. The Under-Secretary seemed to be saying that, while we may say this on this side of the House, we would have to introduce conscription to carry out our policies. This also is utterly untrue.
If we are to stay east of Suez, then our commitment is for a presence there as part of a Commonwealth Brigade, as outlined by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home); for that purpose alone conscription is not needed. At present in the Middle and Far East there are 30,320 Army personnel. There is no reason why there should be a force of anything like that size to fulfil the task that we have said we will carry out. We have said that, apart from Hong Kong, where we have four Gurkha battalions and one British battalion—or will have—with elements of various other units totalling seven in all, we will need one unit as part of the Commonwealth Brigade or a Commonwealth force based in Singapore.
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) who said that it was immaterial whether the presence was land-borne or sea-borne as long as it was there. Taking the first stage, we do not need to increase the total beyond what it is at the moment, indeed we shall reduce it considerably to one battalion in Malaysia. The second point of the Under-Secretary was that we would need to reinforce this should there be a confrontation situation, because the whole purpose of the force would be to deal with infiltration or subversion coming from outside of Malaysia, for example, from China. The Under-Secretary said that we would have to have reinforcements and that this would lead to conscription. This is utterly untrue.
The hon. Gentleman drew a parallel with the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation. At that time we were the only people there—the British Army and the Gurkha Brigade dealt with the whole confrontation. We are saying that this Commonwealth presence will comprise Australians, New Zealanders, Malaysians and units from the Singapore Army. Any confrontation which arose would involve all of these countries and their troops, not just ours. We would still be able to reinforce that presence from the bulk of the 30,360 men brought back into the home theatre. I do not believe that we will need conscription in any event, to carry out present or future commitments east of Suez. This can be done without conscription as long as we start now to halt the run-down of forces. Until we can reverse the trend, which the Government seems completely incapable of doing—that is recruiting up to the limits which have been set—fulfilling our commitments or even the Government's is absolutely impossible.
Perhaps I may just finish this part. I believe the Minister is going to say that he would accept that if we could recruit there would be no problem; but as long as the Government are saying that we are going to pull out not only from the Far East but from the Middle East and to concentrate in Europe and this country, and having regard also to all the other factors like the uncertainties about pay and about the future career structure and status of the Army, then of course it is difficult to recruit. But equally, he must not say and I am not saying that in order to recruit we will have to stay in the Far East. This is not true, either.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would clarify what he is saying. I understand he is saying that the extended commitments can be met without compulsory service as long as voluntary recruitment runs as a high enough level. To say that is to say nothing, because that is a simple axiomatic statement of the situation. What one has to say, to give any real meaning to the contention, is that recruitment on a voluntary basis will run at a high level.
If we can maintain our forces at their present level as of today, as put down in the White Paper, then the commitments which I and my right hon. Friends are putting forward to the House and the country can be fulfilled. I believe it would be possible for this to be done if we are able to put forward to would-be recruits the prospect that the kind of life they would lead and the service they give will not be purely confined, as they would be under the policies of the hon. Gentleman and the Government at the moment, to police duties in this country and service in B.A.O.R. This is one of the main factors in the lack of recruiting success.
There are other factors, among them perhaps difficulties of pay, to which we will come later. Nobody can say that the Army has accepted without question the new pay scales which the Government have put forward. I have a son serving at the moment and in his battalion there is a great deal of anxiety as to exactly what those pay awards mean and whether under this new system of pay they will be better off than they were before or whether, as they believe and fear, they will find that having been given with one hand a fairly hefty increase it is to be taken away by the other hand through tax increases and increased expenses. They want to have fuller details to enable them to make up their minds. This is another factor which mitigates against good recruiting figures.
I believe that in the Far East we are going to be able to fulfil our commitment. I have been lucky enough to be able to go round the Far East during the autumn of last year and to visit all our defence establishments there; and it became very clear that we were needed.
I wish to say something about the Gurkha Brigade in Hong Kong. I think it is unfortunate that the Government are concentrating the Gurkha Brigade only in Hong Kong and that, as far as can be seen, there is no possibility of a single one of those four battalions—as they will be—serving anywhere outside the New Territories. They will be there for all time, for ever more and a day, amen; and, en passant, I hope the Minister of State will urgently examine the condition of the barracks in which Gurkha soldiers and their families are living in the New Territories. A great deal of improvement is necessary for they are definitely sub-standard compared with the kind of accommodation which I know he and all of us would want them to have.
We cannot expect that recruiting will go well in Nepal or that they will continue at the height of efficiency if they are to be stationed solely in the New Territories. I would hope that a change may be possible by sending one battalion for demonstration purposes down to the jungle warfare training school in Malaysia, just over the causeway from Singapore. I would hope it would be possible to have a battalion stationed occasionally in Singapore or somewhere within Malaysia as part of the Commonwealth force. If this does not happen the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend will have great difficulty in recruiting even up to the level of the 6,000 or four battalions.
Speaking of the Gurkha—may I have the Minister of State's attention on this point?—quite definitely hardship is being experienced by retired Gurkha soldiers within Nepal. I do not need to go over what has been said about this and about the appeal by the Lord Mayor of London which I hope is doing well to raise money in this country. But it is incredible that after years of service and the amount of blood spilled by the Gurkha on our behalf in defence of our country we now have to appeal to the general public of this country to support the retired, pensioned soldiers who are living below subsistence level inside the Kingdom of Nepal.
Since I may not be able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he is aware that the pension of a Gurkha lieutenant who served the British Crown for 25 years is £4 10s. a month, which is about one quarter of what he needs to live on in Nepal. Is my hon. Friend aware of those figures?
I repeat that the figure is £4 10s. a month, not a week. That is the reward for a soldier who has served for 20 or 25 years. I know that there are difficulties and that the Government have been very generous in helping to launch the Lord Mayor's appeal, but, truthfully, not enough is being done. We as a country, and as a Parliament here, owe these men a very great deal, and I really would make a plea to the House and the Government to see what they can do to put right this parlous state of affairs. I am certain that if it means raising the level of a pension paid to a Gurkha soldier and officer by 100, 200 or 300 per cent., nobody in this country or on either side of this House would object to that being done. I hope it will happen.
Turning to the position in Europe, the Under-Secretary tried to lead the House astray in speaking about nuclear strategy. I completely disagree with the concept he was putting forward I believe that in their existing strength and position our troops in B.A.O.R., although they are very well armed, are under strength to do the task which I believe they would have to do. This Government have jeopardised their future. I do not believe what is said by many hon. Members, that the nuclear deterrent, is a deterrent, any longer. I do not believe, nor do I think does anybody believe, that we or the Americans are going to push the button first. Should a conventional attack come from eastern Europe, as was pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) earlier and Sir John Hackett in his article, we are only just sufficiently able at this moment to be able to hold a conventional attack for a very short period. I do not believe we have even reached that position or can hold it even with the reinforcement of the brigade which was pulled back to this country and now is being moved to B.A.O.R. I still do not believe that N.A.T.O. would be able to do, or that the B.A.O.R. will be able to fulfil its commitments. We have to strengthen it and this is the worrying factor.
When we had difficulties in Northern Ireland in August of last year we had to pull troops out, not only from B.A.O.R. but from this country, from the strategic reserve. After a great deal of difficulty we elicited this information from the Secretary of State who tried to hide it. If anything had happened in Europe at that moment in August-September, 1969, then we should not have been able to fulfil our commitments. This is disastrous. We were not up to strength. Our troops were committed in Ireland, and we did not have a strategic reserve of more than one battalion in this country. This was stated by the Secretary of State in answer to persistent questioning from this side of the House. Therefore, I believe that we and our allies have a great deal of strengthening of our conventional ground forces to do in Europe.
A basic difficulty facing the Government is recruiting and keeping sufficient men in the forces. One of the things that I think is deterrent to good recruiting is that young men sometimes make mistakes when they come in and want to leave the Army when they have done their training. That position has been improved under the new regulations in that during their first few months they can change their mind. But there are other compassionate cases where things go wrong at home for men who have perhaps served a year or two of their initial engagement and cannot return home.
A constituent of mine, a paratrooper, Private Marshall, has grave difficulties at home. His father is very ill and his business is about to be sold. The man also has grave marital problems. Yet the Minister has not been able so far to give the man his release or allow him to buy himself out. This kind of thing is extremely bad for the image the Army presents to young people. I know all the difficulties in such cases, but I ask the Minister to look at it with much more compassion and see whether the rules and regulations can be bent or moved a bit more than they are. There is nothing worse than a reluctant soldier who does not want to go on serving.
There is a great deal to do. Although the Army is very much below strength the morale of the forces I have seen in the Far East and Middle East is as high as it can be. But they and their allies in N.A.T.O. are being asked by the Government to do more than they are capable of doing and, much worse, the Army will not be able to fulfil the commitments it should be fulfilling. I am most unhappy about the present situation.
I wish to bring the debate back to Northern Ireland and to discuss the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the rôle of the British Army in Northern Ireland. I make no apology for taking up the time of the House in an Army Estimates debate in talking about a relatively small portion of the Estimates. Through no fault of mine or of other hon. Members, a convention prevents me from speaking in debates on normal issues affecting Northern Ireland. Therefore, I am forced to take opportunities like this to raise matters affecting my constituents and my country in this House.
I do not join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the British Army for its presence in Northern Ireland. I say that carefully, because I realise that the individual soldiers and battalions are doing the best they can in the situation in which they find themselves. But they have been sent by the Government to Northern Ireland to restore law and order, and I think it very unfair of the Government to try to tell hon. Members or the British Army that they can do an effective job. The reason for the presence of the British Army in Northern Ireland is simply to maintain the status quo, to maintain the existing situation. so that it is not allowed to get further out of hand. But the British Army by its presence becomes an integral part of life in Northern Ireland and therefore it becomes part of the whole situation there which led to the breakdown in August. Very few people complain about the time when the British Army came into Derry on 14th August because, as they came, whatever the political motivation and whaetver their rôle within the framework of Socialism or Imperialism, their presence prevented further disaster in Londonderry.
However, when the British Army is expected over a period of time to do a particular job—to restore the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland in the present system of Government there—it is understandable that tributes cannot be paid to it, for it cannot do that effectively. Nothing will restore confidence in the Government of Northern Ireland or even in the system of Government in the North of Ireland except the complete implementation of reforms. I am not talking simply about the kind of reform that is put down in a communiqué between this Parliament and that of Northern Ireland and subsequently forgotten about, like the introduction of legislation against religious hatred, which was included in a communiqué and then forgotten. Nor can it be solved by simply placing on the Statute Book a number of paper reforms. It must—
I am simply drawing the background against which it can be seen that the money invested in keeping the British Army there in existing circumstances is a waste of the British tax-papers' money and of Army time, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Army cannot perform the function the Government have set it, to restore law and order and confidence in Northern Ireland. That can be done only by a massive housing programme and a massive investment in jobs in Northern Ireland.
Therefore, we ask ourselves why the British Army is in Northern Ireland. Why, having moved it there on 14th August, can the British Government not take it out of Northern Ireland? Again, the answer is quite simple. To remove the British Army is to remove any sem- blance of peace-keeping in Northern Ireland. The Government must face the fact that they can no longer see a military function for the British Army in Northern Ireland, but they cannot take it out because the rôle of professional, trained soldiers in Northern Ireland at this time is as a referee between dissidents in the Unionist Party and the parliamentary party in Stormont, between Catholics and Protestants, and between differing political ideas in Northern Ireland.
General Freeland has under his command seven major units of the British Army and members of the B Specials. There are a number of jobs the Army should be doing. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has already referred to explosions in Northern Ireland. In the town of Lisburn are stationed all the bomb-disposal experts. though there has yet to be one solitary explosion in Lisburn. We hear the arguments that the B Specials must take their guns home with them, and sooner or later there will be the argument that the firemen must take their fire engine home with them. Yet we cannot have the experienced members of the British Army stationed where it is quite likely that explosions will occur. We have not to date had them stationed in Belfast, Derry or areas west of the Bann. Having them in Lisburn is a waste of time.
Nobody has been brought to justice, nobody has been caught in the act of causing explosions, which are of one stick of gelignite. The skill of the British Army and the experience of the B Specials, well known to hon. Gentlemen opposite, are totally failing to detect people who can place a bomb under a statue, be seen by a civilian and yet still have that explosion take place before the Army expert can arrive on the scene.
There is also the matter of the B Specials being under the control of the Army. Here we have the question of Mr. John Gallagher—
—then I am entitled to talk about what General Freeland does or does not do. On that basis, I think I would be entitled to continue talking about his failure to employ the B Specials proper. I refer particularly to one particular platoon of the B Specials. During the August troubles this platoon was implicated in the death of Mr. John Gallagher and to date nobody has been brought to the courts in Northern Ireland for the death of Mr. Gallagher. Although there have been substantial allegations against the B Specials, General Freeland has not disbanded this platoon from its duties nor has he instigated an inquiry into its behaviour at that time. This is the responsibility of General Freeland since he employs in his service in Northern Ireland men who are implicated in a homicide inquiry and at the same time he asks us in Northern Ireland to have faith in him and confidence in his restoration of law and order.
So we have the British Army in Northern Ireland performing no military function and performing duties which are now becoming irritable even to the members of the British Army and one will find ordinary soldiers in Northern Ireland saying, "This is not what I joined the British Army for. I did not join the British Army to play policeman in Northern Ireland. I am a soldier, not a sorter out of petty squabbles." The British Army is being used for that end and it cannot be withdrawn because of the political situation. Therefore, I should like an assurance from the Minister as to when he can see any possibility of taking the British Army out of Northern Ireland, because he cannot do it until a system of government has been introduced in that part of the country which will lend itself to having any kind of credence with the people of that part of the country.
In view of the existing political situation between members of the governing party that is not likely in the foreseeable future. In fact, we are more likely to be faced with a Government who will turn their back on every reform promised. What can we then expect from the British Army and the House? Is it to be along the lines which we have already had from the House—the formation of a totally useless regiment such as the Ulster Defence Regiment? We were told that the Ulster Defence Regiment was to be formed for the protection of the State of Northern Ireland.
Repeated Questions to the Minister have failed to elicit any further elaboration on this point, and the Minister has almost been forced to the point of admitting that there is no military function for the Ulster Defence Regiment. Therefore, we come back to the matter raised when the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill was going through this House—that the Bill was passed, and the regiment formed, in order to get this Government out of a very sticky position. This Government were then faced with a Government in revolt and they were then faced with a force of B Specials which was armed and was not loyal to this Government or to this House.
I sometimes quarrel with the hon. Lady's logic more than with her views. The hon. Lady has said —and we all applaud it—that the bomb outrages are a disgrace to Northern Ireland and ought to be stopped and prevented. She clearly does not want the Army to do that and as I understand it, she does not want the Ulster Constabulary, special or regular, to do it. It seems she is saying that she does not want the Ulster Defence Regiment to do it. Who does the hon. Lady want to do it?
I think that the Minister is being his usual illogical smart self. I did not say that I did not want the Army to do it. I said that the professional soldiers of the British Army have quite visibly failed to do it and, having failed to do it, does the Minister think that a half-cocked semi-professional voluntary Royal Ulster Defence Regiment will be any more successful?
I think that the police should be doing it and that the Army should be doing it but both have visibly failed. In connection with explosions that took place more than a year ago, before our last Prime Minister bit the dust, we have just had people brought to court. I am not quarrelling with the jury who found them innocent nor with the evidence brought before the court, although I think that the prosecution could have brought forward a little more evidence. But I am saying that the fact that a number of men were acquitted for this offence does not mean that it can now be forgotten.
The situation at the moment is that nobody has yet been brought to justice for this particular explosion because the people brought before the courts have been acquitted. Therefore, we must find the people responsible. Or are we to assume that one individual—Mr. Stephenson—now serving 12 years, did it all by himself and if he did and the Army could not even catch him, the sooner you all clear out the better.
I do not want the British Army to withdraw unconditionally as of this moment from Northern Ireland, on the basis that when the British Government take with their Army every last trace of British imperialism out of my country, that is when I want them out.
[Laughter.] It well befits a Socialist Minister to laugh at the word imperialism.
To continue with the Ulster Defence Regiment—in view of the fact that some day we may have a Socialist Minister on the Front Benches to hear such an argument—we have a regiment which was formed on the basis of a so-called military regiment. It was put before this House at the time of the Ulster Defence Regiment Bill—and it was agreed to by a substantial number of hon. Members on this side of the House—that the reason the Bill was brought before the House and the reason why the regiment was formed was that the Government could not deal with the force of 8,500 armed B Specials in Northern Ireland who did not accept their authority. We were told that the Specials would be disarmed and the Ulster Defence Regiment formed. Now we are told that the Defence Regiment will be activated on 1st April and the B Specials will be disbanded on 30th April.
I should like the Minister to state clearly now how, when it was admitted by Government Ministers that they could not disarm the B Specials in August, they are going to disarm 6,500 B Specials now. How will it be any easier now to get these men to hand in their guns just because there is the U.D.R. than in August when there was no U.D.R.? The only basis for forming that regiment was to fool the B Specials into thinking that they were getting new guns for old. One accepts in the Counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh that this is what they are getting. I assure the Minister, who laughs—"ignorance is bliss because 'tis folly to be wise"—that he will find that members of the U.D.R. will have new guns and old. If he does not believe that, he should place an order for a number of small provincial newspapers of Northern Ireland. He should get the back copies for about three weeks and go through the small paragraphs which say, for example, "B Special's gun stolen" or, "House raided, gun stolen". That is exactly what happened in the 1950s. These guns will not be found. Hon. Members will find those paragraphs in the Ulster Observer, the Mid-Ulster Mail, the Irish News and the Newsletter.
This situation will continue because the new regiment will be paranoid. This is because, in the eastern counties and around Belfast, the regiment will be predominantly manned by Catholics who joined in order to keep the Protestants out and in the other counties it will be predominantly manned by Protestants who joined to keep the Catholics out. There is not the makings of one soldier in the regiment, because not one of them joined on the basis that the Minister hoped. They have joined on a partisan basis, to keep someone else out. If he licks that lot into soldiers, he will be doing well.
But if the Minister does do it, what will the regiment do? What is its function going to be? I know that the Minister will come forward with his usual glib argument, "If the hon. Lady does not want to see the new regiment, if she does not want the B Specials to continue in existence, what does she want?" It may be beyond his logic to think of a third alternative, but there is one. This is to disband the B Specials. to disband the U.D.R. and to allow the British Army to do the work of the British Army and the police to do the work of the police, and to insist, which is what the British Government should be doing, that the problem can be solved not by the creation of a police and military state in Northern Ireland but by making the Northern Ireland Government get on with changing the system of government we have had. That will only be done by giving us more houses and more jobs.
The situation in Derry is not being helped at the moment. Residents of Clooney Park are being evicted by the military simply because there were houses standing empty while people in Derry—
Perhaps I may explain again. The property in Clooney Park is currently being occupied by a number of civilian families. It is owned by the Ministry of Defence. The residents of these houses have been told that they may be necessary for the Army in Derry. If they do become necessary for the Army in Derry to have, the civilian population there will be put out of their homes to make way for the Army because the party represented by hon. Members opposite cannot provide houses for the people, although it can provide certain private investors with enough money to clear off to the Bahamas. No Defence Estimates or Army Estimates will solve the problem until we have decent homes and enough jobs and until we have disposed of the party represented by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who is just getting to his feet.
I do not want to take up very much more time upon the problem of the Army Estimates as they affect Northern Ireland. but I should say a word or two to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). In speaking in debate, I usually try to find something in common with the hon. Member I follow. I try to find some common ground on which we might agree. Oddly enough, she will be surprised, perhaps even horrified, when I say that I did find some common ground with her, on one thing at any rate.
This is in the fact that it may be, looking to the long-term position in Northern Ireland, that the Treasury will conceivably be persuaded that extra money spent upon, for example, rehousing the population in the centre of Belfast, in the area primarily represented by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), will be better spent than on the maintenance of two brigades of troops in perpetuity. In that respect, I could agree with her.
But, of course, the hon. Lady would not fundamentally agree with that view, because her solution, which is one of total despair, is that "the last vestige of British imperialism" ought to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland. She will not be satisfied with anything less.
Perhaps I may explain. I am not interested in getting rid of British imperialism just because it is British imperialism. The hon. Gentleman is getting it back to front. I believe that we cannot achieve a decent standard of living in Northern Ireland until we get rid of it, because people like the hon. and gallant Gentleman represent it.
With great respect to the hon. Lady, it is difficult to understand what she means by "British imperialism". She undoubtedly wants to get rid of me. That is all right, but she has to get rid of more than me. She has to get rid of more than my hon. Friends on this side of the House. She has to get rid of more than the members of the Ulster Government. She has to get rid of more than the British Army. She has to get rid of the two-thirds of the population of Northern Ireland who wish to be British and who regard the British Army as their own Army, there by right.
It is typical ignorance on the hon. and gallant Gentleman's part to equate British imperialism with Protestantism. This is where he makes reference to two-thirds of the population. It is nonsense. The people he is talking about live in the slums of Northern Ireland. These are the people on whose behalf I am fighting. These are the people whose interests have been represented by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's party for 50 years. His party has never shown that two-thirds of the population are on its side, but those people must inevitably stand on mine.
It is impossible to follow in any meaningful way what the hon. Lady is trying to say. It was she who introduced the sectarian note just now. I said nothing about the Protestant population. I said that two-thirds of the population, whether Catholic or Protestant, have shown in successive elections that they want to be British. They regard the British Army as their Army, there by right. That applies to the majority of the population. It is probably, indeed, more than two-thirds.
Presumably, the hon. Lady would reject as a "vestige of British imperial- ism "those members of the Catholic community who have joined the Ulster Defence Regiment. She has certainly done nothing to encourage the regiment. She would regard those Catholics who join it as being dupes of British imperialism, no doubt. We, on the contrary, regard them as being responsible citizens who have come forward to protect the security of the land in which they live, and more power to them. We would like to see more of them. I agree with the view expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who hoped that more would be done, although it is difficult to see exactly what more could be done to encourage members of the Roman Catholic community to join the regiment.
In fairness to the Minister and the military authorities, it is very difficult for them to get a force balanced in a way which would reflect the rest of the community if they do not get the volunteers. It is very difficult to call upon one section of the community to volunteer in a special way, without appearing to lose one's position of impartiality. They are in a difficult position on this. I hope that the hon. Lady's view will not be taken by any responsible person, whatever be their ultimate aim, and that this regiment will be recruited and will be a success. Everybody who has any responsibility wants to see that.
I agree with the hon. Lady that we all want to see the explosions brought to an end. Though, again to be fair to the military authorities, they are not primarily a military responsibility. Policing is a matter for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Security is a matter for General Freeland and the Army. I am sure that the Minister will bear me out on this, that policing is very much a matter for the Royal Ulster Constabulary; that the overall responsibility for policing is in the hands of the security committee presided over by the Minister of Home Affairs in Northern Ireland.
The military interest in it, which effects these Estimates, is the extent to which vulnerable installations can be protected, and it may be that the home of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast, West, might be a vital installation in this connotation. But my point is that it is a military responsibility to protect these vital installations, and if ever there was a justification for the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment it is this continued series of explosions.
I know that the hon. Lady is against the defence of the security of Northern Ireland—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] She is, and I am not misrepresenting her. Therefore, I ask the House to discount what she says in this respect. The majority of the people in Northern Ireland want to be secure.
I agree with some of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's remarks, but who does he believe is now threatening the security of Northern Ireland? Does he believe an attack is imminent from the I.R.A.? Has he not heard about the speech in Tralee by the Taoiseach, where it was agreed that force is not the solution? Who does he believe intends to attack Northern Ireland?
Every one of these explosions is an attack upon the security of Northern Ireland. No one has the slightest idea who causes the explosions.
The main point is to bring them to justice. Every one of them is an attack upon security, upon investment in Northern Ireland, upon the employment of the people, on the provision of new factories, and on the welfare of the people. If ever there was a justification for the Ulster Defence Regiment, it is this.
I accept the view of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, who said he had been against the Ulster Defence Regiment's being formed because he did not think that it was necessary, but that he was a realist and accepted the fact that it was in being. He made certain comments about it. I want to be constructive, in making one or two points myself.
My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) raised the subject of the armouries. There is no doubt that it will be possible to bring about a situation where there are fewer arms kept at home under the Ulster Defence Regiment than are currently kept at home by the Ulster Special Constabulary. But it might be a bad policy to have too large armouries concentrated in too few places. If it is intended to store arms in armouries, then, in the context of the job to be done in Northern Ireland, it makes sense to have smaller armouries in a number of places.
One can envisage the situation which could arise in the case of two towns in my constituency. Banbridge and Newry are about 15 miles apart. It would be difficult to ensure their security if there were only one large armoury. A small one at Banbridge, possibly of platoon size, could be guarded by a special arangement with the police. If there were an incident anywhere in the area of Banbridge and the only armoury were at Newry, those called out would have to go to Newry and then back again to Banbridge. The same must be true of a great many places in Northern Ireland.
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will accept that we are extremely conscious of the security problems resulting from the concentration of arms in armouries. However, I hope that he will also accept that, in our view, those security problems do not and would not justify the continuation of a policy where a large number of arms are kept in the homes of individuals.
I accept that there could be a certain lack of security in that, but perhaps, in turn, the hon. Gentleman will accept that large armouries are very insecure. On one occasion, the arms of a whole battalion were stolen from an armoury during the course of a carefully planned operation. It makes security sense not to have too many arms in one place. There is a great deal to be said for smaller packets, both from the point of view of tactical availability and from the point of view of security.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House about the kind of arms that the U.D.R. is to have and whether they will be available for those members who are enrolled by 1st April. Can he also say whether uniforms and other equipment will be ready by that date, and whether the regiment will have the necessary hutments or drill halls which may be required? Information on all these points will be useful and will go some way to allay certain anxieties that the day may go off half-cock.
It was my intention to deal with one or two aspects of security vetting. I will do so in very general terms. Obviously, a number of people will be turned down as a result of the vetting and, equally obviously, it does not make sense for the military authorities to give their reasons. However, a difficulty arises when a man is turned down against whom there is no obvious reason—
I am not talking about any individual case.
Sometimes a man is turned down because of a family association with one of the subversive organisations, such as the I.R.A. The man may be totally opposed to the views of the rest of his family, but he has no means of appealing against his rejection.
Would the Under-Secretary look at the possibility of some kind of appeal to an impartial body? I know that this would be setting a precedent, but the Ulster Defence Regiment itself creates a precedent. There is nothing like it. It is unique and it does not necessarily follow that the procedure instituted for the regiment would have to be applied anywhere else. The hon. Member for Belfast, West would probably agree that some people may be turned down unfairly. It may be difficult, but perhaps a system of appeal could be worked out.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady the Members for Mid-Ulster, who has now left the chamber, but I do agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West—
I am ruining my own. Someone talked about the debate being incestuous. I hope that we do not carry it too far.
Broadly, the Army has done a good job and for that we are all grateful. However, military forces used in such a situation, supporting the civil power, ought to be removed as soon as possible. Soldiers are not policemen, they are not trained for police duties, and there is a feeling at present in Northern Ireland that they could perhaps be withdrawn from police duties a little faster than is happening.
Let me give one example. A search was carried out of the fishing fleet in Kilkeel, in my constituency. I cannot see why that search for arms could not have been carried out by the police. There was no likelihood of resistance, the fisher- men were willing that the fleet should be searched and the Royal Ulster Constabulary could have done the job. There has been a dispute about how the search was carried out and the Under-Secretary has set up an inquiry. We all want to see the situation come about when policing is done by the police. The military garrison will remain in Northern Ireland—there has always been one there and we want to see the Army there. It may well be that in the foreseeable future we will have two brigades instead of one, but in the long term the money would be better spent on housing and employment.
I will be brief, because a number of my hon. Friends who have been present throughout the debate are anxious to speak.
It is common ground that there is serious concern over the state of our reserves. I agreed with the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle), who complained that the Territorial Army was not the best form of reserve for the Regular Army. Today, the Regular Army reserve is very short of men indeed, mainly because it is a long time since the majority of engagements were for either six years with the Colours and six on reserve, or seven years with the Colours and five on reserve.
Our all-Regular Army has not been in existence for long and its numbers are gradually building up. In the meantime, we must rely on the T.A. to fill the gap. It is regrettable, therefore, that the Government should have taken every possible step to reduce the size of the T.A.—from 105,000 in 1964 to 45,000 today. Because of severe shortages in the T.A., it cannot be used effectively. It is a tragedy that the Government should have turned away useful volunteers in their mad pursuit to reduce the size of the T.A.
Leaving aside the question whether conscription will ever be necessary, the recruiting figures reflect confidence, or lack of it, in the long-term future of jobs in the forces, interest in those jobs and whether or not it is considered that the men are receiving satisfactory rates of pay. The Government say that because of the reduction in the size of the catchment area, the recruiting figures are not as good as they used to be.
It is worth recalling that the average for the last five years of Conservative rule was 27.000 recruits a year, with 34,000 in the best year, which was 1962. They were all for regular engagement. By comparison, the recruiting figures under Labour have been very poor. In 1967, we recruited 20,000; in 1968, 16,000; and last year, 19,000, the last figure having been hailed in the Defence White Paper as a triumph. This shows that there is something seriously wrong with recruiting, and it is arrogant in the extreme for the Government to say, "We have the biggest possible Army that we can accumulate, so that if the Tories implement their policies there will be conscription".
Why need we have conscription? We do not conscript policemen or nurses. We pay the rate for the job, and if we find that we do not get sufficient recruits we make life even more attractive for them. Hon. Gentlemen opposite try to smear our policies by saying that their implementation would result in conscription.
But it is not the inevitable result. To produce a large-scale continental Army of the type provided by Western Germany, conscription would be needed, but there is no suggestion that Tory policy is for a huge continental Army, so it is rubbish to suggest that we want conscription.
One or two of my hon. Friends have suggested that conscription was the right way to get larger numbers into the forces, but that does not mean that the whole of my party believes it. I believe the opposite. In the days of Conservative rule we were able to maintain an Army of 20,000 more than the present Army, and that Army was building up. I believe that conscrpition is thoroughly unsatisfactory. It is unsettling for Regulars when they have to mix with National Service men who are pinning up calendars and saying, "Roll on the 45 days until my time expires". There is a much happier atmosphere in an all-Regular Army. Some people believe that conscription would be a useful way of training the youth of the nation, but I do not believe that the Army should be used for this purpose.
As a result of the decisions taken in the early 1960s for the re-equipment of the Army the position is now fairly satisfactory. I give the Government credit for producing one major piece of equipment for which I have been asking year after year, and that is the self-propelled medium gun. I am glad that we are to get it at last.
May I speak briefly on two subjects, as I know other hon. Members wish to speak. The first is the TAVR, in which I am a serving officer. One or two pertinent points have arisen on this subject during the last month or so. Last week, in reply to a Question from me, the Minister told the House that the TAVR was 22 per cent. under strength. The effectiveness of an organisation which is nearly a quarter under strength must be somewhat suspect, and I believe that recruitment is nothing like as fast as the Minister would have the House believe.
The White Paper states that 3,400 of the 7,000 or more recruits acquired during 1969 came from TAVR III. Those 3,400 men represent a source of recruitment which will not be repeated. In the light of this obvious forecast, I am surprised that the amount of money to be spent on TAVR recruiting has been cut from over £90,000 to a mere £75,000, which is a trifling sum in relation to the urgency of the task.
I said last week at Question Time, and I repeat, that the TAVR is comparatively unknown among the people of the country. They believe that the T.A. was abolished and do not realise that it has been resurrected. The Minister blamed the Opposition for that lack of knowledge. In my wildest moments, I cannot follow that line of argument. I hope that he will spend a little more money on advertising to make sure that the people of this country, and youth in particular, know that the TAVR exists.
I am sure that the pay rise for the forces will be most welcome in TAVR. I hope that with the already rather elaborate administration of a part-time Army we shall not become too bogged down in charging for trifling sums spent at weekend training centres or for an evening at a drill hall. Although these matters have yet to be worked out, it would be a pity to overload the administration.
I have written to the Minister several times about the P.S.O.s. I should like to quote briefly from a letter which I wrote to the Minister on the subject on 10th December of last year. I quoted an officer with great experience of the T.A. and I wrote:
The Minister's reply shows an almost total lack of appreciation of the calibre of the majority of this dedicated band of men and women. Despite the pittance they are paid they give freely and willingly of their own time to further the interests of the TAVR. Indeed if they did not they would be failures in their jobs. Without them the TAVR would fail utterly—they could be described without fear of exaggeration or emotion as the backbone of the organisation.
The Minister was interested in what I said, but he did not promise to take up my suggestion that he should have consultations with commanding officers and canvass the opinions of Regular officers in command of the TAVR. They are under-rewarded, they work long hours for little but thanks, and their case is worthy of attention. The fact that they are not eligible for the T.D. is a pity. This matter has been taken up in correspondence and I hope that something can be done, since it would cost nothing.
The cadres are suffering from a total lack of manpower. Three officers and five men is hardly sufficient to be a self-administering unit. It has been a widespread experience that the accounts of parent units have not been carried out. I hope that the Minister will consider the question of a modest expansion in the cadres. He must feel that they are necessary or he would never have instituted them in the first place. I hope that the T.A.V.R. will never be involved in actually keeping the peace, but with the experience of Ulster still ringing in our ears I am sure that it is the unknown factors which threaten us that must be considered.
I should like to raise one brief matter relating to the disbandment of H Troop, Royal Corps of Transport. I was unlucky in the Ballot, or I would have raised this matter on the Adjournment. I believe that the disbandment of this organisation, charged with the responsibility of animal transport, the last remaining small organisation, is a false economy. It involves a very small number of men, two officers and 40 men, at an annual cost of less than £40,000.
On the "sliced" costing used when anything is to be abolished, the cost has been talked up to a figure of £80,000. The job done by these people is obvious. Helicopters cannot go everywhere, they cannot fly to great heights, or in heat, or in great humidity. In Vietnam, where the Americans have 4,000 helicopters, large numbers of pack transport mules, horses and oxen are being used.
I ask that a handful of these men should be retained. The disbandment is due to take place on 31st March, so the time is short. If some arrangement could be made I am sure that the country would be grateful.
I should like to thank my hon. Friends for curtailing their speeches so as to enable me to participate in the debate. I have only a very few minutes left to me, so I will refer to one subject only on Vote A of the Army Estimates. That Vote concerns the retired pay and pensions of the Gurkha soldier and his dependants.
I make no apology for selecting this item. The Minister who is to reply to the debate will appreciate my interest and concern in this subject, because he arrived in Kathmandu in the autumn shortly after I departed. As he knows, I did my Army service in the Gurkhas and I have a strong personal interest in the subject.
I wish briefly to set the background to the present position. Gurkha soldiers have served the British Crown for 150 years; 200,000 were recruited to serve this country in the First World War and 175,000 in the Second World War. In those two conflicts and in almost continuous active service since the 1950s, the Gurkhas have suffered 43,000 casualties and won 26 Victoria Crosses. There are 15,000 ex-Service men of the brigade today and 64,000 dependants in Nepal. This number will rise to 125,000 when the rundown referred to in the Vote takes effect. These numbers, however, under-estimate the true number of dependants. The economy of large sections of the Himalayas, with a population of many millions, is vitally dependent on the remittances and payments of Gurkha soldiers to their families in Nepal.
These are cold statistics, but there are the warmer facts that the Gurkha soldier and his family have been the truest, toughest, most good-humoured and loyal friends of Britain for over a century. There is a bond of friendship and trust which places an obligation on this country of a unique and special kind.
I wish to quote only two examples which I found on my recent trek. They are completely typical of the situation in the mountains of Nepal. I quote the examples of two Gurkha pensioners whom I met. I use different names, but the details are absolutely true. Lieutenant Ganesh Gurung retired a few years ago after 24 years' service with the British Crown. He served this country through the North African Campaign and in Italy and has been on almost continuous active service since the last war. Since the outbreak of the Malayan emergency he fought in Borneo and Malaya.
The other case was that of Sergeant Bhimbahader Gurung, who was once serving with me in Malaya. He served the British Crown for 15 years and now he has been declared redundant under the run-down and has returned to his village in Nepal, which is at about 6,000 feet, right at the foot of Annapurna, in some of the most magnificent scenery in the world, but where there are no medical or other facilities to meet the needs of the people or arrangements to meet disasters. There are no roads for hundreds of miles.
The pension of Lieutenant Ganesh, who served the Crown for 24 years, is £4 10s. a month. Sergeant Bhimbahadur—and these are typical cases—has a pension, after 15 years of almost continuous active service, of £2 10s. a month. I do not seek to make comparisons with British officers, but a officer, after 24 years' service, would be receiving approximately £73 a month against the £4 10s. of this Gurkha lieutenant. Yet, of course, their responsibility throughout their service would have been very similar.
What is more pertinent is that the cost of living in the mountains of Nepal has risen sharply. I have checked statements of many retired Gurkha pensioners one against the other. To live at reasonable levels, but not far off subsistence level in the mountains of Nepal, it costs £12 to £14 a month: three to five times the pensions of this retired Gurkha lieutenant and sergeant. The average wage of a manual labourer in Nepal is £5 a month, which is more than the pension of a Gurkha lieutenant who has served the British Army for 24 years.
The House may wonder how our pensioners survive. They do so in two ways. Most of them inherit, or purchase with their Army savings, a piece of land—probably about 2 acres—which can be double cropped with millet and rice. But land is exceptionally scarce and expensive in Nepal. It costs about £400 an acre. That £400 an acre, for land which is essential for these retired pensioners to survive, must be compared with a pension of £4 10s. a month.
The other means that makes the Himalayas financially viable—there are millions of people living in this crucially strategic part of the world—is through the remittances of serving members to their families. They may come from sons who followed their fathers for 150 years down through the generations serving the British Crown. I make no political point, but the run-down of the Gurkhas will substantially reduce this major, if not the main, source of extraneous income throughout the whole of the 300 or 400 miles of the Himalayas.
I do not wish to leave the House with a picture of Gurkha pensioners living in abject poverty. Compared with some others in the mountains, they survive quite well. They are cheerful, loyal to Britain, and always delighted to see others with whom they served, whether they be British officers or other ranks, and their hospitality is unbounded.
In view of the run-down of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the rapid inflation that is occurring in the Himalayas, the intense competition for any kind of work—there really is no work for the retired Gurkha soldier—and, above all, the lower level of future remittances from serving Gurkhas, the outlook is extremely serious along these 400 miles stretch of the Himalayan mountains. Hence, the appeal to which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) referred. I should point out that £150,000 has already been raised from Gurkha officers and soldiers, who are paid a mere fraction of what British soldiers are paid. From just the officers and men of the Brigade of Gurkhas £150,000 has already been raised for the Gurkha Appeal.
I think that I know, as well as the Minister, the main details of the tripartite agreement between this country, India and Nepal. I am also aware that, traditionally, we followed and kept in line with the pay and pensions of the Indian Government's provisions for their Gurkha troops. But I am sure that the Minister knows that the Indian Government have never abided too closely with the terms of the tripartite agreement concerning recruiting. Nor would they, the Indians, mind if we did not. We all know this to be true.
I make no point about the difficulties of the Nepalese Government. They are obviously in a tenuous position, squeezed between China and India. But I appeal to the Government to look again at the question of following, 18 months' later, the rise in pensions of the Indian Gurkhas. The time has come for us to meet our obligations in a different way; not just slavishly to follow the Indians 18 months behind. We must strike out with an independent line. We must make proper provision for those who have served the British Crown for 150 years.
I quote the figures again. A Gurkha lieutenant, retired after 24 years' service, gets £4 10s. a month, and it certainly does not cost less than £12 a month to survive in the mountains of Nepal. A Gurkha sergeant, who served the British Crown for 15 years, gets £2 10s. a month. We are not, despite the tripartite agreement, meeting our real obligations to these most loyal friends of Britain for 150 years.
It is perhaps symbolic that the dominating problem for the Army during this year, upon which so much of our debate has concentrated, has been the problem of the operation in Ulster and the continuation of it. I do not want to add very much to what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) have said in straightening out some of the more extraordinary remarks and suggestions made by the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). The hon. Lady is fully entitled to come here and express her views in any way that she likes, but it is a little lacking in courtesy that she neither attended the opening speeches, when the Minister spoke about Ulster, nor apparently does she intend to be here for the winding-up speeches.
I want to add my voice to those who have said that there can hardly have been anyone in the United Kingdom or beyond who was not immensely impressed by the conduct of the British soldiers in the problems they encountered in Ulster. The example which they set was one which could be followed in many parts of the world.
I should like to welcome the Under-Secretary and congratulate him on his first appearance in the Army Estimates as a Minister for the Army and at the same time to say how sorry we are that this will be his last such appearance. I am not at all convinced that it is a good thing to abolish the separate offices of Ministers representing each of the three services. I do not accept that it necessarily follows that because the problems of defence organisation are increasingly coming under one organisation, which I support, the Services can do without a real head which they can recognise as such.
I appreciate that there appears to be some opinion among those who have worked in the Ministry that it will be helpful in reaching decisions if the political side is not divided in this way. The Under-Secretary's office has a long history going back to the reign of Charles II and has accommodated such famous names as Lord Castlereagh, Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Cardwell, Lord Haldane and others. This is a sad night—the last time that the equivalent of the Minister for War will present the Army Estimates to the House.
I hope that in the future organisation of the Ministry, Ministers will bear in mind that it is necessary for the individual Serviceman to feel that he has someone who understands his particular problems in a real and personal way. I hope that the new organisation will manage to find a way of letting the Serviceman feel that there is someone he knows in charge of his affairs. There is, nevertheless, a considerable amount of common ground between us in the handling of Army affairs. We are agreed that we can truthfully say that there is no Army in Europe, probably in the world, with a higher standing, reputation, greater skill and higher morale than ours, irrespective of any other criticisms that may be made.
There is common ground, in that no one believes that it is possible to equip and produce a conventional force alone sufficient to stand up against anything that might be thrown against it. I thought that there was common ground, certainly between the two Front Benches, over our firm support for N.A.T.O. and our belief that we should play an important rôle in it. I have discovered that this is not so. I very much welcome the new military salary as a genuine and skilful attempt to put right a long-standing problem, namely, how to convince the potential soldier that he can enjoy a worthwhile career and a proper rate of pay. I am immensely impressed by the skill and quality of the work which has gone into producing this report and our admiration should be recorded tonight of those who have undertaken this extremely difficult task.
There are, however, two things I want to say on the military salary which I hope will be borne in mind in the critical months ahead. I believe that, one way or the other, its success will be determined within the next six months, because it will be the impression that a soldier gets of the scheme in those first months that will inevitably govern his feelings about it for some time to come. The first thing the Minister should bear in mind is that, despite the excellence of the work done in introducing this scheme, there are bound to be many anomalies which will become apparent when the scheme comes into effect.
I ask Ministers to try their best to be as flexible as possible in swiftly ironing out such anomalies as are brought to notice. I hope that when anomalies are brought to their attention they will resist the temptation to put off the day and to say, "We will not put this right at the moment. We will bear it in mind and, when the time comes to review the scheme, we may deal with it then." It is quite critical that when genuine ano- malies are brought up they should be quickly put right. I hope that Ministers will have Treasury authority to do that, within reason, because it is extremely important from every point of view.
There are already apparent anomalies which may not be anomalies, because people do not understand. I have found for example, that many members of the forces are far from clear on what will happen when a soldier is obliged to stay in barracks, perhaps on one night, doing guard duty or some other duty. Among those to whom I have spoken in the forces there are two schools of thought at the moment. Some say that if a man is obliged to stay in barracks, he will be charged for his stay. Others say there As no intention of charging when a soldier is on duty not of his own choosing, whether it is in barracks or not.
I have looked at the regulations in the Prices and Incomes Board's Report and, if I have read them correctly, it appears that no one will be allowed to stay in barracks without bearing a charge unless he is there for 48 hours or longer. If that is so—and I may be quite wrong for I have had only the regulations to look at—I can see a major anomaly there in that if a soldier has to do an extra duty of this kind, he will find that he not only has to do it but has to pay for doing it, too.
My second point is that I hope plans have been made and laid in good time beforehand to cope with a completely new attitude on the part of the soldier to the services he uses. It simply will not do if plans have not been made to take account of the new attitude of the soldier and his family to their married quarters. It will no longer be sufficient to expect the soldier to pay a realistic rent, as he will do in future from his military salary, for a house which has no refrigerator, which may have old cooking facilities, may be rather cramped and may have other things wrong with it. I am not making out that married quarters generally are in this condition, but some are, and we can expect a soldier to have a legitimate grievance about this in future.
I hope that careful consideration has been given to the major problems of feeding which will arise as a result of the military salary. The planning of cookhouse meals will become extremely difficult until new patterns are found showing how many, in practice, will make use of Army facilities and how many will eat out. I hope that careful thought has been given to this by the catering authorities in the Army.
Recruiting has been the theme to which many of my hon. Friends have come back in the speeches they have made. No one can be complacent about or satisfied with the state of recruiting in the last few years. We are all immensely relieved that recruiting this year has been better than last, but it is very important that we should bear in mind that last year was so catastrophically bad that we should not feel that this is only a minor matter for which we should be thankful. I do not take the pessimistic view on the turn round in recruiting that I feel underlies the speeches that have been made by some of my hon. and right hon. Friends in recent weeks. I have the feeling, particularly after what has been said in recent days, that the military salary is the last desperate throw in the battle of recruiting. I cannot accept that, if it is the thinking in the Ministry.
I am glad to hear that. I beg Ministers to believe that there is still a perfectly good potential for recruiting to the Armed Forces. It is defeatist to suggest that there is not. I have little doubt that given the right changes in attitude to recruiting policy we can get our recruiting back to the much better levels at which they were before.
I believe that money is important, that the military salary will be immensely helpful in recruiting. But far more important is the whole attitude to the Services which comes out from Government statements about the Army and statements by people generally. The situation is by no means confined to the Army. We have only to look at the state of the coal mining industry, in which there has been run-down after run-down all over the country in the past few years. It is not the case that due to the run-downs there is surplus labour in the industry. There is a shortage of labour, because people have not had confidence in the future of their careers and have been leaving the industry.
The same thing is to a large extent responsible for the poor recruiting figures in recent years. However attractive the Army is made, however many advertisements are put out, if the person thinking of becoming a soldier believes, or is told by his father, that he will enter a declining career fewer people will go into it. I should like to see a more robust attitude to the future of recruiting than we have seen recently. If we have it, I am certain that we shall get the recruits.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is a very good point.
I want to review very briefly the deployment of our forces and the way in which our Army is being used. The Government's commitments come basically under four headings. First, there is our commitment to N.A.T.O. Second, we are told that we must have a general capability to undertake small operations wherever our forces may be called upon to do so in various parts of the world. Third, we have specific obligations under treaties to other countries. Fourth, we have and shall still have a commitment of some sort in the Far East.
Anyone who thinks that all is well with the state of N.A.T.O. forces is turning a blind eye to an increasingly worrying situation. There is the threat that the Americans will possibly reduce their forces. I put it like that, because I naturally hope that nothing will be done. We have already lost some of the Canadian forces. In the article by General Sir John Hackett which many speakers have quoted he said:
At the same time conventional ground forces have now become dangerously weak. If we are to reduce the prospect of an early use of nuclear weapons the availability of combat-ready ground forces will have to be increased.
He is someone who really knows what he is talking about.
What is the state of our contribution to N.A.T.O.? The Sixth Division, which has been variously described, according to which statistic Ministers wish to impress the House with, as being in B.A.O.R. or N.A.T.O. or not, is going over there, so that we have a paper increase in N.A.T.O. forces which at least puts one of the Secretary of State's favourite statistics more or less right. But we must not forget that our contribution to N.A.T.O. is all the time short of its war establishment of troops on the ground by about 61,000 other ranks and 6,800 officers. The only thing that will bring it up to war establishment is the bringing over to B.A.O.R. at a time of crisis of the TAVR, which is for that purpose and that purpose alone. That is the cool fact about our forces on the ground in Western Europe. In addition, we have the Regular Reserve, which totals, I understand from a Parliamentary Answer, about 47,000 men. But they are not organised in units. They exist on paper. On previous occasions when such reserves have been called out, double the number required has had to be called out to get the number wanted.
Not only last summer but again today I was rather surprised to hear that we have yet another battalion being removed from the N.A.T.O. commitment in Germany, because there is no other battalion—
The Minister says it is the first, but that is the mistake he always makes, because 6 Brigade which has been in this country is part of N.A.T.O. and that has been raided right through the summer. The Minister knows perfectly well that part of the N.A.T.O. forces have been stationed in this country since 1968 to save foreign exchange. The Minister also knows perfectly well that these forces were substantially used for the Ulster crisis last summer.
The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong. With respect they were not. None of the 6 Brigade forces have at any time been used for Ulster. The whole of 6 Brigade remained intact in this country and was available to go to B.A.O.R. had an emergency arisen.
It is well known to be part of the N.A.T.O. commitment, and that is why I suggest that this battalion which has been taken from Germany has been taken from our N.A.T.O. commitment because we have not the forces for Ulster.
We also have to provide a general capability to intervene in other matters all over the world and, according to a Parliamentary Answer, we have specific treaties to help 30 other countries with defence. Somebody has to think of what we can lay aside for that sort of operation. Finally, there is the Far East commitment; and after the Secretary of State's much vaunted removal from the Far East he intends still to maintain a capability to help on request in that area.
In return for what he said in opening, I ask him what forces he is making available to meet his commitments in the Far East in the next five years or more. We want to know details from where the stocks are coming, from where the backup for them is to come, from where the transport to take them there and back again is to come, and from where the allowance for the six weeks acclimatisation period which the men have to undergo before they can operate in these climates is to come.
I refer briefly to what I thought was one of the silliest parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech when he tried to follow his master's example of picking up—[Interruption.]—I am glad that the Secretary of State has arrived at a critical moment. The hon. Gentleman was picking up the odd sentence in an odd part of an odd statement by someone and drawing completely false conclusions from it.
The hon. Gentleman referred to an article in the Daily Express and made some rather caustic comments about that newspaper which I thought were uncalled for. He quoted these words:
It was perfectly reasonable for him,"—
the Secretary of State for Defence—
to argue that Tory defence policy is impossible without conscription. But that means Tory defence policy is impossible.
Those were his words. Let me now read the actual words in the article.
The laest dud coin to be tendered is Defence Minister Mr. Denis Healey's charge that Tory defence policy 'means conscription'. Not being a nincompoop, Mr. Healey is well aware that it means nothing of the sort. True, it was perfectly reasonable for him to argue
that Tory defence policy is impossible without conscription. But that means Tory defence policy is impossible. To draw the false deduction that rather than abandon the policy they would bring back conscription is an electioneering smear.
That is what was in the article, and that is what the hon. Gentleman should have read.
The point which interested us all in the article in question was the suggestion that for me to say that the Conservative Party would adopt conscription rather than abandon its pledges in opposition was an electioneering smear. That is an odd remark to make, but I think that it was made by a person with great experience of the habits of the Conservative Party when in opposition.
That is not the suggestion now, apparently. The suggestion now is that either we would introduce conscription or scrap the policy. I am delighted to have got to that point because, if the right hon. Gentleman had been here earlier, he would have heard me explain that we are not concerned about the shortage of men. The right hon. Gentleman has cut down the Ghurkas, for no other reason than that he wants to cut down the men. If we wished to do so, there is no reason why we could not get more men from that source. I explained earlier that I had no doubt that, given the right atmosphere, we can get the necessary recruits. By the right atmosphere I mean welcoming people to the Services and offering them a decent career.
We on this side have no intention of introducing conscription. We do not consider that our policy is required. Everyone can be quite clear on that point, if nothing else.
In spite of our differences over defence, which are very real, we in this House can unite in our praise for the outstandingly high regard in which our forces are held not only here but in many parts of the world. They have shown again this year that they have an unrivalled capacity for rising to whatever the occasion demands of them. There is no force in the world which can touch them in the art of achieving maximum results with the minimum of force.
Our criticism from this side of the House is not of our forces but of the Government, who have allowed our forces to face their commitments literally without any reserve in being to back them up. This is a perilous gamble which has paid off so far only because of sheer good luck. It is grossly irresponsible to leave our forces thus exposed, and that is why we intend to provide some reserve which is really in being and genuinely so that we can be defended not by good luck but by good management.
My first task is to offer the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) the congratulations of right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House. I think that this is the first occasion on which he has addressed us from the Dispatch Box. In the past, he sat a little higher up the Front Bench as a Whip. While I am against Whips getting on in the world, I offer him my warm congratulations both on his progress and on his speech.
Earlier in the debate the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) said that it was important that Ireland should not dominate the debate. Immediately before him, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) apologised for what he described as his intrusion as an Irishman in the debate. I want to go on record as saying that his "intrusion"—and that is the wrong word—was very welcome, as were what I may call the other Irish contributions.
They are welcome for two reasons—two reasons I think important to stipulate right at the beginning. The first is that the Army has been playing a notable, indeed, I would argue, distinguished, part in the affairs of Northern Ireland during the last six months. The second is that that Army is a Northern Irish Army as much as it is an English Scottish or Welsh Army. I saw my hon. Friend make exactly this point on television some months ago. I do not think we can emphasise too strongly that the Army is serving the interests of Northern Ireland whether it is on the North German plain, or whether it is in Belfast. It is the Army of the people of Belfast and Londonderry as much as it is the Army of the people of London and of Birmingham.
I take only one example of how this serves the people of Northern Ireland in particular. I was in Belfast very shortly after—within a few days—of the march down the Shankill Road on to and against the Unity Flats. Young British soldiers, few of whom had seen a shot fired in anger before, held the line against that march. They had seen many of their comrades wounded; they had seen a policeman shot and killed; but nevertheless they held the line and maintained the security of the Unity Flats. The Unity Flats stand to this day secure, to prove what the British Army did on that occasion.
The House will understand, therefore, why those of us who have some responsibility for the Army regret that not all speeches this afternoon have included a word of appreciation for what the Army has done. I have no doubt whatsoever that the Army has made a significant contribution to the preservation of peace, the preservation of life, and the preservation of property in Northern Ireland. Indeed, not simply a significant contribution, but the crucial contribution. I think every speech but one made in the House this afternoon was anxious that that should be put on record.
The one exception to that admirable record included the comment that the British Army did not want to be in Northern Ireland doing its present job. Were the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) here, I would have news for her. Neither the Secretary of State nor I want the British Army to be in Northern Ireland doing that particular job. The Northern Ireland situation has produced a magnificent response from the British Army, but it has not produced the response which anyone in their right mind would want to continue for very long. Anyone who needs the assurance may have it; we are anxious that the situation should return to peace in Northern Ireland, at such a speed and in such a way that the British Army can be deployed on tasks which are more usual and more consistent with its history and with its training.
One of the things which we hope and believe will help that day to come about is the formation of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and I must spend at least some moments telling the House about the progress that has been made to date and answering the questions that have been asked by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House.
It is wrong to say that we are now talking about an optimum—I think that was the actual word—number of 6,000 for that regiment. 6,000 remains the ceiling for that regiment. At present there are 4,000 applicants for membership; 4,000 applicants who must be vetted, 4,000 applicants who must have achieved certain standards of education and fitness. The result of that 4,000-application figure—I give my hon. Friend the absolute assurance—is that there is plenty of room left in the regiment. The regiment's size is to a degree flexible. It can be changed according to the frequency with which existing members of the regiment are called out for duty and are asked to patrol. There is plenty of room left, and anyone who is worried about the balance of the force can rest assured that the minority community in Northern Ireland still has an opportunity of enrolling in the regiment and playing a part in its life.
Having said that, I do not want to imply to the House, or outside the House, that we are disappointed in the response of the minority community. I have always said that I believe a proportion of Catholics would join, but I say, quite frankly, that rather more Catholics have joined than I anticipated. If more Catholics have joined than I anticipated, then a very great many more Catholics have joined than some of my hon. Friends anticipated. In fact, the 20 per cent. figure can be bettered, but it is an indication that in all sections of Northern Ireland there is an understanding of the job the regiment has to do and a willingness to play some part in that job.
Certainly there are some counties where the overall average percentage of 20 has not been reached. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, the advisory committee has been asked by us to make special efforts to advise on how the proportions can be made more general in those counties as well as in the regiment as a whole. I understand they are to visit those counties as a matter of urgency, in order that the G.O.C. can receive their immediate advice as to how such percentages can be obtained in those counties as well as in the regiment as a whole. But, of course, our judgment of the regiment must be on its strength and the proportions of the various groups in the regiment in its entirety. The fact that 20 per cent. of the regiment's members are Northern Irish Roman Catholics does not suggest that its vesting date should be or could be postponed from 1st April. That date offers an important new step towards peace and progress in Northern Ireland. It is a further step towards implementing the Hunt Report. It is the crucial step of separating the police and military functions. It is to be a military unit under the control of this House. It is to be under the command of Regular officers and is to ensure, as my hon. Friend explained, that the arms held in far too large numbers at home by the Special Constabulary—large numbers which may now be necessary but which no one wants to see retained—are reduced to the sort of fraction which I believe the House understands to be necessary.
I believe that the House accepts that arms should be held at home only on those rare occasions when operational necessity means that it must be done, and that they must not be held for reasons of prestige and convenience. All these are reasons why we must go ahead on 1st April and why we shall go ahead.
I was not advocating that the operational date should be put back altogether. I was saying that the full optimum number should not be made to work on 1st April but that there should be vacancies after that date for other people to come in.
My hon. Friend has my absolute assurance on that. It is, indeed, a statistical inevitability. The regiment will not be up to its ceiling by that date. I urge my hon. Friend, as I would urge the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster if she were here, to go into Northern Ireland's highways and byways to urge more Catholics to join. The opportunities are there and I hope that he will ensure that his friends in Northern Ireland take them.
I turn now to other individual points raised in the debate, not the least important of which concerns the Gurkhas, their future and their conditions. I reiterate what I told the House a week ago—that the future of the Gurkhas is something which must be decided at the end of 1971, and it will be wrong for anyone to assume that a decision has already been taken or prejudged. What happens after 1971 has still to be decided, not only in terms of the entire future of the Gurkhas but where they might serve were their future to be extended after 1971. The options are open, the issues have not yet been decided. Therefore, we must await the results of our efforts to increase manpower, the demands which may be put on the Gurkhas and the demands we may want to put on them, in considering the actual decision as to their continuation and rôle in the defence forces.
That is exactly what I asked the hon. Gentleman not to assume. I have said, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said two years ago, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said six months ago, and as I have said on many occasions, that the decision about the Gurkhas after 1971 will be taken towards the end of 1971. No one should make any assumptions from the fact that no decision has been taken. I say no more and no less than that, except that no assumptions are to be made from what I say.
The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) rightly said that pay and pensions were regulated by the tripartite treaty. Our obligations to Nepal are to pay both wages and pensions, which are related to conditions in the Indian Army. I understand why the hon. Gentleman urged us either to re-read, re-interpret or even ignore the small print, but it would be wrong to assume that the relationship we have, which is important to us, in terms of Gurkha recruiting, both with the people and Government of Nepal would be best served by ignoring even the small print. Our obligations are to maintain the treaty which clearly relates pay and pensions to levels in the Indian Army.
That means that there are occasional movements and I am happy to be able to tell the House that within the terms of the treaty there is now a pension increase back-dated to 1st September 1969, which will give an overall 12 per cent. increase, and because of the results of certain pension rate adjustments—had it been recommended by the N.B.P.I. it would have been described as re-structuring—because of the re-structuring an extra 4 per cent. will be paid. There is therefore a substantial pension increase. I hope that the House will understand that there are great advantages in, and an absolute obligation to adhere precisely to the terms of the treaty.
The Army and the Ministry of Defence have taken many other steps to assist in the resettlement of Gurkha soliders once they return to Nepal. No doubt the hon. Gentleman, like me, saw projects in hand in Nepal to better equip soldiers who had been out of their country for some years to return to their village life. This is an important step, which we all welcome.
Naturally and inevitably many points were raised about military salary but only two voices expressed doubts, either their own or the Services', as to whether the salary would produce real net increases in the pay packet. I will not weary the House with examples. These were given a week ago and some were pursued by a few hon. Gentlemen who joined me and officials in my Ministry in an analysis of the Report, shortly after it was published. Of course there is some sceptism in the forces about whether the increase is as good as we make out. If I understand the forces correctly, that sceptism will continue until the first pay day after the new military salaries are implemented. Equally, if I understand the forces, that sceptism will disappear when the money is in their hands.
I assure the House that there are real and substantial increases, but there are also either anomalies or allegations of anomalies. They come under two categories. One is the anomaly which is real because there is still some tidying to be done at the edges. The report says that and we undertake to do the tidying as quickly as we can. The other is the imagined anomaly. If there is a radical re-structuring of pay, people describe it as an anomaly when they have to move out of their traditional relationships with other people. We will hear something about that, it is the inevitable outcome of a radical revision of pay. It causes individuals some heartburn and produces complaints, but it is nevertheless a very worth-while exercise to get Army pay on a rational footing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson) asked me to deal at some length, but time prevents this, with our obligations to the United Nations and our willingness to commit troops thereto. I hope that the House and the world will agree that our participation in the peacekeeping force in Cyprus is an indication of our enthusiasm for this rôle. As to our future participation, that must be made out of our general capability. One of the objects of the general capability is to provide such forces if necessary. Our participation in Cyprus is a demonstration that we will not shirk that task if it becomes an obligation upon us.
Finally, I turn in some detail to manpower. Last week I told the House of the overall Service recruiting results. Tonight I want to deal with the same subject in terms of the Army. The same demographic factors which I put to the House last week apply. The Army is directing recruiting to a pool of potential recruits, that is to say, young men in the appropriate age range, young men available for recruiting, which is diminishing. The right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) asked of what that pool consisted. It consists of all young men in the age range who are neither in full-time education nor suffering from so severe a physical or mental handicap as to disqualify them from military service. That is a diminishing pool.
As well as that pool diminishing, other factors operate against recruiting. Young men have increasing opportunities and require more and more from their jobs. Against this background we have attempted to increase recruiting. In the first three years of this Government recruiting figures by and large were being reached. On average we were between 500 and 700 down, but that is a very small average shortfall. The bad years were 1967–68 and 1968–69 when there were shortfalls of 7,000 and 10,000. In the first of those years we recruited only 19,000 and in the second only 17,000.
The 1969–70 target is bound to be influenced by the shortfalls in the two previous years, the target is so inflated by those shortfalls that it is unreasonable to expect us to achieve it. However, the results of the last year are appreciably better. We will recruit rather more than 21,000. That is a vast improvement, but it is not an improvement that I regard as the cause for either optimism or complacency. It means that there will continue to be a shortfall of trained men against required strength. This year it will be about 3,800. Last year it was about the same. But the House will know that there has been a shortfall of trained men against required strength ever since figures were kept. In 1963 it was 10,000; in 1964, 13,000. Throughout the life of this Government it has averaged about 2,500.
I hope that by setting out these figures in detail I shall be absolved from the charge tomorrow morning of having been less than frank about recruiting figures. I hope also I can be absolved from the other charge of having confidence in what I cannot substantiate. Demographically things are getting more difficult, and the improved figures of 21,000 are in part the result of the three-year short-service scheme which, despite the spectacularly successful rate of re-engagement nevertheless imposes a continuing obligation to keep on recruiting.
In understanding these difficulties, I nevertheless make a prophecy—it is a prophecy because there is no way of measuring success in recruiting. I hope that it is an educated prophecy because it is based on experience and the advice of the Ministry of Defence. The prophecy suggests that with our limited commitment we can produce voluntary recruiting enough to meet our needs.
Three things are working for us. We are now reaching the end of the period of defence adjustment and readjustment and the turbulence which results. Secondly, the military salaries produce an actual wage comparable with outside employment. It is also a demonstration of the enthusiasm the country has for providing a better Army. That works back to the potential recruits. Thirdly, there is a constant revision of engagement structures and terms of service to meet these modern conditions. Building our efforts round those three things, we believe that we can meet the needs of a policy which concentrates on Europe. It will be difficult but we believe we can do it. I say again—
I am sorry, I must go on. I have less than five minutes left. We belive that we can meet those aims, but not that an extended commitment could be met by a professional volunteer Army.
It is not, I think, a smear, as the right hon. Gentleman described previous speeches made from this Dispatch Box, to refer to what The Times this morning described as the missing men. They are missing, and our evidence suggests that they can be found in sufficient quantities to meet our programme. But to say that there is evidence to suggest that they can be found in sufficient quantities to meet a commitment more extensive than ours, is an assertion without evidence to back it up.
Let me deal, in conclusion, with the point which was epitomised by the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) who suggested that a Tory Government, almost by definition, would produce more recruits. In 1963, the Army target was 175,000, the achievement was 165,000. In 1964, the target was 175,000, the achievement was 162,000. With a target not much lower in 1966–67, we also produced a shortfall, but a smaller shortfall. Yet in the years 1963 and 1964 all the things which encourage recruiting, according to hon. Gentlemen, were happy. Almost 7 per cent. of the G.N.P. was being spent on defence. We had an expanding population in the appropriate age group. The Army was in action, which in itself is a potent recruiting agent. There was a permanent world-wide rôle. All these things which are supposed to encourage recruiting under the right Government with the right policy operating. Yet, despite those apparent incentives, there remained a very substantial shortfall.
We are saying that all the evidence we have at our disposal suggests that a rôle concentrated on Europe, where the real demand and the real threat is, can be met by a voluntary recruiting policy, but to extend it further than that is an act of faith. There are three alternatives, The first is that, by extension, the Army should be so stretched that it will be dangerous to our commitments in Europe and possibly dangerous to the few men who are sent too far for their own safety. The second alternative is that the commitment to the Far East—a permanent commitment which is very different from a general capability—can be abandoned. The third alternative is that it can be met only out of conscription.
I do not say, and no one has ever said, that a Conservative Party in power would choose that third option. Those are the three options, and to pretend that there is a fourth, which is to hope that volunteeers will come along in the right numbers, is the optimism against which hon. Gentlemen opposite have spoken continually today. Since they have taken such a strong line against the imaginary optimism, I hope that they will begin to reject the real optimism which has characterised most of the speeches we have heard from them.
That a number of Land Forces not exceeding 201,600, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, and that a number not exceeding 55,000, be maintained in the Regular Reserve, that a number not exceeding 80,000 be maintained in the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve, and that a number not exceeding 6,000 be maintained in the Ulster Defence Regiment, during the year ending on 31st March, 1971.