The Army

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 10:20 pm on 8th July 1982.

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Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare 10:20 pm, 8th July 1982

It is a fairly confused line of argument. At the end of the day, we are interested in the defence of the United Kingdom, and we believe that the greatest threat to us lies principally on the central front, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his intervention.

The hon. Lady asked me many detailed questions. It is not appropriate to discuss the Select Committee report tonight, but I can tell her that the cost of the barracks programme is about £90 million and that we do not have massive quantities of empty accommodation. I have been discussing that matter this morning. We have adequate storage for our ammunition in Germany, although some of it is not located quite where it ought to be. Therefore—we hope with some NATO infrastructure help—to be relocating some of our ammunition storage.

The question of the Royal ordnance factories is a semantic one. However, I believe that everybody has been thanked. If anybody, by some mishap, has not been spelt out, I cannot comprehend that people do not realise the gratitude that the Government have for all sections of the community and the vast numbers of people involved in all aspects of this operation.

I assure the House that it is not only in Germany where we are striving to keep our support organisation as lean as possible. We have reduced our costs there from about 11 per cent. to 9 per cent. We are doing this everywhere to enable us to invest our resources to the greatest extent possible in the teeth arms. We intend to avoid wasting resources on duplicating those support functions that the civil sector can provide. This is reflected in our White Paper, which this year includes an essay on the use of national resources in defence designed to stimulate thinking about how we should plan to harness the whole of our national resources to defend ourselves. The Times called this the most important section of an attractively presented defence White Paper. One way in which the military and civilians come together is in the Territorial Army. This makes one of the most cost-effective contributions to our defence. The Government are determined that this contribution should be increased. The measures that my right hon. Friend announced earlier in the year are intended to achieve this aim.

My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) raised the question of regular reserves. It is a fact that those who have most recently retired from active service are the most likely to be able to return to active service. We have therefore established the individual reinforcement plan whereby, for some years, those who have recently retired will report annually. We keep their addresses. We can get to them quickly. They have some uniform and equipment and we pay them a bounty. Of course, we should like to be able to send them to Germany, but there has to be some limit on expenditure in this area. Their role in war will be as casualty replacements. It is therefore not always possible to see a way of training them in the precise regiment in which they will serve or in the precise role that they will have to carry out in wartime.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) mentioned the reserve commitment. I join him in saying that we in this country understand the requirement for the average citizen to contribute something in time of war. We saw this national virtue during the Falklands crisis. I hope that we are taking the necessary staeps to channel that virtue in the event of war.

The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) cast some unhappy aspersions on various aspects of the welfare of our forces. I accept that there can be improvement in community relations and domestic welfare. I am, however, happy that the Services work enormously hard on these aspects. I refer not only to the Army. All three Services go out of their way to mix with the community, to make their contribution and to be good neighbours. The hon. Gentleman said that they should be rich good neighbours. I am not sure about that. At least, they work hard at being good neighbours.

An enormous amount of time and trouble is spent on welfare. This is not always easy. There are problems. In all the organisations with which I have been connected, I do not believe that the Services can be surpassed in this matter. The hon. Gentleman's final contribution related to Number 2 dress. He recommended that the Army should make it more charismatic. This remark shows an element of ignorance about what happens in the services. There is to be a modified Number 2 dress. I was at the stores and clothing research and development establishment yesterday. It has done a large amount of work. An experiment has been carried out on this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, in an excellent philosophical speech, mentioned a number of points on disarmement and gave an analysis that I would commend to those who did not hear it. He talked in a learned manner about the regular reserves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich also mentioned defending the home base. United Kingdom Land Forces recently did a study on that matter. We are basing our current plans on the assumption that, taking into account the Regular Forces stationed in the United Kingdom, plus the Reserves that will be allocated to UKLF, we shall have more than 80,000 troops equipped, trained and ready to go at the outbreak of war. I hope that that goes some way towards answering his point.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) asked me about parachuting. I have heard him ask that question before. He will find that the White Paper, in page 19, deals with the fact that we shall install the radar that is necessary for that capability. He rightly paid tribute to his regiment, and I join him. The Parachute Regiment was wonderfully brave and did a terrific job.

My hon. Friend also mentioned Northern Ireland. I went into more detailed comment on the Northern Ireland operations last week, so I shall not dwell on them now, but I should say that while the spotlight has been focussed elsewhere recently, our Forces in Northern Ireland have continued to carry out their duties in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary—duties which are often every bit as dangerous and difficult as those undertaken in the South Atlantic—with their customary gallantry and dedication. I know that the House will wish to join me in reassuring them of our continuing gratitude and support.

The security forces continue to achieve notable successes and there have been some good finds of arms and ammunition on both sides of the border, while a welcome development in the campaign to bring men of violence to justice through the courts has been the successful prosecution in the Republic of Ireland of terrorists for offences committed in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) mentioned his concern for the widows of Service men killed in Northern Ireland in the light of the success of the South Atlantic fund, which has now reached about £5 million. Separate charitable arrangements exist through the Army benevolent fund for troops in Northern Ireland and their dependants. The fact that the South Atlantic fund will remove the burden on those Service charities means that those who serve in Northern Ireland and their dependants will receive the same as or rather more than those who serve elsewhere.

The Army Dependants Assurance Trust provides funds for the dependants of those who are killed, and about 50 per cent. of the Army personnel killed in the falklands were members of that trust. The Army Board negotiated the scheme in 1972. It provides a tax-free benefit to dependants of soldiers who die, regardless of the cause, whether on or off duty. Over £10 million will be paid during the next 30 years to dependants of those who died in the Falklands who were members of the voluntary scheme.

The payments are in addition to the benefits payable under the Armed Forces pension scheme, which is the occupational scheme for all the Armed Forces. It provides pensions and lump sum grants for those who retire or who are invalided from the Services. In the case of widows, it provides for the continuation of the husband's full pay for three months from his death, if there are no children, after which the widow receives a pension from the Ministry of Defence and a war widow's pension from the DHSS, both tax-free and index-linked. In addition, she would be paid a substantial lump sum by the Ministry of Defence.

In cash terms the benefits payable under the Armed Forces pension scheme will vary according to individual circumstances, but, for example, a sergeant's widow with two children would receive a pension totalling more than £8,000 and a lump sum of more than £10,000. The details have now been put before the House, and there should be no criticism of the way in which we treat the bereaved.

I have picked up as many points as I can in this good debate, although the hon. Member for Keighley seemed to stray into the wider areas of disarmament and nuclear weapons, with which my hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt extremely well last week. While I share the hon. Gentleman's desire for peace, we differ in the method of obtaining it. I believe that strength and deterrence is the way to peace, but he believes that total disarmament is the way to it. History shows that in an ideal world he could perhaps obtain what he wants, but, sadly, we do not live in an ideal world. We both seek peace, and I acknowledge that.