– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th May 1978.
The purpose of this order is to continue in force the Service Acts for a further year—that is, until 31st August 1979. The Army and Air Force Acts of 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957 provide, among other things, the basis for the disciplinary arrangements in the three Services. As my right hon. Friend reminded the House last year, the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 1975 came out in favour of retaining the annual continuation order so that the opportunity for discussion would not be lost. However, as Mr. Deputy Speaker pointed out last year, the scope of the debate is necessarily circumscribed, and since the basic theme is discipline, I think that it would be appropriate for me to say a few words about the implementation of the Armed Forces Act, 1976.
The House may recall that the main changes which were brought about by the 1976 Act were the extension of the powers of summary punishment available to commanding officers in the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Marines; the establishment of standing civilian courts to deal with civilians who are subject to the Army and Air Force Acts while serving overseas; and the introduction of new powers of punishment applicable to civilians and, in particular, juveniles, under the jurisdiction of all three Service discipline Acts. These measures were, of course, thoroughly examined by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill and discussed by the House during the debate on the Bill, and I do not think that I need repeat all the details on this occasion.
The new provisions came into force on 1st July 1977 and so far the arrangements appear to be working satisfactorily. It was expected that the increase in summary powers would lead to a reduction in the number of courts martial. During the limited period in which the provisions have been in operation, there has been some reduction.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister appears to have plunged straight into a script on the discipline Acts when many of us throught that we would be able to enjoy hearing him talk about the Army. Although the discipline Acts are being taken with the Supply Day debate, I hope that we shall not be deprived of some remarks on the main subject.
The hon. Member will not be disappointed. He will hear a considerable discourse on the Army. I shall say a few words about the continuation order and then we shall get on with the Army debate.
The only reason that I did not raise a point of order on the two subjects being taken together was that I thought that it was for the convenience of the House and that the Minister and his colleagues did not want to waste time. I wanted the debates to be taken separately because people do not appreciate fully the severe discipline which is imposed upon members of the Armed Forces. This is an important matter. I hope that the Minister will stress it because it makes members of the Armed Forces so different from any other person doing any other job.
I do not dissent from what the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) has said. No doubt if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will take part in the debate and enlarge upon his theme.
It would be wrong to assume that the reduction in the numbers of courts martial was primarily attributable to the new summary powers since these have not yet been used to any significant extent. We have to bear in mind that the total volume of courts-martial cases has been steadily declining over the last few years. Similarly, it is too early to be passing judgment on the standing civilian courts which have so far dealt with fewer than 20 cases.
As yet we have encountered no major difficulties or drawbacks in implementing the new measures but it would be unwise to draw any firm conclusions about them on the basis of only nine months' experience. We should be in a much better position to make an assessment by this time next year.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) will be pleased that I now turn to the main content of the debate—the Army. The House has debated defence issues on several occasions in recent months. We have had the debate on the 1978 defence White Paper, a debate on the RAF and two debates on Armed Forces pay—one of them only this week. These have tended to consider broader issues of defence policy and matters common to the three Services and I am glad to have this opportunity to concentrate on the Service for which I am responsible—the Army.
However, there are one or two points that I want to pick up from Monday's debate. First, a brief comment on pay. I think that it was made abundantly clear on Monday that the Government accepted that the Armed Forces had fallen behind and deserved to be restored to full comparability. That is why we have given a firm guarantee to do just that. I wish that it could be sooner, but the Government have wider responsibilities to consider as well.
However, there were times during Monday's debate when I wondered whether the topic under discussion was, in fact, the pay of the Armed Forces. Some hon. Members seemed to think that they had a blank cheque to speak about whatever they liked. For example, we had a series of rather misguided complaints about Army equipment, a subject which would have been more appropriately raised today and to which I shall turn later in my speech. At times, some speakers seemed to give the impression that the British Army was no longer capable of fulfilling its responsibilities. That is a suggestion which I deeply resent. It may help to dispel this impression if I remind the House of one or two events of the last year which demonstrate that this is not so.
Threatening activity by Guatemala in the middle of last year led to the need for a rapid reinforcement of the garrison in Belize. The operation, which involved all three Services, was carried out smoothly and efficiently and made clear both our ability and intention to support the people of Belize. I remind the House that to re-establish forces in Belize is a logistic exercise.
Then, in December, the rapid deployment of troops from Belize and from the United Kingdom in response to a request from the Governor of Bermuda did much to help calm the disturbances there and we were able to withdraw the troops again very quickly.
There was also the firemen's strike. I do not intend to dwell on this since much has already been said in praise of the troops' efforts. Nevertheless, I think that that episode demonstrates very clearly the flexibility of the Services. The way in which they took on an unfamiliar task and the speed with which they did so were truly impressive.
I turn to the question of restructuring. The Army's prime task is, of course, the defence of this country and Western Europe as part of the NATO alliance. The House will recall that we have been engaged in a restructuring of the Army that will enable it to fulfil this task in the most effective manner for the foreseeable future. The restructuring programme was planned to take place over three years. When I spoke in this debate last year I gave the House a progress report. I am pleased to tell hon. Members that we have now entered the final phase of this programme.
In the United Kingdom the new formations—6th, 7th and 8th Field Forces—are operational and each is under command of one of the 10 district headquarters and the new organisation is proving a great success. The 6th Field Force, together with the logistic support group, constitutes the land component of the United Kingdom mobile force which is in turn part of our contribution to SACEUR's strategic reserve.
The 7th Field Force has a role as reinforcement for BAOR and the 8th Field Force has specific responsibilities for defence in the United Kingdom. All units in the United Kingdom have now reorganised, apart from two major units, some minor units and static organisations which will be restructured later this year.
In BAOR, restructuring is also virtually complete. The four armoured divisions, the artillery division and 5th Field Force are now established in 1st British Corps. Two major units and some minor units will complete their re-organisation within the next few months. All the basic reorganisation, both in BAOR and the United Kingdom, is due to be finished—as planned—by 31st March next year. Tests and exercises involving the new establishments will continue and, where proved necessary in the light of experience, adjustments and improvements will be made.
I am particularly glad that the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee was able to visit Germany last month to take stock of restructuring and, of course, of other matters. I welcome the constructive interest and expertise that the sub-committee brings to all its investigations and I look forward to its report of the visit in due course.
The House will not expect me to leave the subject of restructuring in BAOR without saying a word about recent reports of a shortage of manpower. It is perfectly true that difficulties have been experienced on this account and many units have been suffering from what is commonly known as "overstretch" Much of the difficulty has stemmed from the fact that manpower has had to be provided to support the enlarged command and administrative structure required under the present conditions in Northern Ireland and has not been available to fill posts elsewhere in the Army.
One of the particular difficulties that has been highlighted has been a shortage of men in armoured regiments, with the result that a small number of tanks have had to be temporarily withdrawn from service. I must emphasise that this is a peacetime problem only which arises from the many other tasks which have to be carried out as part of daily life.
Is the hon. Gentleman able honestly to tell the House that one complete armoured regiment's worth of tanks is a small number in the context of our forces in Germany?
I can and do tell the House that in the context of our forces in Germany it is a small number of tanks. I emphasise that it is a peacetime problem only that arises from the many other tasks that have to be carried out as part of daily life. It is not the case—and I particularly want the House to understand this point—that these shortages would prevent us from manning our full complement of tanks in war. In an emergency the tanks in question can be made ready for operational use very quickly and can be fully manned. Nevertheless it is not a satisfactory position to be in—that I freely concede—and the Government have taken steps to meet the problem.
Incidentally, I can only presume that this problem is what the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) has in mind when he keeps referring to Chieftain being "mothballed". The hon. Gentleman's facts are wrong again. The only tanks kept in mothballs are those in the war reserve, but even these, like the complaints of the hon. Gentleman, can be quickly taken out of storage whenever the need arises.
Hon. Members will recall that an increase of 1,900 men in the Army's establishment was announced in February. Of the 1,900, 650 will be used to form a composite infantry battalion in a training role while the remaining 1,250 will be available to fill posts on an individual basis. Of these 1,250 about 1,000 will go to BAOR, and will be available to alleviate the shortages in armoured regiments that I have described as well as filling other important posts.
I am confident that this will represent a useful measure of relief for the difficulties that have been experienced. I believe that this decision and the detailed modifications that have been made to the original restructuring plan in BAOR demonstrate the Government's flexible attitude towards the Army's manning and organisation structure. We shall, of course, examine the need for further adjustment as and when it arises. Some specific proposals which have been put forward by BAOR on this score are currently under active consideration by the Army Board.
I turn to the equipment programme. I shall say a few words on it generally, and in particular try to dispel some of the misunderstandings which may have occurred as a result of misleading and completely unjustified criticism which has appeared recently. Many of the criticisms that have been made have been simply inaccurate—as I shall indicate in a moment—while others have seemed to ignore what is a fundamental fact of life—that is, that no army can be equipped entirely with perfect, brand-new kit at all times.
It is inevitable that at any particular point in time some equipment will be coming towards the end of its useful life. This can be simply a question of age, though I do not myself see any disgrace in retaining elderly equipment in service so long as it remains both economic and, most importantly, meets the requirement of the Army. Even comparatively new equipment can be rendered obsolescent by developments in the threat, while we should not overlook the value of the reliability of well-proven systems.
The important thing is to identify the cases where equipment is approaching the end of its life for either of these reasons—old age or developments in the threat—and to take the necessary action to replace or to modify such equipment. This we do, and our constant aim is to ensure that the Army has the best possible equipment to meet the threat it faces and that the equipment is procured in a timely and economical manner.
Any assessment of the state of the Army's equipment must be based on a balanced view across the whole field and not simply concentrated on those areas where improvements are required. In addition, though it should hardly be necessary to say so, such an assessment must be based on the true facts. As the Minister responsible for the Army, I have been particularly disappointed and angered by a number of recent criticisms which have taken either an unbalanced view or been based on misrepresentation. It is disturbing to find that newspapers which pride themselves on a reputation for accuracy—
I am coming to that—can publish articles which contain allegations which a little research or an inquiry of my Department would have shown to be false. Recently, for example, the allegation was made in The Times that the armoured reconnaissance vehicle Sultan would not enter service until the mid-1980s. Reference to this year's statement on the defence estimates published in February would have revealed that in fact this vehicle is entering service not in the 1980s but in 1978.
In the same article the accusation was made that the Clansman communications system would not be fully deployed in BAOR until the mid-1980s, and the complaint was voiced that the rate of deployment was being limited to one division at a time. The fact is that Clansman's deployment to BAOR will be completed over the next three years, and in any case it would make no operational sense, except probably to some fanciful defence correspondent, to deploy some 50,000 radios simultaneously. Such articles are highly damaging to the reputation of the Army and also to morale, and I sincerely hope that we can look forward to more responsible journalism in future.
I have a copy of The Times article in front of me. The article reports:
Most officers do not believe that all frontline troops will see the new radio for up to seven or eight more years, and even then it will be inferior to the system that Britain is exporting …
The article is reporting what officers believe will be the case. Will the Minister comment on that?
I have the greatest pleasure in commenting on that. It disturbs me if officers are misinformed of the facts. However, I do not doubt anything that immediately follows a visit by the hon. Member for Stretford and some of his colleagues where the greatest possible amount of dissent would be sown among officers and other ranks of British Army of the Rhine.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that when my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), I and others go abroad we spread dissent among the Armed Forces? If he is, I must ask him to withdraw. He knows that that is nonsense. If he will not withdraw, I shall draw the matter to the attention of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and I know that he will withdraw it.
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is getting so aerated. He knows well enough that it is the easiest thing in the world—
No, I am not going to withdraw. It is the easiest thing in the world—the right hon. Gentleman knows the character of his junior colleague the hon. Member for Stretford—to say "The Government say that you will get it in 1980 but it might be nearer 1985". If that kind of thing is quoted in an officers' or sergeants' mess—rightly or wrongly, those people accept that the hon. Member for Stretford is a responsible parliamentarian—they are likely to believe it. I have no doubt that is the kind of thing that goes on.
Will the Minister assure the House that, since he has made a personal attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), he was informed in the normal way?
I should have thought that it was not necessary for me to inform the hon. Member for Stretford, who is an Opposition Front Bench spokesman on defence, because it surely is his duty to be on the Front Bench now.
As a corrective to such reports I should like to spend a few moments reminding the House of some of the improvements which are being introduced. The British Army has a well-deserved reputation for the quality of its equipment and this Government are determined to maintain that reputation. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State told the House recently, an impressive list of 54 equipments is expected to enter service this year and a further 99 in the following five years. Many of the major equipments are described in the statement on the Defence Estimates.
I shall not weary the House with a catalogue of equipment projects, but perhaps I may illustrate what we are doing by describing the improvements to the Army's anti-tank capability which are being brought into service. Our long-range anti-tank capability has been improved by the deployment of the Swing-fire missile on the new Striker tracked vehicle in addition to those already in service with the FV438. Deliveries of Milan, the medium-range missile, have been accelerated so that the in-service date has been brought forward by six months, and by the end of this year over half the planned deployment to BAOR will have been completed. This represents over twice the rate of deployment originally planned.
In passing, I should say that the BBC was at it again last night on the "Nationwide" programme. There was talk about soldiers being lucky to fire one of these missiles a year. It must have escaped the BBC's notice that we employ simulators. Obviously, before a young infantryman starts to fire a very expensive piece of equipment live, he must spend a long time on a simulator. Having had a go on a simulator, I may say that I should hate to be sitting in an enemy tank when this weapon is fully deployed. For short-range anti-tank warfare we have at present the Carl Gustav and M72 weapons. These are due to be replaced in the early 1980s by the new manportable weapon.
With regard to Milan, it might help the Minister to know that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) and I were with the German forces, it took them three minutes to instruct us before both of us fired it.
I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman confirm what I think about Milan. The sighting system is so superb that I should think that it would be more difficult to miss than to hit. That is why I should not like to be sitting in an enemy tank when that weapon is fired. These systems will be complemented by the TOW anti-tank missile mounted on the Lynx helicopter.
Looking rather further ahead, the main Army equipment project for the next decade will undoubtedly be the replacement of the Chieftain main battle tank. Studies are continuing to identify the best way of meeting the requirement for the Chieftain replacement in the late 1980s, and these are being given a high priority by the Army Board. In the meantime, we are continuing to develop the already excellent Chieftain through a programme of major improvements. These improvements will enhance the accuracy of Chieftain's main armament, and, in addition, a number of modifications are being introduced which we are confident will improve significantly the reliability of the engine.
I have spoken of the organisation and the equipment, but neither of these is of any use without the soldiers who man them. We are all, I believe, justifiably proud of the standards of training and professionalism of the British Regular soldier, but I should like to take the opportunity at this point to say a few words about a part of the Army in which I have taken a particular interest—the TAVR.
I have spoken before in the House about the significant contribution which this force makes to our security, and I have placed on record my admiration for the standards which are set and maintained by its part-time members. I think that it may be worth reminding the House, however, of the importance of the role which our volunteers are now being asked to perform.
The TAVR is no mere reserve of manpower. Its units are an integral part of our defence planning. Many TAVR units play a vital part in bringing our front-line forces in BAOR up to their war strength. TAVR units remaining in the United Kingdom will make an extremely important contribution to the security of the United Kingdom base, no less important to NATO than to us with its many vital NATO and national installations.
In view of the expertise which is now required of the TAVR, it is a basic feature of our defence policy that TAVR units should be trained and equipped to standards comparable with Regular forces having a similar role.
In addition to their training commitment in the UK, those TAVR units with a role in BOAR train regularly in Germany, exercising either directly with the formation which they would join in the event of war or under the command of their war-time formation commander. Over the last three years nearly 50,000 TAVR members have completed such training in BAOR, and this year some 22,000 are expected to do so. In addition, TAVR unit commanding officers are in frequent contact with their superior formation commanders in Germany.
The TAVR annual training liability is, of course, up to 27 days' compulsory training—including 15 days in camp—and many members take advantage of the additional allowance of up to 13 days' voluntary training. My own experiences on exercises with them have served to remind me what good value for money the TAVR gives us. A TAVR training exercise weekend is very hard. I do not need to join the House of Commons gymnasium: I can keep fit at weekends with the TAVR.
Turning to TAVR equipment, it is accepted that in some cases this is older than we would wish. However, it remains our basic aim that TAVR units, like Regular forces, should be given the kit to do the job, and this is being carried through. Examples of recent and forthcoming additions to the TAVR armoury are the Blowpipe anti-aircraft weapon and the Fox armoured car, which have been issued to certain TAVR units in advance even of many Regular units.
I had the pleasure of going up to Cumbria and firing the Fox 30 mm. Rarden cannon. That, again, is a magnificent piece of kit. That was with a unit which had got its Fox armoured cars before the Regular Army. Of course, there is Milan which the TAVR will be getting as well. That is to be issued both to TAVR and Regular units with an antitank role.
Further measures are introduced wherever possible to ensure the achievement of comparable standards between the Regular Army and the TAVR. For example, the Staff College at Camberley has introduced an annual two-week course intended to provide selected TAVR officers with a basic knowledge of staff duties and responsibilities. I was very pleased to be able to announce last week that the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of United Kingdom Land Forces has been given, in addition to his current responsibilities, the new appointment of Inspector General of the TAVR. The function of the new post will be to maintain and strengthen the already close links between the TAVR and the Regular Army, and to monitor the efficiency and standards of the TAVR.
I hope that this new appointment will serve to underline the importance that we attach to the close integration of the TAVR with the Regular Army and to the maintenance of the high standard of training which is so essential if they are to make the contribution to defence policy which is expected of them. I hope that nobody harbours any doubts about this Government's total commitment to maintaining the efficiency and morale of the TAVR, and I am sure that the House will have welcomed the statement of support for the TAVR issued by the Prime Minister only a few weeks ago underlining the concept of one Army. There was some scepticism in the House when we talked about the concept of one Army, but we have now more than convinced the greatest sceptic.
I spoke earlier of the high standards of professionalism of the British soldier. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Northern Ireland. It is a sad fact that operations in Northern Ireland remain a major commitment for the Army, where the Regular Army and the UDR continue to provide assistance and support to the RUC. Frequently through I visit the Province, I never cease to be impressed by the skill, the determination and the resourcefulness with which they carry out their exacting and often dangerous task.
So far this year nine soldiers, including four members of the UDR, have lost their lives while helping to make Ulster a safe place to live in. I am sure that the House shares my deep sorrow at these deaths and at the injuries suffered by many of their colleagues. I am sure, too, that the House shares my appreciation of the sheer hard work of all the security forces in Northern Ireland. As I said in a recent answer, we have managed to achieve some reduction in the number of hours which soldiers in Northern Ireland are required to work; they are still far too high and we are making every effort to make further reductions.
I am glad to say that the level of terrorist activity has been reduced and that the RUC, supported by the Armed Forces, is continuing to bring many of the terrorists to justice. Substantial amounts of illegal arms and ammunition belonging to extremists of both communities—I underline "extremists of both communities" because one side is no better than the other—have been located and seized.
At the beginning of this year we were able to make a small reduction in the force level from 14 to 13 major units of the combat arms. This was possible partly as a result of the increasing effectiveness of the Ulster Defence Regiment which now has primary responsibility for providing support for the RUC, wholly or in part, in 11 police divisions.
The right hon. Member for Down, Souh (Mr. Powell) described something of the excellent work of the UDR during Monday's debate and I would like to say a little more now. The permanent, full-time cadre of the regiment is being expanded and recruitment is going well, so that the UDR now has 12 full-time operational platoons. Three more full-time platoons are carrying out limited operations and another is being recruited. Nevertheless, I would like to take a moment to pay a special tribute to the part-time volunteers who form the backbone of the regiment. These men turn out for their arduous and dangerous duties with the security forces after they have finished what, for most of us, is a full day's work, despite the fact that members of the UDR are very often particular targets for the terrorists' bullets.
Since 1977 the UDR has benefited from the greater range of training facilities available in Great Britain and—as I saw for myself just a couple of weeks ago—the men very much welcome the opportunity for his training and, indeed, for a break from some of the tensions of Northern Ireland in a pleasant part of England where they do not have to be continually looking over their shoulders.
This review of the Army's activities in the past year has, necessarily, been brief, and limited to a few major headings. Nevertheless, I am sure the House will agree that the record is a healthy one and gives confidence for the future.
This is a moment of some nostalgia for me, as it is almost exactly 21 years ago since I made my maiden speech in the Army Estimates debate in 1957. I have spoken in every Army Estimates debate held since then.
It is perhaps a little ironic to recall that I first decided to speak in the Army Estimates debate of 1957 because in the preceding 12 months I had, as a journalist, observed at close quarters our soldiers in action on the continent of Africa, in Kenya and Port Said. I wonder what would have happened if 21 years ago I had predicted that within the next 20 years the army of a revolutionary Cuba would have a greater impact on events in Africa than our own Armed Forces. I suspect that the senior Whip on duty at the time would have made a signal to one of his lieutenants and that within a matter of moments a tranquillising hypodermic would have been stuck into one of my legs and when I fell back unconscious I would have been gently carried to a lunatic asylum.
But, alas, what would have appeared 20 years ago to be a madman's dream has come true. The most recent and precise estimates of Cuban military strength in Africa have just been made by French officials. They suggest that the Cuban military presence in Africa is just over 34,000. The Cuban forces there have been deployed with speed and used ruthlessly.
Our natural concern about the challenge presented by the Cubans has been given a new twist by the incursions into Shaba province and the swift Franco-Belgian response.
It is slightly ironic that the hon. Gentleman is quoting French figures, since the French forces operating in Africa now are slightly larger than the Cuban forces.
The French forces, on their own estimate, which was issued with their estimate of the Cuban forces are 17,000, and there are twice as many Cubans stationed in Africa as there are Frenchmen.
As a former member of the Parachute Regiment, I have a better opportunity than many Members of understanding the technical problems involved in this long-range rescue operation. The problems seem to have been surmounted brilliantly. This has raised the question whether our own forces could have got there as quickly. I have no doubt about the ability of the present members of the parachute battalions to acquit themselves with distinction. I have no doubt that we have the plans to carry out the drop. But we would face two technical problems which the French did not have.
First, there is the question of over-flying rights. Several years ago I discussed the problems of mounting a rescue operation for British nationals in East Africa with the commander-in-chief in Cyprus. He was then primarily concerned with the problem of finding countries en route which would let our aircraft use their air space. The problem has got worse since then. This is one area in which a joint European approach in advance of an emergency might be most useful. I hope that we are co-ordinating our contingency plans.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) has put the case for pan-European logistical co-operation. It has also been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer), who served with distinction in the Parachute Regiment. The Belfast aircraft that we are selling might have had a role to play in the logistical backing for such a force.
The second problem that a British rescue mission might have to face is the restrictions on training which have for a number of years ruled out the possibility of large-scale, long-range parachute exercises. The planning of such a rescue operation requires practice and experienced staff officers. I fear that we are losing that expertise. I note that in the past week most informed commentators who have discussed this problem estimate that we have the technical capacity to undertake such an operation, but most doubt that we would have the political will to do it. It is the will which matters most.
I find it somewhat ironic that my first words in the House were concerned with the sale of new British weapons to foreign customers before our own soldiers were properly equipped. That was a problem in 1957, and it is worse today.
The Under-Secretary referred to a recent article in The Times by Mr. Charles Douglas-Home. Mr. Douglas-Home referred to the Clansman radio sets and to the Chieftain tank. There can be no doubt that the Chieftain tank, which is supposed to be our main weapon in Europe, is being sold to the Iranians in larger quantities than we can buy and that the model that we are selling to them is better than the one we have ourselves. The Iranin model has a bigger engine, the Chobham armour and a better fire control system than our own Chieftains. Our soldiers can only look with envy at the new, improved Iranian model.
The Clansman radios were supposed to be in service by the mid-1970s. Whether they come in by 1981 or 1985, and I suspect that Mr. Douglas-Home is well informed, they are being sold to Iran, Dubai and Nigeria and I note that those radios have more advanced fittings than those provided for our own soldiers.
All this produces frustration among our soldiers and the 12 months that have passed since last year's debate could be described as the Army's year of frustration. There have been substantial frustration over pay and allowances and frustration among the soldiers at the extra perks that civil servants at headquarters are seen to enjoy. There is also frustration about the shortage of transport. One-quarter of our vehicles in Germany have passed the age at which they ought to have been scrapped.
There is frustration at the shortage of spare parts. The Under-Secretary referred to the value of simulators. They are important, particularly in tank regiments where there are severe restrictions on the track mileage of tanks, but on my last visit to BAOR I saw two tank simulators which had been out of action for many months for want of simple spare parts.
There has been frustration at the lack of anti-tank equipment. I am glad that the Milan is coming in at speed and that the order for battalions has been increased. Incidentally, in the Army Estimates debate in 1957, the then Secretary of State for War said that we possessed an anti-tank missile which would make heavy tanks immediately obsolete. I fear that he was not entirely accurate.
I understand that there is considerable concern about whether the Milan will be effective against the next generation of Russian heavy tanks and I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will say a word about future developments of medium-range missiles.
There is also frustration over the restructuring that is taking place in BAOR. The Under-Secretary suggested that the laying up or mothballing of 56 Chieftain tanks was a matter of small concern, but that is one-eighth of the total number of our Chieftain tanks in Germany now. I do not believe that having to lay up one-eighth of one's principal tanks because of a shortage of manpower can be caled a minor matter.
Then there is frustration caused by the absence of units from BOAR. When I visited our forces there last autumn, at the height of the training season, six major units in one division were absent—most of them in Northern Ireland. Last year, only four armoured regiments were able to complete their full annual cycle of training and two of those were held back from Northern Ireland because of the high proportion of recruits they took from that part of the country.
The absence of these units reduces the strength of BOAR, at times, to 40,000 men, against the nominal target of 55,000 men and increases our substantial reinforcement problems which will, I am sure, be discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who has such great knowledge of our reserve forces and the TAVR.
Under the circumstances, it is not surprising than the number of officers and NCOs seeking premature voluntary retirement should have increased by almost 100 per cent. in a year, but it is disturbing to note that, at a time of high unemployment, recruitment declined in the last financial year by about 6 per cent.
Until recently, it had seemed that the queue of dissatisfied soldiers waiting to leave the Army had, to some extent, been balanced by the numbers wanting to join—although untrained recruits are an expensive substitute for the skilled soldiers who have been drifting back to civilian life.
I was particularly concerned about the collapse in the recruiting of young soldiers which was revealed in this year's defence White Paper. From 1st April to 31st December 1976, the Army recruited 2,975 young soldiers, but in the same period in 1977 the figure was just 1,197. Latest statistics suggest that the decline has accelerated. It seems to me particularly sad that young soldier recruitment is falling away at a time when the level of youth unemployment is a national tragedy.
Imagine my surprise, although one should perhaps have noted it at the time, when I discovered that the Army had abolished young soldier recruiting in early 1977 and had not reinstated it until the end of the year. At a time when the Manpower Services Commission is spending £650 million on job training and job creation and some £200 million on jobs specifically designed to promote youth employment, it is crazy that the Army should deliberately stop recruiting young soldiers, particularly since the Services have a substantial undermanning problem.
I note with regret that even now the Secretary of State's response to this problem of youth unemployment is to disband during the past month the Army youth teams, thus supposedly saving £2,700,000 a year and releasing 395 soldiers for other work. I am sure that this is a false economy, and I should be glad to hear from the Secretary of State what plans he has to stimulate young soldier recruiting this year.
Meanwhile, many soldiers have had a more than usually varied year. On top of the Northern Ireland commitment, the Army protected us during the firemen's strike and it accepted the challenge magnificently. It kept the home fires out. I am sure that the Secretary of State is as glad as I am that the Crown Agents had failed in their attempt to sell off the "green goddess" fire engines.
The challenge of Northern Ireland has now, alas, become part of the Army's routine. The other day I heard of a corporal in the Green Jackets who was going back there for his eleventh four-month tour, and I am glad to have the opportunity of joining with the Under-Secretary of State in saluting the successes of the security forces in Northern Ireland. Since our last debate, the level of violence is down and the arrest rate for terrorists is up.
Last year we asked the Secretary of State to cut back on accommodation and food charges for Service families in Northern Ireland. He did so, and we are grateful. In many debate we had also pressed the case for increasing the full-time element in the Ulster Defence Regiment. He has done that, and again we are grateful. Indeed, the increase in the skill and effectiveness of the UDR is one of the most welcome features of the present scene in Northern Ireland, and I hope that this will long continue.
The work rate for soldiers in Northern Ireland continues to be exceptionally high, varying from 90 to 110 hours a week for soldiers on four-month tours to more than 80 hours a week for soldiers on extended tours. If the level of violence continues at a low intensity, officers will have to face increasing problems of boredom and lack of alertness.
A friend of mine recently commanded a company on a four-month tour of Northern Ireland and he reckoned that during that period his men did 25,000 hours of patrolling. They were not involved in any incident of any kind, and by the end of the tour my friend was hard-pressed to maintain his men's alertness because, after all, soldiers become more vulnerable when the edge of danger seem to be receding, and they lose their alertness. This is a problem, but it is one that I hope will become more rather than less important.
Then there is the related question of pay in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) has repeatedly stressed the point, with which many of us, including myself, agree, that no soldier should suffer financially because he has to do an emergency tour in Northern Ireland. But those soldiers who go to Northern Ireland from Germany lose their local overseas allowance and are worse off.
I know that the Minister appreciates the importance of this point. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body has tried to meet it by increasing Northern Ireland pay, which we welcome, and by increasing separation allowance, which we also welcome. But at the end of the day, after all the increases in pay and all the tax cuts have been taken into account, there will still be soldiers on the streets of Belfast getting less than 50p an hour for a 110-hour week. On Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), in a highly effective speech, promised to picket the works of any private employer who treated his work force so badly. The Minister of State has not yet been able to find such a private employer, but if he does I shall gladly join my hon. Friend on the picket line.
Meanwhile, what practical help can we give to these young men? As The Times has pointed out, those soldiers at the lower end of the pay scale have least cause to feel satisfied with the Government's pay recommendation, and it suggests that if the Government refuse to speed up the implementation of comparability for most soldiers they should give higher than average increases to lower ranks next year. We support that proposal.
The Secretary of State will not be surprised if I now turn to the question of the local overseas allowance, with particular reference to BAOR. On Tuesday, I asked him whether he could give a pledge that this year's meagre pay increase for the Services would not be eroded by a cut in local overseas allowance, which makes up some 40 per cent. of the take-home pay of our soldiers in BAOR. To this, the right hon. Gentleman replied that I and some of my hon. Friends—he meant my hon. Friends the Members for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), Esher (Mr. Mather) and Tonbridge and Mailing (Mr. Stanley)—were going around last year saying that the local overseas allowance was to be reduced by 40 per cent. and that this had turned out to be totally wrong. He went on:
I see that they are starting in May this year instead of August. As the hon. Member knows, the whole matter is under review and I cannot anticipate anything. I express the hope that the hon. Gentleman will not begin his campaign to undermine the morale of the British Army of the Rhine earlier this Year than he did last year."—[Official Report, 23rd May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 1323.]
Perhaps it would be worth while to go into the story of what happened.
At the end of September, my hon. Friends and I went to Germany. At that time, I must admit that I was not aware that local overseas allowance made up such an important part of soldiers' take-home pay, and I was not aware that the Treasury was planning to review it. But from the highest levels to the lowest levels in the Army and in the Royal Air Force, we were soon made well aware that everyone knew that this review was under way. They were well aware, from the nature of the questions that the Treasury was asking, that it looked as though there would be a cut of up to 40 per cent. in the local overseas allowance.
Because local overseas allowance is supposed to some degree to reflect the standard of living of soldiers in the various parts of the world, what had happened in the previous three years was that the standard of living of our soldiers stationed in the United Kingdom had fallen quite dramatically by comparison with those in Germany. Therefore, under a policy of equalising the misery, it was plain that the soldiers in Germany were due for a substantial cut.
It was made plain to us in Germany that, following last year's Irishman's rise of a pay increase, if there was a real cut in the take-home pay of soldiers, there would be a major morale and discipline problem. It was also made plain to us that if we wished not to see morale deteriorate further and discipline deteriorate, we had better speak out. So my hon. Friends and I did speak out.
To my knowledge, this was fairly welcome among those responsible for the morale of the soldiers in Germany. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot wrote a powerful article in The Daily Telegraph and was at least as outspoken as I was. He received a letter of thanks from a senior member of the Army Council. I, too, received a letter of thanks from an officer responsible for the morale of many thousands of soldiers in Germany, saying of my intervention that it could do nothing but good.
Then there is the reaction of politicians, including the Secretary of State himself. I did not meet the Secretary of State after my return from Germany until 7th November, which was approximately one month after the proposed review of local overseas allowance had been stopped by agreement with the Treasury. I met him at a party for the Commonwealth defence advisers at Marlborough House. When I went to thank him for inviting me to the party, he said to me "Thank you very much for what you have done." I was thanked in November for what I was accused of doing in May.
I find it very difficult to put those two instances together, because I accepted in November, as I accepted in September and in October, that we were on the same side, and that the Secretary of State did not want to see local overseas allowance cut. He knew the damage that it was bound to do to our forces in Germany and he was anxious to get the Treasury to stop its review.
If this is to happen again, I am sure that the Secretary of State will be equally anxious to stop the Treasury making a substantial cut in local overseas allowance, because he knows that this would have exactly the same effect on morale next year as it would have had the year before. I should have thought that we were on the same side in this issue.
I certainly agree with the hon. Member that any cuts in local overseas allowance would have an adverse effect on the Service men concerned. But what disturbs me is that last year the formula which we inherited would have produced a substantial cut, although I do not know exactly what it would have been. I managed to get the whole matter put under consideration. I hope that a new system will emerge. If there is now a great deal of talk about further cuts at the end of this year, during the next six months the soldiers in BAOR will be worried. I hope that that worry will be needless, because I hope that the dire consequences about which the hon. Member talks will not happen. However, the constant repetition in the newspapers disturbs the soldiers and their families. I should prefer that they were not disturbed unless there was something to be disturbed about.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has said that he is working on a new formula. I hope that it will be better than the old one. But surely much of this trouble and alarm could have been avoided if he had said that he was working on this and that he had every hope that there would not be a review of the dire sort that had so freely been predicted last year.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I, too, received a note of thanks from the Secretary of State for my good work concerning the local overseas allowance? Also, it was an all-party delegation. It did not consist solely of Conservative Members of Parliament. If the Minister wishes for further confirmation, all that he has to do is to ask those Labour Members who were with us. Indeed, so anxious were we at times for the safety of Labour Members engaged in discussions in warrant officers' messes that we thought that we might have to rescue them.
I thought that sending the so-called letters of thanks was a courteous thing to do for all hon. Members who expressed anxiety to me and would help to inform them of the decision that I had taken. I myself visited BAOR and went very fully into these matters some six weeks before the delegation visited BAOR.
I note that in recent weeks the argument about pay and allowances has taken on a rather wider constitutional significance.
In his speech in winding up the debate on the Army Estimates in 1975 the Under-Secretary declared:
I regard myself as the Army shop steward."—[Official Report. 17th June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 1322.]
I think that most of us would agree that that is exactly what should happen. Ministers should protect the interests of Service men.
But the question that we now have to face is what happens when the system breaks down. For one reason or another, the Minister concerned is not seen to be an active and strenuous shop steward. In the censure debate on Monday, a number of Labour Members, notably the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Mallalieu), who has been a Service Minister, argued that Members of the House of Commons should think of themselves as the Armed Forces shop stewards.
In a way, that is exactly what has happened in the past 12 months. The 1978 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has acknowledged that the Review Body's awareness of the general concern about pay and conditions was sharpened by a number of Questions and debates on Armed Forces pay which we initiated. But I note with regret that when we try to act as shop stewards, Ministers accuse us either individually or collectively of rocking the boat, stirring up discontent, and of mischief-making—and if Service men try to convey their own worries and problems to us they are also accused of mischief-making or disloyalty.
Let us look back again over the events of the past two months. Just before the Cabinet considered the Armed Forces Pay Review Body Report the Minister of Defence gave figures showing a large increase in the number of officers seeking premature voluntary release. Then the Prime Minister accused those responsible for releasing the figures of mischief-making. Then, to the embarrassment of the Government, it turned out that the release of the information had been authorised by the Chiefs of Staff themselves.
In Monday's debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) asked what he rightly described as a key and interesting question:
If the Chiefs of Staff had sought the authority of the Secretary of State, would he have given it? Or is he as opposed as the Prime Minister to the truth being told?
A few minutes later he was given a key and interesting answer from the Secretary of State:
If the Chiefs of Staff had wished to brief the Press about matters of a factual character of this sort, I should have been sympathetic to that request. The question of when they would have done it would be another matter."—[Official Report, 22nd May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 1133–54.]
What a way to treat the men who carry on their shoulders the full professional responsibility for the defence of this country. It seems that they would have been allowed to pass on a few facts, but not at a time when the publication of those facts might have influenced opinion. These senior officers, who are responsible to the people of this country as well as to Ministers, were treated like naughty schoolboys. But if the Secretary of State really takes such a narrow view about the sort of information which the Chiefs of Staff or senior officers can make available, how can Members of this House act as shop stewards for the Army? Clearly, we cannot. Another answer must be found.
The Left-wing answer to this problem is to say "Very well, let us have proper shop stewards and proper trades unions in the Armed Forces." I am not sure that the Tribune Group is wise to pursue this course. At lunchtime yesterday I attended a meeting at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, when the defence attachés of Denmark, Germany, Holland and Norway described the role of armed forces trades unions or associations in their own countries. Not one of these defence attachés could be described as a dangerous radical. All were in favour of the role played by their armed forces associations. Of course, there were problems, but when the chips were down virtually all these army trades unions became pressure groups for increased defence expenditure.
Apart from the Dutch Conscripts Trade Union, which is the only Service trade union that most Left-wingers have heard about, the natural inclination of these armed forces associations has been to become Right-wing organisations.
Ten years ago, the idea of Armed Forces trades unions was widely regarded with horror by the defence establishment in this country. Now I find that the idea is discussed quite widely, but with a certain dispassionate aloofness. I do not detect much enthusiasm for the spread of trade unionism in the Army, and I see no need to thrust unions upon a reluctant Army. I know that those Continental armies in which trade unionism has flourished do not have our own deep-seated regimental traditions.
I am a natural Conservative, and I do not want to see our present system drastically altered. I want Ministers to be the Army's shop stewards, but if the system has seized up in the last few months we must see whether modifications are necessary. We cannot tolerate a situation in which senior officers are treated like delinquent children when they try to warn the country that our defences are getting dangerously weak. We have to find a way in which responsible warnings can be proffered and listened to seriously.
I note that in winding up the 1975 debate the Under-Secretary of State said:
In return for the willingness of the Service man to go wherever he is sent to undertake arduous and often dangerous duties, we must guarantee a reasonable quality of life for him and his dependants. We must also offer him job satisfaction—the knowledge that what he is doing is relevant and useful."—[Official Report, 17th June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 1322.]
The present Government have failed to provide those guarantees. It must make way for a Conservative Government which will meet those responsibilities.
I wish to touch on one matter which I regard as of not very great importance, but another matter which I regard as of very great importance in regard to the role and work of the British Army.
My first comment relates to the garrison in Hong Kong, a subject which I have raised in the House on a number of occasions. I believe that it is absurd that we are maintaining a military garrison 10,000 miles from this country—a garrison which we could not possibly support logistically in case of conflict and whose only option, if any conflict were to break out with China, would be either to capitulate or be massacred.
If the argument is that the garrison is essential for law and order, surely the answer to the problem would be to recruit and raise a local militia to be paid for by the Hong Kong Government. It is absurd that the British taxpayer should be expected to finance troops far away in that part of the world which, in military terms, we cannot support.
Let me come to the more important matter—on which I shall be brief because the Front Bench speakers took such an interminable time to make their contributions. I refer to the role of the Army in United Nations peacekeeping. This matter has interested me for many years and is becoming more and more important for several reasons. The United Nations peacekeeping techniques have developed considerably since the creation of the United Nations emergency force in Sinai in 1957. That was the first real exercise in international peacekeeping—excepting the Korean war, which was rather a different matter—where there was assembled a multinational force under the authority of the United Nations, whose commander reported to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and which was charged with keeping the peace on a dangerous and highly inflammable frontier. It succeeded in that task remarkably well. Indeed, for 10 years there were no incidents on the frontier. If the statesmen of the world and the leaders of the Arab and Israeli countries had taken the opportunity of the pause given by the use of that force to conclude a permanent peace, much tragedy might subsequently have been averted. But the tragedy which did break out again in 1967 could certainly not be blamed on the United Nations peacekeeping force itself, which carried out its duty in an admirable fashion.
Will the hon. Gentleman emphasise also that there are two points which are not always well understood? First, it was the Israelis who had refused to have United Nations forces on their side of the border, so that it did not lie with them to blame the Secretary-General or the United Nations for the withdrawal of the troops. Secondly, the position of U Thant was made absolutely impossible, first, by that and, secondly, by the failure of the Security Council to give him any positive instructions. As a consequence, much unnecessary blame has been heaped upon U Thant and upon the United Nations by Governments, including his own, for their own failures.
I absolutely agree on both points. I did not intend to involve myself in an argument about United Nations politics, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right when he says that, had the Israeli Government permitted United Nations forces within its territory, a lot of trouble might have been avoided.
The second important exercise in United Nations peacekeeping came in the Congo in 1960, when an international force, which eventually totalled 20,000 men, carried out an operation over four years in incredibly difficult circumstances and in the event successfully achieved the objective laid upon it by the United Nations of avoiding the Balkanisation of the Congo, which could have had terrible consequences throughout Africa.
The next United Nations exercise in peacekeeping came in Cyprus in 1963, and this was of particular interest for two reasons. It was of interest to this country because, for the first time, British troops were involved, and, indeed, have been involved during the long course of the United Nations Cyprus force.
Secondly, it was of interest because this was the first time that a permanent member of the Security Council had been called upon to make a contribution towards international peacekeeping of this kind.
Under the old so-called Hammarskjoeld rules, it had been argued that the great Powers—or, at least, the permanent members of the Security Council—were not appropriate to be involved, or their forces were not appropriate to be involved, in United Nations peacekeeping activities. But in the case of Cyprus there was a change in that rule or convention, and British troops played, and are still playing, an honourable and distinguished role in the work of the United Nations Cyprus force. In fact, I understand that a year or two ago they were presented with a formal tribute in the form of a sword of peace for the work which they had done in Cyprus. As I say, that work is continuing, and British troops are still helping to maintain some stability among the warring factions in that part of the world.
The next exercise in this continuing international experiment came in 1973, following the Yom Kippur war, when we had UNEF 2, the force between the Israeli and Arab forces placed in Sinai, and the United Nations disengagement force on the Golan Heights to supervise and observe the disengagement between the Syrian and Israeli forces in that particularly dangerous part of the world. Those two exercises are now continuing.
Then, in 1978—last month—we had another important United Nations peacekeeping force created following the barbaric and savage invasion of Southern Lebanon by Israeli forces. The United Nations interim force in the Lebanon is of some significance, too, because we again have the participation of troops of a permanent member of the Security Council, namely, the troops of France.
I should be interested to know why British troops were not involved in the Lebanese exercise, since we had relatively adjacent, in Cyprus, forces with a long experience of international peacekeeping operations which, I thought, might, at least in part, have been moved over from Cyprus to the Lebanon, with consequent replacement by other British forces, of course, to maintain the Cyprus force at its proper level.
At any rate, we now have in Southern Lebanon an extremely important and dangerous exercise which the whole House, I am sure, hopes will go successfully and achieve its objective of securing the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from that country.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that British forces might have gone to the Lebanon under the British flag, as it were, or under the United Nations flag? Which part of our troops in Cyprus is he thinking of? If he is talking about the British garrison there as opposed to those serving in the United Nations role, he is opening much wider political considerations, is he not?
I am sorry if I did not make the point clear. I am speaking entirely of the British contingent serving as part of the United Nations force. In no circumstances would I suggest a United Kingdom force in its own right, as it were. My suggestion was that there might have been a redeployment to the Lebanese operation of the British contingent within Cyprus. At any rate, I think that it might have been useful and instructive for Britain to take part in the Lebanese operation.
The question of the British Army's involvement in United Nations peacekeeping operations is by no means academic; nor is it unrelated to the general problems of international tension and peace and war. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) referred to the present situation in Africa. It is clear that the involvement of foreign forces in various African countries poses serious questions of security as to what to do in dealing with aggression and how to deal with the problems of instability which afflict that continent.
At present, there are French forces operating against nationalist forces in the Western Sahara and in Chad. There are French forces operating in the Congo. We have just seen Belgian forces operating in the Congo. Some time ago, there was the Israeli attack on Entebbe. There are Cuban forces in Angola and Ethiopia, and it is believed that there are Russian "advisers"—I put the word in inverted commas—in various parts of Africa. Moreover, in Ethiopia not so long ago there were a considerable number of American "advisers" and a massive supply of arms to that country.
Thus, Western Powers, Cuba and Communist Powers are becoming directly involved through their own armed forces in various highly dangerous situations in the African continent, and conceivably, this development might spread to other parts of the world.
I would argue that if there is a dangerous situation in some part of Africa, as undoubtedly there will be in the future, or in any other part of the world for that matter, and if there is to be any foreign involvement at all—on the whole, one would prefer there not to be—it would be infinitely preferable that it should be by the involvement of some form of international force under the authority of the Security Council, and possibly the General Assembly, of the United Nations in order to make clear that such involvement was not an exercise in political interference but an exercise purely to maintain international stability, and possibly a humanitarian operation to rescue or protect people in danger, with no ulterior political motive.
I regard, certainly, the French involvement, and to some extent the Cuban involvement as well as the Russian and American involvement, in various parts of Africa as having dangerous significance and overtones for the future peace of that continent. It could lead to collisions between East and West. Indeed, we have seen in the Horn of Africa how such involvement could very well lead to serious international complications and do infinite damage to the process of detente which, I am sure most of us would like to see develop.
It seems to me, therefore, that there are two consequences here for the British Army. First, I think it necessary that officers and men of the British Army should receive specific training in the techniques of international peacekeeping. These are not academic exercises. We already have our forces involved in Cyprus. We have many examples of operations carried out in the Middle East and Africa.
There is now a considerable body of knowledge about the techniques and the problems which arise when international forces have to co-operate together not for the purpose of waging a war but for keeping the peace between warring factions in highly dangerous and difficult situations such as we have at present in Southern Lebanon. I hope that Ministers will pay more attention to this aspect of the training of our military forces and perhaps see whether more can be done about it.
Secondly, I believe that there would be value in countries holding joint exercises of a peacekeeping nature with such countries as Ireland, Canada, India, Finland, Sweden, Peru and Ghana whose forces already have experience of peacekeeping exercises on the ground, have been committed in various parts of the world, so that it might be possible to assemble and deploy very quickly segments of our Armed Forces in international peacekeeping endeavours.
I think that it would be generally conceded that the possibility of a direct, head-on collision between the two super-Powers, Russia and America, is somewhat remote. The consequences of that are known to be so appalling that all efforts of statesmen on both sides will be made to restrain such a catastrophe. But the possibility of the two countries being drawn into lesser conflicts and getting themselves into positions from which they might not be able to withdraw are much greater. We have seen that sort of thing arising from the Yom Kippur war and more recently in the Horn of Africa.
The danger becomes more acute now that there are 10 to 15 countries with a potential for making their own nuclear weapons, however small and crude. Therefore, I think that the historic exercises over the years in United Nations peacekeeping, which I have quoted, are of enormous significance, and that we should train and encourage our own Army to be in a position to play its full part when called upon to do so, as it has played a distinguishing role already in the force in Cyprus.
It is always a pleasure to follow in debate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), but I was somewhat surprised by his condemnation of the French intervention to save lives as compared with the Cuban intervention for perhaps more nefarious purposes. I hope that he is in touch with his own constituents, who are great manufacturers of special steels and will doubtless be able to tell him that because of the attack on the Shaba mines the price of cobalt has risen from £8,000 a ton to £24,000 a ton. The people who were speculating in that were the Russians before the attack took place. That is quite an interesting bit of information for what I might call not so much the red brigade in the Labour Party as the pink brigade, who constantly undermine the activities of Service Ministers.
There is no question but that morale in the Army has suffered this year. This is shown by the recruiting figures. I am a great follower of Lord Wigg on these matters. When I was a Minister I was permanently attacked by him on the issue that recruiting figures in normal times directly reflect the unemployment figures, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) said. There must be something wrong when, with high unemployment, recruiting figures are as bad as they are today. The net figures of those seeking early retirement and those coming forward for recruitment are very bad indeed.
It is also significant that when a Department is in trouble it starts attacking the Press. That is an almost sure sign of poor morale. That is why I want to say first something about Army morale and then a few words about Army commitment, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
The problem of the present Labour Government is that they are very much under pressure from some of the Pink Brigade on their Left Wing or central-Left Wing. The other problem is not so much of their making, but it has happened. I believe that the political leadership of the Armed Forces has been in decline. That may be because of Labour Members. It may be due to the way in which the Ministry of Defence has grown up. I do not want to make the matter personal in any way, but I believe that it needs to be looked at.
One of the problems to emerge over the past few years, certainly under this Administration, is that the political chiefs inside the Ministry of Defence no longer seem responsible for the Services. I had the honour to be the last Secretary of State for Air. I was certainly responsible for everything that went on in the Royal Air Force. We find today that the Ministers at the top of the Services no longer carry the same guns as they should carry in those responsible positions. That is also true of the Secretary of State himself.
Therefore, my first suggestion to an incoming Conservative Administration—it would not apply to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, who addressed us this afternoon—is that the Ministers in charge of a Service should be promoted to Ministers of State. There are far too many Under-Secretaries in the Ministry anyway, and a political Under-Secretary cuts no ice whatsoever.
The job of the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, who has just joined us, should be that of an Under-Secretary. Responsibility should go to those who are the political heads of an Armed Service. This is not an academic point. The right hon. Gentleman knows that it is a real point inside that enormous building, housing 20,000 or more officers and civil servants.
What is more, a Minister can then use his influence. The hon. Gentleman in charge of the Army should use his influence when it comes to decisions on foreign affairs and what our commitments might be. The Ministry's structure is wrong. Those in charge of the Army, Navy or Air Force should carry higher political rank.
What has emerged from the row over pay is that the Armed Forces Pay Review Body will no longer work in a period of inflation. In exactly the same way as I believe today we saw the Bank of England and the Treasury quite rightly take back to themselves control of the rate of lending in the market, by bringing back Bank Rate and dropping MLR, the Ministry should take back to itself the decisions on what should be paid to the Armed Forces.
The Service salaries have proved a disastrous failure. We have seen what has happened to them over the past few years, in this period of inflation. In an interesting speech in the Services pay debate, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Hoyle) said that this method must lead inevitably to unionisation, which he said with some reason would be the best way of getting the Armed Forces pay looked after.
There are so many anomalies, so many matters that inevitably fall outside the ambit of the Review Body—overtime, the question of wage drift, productivity deals. All those things are inevitably left out in a period of inflation, when a Government are putting forward their own wages policy, which must be carried out by the pay review unit concerned. How much better it would have been if the Chiefs of Staff and the Ministers responsible for the Armed Services had gone to the Prime Minister and made the row they should have made about Army pay.
That is the next point that ought to be made, that more power, more representation and more muscle ought to be given to the Ministers concerned and to the Chiefs of Staff. The matter of the payment of the Services should be in their hands and the battle should be between Ministers in that Department and the Treasury rather than through this abstract body which will always be attacked by trade unions and which will always try to effect a comparability which does not exist between the man of the sword and the man of the gown. If we adopted that procedure there would be some improvement in morale, if it were seen that the persons running the Ministry of Defence were devoted to the interests of those in their charge rather than being part of an abstract political machine.
Of course, there are other matters affecting morale. There is the question of equipment, ammunition and training grounds. All of these are obviously important, too. The central point about the collapse in morale is that the Army, Navy and Air Force feel that at the moment Ministers are not fighting their corner properly and are denying the Chiefs of Staff the ability to do so. I hope that Ministers will become more active in defence of their particular parishes—in this case the parish of the Army.
This is not a totally academic point. I remember when I was a Minister that when it came to the issue of deciding between the Fleet building more aircraft carriers or having more land-based aircraft I, as a junior Minister, took the matter to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister for a decision. I believed that it was vital for the interests of the Air Force, rightly or wrongly, that the carrier programme should be halted at a certain point. It is impossible for any of this Government's Ministers to raise this sort of question in Cabinet. They raise such matters through the Secretary of State for Defence and the Service representatives are not properly represented at the supreme point of decision. This matter must be looked at seriously. A change of this sort would do a great deal for Service morale.
Although the Minister is a mere Under-Secretary I should like to see him promoted. With that happy thought, I hope that he will start raising at the highest level the question of what the Army's commitments are to be. This year the size of the Army will fall by about 2,500—2,000 other ranks and 400 or so officers. The hon. Member for Heeley has spoken of the various United Nations commitments which have come into existence and in which we seem to have played no part. Perhaps we can be told why we have not played any part in these great United Nations adventures.
Various speakers this afternoon have spoken of the continent of Africa. We are seeing, after 20 years, what we hoped would go away as a military commitment coming back. What we had hoped would disappear, what the Belgian Government hoped had disappeared, has returned. We see Belgian civilians in danger of massacre. Of course, the Belgians had to send their troops in.
After 20 years we are seeing the things which some of us foresaw, especially in the light of the economic problems, of recession. First, there is the breakdown of the odd lines drawn by the Wilhelmstrasse, the Quai d'Orsay and the British Foreign and Colonial Office 80 years ago. We see the problems with the Lunda tribe today. Once the French have withdrawn, what will happen in that area? I am not in favour of our going back to recolonise Africa—
—but Ministers in the Ministry of Defence have a supreme duty, which is to inform the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of the sort of dangers which could be run unless we achieve settlements in those parts of Africa where with our help they can be achieved.
One thing is clear as a result of what we have seen in Shaba province. There will be no United Nations support, after what has happened there, for what is called the Anglo-American plan in Rhodesia. There will be no UN troops, for the simple reason that that organisation will not be prepared to go into an area which could be very troublesome. I hope that this point will be made clear by Ministers and the Chiefs of Staff to the Foreign Secretary and to Field Marshal Carver. After Shaba, the whole of the military concept of the Anglo-American proposal breaks down.
With our troops over-stretched in Ulster and in Europe and under-recruited it is the duty of defence Ministers to put these points to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. If matters should go wrong in Rhodesia because of the failure, delay, prevarication or inability to back what is already something of a settlement between black and white Rhodesians, the Government ought to be aware of the risks they could be running.
I was the Minister responsible, just before UDI, for considering the question of contingency plans in the event that UDI occurred. Those plans were based on the availability of at least one and a half divisions of soldiers of Transport Command, and on the premise that aircraft would be able to land at airfields in Uganda and around Lusaka without let or hindrance. When the Prime Minister comes to consider these matters, I hope that the Chiefs of Staff will be consulted more than the Foreign Secretary or Ambassador Young who have clearly failed.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) grew very indignant when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary chided him, at the opening of the debate, for possibly having spread dissent among the troops in Germany. I am bound to say that the right hon. Member's indignation appears rather ironic in the light of the two speeches that we have heard since then from the Opposition Benches, because they have been full of nothing but gloom, despair and despondency. They have spoken of dissatisfaction among the troops and there have been continuous references to the low morale of British forces.
I think we can say that we shall have a General Election before the next Army debate a year from now. I do not think that any hon. Member would dissent from that. I think we could accord that statement the status of a fact. Should that General Election go horribly wrong and should the result be a most unhappy one, so that we find Conservatives sitting on the Government Benches, I believe that even senior officers will be surprised by the first Army debate following that election to find how rapidly the picture of gloom, despair and despondency becomes one of happiness and rosy optimism over the great future for the Armed Forces. Those of us who have paid some attention to these debates will certainly make a point of being present in the Chamber should that day ever arise, because we have long noticed the growing departure of the Opposition's defence policy from their wider policy objectives.
Time and again over the last three or four years we have heard that the Conservatives, if they ever get to power, are to wring public expenditure and knock it down to size. Yet time and again when we meet to debate defence we are given yet another idea of how we can increase public expenditure. But I never thought to hear the particular proposal for increasing public expenditure that we have heard this evening. We have heard the suggestion that three of my hon. Friends should be promoted. I am bound to say that I do not want to stand in the way of the promotion of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, whom I regard very highly and for whom I have great affection, but I do not know that that would be exactly the kind of priority for defence expenditure that he would wish to choose.
There is an additional divergence in policy between the Opposition's general policy and their particular attitude to defence. Time and again, especially in 1975–76, we have had demands for wage restraint—they are getting rather more muted now that we approach the General Election—yet nobody in the House could have pursued the Government over the issue of Service pay with greater tenacity and militancy than some of those who have been foremost in demanding wage restraint in recent years. Their militancy would have done credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) places me in the pink brigade or the red brigade.
I think I am even more insulted at that, but I will settle for pink. I share some of the scepticism indicated earlier about the movement towards trade unionising the Armed Forces. I think it is true that relatively few people in the Armed Forces at the present time are interested in having a trade union in the Armed Forces. I also entirely accept the perfectly valid point that it is not easy to take something from a different society, such as the Dutch society—which is very different from ours and in many respects more open and democratice—and to graft that individual facet of that society on to our very different society in Britain. I recognise the force of that argument.
Yet hon. Members who, over the past 12 months, have spoken to any of the junior ranks in the Armed Forces must be aware that they have a genuine feeling that they are not involved in any way in the method by which their pay and conditions are settled and that there must be some way, short of trade unionisation, in which they could be given a voice in the process of settling their pay and conditions.
Those who would wish to resist the demand for trade unionisation within the Armed Forces would be foolish to ignore the very real and growing sense of alienation among the lower ranks about the way in which their pay and conditions are settled. Some concession must be made towards that growing feeling.
Having made those general comments, I propose now to confine myself to one relatively narrow point on which I wish to make a brief contribution. Over the past three or four years since I have been a Member—no doubt the same observation applied for many years previously—we have frequently discussed defence in the context of the gradual shrinking of our defence commitments and the gradual retreat back into Europe of our defence commitments and forces.
I want to say a few words about one particular arm of our forces which appears to be relatively immune from this trend. I refer to the global network of strategic signals communications which is maintained by all three Armed Forces. It would be appropriate to refer to this matter most of all in an Army debate, because the backbone of that network is the Royal Corps of Signals, although I recognise that there are units from the other two Services which make their contribution and also contribute to the network which ultimately answers to the general communications headquarters in Cheltenham.
The scale of the operation is certainly very marked. I understand that there are about 10,000 Service men engaged in strategic signals work, by which I mean signals communications and signals intelligence out with the usual battlefield signals and communications which any armed force requires. In addition to those 10,000 Service men, there are now about 4,000 civilians working at the headquarters in Cheltenham, so that we are talking of an overall commitment of about 15,000 Service men and civilians. That is a very large force of people—particularly in the context in which we are withdrawing 56 tanks because we cannot find the men to man them.
We are also talking here about a lot of money. It is very difficult to see that operation—particularly given its capital-intensive nature—being funded on less than £100 million per annum. We are talking here of about 1 per cent., 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the defence budget, and that is a lot of money at any time.
What is most remarkable about this particular network is its far-flung nature. The concentration of our signals communications and headquarters is, of course, within central Europe. I understand the reasons why they are there, and also that this is necessarily a sensitive area. It may give some relief to my hon. Friend if I say straight away that I do not intend to refer again to the central European area in regard to signals, intelligence or communication, and I do not expect him to comment on it when he replies.
Some of the other locations of the signals units have a rather exotic ring. There is an entire signals regiment in Cyprus. There is a very large signals detachment in Hong Kong, to which reference has been made. I should have thought that it was far more than we require for the two battalions of our forces stationed there. We still have a signals base in Singapore. I understand—I have seen it reported—that we also have a signals unit located in Botswana. Hon. Members will recall that when there was a tidal flood outside Darwin, Australia, it was discovered that there were a number of signals personnel out there, on an offshore island.
It might be said, indeed, that the Royal Corps of Signals is perhaps the only body which could justifiably boast in its recruiting literature of joining the Army to see the world. The only possible way to do it now is through the Royal Corps of Signals, because it is still operating in the kinds of places from which other Army units have retreated or where they have been greatly reduced in size.
What are we doing with substantial signals representation in all these areas? Why do we require a signals unit in Darwin, Australia? The last active service involvement in Australia was, I believe, in relation to the missile-testing range there. We have no land forces and only a very modest naval presence, as far as I know, within that entire area.
Why do we require an entire signals regiment in Cyprus? My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Heeley (Mr. Hooley) refered to the intervention in Southern Lebanon. He will reflect that before we came into the Chamber he and I had a discussion on this matter in the Tea Room, in the course of which he was prepared to defend the presence of a signals regiment in Cyprus on the basis that it would assist with communications in the event of an intervention in Southern Lebanon. That is a fair point. But any hon. Member will accept that we do not require an entire regiment in order to maintain that kind of communication and back-up. It has certainly not been placed there or left there for the last decade on the off-chance of an intervention in Southern Lebanon.
I understand that the Middle East is a trouble spot. I understand that there is a great deal of change in that area. I also understand that a signals regiment can listen in and pick up information and seek to provide intelligence that may be of use to us. But I urge the House to accept that it is a fallacy to assume that such information is always of use. What on earth do we do with any information that we gather about developments in the Middle East? What is the particular strategic interest that we might have in keeping tabs on the changing situation?
Inasmuch as we have any strategic interest in information gained from that area, I should have thought it might be in the movement of oil prices or in the negotiations within the cartel centred on the Middle East. Certainly it would be within the scope of the regiment stationed there to listen in to these things if it chose to do so. I would be ambivalent about my attitude towards that, but it would be within its scope. But I have it on very high authority that no information has ever reached the Department of Energy by this particular route.
We have also seen it reported—although we have no way of confirming it—that there was no prior knowledge of the 1973 war before it broke out. Once it had happened, of course, we were very well placed to listen in to what was happening, but we could have learned from Reuters within two hours that it had broken out. We did not know in advance that it was about to break out. I repeat: what are we doing with an entire signals regiment in Cyprus?
The House will be aware that there were two reasons for our retreat from our global commitments. The first of these was financial, and in the event it proved much the more persuasive of the two arguments. There was also the argument that in many cases we have withdrawn from trouble spots around the world partly for the reason that, if we had stayed there and sat still, we should have become entangled in the difficult political situations existing in those parts of the world.
I should like the House to consider some of the places I have mentioned, and I return immediately to Cyprus, which, after all, has been a particularly troubled area. Hon. Members will remember the invasion of Cyprus by the Turkish forces within very recent memory, when Turkish tanks rolled right up to the outer perimeter of our signals detachment in Cyprus and, fortunately, stopped when they reached that outer perimeter. But during that period it was not quite so self-evident that they would stop when they reached the perimeter. That could have been a particularly difficult time for us and could have led to a much greater military presence and involvement there than we have at present.
By whose inaction was it, other than that of this present Government, that those tanks got as far as the mountains of Troodos? Whose inaction was it that let them ashore in Kyrenia at all?
I am not taking a strong line against the Turkish invasion. Anyone who studies the history of Cyprus over the past 15 years must be aware that there are two sides to the story. In what I have said I was not seeking to indicate that we should have gone out on to the beaches to prevent the Turks coming in. Indeed, one might say that the very fact that our presence was unable to prevent that kind of invasion is one of the reasons why one has to put a question mark over that presence and over its utility. It clearly was not intended to prevent that kind of invasion, and when such an invasion came it did not seek to stop it.
There is another area to which I wish to refer. As I have said earlier, I have seen reports stating that we have a signals detachment in Botswana. To whom is our signals detachment in Botswana listening? It certainly is not listening into any British signal, because there are no other British forces in the area. To whom does it pass its information? Do we monitor the movement of rebel forces in Rhodesia and pass that to the illegal regime, or do we monitor the movement of the illegal regime's security forces and pass that information to Bishop Muzorewa? What is its role? These are awkward, thorny and difficult questions which might be much easier to bypass had we not got ourselves involved with a presence there in the first place.
Not only are the locations of some of our signals detachments rather exotic; I understand that some of the staff requirements also have an exotic ring about them. I understand that the latest leaflet from the GCHQ in Cheltenham, aimed at recruiting linguist specialists in the cryptography department, advertises for specialists in Dutch and Italian, whom I had assumed until now were on our side. It also advertises for specialists in Swedish, although we all respect the neutral and separate stance of the Swedes. But, most remarkable of all, it seeks specialists in Japanese. When we discussed these matters in the Tea Room earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Heeley had a perfectly innocent explanation for this particular requirement. He suggested that this might have been part of the process of centralisation of Government resources so that all training in foreign languages was centralised in Cheltenham and that that was where one went to learn Japanese if one was to be dispatched to our embassy in Tokyo.
If that is the explanation, it is a perfectly innocent one and one which I can accept and applaud in the interests of Government efficiency. But I am very doubtful whether that is the case. One can only assume that, if the signals regiment is recruiting specialists in the Japanese language, it is because it has a particular use for them in the course of its communications and monitoring.
I cannot help wondering whether much of this presence and emphasis is not historic. After all, many of the places to which I have referred are places where we happened to find ourselves in 1945, when certainly there would have been a demand for Japanese specialists. Most of the operations which we carry on stem from the agreement which we reached in 1947 with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—the UKUSA agreement—in which we agreed to pool our intelligence-gathering operations and the intelligence that we gather. Indeed, there is a lot to be learnt, about which this House is unaware, of the extent to which information goes direct from Cheltenham to Fort Meade without passing through any British filter.
I move to the last question which occurs to me when one considers the scale of this presence. In 1947, when this operation was rationalised and officially reformed, those using the air waves were overwhelmingly military. It was, therefore, quite natural to set up a signals communication network which would monitor what went over those air waves. But the 30 years since then have seen a marked difference in the people who use the air waves. The air waves are now particularly crowded. For instance they include most international telephone calls and a wide range of diplomatic uses, as well as a particularly wide range of commercial uses.
I do not for a moment suggest that anyone at Cheltenham, or elsewhere within the general signals network, is listening in to civilian or commercial communications. There is no evidence to suggest that. However, hon. Members who follow these matters will be aware that it is increasingly difficult to draw a hard line between a communication which is of security interest and a communication which is of a totally commercial or civilian character.
The question which naturally arises is quite where the Ministry of Defence draws that division. After all, we have the rather sad and perhaps disturbing evidence from America that the National Security Agency—the American equivalent of our signals intelligence, its sister company—overstepped the mark and for periods in the 1960s monitored every international telephone call going in and out of the United States. I have even seen it suggested tha the NSA has the capacity, and on occasions may have done so, to do this from within Great Britain. I do not suggest that that is what people are up to in Cheltenham. I do not believe that that is what they are up to. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the Minister could indicate what guidelines are available to our signals operators as to what is a commercial communication and what is a communication of a security nature, and if he could also indicate in what way accountability is policed.
I have taken care not to discuss any details which could be considered sensitive or damaging to security interests. I would submit, however, that there are genuine political issues at stake. There is the question of the scale of finance going into this particular network, the far-flung locations of some of the detachments, the nature of the information that we share with the other countries that are party to our agreements and, lastly, the particular border-line between military and civilian monitoring. These are matters which are proper for political debate and about which I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will give some guidance in his reply.
I would gladly follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) if I had the faintest idea of what he was talking about. I myself wish to turn to rather more mundane things which will be found in the White Paper on defence.
I should first like to refer to the restructuring of BAOR. I quite agree, although at one time I did not, that we have seen a greater efficiency in the use of troops by the restructuring which has taken place. But, unfortunately, that has not increased our standing vis-a-vis the Warsaw Pact because of the remarkable build-up in which it has been indulging over the last two or three years. In spite of this greater efficiency, I believe that this restructuring has led to a great degree of overstretch. I think that the Minister tacitly or explicitly agreed that that was so.
I take, for example, the system of task force groups, which have taken the place of brigades in BAOR. They started off as a skeleton arrangement comprising a garrison brigadier and one or two people with him. But it was found that it was not possible to carry on operations for any length of time with so skeleton a force. They have gradually been added to. In fact, I think they are being added to surreptitiously, because when I was recently in Germany I was told that these groups lived off their vehicles and that there were no cooking facilities. Yet when we went to look at one of these groups we discovered that there was quite a large cookhouse. The reason is that no one has any time to cook his own food and, therefore, these groups must have this sort of attention.
Again, when these groups started off they had no vehicle repair facilities and no light air detachment because it was not considered that they would be necessary. But, as for tactical reasons, they have to move at least once every 12 hours, and as they comprise quite a number of vehicles in spite of their skeleton size they need repair facilities, thus once again increasing their size. Nevertheless, there are no troops left over for guard duty other than those who have just come off some specialist duty, and I ask myself how long these task force headquarters could function. I was told that they could function indefinitely, that they could function as long as the division could function, that they could function as long as the war went on and that they could function as long as their enemy.
I do not believe it. Men in battle cannot remain awake for more than four days and nights. After that, they tend to go to sleep leaning against walls. I do not think that it is possible for a system which has no personal reserves to carry on for more than four days. It may be that Ministers or the generals think that we shall not have to fight for more than four days. I do not believe that either. In any event, to some extent this is in the lap of the gods.
I cite as an example the gunners. Since restructuring, they have twice the number of weapons with 500 fewer men to man them. Of course, that is possible for a while, but it is not possible for ever. We have heard today about a whole regiment's worth of Chieftain tanks which have to be left unmanned at present because of the numbers of duties which have to be undertaken.
It was also explained to me in Germany that in war we would be better off for manpower than we were in peace time because the various duties which have to be performed in peace time such as manning, guarding and so on would be left behind, and only the war establishment would be there. To an extent, that is true. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is no fat. There are no reserves.
Recently, I went to Ulster to see the men of my county regiment, the Gloucester Regiment, what was there as a garrison battalion. I was very impressed with its perforcance, as we all are, and the Minister was kind enough to pay tribute to the troops there. However, I was also conscious that many of them were extremely tired. Because I was visiting them, they were kind enough in one post to make sure that everyone was on parade. I was extremely conscious of the fact that six men who had just come off duty were practically asleep on their feet. They did not know why they had been got up, who the hell I was and what I was doing there. All that they wanted to do was to get their heads down as quickly as possible. They had been doing that day after day, week after week, for four weeks at a time. One can understand why they are very tired physically. In the end, this must make a difference.
One of the reasons why people used to join the Army was that they would have fun. There is little fun in the Army today. It is all duty and all work. One of the reasons, for example, why they joined the Army was that they wished to play games. When I visited the Gloucester Regiment, I talked to a very well set up man and I asked him what his sport was. He said that it was rugger. I asked him when he last got a game in the Army. This was back at the end of March, during the Easter Recess, and he replied that he had not played a game of rugby in the Army since the previous November and that the only chance that he had had to play was playing full back for Stroud during his Christmas leave.
This sort of thing browns off people, and there must be a time when the Army command and Ministers wonder how long they can carry on in this way.
Newcastle upon Tyne, Wests off, or whatever it is.
The conclusion must be that units have to be larger, and I am sure we are all agreed about that. The best thing that Ministers could do for the Army today is to give each unit about 25 more men so that they could carry out these duties. It also means, of course, that, although we say to our allies that we have 55,000 men in Germany ready to go, we have not, because a great many of them are away. It is a pity that the MOD, no doubt for honourable reasons, gives the impression consistently that 55,000 men are there, ready. Unfortunately, they are not.
We in this House have expressed our anxiety several times about the system of reinforcement. There is no doubt that the improvements which have been made in the way of reinforcements which are to go to Germany have made the best of the system that we have. It could not be done much better or much quicker. However, it is dependent on an alert and vigorous political sense. I do not know whether the House is confident that we would be prepared in all circumstances to take decisions of the kind which apparently came so easily and quickly to the French and Belgians recently about Africa, whereas there was no suggestion at any time that we should be involved. I dare say that the machinery for taking such a decision is not there. Even if we were as a nation much more involved in decisions which may have to come, would we have the political courage and alertness on the day to take such vital decisions in time?
In BAOR today, we badly need the 1,000 additional men who are mentioned in the White Paper. I hope very much that they go to BAOR to make it a little bit more possible for the Army to do its job.
I am afraid that the conclusion is that, although we are much better equipped than we were—there are still shortcomings, of course—although morale is good and although reinforcements may get there, even so our staying power is definitely low. We have no further reinforcements. All our training facilities will be closed. Ours is really a one-shot Army compared with what it used to be.
In terms of equipment, I welcome what has been done to improve the engine of the Chieftain, and I hope that it will be right now in the way that was hoped when it was first modelled. But we lack one or two other items of equipment which are very important for the Army. We have virtually no counter-battery. When one counts the guns on the other side compared with the guns that we have on our side for counter-battery work, we see an almost ludicrous imbalance against us. The APC Spartans are coming three years late. We still lack the medium-lift helicopter which is so important for manoeuvrability and flexibility in the German plains.
I do not wish to venture too far into the realm of pay and pensions, because we have already discussed that once this week. Nevertheless, it was a shock to many hon. Members to know that a private soldier serving in Ulster, before the recent pay rise, was really losing money. There cannot have been more than £2 or £3 a week in it for him compared with his outgoings. I have the exact figures, but I shall not weary the House with them. Now that his pay has gone up by 14 per cent., presumably he has another £4 compared with what he had before.
It is a position which cannot be allowed to exist very much longer, and I hope that the Government will take it seriously. It is no good Government supporters always complaining that the Opposition say that they want to save money only to come forward with all these proposals to spend more. We want to spend more on some and less on others. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) made various proposals about saving money the other day, he was greeted with howls of laughter from Government supporters. But it is possible to find the money if it is considered necessary. I consider it necessary for this purpose, and I believe that my right hon. and hon. Friends also consider it necessary.
There are one or two curious anomalies. The other day I spoke to a brigadier. He was a happy man because he was soon to be made a major-general, and he was very proud. However, he was not so happy about the fact that his pay would go down. That should be looked at. It is ridiculous.
Because the higher grade is caught by the wage freeze, whereas the lower grade is not.
The pension of a general retiring today is less than that of a brigadier who retired five years ago, because the brigadier has an index-linked pension, and for the time being the general does not. That is an absolute mess.
I also consider it an utter disgrace that members of the Armed Forces should be in receipt of rent rebates, showing that they are not really above the poverty line. There are officers and many thousands of men receiving rent rebates. It is quite outrageous that that should be so.
Then there is family income supplement. That any armed servant of the Crown should be in receipt of family income supplement is bad. That anyone should be debarred from drawing benefit for which he has paid is worse. That this consequence should be due to a sordid quarrel between the Department of Health and Social Security and the Ministry of Defence is scandalous. Anything that the Minister can do to beat the hell out of his colleagues in the DHSS and tell them how revolting their behaviour is will be well done.
My hon. Friend raised an important point when he referred to rent rebates. When the pay of soldiers, airmen and sailors was increased, so their rebates decreased. In some instances the net effect of the pay increase has been as little as £1 a month for those who needed an increase the most.
My hon. Friend has made an apt point. He knows a great deal about these matters. Defence Ministers should not fool themselves by thinking that the Army does not know a great deal about these matters too. The Prime Minister told the Chiefs of Staff that they should not tell the truth in this respect, but they are only saying what everybody else knows. It is common knowledge that the one thing that the most ignorant person knows is the exact size of his wage packet. Everybody knows that, and everybody knows how to complete a pools coupon except myself. I do not understand it. No one should think that the ordinary person in the Army does not know the exact amount of his pay and what it should be. He does not need the Chiefs of Staff to tell him that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) has spoken well about the local overseas allowance. There is still an anomaly. Members of the Armed Forces serving in Germany find that when their children are 16 years of age and leave school—between 16 and 18 years—the local overseas allowance in respect of the children is withdrawn. However, it is impossible to send children in that age range home to Britain if no part of the family is here with the object of attending, for example, technical college, assuming that places could be found. However, if they stay with their parents in Germany the allowance is withdrawn between 16 and 18 years. I hope that the Government will give consideration to that anomaly.
Ministers of any Government are only temporarily in charge of the Army, whose long and glorious history is the pride of our country. The present Ministers—they are excellent people individually and personally and much respected in the House—have been forced to preside over a period that the Army will remember as a black period in its history.
What a sorry debate this is. What a sorry debate we had on Monday. What a sorry four years the Services have had. That is all that we get from Defence Ministers. They are sorry that the forces have fallen 32 per cent. behind others in their pay. They are sorry that 50 tank are laid up in Germany for lack of crews. They are sorry that we are short of more than several thousand men on the ground in Germany. They are sorry for this and sorry for that.
The truth is that, hard as they may fight, they are not able to fight hard enough against not us, the Opposition, but their own colleagues so as to achieve correct priority for the needs of our defence forces so that they may tread water. That is about all that the forces have been doing for the past four years. Our job as an Opposition is made rather harder when Ministers offer a blaze of apology for themselves and we see them under constant attack from their own rear as opposed to attack by the enemy in front of them. In every defence debate they are outnumbered by about the same proportion as is the West to the Warsaw Pact. In those circumstances, it seems a little hard that we should attack them further and in strength.
There was one bright gap in the clouds on Monday. I wanted to point out that it is the effects of total Socialism that are rubbing off on the military, but I do not have to do that. It was done by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) on Monday. The hon. Gentleman made a good speech and put that issue much more succinctly than I should have done. He said:
It is recognised that the Services feel that they have had a raw deal. But almost all sections of the community these days feel that as a result of the Government's pay policy they have had a rough deal. It is not only the Services. One finds the same feelings among engineers, nurses, hospital consultants, managing directors, and middle-range management. They all feel they have had a rough deal because of the incomes policy.
That opinion came from the reasonable end—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) said, the pink end—of the Labour Party. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gateshead, East. He added:
I believe that we are getting perilously near a situation in which successive cuts in defence expenditure are affecting the 'teeth arms'.
That was the understatement of the debate. We have long passed that situation.
The hon. Gentleman continued:
If there are any further cuts, they will damage that element that we must keep strong. I warn my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he must resist the pressures to which he will be subjected for further cuts in defence expenditure."—[Official Report. 22nd May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 1174–76.]
That was one Labour Party Member speaking in the debate on Monday. There was one Labour Member who said much the same in a similar debate that took place last year—namely, the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). I know how the Minister must feel. He must think "Two down and about another 250 to go before I have my own party on my own side in striving to maintain my own Department."
I make no apology for again concentrating on pay in my short contribution to the debate. It is the single most important element that goes right across the discontent that is now being felt in the Army and in the Services as a whole.
I make two brief points about pay. In making my first point, I wish to make it clear that I am not making an allegation. I am reporting an allegation I received a letter this morning from a constituent who is the wife of a Service man whose rank I do not know and who is serving in Germany, in whatever Service I do not know. The letter is dated 21st May and the heading is:
Forces Pay—a copper-bottomed deceit?
The letter states:
It will probably come as no surprise to your readers that the Armed Services were not particularly pleased to hear they were being underpaid by 32 per cent. and that the Government's plan to remedy this serious shortfall could only be described in charity as long-term.
However, my husband, like many other Service men, was at least partially mollified by listening to Mr. Callaghan's 'copper-bottomed' solemn pledge given to the House of Commons that Service pay would be restored to full comparability with their civilian counterparts by 1st April 1980. He went on to say that should increases above 32 per cent. be necessary to achieve comparability because of increases in civilian pay over the next two years, these would be given. Good old Jim, we thought, a straightforward, no-nonsense commitment that justice would be done".
The letter continues:
In a forces broadcast last Friday (not transmitted in the UK) the Minister of Defence, after much evasion, said that the Government hadn't committed itself to full Service/civilian comparability by 1st April 1980 but merely to pay the outstanding 32 per cent. and then to make up any difference, provided it did not fall outside any Government pay policy existing at that time.
I do not make the allegation that the Secretary of State said that. However, it is a reasonably independent and literate constituent who is alleging that he did. It is important, not least for the morale of the Services, that that issue should be made abundantly clear at the end of the debate.
There is a concept built into the military salary structure with which I wholeheartedly agree. I was in the forces when the changeover took place. Provided that the system does its job, it has been a valuable concept in the remuneration of the Services. However, built into the system is one year's automatic obsolescence. That is because no account is taken of pay rises that happen throughout the period when the Armed Forces Pay Review Body does its job.
I think that the Government are now to say that the 32 per cent. shortfall which has been announced will be made up by 1st April 1980 and that that is all. By 1st April 1980 the forces will be about 15 to 20 per cent. behind. That will happen once again if it is assumed that there is only a 10 per cent. a year rise in wages, which is a fairly conservative estimate to make for the next couple of years.
I hope that the Minister will make it clear beyond peradventure that the commitment is to have the forces at parity again on 1st April 1980 and not merely to make up the shortfall of the past three years. If what my constituent suggests the Secretary of State said is correct, the forces have been given cause for the greatest possible concern. If my constituent's allegation is true, let the Minister have the guts to admit it. If it is not true, let him say so now and relieve us all. I am sorry to say that the Minister's record on this matter is not very good.
I turn now to the question of Northern Ireland special pay. I brought this matter up in the debate last year. I maintained then—and I have been proved right—that this element of allowance was nothing to do with Government pay policy. The Minister denied it. He said:
That shows the mistake of giving way to hon. Members.
That was a reference to me.
The hon. Member … is oversimplifying the issue. Allowances are all part of pay policy."—[Official Report, 19th April 1977; Vol 930, c. 153.]
When the Prime Minister made his statement the other day, he said that the forces were 32 per cent. behind, that the Government were giving them the 10 per cent. and another 3 per cent. and that that was all part of the pay policy. No more could they have, because of the equality of misery.
But, quite separate from that, the Northern Ireland allowance was doubled. That was nothing to do with pay policy or pay restraint. This time last year the Minister told me that it was. The Minister meant that he and his colleagues could not get away with it this time last year because the trade unions would not have had it and other Ministers would have said "We cannot have a sop being given to the forces in Ulster when we are having to persuade our members to restrain their excessive wage claims."
That is not the way for any Minister to fight for his Service. In particular, to find it being done with regard to an allowance which was doing nothing more than relieving some of the expense involved in our soldiers having to go to Ulster for four-month tours is a sorry tale to tell. I hope that the Minister will now admit that what he said to me last year was not correct and that that allowance was not subject to pay policy, and that he will adjust it as and when it becomes necessary.
Should the Minister in any way feel complacent that he has doubled it from 50p to £1, I remind him that the allowance being paid to soldiers of the Irish Army on the other side of the border—not across the water from their homes—is £1·50 a day. The Minister has now gone from one-third of that amount to two-thirds. That is some of the way. But, comparing the difference between service on the border in Eire by a soldier who is based in Dublin or Cork and service on the border in Ulster by a soldier who is based in Glasgow or Dover, the fact that we are paying only two-thirds of what might be called the going rate for activities on both sides of the border does not bring any credit to our Defence Ministers.
There is one more sorry tale to be told. I do not want to dwell on it too much, but it deserves a mention. I refer to the efforts being made by the Government to prevent the rush out of the Services of those who are so discontented that they want to leave. The example in the Press this week was of an Air Force officer, not an Army officer. If he is proposing to take the law into his own hands, I deeply regret it. If, one year after someone has decided that he wishes to leave the Services because conditions are so appalling, the Department cannot afford to let him go and it has to go to court, as it appears it will have to do, to try to retain his voluntary service, that again is a sorry state of affairs.
It is bad enough that the Services have been desperately underpaid, it is bad enough that they have been treated so badly, it is bad enough that Service men are leaving in unprecedented numbers, it is bad enough that the discontent goes from the newest joined private to the Chief of the Defence Staff, but irreversible damage is done to those in middle management—the captains and majors, the corporals, sergeants and staff sergeants who have served for between five and 10 years—who are saying "We have had enough. We are off." There is no stroke of the pen that the Minister can make which will replace them. There is no way to replace those people in the pyramid who have received all the training for the responsibility to come.
The long-term effect on the Services will be tremendous. In the short term, we can cope with it. In the short term, the senior officers can do two or three jobs. In the short term, we can bring on the younger one. But that gap in the middle, which is growing ever faster, will mean a severe drop in our efficiency and capability in three or four years.
There is one matter that I beg the Minister to take away with him. In my view, he has not done well enough over the Armed Forces Pay Review Body's recommendations. The very least that the Government could do and have done was to get comparability by 1st April 1980. But they have created a grey area over the next two years—a grey area which, in terms of our total defence spending, is minuscule.
It may be that the measures that have been taken and the fine words that have been spoken will stop this rush of middle management out of the Services. There is no way that we can tell for the next month or two. But if by the summer the Minister finds that the tide has not turned and that trained and specialist people are still leaving the Services in unacceptable numbers, I beg him and his right hon. and hon. Friends to take their courage in their hands and go to the Prime Minister and their other Cabinet colleagues and say "This is unacceptable. We simply must implement this pay rise sooner rather than later. We must do what the Armed Forces Pay Review Body said we must do." If the Defence Ministers cannot do that on behalf of the Services they represent, the tale will be so sorry that they really should leave it to someone who can.
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) made some very good points, but his speech was on the lugubrious side. I think that things are much brighter than he made out, particularly with regard to the letter from his constituent which he read. I have read the Prime Minister's statement several times. It is abundantly clear to me that the Forces will have full comparability by 1980, including any increases in national wages which will occur in the next two years.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge of these matters is great, has brought up this matter. I raised this matter so that the Minister could deny that that was what the Secretary of State said. I hope that he will.
I think that the situation is perfectly clear. The hon. Gentleman could go to a desk now and write to his constituent straight away and relieve him of anxiety.
I must take the unusual course of congratulating the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on the moderation of his speech. He made good party political points and showed considerable interest in the well-being of the Armed Forces, but it was all moderately delivered. I fear that has not been the case during the whole of this Session. We have had some very immoderate speeches from the Opposition Front Bench.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour), who is in his place, is usually a moderate, responsible and persuasive person. But last Monday I thought that he fell from grace very considerably. It is important that Front Bench spokesmen should not say things which unreasonably depress the morale of the Armed Forces. That has been happening recently.
I should like to join my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army in his excellent opinion of the forces in Northern Ireland. Those 4,000 or so soldiers who cope with that emergency do a wonderful job. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly those who have visited Northern Ireland, would be happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the forces on the excellent way in which they carry out their duties under the most difficult, tiring and irksome conditions.
When considering the question of the emergency in Northern Ireland, I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to indicate when he replies to the debate what consideration has been given by the Government to emergencies in other parts of the world. The events of the Shaba province of Zaire have indicated that one cannot take for granted the safety of the nationals of any country these days. I should like my hon. Friend to give some idea whether his Department has considered what will be done if British nationals were exposed to similar danger, not necessarily in Africa but in any part of the world. There must be some planning for it. If British nationals were massacred or ill-treated and the Government did not have in advance efficient plans to deal with the situation there would be serious and well-deserved criticism.
The main problem is the situation in Central Europe. It is a comfortable hypothesis that there will not be a war in Europe. It seems that war is improbable. But it is essential to ensure against every possibility. For that reason, it is important to give BAOR every possible help to increase its efficiency.
It may well be said that the Soviet Union's intentions are entirely peaceful, but we must not forget that in the last 40 years the Soviet Union, by military action, has overrun Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Rumania, Bulgeria, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Therefore, we cannot assume that the Soviet Union's intentions will always be peaceful if there is any opportunity of some military adventure.
One obtains very little comfort from the military figures for Central Europe. On page 102 of the excellent pamphlet called "The Military Balance" published by the Institute of Strategic Studies it is stated that in Central and Northern Europe NATO has 10 armoured divisions; the Warsaw Pact has 32 armoured divisions. NATO has 13 mechanised divisions; the Warsaw Pact has 33. NATO has 7,000 main battle tanks; the Warsaw Pack has 20,500.
One wonders why the Soviet Union insists on having these overwhelming numbers facing our forces in Central Europe. It may be that the Soviet Union is over-insuring. Nobody could blame it for doing so. In the Second World War the Soviet Union had 20 million of its citizens killed, quite apart from all its other sufferings. The Soviet Union may feel that it is so important that there should be no question again of its territory being invaded that it must over-insure against it. However, we have to bear in mind the possibility that the Soviet Union will be prepared for some military adventure in Central Europe. The fact that the negotiations on the mutual balanced force reductions have come to absolute stalemate is no reassurance.
Our obligations to NATO must have paramount importance in our minds, particularly now that the United States has shown a slightly equivocal attitude about its overseas obligations. I do not say that it is grossly equivocal, but there is an element of hesitation about the United States policy on overseas intervention which is a natural product of the Vietnam war. We should do what we can to keep our obligations to NATO. Our obligations to NATO have some substantial legal loopholes. Under article 6 of the protocol of the 1954 agreements we are entitled to discuss with our allies ways of reducing our commitments if the economic situation warrants it. But I am hoping that with the improved economic situation we can improve our contribution.
The Minister should give some thought to the possibility of Britain and of NATO itself having other allies apart from NATO and the United States. Air Chief Marshal Sir Neil Cameron caused something of a furore a few weeks ago by some remarks that he made which were somewhat indiscreet. Nevertheless, it drew our minds to the possibility that we could have an ally in the Chinese People's Republic.
This seems far-fetched, but if one is faced with overwhelming military force it might not be a bad thing to explore the possibility of joining with someone who has equal reason to believe that he is under some military threat. I should like the Minister to tell us whether any thought has been given to staff talks or to consideration of mutual, purely defensive, arrangements with the Chinese People's Republic.
Increasing the efficiency of the BAOR has problems. One of them is economic. At the time of the Brussels Treaty in 1948 the pound was worth 11·73 deutschemarks. It is now worth 3·8 deutschemarks—in fact, the figure is less than that today.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would, on reflection, make that remark again. This dates back to 1948. We have had several Governments since then.
We certainly have, but, whereas the figure was 11 deutschemarks in 1948, it was 12·2 deutschemarks in 1964 when I was in Germany with the British Army.
I do not want to raise the old hackneyed cliché of 17 years of Tory rule.
The hon. Gentleman is trying, not deliberately, to take me away from the point that I am making, namely, that there had been a severe depreciation of the pound.
If hon. Gentlemen would not interrupt but would listen to what I am saying, they might learn something. As a result purely of sterling depreciation, we are paying about £600 million annually for BAOR which we would not have had to do if there had not been the depreciation of sterling. Apart from that, we are paying hundreds of millions of pounds annually to West Germany in interest for overseas debts.
I should have thought that there was a strong case for negotiations on the part of the Secretary of State for Defence with his opposite number in West Germany about doing something to ameliorate this problem. It is not necessary to ask the Germans to hand money to us; there are various things that they could do, such as investing in securities in Britain. There are various financial manoeuvres that could be performed which would reduce this serious burden which is entirely due to the exchange rate problem. There is a strong case for the Secretary of State to start negotiations on that basis.
It is clear from the debate that BAOR has some deficiencies that could be made good. One of the serious deficiencies is the inadequacy of our reserves. At present BAOR has no reserves. The people who are standing by as reserves would, in an emergency, simply have to fill in gaps in the battle order of BAOR. Lack of reserves will be a real and continuing problem.
A number of hon. Members have referred to equipment. It is important that we should discount what quite a lot of people say about the equipment of BAOR. Obviously we must discount, to some extent, what some Conservative Members say because they place more emphasis on deficient equipment than is justified. My hon. Friend the Minister said that it is impossible for any Army to have brand new equipment all the time. There must be new equipment coming in and old equipment still in existence.
We should also discount the quite vicious campaigns about the equipment of BAOR being run by some newspapers. They are obsessed with the idea of obtaining the return of a Tory Government as soon as possible and they strain themselves in every possible way to produce propaganda for that purpose. They seize upon equipment as one way of doing that.
We should also discount, to some extent, what the Army says. Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but this is a serious point. Hon. Members quote things said to them by relatively junior officers who often do not know what will happen about equipment in the near future. They often merely repeat rumours to newspapers or to hon. Members who visit them.
We should also discount, to some extent, the opinion of generals, because every general who is efficient and keen wants the best possible equipment all the time, regardless of other considerations. Obviously we cannot give every general what he wants.
I trust that the hon. Gentleman will not criticise me if, when I speak later, I quote the views of private soldiers.
The hon. Gentleman may, by all means, quote private soldiers. I was about to make that point myself and I hope that it will help him. One of the most important aspects of the supply of equipment is its effect on morale. Private soldiers and their seniors want to ensure that they have good equipment. The Under-Secretary made some reassuring observations about equipment, but I should like further reassurance on various details.
I have the impression that the antiaircraft equipment used by the Army in Germany is limited, bearing in mind the threat. I understand that there are only two regiments of Rapier anti-aircraft missiles in BAOR. This seems to be rather inadequate. What is even more undesirable is that these regiments have no effective transport or protection.
When Middle East countries order Rapier missiles from Britain, they also order from the Uniter States armoured track vehicles for the Rapiers. This should be a priority in the mind of the Secretary of State. We must have more Rapier regiments and more effective protection and mobility for them.
The Minister referred to anti-tank equipment. It was reassuring to hear that the Milan missile will soon be coming into service. I hope that he can tell us that it will reach most battalions in the early 1980s rather than the mid-1980s. Anti-tank equipment is very defective in many units. The Carl Gustav is obsolescent and I understand that the M72 rocket is now so old that it often fails to explode when it is fired. There is a strong case for looking at our anti-tank defences and strengthening them.
I was glad to hear from the Minister that serious consideration is being given to a replacement main battle tank in the late 1980s. It is important that as much work as possible should be done to expedite that piece of equipment. In the meantime, we must make do as best we can with the Chieftains. One problem with the Chieftain is that the engine power is somewhat inadequate for the tank. As a result, engines are frequently breaking down. Another problem is that there are not enought spare engines. In fact, there is difficulty in getting spare engines at all. When an engine breaks down, it is as likely as not that the tank is immobilised.
That remark is a little unfair.
I turn finally to the problem of armoured personnel carriers. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) is concerned about the infantry, and that is a proper concern. They should be properly protected when they go into action. The FD432 armoured personnel carrier is obsolescent and inadequate and I hope that some work is being done on providing a better and more efficient vehicle.
Equipment is important not only in relation to the efficiency of the Army but because of its effect on the morale of all ranks. All of us who have visited BAOR have been impressed by the tremendous pride that soldiers of all ranks take in their jobs. It is important to them that they should have first-class equipment and, for many of them, that is much more of a grievance than are questions of pay. The first action that we should take to raise morale is to ensure that the Army has up-to-date equipment, gets it much sooner and gets much more of it.
The other important matter affecting morale is pay, which we debated fully on Monday. Opposition Members keep referring to the fact that recruiting figures have been poor over the past year and that there has been an excess of people leaving the Armed Forces. I am convinced, on simple logical grounds, that the Prime Minister's statement, which made clear that the forces would have an increase of 14 per cent. straightaway and that the comparability 32 per cent. would be paid within the next two years on top of any other increments due as a result of wage increases, will change the whole position in regard to morale, recruitment and people who are leaving prematurely.
The hon. Member for Beckenham dealt with the important question of the Army's local overseas allowance. When I and a number of other hon. Members visited BAOR there was obviously concern there about the possibility of a substantial reduction in the allowance. I understand that an inquiry into that matter is taking place and I am sure that it will bear in mind that this allowance represents quite a substantial proportion of soldiers' take-home pay in Germany. It would have a deplorable effect on morale if that allowance were decreased. In West Germany, soldiers have seen that people in the Foreign Service have had very large increases—up to 50 per cent.—in their local overseas allowance. It is maddening for a soldier to see civilians around him having their allowance increased in this way and then to hear that there is talk of cutting the allowance for the Army. I hope that we shall hear the result of the inquiry as soon as possible.
I have referred to morale and grievances, but it is important that someone other than the Under-Secretary should say in the House that the morale of the British Army is exceptionally good, despite the hardships and difficulties. That is particularly so among the fighting regiments. I have visited only a few regiments, but in some, such as the 16th/5th Lancers and the 4th Tank Regiment, which I visited last autumn, morale was excellent. I also pay regular visits to the Household Cavalry Regiment. Its morale is splendid. It is everything that one would expect of a superb fighting unit. It is very important for the whole House to understand that the morale of the Army is really very good indeed. It is doing a fine job. It knows that it is doing it, and it is happy and proud to be able to do it.
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) is a frequent attender at our defence debates and always speaks with interest. He opened his speech by chiding the Conservative Opposition with spreading alarm and despondency, yet he reiterated much that had already been said on these Benches. He ventured into the realms of finance, and I began to have misgivings, which were amply justified when my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) intervened to correct him on the question of the sterling equivalent to the allowance. The hon. Gentleman talked about morale. That is an important thing to talk about, and I intend to deal with it.
The state of morale of members of the British Army was not once referred to by the Under-Secretary of State. Yet nothing is more important than morale, because it can drive men beyond human endurance and without it armies break up and desert. In today's peace-time Army, it is as important as ever to maintain the highest standards of behaviour and training and to attract men of the highest calibre whose potential and achievements are realised in their response to Service life.
It is, after all, life in the Services that is the Army's strength and attraction, and it is a life that bestows a quality of achievement in all its activities. It demands concentration on the things that matter, and it is those who are good and reliable at the job and who are ambitious who do better at it than anyone else. It would have been unprecedented even a few years ago to have raised the subject or morale in the Army, but so great has been the anguish over pay and other matters that today the state of morale of our Service men has become our concern, not so much what it is today, which is remarkably good—the hon. Member for Loughborough was right in saying that—but what it is in danger of becoming.
If the Government had shown some willingness to listen to what the men have been saying, and some real understanding of the problems of their making ends meet, we should not be raising these matters now. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be unwise to consult junior officers and generals. He gave his reasons but he did not say who should be consulted or listened to.
I did not say that one should not consult them. I said that one should discount to some extent what they say because of the protectionism which all good officers show towards equipment.
That may be the case, but it is wise to listen to everyone's point of view irrespective of rank or rate.
The Government have shown themselves to be the world's worst type of employer. They have been remote, untrustworthy, unsympathetic and downright mean. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) referred to the number of Service men and their families who are receiving social security assistance in order to contribute towards the cost of their rent and rates. I can add to what he said by explaining that on 5th April there were 8,913 Army families in receipt of social security. The Government should be thoroughly ashamed that a man's dedication and service to the Army and his pride in the Army should be so little rewarded that he is forced to seek assistance in this way.
But pay is not the only complaint. In a way, the pay problem represents a combination of several factors. These are chiefly the Government's cuts in defence expenditure and their effects, the conclusions of the 1977 report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, which were ignored, the Government's niggling parsimony over special pay and allowances and rent and food charges and, finally, the picture that men can now see of their career prospects. Young men trained at the Army Apprentices College in my constituency must often wonder what sort of a future they would have if the disarmament policies of the Left-wing of the Labour Party were to be put into practice.
Defence has been a victim of expenditure cuts time and again since the Government took office. There is nothing more demoralising than for the Army to receive one cut and then another, followed by others, when each occasion was meant to be the last time that a cut was to be made. We now find restrictions on training and weapon-firing practice, and old equipment is being retained when it is long overdue for replacement. The question of restrictions on any future attempts to protect citizens or our interests abroad in Africa has been raised by my hon. Friends, and it simply is not true that we can command the sort of task force that would be necessary to undertake the safety of our interests or our citizens abroad in Africa or other parts of the world.
During the Minister's speech, there was an intervention about the Clansman radio system. It may or may not be true that a number of officers believe that it will be six or seven years before the Clansman is introduced fully to all our divisions in BAOR, but the Minister made an unprecedented, untrue and unscrupulous attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), who is not here today to answer the charges, to the effect that he has been spreading dissent amongst officers and other ranks in BAOR. That is a monstrous thing to suggest, and the Under-Secretary of State should withdraw it. We look to the Secretary of State himself to withdraw it.
Everyone knows how crucially important it is to have good and efficient equipment. That is part of morale. Our men deserve the best equipment we can produce. It should be available to the men not only for their own safety—a factor that a lot of people forget—but because our stretched resources on the central front have been admitted and require more sophisticated weapons to hold the balance against an increasingly superior Soviet force of men and tanks. That force is superior in the ratio of 1.3:1 in terms of our men and 2.9:1 in terms of our main battle tanks. So we see the vital force which is on the opposite side of the central front region. But, instead of our men receiving the latest equipment, the latest Chieftain tanks with the Chobham armour have gone overseas to Iran.
When it comes to discussing jobs and sales of defence equipment, it is a Tribune Group policy to want to run down our procurement manufacturing base and to retrain for the production of non-military equipment. If our own men are to be denied modern equipment because of overseas sales, why cannot more jobs be created to meet the demands of our Services? The truth is that about 95,000 job opportunities in our defence industries have been lost—this is on the Government's own admission—since the Government took office. This is in contrast to the £900 million that has been spent in three years, during a period of rising unemployment, in order to create short-term civilian jobs, such as counting lampposts and the like.
My second point concerns the conclusions of the 1977 report of the Armed Forces' Pay Review Body. Quite simply, that report stated in its conclusions:
We attach particular importance to the need for a measure of flexibility in the period after 1st August 1977 in a form that is directly relevant to the Armed Forces pay system.
I have quoted that in the past, and I make no apology for quoting it again because it is the basis of the conclusions of that report, which were totally ignored, that has led to the feeling of mistrust against the present Government for not having made allowance for those conclusions in the pay policy which they subsequently introduced.
Therefore, when the Government say that pay policy does not allow certain increases to be taken into account, in allowances, for instance, or whatever, in the final award to Service men, it is their own policy and it is their own fault for not initially making allowance for that in the present round of pay policy. As a result of those published conclusions, Service men had a right to expect that they would at least have some special corner to allow for their pay adjustment to be made in the light of their particular position because they had fallen back in the pay round.
I should like to turn to the subject of allowances. Under the new pay arrangement, the 50p a week for service in Northern Ireland is to be increased to £1. Even so, a 100 per cent. increase on 50p is not very much. It is a pretty miserable amount when one considers that the Service man who loses his local overseas allowance for himself loses far more than 50p or £1.
A sergeant serving in Northern Ireland for four months loses £237·25 by way of his reduction in LOA. That is £1·95 a day. A captain loses £2·43 a day. That is equivalent to £295·65 over the four-month period. His wife and family, if he has one, would have the LOA in BAOR, but think of the sacrifice he has made and what his family are having to put up with because he is not there to be with them. He is absent from them for four months and he sacrifices the LOA, which in my view he should be entitled to receive if a family depend upon him as a breadwinner. Yet, because he is serving and risking danger in Northern Ireland, he is penalised by the loss of the amount to which he would be entitled if he remained in BAOR.
Let us look at the position of the Service man who is posted from this country to, for instance, either Cyprus or BAOR. I have raised this matter previously. He has to pack up his furniture and belongings and take his wife and children over to their new quarters in Germany or Cyprus. First, he must pack up all his goods and chattels himself. If the man or the officer goes over the limits of his free allowance in terms of weight and volume—which were fixed in 1948—he has to pay out of his own pocket a sum that can run into £100 or more, or somewhat less, on excess rates, which the Government have raised by nearly 200 per cent. since they came to office. The Government's income from these excess charges was £330,000 in 1977. This is money which has been taken out of the pockets of our Service men who have been obliged to take their equipment, goods and chattels with them.
The Pay Review Body mentioned this matter in paragraph 9 of its report. It also says that this allowance is
interpreted as a non-wage benefit which would have to be offset against a pay increase.
But, in my view, this is surely not a benefit. It is an unavoidable hardship.
On 17th February this year I put a Question to the Secretary of State. I asked
whether allowances paid to Service men to compensate for, or assist towards, expenses incurred may be adjusted to take account of the true costs involved and fall outside the Government's guidelines on pay.
Let us remember that the Government themselves have increased the cost to the Service man of these excess charges. The end of the reply stated:
Increases which do no more than reflect higher costs may be applied outside the Government's guidelines on pay."—[Official Report, 22nd February 1978; Vol. 944, cc. 665–6.]
To my mind, it seems thoroughly inconsistent that the Government, on the one hand, should bump up these charges by a colossal amount and penalise the Service man and then say "You have to move your wife and family, furniture and belongings to Germany. It may cost you a bit more. We shall take more from you. But we are not prepared to increase the amount and weight of baggage that you can take under the free allowance."
The other side of the coin concerns Service men who own their own houses near aerodromes, as do many RAF personnel, particularly in my part of the world. It is now almost impossible for them to leave their furniture behind and let their houses furnished, because they never know whether they will be able to get their houses back under some of the rules and regulations introduced over the years by the present Government.
My hon. Friend has made a succinct point and it is very important. It is something that the Government have been very slow to recognise. They have taken no action to correct that matter. It creates great hardship for families who are unable to let houses with any safety of being able to return to them when they need to do so.
Then there is the matter of disturbance allowance This can be paid only if a Service man is expected to serve at least six months in his new place of duty. If he is posted abroad, and whether or not he likes it, he may not be able to draw the disturbance allowance.
All these things add up to intense irritation. They are niggling, small points but they mean a lot to people who are hard pressed financially. Every penny and every pound add up. It is particularly galling when these are allowances which are way below the allowances that civilians working for the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, for example, are able to claim. The Service men are having a very bad deal in this direction.
After the 1977 report on pay, the increase in rents and food charges created great bitterness and a deep mistrust of the Government. The way in which the pay award was given with one hand and taken back with the other was a factor that led to the very core of the pay demands that the Service men have been talking about. I think that the Government have learnt a lesson in all this, but it is a lesson that they should have been able to see for themselves.
Finally, what is the picture of the sort of career open to new people coming into the Army? First, there is and there has been a number of people leaving and seeking to leave the Service. This must be a contributory factor in making anyone hesitate as to whether to join the Army. The recruiting figures bear this out.
In the first place, 908 Army officers applied for premature voluntary release in 1977–78. Some 4,643 men actually left the Army prematurely at their own request during that same period. We are dealing with people who are highly skilled and who are probably at the peak of their careers. They are the very men whom the Army needs to retrain. These people are leaving during a period of very high unempolyment. That is an indictment of the way in which the Government have handled the Armed Forces and the matter of their pay.
The Army is an elite force of men. They should be recognised as such. Outside firms are always keen to recruit the young and the best. They are the people that the Army desperately needs, and they are the ones, alas, who always leave first.
We have made a commitment to restore comparability with civilian pay by 1979, when we are elected to govern. I share the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), who has referred to the awkwardness of comparability with civilian pay. One can never obtain true comparability. One can never reward people for their courage, extra hours worked or total dedication to service. We say now to all those Service men who are thinking of leaving or who are disgruntled "Hang on, because there will be a change of Government soon."
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) spoke of his nostalgia. When my hon. Friend was making his speech 21 years ago, I was joining TAVR. My nostalgia tonight lies in the fact that this is the first time I have spoken on defence matters in this House when I no longer have to declare an interest because, after a period of 21 years, I thought it was time to make way for others.
Nevertheless, I wish to speak in this debate about the reserve forces—and, in the context of this debate, that means the TAVR. I take the view that of the three Services the TAVR is infinitely the best in equipment and recruitment. We should closely examine the appalling state of the naval reserve in particular and the extraordinary state of the RAF reserve—but clearly we cannot do so today or in this debate.
The Minister said that priority was being given to the TAVR, as is right and proper. It is an elementary military fact that as the Regular forces deteriorate in numbers, in equipment and, I am sorry to say, in fighting capacity, it becomes infinitely more important that the reserves should be strong in these areas. In conversation with many Regular soldiers and with their commanders, one gets the impression that, far from its being a second line, something to be used as a bonus, the TAVR is now part of the front line British Army of the Rhine. It is this fact that requires that greater priority be given to the TAVR than has been given to it in the past.
I am alarmed, as are many of my hon. Friends, at the increasing capability of the Soviet Union and her satellites to mount a surprise attack on the NATO allies, whether in the North of Norway in Turkey or on the central front. I do not hold much belief in the policy of the flexible response. I believe that "flexible response" amounts to flexible weakness. I have always thought that our strength in NATO lies in sticking to the tripwire philosophy—a philosophy which makes it clear that one foot over the Iron Curtain by any member of the Warsaw Pact should immediately meet with a unified retaliation from all NATO allies together. But, whichever concept is employed and so long as we have a Socialist Prime Minister in this country and an attitude on world affairs exhibited by such people as Mr. Andrew Young, I am not convinced that we shall respond with the absolute speed and determination that will be necessary at the slightest incursion upon the allies' territory.
I deliberately refer to speed. I believe that the great weakness in the TAVR lies in the physical problems of getting soldiers who are at home, at work, at their desks, from their civilian functions into their battle positions in Germany. This procedure is being slowed up because of the existence of ancient legislation that allows the call up of the TAVR only following a Queen's Proclamation. It is ludicrous that a Proclamation has to be officially issued before the TAVR can be called up. I should be very happy if a completely new procedure were instituted allowing for a selective call up in the first instance—perhaps secretly if necessary, but obviously it would not be long before the facts leaked out—so that the whole operation could be started quickly.
I am even more concerned about the Regular reservists. On the whole, most active TAVR units know where their soldiers are and have the capacity to contact them quite quickly, but I wonder how many Regular reservists can be instantly located. They often move their addresses and jobs; we know from the electoral registers how many people move around each year. I believe that the Ministry of Defence would be surprised if it were to try to contact all Regular reservists and were able to get hold of them. I know that there are processes for dealing with this situation, but I believe that they require reviewing and bringing up to date.
Then there is the physical problem of moving about in a war or near-war situation. Obviously we are facing the unknown. The prospect of a nuclear war is a new one, but it does not require much imagination to realise what would happen if the British public started to think that hostilities were about to break out—not just in the United Kingdom, but in the Channel, the Channel ports, in Holland and Belgium, and on the routes our troops would take to reach their position.
I am speaking at a time when the Select Committee on Defence and External Affairs has reported and has examined these matters in considerable depth. The Government have replied over-calmly and complacently about these problems. I wish that we had time to debate that report—the first report on our reserves for a long time. That Committee rightly pointed out the difficulties of moving troops at a time of great emergency.
Let me turn to the subject of the fifth column. In our docks, railways and airlines do we know who will be on our side in the event of any confrontation with the Communist bloc? We all know that there are sleeping members of a fifth column that exists, if not in this country, certainly in Germany. At the outset of hostilities they will seek to delay in any way possible the movement of troops and reserves to the front line. I suggest that a somewhat new situation will develop, although obviously this is a matter that does not bother Labour Members since only one hon. Member has bothered to turn up for this important debate, apart from the Minister, who has been sitting here throughout.
What stocks of equipment, ammunition, supplies and other strategic materials will the reserve Army find on arrival in BAOR? We are told in the Select Committee report that each unit inspects its reserves once a year, but the point here is somewhat larger. When I am talking of reserves, I am talking not only of reserves of manpower, but of reserves of munitions, equipment and all the logistical support that is necessary to fight a war. In my view, a great miscalculation has been made on this matter. The lessons of the recent wars in the Middle East show that the rate of consumption of ammunition in modern war is infinitely greater than all the experts predicted.
Equally, we know for a fact that with the enormous submarine force possessed by Russia it would be a long time, probably six weeks or two months, before it would be possible for the Americans to send shiploads of equipment to Europe. Yet we have a 30-day reserve, and probably not even that in many cases. Personally, I do not think the ammunition and other expensive items will last that long. Therefore, when we talk about reserves, we should talk about reserves of equipment and munitions, because they are totally inadequate.
As I said at the outset, I am concerned that the TAVR will be required on a number of occasions to take a front-line position alongside Regular troops. With the increasing complexity of modern equipment, no matter how hard my friends in the TAVR might train, no matter how expert they might be in their own field, it is no use pretending that they can be as proficient as the Regular soldier in the use of this complex equipment.
Therefore, it is my hope that in the equipping of the TAVR thought will be given to the whole question of equipment. The Minister said that he had fired the 30mm Rarden cannon when he visited my old regiment, the Royal Yeomanry, at Warcop in April. I think that hon. Members would be interested if they were to see that gun, an excellent automatic cannon of enormous complexity, which requires a considerable training period before a soldier can learn to use it reliably.
Perhaps, when equipping the TAVR, we should consider the problems of training time. I know from my own experience that far too often training schedules, training manuals and training courses are designed for the Regular soldier who has all day and every day to learn his subject, whereas the odd weekend and the occasional drill night is all that a Territorial can find by way of time.
As for Regular reserve training, I must say that I believe it to be altogether defunct now. If I am wrong, I shall be happy for the Minister to put me right, but it is my belief that, once a soldier says goodbye to his Regular unit and goes on to the Regular reserve, in present circumstances he is most unlikely to be called back to be rebriefed or to be brought up to date on what his job will be in time of war.
I was interested to hear the Minister say that there is to be an inspector-general of the TAVR. In the way these matters are announced, he made that important statement rather quickly and I may have got it wrong, but, as I understood it, the function of this general, wearing a different hat, is to improve liaison between the Regular Army and the TAVR.
That is a commendable objective, but it need not be achieved by creating yet another bureaucracy. The way to improve liaison with the TAVR is to ensure for example, that senior officers, before appointment, have had service with the TAVR. At the time of the great Wilson cuts, not one member of the Army Board had ever served in any capacity with any TA unit. If one speaks to Regular soldiers who are posted to be adjutant, to be quartermaster or to be commanding officer of a TAVR unit, one will hear them say that they did not really comprehend, from their position and knowledge in the Regular Army, how the TAVR operates.
There are other ways in which liaison can be improved on a day-to-day basis, through the availability of training courses, the availability of Regular Army establishments, the exercising of Regulars with Territorials and so on. There are 101 ways in which, with the blessing of senior officers—that is all that it requires—an enormous amount could and should be done.
One has so often heard Regular soldiers say "They are only the TAVR. We cannot give them much priority, we cannot give them much time, and we cannot give them much help." On other occasions, there is a different attitude, and the enormous benefit which is gained from such liaison is well worth nurturing. I believe this to be much more a matter of attitude than of organisation.
I come now to a more local matter which is nevertheless of importance. The Minister said something about the reservists who would remain in the United Kingdom on mobilisation. He referred to the home base. I draw a conclusion different from his. The Minister's conclusion was that there would be adequate reserves and adequate Regular troops left behind to protect the home base.
I turn to the position in the West Country. I am open to challenge here, but I think that I am right in saying that there is no Regular Army unit west of Salisbury Plain. Although there are Royal Air Force units, Navy units and Royal Marine units, there are no Regular soldiers based west of Salisbury Plain. That is an extraordinary concept in the light of modern developments, with paratroops, landing fields, seaborne assaults and so on.
I find it extraordinary that in the interests of economy—presumably it is in the interests of economy—there is no way of disposing our troops in a more orderly fashion around our country. If the result is a drop in recruiting, if the result is that certain areas contribute less and less to the Army, no one is to blame but those who dispose our forces in this way.
I shall touch now on the pay issue, though not in the context of the Regular Army since that has been given plenty of airing. In my view, the time has come for the training bounty to be seriously reconsidered. Even the Ministry of Defence, in its reply to the Sub-Committee, acknowledged that the bounty should be increased. It is no use talking about pay policy and other matters when one comes to the TAVR training bounty.
That bounty is what it is called—a bounty which should be given as a gift or reward for the endless weekends away, for the late nights back on drill nights and all the other inconveniences. In my experience, many soldiers use their bounty as a "Thank you" gift to their wives, thanking them for putting up with their lack of attendance at home because they have been away doing Territorial drills.
In the debate on the defence White Paper, I mentioned the way in which the TAVR was treated over such a small matter as the Jubilee medal. The issue of Jubilee medals to the TAVR was despicably low, and of the three or four given to each unit one automatically went to the commanding officer. But what an easy way this would have been of thanking some of the long-serving soldiers who have put in year after year of self-sacrifice and endless duty. In a way, they select themselves. But this was not to be and that little present was ignored. It was a great pity.
I wish now to draw attention to a select band of people known as consolidated rates of pay officers, or, to give them their other title, Regular permanent staff. They comprise the adjutant, so to speak—the organisation officer—who in many TAVR units runs the office, sees to the administration of the building and takes off the reserve army much of the administrative load which, because it is only a reserve army, it finds difficult to carry.
The current shortfall is 5½ per cent. of establishment—that is, 10 officers—and 13 per cent. of establishment—that is, 17 soldiers. That is not very many, the Minister may say, but every one of those jobs not filled means a unit which is finding its own reserve officers and reserve men to do jobs which it really cannot give them time to do.
I should like an assurance that these officers will be treated at least as well as the Regular Army over the pay review. In the past, they have been omitted from pay reviews, and I very much hope that I shall have that assurance. They should be paid on the same rate as a Regular captain. The idea that because they are usually retired they therefore have a pension is not always true, and there are some "conrate" officers who do this as their only job and rely on their pay as their only form of subsistence.
If there is to be any differentiation, perhaps the Minister will consider seeking out those who look upon this as their only job and paying them on a Regular captain's rate. Good heavens—they do far more than a Regular captain's job. They work enormously long hours, they do everything from the administration to the washing up, and they are an incredible bunch of men without whom the TAVR in particular would suffer seriously.
I come now to the suggestion that there should be some other force in this country to help in time of emergency. I shall read a short extract from The Daily Telegraph of 22nd February, at which time a great many Service men were labouring in the West Country to assist during the recent snow crisis. Under the heading "Gen. Howell's Army", The Daily Telegraph said:
We are getting perilously close to a situation in which, if there is some job to be done which either nobody can do or which nobody chooses to do at a particular time, we automatically regard it as being one of the martial arts. What if the Soviet Union decides upon some military adventure—say, in Berlin—at a time when Britain is in the grip of a firemen's strike, bad weather, a new IRA offensive or all three? Mercifully, we are merely part of an alliance. But our troops are an important component in that alliance. Nor should it be assumed that a sudden European crisis, leading to war, is unlikely. Clearly, we need some Third Force—in between police and army—to help cope with natural disasters and manmade ones such as incomes policies. Most comparable countries have them. No doubt the Government would be accused of setting up an authoritarian or quasi-fascist or strike-breaking militia; one of the reasons why we need such a force is because there are so many people in this country prepared to make idiotic protests such as that.
I wish to adopt that idea. I believe that there is a role for the reserve forces, and in particular the TAVR, which they have never yet been called upon to fulfil. There is no reason why TA personnel should not have helped at the time of the firemen's strike. Nobody could say that the Regular Army was better trained than the TAVR, because neither was trained at all when the fire-fighting duties were required. There are just as many drivers in the TA capable of driving "green goddesses" as there are in the Regular Army. The ability to relieve
the Regular Army over the week end to do something useful and worth while, to do something adventurous, would have been immensely good for morale in the TA. But, even, though I suggested it, the Minister turned it down, perhaps because he would have had to have a Proclamation, or something similar.
The truth is that we have available not only the NATO reserve part of the TAVR but the UKLF part, equipped and organised to be in aid of the civil power. We should not start worrying about the bogy of the Army's being used to enforce the Government's will and that sort of thing. That is not the case. These men are there to help in an emergency. They should not be forgotten. They should be used, and the Government should take trouble to see that they are.
I have told the House that I have terminated my time in the TAVR. The Minister has said that he has spent a considerable time visiting it. I sincerely believe that in the best traditions started before the First World War, at the time of the Haldane reforms, and through three conflicts—the Boer War and both major wars—our reserve Army has done a great deal for this country, not just in military terms but in social and domestic terms. It is still doing that job, yet we do not hear about it. Will the Minister kindly trumpet the functions, the existence and the triumphs of the TAVR whenever he has the opportunity? It is as great as it ever was.
Before I call the next hon. Member to address the House, I should say that six hon. Members wish to catch the eye of the Chair. The only way in which we shall be able to fit them in between now and the time when the Chair calls the Front Bench speakers is for reasonable restraint to be exercised.
I intervene briefly to draw attention to one or two specific points arising from speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members. I am astonished and appalled that for a debate of this importance there should be so few hon. Members present, although it happens to be the eve of a bank holiday weekend.
My constituency is in Northumberland, which has a great tradition of being the recruiting ground for many famous regiments. The regiments in Northumberland have given devoted and brave service throughout all the emergencies in the past few years. I keep in close contact with the regiments there, and I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to them now.
May I now deal with the specific points made in the debate so far? The first is the extraordinary idea, which seems to emanate from the Opposition in the course of this debate and on other occasions, that there are pink or red Labour Members who have the interests of the Armed Services less at heart than Opposition Members have. I am not sure whether I am categorised as a pink or red Member, according to the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), who used that description, but I very much resent the suggestion implicit in that statement.
There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who have given long, devoted and brave service to the Armed Forces. I intensely resent the innuendo being hurled across the Floor that in some way Labour Members are less patriotic than Conservative Members and have the interests of the Armed Forces less at heart. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of my hon. Friends have served bravely in peace and war in the course of many distinguished campaigns and with distinguished regiments. It is unfair to make that sort of suggestion. Blimpish speeches of that sort, with a lot of jingoistic twaddle, lower the tone of the debate enormously and distract the attention of the House from the real issue.
The real issue is that we are all agreed, I hope, that we must do our best to persuade the Government, whatever its political colour, to give a better deal to all ranks in the Armed Services. That should be the objective of both sides of the House in this debate—to try to bring pressure upon the Service Ministers to get better pay and conditions and equipment for members of all the Armed Forces.
It is absurd to discuss this subject in isolation. One must discuss it in the context of foreign policy and defence policy. When my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Secretary of State for Defence for six long years between 1964 and 1970 in the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), he no doubt did his best to get as much money as possible from the Chancellor in that Labour Administration. Now that he himself occupies the office of Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Defence should be doing his best in the Cabinet to get as much money as possible from the former Secretary of State for the Department he represents.
The matter is difficult, because one can never have enough money to do all the things one wants to do within the context of the Armed Services. Because of our economic situation, we are very restricted in that way. That is why membership of NATO and other international organisations is so important. By ourselves we could not possibly maintain the sort of military presence that we can maintain collectively with our allies.
Therefore, I deeply deplore the snide remarks made by the Opposition against the Government trying to give the impression that this Government are not seriously interested in defence matters and do not have at heart the welfare of the troops, as they do. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, whose constituency is very near mine, takes a great deal of trouble to visit many units and see for himself what is going on.
There has been a good deal of controversy recently about the position of the Chiefs of Staff and senior Army officers in regard to political pronouncements. There has been a good deal of confusion and misrepresentation in the media about it. The constitutional position is absolutely clear. Senior Army officers, the Chief of the Defence Staff and anyone else at the Ministry of Defence whose duties are involved have a high duty to keep Ministers informed and give them expert advice on military and strategic matters. If the senior officers are concerned about one aspect of political, defence or foreign policy, they are under a duty to notify their Ministers and make recommendations. That goes without saying.
What is equally clear, and it seems to have been obscured in the recent controversies, particularly that surrounding the visit of Sir Neil Cameron to Peking, is that it is wrong for any officer, however senior, however eminent, however distinguished, however experienced, however correct he is in his diagnosis, to make political pronouncements announcing changes in Government policy without the authorisation of his Minister. To do otherwise would produce absolute chaos. We would have a Lloyd George situation. The reason why Lloyd George got on so badly with his generals was that they were at cross purposes. The reason why Winston Churchill got on so well with his generals in the last war was that they agreed on matters.
It would be intolerable for senior officers to announce changes in Government policy without the express authorisation of Ministers. If an officer wants to make recommendations to his Minister, he should do so. Indeed, he is under a duty to do so. The Minister should listen carefully, take note of the facts, evaluate the expert advice and make a political judgment accordingly. What is wrong is to go over the heads of Ministers and make announcements of changes in Government policy without authorisation.
This is the first time that I have heard the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) since he was President of the Oxford Union. He was a lot funnier then, but perhaps he was trying to be. It is not true that Winston Churchill always got on well with his generals. What about Auchinleck and Wavell?
I am obliged to the hon. Member. Auchinleck, Wavell and the succession by Montgomery are an interesting part of the history of the last war and we must discuss them on some occasion. Alas, now is not the time. The point I was making was to distinguish between David Lloyd George in the First World War and Winston Churchill in the Second World War. On the whole, Lloyd George was extremely unsuccessful in dealing with the generals whereas Winston Churchill, on the whole, was very successful.
My next point concerns the alarming picture painted in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), who hinted at a possible military alliance of some kind with Communist China and wondered whether the Government were encouraging, or had encouraged, possible staff talks with the Chinese military as a result of the suggestion, or despite the suggestion, made by Sir Neil Cameron in Peking.
People are being incredibly naïve about this. The reality of the situation is that we are members of NATO. We have a certain armed strength for a particular reason. No one in reality thinks that the attack will come from China. No one in reality thinks that the attack will come from certain other countries. The truth of the matter is that the potential aggressor is well known and the whole of NATO strategy and the military strategy of this country is based on that premise. I was alarmed indeed to hear that China, with its appalling record of military intervention in Vietnam and Korea, and its active encouragement of military intervention in other parts of the Far East, is apparently considered as a potential ally of ours against Soviet Russia.
I return to the specific points made during the course of the debate and wish to refer to some of the omissions. A good deal has been said about equipment and pay, and I do not want to dwell on those subjects further except to say that of course it is the duty of the Secretary of State for Defence to get the best possible deal that he can for all members of the Services.
A category of very important people who have been altogether forgotten so far in this debate, at any rate in the speeches I have heard, are the widows of officers and men killed on active duty. I have had drawn to my attention—[Interruption.] It is impossible to speak if so many other people are speaking at the same time. I ask for your assistance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been asked to speak briefly because there are so many other hon. Members wishing to take part in the debate. I know that messages have to be passed, but it is difficult to put forward short, simple points if one is continually distracted by whisperings on all sides of the House. I ask the House to listen, at least for a moment, to a serious point about the position of war widows and widows of Service men killed in action who have received appalling treatment so far from this and previous Governments.
I have had, as I am sure other hon. Members have had, many cases drawn to my attention concerning the widows of officers and men who are living in the most appalling financial conditions. They seem to have received a far worse deal than almost any other category of widows. These are the women who were widowed when their husbands were killed in action in the last war. Some of them are now elderly, and in my constituency—no doubt in other constituencies too—they are living in the most appalling poverty. Many are without family or friends and, because of the Treasury rule on taxation, if they seek to supplement their wholly inadequate pension they lose the benefit of additional income through taxation.
I have taken this point up many times with the Chancellor in correspondence and have always received the same reply from the Financial Secretary, namely, that it would be wrong in principle to make tax concessions to one category of people. The position must be re-examined. I am sure that the Under-Secretary will look at this.
There are many widows now living in the most appalling conditions and suffering financial hardship whose husbands gave their lives for this country. These women, now in old age, are living in unendurable poverty. Any attempt by them to increase their income is immediately penalised by taxation which deprives them of any benefit they might have received. I ask the Minister to look at this matter extremely closely.
I end by saying something about the question of morale, which has been alluded to so many times today. I believe that the picture of low morale in the forces has been exaggerated. I keep quite closely in touch with a lot of serving soldiers. It is not my impression that morale is low. Of course they are short of money. Of course they would like more. Of course, until recently, they were asking for more and were suffering severe financial hardship. Broadly speaking, my impression is that the morale and fighting spirit of the British Armed Forces are as high today as it has ever been.
I do not go along with this woeful picture which has been depicted by some newspapers and by some—happily, not many—Opposition Members who have spoken of a mass exodus from the forces by reason of worry about financial matters. The fighting spirit and morale of our forces are second to none in the world, and I pay tribute to them.
Recruitment is worrying. May I make a suggestion which I made this time last year with total lack of success and ask the Government to consider the reintroduction of National Service? I believe that that would do a great deal for recruitment for the Armed Services and would do a great deal to cure unemployment among young people and combat vandalism, crime and many other facets of our life today. I know that it is a difficult question. When I advocated the reintroduction of National Service to an audience of university students in the North of England about a year ago, I was shouted down by all of them, although they were all students who were due to leave university soon, with little or no prospect of employment.
We have a ghastly problem of unemployment in the North of England. We have a far higher rate of unemployment than anywhere else in England. In my constituency it is running at over 15 per cent. This summer, when the pupils leave school, those figures will be appalling, as the Under-Secretary knows full well.
I believe that a short period of National Service would be highly beneficial, for the various reasons that I have stated. It is a suggestion that is worth considering. It may well be that it would be of assistance to the recruiting programme and an alleviation of unemployment and helpful in other ways.
National Service need not be of an entirely military character. It would be possible to conceive of a sensible system of National Service in which the work done could consist of community service or welfare service of some kind. It need not all be of a military character. It could give useful training and a sense of purpose to many young people leaving school who at the moment have no hope at all of employment.
I was disappointed, therefore, when the Government recently announced a cutback in the Army cadet training programme. I believe that the Government ought to think about this again. I took up the matter with the Minister at the time. I appreciate that economies have to be made, but it is a retrograde step to cut back the cadet training programme, because it is very useful indeed. I am sure that the Minister will want to consider this matter in the light of the many representations which I know he has received.
A Labour Government are always in a difficulty on question of defence. On the one hand, the Government are sniped at by the Conservative Press and media and by the Conservative Opposition in Parliament. On the other hand, the Labour Government are always under pressure from their own Left wing to cut public expenditure in relation to defence and at the same time to increase expenditure in many other fields. One recognises that a Labour Defence Minister is in that dilemma. Despite it, he has to do the best he can for the Armed Services.
I am a Labour Member who supports the Labour Government—except on the occasions when I do not—and my respectful suggestion to the Minister is that he will always have the support of the majority of working-class people and Labour voters if he honestly does the best he can for our Armed Services, despite all the pressures which I recognise that he has.
I believe in increased public expenditure in education, in health, in the social services and in the other spheres. I also believe that the Secretary of State for Defence in a Labour Government has to fight jolly hard to get enough money from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to do the things that he must do in relation to equipment, pay, and so on for the Armed Services.
If more money is required, I suggest that the Government should look very seriously at the cost of the Polaris submarine programme. If we consider the financial implications in depth, we can see that there are millions of pounds within the ambit of the NATO alliance which could at least be considered for use for other purposes.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not advocating any diminution in the strength of the NATO alliance. What I am advocating is a more intelligent use of existing resources. Those resources could be used more intelligently and more efficiently for our Armed Services, rather than putting all the resources into the Polaris missile, which, in my respectful submission to the Minister and the Government, has a very limited usefulness in the context of the NATO agreement.
I am certain that the Minister will not be at all surprised if I refer immediately to our Adjournment debate in the early hours of the morning of 1st July last year on the future of the Parachute Regiment. I declare my interest, as I did then, having served in the regiment for some six years—and proud and very happy years they were, too.
It is timely that we should look at the future of the Parachute Regiment. If it was inconceivable to me at that time that the Government should have embarked on a programme of cutting back that regiment, it is now even more inconceivable in the light of the events of the past two weeks, which have proved all too conclusively the need for such an elite force in these troubled times.
I should like, very briefly, to rehearse the position concerning the Parachute Regiment. Two years ago we had a regular Parachute Brigade. We no longer have a regular parachute brigade. We have three regular parachute battalions, only one of which is employed at any one time in a so-called parachuting role.
I received a letter only this morning from a former soldier who served in that brigade and I should like to quote one brief paragraph from it. He writes:
Labour has caused the disbandment of many parachute corps units which were formerly within the Brigade or, even worse, rendered them ineffective by posting into these parachute corps units non-parachute personnel, cutting down on parachute pay or putting the parachute unit as a whole under some larger inefficient"—
I am sure that he means less efficient, not inefficient—
regiment which, delighted at having so many good men at their disposal, interfere in the running of the unit, causing many men to get out. These units were the pride of their individual corps, the elite—every airborne soldier a volunteer willing to undergo great physical and personal strain to become so.
That is the state of our parachute brigade.
Until two months ago we had a TAVR 44 Parachute Brigade, and the Minister, in his opening remarks, made it quite clear that he placed great stress upon the value of that TAVR force in every way, shape and form. If that is so, I should like him to explain why the Government have allowed that brigade to disappear from the TAVR and to come down simply to parachute battalions, admittedly with a role in NATO terms.
I wanted to concentrate my attention tonight on the tragic events in Zaire, because they must surely demand that the policy which has been pursued by the Government should be reviewed at the earliest possible moment.
It is my understanding that there were some 21 British civilians in Zaire and that five of them were brutally murdered. If we had 250 civilians and not 21 in Zaire, there would have been a demand and a need for us to take part in the same type of operation that the French had to mount at very short notice, and which they managed so efficiently. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we could have done so had we been required to do so.
The Prime Minister, pressed on this point at Question Time on Tuesday, said:
It is clearly not possible to give a general answer of this kind in hypothetical situation which no one knows will arise. But generally speaking, the capacity to look after the lives of our citizens is there and it would be used, either alone or in conjunction with our allies."—[Official Report, 23rd May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 1330.]
I know that the Prime Minister has an optimistic nature, but that seems to be optimism beyond the bounds of reason. I hope that he did not make that remark having consulted any of the Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. They must surely know what the true situation is. It is that our one parachute battalion, which in theory has an airborne role, is at the present time in the most sensitive part of Northern Ireland, Armagh. That battalion could not be withdrawn from there at short notice without severe dangers occurring in Northern Ireland.
Once that parachute battalion has been got out it must be prepared, equipped and got off the ground. It then has to drop as a battalion. I do not expect the Minister to know, or perhaps even care, when that battalion last took part in a battalion drop. But I shall tell him. It was in the autumn of last year in the presence of observers from foreign countries. They must have been very surprised to see that particular drop, because the aircraft flew over at three-minute intervals. There was one particular reason, lack of training. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) has already mentioned the lack of, and shortage of training of, air crews. We could not do a battalion drop on the scale that is demanded for this emergency type of operation.
If the French had dropped on Kolwezi on the basis of three-minute or four-minute intervals between aircraft, all those people would have been slaughtered on the ground before they had all been dropped. We must fly in formation and get in there quickly if we are to move fast. I know that, and so does the Minister.
That is the situation that has to be faced. I do not believe that we can justify going along with the assessment that we no longer need airborne forces. That flies in the face of all the experience and knowledge of our NATO allies. As the Minister well knows, the Americans have large airborne forces. The Germans not only have a division plus, but they are expanding their airborne forces and finding new roles for them. The same applies to every other NATO ally.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. That is absolutely true, and they are expanding them at a very fast rate What is even more shattering is that tiny Belgium can put a parachute force in the field, whereas this country has sunk so low in defence terms that it cannot do so. I find this inconceivable, because the value of one's parachute forces does not simply rest upon their parachuting capability. It rests also upon the fact that by the very nature of wearing the red beret, and being involved in an elite force, morale is extremely high at all times. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham will well remember the time when he travelled with me during that rather strange attack on Port Said. He will remember that the morale of "No. 1 Para" at that time was second to none.
The time may well come when we will need to operate in other emergencies, not only in Africa but within the NATO area as well. When we do so we should do it in concert with our allies. Nothing could make such co-operation work more effectively than if we were working with a force which was homogeneous. Such a force can be so only if it has an identity of purpose and a background of training that makes it one. Nothing would surprise Dr. Luns or, say, the chairman of the military committee, more than to find a Minister of this Government putting forward the idea that we should form a second ace mobile force based upon a parachute element and with the support and reinforcement that could be afforded by a revitalised 44 Parachute Brigade as a TA Reserve for that force.
I am certain that will not happen. I know quite well that at the moment there are many people within the Army who have a built-in dislike of the Parachute Regiment. They have an envy of the Parachute Regiment. It is no use the Minister shaking his head. In the Army, groups which have a conceived idea of what is right for the Army and what is not always come and go. I believe that the political strain will now be upon the Minister—the political decision is with the Government—to reverse this policy completely and to give us what we so desperately need, an emergency force that can be based only upon elite forces such as the Parachute Regiment, or its sister regiment, the Royal Marine Commandos.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) will forgive me if I do not pursue any of the matters which he discussed. He expressed deep anxieties which are felt in all parts of the House, and I share them. I would have continued on the same theme, because it is most important, had I not promised to be brief.
I want to turn to a subject which is less exotic than a parachute battalion or brigade and even less exotic than equipment. I want to refer to the Army's soft-skinned vehicles, as they are commonly known. It has been said on many occasions that an army marches on its stomach. However, it is truer to say that the food and provisions which go into that stomach march on wheels and on the wheels of the soft-skinned vehicles.
The other day, the Minister was good enough to answer a Written Question of mine which asked what proportion of the Army's soft-skinned vehicles were more than 10 years old. The hon. Gentleman replied that some 24 per cent. of the Army's soft-skinned vehicles were more than 10 years old.
I know that many of us take pride in vintage cars and even enjoy looking after vintage trucks, and it is true that so well made are many of the Army's vehicles that in many instances it is possible that vehicles which are more than 10 years old can still give good service. But if that is true, I hazard a guess that there is also some truth in the feeling that many vehicles that are 10 years old or more which have given honourable service merit the description of being "clapped out". If there is one thing worse than a clapped-out vehicle—and I guess that a proportion of that 24 per cent. come in that category—it is a clapped-out vehicle with no spares.
As we have been reminded today, a soldier's morale depends very largely on the quality of his equipment and is not just a question of pay. One of the interesting features of the British soldier throughout history is that often he has had to go to war with too little equipment and with good equipment coming too late in the day. He has learned to make do, often with insufficient resources. It is this capacity to make do which is one of his great sterling qualities.
But there is one thing that gets under the skin of a soldier more than anything if he is making do. It is when people do not give him the opportunity to make do. We gather from reports coming back from our forces that the problem of spares does almost as much as anything else to irritate and make its own disproportionate contribution to a decline in morale.
It is said that there are some transporters which are far older in the Army than the men who have the job of driving them. I do not want to be unfair to the Minister because he has listened to a long litany of woes today, and we know that he has an arduous responsibility. However,
in the Written Answer that was given to me, the following words were added but crossed out subsequently:
The operational effectiveness of BAOR is not impaired.
Those words were crossed out probably because the person concerned—I do not know who it was; it may even have been the Minister—felt that he could not give an answer to the effect that 24 per cent. of the Army's soft-skinned vehicles were more than 10 years old and allowed such a comment as
The operational effectiveness of BAOR is not impaired.
to go unchallenged. Someone in the Ministry must have challenged it. Someone had a blinding flash of truth and realised that to ask me to accept that with 24 per cent. of the Army's soft-skinned vehicles being more than 10 years old the operational effectiveness of BAOR was not impaired was too much for anyone to stomach.
Be that as it may, we know that there are too many which are too old, the spares situation is bad and, looking to the future, there have been cut-backs in R and D and consequently there are no new vehicle designs coming forward. It is this area, outside exotic equipment, which does so much to damage the belief of Army personnel that we in this House care for their job and admire their skills.
The Minister may say that it is all very well for the Opposition to come forward with a shopping list. I make two comments about that. First, the priorities of the Government are wrong. The priorities in the scale of expenditure devoted to other Departments compared with defence are wrong.
Also, when it comes to looking to efficiency in Government expenditure we do not accept that when considering public expenditure the Services should be asked to bear a disproportionate burden of the economies. We in the Opposition sometimes question—defence Ministers must do so as well—why other Departments are not called upon so regularly resolutely to examine their budgets as the Ministry of Defence.
I took part in the debate on the National Health Service. There was moaning and groaning about the standard of care and falling standards within the Health Service. When we considered increased efficiency within the Service and within other aspects of welfare services we, the Opposition, were not calling necessarily for cuts but a more efficient deployment of resources within the Welfare State and more effective methods of financing welfare. We had in mind methods that are used in other countries with considerable success.
When a country goes through a difficult time, as is happening in Britain—we say that we are hard up—and a Government refuse to tackle public expenditure in many Departments apart from the Ministry of Defence, refuse to consider new and up-to-date methods of financing welfare and are subjected to political pressure to reduce the importance attached by them to defence, it is little wonder that defence Ministers should have to listen to one moan after another based on the one simple fact that the British forces are being badly let down by the Government and that Britain is not devoting sufficient resources to defence.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) spoke in disturbing tones of soft-skinned vehicles. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) has left the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman showed himself, rather uncharacteristically, to be soft skinned. He resented and took personally that which was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) about the existence of pink brigades and red brigades on the deserted Labour Benches. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he was being accused of belonging to the pink brigade. In a sense, he does because he is always riding. He often wears hunting pink.
No one would wish to impugn the hon. Gentleman's patriotism, especially after his courageous suggestion that National Service should be reintroduced. I hope that that suggestion will be given due consideration in the Labour Party. I also hope that the Treasury Bench will heed his words about the plight of some war widows. That is a matter about which both sides of the House feel strongly.
I wish to devote my few remarks to the Army in Northern Ireland. In his admirable speech my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) spoke of a soldier with whom he had been talking who is now on his eleventh tour in Northern Ireland. There must be units of the Army and of the Royal Marine commando forces that have begun to lose count of their tours of arduous and dangerous duty in the Province.
The Under-Secretary of State spoke of the excessive hours that our forces are required to work in Ulster. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), who visited his county regiment in the Province, the Gloucesters, spoke of overstrain, lack of sleep and lack of opportunity to indulge in sport, to have a social life or recreation. There are some units that do not go to Ulster. No blame should be attached to them. Earlier in the troubles a decision was taken on reasonable grounds that neither the Irish Guards nor any Irish regiment of the line should serve in Northern Ireland in support of a civil power. The reason for that decision is obvious. I do not need to tell hon. Members what that reason is. The decision has generally been accepted, but it adds to the burden placed on other parts of Her Majesty's forces, and the theme running through the debate has been one of forces which are undermanned, overstretched and backed by utterly inadequate reserves.
But the situation in Northern Ireland is changing. The Royal Ulster Constabulary, whose courage, efficiency and growing success in bringing the gangsters to justice merits the thanks of Parliament, is today taking a larger share in the defence of Ulster. Although it is always unwise to be over-optimistic and to assume anything in Northern Ireland, what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham termed a state of low intensity might supervene. If so, I suggest that the decision in regard to Irish regiments might be reviewed. I am sure that they would be among the first to want to play their part.
This debate follows well on Monday's debate on the pay of the forces. Parts of some speeches could have been delivered in either debate. I was glad to be told on Monday by the Secretary of State for Defence that members of the Ulster Defence Regiment—I wish to devote the rest of my remarks to the UDR—will be allowed food at public expense without losing the allowance of 50p a day. That is something.
In the debate on Monday the Secretary of State touched on the consequences for the UDR of putting resident forces as well as troops on four-month tours on field conditions. The right hon. Gentleman said:
This has had some consequences for the Ulster Defence Regiment. I have had representations that it may be slipping behind. We have looked into this matter, and in one or two respects we can certainly go some way towards restoring the ratio between the pay of the Regular Army and that of the UDR. … we shall want to consider it very sympathetically.
I hope that he will, and that he will come to the House and tell us the result of his sympathetic consideration.
The men of the UDR and the women—the Greenfinches—are not in it for the money. Some of them have served in the regiment at financial sacrifice. Others have made the supreme sacrifice, and the House should remember that. Speaking from memory, I recall the words recorded on a memorial in one UDR centre—"They died before their time, but for their friends and for their country."
There is, however, a connection between conditions of service—and also equipment—and recruiting. Last Monday, the Minister of State said:
I understand that the permanent cadre of the UDR continues to grow at a satisfactory rate, although some part of the increase is as expected at the expense of part-time personnel.
Today, we were given some fairly encouraging figures by the Under-Secretary of State. On Monday, the Minister of State said that consideration was being given to
whether any parts of their"—
members of the UDR—
conditions of service need reviewing."—[Official Report, 22nd May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 1142–1249.]
We should like an assurance today that a reasonably early statement will be made to the House on the results of the promised consideration.
I ask whether the Department of Defence could include in its inquiries the bounty payable to the Ulster Defence Regiment. It is called a training bounty, and I understand that it amounts to between £25 and £30. Apart from the effects of inflation, that amount is half that received by the TAVR, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) spoke with such knowledge and experience. I am not trying to take anything away from the TAVR, but is it right that the bounty should be half that of the Territorials? Should there not perhaps be a larger—what one might call an operational—bounty for the UDR? I put that forward for consideration by the Treasury Bench.
The Under-Secretary of State acknowledged, in what I thought was the best part of his speech, our debt to the UDR. But that debt cannot be discharged if we fail to ensure that the regiment gets the best tools for the job that it does so well. The UDR is part of the Army, and there is always resistence to any deviation from normal infantry scales of equipment. There are, however, some in the UDR who have told me that they would prefer to be equipped with the carbine which the present most able Chief Constable has introduced into the RUC, rather than with the SLR which is in present use. I do not take any position of this controversy—I am not qualified to do so—but I hope that the Ministry of Defence will always keep under review the weapons at the disposal of the UDR.
The Under-Secretary of State spoke of the training that is done by the UDR in Great Britain and how much this is welcomed by men and women who are able to have a change of scene in more relaxed surroundings, but the complaint is heard that too few rifle ranges are open to the UDR in the Province itself. Veterans who served in the Ulster Special Constabulary recall that in those days they had the use of about 25 ranges in the Province. I believe that about three are available today, but I shall be glad to be corrected.
I understand that these limited ranges are splendidly equipped with electronic targets and other devices, but that does not outweigh the disadvantage of not having a range nearby. There are several UDR battalions whose men have to travel for three hours every time they have to fire their weapons, and the Under-Secretary of State told us with admiration that the part-time volunteers combine unremitting service with a full day's work at their farm, or factory, or place of professional occupation.
One finds these words in the defence White Paper:
The UDR now provides immediate military support for the RUC, wholly or in part, in 11 Police Divisions thus demonstrating the importance of this pargely part-time body in the maintenance of security in Northern Ireland.
It has been laid down that the UDR should not become involved in riots, demonstrations, urban disturbances, and matters of that kind. On the other hand, if these troops are providing immediate military support for the RUC it is possible that, willy-nilly, they could find themselves in situations from which they could not withdraw without ignominy and perhaps disaster. If the UDR is to do what the White Paper says it is to do, will it not require riot equipment such as is issued to Regular units and to have available the intermediate deterrents and protective equipment that can obviate the need to open fire in these difficult circumstances? I wonder what thought Ministers have given to that matter.
The Ulster Defence Regiment is part of the Army. It is in a number of what Ministers—but not perhaps the men themselves—may deem to be minor matters less well provided for than is the rest of the Army. I have been asked many times when I have visited battalions why the UDR cannot have—this may seem trivial to the Minister, but it is not to the men—black leather gloves of the kind that are issued to their Regular comrades in arms.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been on patrol with the UDR. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State has also been on such patrols, as have a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself. Therefore, the Minister will know that in wet weather—and it can rain in Northern Ireland—the woolly gloves worn by the UDR get drenched and become useless. I ask the Minister to promise that black gloves such as those used by the Regular Army will be available to the active ranks of the UDR by the onset of next winter. That is not much to ask on behalf of those who bear such risks and whose families run such risks on our behalf. But in counter-insurgency—and in all military operations—communications are vital.
From time to time—sometimes we become weary of doing it—we in the Conservative Party plead for more serviceable radio equipment for the UDR. Some items have come into service and are welcome. However, I am told that somehow the RUC—and good luck to it—seems able to get better sets more quickly. Much of the UDR signals equipment that I see when I visit units has seen its best days. Obviously, these sets get rough handling at night and in wet weather. Surely, priority in supply should be given to the one regiment in the Army which is permanently at grips with an atrocious enemy.
How difficult it is to arouse interest in the House and in the country on matters of defence or about the Army in particular! This is one debate which has not been broadcast in full. Defence is regarded by the electorate as a special subject which is probably better left to the experts and, by curious definition, to the Government. Governments are able to do almost what they like in defence policy. As a consequence, there is an acquiescence on the part of the general public.
The threat, therefore, is still believed to be remote, and in a strange way most people believe that nuclear weapons have abolished war. The need for a Conservative Government—elected, I trust, in October—is to restore our power, and to do so they have to increase defence expenditure. But in order to do that we have to do two further things. A Tory Prime Minister would have to give a lead on the necessity for increased defence expenditure and, therefore, get public opinion behind the need for an increase. Secondly, she would have to restore economic growth, because without economic growth over a five-year period we would be frustrated in many of our ambitions.
Most people remain uninterested in defence despite our speeches, despite the articles by my hon. Friends on the Front Bench and despite the editorials of our great newspapers. Defence is always rated relatively low in the issues of interest when people are asked about it. As the Member for Aldershot, I am untypical. Aldershot is clearly the Sparta of Hampshire. If I am untypical, it is not because there are serving soldiers in Aldershot. Many of them are not on the electoral list. It is because of the high proportion of retired Service officers and Service men who live locally.
Aldershot is full of retired non-commissioned officers who have gone into business. Farnborough is full of Government scientists whose work supports the defence effort. Fleet is full of retired colonels. Hartley Wintney is full of retired major-generals. In one or two villages there are even admirals. When I first came to live in Farnham, nearby to Aldershot, a grande dame said to me "I am sorry, Mr. Critchley, that you should represent the east of the county, because the further west you go the smarter it gets, and the measurement of smartness is the number of admirals per village".
There is low Army morale. I can make that assertion as Member for Aldershot, for soldiers believe themselves to be not just underpaid but undervalued. Soldiers enlist—or have done in the past—for adventure, service abroad and to rely on the esprit de corps of their regiment. But job satisfaction has diminished along with their pay.
In the past the Army relied upon an an officer class—military families of the upper-middle and middle classes who, sure of their status, accepted their low pay partly because many relied upon private means. But the redistribution of incomes over the past three years—the 30 per cent. fall in the comparative standard of living of the middle class—has hit the rentier class more than any other and has effectively destroyed the private-income element within the British Army. Today, officers and men all depend upon their pay as their only source of income.
The Army believes that its services are undervalued and that its loyalty is being taken advantage of by a Government who, over the past four years, have given a lower priority to defence expenditure than it deserves. The proof of that is clear—angry Service wives, leaky officers and and a widespread feeling that the Army is less than well represented, I am sad to say, by the Secretary of State and Service Ministers.
Money and men are in short supply, and this has clearly led to overstretching. There is the ominous statistic of the drop in recruitment figures of 6 per cent. in the past year at a time of uniquely high unemployment. Of course, a pay award of 13 per cent. will do less for the lowest paid within the Services, most of whom will be new recruits.
In the national interest, we must all hope that the flow of early retirement of those who wish to go into civilian life will be staunched. The message of this side of the House to the Armed Forces is "Hold on because help is coming." That will probably be on the third Thursday in October.
We are debating with the motion the order that controls the discipline of the Army. In all the recent talk about comparability, it has been forgotten that members of the Forces are subject not only to very long hours, inconvenience and separation from their families but this is not generally realised by the public—to the ordinary civil law of the country and to severe laws laid down in the Army Act 1955. The Act deals with discipline and trials, punishment for military offences. The 1976 amendment alters the powers of commanding officers.
Of course, all this must be right in the forces, but it means that if Service men subject to these severe restrictions, as well as to the risk of loss of life, it is an additional reason for us to regard these people as a very special case indeed. That is why I took the trouble to look through an Act that I have not seen since I left the Reserve Army about eight years ago, when I was on the Supplementary Reserve. Very strong powers are contained in the 1955 Act.
We all recognise what our soldiers do and the tremendous threat facing NATO on the Western front. I want to point out to the Minister the importance of the time of reinforcement. Not only do our Regular troops have to get to their positions in NATO from wherever they happen to be, but, as was well brought out by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), the TAVR is our first line of reserve and it is essential that it gets to its position in time to take the place of Regular Service men.
I was in the category of the supplementary reserve of the "Blues", but in those days we could be called out without a Proclamation. I understand that things are different now. It is important to alter the existing machinery so that men in the TAVR can be called out at short notice and put in position as quickly as possible. It is no use our having reserves unless we have the ability to get them to the right place at the right time.
We all known the situation with regard to tanks. The Minister, rightly from his point of view, glossed over this matter, but it is very serious. We do not have enough tank drivers. Of course it is serious. The Minister knows that it is serious and he would like to be able to improve the position.
I turn now to the question of the TAVR. We have to consider not only making sure that it is given adequate equipment and time to train. I would like to see, as I have advocated for a long time, the period of service in it extended for those men who wish it. There are people in the TAVR who would like to spend much more time doing their reserve service. They are essential if we are to be able to back up BAOR in time.
I now put a domestic question. When will Wellington Barracks be rebuilt? The Minister knows as well as I do that many guardsmen have to come up a long disstance from Caterham in their own kit and change under most uncomfortable conditions. When Wellington Barracks is rebuilt, we ought to be able to man all the guards' duties in London from London, thereby relieving these men from arduous and tedious travel. It is very easy to knock one's boots when getting out of a charabanc, especially when one has come up all the way from Caterham. The rebuilding of Wellington Barracks would make these men's London duties, which are so essential and which we must keep up, very much easier. I know that the Minister has plans for rebuilding Wellington Barracks. The sooner we are able to do it, the better.
I want to say something about the senior ranks—officers and NCOs—who are leaving the Army. It is a worrying position. Those of us who remember National Service will recall that one of the difficulties was that we trained the men for three years and they were just beginning to be useful when they left again for civilian life. This makes it much more important that we should ensure that senior NCOs and middle-rank officers are retained in the Army, but the only way we can do that is by ensuring that they are adequately rewarded. Incidentally, I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) said about a return to National Service, which would have many advantages, especially if it were coupled with some sort of community service.
The British people have tremendous faith in the Army, with every reason in view of its tremendous efforts. The Army and the Royal Navy and the RAF are an example to everyone. I should like to see the TAVR given the weapons and the strength so that it is as near as possible to those units that it will have to replace in the front line when the call comes. Let us hope that it never does come, but if it does these men must be ready, trained in the right equipment and ready to move in and work with the same equipment, be it wireless, gun or tank. This is extremely important.
Another thing that has been mentioned in the debate is also essential. When our forces and the TAVR leave the country to go to Western Europe, who is to fill the gap left behind? There is a case for the Government to consider some form of restoration of a proper civil defence force to take over duties which are not necessarily of a military character but are essential to keep going our services, such as water, electricity and gas supplies, and to look after the casualties and undertake all the various functions that are secondary to the carrying on of warfare. We are very much lacking in that sector.
Finally, I want to return to what the hon. Member for Blyth said about National Service. He was very courageous in advocating it. Perhaps it would be used not only as a military service but perhaps one would be given an alternative of community service. We have to ensure that our Armed Forces are maintained, but I agree with the other point that has been so strongly stressed—that we should have a reserve capable of moving quickly, a small mobile air reserve. I am not suggesting that every citizen who gets into trouble anywhere in the world can be protected, but recent events have shown how necessary it is to have a small mobile force able to move off at short notice, just as some of our allies have shown themselves able, to take effective action. We should have such a force able to take such action anywhere at very short notice.
As on Monday, today I speak really rather more in sadness than in anger. Some elements in the debate that we had on Services' pay on Monday have appeared again this evening. I start by referring to one of them.
In both debates we have had a suggestion from the Government Benches that by stressing Service difficulties and problems the Opposition are in some way making those difficulties and problems worse. Indeed, we had almost the allegation that we are sowing unrest. That would seem to have been the allegation made, in his absence, against my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). I should like to refute that, if that is an accusation. No doubt all Governments would like all Oppositions to be silent, but in a democracy that is not possible or desirable.
Why, therefore, should Service problems be any different? We all know that men and women in the Services are bound by a code of discipline. But that does not mean that their problems and difficulties should not be aired in the House or that those of us who have talked to soldiers should remain silent about their very real grievances. Am I, for instance, as a constituency Member of Parliament, expected to ignore representations made to me by some of my constituents just because they wear a uniform, or representations made by their wives?
If defence were needed for our actions in stressing the undoubted problems of the Services—tonight, of the Army—it actually appears in the report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, at the top of page 2. There the report says:
a series of Parliamentary debates on pay and conditions in the armed forces, a steady flow of Parliamentary Questions and a considerable volume of press comment over the past year have all provided evidence of lively public interest and—unmistakably—of mounting public concern.
On Monday I criticised the style of that report, but that particular extract could not have been put better if I had written it myself, for most of those debates and Questions were instigated by Conservative Members and it is certainly arguable that without them the Government would have had less inducement to act than they have had. We have pressed the Government. The only pressure discernible from their own Left-wing supporters has been for further defence cuts.
Indeed, I go further. I think that we have demonstrated, from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition downwards, that there was parliamentary concern over defence matters generally and the lot of the Service man in particular. I am utterly convinced that many people in the Services, faced by what they regard as an unresponsive Government, would have decided to quit from what appeared to them a thankless task unless they had realised that there were at least some Members of the House of Commons, and a party in the House of Commons, who paid attention to their problems and grievances.
I have been enormously assisted by my hon. Friends. It is a peculiarity in this House that on some days it appears that there will be hardly any speakers in the debate at all. I have been most heartened today by the number of my colleagues who have no doubt made sacrifices to be present on what I might call almost a dead day, and they have enlivened it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) talked about recruiting and professional advice to the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) called it a sorry debate, and I could not agree with him more concerning the attitude on the Labour Benches towards the subject matter. My hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) and Harrogate (Mr. Banks) talked about the frustrations of Service life, which we all accept. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) spoke of his concern about our lack of reserves. That is a concern that I share with him. My hon. Friends the Members for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer), East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) and Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) all spoke with considerable experience and expert knowledge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) made an interesting speech. No doubt he is the most witty representative of that genteel Potsdam who has ever sat in this House. I hope that he will continue to represent that area, although he produced almost a Marxist classification of his electorate. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) gave us the benefit of his wisdom. I couple Aldershot and Windsor because when I was a soldier I crawled over the one and marched through the other. I thank all those hon. Members for their comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), in his admirable opening speech, looked back 21 years. I should like to look back one year and one month to Tuesday 19th April last year, when the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army and I last confronted each other across the Dispatch Boxes. The hon. Gentleman did not on that occasion make any great attempt to meet my arguments but decided to quote a brigadier of 30 years' service whom he had come across somewhere or other. That anonymous officer, according to the Minister, had said:
Well, on balance, in my time we have probably done much better under Labour Governments than under Conservative Governments."—[Official Report, 19th April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 147.]
I wonder where that anonymous and conveniently sycophantic officer is now? Is he still in the Army? He may well have gone further.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that that view is taken by numerous senior officers in all the Armed Services.
I hope that their careers will advance as quickly as did the brigadier to whom I have referred.
Would that officer make that remark today? I think that that is almost more than the Minister himself can sustain. Even the hon. Gentleman, in the privacy of his room, must ocasionally reflect about cause and effect and ask himself why there has been a large exodus from the Army, particularly in the last year. Even worse, perhaps, an increasing number of highly trained officers and NCOs want to leave.
Until recently the Minister has had the consolation of the recruiting figures, but even that is now denied him. They show a 6 per cent. drop, and we all recognise that that consolation is in a sense slightly bogus because raw recruits are no substitute for the trained men who have left or who are seeking to leave. The Minister's only hope must be the promise of comparability in 1980 to stem the flow and induce more to stay and more to join.
Nobody joins the Army to make a fortune, and counter-inflation policies are appreciated as much in the Army as outside it. But, when unfairness is tolerated and the soldier suffers financially from the hardships of his unavoidable duty, it is no wonder that he becomes bitter and edges towards the queue for civilian life, with the promise of productivity bonuses and overtime payments.
The subject of pay has already been aired in the House this week, so I shall attempt to say no more on that subject. But there are other elements in the soldier's discontent. He cannot fail to have noticed the cuts in the Army—financial cuts and reductions in manpower. He will have seen the massive cuts in defence expenditure which have taken place since Labour came to power and he knows the inadequacies of equipment in BAOR. It may be that the Minister in his reply will produce detailed arguments—indeed, I hope he does—against the articles which have appeared in The Times. However, the real point is that that impression is held in the Services and it reduces morale.
Volunteer Regulars want to do their job well, but job satisfaction becomes a sour joke when one has the feeling that equipment may well not turn up, that one has to make do and mend and that frequently one's allies in Europe are better equipped than we are ourselves. There is no doubt that financial stringency has reduced training schedules and firing practice to unrealistic levels, even with existing equipment.
Anyone who is confident about what I should call the three Rs of defence planning—reinforcement, reserves and readiness—must be a military illiterate. I fear that that is what Her Majesty's Ministers responsible for the Services sometimes appear to be, because their only refuge when under attack is to praise the qualities of soldiers—devotion, adaptability and hard work—the very qualities which are rendered even more necessary by the policies of their own Government.
What was said in The Times—which, no doubt, the hon. Member for Loughborough will regard as a tool of the Tory Party—has been echoed in many way by The Guardian, by Service journals and by television networks, which, I think I may modestly suggest, are not in the pay of Central Office.
On Tuesday The Times had an admirably balanced leading article, quoting Kipling in the headline, and it made some mention of a subject which is sometimes tactfully glossed over in the House but which it was right to mention in a Service context, namely, the quality of Ministers. It was right to do so in the Service context because soldiers look to their Minister, perhaps as the present Minister once suggested, as a sort of shop steward. He is their political master and he is their advocate. In a sense, his situation is unique in Government Departments.
Therefore, I think that the Minister's personality must become more important than that of some of his ministerial colleagues who preside over other departments. In fact—or perhaps in theory at least—he administers a considerable body of men and women.
The Times was kind about the Secretary of State himself, so I shall follow suit. I think that he is, perhaps, a right hon. Gentleman who needs kindness. It was rather less than kind, like Kipling's sergeant, about his juniors and their predecessors. Indeed, the only person who came out well was the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Judd), who was singled out for praise. The others were described—I think that it must be a masterly understatement—as "unusual".
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North was an active and, above all, concerned Minister for the Navy. Moreover—I think that there may be some significance here—he was an active and informed Shadow Navy Minister. Indeed, the last news I remember of him when he was a Minister for the Navy was when I saw a photograph in Navy News depicting him wrestling with a sailor. The sailor appeared to be winning.
There was, I think, some contrast with the Under-Secretary of State who spoke today. I do not know whether he has ever wrestled with soldiers save about pay and conditions, but it would seem to me that all that he and his three Service colleagues have achieved is to be thrown repeatedly to the canvas by their other ministerial colleagues and their Cabinet superiors.
I say that because I assume that they must have been doing their proper duty and representing the Army's problems of manpower and equipment within Government circles and urging upon their colleagues that improvement was necessary. I suspect that even the timing of this debate today is of some relevance here. I like to presume that the Service Ministers resented having it at the fag end of this period before the recess but were overborne by those who manage Government business, and, no doubt, the fact of its being held today was a welcome hint, obviously taken up on the Government Back Benches, that hon. Members interested in defence might be absent.
I think that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army has today justified the confidence placed in him, because he has not shown a great deal of sympathy and understanding. Occasionally, he has smiled agreeably. Hamlet, I think, informed us that a man could smile and be a villain. I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman is a villain—far from it—but I think that I have identified the smile. It is the smile of the unhelpful waiter who has brought the wrong dish. When asked for steak and kidney pie, he has brought the fish. I know that I did not order it, he knows that I did not, and he knows that I know that I did not; nevertheless, that is all he is prepared to offer, and he hopes that I will accept it. The hon. Gentleman's assurances do not satisfy the intelligence of the House or of those in the Services who may read Hansard or see the debate reported in the Press.
I have said that the Government's attitude is a contributory factor in the decline in Army morale. To illustrate my point, I take the imaginary career of a young man who, persuaded by all the expensive advertising, decided to join the Army in 1974, when the present Government came to power—incidentally, the last year but one when the money he received bore any relation or comparability to civilian wages.
That young man has no doubt been taught a trade, as promised. Perhaps he is now a junior NCO. He will be in the United Kingdom, Germany, perhaps Belize, or, if he is very lucky, in Suffield in Canada doing proper, realistic training, or, if he is even luckier, in Hong Kong. I say "lucky" because part of the Army's recruiting appeal is still what it was when I was a boy—that old poster "Join the Army and see the world."
Of course—it is no fault of the Government this time—that world has shrunk, and with it the soldier's likely field of operations and service. He will almost certainly have done a tour, probably two or three tours, in Northern Ireland. The dangers and hardships there are known to us all, and the service of our soldiers is appreciated by us all. On the other hand, I suspect that the disadvantage in BAOR is boredom.
That is the young soldier's life style. During the time since he joined, he will have noticed a series of cuts in defence expenditure, some of which have affected his own Service. Numbers have been cut and comrades have departed for civilian life. His own duties have almost certainly increased and no doubt his leisure time has been cut. If he has married, his time of separation from his wife will have increased. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate mentioned the other irritations of a soldier's life—the baggage allowance and the rest.
If the soldier is in BAOR, he may think of declining promotion if it is offered or refusing to go on a course in the United Kingdom because he hopes to hang on to the local overseas allowance in Germany, as that is now necessary to help him with his family economies.
The soldier will have read of the increase in the Warsaw Pact ground forces, yet he will have been forced to make do with increasingly old-fashioned equipment. He will no doubt have taken part in exercises in Germany—I took part in them myself as a soldier—which were somewhat unrealistic. Now the difficulty is increased by the drain of troops to Northern Ireland and by fuel and ammunition limitations. Occasionally he will have looked enviously at the equipment of his allies.
During this time, the soldier's own standard of living and that of his wife will have fallen, and fallen behind that of his brother, for instance, who stayed at home doing a civilian job. He may well have acted as a dustman during the dustmen's strike and as a fireman during the firemen's strike, and hardly failed to observe that they were being paid more than he was. Perhaps it will not be surprising in those circumstances if he is, to say the least, somewhat disappointed in his chosen career.
Within the bounds of Army discipline, to whom should the soldier look for redress? To his officers? Officers and men are all in the same position. To the Armed Forces Pay Review Body? No, because it is, rightly or wrongly, regarded in the Army and the other two Services as being just another organ of Government. He should look to the Government, to the Minister responsible for the Army, who is identifiable to him as being responsible. The soldier looks to the hon. Gentleman, I think rightly, for sympathy, understanding and awareness, but I have not seen those qualities demonstrated by any of the Service Ministers who have spoken in these debates. The Times said that they were figureheads but that they should be inspiring figureheads. I would not presume to know whether they are figureheads. Inspiring they certainly are not.
I come, as I have to—because I gather that there are reporters working for Hansard who are disappointed if I produce a speech which does not contain at least one literary allusion—to an allusion. No doubt a literary House will be entirely familiar with the work of William Cobbett and his "Rural Rides". I should like to draw to the attention of the House another book by the same author, not inappropriately called "Progress of a Ploughboy to a Seat in Parliament", in which he says:
I like soldiers as a class of life better than any other description of men.
Among soldiers, less than amongst any other description of men, have I observed the vices of lying and hypocrisy.
If I should declare an interest in this debate, having once been a soldier, I would say that I was proud of being such and join that author in liking them.
I come to the two vices of lying and hypocrisy. It is, of course, unparliamentary to mention the former and I do not seek to do so—a little glossing over of the truth, perhaps. Hypocrisy, yes. I level that charge against the Government, who take refuge in the qualities of the soldier who has, only by using those qualities, succeeded in maintaining his morale against the successive attacks of the Government.
My final point concerns premature voluntary release—not of soldiers, but of Ministers. The Ministers responsible for the Services could resign. They will not. They could be moved by the Prime Minister. Then, I suppose, he would have questions posed as to who would take their place. They will, of course, go at the time of the General Election, when the successor Government will have the task, and it will be a long and arduous one, of restoring the confidence of the Army in the Government and in the Ministers who have Service Departments. Disappear these Ministers will. The disappearance will not be premature—far from it—and it will not be voluntary. It will be release, and I have no doubt that it will be welcome.
By leave of the House, may I say that this has been a somewhat unusual debate? I almost blushed in rising to the Box—
The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser) suggested that I should be promoted to Minister of State and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State should be sacked so that my other two colleagues could be promoted to Minister of State rank. This suggestion will be borne in mind. Towards the end of the debate the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder) has been almost demanding my head: "You win some, you lose some."
Before I reply to the debate, having referred to what I had to say in my opening remarks this afternoon in response to an intervention by the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks), I see that I used the word "dissent" which, on rereading, I realise could be misconstrued as suggesting disaffection. It would be unfair of me to suggest that any hon. Member would seek to create disaffection among members of Her Majesty's Forces. I withdraw the word "dissent".
It is customary to begin by picking up the points made in the debate. Several Tory Members have chosen to debate again today the subject of Armed Forces' pay. They are rather behind the times because that debate was held on Monday. All I want to say on that subject is to repeat quite clearly that the Government are committed to the full restoration of comparability by April 1980. Hon. Members will no doubt have read the Secretary of State's speech in the Official Report. I hope that the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) will point out to any of his constituents who have not fully appreciated—
Now that the Secretary of State is here—he was not here when I spoke but I understand that he was very busy at the time—I should like to point out that I was not making any allegation whatsoever. I was merely reporting an allegation that the Secretary of State had said on the radio in Germany that the Government were only committed to restoring the 32 per cent. It ought to be made abundantly clear that anything that may happen with wage claims over the next two years, between now and 1st April 1980, will also be taken into account, and that it will not be done retrospectively, I hope it will be made clear that the Government are committed—and have committed their successors, not that that is necessary—not only to making up the backlog but to keeping pace with rises in civilian pay which may take place between now and then.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend made that abundantly clear in his speech. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman will reply promptly to the allegation in the letter from a constituent, because it would be grossly unfair not to do so.
The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) mentioned, as did the hon. Member for Clitheroe, the problems of recruiting. As the House is aware, the Army's manpower target was recently increased by 1,900 men to provide for the new infantry demonstration battalion at Warminster, and to allow for the continuing emergency duties in Northern Ireland. This increase, combined with the relatively large numbers of officers and men applying for early release from their commitments, has meant that Army recruiting requirements had to be revised upwards during 1977–78, and the target in the current year is to recruit more than at any time since 1971. Measures are in hand to achieve this, but they will naturally take some time to bear fruit. Recruiting in 1977–78 was therefore somewhat below requirements in some areas, although it was in excess of the original targets for the year.
The hon. Member for Beckenham in particular raised the question of young soldiers. Young soldiers referred to in the Defence Estimates are those between the ages of 17 and 17½, a group which is too old to undertake junior soldier training but too young to enlist as adults. When the decision not to recruit this age group was taken, it was forecast that recruiting targets for the combined adult and young soldier category could be achieved by recruiting adults alone.
When forecasts were revised, young soldier recruiting was begun again in October last year. The number recruited in the period 1st April to 31st December 1977, therefore, represented only three months recruiting for this category. This is, however, a very small age group, as the House will understand. The true picture of the Army's recruitment of the young is reflected in the figures for junior soldiers, which is one of the most encouraging areas of Army recruitment, where targets for recruitment have been consistently exceeded.
Among the many measures taken to attract recruits, I mention the university cadetship and bursary schemes, which have proved most successful in attracting graduates to take up commissions in the Army. In 1977–78, 164 awards were made, compared with 118 in the previous year. Particularly encouraging also is the continuing success in meeting targets for junior soldier recruitment. In both these cases the benefits in terms of men taking up service will not be immediate but they promise a firm base of high calibre officers and men for the Army of the future. Recruiting for the Women's Royal Army Corps and Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps has also been very good.
More than one hon. Member has mentioned the question of outflow. The House is aware of the disturbingly high levels of outflow of trained officers and men from the Army over the last few months. I shall not repeat all the statistics that have been widely publicised and widely referred to in the debate. I and my colleagues are aware of the position and have it under the closest review.
As for the reasons why so many men have chosen to leave the Armly recently, there is little doubt that pay has been a major factor. I would not attempt to deny that. It is still too early to assess the effect of the Armed Forces pay award on the numbers leaving, and it must be borne in mind that other factors will also have their effect. However, I believe that, despite natural disappointment at not being restored to immediate comparability, officers and men recognise and accept the Government's pledge to restore full comparability—a commitment underscored by the decision to base pensions on the full rates. I am sure that Service men of all ranks will appreciate the true worth of this commitment, particularly at a time of high unemployment in civilian life. In fact, during my recent journeys around the Army I have heard nothing but praise with regard to this decision on pensions because it is seen as an act of faith in underpinning the commitment on comparability.
It would be unreasonable for the House to assume that pay is the only reason which affects an individual's decision to leave the Army. Several hon. Members referred to the amount of disturbance to family life suffered by the Services, in particular the Army, over the last year or so. A degree of turbulence is inevitable in a Service career. Indeed, the element of the unexpected is what many find attractive in Service life. However, recent commitments have been heavy, and this at a time when the Army has been involved in an extensive restructuring exercise. Here again, it is reasonable to hope that the worst has now passed. As the House will know, an extra 1,900 men have been allocated to the Army to help cope with those emergency commitments that continue. I hope, and firmly believe, that those factors will lead to an improvement in the near future.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) spoke about Northern Ireland. The highest priority is given to units with an operational requirement for the equipment concerned. Members of the UDR are equipped for their role to the same high standard as members of the Regular Army performing the same role. I should like to scotch once and for all the idea that members of the UDR are treated as second class soldiers. With regard to equipment, they are treated in the same respect as the Regular Army.
Some of the Army's radio equipment in Northern Ireland—hon. Members should note that I say "the Army's" and not "the UDR's"—is old, but new equipment is now being issued to the Regulars and to the UDR. All 11 UDR battalions should have the new equipment by September of this year.
The hon. Gentleman referred with some feeling to the issue of woolly gloves to the UDR and black gloves to the Army. The problem is that the black leather gloves which we issue to the Regular Army in Northern Ireland are so extremely popular and in such demand that there is a temporary shortage of certain sizes. I understand that in response to a recent demand from the UDR a sufficient supply for the regiment was recently despatched. I do not know how long it is since the hon. Gentleman was in Northern Ireland—I know he is a regular visitor—but, if my information is correct, he will not find anyone in the UDR with cold, soggy wet hands next time he goes.
The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) asked about Wellington Barracks. He asked when we shall start to build. An Opposition Member asked a similar question this week and the hon. Gentleman will find the reply in Hansard. I am sure that my answer said that a contract has been let and that we hope to complete the work by the summer of 1981. This is the rebuilding of the facade. I hope that the hon. Member will not take that as gospel and will refer to my answer in Hansard. I believe that he will discover that I have answered the Question in the last 48 hours.
My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) raised a number of points about Army equipment. Many of these are in fact covered in the defence White Paper, but I am glad to be able to reassure him on these matters. The first concerns Rapier. My hon. Friend said that there are only two regiments of Rapier. That is correct, although a third regiment will form later. But I should like to emphasise that Rapier is only one of a number of complementary air defence systems, which include the NATO surface-to-air missile system, Blowpipe and gun systems. I should addd that Rapier crews are transported in Land Rovers and are highly mobile, although we are examining the possibility of introducing a tracked version of the Rapier carrier which, contrary to the hon. Member's assertion, has been sold only to one Middle East nation.
The second matter concerns anti-tank weapons. This was an area which I covered in some detail in my opening speech, and I want only to add in response to a specific point that my hon. Friend raised that most BAOR battalions will be equipped with Milan by the middle of next year.
The final matter concerns armoured personnel carriers. My hon. Friend asked about replacement of the existing vehicle. The second phase of project definition for a new mechanised infantry combat vehicle to enter service in the 1980s is well under way.
The hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) asked about B vehicles. As I said in answer to the Written Question to which he referred, many of the B vehicles are more than 10 years old. However, they still function satisfactorily and, although their repair and support may cost a little more, we have the capability to maintain them, and I assure the House that the operational effectiveness of BAOR is not at all impaired.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) made a number of points of which I should like to pick up only three. First, he questioned the ability of Task Force Headquarters to carry out its role over a protracted period. I think, if I may say so, he gave the answer himself when he said that he had been assured during a recent visit to Germany that it could function effectively for as long as necessary.
Perhaps I could remind the hon. Member for Stroud that the concept of task force headquarters emerged from the trials we undertook of the restructured corps. The concept has itself been subjected to intensive trials from which we have concluded that the concept is valid and will work well. We shall, of course, keep the organisation under review and, as I said this afternoon, we have demonstrated amply the flexible approach we adopt towards these matters. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Petersfield realises that we quite willingly conceded that there were errors and that they needed putting right.
Since, under standably, the Minister is picking only a few of the matters raised in the debate, will he be replying by letter to the hon. Members concerned about the oustanding ones?
Clearly I could not hope to answer all the matters raised today, but certainly I undertake to answer any major points which I may have overlooked.
The hon. Member for Stroud raised the question of reinforcement of BAOR. He said that he believed the present arrangements were excellent and underlined the importance of timely political decision. I am glad to be able to agree with him on both points. But we are not complacent. The arrangements for mobilisation and reinforcement are kept under continuing review, and improvements in both areas are under study.
Finally, the hon. Member for Stroud complained that the medium lift helicopter was not yet in service. I find that a surprising observation. The hon. Gentleman was himself some years ago the Minister responsible for the Royal Air Force and had every opportunity to persuade his Secretary of State to order these aircraft. The fact is that his Government did not do so. This Government have done so, and I should have thought we deserved his congratulations rather than his criticism.
The hon. Member for Beckenham claimed that the Chieftans sold to Iran were better than our own. This is not so. The Shir tanks now being designed for Iran will be fitted with Chobham armour. To fit replacement armour to the Chieftains in service with the British Army would require the provision of a complete new shell and turret. This would be extremely expensive and not cost-effective.
Chieftain is one of the best tanks in the world, but it has been in service now for over 10 years and we are therefore introducing a major series of improvements to ensure that it remains fully effective throughout the rest of its life. Nevertheless, we will need to begin replacing Chieftain in the late 1980s with a tank which will be able to counter the threat until well into the next century. A number of options are under consideration which range from an all-British tank to a foreign purchase. We are taking into account in these studies the need within the alliance for the maximum possible standardisation and interoperability, particularly in components.
Doubts were also raised about Milan. The Milan system, which is now entering service, is fully effective against the current threat. We are already studying a series of improvements to ensure that its effectiveness is maintained, but the situation is kept under continuous review and further improvements will be introduced if changes in the threat make that necessary.
Several hon. Members have referred directly or indirectly to Zaire and to our own capacity to mount such operations. I do not think that this debate is the occasion on which to discuss emergency operations, and I do not wish to add anything to the replies given on Tuesday by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence. However, I again remind the House of the excellent manner in which our forces have responded to several emergencies in the last year.
I ask the Minister quite clearly to give us some idea of the state of parachute training of the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, which is currently in Northern Ireland. The Government have a commitment. That was mentioned in my Adjournment debate. On that occasion it was made clear that the Government accepted the commitment that there should be one parachute battalion fully trained and capable of mounting a parachute operation at short notice. It would be a good thing if the Minister commented on that.
I have said that as regards emergency operations I am not prepared to go further than what has already been said this week in the House.
I consider that I dealt more than effectively with the subject of parachute training and the "paras" in reply to the hon. Gentleman's Adjournment debate. Nevertheless, I shall consider what he said and I shall write to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) referred to Hong Kong. As Hong Kong is a Crown Colony, Her Majesty's Government are responsible for its external defence and internal security.
Under the terms of the defence costs agreement the garrison consists of four infantry battalions, three of them Gurkha battalions, an engineer squadron and its training wing, an Army Air Corps flight of helicopters, an RAF Wessex helicopter squadron, and five naval patrol craft. It is there to demonstrate Her Majesty's Government's commitment, and in particular to assist in maintaining internal security and the integrity of the border. We recognise that it could not withstand a large scale attack, but that is considered extremely unlikely.
My hon. Friend also mentioned United Nations operations. I shall deal with those along with international aspects that deserve a mention.
The Minister has been most courteous, and unusually so, in answering all the questions that hon. Members from both sides have put to him. We are all grateful to him for that, but he has skated over one question that I put to him. I put my question to him, as I did to the Secretary of State. It concerns what the Minister said to me, and what the Secretary of State said last year about the Northern Ireland allowance. I hope that the Minister will not let that go by, because now is a good chance to put right something that he felt compelled to say last year, and which he could with honesty and candour admit this year. There is something that he can do for the forces in the future without affecting the pay policy one iota.
With the best will in the world, that shows the weakness of giving way. I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman, and I have to a great extent dealt with that matter.
I thank the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) for his generous praise for the TAVR. I shall write to him on the detailed question of conrates pay, for which I do not have an immediate answer.
Let me now deal with the United Nations Forces in Cyprus and the Lebanon. Although, as I have said, our prime defence commitment is to NATO, we still have other responsibilities outside this area, and the Army still retains—as indeed do the other Services—the flexibility to meet these demands. This has been demonstrated, for example, by the deployment to Belize, but I want to speak for a moment about the Army's efforts in support of the United Nations organisation.
Of course, we have for some time been making a major contribution to United Nations peacekeeping activities through our support of the United Nations Force in Cyprus, where we provide over 800 men, which constitutes one-third of the total manpower and so is the largest single element in the UNFICYP.
Our logistic support for the whole of the United Nations Cyprus Force continues undiminished, and to this is now added our contribution to UNIFIL. In passing. I can say, having visited our forces with the United Nations in Cyprus last year, that the GOC of the United Nations Force expressed his extreme gratitude for the logistic support that we provide for the force.
UNIFIL is the interim peacekeeping force which the United Nations placed in the South Lebanon in March of this year. In keeping with our general support for the United Nations, and in particular for the United Nations peacekeeping, the Government offered to provide logistic support for this force in the form of food, basic materials, stores and equipment.
Our logistic support is being mounted from our sovereign base areas in Cyprus. Our garrison there is supplying UNIFIL's requirements from its own stores and procuring other items in Cyprus itself. Items that are not held in our stores in Cyprus, or which cannot be bought there, will be supplied from stocks in the United Kingdom or bought on behalf of UNIFIL in the Lebanon on the open market. United Kingdom Service personnel in Cyprus are in close touch with their counterparts in UNIFIL ensuring that the United Nation's demands are met as quickly as and expeditiously as possible.
I should like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation and thanks for the work done by our units in Cyprus, and particularly for the way in which they have addressed themselves so swiftly and effectively to the sizeable new task of providing support for the peacekeeping force in the Lebanon.
Another extremely important international problem is the standardisation of equipment in NATO. The subject has recently been aired in this House. That was on the Adjournment debate on 8th May, and I do not propose to go over that ground again. The Army has a good record on equipment collaboration with our allies, and this is in the interests of NATO as a whole.
The bulk of our ammunition—tank gun ammunition apart—from small arms to the 203mm guns is either common with that of other NATO forces, or interoperable. We are involved in several major collaborative projects, including the CVR(T) family and the 155mm gun, and are presently in negotiation on the possibilities of collaboration in a number of future guided weapons. I know that some hon. Members would like more to be done more quickly, but standardisation cannot be achieved in the West—unlike the Eastern bloc—at a stroke. What is militarily important is interoperability—