§ Motion made, and Question proposed. That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Redmayne.]
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Profumo)
By approving these two Continuation Orders formally, the House has given itself an opportunity of having a very much wider discussion. I know that many Members have questions to ask on the Army and the Royal Air Force, and this is an admirable way of arranging a discussion of those matters. I do not propose to make any contribution at this stage, but, Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I would wish to listen to the debate and then at the end to try to answer the various points which have been raised. My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Air is also here and may speak if he catches your eye later on.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
The procedure outlined by the right hon. Gentleman is certainly agreeable to me, but it might be well to remind the House that it arises because of the reform—if I may use that word—introduced by the Select Committee which was set up in 1952. It was then agreed that the Government should introduce Continuation Orders annually, and that in the fifth year there should be a Select Committee. Today, the House, in its wisdom, has taken the Orders formally in order to have a wider discussion, so that this is, as it were, the first round, the second time round, of the 1952 procedure. It is the first occasion since the Select Committee was set up that the House has continued the Army and Air Force Acts 1575 by asking Her Majesty to continue the Acts in being.
Before turning to my main topic, I want to spend a moment or two discussing the main recommendation of the last Select Committee—the one that was set up following four Continuation Orders. The Select Committee then considered the question of discharge by purchase, with special reference to Section 14, laying down the statutory right of a soldier or airman to purchase his discharge on a payment of £20 within a period of three months. As far back as the time of the 1952 Select Committee, I held the view that that amount was wrong. If £20 was right twenty years ago, in terms of the changing value of money since then that figure should since have been altered. However, that view did not find acceptance either in Government circles or among my hon. Friends. The Select Committee decided to leave the amount at £20 but mildly to alter the procedure; that is Ito say, that whereas under the old procedure a soldier on his second day in the Army could go to his commanding officer, pay £20 and say goodbye, he had to wait two months. In other words, it gave him a chance to find out whether he liked the Army or not before he purchased his discharge.
I put down a Question on the Order Paper on Wednesday to find out what the position is, because it is still pretty serious. In the financial year 1958–59, the number of recruits applying for discharge was 1,431. The next year it was 2,068, the next year 2,056 and in the last full year it was 2,209. For the half-year concluded on 30th September it was 1,285. Therefore, if the trend present in the last six months is continued it will reach an all-time record. When it comes to the normal purchase of discharge, where the soldier has no statutory right, then the figures are not to be relied upon, because the Government have introduced a standstill procedure and a man applying for discharge has to wait six months while the limitation is imposed on National Service men.
When one looks at the manpower problem of the Army and the Royal Air Force, one sees that it is not only the fact that the Government have been, I 1576 think, a little lax in the standards which they apply. This has resulted, of course, in a phenomenal wastage. The ability to build up an Army of a high quality and to keep it at that quality can be measured as much by those who stay in as by those who join in the first instance. The overall wastage throughout the Army is still running in the neighbourhood of 20 per cent. It is slightly less than it was a year ago. The Government have slowed it down by administrative action.
This problem is not unimportant to another problem in the minds of hon. Members opposite, and that is the results of the by-elections. I am not talking about the political results. But we had the case of Service men who hit on the expedient, in order to get out of the Services, of apply for their discharge on the basis of statements, some verified and some not, that they intended to contest the elections as Parliamentary candidates. Various suggestions have been made, some from this bench and some in the columns of the Daily Telegraph, which to my mind are quite crackbrained and would, if adopted, make the situation much worse than it is now.
I want the House to consider carefully the situation as it has grown up and as it now is. If we suddenly get a group of young men—not all of them from the ranks, because the first example was that of an officer—who are so fed up with being in the Services that they will adapt any method to get out, then I suggest that there is something wrong and that one should take note of the symptoms and not just put a sticking plaster round the safety valve. For this is a safety valve. People are telling us in the only way open to them that they like the Services so little that in some cases they are prepared to expose themselves to a loss of £150 and will adopt any expedient in an effort to stand as Parliamentary candidates and, having got their discharge, that they will go back on it.
This has to be seen first of all against the background of the last 300 years. In the first Select Committee, which I regard as my most pleasurable experience in the House, the alterations which were made in procedure had to be seen against the historical background of the Bill of Rights. In the 1688 revolution 1577 our forefathers thought it worth while to make it principle No. 1. It was unlawful to maintain a standing Army unless the Army Act was passed. As a result of that Measure on the size of the Army and its use, we have succeeded in doing something which a number of other countries have not succeeded in doing. We have succeeded in keeping the Armed Forces out of politics.
If we did what the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) wants to do, what the Daily Telegraph wants to do and what some hon. Members opposite want to do, it would mean reverting to the 1945 position. Those who say that do not understand what that position was. In 1945 those in the Armed Forces who wished to stand as Parliamentary candidates were released for the purpose, as indeed they had to be and as they have to be today, because the House of Commons Disqualification Act lays it down that a man cannot take his seat if he is a member of the Armed Forces. If the Act had been ignored and if we had not been released in 1945, we should at the moment of our election have been disqualified. But in 1945 there was, of course, the all-powerful sanction that if a soldier or an officer, having stood for Parliament, did not immediately obey a summons to return after the election, he could, of course, be recalled under the National Service Acts. Therefore, we cannot revert to the 1945 position because then we were dealing with an Army recruited under the sanction of the National Service Act whereas today the men are volunteers.
If it is said that men can be released to this Reserve, we come up against a very formidable problem, because the conditions under which men can be recalled from the Reserve are laid down by Statute. The House of Commons has been very careful to control the Executive in this matter. If Reservists are called out the fact must be immediately reported to Parliament. Moreover whether we adopted either the first or second methods it would involve legislation.
There is one way round this. One could enter into a contract with the man and say, "You want to take your discharge. Very good. But you must contract that if you do not get elected or do not stand for election you must come back and purchase your discharge." I presume that the lawyers 1578 could draft a contract which made it obligatory for a man in such circumstances to return. I have consulted one or two lawyer friends on the subject, and if the Government adopted this course I would place my services at the disposal of any soldier who wanted to try this on. I am sure that the idea is shot through with difficulties.
I want to come back to the main objection to interfering with existing procedure without the utmost care. All of us are too young to remember the Curragh incident in 1914. There we had a group of officers who felt that the decisions of the Liberal Government were so oppressive that they were prepared to take the extreme step of resigning their commissions. If it had been our practice to say to a man, "Of course, if you are going to stand for Parliament you will not have to resign your commission, you will simply, as it were, go on extended leave, or something of the kind, and when it is over you can come back", then in 1914 we might well have had a series of officers standing as candidates in a by-election and fighting it on the main political issue which divided the main parties in the House of Commons.
Again, more recently, just before the war, there was the less extreme case—I am sure several hon. Members, including the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth), will remember it—of the extension of the Royal Armoured Corps which called into question the matter of very famous cavalry regiments keeping their horses. There were threats of resigning commissions, and some comanding officers gave up the command of their regiments. Again, if we do not look out we might find issues like that being thrown into the cockpit of party politics.
I should have thought that the House would be wiser to accept any alteration in the existing procedure only after very careful consideration and to ask first why it is that groups of young men in 1961 have taken the extreme action of offering themselves, as it were, as guys before public opinion because they find their service so oppressive that any method of getting out of the Services is worth while adopting.
Of course, one must also remember in this connection that there is another 1579 reason why we must be careful about our judgment at this moment. When a year ago the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Army Reserve Act, he made clear during the Second Reading debate that he was—rightly in his judgment—not going to do what was done by the Labour Government in somewhat similar circumstances in 1950. In 1950, when service under the National Service Acts was extended and there was—if one cares to put it in tendentious terms—a breach of faith with the serving National Service men, the Labour Government said, "Right. In effect, we will suspend the discharge of Regular soldiers." The present Government did not feel in a position to do that for obvious reasons which I will not go into now. They did say, "We are not going to permit the purchase of discharges except on the same conditions as those for the National Service men."
The National Service man was required to wait six months beyond his legal service of two years. So any Regular soldier who wanted to get out of the Service—unless there were extremely compassionate grounds—is required to wait for six months. Many of these young men—I have not gone into individual cases but I am told this, my information is not first-hand—wanted to take up careers or go into jobs, and they applied to purchase their discharge. I have not verified this. Perhaps the Secretary of State for War may know—or perhaps he may not know, because this happens at a lower level. But there were compelling reasons why these young men wanted to get out of the Services and the normal avenues of discharge were denied to them. They therefore took these exceptional measures.
There is another important point, even if the case I am making is only partially true. Lt is the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has painted a picture—and not only the Secretary of State for War but all the Service Ministers—of all our Forces being well-paid and contented, well housed, having ample leave and being the privileged citizens in a State determined to safeguard its liberties.
But the picture one gets is very different from the real picture. I am sure that the Secretary of State for War will take pride in saying—I do not deny 1580 him that—that he has his 165,000 men. I said that he could not get them and he has got them: but by standards which were not applied when the race was started in 1957. We will go——
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Wigg
The Minister of Defence has only recently come to this competition. Some of us have the slight advantage of having been in it all the time.
The picture painted in the first instance was of a figure of 375,000 not broken down. When it was broken down to 165,000 for the Army, 135,000 for the R.A.F. and 88,000 for the Navy, it made 388,000. Last year in the Defence White Paper, without a word from anyone, the figures were altered. They were made 132,000 for the Royal Air Force, 87,000 for the Navy and 165,000 for the Army. In other words, the possibility of getting into the Navy or the Air Force was made more difficult in order to divert men into the Army.
It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying that there has not been a diversion or pressure to get people into various corps; or saying that the standard is not lower. All hon. Members need to do is to look at the figures of 'wastage in corps like the Royal Pioneer Corps, which is not exactly an attractive arm of the Service. One might even describe it as the least attractive. Here the wastage was as high as 50 per cent. Even with the latest possible figures, the wastage is between 45 per cent. and 50 per cent. So it is no use the right hon. Gentleman coming along with that one.
There is something else that they have done. They have lowered the standard. The wastage figures show it, and it is revealed by the desire of young men to get out of the Services. But there is a third thing which they have done, which I did not think that they would do. But perhaps it is a noble experiment deserving of success. In 1961 they started recruiting on an intensive scale in a number of Her Majesty's overseas dominions. There are the Seychellois; the Fijians; the West Indians; the West Africans and the East Africans. They amount to a total of over 1,000 recruited as the result of a special effort. There are, indeed, over 2,000 soldiers—I am 1581 sure that they are serving Her Majesty well—who are coloured. The figure is somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000.
I am not saying that it is wrong. Maybe it is the only thing we could do. All I am saying is that the race which we analysed—the conditions under which the race was analysed in 1957—were different from the sort of race that we have now that we are getting near the winning post in 1962——
§ Mr. Profumo indicated assent.
§ Mr. Profumo
I will tell the hon. Gentleman why I nodded. The hon. Gentleman wishes to try to draw a picture indicating that we have lowered the standard of the recruits which we have brought in and that we have filled the Army with coloured soldiers from overseas. The content of coloured men serving in the Army today is no higher in percentage than it was before we had the recruiting campaign, and I can give the House an undertaking that we are in no way reducing the standards. Indeed, last year we accepted only 60 per cent. of the people who wanted to join.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman may say that sort of thing in a Conservative Party sub-committee, but I beg him, please, not to do it here. He merely exposes himself to criticism. He does not know what he is talking about. Hon. Members can look up the figures for themselves. They can look up the 1939 Annual Report of the Army of which they will find copies in the Library, although in these days we do not have that Report.
The rate of rejection before the war was over 50 per cent. That is a fact and has been brought out many times. It was 70 per cent., and the right hon. Gentleman says that they have not lowered the standard because now 40 per cent. of the applicants are being rejected.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the physical health of people before the war was nothing like so good as it is now, and that it would not be extraordinary if the rejection rate were very much better now?
§ Mr. Wigg
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) ought to know better. He has been a Regular soldier—a privilege which was denied to the right hon. Gentleman.
Just before the war the Government never solved its problems. Reports show that we were 10,000 and more below strength until they lowered the standard. They formed special units—the first one was at Canterbury—where they introduced remedial operations—extra milk in order to raise the weight. They lowered the standard in order to build up the strength of the Army, and it was from this that somebody in the Ministry of Defence got the idea. There is nothing new about the idea. It is an old gag. They lowered the standards, and the figures of wastage prove it.
The right hon. Gentleman knows this as well as I do. The wastage here is in the neighbourhood of 20 per cent. In fact, his rejection rate is 40 per cent. and before the war it was over 70 per cent. If the right hon. Gentleman tells me that the Army is not worried about the number of coloured soldiers in each unit, let me tell him for nothing that his Department has a rule that in no unit in the Army is the figure of coloured soldiers to rise above 3 per cent.
I am not complaining. It may be a result of policy. The point I am making in reply to the right hon. Gentleman—this is an important factor—is that the figure of 165,000 in the first instance was never the real figure. The figure of 165,000 was a political figure. As Viscount Head—he ought to know, he was Secretary of State for War and also Minister of Defence—once pointed out, the present Minister of Commonwealth Relations "cooked the books". He hit on a figure which his actuaries told him he would be able to recruit. The figure decided on was 165,000, but they did not declare it. The real figure was somewhere between 182,000 and 200,000. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to make a parade of this I do not mind. I mention it because I do not want to run away from the argument.
On the Monday of the Cuban crisis—I would remind the House—or on the Monday when President Kennedy made his speech and the world wondered what was going to happen and many people wondered what part our own country could play in avoiding extreme measures 1583 which it was considered might have to be taken, the Supreme Allied Commander came to this country. He was interviewed by the Press and he appeared on the television programme Panorama. What did he say? Did he extol the virtues of the British Army, or the decisive rôle which it played in the world? Did he extol the fact that the units were up to strength and able to withstand any attack made upon them? Not likely, he came here and he made a speech which he repeated in Paris a week ago. He complained about the strength of the British Army of the Rhine.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
Is not it true that throughout history commanders-in-chief have always required more men than they have got?
§ Mr. Wigg
If the hon. Member is satisfied with that, we have plenty of time to discuss the matter and we can follow up the history. The Government, on the word of Lord Avon, pledged the honour of this country in 1954 to maintain four divisions on the Continent of Europe. From the moment he signed his name that was forgotten. This is one of the reasons why the present Administration is passing out. It is because gradually in a variety of ways the country is learning the consequences of driving the French into the arms of the Germans. The French said, "We know you are going to welsh". They knew that we could not provide four divisions on the Continent of Europe. This was not a question of the Supreme Allied Commander repeating the complaints of other commanders.
I had the great privilege, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) of going to the United States to the first conference of N.A.T.O. Ministers and hearing the discussions which took place there about German rearmament and about the Americans being committed to Europe and General Eisenhower coming over. The whole thing hinged on the strength of the Continent of Europe. Agreement was not possible at that meeting, so a further meeting was held. I again had the privilege of attending the meeting of Ministers of Defence and Foreign Secretaries in 1950. The same thing came up again. There was agreement that 1584 German rearmament would be accepted, not in terms of principle, but in realistic terms. Eisenhower, General Gunter and the Supreme Allied Commander had always been thinking in terms of an effective screen of 30 divisions. The right hon. Gentleman knows the dangers to which he is exposed. What we have done is to pay lip-service—that is what the 1957 White Paper did—and to make a bargain between the two Front Benches.
That turned the defences of the country into a sham fight which no one could win. In justice to both groups of right hon. Gentlemen, I should say that military thinking was that it was possible. It was thought that if we could have nuclear power, arms in the old sense would be no longer necessary, or of no importance. That conception has now gone full circle and the thinking is in conventional terms. The British Army at present is exposed to weaknesses to which it has never been exposed before in its history. A year ago it was to have the replacement of the Bofors. It was to have a new anti-aircraft weapon, the P.T.428. That has been cancelled. It was to get rid of the Corporal which was bogged down on an airfield at Dortmund where there are empty barracks and not where it is operationally required, and it has to be replaced by Blue Water. That has been cancelled.
The Minister apparently thought that the memory of the House would not last through the Summer Recess and when we came back he had a new shopping list of orders. They have not been ordered. There was the A.P.C. and the Trojan, the ack-ack successor. Even the Belfast has been cancelled. So we have an Army today which is under strength, under establishment, badly trained, without an effective anti-aircraft weapon, with no medium artillery, with a field gun, the old 25 pounder because the Abbot is still not with us, and without effective air mobility.
I am sure that hon. Members on bath sides of the House cheered the effective help which Great Britain was giving to one of our Commonwealth partners by sending out Britannias with a pay load of 7 tons and a few million rounds of ammunition. This is not the responsibility of Service Ministers. It does not rest with the able corps of staff officers in all three Services, but in the House of 1585 Commons, because the House of Commons for three hundred years has insisted on the control of the Armed Forces and on the discharge of that control.
I turn to another aspect which has interested me greatly. A year ago at the time of the Kuwait operation for a variety of reasons I took leave to doubt if it was all that it pretended to be. I am not going into the politics of it now. It may well be that hon. Members will argue that whatever happened Kassim did not move and in any case the intelligence services of the Government were so very good—as we have seen recently they are absolutely 100 per cent. Foolproof—as to suggest that something was going to happen and urgent action was necessary.
Incidentally I do not accept it, but if I accepted for the purposes of the case I want to put that the Minister of Defence, the Prime Minister and those responsible for these great affairs were right in the early days of July, 1961, that it was necessary to send a force of between 5,000 and 7,000 men and 700 tons of supplies from this country, from Cyprus and the Middle East, to Kuwait, I ask hon. Members to consider what happened. We have been told on many occasions that this was well within the compass of our fighting forces and that this kind of force, provided by an airlift, was something which could be quite easily done.
I was chided in the course of debate in such terms that, if I had not been thick-skinned, I should have found extremely wounding. I thought it reflected on my personal integrity when it was asserted that I said things and put down Questions with a view to scoring off the Army. I think that was not true; at least I hope it was not. Quite apart from that, I think I have a right to ask the House to bear with me in considering the affair in the light of what we now know.
I have worked through a brief with some care. As early as 7th July I put Questions to the Minister of Defence asking the number of men serving in the Persian Gulf requiring medical treatment and admitted to hospital, what special dietary arrangements had been made, and whether special arrangements had been made for the Air Officer 1586 Commanding British troops in Kuwait to secure the advice of senior consultants in connection with the prevention and treatment of heat hyperpyrexia. I also asked which specialists with wide experience in this field he had consulted.
The Minister said that he would make a fuller statement later in the week. So, on 11th July, the Minister of Defence entered into an arrangement with my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) to answer a Question at the end of Question hour, and he circulated a statement of a couple of thousand words in the OFFICIAL. REPORT.
I made some complaints at the time about the procedure adopted and the reasons for it, but I do not lay any great emphasis on that. In my anxiety to be scrupulously fair, I have written to the Minister of Defence and given him notice that I should raise this matter today and would cast doubts on the accuracy of the statements which he made on that occasion.
§ Mr. Wigg
I beg the pardon of the right hon. Gentleman; I mean the statements made by the former Minister. I believe I am at liberty to read my letter. I said:The opportunity to debate this is going to occur next Friday, and I thought in courtesy I should give you notice that I shall, of course, be referring to some of the answers that you gave in July, 1961, about conditions in Kuwait. I shall be asserting that your replies in several cases were inaccurate. Needless to say, I shall do this as objectively as I can.It is part of my case that Ministerial responsibility in these matters is flimsy, to put it mildly. I went on to say:I shall certainly try to avoid making any assertions that even smack of reflection upon you.I want to make it clear that I was not making reflections on others such as had been made on me. I wrote:In other words, my case is that the Department gave you a brief which events have shown to be inaccurate.In his reply, the right hon. Gentleman, with great fairness, expressed regret at not being able to be here—and there is, of course, no reason why he should be here. I am not important enough to bring ex-Ministers of Defence here. I readily accept that. But he said that 1587 Ministers must rely on information given to them in matters of this kind, and he ended that it would be far better for me to be replied to andthe points can best be answered by those who will speak for the Government.I have therefore established the point that as far as I am concerned the Minister of Defence is quite guiltless and that the inaccuracies, if any, and if I can establish them, are not his responsibility. I shall ask whose responsibility they are a little later.
One of the interesting points was the ready acceptance by the former Minister of Defence of my general thesis that the worst in Kuwait had yet to come. I spent many years in Iraq, long years, in a very humble capacity, without any leave, and I learned what the climate was like. I know that in the period from the solstice through the following six weeks it is pretty tough going, probably some of the worst weather conditions in the world. I took advice from men who have expertise in the matter. Their advice was that if the Army consulted its own consultants, Professor Cuthbert-son, Professor Woodruff, or Professor Maegraith, who had recently been undertaking research on the spot in Kuwait, the chances of men being knocked out through the heat would become very much less.
In a supplementary question to the Minister of Defence, I asked him specifically:Before the operation was undertaken did the War Office consult Professor Woodruff, the Army's Consultant on Tropical Medicine? Did it consult Dr. Cuthbertson, the Army's Consultant on Physiology and Nutrition, because is it not generally considered that heat hyperexia should not occur if the precautions and diet are competently handled? Did the Government take any steps to consult Professor Maegraith, who has done research on the spot into extreme heat conditions in the Kuwait area?The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that he agreed with me about the conditions but said that he was absolutely sure that everything was all right. He said that he thought that all the reasonable needs of the troops were being met and that the operation was being carried out with expedition and efficiency. He said that the heat casualties were 1 per cent, of the total force and he added that in his opinion no difficulty was being experienced in pro- 1588 viding a palatable and adequate ration. He stated that a sufficient supply of water and salt was vital and he indicated that all these conditions had been met. His statement added:All the troops now serving in Kuwait have been thoroughly briefed on the elementary techniques to be adopted in avoiding the effects of heat. Many of the troops were of course already acclimatised to the heat."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1961; Vol. 644, c. 213–215.]He said that he would send out the Under-Secretary of State for War, and the Under-Secretary of State went out there and came back, and on 19th July he said,As regards Kuwait and whether the troops are eating and drinking the right things to keep them fit, I am satisfied from what I saw that they are."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1961; Vol. 644, c. 1220.]I have one or two other comments to make later, but that was the picture which was being presented. Let us have a look at the truth. Let us see what happened. The instructions laid down by the War Office in respect of precautions against the ill-effects of heat were contained in a War Office letter of 9th November, 1960, and it is clear from the opening paragraph of the letter that things had not been all right. It begins:I am commanded by the Army Council to refer to the continued incidence of casualties due to heat in theatres overseas, some of them fatal, and to remind you of the precautions to be taken.I have shown this letter to a gentleman with an international reputation, a specialist in nutrition who is consulted by many Governments, who is constantly on the move dealing with this subject. Who has a very high academic position in this country and who is a specialist in this field. He said that up to a point this letter is all right. It is pretty old-fashioned, it is the kind of thing which the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood and I learned some 40 years ago, or in his case possibly even longer. It was the kind of thing laid down in standing orders and the kind of thing which good units carried out automatically because they became a part of discipline.
There is, however, one defect in this letter to which I should like to refer. When the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) was Under-Secretary of State for War, I went to him and talked to him about the need 1589 for research into army rations, their quality and their suitability and also into the matter in logistical terms. I was invited to the War Office and in his room, now occupied by the present Under-Secretary of State for War, I was shown samples of what the Army was doing.
Whatever the Army was doing in 1956, it has done nothing since, because there is no mention in this letter in any terms of research into special food and its supply. On the other hand, one of the things pointed out in the letter is the very high percentage of salt which is absolutely necessary if the human body is to be kept fit in the severe conditions in that area, and this must be taken in through the rations. It gives a proportion and talks about acclimatisation and the need for training. On the question of food it is laid down:The ration of salt is sufficient for a daily water intake of 12 pints.It relates it to a water intake in conditions of extreme activity of about 25 pints a day, but it is based upon the hypothesis that the troops would eat the ration. If they do not eat the ration or the ration is not suitable, then all sorts of unfortunate circumstances follow. I will come to that later.
The first point on this issue which I want to make is that the War Office letter was never drawn to the notice of the Air Officer Commanding in Chief and that of a sample of 30 men who suffered from hyperpyrexia and who were tested, over half had had no instructions of any kind on the necessity to maintain heat discipline in respect of water, food, salt intake and the need for resting. Beyond any shadow of doubt at least half of them had received no instruction. I can find only one case in which, in Part I Orders, attention was ever drawn to the consequences of a deficiency of salt. A survey has been undertaken which indicates that one of the first requirements of any force operating in these these conditions is that the War Office instructions should be carried out and that they should be made known to commanders.
It may be argued that this was a passing phase and that as the operation went on things got better. Unfortunately, that is not borne out by the facts, because as late as D44–13th August— 1590 when the force was being run down, the brigade commander sent a signal to all commanding officers expressing his deep concern about the continued rise in heat casualties. We therefore have a picture of the War Office's own instructions being ignored.
Next, I was staggered to discover that no research at all had been done into conditions in Kuwait. One specialist branch of the Army found out that operation "Vantage", which was the code name for this operation, was in fact on. How did it discover it'? It heard it on the B.B.C. on the early morning news of 1st July. It said, "We then started to discover what data were available on climatic conditions in Kuwait."
I should have thought that in 1962, after the expenditure of £17,000 million on defence, with a global strategy—so we are told—to which the Government pay more than lip-service, at least a survey would have been undertaken. The Government could have got a couple of post-graduate students to undertake the survey, if they had paid for their maintenance, to discover the climatic conditions in which British troops might be called upon to serve in the arid and semi-arid areas of the world. There had been none at all.
But there had been plenty of warning. The Third Parachute Regiment had been sent into Singapore only a few months before. They were marching only 14 miles a day. There was a casualty rate of 19 per cent. from fever and 19 per cent. from blisters. In Kuwait there was even further warning. Two years before conditions had been so bad—extreme conditions are always liable to be met—that 300 Arabs had been admitted to hospital and there had been ten deaths in ten days. It is against this background that the conditions in this War Office letter were completely ignored.
On the basis of the evidence provided by the Army itself, where heat and water discipline are ignored a casualty rate of 50 per cent. had to be accepted as a possible risk in the first few days during which troops were becoming acclimatised. It is a very interesting fact, but I do not think that too much can be made of it, because there are a number of other factors, that the squadron of Hussars which came from Sharja had no casualties, whereas the 1591 troops which went from this country, none of whom took part in actual operations, had a casualty rate of 10 per cent.
We must be very careful of these percentage figures, because in fact the numbers are often quite small and the movement of one or two men can make a difference to a percentage. On this point, if hon. Members are interested, they should read a very good article in The Times of 23rd July of this year. It is there argued that the experience of Kuwait and the experiments and researches which have been carried out since cast doubts upon the advisability of taking green troops—I use the word "green" not in a military but in a health sense—and committing them to conditions of this kind.
It is also interesting to note that there appears to have been absolutely no difference, or little difference, between the troops which went from Cyprus and the troops which went from the United Kingdom. In other words, one of the arguments put forward that Cyprus was necessary as a kind of springboard for our key position in the Middle East from a health and training point of view was not true. The troops going from Cyprus were at as great a risk as those which went from Salisbury Plain.
What was the effect of this? On D plus six one of the perhaps most important and vital tasks of the force was that one of the infantry battalions—I shall not mention the names of any units; that would not be fair—had a critical operation about twenty miles from Joint Administrative Headquarters. On D plus six—6th July—they were conveyed by bus. It took them hours to cover 17½ miles. The personal water of the men in the force had to be taken and put in the radiators. Many of the buses either burnt their clutches out or cracked their cylinders because the radiators had gone dry. To make it infinitely worse, their stores and food supplies did not arrive until hours later. A bowser which should have contained 8,000 gallons of water and should have been there to meet them turned up hours later with only 1,000 gallons. Is the right hon. Gentleman surprised at the sequel? The next day there were 25 oases of heat hyperpyrexia treated by the R.M.O. alone, as well as very many others at all levels from company level 1592 down to platoon level. In other words, the figure that the Minister of Defence gave to the House on 11th July, 1961, as 1 per cent. of the whole force was untrue in relation to one unit on 6th July—that is, more than 1 per cent. of the whole force had gone down with heat hyperpyrexia on the first day in one unit.
I go further. Such was the position about water supply that there is evidence that troops in armoured fighting units—I am surprised at this, I must confess, because I thought that the discipline was better—actually drew the water off their header tanks and drank it because they were short of water. I am told that there were cases of this. I cannot believe it, but I repeat it because the statement has been made and I have tried to authenticate it. I always thought that anti-freeze was put in, which alters the boiling point. I do not know how any man, however gone he is in thirst, would be able to drink rust contaminated water containing anti-freeze, quite apart from the discipline aspect. However, this is what is said.
I remind hon. Members of the importance of looking at the circumstances. If I were merely talking in vacuo, I should be ashamed of myself. I want to see this in relation to what the British Army's policy on water has been during the last 20 years. A fascinating study—this has occupied my attention for quite a time—convinces me that we have now gone full circle. In 1939 the responsibility for water supply rested with the Royal Engineers up to well and pump level. Over and beyond that it was an R.A.S.C. responsibility. They had the most wonderful copper tanks even to fit on camels to carry water. Goodness knows how they would do it or how it would work out.
It became perfectly clear in 1941 that the whole policy of P.O.L. and water lift had broken down. Indeed, I quote from the official histories of Supplies and Transport in monograph, which has not been published but which is available. It lays down this dictum, as a result of the experience in North Africa:Commanders' freedom of action should no more be restricted by absence of local water than it should be by absence of local petrol supply.It is perfectly clear that up to 1941 losses of petrol and water were running at a level of 30 per cent. Then a miracle 1593 happened for the British Army. They captured a German jerrycan—Hitler's secret weapon. As soon as they saw the jerrycan, it was flown back to this country. Hon. Members may feel inclined to doubt this, but it can be found in the History of the Royal Army Service Corps. It tells how this jerrycan was captured and flown back to the War Office. Thirty million of the German jerrycans had been produced here by the end of 1943.
What is the position today? At the end of the war there were millions of surplus jerrycans, both for P.O.L. and water. Now there are three types. There is the water type, painted one colour. There is the P.O.L. type, painted another colour. There is the third, which is held on the G.1098. Nobody knows how many there are. Some of them are at Chilwell. Some of them are at Didcot. Some of them are at Bicester.
Hon. Members will understand what this has to do with Kuwait when I tell them that between one-third and one-half of all the jerrycans which were in use in Kuwait were unusable. No one had ever bothered to wonder whether the jerrycans should be maintained. There they were stacked out in the open, rusted up and flaked off. I have made some inquiries about this. I have discovered that the interesting fact is this. It costs more to renovate or repair and insipect a jerrycan that it costs for a new one. This was a simple policy, but no Secretary of State for War had got round to it. If we were going to launch the Kuwait operation and the supply of water was absolutely vital, steps should have been taken to ensure that there was an effective supply of jerrycans. The best way of ensuring this would have been to buy new ones.
Hon. Gentlemen may be interested to know that, just as in 1939 water was the responsibility of the R.E.s, in 1962 we are back in exactly the same position. Water is the responsibility of the Royal Engineers. Yet the British Army's history is tied up with the availability of water. I do not know Whether the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood fought in the Palestine campaign, but in connection with this job I have looked up the history of the First World War for the second battle of Gaza. The 1594 second battle of Gaza became necessary only because the General Staff had completely ignored this problem, as they ignored it in North Africa, as they ignored it in Kuwait. The force that had no water could not fight.
Hon. Members may care to look at this. The Army—or, in this case, the Air Officer Commanding—driven into a corner on the question of water supply, was faced with the problem that if active operants had ensured in Kuwait there were four main sources of water; three sources of high-quality potable water, and one source that was brackish. The risk was taken that the three sources of potable water would be denied to us. It was quite clear that the research evidenced in the War Office letter of November, 1960, meant that for our troops to maintain a high level of health they needed 25 pints of water a day.
What do we find? We find that commanding officers were informed that their troops were drinking too much water; and that the troops in Kuwait should be able to operate efficiently, in the military sense, on two water-bottles a day. This daily limit of four pints would have been insufficient after a few days in active military operations. In the event, active operations did not break out, Which meant that the main sources of supply were open—and the daily water consumption was not four pints but four gallons.
That is the broad picture of heat training in regard to water supply, but let us look again at one of the circumstances that I really regret, because it cost at least one man his life. I remember the Minister of Defence being cheered in all parts of this House on 11th July, when he said:Beer and soft drinks with ice are being made available in large quantities …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July 1961; Vol. 644, c. 211.]I remember the cheers, particularly from that side of the House, with 'which that remark was greeted. It was a wonderful achievement.
But I now want to read the instructions on the subject of alcohol and beer that were contained in the War Office letter. It reads:Soft drinks and beer may be substituted for water, but alcohol, particularly in the form of 1595 beer, does not help the body to utilise the liquid content of the drink, and may even injure it.An hon. Gentleman opposite seems to think that a laughing matter, but if he looks at the report of the court of inquiry into the death of a company quartermaster-sergeant, he will find that that man died because he had access to beer in those circumstances, and lost his life as a result. It is absolutely disgraceful that, in 1961, War Office special instructions should have been so ignored and that, in order to score a political point, a boast should be made of the provision of large quantities of beer when the War Office's own specialists say that the one thing that the troops must not drink in those circumstances is beer.
In my day—and. I believe, in that of the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood—it was not a question of "yes" or "but"—the most stern disciplinary measures were taken to prevent the supply of alcohol in such conditions. But now, apparently, this becomes laughing matter. I do not see anything funny when the Secretary of State for War loses the life of even one man as a result of the administrative incompetence of his own Department——
§ Mr. Profumo
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wing) has been misinformed. The soldier who died did not die because he had access to beer. The soldier who had access to beer was ill, but recovered.
§ Mr. Wigg
We will join issue on that. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the references, and he can make inquiries. But even if the man did not die but one soldier was made ill as a result of drinking beer, if the Minister wants to take a lesson I can say that my evidence shows that at least in one case the symptoms of the man drinking quantities of beer were not recognised. If the right hon. Gentleman wants the reference, and the source of my information I shall be very happy to give it, and then, if he wants to, he can, perhaps, repeat his denial.
That is the case on food—the food was unsuitable, and was described by the troops as repulsive—and the case on the education of the troops, which was nonexistent. In order to be constructive, however, we have to see why this hap- 1596 pened. The War Office planning of the operation was not carried out by incompetents. The staff level of the British Army is as high as that of any army in the world—and much higher than most—yet we have here an operation which, had we been caught in active operations, would, on the face of the evidence, have been a shambles. We had a force without radar cover, without sufficient ammunition, without antiaircraft cover, short of training, unacclimatised, short of water, with the wrong kind of clothing, and with no research into the special problems that had to be faced. How did this come about?
For over a year I have refrained from making any party point of this, and I want to avoid doing so now. This is a problem that faces the House of Commons in its relations with the executive and its control of defence policy.
When there is a breakdown, whether it be through drinking too much beer, or because there are insufficient supplies of salt, insufficient food, or food not taken, the responsibility rests upon the medical service. It becomes a medical problem, and that side is administered by the Adjutant-General. One would have thought that the necessary research into the provision of specialist equipment to provide adequate supplies of water in combat conditions might have been of interest to either the Chief Scientist or the Deputy Scientist, but the Chief Scientist is under the administration of the P.U.S., and the Deputy Scientist is under the M.G.O.
The General Staff is a law unto itself, but Q (Ops.), which is in some way concerned with equipment, is under the M.G.O., so one is led to a fragmentation of policy——
§ Mr. Wigg
Yes, I am sorry—under the Q.M.G. The Deputy Scientist is under M.G.O., and Q (Ops.) comes under the Q.M.G. Nevertheless, there is a fragmentation of responsibility.
I now come to the General Staff. It is my belief—and I think that this is why the then Minister of Defence said what he did to me—that this little operation was cooked up in the Ministry of Defence. It smells of the salt sea. It was cooked up in the Ministry of Defence over a very long period. Again, 1597 I have direct evidence that it is quite likely that the possibility of intervention in this area being necessary had been long foreseen and planned for. I make no complaint there, but if it had been foreseen for so long, if the planning had been undertaken for such a long time, how comes it that these particular problems had not been looked at?
One of the first things that happened when it was first decided to carry the operation into effect was that staff officers visited Kuwait, foresaw the necessity for mobility, and made arrangements with the oil companies and other interests there in order to make absolutely sure that the force would be mobile from the word "go". This means that the first troops to go in should be truck drivers, R.E.M.E. and the like. However, at the last moment this was altered. In other words, one has a plan conceived in the Ministry of Defence, but from the time of its conception there was continuous interference.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to take responsibility for all this he can. I am merely trying to paint the general picture, because I am more concerned with putting these things right than I am with doing anything like harming anybody's reputation. If the political situation we see this morning continues and the present Administration goes—and is replaced by an Administration formed of hon. Members who are now on this side of the House—that new Administration will be faced with exactly the same problems. I point this out to show that these things cannot be dealt with overnight. It takes a long time for them to be solved because, first of all, they have to be understood, so that what is needed is not a revolutionary headline set of activities but patience, careful administration and a testing of the ground to make sure that everything proposed in fact works.
In terms of what was revealed in Kuwait I must say that there was nothing new, for we had this before in Mesopotamia, in the Dardanelles, Singapore and at Suez. In the Dardanelles and Mesopotamia our forefathers wanted a Royal Commission. At the fall of Singapore we were promised by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) certain things. That right hon. Gentleman said, in effect, "There will be no inquiry now but as soon as 1598 the war is over we must understand what went wrong." If any hon. Members are wondering about this I suggest that they read a book written by that able administrator, Sir James Grigg, in which he says that what happened when Singapore fell without a blow being struck was not the result of any lack of valour but a matter of sheer stupidity, incompetence and a failure of the Navy and R.A.F. to define their responsibilities.
Exactly the same sort of thing went wrong in Kuwait. Here was an operation conceived in the War Office but those important aspects of the problem about which I have spoken, as at Suez, were not looked at. It did not enter anyone's head in the Ministry of Defence to say, "What health precautions are being taken?" On 7th July I asked the Minister of Defence whether he had consulted the Army's own advisers about this matter and the Minister told me that he would make a statement later in the week. The right hon. Gentleman made that statement, but I had to repeat my question. I asked whether the right hon. Gentleman knew the date when the Army's specialists were consulted.
I discovered that those specialists had flown to Kuwait on the night of 13th July. Thus it took 13 days for the Army to get round to the problem that something was happening in that part of the world requiring to be looked at. Time after time I asked these sort of questions. I did so not because it had anything special to do with me, but because I was being advised that there would be 50 per cent. casualties under the conditions which were almost certain to arise in that area unless the problems were looked at. As I say, not until 13th July did the Army send out its specialists to Kuwait to see what was wrong with the climatic and other matters about which I have spoken.
All these things will not be put right by a Labour Minister of Defence taking office in place of a Conservative one. The trouble is that the relations between the Ministry of Defence and the Service Departments are not right. If one is to have a Ministry of Defence along the lines forecast by Mr. Chapman Pincher in the Daily Express last Monday, then this country's Band as any sent of Power is in sight. It just will not work. The troops—the bodies—must not only be 1599 provided in certain areas, but their health, clothing, food, ammunition, equipment and a whole range of other things must also be provided. Each one of these items is a specialist activity, and if one is neglected—if the troops suffer from a deficiency of water or salt for only a short period—they cannot fight. This is the truth and I say this to show that the whole operation becomes inoperable. And this is what happened in Kuwait.
This is a case for a Select Committee; for a sharing of the political responsibility. I made exactly the same plea last week with regard to the Vassall Tribunal. Security is a part of defence. Defence is a subject above party because it has a logic of its own. It is not like any other subject. It is nothing like considering the economic conditions of the country, our National Health Service or agriculture. A series of resolutions cannot blur or cover this subject, because in time of war a country is faced with possible defeat. It is a matter of logic and I have been preaching this for 17 years. It is not an isolated incident, because defeat comes after a long period of national decline.
Dunkirk was the logic of Verdun. What happened to this country at Suez and Kuwait is the logic of Dunkirk. I do not think that it should have happened. If I thought that such a thing was inevitable I certainly would not waste my time, and I have spent quite a lot of time these last few months in amassing all the facts. I have tried to gather these details and elevate the whole thing above party, and so I am today making my plea from a cross-bench position.
If the right hon. Gentleman was right in his intervention and the man about whom I spoke did not die but recovered, then I am very pleased. Although I am delighted about that, I have made a case today which needs to be answered. It needs to be answered not in terms of finding someone guilty. I am not interested in that sort of thing or in writing articles for this or that newspaper—and I have been invited to do so—because I am trying to discharge my duty as the hon. Member for Dudley in relation to the Armed Services. Whatever sneers may be made, this is what I am doing.
1600 I am attempting to put forward the facts to the Minister of Defence, who I am glad to see in his place, because he has a very great responsibility in this matter. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman and I have known each other for a long time. My first political activity upon leaving the Army was to try to prevent his election in the Stafford by-election—but that is going back many years. He is a politician, but also a soldier, and in this respect what really matters is not the political but the military realities. I hope that he will have a word or two to say about some of the nonsense that is printed.
I say this because I have a little doubt about the operations which may develop as a result of intimations on the part of Lord Mountbatten. I have listened to the speeches in the other place which have a tang of the sea. I am not sure where this story came from but it appears that Lord Mountbatten has thought up a scheme of his own and has supplied this to the Prime Minister. It appears that without any inquiry it is to be the subject of legislation so that by 1964 the heads of the three Services will band together and Lord Mountbatten will rule the waves. We must be careful, because certain conclusions show themselves from Lord Mount-batten's suggestion.
We have the Mountbatten class, of which the first product was H.M.S. "Devonshire". Perhaps it might be called H.M.S. "White Elephant". It cost about £14 million and is equipped with Sea Slug, which was ten years out of date when it became operational. And what did that cost? Hon. Members may have seen the television programme "Panorama" and photographs in the Press of H.M.S. "Devonshire", but do they know what it has all cost? The total was £150 million and the whole thing is useless. I agree that the ship may have cost £14 million, but Sea Slug cost £100-odd million.
I have not complained about Blue Streak, and the line I take on this is different from that of my party. I do not believe that one can judge these things purely by results and, therefore, it may be right for it to be placed on H.M.S. "Devonshire". Just because one thing did not come up trumps does not necessarily guarantee that this one will not as well.
1601 Of course, the relations between the Ministry of Defence and the Service Departments need to be looked at. I recall the first debate we had about this at the end of the war. I remember particularly the words of Lord Attlee when he said that there was to be co-ordination at the highest level and that there would be a growing together of the common functions—for example dentists, medicals and chaplains—in a neutral sort of way. It may be that, as a result of Kuwait, the Secretary of State for War can say that there has now been sonic re-thinking because, to be honest, that is very necessary. But do not let us have any of this nonsense about bright General Staff schemes cooked up in the sanctity of the Ministry of Defence and then fed, as, apparently, Government secret information is now fed, over lunch or dinner, later to appear in the Daily Express. I must confess that this story in the Daily Express alarmed me almost as much as, if not more than, did my researches into Kuwait. What I thought about Kuwait was this. Indeed, I know that there is a considerable body of informed opinion in the Army that is as worried about this as I am, and, indeed, they are likely to be more worried because they know more about it than I do. I am quite sure that the very competent corps of staff officers and the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers have already sat down to learn the lessons of Kuwait, but the lessons of Kuwait are not exclusive to the right hon. Gentleman's Department—a few of them belong to the Ministry of Defence.
I should have thought—this is elementary military thinking such as was taught to me 40 years ago when I became a lance corporal—that military thinking required an assessment of the situation, to use a military term "an appreciation". When one has got that right one makes a plan. One then puts the plan into operation, and one sees that it is put into operation. That was not done. The plan of appreciation was done in the Ministry of Defence and without consultation the plan was given to the War Office to carry it out. There occurred in this particular case something which I would have thought unbelievable in that the Ministry of Defence even said what particular units were to 1602 do a particular job. It was actually interfering in the conduct of operations and in the deployment of troops.
This may not be true, and if it is not true I should be glad to hear about it, but in these matters responsibility and power cannot be divorced, and the House of Commons has to see that there is a welding together of power and responsibility not only in the interests of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force but in the interests of our defence policy as a whole. It is for that reason that I do not apologise for having taken up so much time of the House today.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Mr. M. A. J. St. Clair (Bristol, South-East)
I understand that it is customary for an hon. Member to crave the indulgence of the House when making a maiden speech. I must crave the indulgence of the House even more, perhaps, than other hon. Members have done since I arrived here in rather peculiar circumstances. This morning I decided to talk about the Territorial Army as opposed to the Regular Army. I am a serving member of the Territorial Army, and I thought that since this is a maiden speech I ought to make it about something with which I am closely connected.
In fact, the Territorial Army has three rôles: the straight military rôle, the Civil Defence rôle and also a social rôle. When the Government finished with National Service, some people thought that many young men would miss the opportunity of adventure and discipline but that we could supply this in the Territorial Army. Many young men come to us. We take them on adventure training, and when they leave the Territory Army they surprise themselves with their own physical fitness and skill. This is an important rôle throughout the country, and it is also valuable in a more strict military sense.
The next rôle is that of Civil Defence. I know that when my Regiment, the Royal Hussars, was invited to take part in Civil Defence activities, it was not very excited. The men thought that this would be pretty dull and that they had joined the Territorial Army to be soldiers and not civil defence experts. But they ultimately discovered that it was not so easy as it looked, and in fact they made some bloomers. After that they realised that there is more in 1603 training for Civil Defence than they had originally thought, and then they applied themselves with a considerable vigour.
The establishment of the Territorial Army is 123,000 men, of which the figure now is about 108,000. I should like to give the House some local figures of the Bristol area. The North Somerset Yeomanry/44th Tanks have thirty officers and 324 men, the Royal Gloucester Hussars 32 officers and 334 men, the Fifth Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment 34 officers and 389 other ranks, and the Somerset Light Infantry 30 officers and 293 other ranks. We have to admit that these figures are not very exciting, but they show a slight improvement over the last six months. One reason, in my opinion, that recruiting has gone up is that the Government are spending a great deal of money on buildings for the Territorial Army and we are sharing the money that is being spent with the Regular Army. This year alone they are spending £1½1 million on two drill halls being built for the Gloucester Hussars. This makes it an extremely well equipped Regiment, at any rate in buildings. I hope that when these valuable sites are sold—very often they are in the centre of towns—the Territorials will got the benefit of the money which they have raised and that it will not disappear into Government funds.
I should now like to mention equipment. I feel that it would be money well spent if the Territorial Army could have a little more modern equipment for training. I have in my car a wireless set which still has Russian numerals on it, so it must have been intended for the Russians at the end of the last war. It is therefore not in the first flush of youth. I also think that if it were possible to allow more Territorial officers and soldiers to train with B.A.O.R. it would serve two very valuable purposes. First, it would be very good military training, and, secondly, it would impress our N.A.T.O. Allies that we have a reserve Army behind B.A.O.R. and that we take the reserve Army seriously. It could well have considerable political advantages. The Territorial soldier is not a great expense to the taxpayer. I am told that he costs about £200 a year to keep. I do not know what the Regular soldier costs, but it must be a great deal 1604 more than that. I feel that, if a little more money were spent on equipment—and, after all, the Territorial establishment vis-à-vis the entire Army Estimates is only 5 per cent., which is not very large—the results accruing would be out of all proportion to the extra money that it would cost the taxpayer.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
This is the first time in ten years as a Member of this House that I have had the pleasure of following a maiden speaker, and I must say on behalf of all hon. Members present that the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. St. Clair) observed the conventions of the House impeccably. He was certainly not controversial and his speech was an example of brevity. Undoubtedly, he will bring to the House, in the short time that he will be here, special knowledge of Territorial matters. He himself is a "Terrier" and during the by-election we know that he fought like one. Indeed, he has shown courage in making his maiden speech this morning, especially when we all know the special position in which he finds himself.
I am tempted, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was, to make a reappraisal of the Kuwait operation and to talk about the failure of Blue Water and its effect on the Army, the nuclear arms of the British Army, recruiting, advertising and, particularly, the accommodation for Service men and their families. Concerning the Royal Air Force, I should be especially tempted to talk about Transport Command and its inadequacy, and also the question of the Estimates and the ordering of equipment, aircraft frames and engines, and the wrong estimates that are made many times by Service Ministers.
On this occasion—I make no apology, because we are on the Adjournment and this debate is pretty wide-ranging—it is my intention for a few moments to resurrect a subject that I raised in this House a few weeks ago. I wish to make a special plea once more to the Service Ministers and to suggest that there is no reason at all why the War Office and other Service Ministries' policies cannot be changed to allow deceased Service men killed in peace-time theatres abroad to be brought home for burial.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War knows that in 1605 the past few months he has received strong representations from my hon. Friends the Members for Wigan (Mr. Fitch), Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) and Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell). He also knows full well that we had a tragic case in my constituency during the Recess. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is no case at all to be made for the preservation of this antiquated policy. It is a mean policy; it is miserly. It is discriminatory, and, indeed, the War Office's reaction to most of these cases indicates that it has an appearance of callous indifference.
During the last 12 months many thousands of compassionate cases have been flown back from B.A.O.R. Indeed, 2,358 have been brought back from Germany in the past 12 months. Of those, 534 were ill and injured men. I think it is laudable that the War Office does this. It has spent many thousands of pounds a year to bring back compassionate cases and those who are ill and injured in order that they may have treatment. But as soon as the body has been repaired—this is how the War Office appears to look at it—the man is taken straight back to Germany. In other words, he is still of use.
However, when a soldier dies abroad his number is rubbed out and his record is forgotten. It is as clear as that, and I think it is despicable. If the right hon. Gentleman were to ask many of the Servicemen and their relatives and families what they think about it he would soon find out that they would wish the bodies to be brought hack. Scores of Service men's [relatives have written to me imploring me to maintain this campaign and pressure upon the Minister, and I assure him that I shall continue to do so.
Last year 59 men died in B.A.O.R., of whom 14 were brought back, but they were brought back only because their families were wealthy and had the means to enable this to be done. The sum of £70 or £80 to convey the body of a Serviceman in a coffin back home was a trifling amount and consequently they were able to have this done. But families who cannot afford this have no choice. We had the tragic circumstance of a Service man dying in Germany. He left 1606 a young wife and a 10-month-old child. The wife was expecting a second child. If it had not been for the Royal Army Ordnance Corps Association footing the bill for the mother of the boy to go over, that wife and child would have been alone at the graveside. The War Office was not interested. The War Office says that there are no funds available for this. That is what it always trots out. The other Ministries are equally guilty, though it happens that there are more people involved with the War Office. No matter how we have implored the Secretary of State to change his policy, the right hon. Gentleman still says that there are no funds available.
It would have cost the War Office about £3,500 to have brought back those 59 men who died in Germany last year, thus enabling them to be buried in the family grave, at the local cemetery or to be cremated. Compared with the annual expenditure of B.A.O.R. I cannot understand why the Minister cannot consider changing this policy. I agree that only five years ago this could not have been done because of our method of conveying troops abroad in troopships. The cost, the time and the administrative difficulties would have rendered it impracticable, but now we have an excellent trooping system by air to Germany. British United Airways, an independent airline which is doing extremely well out of a fat War Office contract, is making about 314 flights in and out of Germany per month. This is not counting journeys performed by other independent airlines who have small contracts with the War Office. They are, therefore, bringing in and out of Germany about 10,000 troops per month.
This indicates to me that if we brought the coffins home the space required would be equivalent to four or perhaps eight soldiers per month out of 10,000. Stretcher cases are already brought home, so that there would be no difficulty in conveying coffins in the aircraft. Therefore, the operation is feasible. It is cheap and administratively it is easier. There would be no need to worry in B.A.O.R. about funeral ceremonies. There would be no worries with the families and no problems about the graves The authorities would not be pestered with questions from hon Members. There would be no Adjournment 1607 debates on these subjects and no outcries in the Press saying how inhuman this policy is and alluding to its effect on recruitment.
I should have thought that administratively this would be a lot easier. In the Middle East last year 35 men died and in the Far East 31. But during the same twelve months 950 Service men were flown home from the Middle East and the Far East because they were seriously ill or injured. Stretcher cases were put on the aircraft and R.A.F. Transport Command brought them back. There is no difficulty.
I admit that the facilities for fulfilling all that is required to be done are inadequate, but nevertheless we have at the moment 23 Britannias, 11 Comets and 48 Hastings aircraft. These aircraft are on a regular shuttle service between this country and Cyprus, El Adem, Aden, Gan and Singapore. We bring back from the Middle East and the Far East, compassionate cases and those who are ill and injured, and as soon as we have repaired the bodies of these Service men, back into the line they go. When they die, however, there is no consideration whatsoever. This is most deplorable.
All we want is a Minister with the guts and the courage to effect a change, because it can be done. Indeed, in reply to Questions from me on this topic in this House the Minister has revealed that to bring them all home every year would cost £15,000. If the Under-Secretary challenges this I will refer him to the replies. In recent weeks he has answered a series of Questions on this topic. He has told me that he could bring them all home—I assume he was referring to the War Office responsibility——
§ The Under-Secretary of State for War (Mr. James Ramsden)
The Army alone.
§ Mr. Mason
The bulk of these cases are in the Army. The cost would be £15,000. I take it that the hon. Gentleman agrees. On 25th October last, the Secretary of State replied to me thatDuring the twelve months of 1961, 151 soldiers died at stations overseas. I estimate that the cost of moving the bodies by air to the United Kingdom would have been about £1 5,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1962; Vol. 664, c. 226.]This is a paltry sum, too trifling even to worry about. We spend £1,721 million 1608 on defence, yet we kick against the pricks because we are asked to spend another £15,000 on bringing the bodies of deceased Service men home. The War Office should be disgusted with itself.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member, but, as I said in discussing this matter with him the other day, cost is only one of the factors involved. He will not forget that the £15,000 is the freight cost only, and it does not include other incidental expenses, undertakers' fees, and so forth, which would be the same or even more.
§ Mr. Mason
The cost of bringing the coffins home on aircraft is surely the bulk of it. It is a mere detail in the cost of Royal Air Force, Admiralty or Army stations abroad.
As I have said, it is done for those who can pay. Anyone who can pay for the body to be brought home has it arranged. The coffin is prepared for transport on the regular trooper service from B.A.O.R. to this country and is then transported to the home town. It is a simple procedure. It is a fiddling, small matter for the War Office, and yet it is not done for all. The War Office should hang its head in shame.
British United Airways made more than £2 million profit in 1960. Clearly, it will show a greater profit this year because it has a regular contract which looks like going on for several years. The business will probably grow. The company itself, if it wished to do so, could make space available in aircraft. It would need to make space available in only one aircraft a week because that is about the rate at which the lads get killed or die in B.A.O.R. British United Airways could arrange it and bring the bodies home free. What a gesture that would be for the company to make out of the service which it does in handling the War Office contract for air trooping.
If the Minister had a referendum among Service men, quite apart from the families, he would find that almost to a main all Service men would wish his policy to be changed as I am urging.
What do other nations do? It is already done by Belgium. The United 1609 States does it for all its Service men. Immediately a United States Service man dies, his body is taken back home together with his family and all their effects. The French brought home all their soldiers who were killed in Algeria. What an effort that must have been, but it was done. The Netherlands is changing its policy in this respect. Portugal also does it for most of its Service men. What an indictment it is of this House and the Service Ministries, notably the War Office, that we should be lagging behind. For the sake of a fiddling sum of £15,000, we are not prepared to accept this change of policy.
Last time I raised the matter, I received from the Under-Secretary of State for War an assurance that his Department was sympathetically considering bringing back from the Far East and Middle-East the bodies of deceased Service men after cremation, and, as regards B.A.O.R., it was considering sending the relatives out instead of bringing the bodies home. That is a slight change, but it is not good enough. It is a simpler matter by far, immediately a Service man dies, to have his body placed in a coffin and transported home. Scores of aircraft are regularly moving in and out of Germany. Let the War Office arrange to have the bodies brought back and save all the distress which is now being caused to families in this country.
I appeal to the Minister to say, when he winds up today, that he will sympathetically consider going much further than merely taking relatives out. I want him to assure the House that he will arrange to have the bodies of the lads brought back from all stations in B.A.O.R., the Middle East and the Far East.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir John Smyth (Norwood)
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has raised a very human problem. I think that I have heard this matter put to every Secretary of State for War since I have been in the House, but none of them has found it possible to do what the hon. Gentleman asks. Nevertheless, I give him all credit for raising the matter again. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will go into the matter and let him have a proper reply. 1610 I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him further, because I wish to speak about a quite separate subject, the question of recruiting for our British Gurkha Brigade. This is causing considerable concern today both to the Gurkha Brigade and its British officers and to the Nepalese Government.
I do not expect my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to give me a reply today. A short time ago when I raised the matter with him, he said that he will be deciding the matter in the new year. I ask him to give as early a decision as possible because it is causing considerable anxiety not only in this country but in Nepal.
When I raised the matter six months ago. I had information that it was likely that the Gurkha Brigade was to be cut by 50 per cent. It turned out that there was a good deal of truth behind my fears. I brought the matter up again the other day, and I am speaking about it again now, because fears are being expressed that not only might Gurkha recruiting be cut by 50 per cent. but the British Brigade of Gurkhas might be done away with altogether.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that recruiting is not going well. I think that it is going much better than any of us could have hoped six months ago. The former Minister of Defence and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War should be congratulated upon the efforts which they have made. Also, as I suggested some time ago, Members of Parliament are, I feel, some of the best recruiting agents. I think that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have contributed valuably to the improvement in British recruiting. Nevertheless, despite the improvement which has been made, I cannot believe that a reduction in or the cessation of Gurkha recruiting would be in the best interests of this country, and certainly not of Nepal at the present time.
The little Kingdom of Nepal is very much in the battle area today. The Chinese attacks have come to the east and to the west of it. Although there has been no actual physical force attempted against Nepal, there is a great 1611 deal of Communist propaganda inside Nepal today. This is only natural because Nepal is right in line for it. The British connection which the people of Nepal have had during the past 150 years is a tremendous strength to them. We must remember also that the British Brigade of Gurkhas contributes more than one quarter of Nepal's revenue in one way or another. Nepal's only real export is Gurkhas.
For two hundred years Nepal has had to struggle to maintain its independence. In 1792, the Chinese invasion of Nepal was turned back only ten miles from Khatmandu. In 1815, following the expedition into Nepal, we started to enlist Gurkhas into our Indian Army, and that has continued ever since. Nepal supported us in the Sikh wars of 1848 and in the Indian Mutiny. Of course, in both World Wars the Gurkhas gave us tremendous support. They fought in the first World War on almost every front—France, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia—as they did in the Second World War. The tremendous help which they have given us in many frontier campaigns on the Indian frontier between the wars is sometimes forgotten.
I remember very well that in 1920 we had our toughest ever campaign on the frontier, coming so soon after the Great War, when our available troops were raw and untrained in operations in the mountains. Quite early in the operations it was touch and go whether the British Force would be defeated by the very tough Waziristan tribes. The commander of the force flew to Army headquarters and asked for Gurkhas. Three battalions of Gurkhas were sent at once, and they took part in the biggest battle on the frontier, the battle for the Ahnai Tangi, a most appalling bit of ground. As always, the Gurkhas played up and helped us when we really needed them.
In 1947, the transfer of power to Pakistan and India was a great blow to Nepal and the Gurkhas, because of their close allegiance to the British Crown and because they have always valued their connection with Britain more than anything else. It looked at one time as though we should not be able to recruit any more Gurkhas for ourselves after the transfer of power in 1947, but a tripartite agreement was 1612 signed on 9th November, 1947, in Khatmandu the capital of Nepal, which allowed the British to have up to eight battalions of Gurkhas and India twelve. A minimum figure was not laid down in the agreement because at the time everyone wanted Gurkhas. No one contemplated that we should ever want to reduce the number of Gurkhas that we were allowed to have. Therefore, it would be possible for us to reduce our Gurkha recruitment without arriving at a fresh agreement with Nepal.
Of course, there is the British officer connection with the Gurkha Brigade. There are now 19 British officers per battalion. It is significant that the Gurkhas value their British officers more as the years go by and want more British officers instead of as is happening at the moment in the Indian Army, which is operating against the Chinese without British officers. That may turn out to be a little premature.
As the House knows, I have always been a great supporter on every possible occasion of the idea of Britain's new long-service regular voluntary defence force. But I feel that the Gurkha battalions are eminently suited to play an important role in it, particularly in the central reserve and in mobile operations in any part of the world, in the new concept. The Gurkhas have recently been giving extremely good service in Malaya and Hong Kong. They are just about the toughest infantry that I have ever come across.
I should like to give one example of the toughness and loyalty of the Gurkhas. The year before last we had a Victoria Cross reunion in London. I sent a letter to every holder of the Victoria Cross in the Commonwealth saying that, although we did not have sufficient money in our association to bring them over here for the reunion ourselves, if any of them could come over here under their own steam we would give them a great welcome. One night, Naik Bhanbhagta Gurung, a Gurkha holding the Victoria Cross, received my note after the monsoon had broken. He was separated by two mountain ranges and three rivers in flood from the nearest recruiting depôt, but he set out at once with the letter. It took him seven days to cross the mountain ranges. He swam the three rivers and arrived at the Gurkha depôt and handed in my note.
1613 He said, "As Sir John Smyth asks, I am coming under my own steam. But it is up to you to take the next step and to fly me on to London". Unfortunately, even if we had the money to do that, there was no landing ground and no aircraft available. But the depot sent me a cable saying, "You will agree that at least this man did his best to be with you". That is an example of the spirit of the Gurkhas. They are immensely tough and resolute and are magnificent infantry.
As I have said in the House before—and I know that the hon. Member for Dudley will agree with this—in recent years we have had a big weakness in our military set-up in the Indian Ocean area. That has been due to Mr. Nehru's non-alignment policy and the unfortunate quarrel between Pakistan and India, which I regret is still continuing. This means that the troops of Pakistan and India, instead of being located up in the mountains, as they used to be to repel the Chinese or anyone else, have been concentrating more on watching one another than taking part in operations which would contribute to the peace of the world.
In these circumstances, I feel that the eight battalions of Gurkhas would be invaluable to us in places like Kuwait, Aden, and the Persian Gulf or any such places for which they are suited.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
It has always seemed to me that the Persian Gulf was an ideal place for the employment of these troops. As far as I know, they have never been employed there. Is there any reason for that?
§ Sir J. Smyth
I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is right. I do not know the reason for that. I should have thought that that part of the world gave great scope for the use of Gurkha troops. I shall have to leave that question for answer by my right hon. Friend.
To sum up, it is not possible to turn Gurkha recruiting on and off like a tap. We cannot turn it off and reduce it and then say that we will start it up again. It is possible to regulate recruiting like that in this country. We can say that we will call up only so many and then, later perhaps, increase the call-up. But in the case of the Gurkha, his name is put down for service with the Gurkha 1614 Brigade as soon as he is born. It is like someone over here putting his name down for the M.C.C., Wimbledon, or anything like that. He really becomes a soldier of the Queen as soon as he is born. The chain goes right back to his father and grandfather. This is their profession, and they have no other.
If we stop recruitment and interfere with the rather complicated scheme of Gurkha recruiting, it will take a long time to set it up again. There is the danger of Communist and Chinese propaganda. If the men have nothing to do, they will be sitting round in their villages and perhaps will be persuaded to join up with someone else. My feeling is that the financial saving that could be made by either cutting the Gurkhas by 50 per cent. or doing without them altogether would be insignificant compared with the harm that would be done both to Nepal and to the Gurkha brigade. I beg the Government to think carefully before contemplating this.
In view of the situation on India's Northern frontier and the difficult position which today faces the Nepalese Government, a statement should be made as early as possible that in present circumstances there will be no tinkering about with the recruiting and the numbers of the Gurkha Brigade. I feel that the words of Shakespeare apply very much to this problem:The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel".That, I suggest, is what we should do to Nepal and Gurkhas now.
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
At the beginning of his speech, before his most impressive tribute to the Gurkhas, the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) supported the plea which had been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) to the Army and to the other branches of the Armed Forces to alter their arrangements about returning the bodies of people who die abroad.
I had a case eight months ago which I raised with the War Office of a constituent in Tredegar. The greatest possible confusion had been caused by the different advice which had been sent 1615 back from B.A.O.R. to the relations of my constituent. I must say for the War Office that when the matter was raised it took it up with the utmost detail, did its best to clear it up and was apologetic for the fact that there had been confusion in the advice given to the family concerned. Another advantage, however, of the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley is that if they were accepted and carried through such confusion for families at moments of distress would be avoided. I hope, therefore, that the Government will consider carefully my hon. Friend's proposal.
I came to the House today primarily to hear whether the Government had an answer to give to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), and I shall await with great interest to see whether they have any case to present against the formidable indictment made today by my hon. Friend and which he has made in slightly more abbreviated form in earlier Questions to the Government. Indeed, my hon. Friend, with other hon. Members, has for many months had a Motion on the Order Paper demanding the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the Kuwait operation. It would have been much better had provision been made by the Government or by the Opposition for a full debate on that Motion demanding the appointment of a Select Committee. I will certainly await with great interest what the Secretary of State for War has to say in reply to the detailed charges which have been made. It would have been better if such questions as this could have been dealt with by a Select Committee.
It is no use the Government escaping with the idea that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley constitutes a kind of one-man Select Committee in permanent session and that hon. Members may regard this as a substitute for more elaborate procedures. My hon. Friend certainly does it with great skill and assiduity, but he would, I am sure, be the first to demand—he has already done so—that there should have been a proper inquiry by a Committee appointed by the House of Commons to consider the matter.
It would be very unwise for the Minister to try to brush away in a 1616 cavalier manner the details which have been presented by my hon. Friend, because there have been too many occasions within the recent memory of the House when my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has been proved right and hon. Members have been proved wrong. There was a recent case, which I quote only as an example, last week.
On the Friday before last, the Prime Minister said that he awoke one morning and read in the newspapers an astonishing statement of an allegation that the Admiralty had known that there had been a spy in the service of the Admiralty for the previous eighteen months. The Prime Minister was astonished to read that on the Friday morning. Had he listened to what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said much earlier, he would have known that the evidence existed long before. This was thought by the Prime Minister to be of sufficient importance for him to set up a tribunal. Therefore, I am sure that hon. Members opposite will take note of what is said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, because he has an uncanny knack of proving right in these matters.
Moreover, if anyone doubts the wisdom of raising matters in the manner in which my hon. Friend has done, the best remedy which I can suggest to hon. Members opposite is that they should follow the same course as I have taken during the last week or so of reading the recently published memoirs of Lord Avon dealing with the nineteen-thirties. His memoirs dealing with Suez, I am sorry to say, are not so informative.
If hon. Members will kindly read Lord Avon's description of what happened before the Second World War and how we got into that war, they will find it a remarkable book. Lord Avon reveals that on one occasion after another, totally misleading information had been given from the Government Bench and that the House and the country had been grossly deceived on matters of the gravest importance concerning the Armed Services and matters concerned with the conduct of British foreign policy. He gives an account, for example, concerning our plan which is entirely different from that given to the House and the country at the time.
If any hon. Members think that these matters should not be probed and that 1617 we should be ready to accept eagerly the words of Ministers, I advise them to refer to Lord Avon's memoirs, covering a period not so very long ago, when there were in office some Ministers who are still in office. I advise such hon. Members to do that when they think that some of us occasionally show an excessive lack of readiness to trust what Ministers tell us from the Dispatch Box.
What is the truth about the Kuwait operation? The two stories cannot be true. There is the story presented by the Government at the time and the story presented today by my hon. Friend, and there is a flagrant clash between the two. Somehow, the truth has to be established. In this case, it was fortunate, if there was to be a campaign, not to have an enemy; that assists, and that is what happened in Kuwait. But there might have been an enemy and it might have been that the claims made by the Government of the time, instead of being exposed massively in a speech by my hon. Friend today, might have been exposed on the battlefield. However, this House of Commons has the duty somehow to try to discover the truth about the Kuwait operation. That was the main purpose of my hon. Friend's speech today and in so doing he was performing a service to the whole House and to the country.
I will not go through all the quotations—my hon. Friend had many of them—but I should like to add a few of the quotations from HANSARD of what was said by the Government at the time. This is the Government's account of what happened in Kuwait, what they said to the House of Commons and what they asked the country to believe. On 10th July, 1961, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) asked the Secretary of State for Warto what extent troops serving in Kuwait have been conditioned to a tropical climate and instructed in the elementary techniques of avoiding heat exhaustion.The reply of the Secretary of State for War was as follows:Most of the troops serving in Kuwait are already acclimatised, having been moved from other tropical stations. All soldiers receive instructions in the elementary techniques of avoiding heat exhaustion as part of their recruit training, and special instructions have been issued to troops who have been sent to 1618 the Persian Gulf."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1961; Vol. 644, c, 11.]That seemed absolutely satisfactory.
The following day the former Minister of Defence made an even more elaborate reply in which he said:I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman about the problems of heat. A very large proportion of the statement I am circulating, which is far too long to read this House, is devoted to a detailed description of the medical facilities. They are very large. They allow quick evacuation to air-conditioned hospitals. There are specialist services dealing with the problems of heat exhaustion. The situation is reasonably adequately covered. If it is not, the Under-Secretary of State for War will no doubt report on this as soon as he returns, but I think that it is covered."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1961; Vol. 644. c. 213.]That was on 11th July.
There are many other things which could be quoted all in the same sense, but I will just quote this one said on 19th July, when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), in the course of an exchange on these matters, said to the Under-Secretary of State for War:May I ask my hon. Friend not to take too seriously the strictures of the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), who has so long enjoyed the reputation of the Cassandra of the British Forces that he is absolutely furious that in Kuwait everything has gone all right?That was what was said by the hon. Gentleman, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley replied:May I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think that Kuwait has gone all right? I think that the Government have used their public relations services to prevent the public from knowing the truth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1961; Vol. 644, c. 1220.]Leaving aside the quite unworthy and quite unjustified suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley would have preferred things to go wrong—which I do not think anybody in the House believes, but leaving that aside—that was the picture given by the Government, and accepted by the hon. Gentleman, for example, that "everything had gone all right". That was the Government's story all through: "everything has gone all right". That was their story about Kuwait. They have never taken the trouble to alter it. They have never withdrawn it. It was claimed as being all right; they said it was fine. Indeed, it was supposed to be a brilliant military achievement, pretty well, according to the way 1619 the public relations officers described it, the most brilliant feat in logistics since Hannibal crossed the Alps. That is what the country was told.
What is the truth? Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have to answer the details given by my hon. Friend. He referred to an article which appeared in The Times recently—23rd July, 1962—that is, almost a year after all these answers which were given here and which were supposed to tell us everything had gone all right in Kuwait. My hon. Friend referred to this article, as he has referred to it before, but for the sake of 'hon. Gentlemen who have not heard all the details I am going to make one or two quotations from it, from the defence correspondent of The Times, one of the most respected defence correspondents in the country. He says:The Army's Operational Research Establishment, which is engaged in a five-year programme of research into acclimatization to heat, has set out the main lessons of the Kuwait operation from the medical point of view in a report which is being circulated in the Army, and which is understood to contain some highly critical reflections on an undertaking which has hitherto been claimed as an almost unqualified success … The aspects of the Kuwait operation, apart from the vital one of acclimatization, which are understood to be causing most concern to those who have had access to the facts are faults of training and equipment … Much of the clothing and personal equipment is said to have been unsuitable in the heat, and the rations, although suitable for temperate climates, were unpalatable in the desert, with the result that many troops suffered from heat illness through lack of food … In the minds of many soldiers is the nagging suspicion that although the Kuwait operation was a model of quick deployment, and although it evidently succeeded in its aim, it has proved one fact beyond dispute—that if a force were required to carry out active operations—actually to fight—in a climate like that of Kuwait, it would be unwise to send units trained on Salisbury Plain.So that is the view of the defence correspondent of The Times a year later. Whatever anyone else may say he cannot say that the views of the defence correspondent of The Times coincide with that which the Government gave at the time it was happening. So somebody has to find out the truth.
Of course, it has been indicated before that, because no fighting developed, some people thought it was not necessary to send troops there and that that indicated that the whole of the events which 1620 led to the sending of the troops had been misrepresented to the House. I do not think it proper to go into that now, because that is a question of foreign policy, but it is no good the Government thinking that it is solely my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley who raised this, although he raised it with much more determination than anybody else. There is plentiful evidence to which the Minister has got to reply; and, indeed, many of the allegations which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley was making at the time are now borne out by what is said by the defence correspondent of The Times, a year later, and, indeed it is not the defence correspondent of The Times only saying this about the Kuwait operation: he is reporting what people in the War Office had to say about it. So we have to find out the truth.
I do not think that the Secretary of State will be able to solve the problem here today. It is a pity he cannot. No doubt, he will get up and will try to dismiss some of the details. I do not think he will be very successful. He will try to create a different impression about them. I do not think the Minister will stand by all the claims he made at the time, or even that the hon. Member for Stroud will stand by what he said, that "everything has gone all right". I do not think he will stand by his statement. He will, no doubt, prefer to qualify it. I do not think he will stand by saying, "everything has gone all right", because the War Office does not think that and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman, who usually concurs with the War Office, will differ with the War Office on that. But the view of the operation in Kuwait has changed considerably since the time those views were being given by the Government.
One of the difficulties of the operation was that when troops were sent to Kuwait we had no debate in the House of Commons about it. We never had a debate in the House of Commons when troops were sent to Thailand. I think it is a most shocking state of affairs that the House of Commons should be invited to support the sending of troops to anywhere in the world without a debate in this House, and I think that both the Government and the Opposition will accept that proposition whenever British troops are sent abroad.
1621 After all, if they are being sent particularly to a country as they were, in a hurry, they may be involved in battle. At least some people thought they might have been involved in battle. We might have had a situation, according to what the Government claimed to have happened, in which they might have been involved in battle in Kuwait, and yet we decided to send them there without debating the matter. The same happened over Thailand. I think it is most reprehensible. We were told in the case of Kuwait that we had to send troops if the Ruler asked for them. It is a most extraordinary doctrine, I must say. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says we were asked for them. We were never asked for them in Thailand, I quite agree. It was very dubious whether we were asked for them but the Government, in justifying their action in sending troops to Thailand said they were asked. It may be that when we read memoirs twenty years later that we shall see that they were misleading us, just as Lord Avon proves to us that his colleagues were misleading the country twenty years ago. I think that the people who requested that we should send troops to Thailand were the United States Government.
Some thirty of us, not sufficient to force a debate, demanded a debate on this issue of sending troops to Thailand, but we were denied the opportunity by the Government and, I am sorry to say, partly by the Opposition as well, but whatever views hon. Gentlemen may take about the rights and wrongs of sending troops to countries abroad we ought always to have a debate when this happens. I would have thought that the Secretary of State for War would have been in favour of it, as also would the Minister of Defence.
Their failure to do so is all part of their attitude, of saying, "If we can get this through Parliament, why worry? Let us push it through. There will be no trouble here." It is all part of their idea of reducing the stature of the House of Commons, and of thinking that when we are dealing with a matter such as the question of what went wrong in Kuwait we do not need a Select Committee. We did not have a Select Committee over Suez, where there was fighting, and 1622 many people were killed. Not even the Government will now say that Suez was perfectly managed.
In these days we do not have Select Committees of inquiry, but we did in the old days—even in the midst of wars. We had a full inquiry into the happenings at Gallipoli, in the midst of a war. But now the Whole status of the House of Commons is being altered. First, we do not have a debate when we send troops abroad. Then, if things go wrong, we still do not have a debate. We have no Select Committees to inquire into disasters, when they occur. The whole thing is smoothed over, with the Whips working hard to make everything convenient for the Government. That is what some of us protest about, and that is why my hon. Friend was right to raise the matter in this way.
What happens in the House of Commons when we do not have a debate When British troops are sent abroad? Examples are scattered through HANSARD from July to September, 1961. There are statements by the Minister of Defence on the reason why we went into Kuwait, about supplies to the troops, and about the position there—all dribbled out in a series of answers, many of which are misleading. The Minister says, "We are sending troops to Kuwait. We have no time to tell the House of Commons and the country what provisions have been made, but we will circulate details in the OFFICIAL REPORT". So they did circulate them, and then it was discovered by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley that misleading statements were contained in what had been circulated.
All that would have been avoided if the Minister had thought it his duty to tell the House of Commons why we were sending troops, and what provision was being made for them. If he had stood at the Dispatch Box and had told us that, many difficulties would have been avoided. I do not see how any hon. Member with respect for this House of Commons could think it proper to conduct our affairs in this manner. We want to hear answers to the questions raised by my hon. Friend about Kuwait. It will not be satisfactory for the Minister to tell us that the soldier referred to by my hon. Friend did not actually die through drinking beer.
1623 The weight of evidence is not solely concerned with a few details of that nature; it is concerned with the question whether our Armed Forces are equipped to perform these kinds of task, especially when—on the Government's own confession, although I would never accept it—if any ruler of a country with which we have an alliance—and we did not even have an alliance with Thailand—or with whom we happen to be associated by way of a treaty asks us to send troops we have to send them. That is the Government's theory, but I do not think that it is correct. If it is, we certainly do not have the forces or the means of doing it. Not even the Government would pretend that we have. But if we do not have them, explanations should be made, and the time to make them is, first, when there is a demand that we should send troops and, secondly, when it is discovered that things are going wrong.
I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be very much better if the Government tried to uphold their responsibility to the House of Commons. Many of the things that have gone wrong with this country in the past twenty or thirty years have been due partly to the development by which almighty power is given to the hands of the Cabinet; indeed, almighty power is now in the hands of the Prime Minister. He decrees what is to happen. The Ministers have to obey him, and the back benchers opposite have to obey the Ministers and their Whips, and the House of Commons is deprived of control of these matters. This is offensive to the whole spirit of democracy. In this debate, therefore, we are trying to restore some kind of democratic control over one of the major obligations of the Government, namely, the defence of the country.
Many other matters could probably be sifted out only by such a form of Select Committee as my hon. Friend advocates, not only to inquire into these disasters but into the claims made by the Government for their defence policy. During our defence debates I have never heard from the Government or the War Office any explanation of their view about the use of nuclear weapons in Europe. Many important commentators on military affairs—including the defence correspondent of The Times, on 1624 a number of occasions both before and after he paid visits to B.A.O.R. in Germany—have reported that British forces are hopelessly dependent on nuclear weapons.
As far as I can make out, that policy has been pressed even further. Indeed, the Americans, in some degree, are already forcing that policy over. The American Secretary of Defence was returning to Washington just before the Cuban crisis when he said that he had been investigating, reviewing, or at any rate seeing tactical nuclear weapons which the Americans had 15 miles from the frontier. They were the ones put there recently. Apparently it seems to be the continued strategy to pour more of these so-called tactical nuclear weapons into that area, when I should have thought that any Government, whatever view they took about any other aspect of nuclear weapons, would be trying to keep them away from the most dangerous areas. That, again, is a matter not easily decided by debate. There are also secret matters which cannot properly be decided in debate. We understand that the question of spies cannot be dealt with here; they must be handed to an outside tribunal, which may, apparently, hold its proceedings in secret.
This is very unsatisfactory. If the Government take the view that their Ministers cannot give full answers to these military questions—and I understand that it may be difficult for them to do so at certain times—they resort to giving smooth answers, of the kind they gave us during the Kuwait operations. Many of those answers were misleading, in the sense that they said that the whole operation was going successfully and smoothly, and that everything was all right, when everything was not; indeed, a great deal was wrong.
What happens as a result of the contrast between what Ministers say at the time and what is subsequently discovered to be the truth, is that there is an erosion of belief in the democratic process; people believe less and less what Ministers say at the Dispatch Box and, more and more, take the view that Ministers are covering up.
I conclude as I began. If anybody thinks that these are unjustified charges and that we have no right to be suspicious about Ministers' speeches, I ask 1625 him to go away for the weekend and read Lord Avon's memoirs.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
In passing, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) said that we had no obligation to Thailand. Under the S.E.A.T.O. Treaty we have a definite obligation. What the House wants to do is to look at the lessons that we have learned from Kuwait, and draw certain conclusions from them. I am not going to say that no mistakes were made in the operation. Of course mistakes were made. Anybody reading military history appreciates that mistakes were made in every campaign that has ever been fought. I think that the duty of this House is, first, to look into them, and, secondly, for my hon. Friend to make sure that the lessons which he has learned from Kuwait are applied to future campaigns.
I think it will be in the minds of all hon. Members present today that one of the lessons learned was probably that of temperature. I do not think that we have to go very far to look at the other extreme of temperature, that is to say, cold. When my hon. Friend winds up the debate, I should like to know what provisions he is now making to ensure that operations which are to be carried out, or might be carried out, in the future in difficult terrains and in difficult conditions are being provided for.
It may well be that the Chinese peace agreement, or treaty, may come to nothing, although we all hope that it will be successful. It might be just a method of playing for time or it might be because the Chinese lines of communication are extended. But I submit that what my hon. Friend has now to do is to make sure that, in the eventuality of our having to send some forces either to that area or some other area, he has a plan cut and dried, first of all, as regards the right type of clothing for the troops taking part in such an adventure, and, secondly, to make sure that the type of transport is not only suitable for conveying the troops to the area but also suitable for the terrain in question, the temperature and, in general, that all our arrangements are made in advance.
1626 In my view, we should set aside equipment and have everything ready for any task force that would have to operate in a particular area. Of course, it is going to be very difficult. We should have to cater for the type of operation that took place in Kuwait bearing in mind the heat and the difficulties of temperature and we should also have to cater for other types of territory such as the North-West Frontier of India.
Let us learn the lessons of Kuwait. Let us not forget them and let us get down to the matter now and make sure that any force that has to leave this country in the future has the right equipment, that we have made a staff plan for X number of brigades or Y number of divisions and that that provision is right. I do not care whether it is special clothing or special boots. Here, again, we have the lessons of Korea and Kuwait. Let us make sure that any force which goes out from the country is properly equipped and that the operation is not left to the last minute when we have to make a dive for certain stores and equipment. I think that that is a lesson which the House is very right to ask my hon. Friend to consider when he winds up the debate.
I say to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale that no one wants to see the authority of Parliament replaced, but I submit that in some of the operations into which we have to enter the most important things are, first, speed and, secondly, security. The last thing we want to do is to announce in advance the type of troops we propose to use and the date of the operation. We must have a reasonable degree of Parliamentary control.
I turn now to one or two detailed points. The first is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. St. Clair) in his excellent maiden speech. This revolves around the training of our reserve forces in this country. I think that my hon. Friend was entirely night when he portrayed the important rôle of the Territorial Army and the Emergency Reserve in this country. I have mentioned to my hon. Friend before, and he has given very sympathetic attention to the point, that we ought to concentrate far more on sending out these units to B.A.O.R. for two reasons. First, they would have a 1627 chance of training under different circumstances and of learning the art of war on, so to speak, the ground. Secondly—I take my hon. Friend's point here—I think it would make the N.A.T.O. Alliance realise that although we may be down in our complement of Regular soldiers we have, at the same time, a force in this country capable, trained and ready to fill the gaps in an emergency.
If my hon. Friend could, perhaps, spend just that little extra money on training either on individuals or, even better, on whole units in B.A.O.R., I think he would have every penny repaid
§ Mr. Wigg rose——
§ Dr. Glyn
I wish to make one further point before giving way to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I know that this has been in my hon. Friend's mind. I am fully aware of the schemes in operation to carry this out, but I suggest that a greater extension of this would be beneficial to the Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am greatly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's point of view about the effective use of reserves. Indeed, the policy of the Government is based on that conception. But the hon. Gentleman must know that the Government's policy, the Ever-Readies, including 15,000 as a kind of corps d'élite with the Regular Forces, has got bogged down. I received an Answer from the right hon. Gentleman at the beginning of the Session in which he stated that he had only managed to enlist 137 officers and 3,457 men as against a target of 11,000 and a ceiling of 15,000.
§ Dr. Glyn
I think that that emphasises the point which I brought out. Surely, if one can say that these men are not going to spend their entire lives training on Salisbury Plain, any man with enterprise is going to say, "My word, I have a chance of going out to Germany or going out to some other theatre of war and there I can have some practical experience." I should have thought that by advertising this and making the reserve force very much a first-line force, properly trained and sharing the duties in B.A.O.R., we would indeed give added incentive to men to join the emergency forces.
There are one or two other points that wish to bring out. One is the 1628 importance of the standard of recruits. I think we are all agreed that, possibly, the standard of enlistment now is not quite the same throughout, and that various recruiting officers have different standards. I should like my hon. Friend to look into this point which was brought home to me very much the other day when he was kind enough to arrange for some of us to go to the Army Preliminary Education Centre. There seems to be a certain difference in the recruitment standards throughout the country, and perhaps that might bear some investigation.
One other point I should like to raise is the rather hard-and-fast rule about dates and ages, not only for entry to the Staff College but for certain other promotions. I think that we might have a little more fluidity there. No one wants an Army of old men. It was pointed out to me the other day that perhaps a little bit of extension and leeway might, in fact, be of benefit to the Army.
Finally, I wish to ask my hon. Friend a very important question connected with the Army Education Corps. My right hon. Friend, for better or worse, has decided that this should become an all-officer corps. I do not dispute that at all. It is a decision which my right hon. Friend is entitled to make, and, of course, it has the great advantage that the education officer is an officer and would, for that reason, perhaps, get more co-operation from some of those commanding officers who are reluctant to admit that education is an important matter.
I ask my right hon. Friend to look at one particular aspect. He has decided that he will require something like 800 officers. In my view, it will take a considerable time to reach the target which has been set and in the meantime the Minister is getting rid of some extremely good warrant officers and N.C.O.s who are leaving the Service. I ask my right hon. Friend to look at the matter carefully to see whether it would be possible to stagger the retirement of these warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. They have fulfilled a useful function in their units. They live in the sergeants' mess and they help with basic education. They have been a part of the unit and though it might be all right if they could be replaced by officers immediately. I 1629 do not think that that is possible, and there may well be a gap between their departure, which is to be some time next year, and their replacement by officers.
I know that my hon. Friend will say that plans must be made for the future of these men. But I ask him to consider carefully before getting rid of such valuable people. We should examine our recruiting figures and make a forecast of the number of these men who could be allowed to leave so that there will not be a nasty gap between the time of their departure and the arrival of the officers. Education is important, and more and more commanding officers are realising this. I feel that these warrant officers and N.C.O.s should continue in their vital rôle until such time as we have a complete officer complement. I understand that that is the intention and that something like 200 units are to have their own officers.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
The hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) has reinforced in forthright terms the case presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) regarding Kuwait. Presumably the hon. Member would support the plea made by my hon. Friend for the setting up of a Select Committee so that we may have a thorough investigation into the failure of the Government over the Kuwait operation.
§ Dr. Glyn indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I gather from the gesture of the hon. Gentleman that he is not prepared to go as far as that.
But what has he done? He has pleaded with the Government not to make the same mistake again. Surely a matter of this sort, to which he is entitled to attach considerable importance, should be brought into the open. Why should we allow a Minister, of whatever rank, responsible for failures of this character to escape? It occurs to me that the former Minister of Defence—despite the apology to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley for his absence and excuse that he is attending constituency matters—might have found it desirable to be present on an occasion of this kind. After all, if my hon. Friend is correct, this amounts to an 1630 impeachment of the former Minister of Defence.
Before I venture to embark on a discussion on this aspect of our debate, I wish, in a brief reference, to reinforce the plea of the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) with regard to a possible reduction in the strength of the Gurkha forces. I do this for the reasons advanced by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and for reasons which I shall venture to advance later, when I deal, as we are entitled in a debate which has ranged so widely, with the subject of defence generally. Why the Government should even consider a reduction in the strength of the Gurkha forces I cannot understand. When we are running down our conventional forces because of the disappearance of the National Service element I should have thought the Government would have attached considerable importance to retaining the Gurkha battalions. Apart from the diplomatic aspects which should be considered, we cannot afford to offend our Nepalese friends. But particularly, as the right hon. and gallant Member remarked, if the Gurkhas are left idle without any function to perform, there may be serious repercussions, and that we should try to avoid.
What happened over the Kuwait affair? We have had a series of evasions, indeed deceptions, from the Government. I have had the privilege of reading all the evidence and I asked many questions at the time. But on no single occasion did the Government seek to advance any accurate information about what occurred. There was not a word about acclimatisation, or the effect of heat in that terrain. There was not a word about the absence of adequate water supplies. All we had was a cover-up.
Unless we are to accept some namby-pamby explanation which the Government may advance this afternoon, the same mistakes will occur again. What happened over Kuwait proved conclusively that when operations of this character become essential the Government are not prepared. They were unprepared in the case of Suez. The despatches of General Keightley proved that conclusively. In the case of Kuwait there is talk about the need for speed. That is all very well. But speed must be 1631 accompanied by adequate preparations and security for the troops involved. The Government cannot claim that this happened. I will not say much more about the matter. I see no way out of this difficulty except by setting up a Select Committee so that hon. Members may be allowed to judge for themselves what actually occurred. I repeat that on the evidence the "villain of the piece" should have been present during this debate to take part in it. But perhaps an opportunity will come at a later stage.
I want to refer to the wider questions of defence. Recently I had the opportunity of reading a West German magazine Der Spiegel. I gather that there has been some controversy over the subject of defence in West Germany. In consequence Dr. Adenauer has found himself in some difficulty and Herr Strauss, the Defence Minister, is likely to be dismissed from his post. The editor and his associates in the magazine Der Spiegel have been accused of high treason. Why? Because they have proved beyond any possibility of doubt that our Western defences—defences under the auspices of N.A.T.O.—are inadequate and, compared with the defence organisation, the equipment, weapons and the like at the disposal of countries behind the Iron Curtain, are infinitesimal if not indeed negligible.
That is what the controversy has been about. The editor and associates of the magazine Der Spiegel have been fortified to a very considerable extent by the declarations of the Supreme Commander in the West, General Norstad, who recently addressed the N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians. That is a body of M.P.s who come from the N.A.T.O. countries. How they are selected I have never been able to understand. If this is not regarded as too much of a digression, I observe that they are now discussing, not merely military matters, but economic subjects. Indeed, they are expressing views about the kind of economic set-up they would like to see in the West. However, that is a matter to which we can return on a subsequent occasion.
General Norstad informed the N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians—and we must rely on an authority of this kind, a very high authority—that Western defences were inadequate. What are the 1632 facts? The Minister can correct me if I am wrong. In all there are about 22½ divisions from fourteen N.A.T.O. countries. I think there is a fifteenth, Iceland, but we do not expect much from that quarter. It is not clearly established that those divisions are up to strength, but if they are, let the right hon. Gentleman tell hon. Members. I repeat 22½ divisions. It is very important that we should get the facts. That number of divisions is against what?
I have put down a Question to the Minister of Defence for next Wednesday, but as that is not his day perhaps I shall get just a Written Answer. The Question asks what is the estimated strength of the countries behind the Iron Curtain. As I expect an evasive reply, or the kind of reply we usually get—that we cannot be informed on grounds of security—I inform the right hon. Gentleman, so that he can inform the Minister of Defence, that when I was Minister of Defence and was asked a similar Question I gave all the facts at our disposal. I dismissed this matter of security. I hope the present Government will do the same. We ought to know where we stand.
Has not the time arrived when, instead of having our ordinary normal conventional debate about defence in which hon. Members on this side and several hon. Members opposite ask questions about our defence organisation and preparations and the like, both sides might get together, as we have advocated from time to time, through the medium of a Defence Committee of the House. Then we might interrogate the Minister of Defence and his Service colleagues to ascertain how we stand.
I want to preface the rest of what I have to say by making a confession. I am wholeheartedly in support of defence measures. In view of the international situation, and confronted by a crazy world where anything could happen, I believe this country must adopt measures of defence. I believe that quite sincerely. I reject the view, which has been expressed occasionally, that we ought to abandon our defence organisation. A country of our size, quality and position in the world cannot afford to abandon its defence organisation.
On the other hand, I want to make quite clear that I am highly sceptical of the value of what is called the nuclear 1633 deterrent. I am not going to argue about Blue Water, Blue Steel, Blue Streak and all the other "blues" and whether it is worth while conducting an underground test in Nevada. What it all means I simply do not know. I sometimes think the Government do not know. A lot of money has been spent. That will be admitted by hon. Members opposite. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent to provide a nuclear deterrent, and it is extremely helpful whether that nuclear deterrent is actually a deterrent, but it is fairly certain that if anything serious happened in the way of an international conflict that so-called deterrent would neither deter nor be of any real value.
That is my opinion, so I advocate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has often advocated, and reinforced by exceptional industry on his part, the building up of our conventional forces. I am not one of the ¹lite entitled to go to the Assembly of N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians nor one of the military experts. I am not a spokesman for the Labour Party on matters of defence, I have simply picked up a bit of knowledge on these matters now and again as a result of my association with generals, field marshals, admirals and marshals of the Royal Air Farce, backed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley.
I am very glad to avail myself of his advice. If I may use an expression, a legal expression, he has sometimes "devilled" for me. I manage also to pick up a bit of information, but I rely on what General Norstad is saying. I have a very high regard for him. I think he is an excellent Supreme Commander, as good as and even better than those who preceded him, although I do not disparage them in the least. I am satisfied that General Norstad would be delighted if we could build up our conventional forces to greater strength.
That is why I support the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood in his plea that we should not reduce the strength of the Gurkha forces. I am not satisfied with the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman in this connection. When we asked him Questions recently he did pretty much what the Minister of Defence did over Kuwait. He covered up. He said that he had not come to a decision and had not made up his mind. 1634 I wonder if he is waiting until his military associates make up his mind for him.
Perhaps he has made up his mind and will not admit it. I suggest that he should come clean and tell us exactly what he proposes to do, not wait until the Army Estimates are before us and then produce a fait accompli; for that will not satisfy the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood or myself. He should tell us this afternoon what he intends to do—or perhaps he cannot tell us what he intends to do because he does not know what he intends to do. In that case he should try to find out.
I am concerned about the state of our defences, and I want to know what the Government propose to do. If our nuclear deterrent is not of any great value, if it cannot be compared with the nuclear deterrent of the United States or Soviet Union, if it is very insignificant in comparison, then I want to know what the Government propose to do about the build-up of our conventional forces. I no longer rely on what is called the strategic reserve set up in this country. What Kuwait conclusively proved, above all other things, was that troops must be acclimatised and that it is far better to have troops overseas in various areas, becoming acclimatised, than to despatch them, as we did in the case of a platoon from Aldershot, with the usual consequences.
I know that we shall have a defence debate later on in which we can argue the matter even more thoroughly. This is a non-party matter. I wish that we could elevate defence above party. It is a matter of national concern. Will it do the Labour Party any good that we have not got adequate defence forces? It will certainly not do the Government or the country any good. The Government must find out how these forces can be strengthened, and we ought to know very soon. The responsibility rests upon them, although we are entitled to express our opinion and to accept some of the responsibility as hon. Members representing our constituents and the country at large.
I want to touch briefly on a domestic matter, and I hope that hon. Members will not mind if I do so. Some time ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman 1635 and his military colleagues about contracts being placed in areas of high unemployment so as to mitigate the harsh details of unemployment in those areas. I was told that it was possible for firms to tender for these contracts. I know that that is so, but it does not go far enough.
I cannot discuss unemployment and economic matters in this debate, but What I am saying has a bearing on the position and authority of the Service Departments. After all is said and done, until we can get advance factories and power stations there, and until the long-term policy of the Government can be implemented, we must do something for our friends in these areas of high unemployment.
Can the right lion. Gentleman tell me—perhaps he can also tell me on behalf of his colleagues—whether it is possible to provide more of the defence contracts in the North-East, Scotland, Wales and perhaps the North-West, where there is high unemployment, in order to alleviate the position? Perhaps it is possible for the Government to take up some of these existing advance factories and themselves to produce some of the material. I see no reason why that should not be done. At any rate, the Service Departments could help a great deal in this direction until the Government's long-term policy is implemented. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find a minute of his time to reply on this point and that his reply will be satisfactory.
I sum up in this way: my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has established his case. There is a case for a Select Committee, unless the Government can give an adequate explanation of what happened over Kuwait. Secondly, we want a firm decision, and I hope that it will be satisfactory, about the Gurkhas. Thirdly, may we be assured that our conventional defence is adequate or, if it is not adequate—and at present it is not—what do the Government propose to make it more efficient and adequate and to afford it the strength which it requires in order that we shall be able to give a good account of ourselves should limited war occur?
That is my summing up of the debate, and I also hope that on the domestic 1636 matter which I ventured to raise, the right hon. Gentleman will afford a satisfactory reply.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Johnson (Manchester, Blackley)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) will forgive me if I do not follow very closely what he said—except to say how thoroughly I agree with him about the need for us to maintain a good defence organisation and about this not being a party matter. I agree with him just as much as I did on a previous occasion when he spoke about the desirability of having rather fewer major-generals in the War Office and on the folly of spending money on the Leonardo Cartoon.
May I refer for a moment to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) and to reinforce his plea for warrant officers and sergeants in the Education Corps. I have some experience of this, not through having been in the Education Corps myself but because for some years in the Armoured Corps Depôt at Catterick I commanded a squadron of 1,500 low-category soldiers; and I enjoyed an experience, which I think has not even been enjoyed by the hon. Member for Dudley, of having a squadron with eleven regimental sergeant majors. We did a great deal on the lines of education, and I found that these warrant officers and non-commissioned officers were invaluable.
I want to turn to an entirely different question from that which we have been discussing today—the question of pension. The position of former members of the Armed Forces and their widows is extremely unsatisfactory and will remain unsatisfactory, especially in respect of the old people, if they are granted similar increases under the Royal Warrant to those which have been given to other public service pensioners in the Pensions (Increase) Bill.
I do not believe that their case is strictly comparable with that of civil servants and others who were directly affected by that Bill. There are six separate pay codes for officers. Their retired pay remains the same after a certain date. Their code remains the same, no matter how obsolete it becomes. There are about 5,500 officers on the 1919 1637 code. I think that there can be very few civil servants whose pay is based on codes fixed 43 years ago. If I refer mainly to the position of officers, it is not that I do not realise that the other ranks have a very similar problem; it is because the statistics for officers are more readily available. I hope that the House will forgive me if I give some of those statistics.
The number of officers on the 1919 code is 5,584. Three thousand two hundred and sixty-three of them are over 70, 4,808 are over 60, and 776 are under 60. The pension of a captain over 60 is £432. With the increase's proposed under the Pensions (Increase) Bill it will be £483. If they are under 60 their pension is only £299 and it will remain the same after the passing of the Measure. In contrast to that £299, a captain retiring on the 1962 code would get £725, which seems to me a wholly unreasonable discrepancy between the two.
I do not know if my right hon. Friend can help me about these figures. I tabled a Question on this subject to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, to which he gave a Written Answer on 20th November, which appears in columns 121–2 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 20th November. He informed me that there are six officers over 70 who retired under the 1960 code. I should be interested to hear what rank those officers held and how they were employed, because if anyone cares to work it out they will find that they must have been at least 67 when they retired. I wonder what they could have been doing.
Before I say anything about the position of other ranks, I must also draw attention to the rise in the cost of living since these codes were fixed for the older officers. Since 1919 the cost of Living has risen by 226 per cent. The total increase in pension in the case of a lieutenant-colonel over 60 on the 1919 code, including the increase proposed under the recent Bill, is 58 per cent. if he is under 70 and 61½ per cent. if he is over 70, contrasted with a rise of 226 per cent. in the cost of living. In the case of those retired on the 1945 code, the increase in the cost of living has been 103 per cent. whereas the increase in pension is only 43 per cent.
Turning to other ranks, the position of private soldiers discharged before 18th 1638 December, 1945, is reasonably satisfactory. In fact, many of them will receive higher pensions than those discharged later. However, that is not the case for warrant officers and non-commissioned officers. For example, a sergeant who was pensioned before 18th December, 1945, receives a pension of 71s. 4d. The average sergeant today would be getting 84s. 4d. The pension of a warrant officer first-class with 27 years' service is 98s. 2d. Today it would be 160s., which is a very considerable difference.
Far the worst case is that of those widows who were pensioned before 4th November, 1958. The widow of a lieutenant-colonel gets a pension of £207 18s. Under the Bill it will rise if she is under 70 to £232 and if she is over 70 to £252. The widow of a major now receives £161, which will rise to £181 if she is under 70 and to £201 if she is over 70. The widow of a captain now receives £127, which will rise to £142 if she is under 70 and to £162 if she is over 70.
As the House will be aware, National Assistance scales were increased last September. The position now is that the widows of all regular lieutenant-commanders, majors and squadron leaders and below who have no private means will still qualify for National Assistance if they are too old to get National Insurance pensions. There are about 2,400 old widows in this age group. To tell them that they have to depend on National Assistance is a very poor reward for the long Service their husbands gave to the country.
Turning to the widows of other ranks, the widows of those discharged before 1st September, 1950, receive no pension at all, except in the case of warrant officers. A 12 per cent. increase on no pension will not be worth very much to them! The widows of warrant officers will receive a 12 per cent. increase and £20 if they are over 70.
The widows of other ranks discharged between 1st September, 1950, and 4th November, 1958, received a very small pension, provided that their husbands had completed long service. The pension of the widow of a private or corporal with 32 years' service is 11s. 7d. a week. It is the same for the widow of a sergeant with 27 years' service. They will receive an increase of 12 per cent., 10 per cent., 1639 8 per cent., or 6 per cent. according to the date of retirement and corresponding increases of £20, £17, £14 or £10 if they are over 70. By contrast with those miserably small pensions, the widow of a corporal discharged on or after 4th November, 1958, with 22 years' service receives 22s. per week. The widow of a corporal discharged after that date with 32 years' service receives 42s. per week. The widow of a sergeant discharged after that date with 27 years' service receives 40s. 11d.
Anyone who compares the figures of our treatment of pensioners in this country with those in other countries will receive a fairly considerable shock. For example, if we consider the retired pay as a percentage of serving pay, in France the retired pay is 80 per cent. of serving pay. In Belgium it is 75 per cent. In Western Germany it is 75 per cent. In Italy it is 80 per cent. In Britain we do not relate retired pay to serving pay, but it is now about 56 per cent. on the 1960 code and about 50 per cent. on the 1956 code.
It is interesting to see how the retired pay of a major retiring now compares with that of one who retired before 1939. A major retiring now if under 60 would get 95 per cent. more than one who retired in 1939. If he were over 60 he would get 46 per cent. more.
It is just the same story with the widows' pensions. In France, the widow's pension is 50 per cent. of her husband's retired pay. In Belgium it is up to 60 per cent. In Western Germany it is up to 60 per cent. In Italy it is 50 per cent. In Britain after November, 1958, it is 33 per cent. Before 1958 it was not related, but it was about 25 per cent. or less.
I will go on dealing with the extent to which a major's widow's pension bereaved now is the same as or exceeds that of a widow bereaved before the 1939 war. In France, Germany, Italy and Belgium it is the same. Here it is 80 per cent. more if the widows are bereaved now than if they had been bereaved before 1939.
Another point is that the widow of a British Regular officer who married after retirement does not receive a widow's pension. On the other hand, in France, Belgium, Western Germany and various other countries she receives a pension, 1640 subject to various conditions. I readily admit that this may not be an altogether fair comparison because the serving rates of pay may be lower in some of the other countries, but for all that on the face of it it seems that we treat our ex-Service men and their widows very much worse than our neighbours in Europe do. I cannot believe that our system of retired pay is fair because of its so-called principle of immutability. That means that the older an officer becomes the more he has to reduce his standard of living, because the cost of living keeps rising. It is also most unjust that a widow who lost her husband before 1958 should receive so much less in pension than one whose husband died after that date.
I do not see any justification for this principle of immutability. During the Second Reading debate of the Pensions (Increase) Bill, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary expressed the view that it is wrong to seek to insulate completely any section of the community from changes in the value of money, but I should like to draw attention to Army Order No. 324 of 1919, which governed the conditions applicable to all officers who retired between the First and Second World Wars. That Order said that the rates would be subject to…revision, either upwards or downwards to an extent not exceeding 20 per cent. according as the cost of living rises and falls.In fact, the revision was always downwards—never upwards.
Up to 1935, as the cost of living fell, the rates of pension were repeatedly reduced, until they were finally stabilised in 1935 at 9½ per cent. below the original rate. The cost of living then started to rise, but the pension remained the same until as late as 1954, when there was a 10 per cent. increase. The older officers thereby suffered a loss over 19 years before any help was given to them.
I believe, too, that pensions should always be brought up to the current rate but, if that is too much to ask, I find it hard to understand why we cannot at least do away with the 1919 and 1945 codes. The Chief Secretary said that the cost of increases to Service pensions on the same lines as the Pensions (Increase) Bill would be about £4.4 million.
1641 I also asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence what would be the cost of abolishing the 1919 and 1945 codes. My right hon. Friend, in a Written Answer, said that to abolish the two earlier codes and put these people on the 1950 code would cost only £2,600,000; to put them on the 1956 code would cost £3,900,000, and to put them on the 1960 code would cost £5.9 million. He also said that to put widows who are now under the 1919 and 1945 codes on the 1950 code would cost only £400,000; to raise them to the 1956 code would cost £500,000, and to put them on the 1960 code would cost £600,000. That is not very much to spend, the more so when we find from the White Paper on Government investment that the proposed public investment expenditure in 1963–64 is £2,060 million. It is not very much to find another £600,000 to give the widows fair treatment.
I apologise for referring to this matter during a debate on much wider affairs of defence, but it will be appreciated that our opportunities of discussing this subject are very limited, and we had an indication yesterday from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that we might raise it today. In preparing the Prerogative Instrument, I do not know to what extent it is necessary to stick rigidly to what was said in the Explanatory Memorandum—that similar increases would be given—but if it is possible to do something rather better than that I hope that my right hon. Friends will consider it, especially in relation to the widows. They have been abominably treated, and represent the most urgent case for help. The present proposals are profoundly disappointing to many of those who, we would all agree, deserve very much better treatment than they have been getting.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
The whole House will have listened with great sympathy to the admirable case deployed by the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) on behalf of Service pensioners and, in particular, on behalf of the widows of Service men, but I hope that he will forgive me if, in the brief time I hope 1642 to take, I do not go into the complexities of a matter which will, I hope, again be before the House.
I am sure that the arrangement whereby we have disposed formally of the Orders and have had an opportunity for a wider debate has met the general convenience of the House, and I trust that I will have the indulgence of hon. Members if, since the Air Force is involved in today's business, I introduce one or two Air Force matters. Further, as this will be the first opportunity, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, that the Secretary of State for Air will have had to intervene in one of these debates since his appointment. I should like to wish him well in his new office.
In a sense, this is an interim defence or Estimates debate, and while we cannot expect the detail from the right hon. Gentleman that we shall require in the spring, I am sure that it is a very good thing to have a debate like this at this time of year, and that we should not have defence debates only in the very limited period of our discussions of the Service Estimates.
Royal Air Force recruitment is in quite a different position from that of the Army. Generally speaking, there is no overall difficulty, but since recruitment of pilots, police and other special sections has been mentioned from time to time, I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would tell us a little of how he sees the future recruiting position and what, if any, are his particular difficulties.
When visiting Air Force stations, I have always been immensely impressed with the very high standard and complexity of the technical equipment, and the enormous responsibility for the functioning of the Air Force that rests on its workshop section. From time to time, we hear that certain trades are seriously short of personnel, and I should like the Minister to tell us whether, with the increasing technical complexity and the increasing dependence on electronics, and the rest, he will be able to keep this side of the Service up to full strength.
I should like to mention two matters which, though small, figure large in the life of the Service man overseas. The first is the education allowance for children of Service personnel overseas. I am not sure whether the Service Ministers know the need for the allowance for 1643 Service personnel to be brought to the standard of the Colonial Service and the Foreign Service. In many cases, the children are at the same school and the same travel from the overseas station to the school is necessary, and I see no reason for there being any difference between the education allowance for Service personnel and that for other Government servants.
Although I am sure that all Members appreciate the advantages to Service men of what is called the indulgence passage arrangements, I have heard a great deal of complaint, not so much that people have had to pay their own fares or have not been able to get an indulgence passage—because the nature of the system is only too well understood—but that there is a certain friction when some children of Service men in a station got a free passage home and back under these arrangements while some other parents must pay the fares both ways for their children—additional, of course, to the free passage once a year permitted under the Service scheme. One wonders how this indulgence scheme is working in other respects. I know that it applies to all the Services, although it is arranged and managed by the Air Ministry. Perhaps the Secretary of State could give an indication that he is willing to look at this aspect of the problem in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) gave the House a good deal of information about the Kuwait operation. It is not for me to attempt in any way to deal with the majority of the points he raised, though I must congratulate him on his diligence and commend his passionate interest in the welfare of the Army. He touched briefly on the air lessons one can draw from the Kuwait operation and I wish to say a word about this from an Air Force point of view.
The hon. Member for Dudley was with me when a Parliamentary visit was arranged to a Transport Command station at the very time of the Kuwait operation. It was apparent, both from what we saw and from what we were told, that the whole resources of Transport Command were required to mount that operation. Had there been a demand for additional military transport at that 1644 time it would not have been there. Surely this operation, and other events, shone the grave weakness which exists in our transport system and that we do not have a strategic freighter. There are orders for ten Belfasts but they are not yet available and I have grave doubts whether ten such planes will be enough for the kind of demand likely to be placed on them.
I know that the Air Force does not like the Belfast very much. Perhaps the Secretary of State will consider this matter. Without going into the details of the merits of this aircraft, he must agree that we should take urgent steps to see that we have an adequate strategic freighter capability. I have not been able to discover whether arrangements have already been made for replacing the Beverly and the Hastings, on which an enormous amount rests in any kind of airborne operation.
Are the Government waiting until the S.T.O.L. or V.T.O.L. application is possible because, judging by the way in which we have approached the production of a vertical take-off and landing plane, it seems that it will, once again, be the sad story of this country having pioneered a development of a new plane but finding that our competitors reach the production stage earlier than we do.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of the strategic air freighter, he will recall that it is more than two years since the Royal Air Force put in its first requirement for the OR351 and that Whitworth Gloster supplied its specification almost two years ago. Since that time there has been a steady breakup in the design teams and skilled workers and, potentially, the OR351 could already have been in production. Would my hon. Friend, therefore, ask the Government to make up their mind on this matter, not only to deal with 1645 the redundancy in Coventry and elsewhere but also because of the need for air freighters?
§ Mr. Mulley
I did not intend to go into great detail on this because of the lack of time, but I would not wish my hon. Friend to assume that I necessarily accept that this or any other aircraft is suitable. There has been this great delay and I was saying that the tragedy is that so often we produce the designs, but, because of persistent delays in implementing them, our competitors have produced comparable aircraft which secure international orders.
§ Mr. Wigg
I received an Answer from the Minister of Aviation a few days ago saying that there were to be no orders for the Belfast and that the hope was held out for Shorts that they might be contenders for the OR351. It is important that the Royal Air Force should get for the Army the best aircraft available for the cheapest possible price and should not give anything out as a kind of soup kitchen award.
§ Mr. Mulley
That is an extremely important point. Certainly nothing should be done only in regard to the unemployment situation in Ireland or anywhere else. I think that the Belfast, if it comes along, will be of great service in a freighting capacity, but even with the number of Belfasts in question we shall not have enough. As my hon. Friends have said, it is two years since the OR351 was produced, we have still not got any further towards the development of a short take-off aircraft and we are even further away from the other type of plane I mentioned. Surely the Air Ministry should make up its mind about this? In any case, is the delay taking place in that Ministry or in the Ministry of Aviation, or is the Treasury, once again, interfering with both Ministries and making it impossible to get things done?
We now see that what was originally the Short SC1 with Rolls-Royce engines has developed into the French Balzac with both the British Rolls-Royce lift engine and a British Bristol propulsion engine, being the prototype for the Mirage III V.1. It is clear that, while it will have to rely on the British lift engine, the propulsion unit will be American, and before we know where 1646 we are we shall find that N.A.T.O. has adopted the British Rolls-Royce system but there will not be a British part in the N.A.T.O. standard aircraft. Therefore, unless the Government do something about placing orders and getting into the V.T.O.L. business, we shall be left completely behind.
One can quote other examples to underline the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley about this to show that the Air Ministry must get the best and most economical aircraft for the Royal Air Force and not allow the Ministry of Aviation to buy planes for the Air Force because they are civil aircraft designed for completely different purposes, for some political reason or for various promises he has made in connection with amalgamations and so on. Once the Secretary of State allows the Air Force to take an aircraft for no reason other than that it is all he is permitted to get, then the standard of the Air Force is bound to decline.
I should like to comment on the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley in connection with certain rumours which have been circulating about proposals for greater integration within the Ministry of Defence. It is obvious when one goes around that something must be done to straighten out the structure between the Ministry of Defence and the three Service Ministries.
To take one obvious example: the question of joint or unified commands. One has, in one or two cases, for example, an air chief marshal occupying the job of commander-in-chief for the Services in a theatre. Does he report direct to the Ministry of Defence or does he have to go through his Service Ministry? If he goes straight to the Ministry of Defence on a wide range of points are the people in that Ministry able to give him the technical answers to the various signals he may send? If they are, are they not a duplication of the same sort of chaps in the other Ministry concerned? We should certainly welcome any attempt to avoid duplication of staff, particularly of an administrative character involving civilian personnel, but at the same time I should be very much opposed to any move which would cause the three Services to lose their separate indentities.
We want a single accounting Minister, accountable to the House. As my hon. 1647 Friend has said on the matters that he has been raising, these are the responsibility of the Minister of Defence and often in matters where all Services are concerned it must be the Minister of Defence who has to be accountable to the House. I think that if the scheme as proposed, to which my hon. Friend made reference, as reported by Mr. Chapman Pincher, goes through, it might prove to be a bad scheme from the point of view of the future defence of this country. Certainly, one must not imagine that any scheme can go through without presenting a lot of problems.
We want to get the maximum efficiency and to strengthen the position of the Minister of Defence, although I must say that one after another Minister of Defence appears on the benches opposite and does little to encourage one to seek to increase the strength of the position of the Minister of Defence. While we want to improve the integration of the Services, I think that it will be going much too far if there were any suggestion that the separate identity of the Services should be lost. I hope that the Secretary of State may be able to give us an autumn report, as it were, on the state of the Royal Air Force, and I want again to wish him well in the very great responsibilities that he has undertaken.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Hugh Fraser)
I first thank most warmly the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) for the kind wishes which he has given to me on my appointment. I should also like to thank him for his most helpful speech. I feel that I am almost an interloper in an Army debate, and I hope to sit down by 3 o'clock to give my right hon. Friend and hon. Members opposite time to return to the ground battle.
I must say to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) that it has been almost his day. For one and a half hours he entertained the House. But I must remind the hon. Gentleman that he is not only an arch of the Armed Forces, but a pillar of the turf, and that occasionally he gives one bad tips. He also occasionally gives bad tip-offs, and I think that some of the information that he put forward about the Kuwait 1648 operation was grossly exaggerated. One of the first things that I did when I got into the Air Ministry was to ask for the reports on the Kuwait operation so that I could look at the problems that there arose to see whether they could be improved. Every time an operation takes place it is right to see where things went wrong and how they can be put right. That is what happened in this case; where errors did come up, they have been put right. In the case of forward control, we have improved; in the question of forward radar, we are making improvements, and in the availability of aircraft, I must say that there has been considerable improvement in the availability of tactical aircraft since 1961.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Park asked me some wide questions on the Air Force. I am sure that he and the whole House will agree that the vital thing is the men inside the Service. The essential thing is to see that recruiting is good and that recruiting, especially in this day and age, brings in the highly skilled man, the technician, the skilled pilot and the equally skilled and widely experienced staff officer who has had experience right across the board of his Service.
I am happy to say that on the whole recruiting this year shows up fairly well. So far as officer recruiting goes, I think that we are considerably better off than last year. This winter's intake at Cranwell will be almost the highest since the war. The number of officers coming forward from the universities will, I think, be among the best since the war. The numbers of dentists and doctors, thanks to the new terms offered, have shown a very healthy reaction. This does not mean that all our problems are over. Of course, there are gaps, and I think that there 'is possibly a special and difficult gap between the 28–38 age group in the Technical Branch.
As the hon. Member so rightly remarked, today, with the new equipment coming forward, the technical officer in the Air Force is particularly important. But I believe that here we are making some improvement, and again I am not at all despondent. Concerning aircrews, as the House will know, we have to replace the aircrew who are now becoming a wasting asset. Between 1649 now and 1970 there will be a considerable number of people reaching retirement age, and we have the problem of replacing these men. Here we are doing quite well, and the position has improved since last year. So far as navigators are concerned, we are fully up to establishment, which is a considerable improvement.
Concerning airmen—I have to speak quickly so that I hope that I am getting my figures precisely right—I think that some 14,000 men, women and youths came forward this year as opposed to 12,000 last year, and this is such an improvement that at the moment we have put up very considerably the standard which we will take. We have improved and raised the standard to a large measure so that it is now rather difficult to get into the Air Force and, in my view, that is a highly healthy state of affairs.
There are weaknesses in certain trades. The hon. Member referred to police. We have a certain problem here and there are problems in certain specially qualified technical and electronic trades where there is a very big competition from industry. Nevertheless, looking at it as a whole, I am fairly satisfied with the recruiting position. One can never be totally satisfied. One must always look for improvements and strive for improvements, because it is simply impossible to have good enough men in the Royal Air Force.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about some other points regarding educational allowances. These are, of course, paid regardless of rank. For children at boarding school the maximum allowance is £185 to £260 according to the number of children, and the day allowance is about £55 per year.
§ Mr. Mulley
The main point about the educational allowances is that the Service allowances are still below those paid to colonial and Foreign Office personnel in a similar situation.
§ Mr. Fraser
I think that they are the same in all three Services, but there is a difference in the case of the Foreign Office—I gather that there is a special position on this. I shall make further inquiries and write to the hon. Gentleman. The main point that I make is 1650 that there are allowances paid and I agree these allowances are of great importance.
The hon. Gentleman also turned his attention to the question of long-range freighter aircraft, that is not the tactical freighter but the long-range freighter aircraft. I should like to correct two points made by the hon. Member for Dudley. First he suggested that we were not pursuing the completion of the contract for ten Belfasts.
§ Mr. Wigg
I was repeating the answer given to me by the Minister of Aviation in the last few days. He said that it was unlikely that any further orders in addition to the ten Belfasts would be placed at Short Harlands to enter the competition Which is being entered into by the Coventry firm for the OR351.
§ Mr. Fraser
I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I had the impression that he said the Belfast order had been cancelled. I am glad that he put this right. The other point that the hon. Gentleman made referred to the carrying capacity of the Britannia. He said it was a mere question of 7 tons. That is inaccurate. I think it is more like 17 tons.
§ Mr. Fraser
On the India mission, of course, they are carrying 17½ tons. It is a question of straightening the record and not leaving any impression which the hon. Member may have left unintentionally that the situation is worse than it is.
§ Mr. Fraser
I agree, perish the thought.
The hon. Gentleman then turned to two other matters. One is the question of the tactical transport force. Since April, 1961, there has been a considerable improvement; 20 Argosy aircraft have come into the front line, with 20 Whirlwinds and 15 Belvederes, and a considerable number of aircraft are on order to carry on the necessary replacement.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the replacement of the two tactical transports, the Beverley and the Hastings, and 1651 may I say that I am glad there is a proper interest in this matter. It is a question of whether it should be the OR351 or whether we should aim, in conjunction with other Powers who are interested in the same sort of aircraft, at getting an aircraft which will have not merely a local but a world-wide sale. I am convinced in this instance that we should hold our hand until we are clear that we cannot get co-operation from other countries. As the hon. Member for Dudley knows, the need for the replacement does not emerge immediately but is a replacement which will be needed in the next five or six years—that is to say, by 1968.
§ Mr. Wigg
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that exactly the same arguments were produced by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations in relation to the Belfast? He said that the case for the Belfast is its sale in the world markets. I warned him that they would not sell one, and they have not done so.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am making a slightly different point, that it is important to get co-operation where it is possible between allies to produce an aircraft in sufficient series to reduce its cost for the defence of the West.
§ Mr. Edelman
Is it not the case that the Minister of Defence went to Washington precisely to discuss this point? He has already been back nearly a fortnight. Is it not time, having regard to all the information now available and that is likely to be available, for the Government to make up their minds and to put the aircraft industry out of its agony?
§ Mr. Fraser
I appreciate the aircraft industry's agony. I should also point out that we are to some extent anticipating the spring debate. It is not inconceivable, to put it no higher, that there may be at this moment, for all the hon. Member knows, a joint study going on between the two countries on this very matter.
May I now turn to the question of the P1154. Here again, as has been stated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, we are proceeding with the first stages of the development of the P1154 as a Hunter and possibly 1652 as a Sea Vixen replacement. We are also backing this aircraft in N.A.T.O. There, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been discussion on the NBMR3, I believe it was called. It was a question whether this aircraft should be a French or a British aircraft.
In reply to the hon. Gentleman's point about the Rolls-Royce lifting engine, we believe it will have very important applications in the V.T.O.L. field and, as stated in this year's Defence White Paper, we have made a tripartite agreement with the French and the Germans to develop it. I think this is rather outside my sphere and is within the sphere of influence of the Ministry of Aviation, but I can assure the House that the Royal Air Force has the deepest possible interest in the development of a verticle take-off capacity. Clearly the aircraft that we favour in this respect is the P1154.
I promised that I would resume my seat by three o'clock. Perhaps I should now turn for a moment to some of the wider issues raised by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who, if I may say so, brings some breezy highlights into the detailed discussions in our debates. He raised very wide issues relating to what our defence policy should be. It is not for me to answer in every detail what he said, but I am convinced that we are faced in this country with a very heavy burden to maintain our position, with or without the deterrent—I personally believe with the deterrent—in Europe and globally. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is absolutely essential that a country such as ours must be prepared to accept this burden, and I am fully in accord with this thought.
The right hon. Gentleman discussed the question of the higher organisations of the Armed Forces. This subject was also taken up by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park. I am convinced that when one looks at the management of our forces in this country, at the expenditure and at the excellent men we have, nothing can be good enough for them but the best organisation which can be devised. Mr. Chapman Pincher has attributed to certain persons in high places many thoughts which do not exist, but I agree that my right hon. Friend should look 1653 at this matter and see where improvements can be made. I believe this is entirely the right attitude. Any Minister coming to these great responsibilities can only take them seriously. He must be determined to see that the organisation should be the best and that our soldiers and airmen should have the best equipment, and we as a nation must be prepared to back them with the money that is needed.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
May I add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air on his first appearance in his great office. We often used to speak next to each other in Cyprus debates and I am happy to follow him again today.
At the beginning of these proceedings we agreed without a Division to the continuation of the Army and Air Force Acts. I find a certain personal cause for rejoicing in this because in some measure I make a claim for parenthood here. These two Acts were born of obstruction. Geoffrey Bing, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and I were obstructing the Army Act. We succeeded in doing so because the Army Act in those days had to be passed every year. I remember putting down 90 Amendments one weekend. Lord Head, who was then Secretary of State for War, came to me and asked what were my terms. I made this suggestion to him: "I want a Select Committee of the House, and I want parallel with it a committee from the Services which will be able to comment on each suggestion we make, giving us the Service attitude on it, and discussing the matter as we go along". This proposal of mine was accepted. As a result, we drafted Clause by Clause the Bill. It was brought to the House by the Government without one single Amendment. It was passed by the House without Amendment. After five years of experience, last year, when the first occasion came to amend the Act, there were only trivial alterations required. I have often wondered why the successful precedent of that piece of machinery for legislation has not been followed more often.
Having said that generally about the Act, I began by congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the recruiting figures. 1654 They are highly satisfactory. We are now not merely at 165,000, but we are probably accepting at this stage only the best quality which the Army has ever had. It is true that at one period standards did drop, but that, I think, soon proved to be unsuccessful because the people who ought not to have been accepted in the first place had to be got rid of very quickly. All my information of late is that standards have probably been higher than the Army has ever seen. As to the suggestion that rejections now are 40 per cent. whereas they were up to 70 per cent. before the war, that, I think, is a reflection of the appalling health and nutrition standards which existed before the war. In a physical sense, at least, whatever some people may think of it, the Welfare State has produced a much larger, healthier and stronger product. On this matter, therefore, I think that I have nothing but congratulation.
I am delighted also to hear that the Empire is giving its quota. This is something I have pressed for ever since I have been in the House. I cannot understand why we did not earlier recruit in this great field which was available to us, people who find it a privilege to serve the Queen in her Armed Forces. I add my support to what the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) said about the Gurkhas. I ask particularly why these troops are not employed in the Gulf. It seems to me that they are the ideal kind of troops for this sort of warfare and commitment. I hope that we shall he told something about that.
The volunteer system has, I think, proved tremendously successful. I have been an advocate of it all along. I confess that it has rather exceeded my expectations. If one were to play with figures now, with the bulge coming forward and with acceptance from a wider field, I have the impression that the available ceiling on the voluntary system, if we want to go to it, is probably between 195,000 and 200,000. I feel that that can be achieved if we want it. That is my present reading of the figures, but I am not sure whether we want to go that far.
Now, a word about Kuwait. I often envy the certainty felt by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). I sometimes wish that I could be as 1655 certain about anything as he is about everything. But it is a certainty which illuminates a very great love of the Army. With respect, I feel that his is a rather special and sometimes highly conservative love. To some extent, it reminds me a little of the old Duke of Cambridge who was always said to react with the utmost indignation to any suggestion that the Army should ever be used. It was far too precious for that.
I cannot find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend in the general line of his criticisms with regard to Kuwait, nor can I find any reason for changing the moderate congratulation which, about eighteen months ago, we conferred on the Government for a successful operation. It did succeed. Of course, it was not perfect, but I should be very surprised ever to discover the military operation that was perfect. No army is ever ready for the particular emergency that arises. Indeed, to take a phrase of my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, I can think of no better motto for an army than per ardua ad hoc. That is precisely what an army has to do.
There will always be for the particular operation as it turns up defects in training, equipment and supplies, but my studies of strategy have led me to the conclusion that nearly always the man who moves first beats the man who waits until he is ready. I am not sure that that is not what happened in Kuwait. We did not meet an enemy. If we had waited, we would probably have found one. When my hon. Friend says that one must move quickly but with adequate preparation and security, that may mean that the other side takes advantage of the necessary delay.
I feel that Ministers must very often be in a position in which they have to say to soldiers who are reluctant because they have been in daily contact with the deficiencies which they are up against, in the words of the great Duke of Wellington, "You will have to do the best you can with what you have got."
§ Mr. Shinwell
How would my hon. and learned Friendcompare what he calls the successful operation of Kuwait with the operation for which we were responsible in Korea, when we did not move before we were quite certain that we had the equipment, the men, and the organisation? I think he will agree that 1656 that was a most successful brigade operation.
§ Mr. Paget
I entirely agree, but we must remember that in that case we had the advantage that the Americans had moved first. When moving up a reserve force to a situation which in a measure has stabilised itself, then the priority of preparedness may prevail over getting there first. But I do not wish to modify my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on a very notable achievement by the British Army in Korea.
Of course, there were defects and mistakes in the Kuwait operation. They were enumerated at considerable length by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. The water carrying, owing to a lack of maintenance, was inadequate. Some of the buses were not suitable for the conditions. My hon. Friend told us that a soldier became ill through drinking too much beer. These are accidents which will happen, and the only thing that I say to the Minister is this: do not make these same mistakes next time. I am certain that in each operation as we come to it we shall make a whole lot of new mistakes. What we can rightly demand is that we shall not add to the new mistakes old ones which ought to have been corrected.
Having said that, I feel, not being unduly optimistic, that if we get away with operations with as little going wrong as went wrong in the Kuwait operation, I shall be reasonably satisfied.
I now turn to what I regard as infinitely the more important question. I rather hope that in the Minister's reply, the Kuwait affair, whilst we hope to hear whether corrections have been made, will not occupy as disproportionate a part of the reply as it has done of the debate, because infinitely the more important question is the one touched upon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell)—that is, the grave peril of the British Army of the Rhine. It is in a perilous position.
For what purpose is that Army there? Is it there simply as a token that we are committed? Is it, in effect, performing the job of strikers who lie down in front of a bus and dare it to run over them? Are, indeed, the N.A.T.O. Forces in Germany merely there to commit the 1657 participating nations to a sufficient share in a mutual disaster to give each confidence in the other's seriousness? Or are they there to defend Germany, and, if so, how?
Consider what that Army is facing. In East Germany alone, there are twenty-two armoured or mechanised divisions. There are 6,000 tanks and they are backed for quick follow-up by nine airborne divisions—and they have the initiative. One remembers the lesson that Stalin learned in Russia. There, the Germans had about half the tanks which the Russians have in East Germany—3,200. They had nineteen armoured divisions only and even those had their tanks at half complement. Substantially, the rest of their army was horse-drawn.
Stalin was warned. As a deterrent, he moved up divisions to the frontier, but it was an unguarded frontier. In fact, he moved up a 50 per cent, superiority to the Germans in both armour and in divisions. With those troops being undeployed on an undefended frontier within reach of the enemy, when the Germans moved they penetrated 200 miles in a matter of three or four days, and within a fortnight 100 divisions were destroyed or surrendered. Eighty per cent. of them had never been able to fight at all. That was the position then. Undeployed forces within reach of an enemy and without any barrier between them are in deadly peril.
What of B.A.O.R.? Is its function to defend the North German plain? Is it at present situated in barracks merely because it was placed in those barracks when it was an occupying army? Are its deployment areas on the Weser? How long will it take it to get there? Do some of the units with a front-line function have to go 100 miles to get to their position? Does that involve going through roads that cross? Even in peacetime as an exercise, could they get to their defensive positions in 48 hours? And what would be the situation if those roads were blocked with refugees? And again, as to saying, "Well, when the time comes we can get more ready," was anything done, for instance, even to recall from leave during the Cuban crisis?
1658 Is it not in the Russian capacity on any Friday night they choose to move to reach the Rhine before we could even reach our defensive positions on the Weser—long before? On any Friday night would not the Russian invading forces be mixed with ours before morning so that we could not possibly use nuclears? And having come to the Rhine is there anything to stop them swinging down to Switzerland? In fact, so far as the defence of Germany is concerned, is it seriously thought that if they were attacked by the Russians using only conventional weapons we could really hold them off even for a week? How long is this situation going to go an being acceptable? We are committed to a forward policy. The main contributor to the N.A.T.O. forces is Germany, and Germany is not going to be there if it is not the function of that army to defend Germany.
The answer is that we have got to face the situation that the forces in Germany will have to go up. We originally committed ourselves to four divisions. I do not believe that even if we go up to performing that, our Treaty obligation, it is going to prove enough. Most certainly they will have to be redeployed, and redeployment is a highly expensive operation. If they are not simply going to be a sacrificial force, they must be moved to a situation in which they are at least in range of the places where they would have to fight. Finally, I believe that we shall be getting a demand from N.A.T.O. for the construction of some form of defensive barrier along the frontier or at least along the northern part where there are no natural obstacles.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has read the first article in the N.A.T.O. Journal of September by Colonel Mische, but this seems to be an indication, un ballon d'essai, in this direction, and it is going to be expensive in money, it is going to be expensive in guns, and it is going to be expensive in troops, and that is the sort of situation with which, I feel, we are going to be faced.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am not disagreeing with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but would he not qualify what he is saying by saying that now that the war is over 1659 in North Africa the French ought to make their rightful contribution to what he is discussing?
§ Mr. Paget
I wholly agree. A lot of people have got to make a contribution if this is going to cease to be simply a sacrificial token and become a force which is capable of defending Germany.
It is no use saying that we are going to replace our shortages in men by the use of nuclear weapons. On our present dispositions in Germany we simply could not use them. We cannot use nuclear weapons against people inside our positions and mixed up with us. That is the problem. Before we can use nuclear weapons in defence and on a tactical basis we must have the sort of conventional defence which compels the enemy to concentrate and to move into areas where we are not because we are holding him out. That becomes necessary. That is how it seems to me.
How do we meet this? I do not think that we can meet it by conscription. That does not suit us. But redeployment seems to be wholly necessary. We cannot go on defending interests that are no longer really ours with force that we no longer really have. I elaborated this matter before. In this phasing-out stage Hong Kong, for instance, must be a Naval and Air Force commitment, but this will be greatly assisted by the unification of forces, a matter on which my hon. Friend made some remarks. According to Mr. Chapman Pincher, writing in the Daily Express, a detailed programme for the unification of the Navy. Army and Royal Air Force, under the Defence Ministry, has been put to the Prime Minister by Lord Mountbatten. Under it Secretaries of State are to be down-graded to Ministers, and Service Chielfs will cease to have direct access to the Cabinet. Purchases will be under the Ministry of Defence and there will be inter-Service postings, but no unification of the Services. The programme is understood to have the Prime Minister's approval.
I do not know whether we shall hear anything about this. I do not know whether this is the right thing to do, but something on these lines will be necessary. We cannot go on with the duplication expense and chaos which 1660 exist, for instance, with regard to the Estimates. In theory, when we approve the Estimates we are approving financial proposals for the Services. In fact, each Service is out for as large a share as possible of a lump sum which has been arbitrarily settled by the Cabinet. In the split of interest each Service, as a profession, makes its demand.
That is not the way to do it. We do not show a proper difference between capital and income, and there is no sensible division between the Services. We cannot have a capital expenditure programme. We have a backlog, and hand-to-mouth methods. There is no point in labour-saving devices, because they come into next year's Estimates, with which we are not concerned. The time has come when, since the Service Estimates are derived from a predetermined total, they should cease to be the concern of the Treasury and should operate on a system of a grant-in-aid, very much as occurs in relation to nationalised industries.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Why does not my hon. and learned Friend advocate a return to the system that we initiated, namely, a three years' programme instead of an annual programme?
§ Mr. Paget
I should like to go a great deal further than that. I agree that we made a start in the right direction, but to get this right we have to have a capital works programme spreading well out and applying to all the Services. Each Service must manage its own expenditure. It should be on a grant-in-aid basis and not under continued Treasury control, because when it is under Treasury control in order to get our various sanctions at every stage we are so delayed that our weapons are obsolete before they come into existence. It takes ten years to get a wireless set. The result is that even today—I believe—the Army does not have a transistor set. That is fantastic, when they are used in every other kind of organisation. This is a system which causes delays, and we must put it right.
I cannot believe that the Civil Service system of duplication can or should go on. In 1911, about 6,000 non-industrial civil servants administered 390,000 men. In 1920, 43,000 civil servants administered 600,000 men; in 1938, 22,000 administered 375,000 men; in 1948, 118,000 1661 administered nearly 1 million men, and now we have 138,000 to administer 400,000 men. I cannot believe that this sort of multiplication can really go on being tollerated. We have got to sort this out and make better use of our resources if we are going to meet the formidable challenge to those resources which is presented by the situation of our forces in Germany.
Finally, after the Government have been in power for eleven years, we now have the sort of suggestion that this unification which we in the Labour Party have consistently demanded year in and year out is at last coming into being. It is an extraordinary thing. I wonder just how many more by-election results it will take finally to stir the Tory Party into action on these essential matters.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Profumo)
We have had a most interesting and very wide-ranging debate, and in the time at my disposal I shall try to do what I can to deal with some of the problems. I only ask the House to accept an assurance from me that, if I am unable to touch on everything, my hon. Friend and I have certainly listened with great care and will study the remarks made.
It is my pleasant duty, first of all, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. St. Clair) who made his maiden speech today. In fact I am in error, I should say my hon. and gallant Friend. He comes from a distinguished military family. He himself served in the Royal Scots Greys during the war, and, indeed, after the war, and is now serving in the Territorial Army. Therefore, all would wish to treat his views with considerable respect.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend mentioned the many improvements taking place in the Territorial Army, including replacement of the old drills halls. Regarding his point about more money being spent on the Territorial Army, I can assure him that I have every sympathy with what he says. I know that the Territorial Army has to work on a very tight budget, but do not we all? Nevertheless, we are spending substantial sums on its re-equipment and half of it is going to be spent on radio equipment. I wish I could tell him when the units 1662 concerned will begin to get the new wireless sets, but we have not yet finished issuing them to the Regular Army, and we do not know what requests we may get from the Indian Government for wireless sets and other equipment which might otherwise have gone to the Territorial Army.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend says about the Territorial Army training alongside the Regular Army. Two months ago a considerable number of Territorial units went across to Germany to take part in exercises and stayed on there to do their annual camp afterwards. It was a considerable success, and it is my intention to continue the training of the Territorial Army alongside the Regular Army when that is convenient and worth while. I am happy to tell the House that early next year we hope to have a scheme whereby the "Ever-Readies" go abroad somewhere and integrate themselves with the Regular Forces with which they might be attached in an emergency.
We are grateful to my hon. Friend for his really interesting contribution and are all looking forward to hearing a number of further speeches from him on topics of this sort on which he is already an acknowledged expert.
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) took, as one of the themes of their speeches, the question of our conventional power. Indeed, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton spoke of the deployment and strategy of the British Army on the Rhine. I am sure that the House would not expect me, in a debate of this sort, to provide any detailed information about the military disposition of our forces in Germany or of our strategic plan. We are always up against this difficulty. But I will try to say a word generally about the points raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
In B.A.O.R. at present we have 54,000 people. That is the present strength. They are organised into seven brigade groups and in addition there is the British brigade in Berlin. Those brigade groups are mobile and trained for both conventional and nuclear fighting. In an emergency they could be reinforced by a further two brigade 1663 groups from the Strategic Reserve in the United Kingdom. They can be brought up from peace-time to war-time strength within a matter of days. The war strength of B.A.O.R. thus meets what SACEUR requires of us.
These are not paper reinforcement plans. I know that the right hon. Gentleman questioned the reinforcements and was a little doubtful whether this could be done. But I think that it can. In September we tried out these plans with a considerable number of troops from this country, and our movement plan proved very successful indeed.
In the event of a large-scale attack across the N.A.T.O. frontier the initial response would be with conventional weapons. If they failed to stop the enemy then nuclear weapons would be used. I can assure the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that he is wrong in thinking that tactical nuclear weapons cannot be used in the conditions which we envisage in Europe. I think that perhaps some hon. Members and people outside this House, including defence correspondents, are apt to regard tactical nuclear weapons as being large. But tactical nuclear weapons can range between something which is almost a deterrent, right down to weapons the nuclear effect of which is very confined indeed. So I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that they can be used.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
Would my right hon. Friend say what kind of tactical weapons could be used?
§ Mr. Profumo
I am sorry, but I cannot describe the nature of the weapons because that would be a departure from security arrangements. I hope that my hon. Friend will appreciate that I can answer these questions only on a broad scale without referring exactly to the weapons. But if she was referring to the question of the tactical nuclear weapon which we have abandoned——
§ Miss Harvie Anderson indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Profumo
No? This was not to come into service until 1966. But what we can do today, with the contribution we still have with nuclear weapons, despite——
§ Mr. Paget rose——1664
§ Mr. Profumo
I cannot say exactly what the mind would have in mind or the timing in regard to the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I was trying to correct an impression which I thought had been left in the minds of hon. Members by what was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman and with which I profoundly disagree, and I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would find that the Supreme Commander would disagree with him as well.
B.A.O.R. is prepared for either conventional or nuclear war and is trained and equipped for both contingencies. This answers exactly the tactical requirements of the Supreme Commander and in so doing we play a significant part in the N.A.T.O. shield.
The greater part of the debate today was taken up by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) who returned to the charge regarding the Kuwait operation. This to some extent was supported by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot) and the right hon. Member for Easington. If I put all three hon. Members together I hope that they will forgive me. It is because I wish to deal with the question as a problem rather than to discuss their individual contributions. But I did not want them to think that by putting them together I felt that there was any difference in the weight of their opinions.
I dislike crossing swords with the hon. Member for Dudley because I recognise his sincerity, but today it is my duty to do so. During the Recess two newspaper articles appeared, on the authority of the hon. Gentleman, in which the gravest charges were made against the ability of our troops in Kuwait. The hon. Member remembers them very well. They were pretty big headlines:Desert War Blunder", "British Troops in Kuwait Went Down in the Heat". "Blunder in the Desert".
§ Mr. Profumo
I accept that and am glad that the hon. Member has said it. While we respect the sincerity of the hon. Member, it is not everyone who knows him as we do. He might well have been caught, as many of us have been on more than one occasion, by misquoting, but when we get articles of this sort:Mr. Wigg, a leading Commons authority on Army affairs, believes that the operation would have been a military disaster…
§ Mr. Wigg rose——
§ Mr. Wigg
I do not want to impede the right hon. Gentleman in his argument, but let us get this right. If he wants to quote me, why not go back to the debate of 1st August, 1961, when I spelt this matter out? I accept responsibility for what I say in this House, but not for what is said in the Sunday Express or Reynolds News, which has nothing to do with me at all.
§ Mr. Profumo
There is a very great point. People read the newspapers, and when it is said in quotes in print, "Not trained for desert heat" and the hon. Member is mentioned on several occasions, it is worth while quoting these things so that the hon. Member can get it straight with the public that it did not emanate from him.
§ Mr. Wigg
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he is hitting below the belt. We are getting on thin ice. I went to the Under-Secretary and told him at the time that I was not responsible for these articles. If the 1666 right hon. Gentleman goads me, I shall go so far as to reveal the source. He can contradict me if he wishes, but I accept no responsibility for these articles, and he knows it.
§ Mr. Profumo
The hon. Member must not misunderstand me, because I have not yet started my speech on this matter. I am perfectly entitled, not to suggest that the hon. Member originated these articles, because the one I have here says:Mr. Wigg … will discuss his finding with Mr. James Ramsden.…
§ Mr. Profumo
Of course he says that it did not emanate from him, but I am bound to put this on record. From letters I have since received I know that allegations which have appeared in the newspapers—I am clearing him now—looked as if they were from him and were deeply resented by all ranks of the Forces. Therefore, I am glad to have the opportunity of clearing him and putting this matter in its proper perspective. He must acquit me of trying to hit below the belt when I am trying to stand up for the Service and pointing out what happens if stories of this sort go out and are not put into proper perspective.
He is perfectly sincere in his wish to criticise constructively to see improvements are made as a result of any mistakes which may have occurred during the operation, but on this occasion he has given an exaggerated account of the effect of heat on the ability of our forces in Kuwait to fight. Here a misunderstanding arose over the interpretation of figures given from time to time about the incidence of heat illness during the operation. The first was quoted from a statement published by my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Defence on 11th July, 1961, when he said that the number of cases of heat exhaustion had been surprisingly small. He said there had been an average of only 12 cases a day evacuated to hospital, well under 1 per cent. of the total force.
That figure was perfectly correct and referred to the numbers evacuated to hospital in the first stage of the operation. He also referred to the total forces employed, not only in the Army but in the Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Marine Commandos. Naturally 1667 subsequently we most carefully looked at the figures affecting the health of the troops in that operation When we were considering what lessons in general could be drawn from our experience. Some of the figures which we considered were on a different basis from the evacuation figures quoted by my right hon. Friend.
We were naturally concerned to take into account all instances of the effect of heat, however slight, including, for example, heat illness resulting in a man being off-duty for maybe only two or three hours and responding rapidly to treatment without ever having to leave his unit position. This approach showed that cases varied from one squadron of llth Hussars, who perhaps had the most arduous rôle, with no heat cases whatever, to the other extreme of a Sapper unit with 8.7 per cent. and a gunner battery with 9.5 per cent. Both these units were very small indeed, and the actual numbers corresponding to the percentages totalled only 12.
I have been able to find no basis whatever for the hon. Gentleman's reference to a heat casualty rate of 10 per cent. and no evidence that what my right hon. Friend told the House—namely, that the effect of heat did not impair the operational capability of our forces, which is confirmed by reports of the commanders responsible for the operation—was in any way incorrect. It was because we were anxious to get first-hand information about all these factors that I asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to go to Kuwait on D plus 11. He visited every unit, and he spent a night in the desert with one of the forward units.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is doing this unwittingly or deliberately, but is he not evading something? Suppose hostilities had occurred. What would have been the position then? Is not this the case against the Government?
§ Mr. Profumo
With respect, I do not think that it is. May I develop the whole case? I am not arguing without realising that hostilities did not occur, but if hostilities had occurred there was an allowance for heat exhaustion which was made in the plan. One has to re- 1668 member that in any operation taking place in the tropics there is bound to be a higher percentage of heat exhaustion than in other operations. Incidentally, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not forget that there would have been very serious heat exhaustion on the other side. The commander in chief allowed in the plan for a percentage of heat exhaustion which was considerably higher than the heat exhaustion which actually took place.
§ Mr. Profumo
I think that the hon. Gentleman had better have the courtesy to listen to the whole of my story. He spoke for 1¼ hours. I do not blame him for that. I listened to what he said. But I am trying to give the facts of the case as well as I possibly can, and all I am seeking to show is that the hon. Gentleman, in his exuberation and his desire to see things go right, has exaggerated his case in a way which means that I must put it in the proper perspective.
As I said, my hon. Friend went out there, and all the evidence which he got bore out what I have said. But if any more evidence is required, I will quote a letter from the Commander of the 11th Hussars. I know that they were on the spot. This is one of a series of letters which we received. He said,Sir,I have the honour to request as Commanding Officer of a Unit which took part in the Kuwait operation in its entirety I may most strongly refute the charges reported to have been made by Mr. George Wigg. I have to report that not one 11th Hussar was hospitalised through the effects of heat throughout the entire operation. I have further to report that at all times my regiment was fit to undertake any task, opposed or not, that was or might have been demanded of them.Finally, I have to report that the morale, fitness and spirit of my regiment was at the very highest peak throughout the operation, and after three months of the hardest living of any unit in Kuwait. Many men were sorry to leave for the easier life of Aden, Sharja 1669 and the Western Aden Protectorate. I submit, with sincerity, that Mr. Wigg's charges are exaggerated in the extreme.The hon. Gentleman may say that this is only the 11th Hussars, but I have many letters.
§ Mr. Profumo
We all get letters, but I do not want to weary the House with too many letters. I have, however, a letter from the officer who commanded a contingent sent from this country. The hon. Member said earlier that perhaps we did not train people properly and that they suffered as a consequence. This commanding officer said:The average number of men from the regiment held in the Emiri hospital at any one time from all causes was approximately six. Of these a maximum of three—and usually less—were direct heat cases. That is to say, well under 2 per cent. of unit strength from all causes, and less than 1 per cent. from the effects of heat. The full operational efficiency of the regiment was never at any time affected by the number of heat casualities it suffered.He goes on to say how very well they were trained for this operation before they ever left the United Kingdom.
Of course there are lessons to be learned from our experience in an operation of this sort. I do not deny this. It is an extremely hot climate. The purpose of our studies since has been to learn the lessons and profit by them. As a result of our experience in Kuwait, even more emphasis is now being placed on the special training and discipline of soldiers who operate in the heat. Action is also being taken to provide a special compo pack which will contain rations suitable for hot climates. There were complaints about the compo ration—my hon. Friend had one complaint from the Irish Fusiliers that there were not enough spuds in it. We cannot satisfy everybody, but we try to learn. I am convinced that the rations we gave them were rations which kept them fighting fit.
The hon. Member for Dudley said that at the time of Kuwait we failed to take proper advantage of advice from civilian consultants. Perhaps I may explain how this consultation arrangement works. First, there is a body called the Army Medical Advisory Committee on which sit eminent consultants on most aspects of preventive medicine. These consultants 1670 are consulted, when necessary, on their various specialities. The question of how nutritional requirements can best be embodied in a ration is largely a matter for trial and experience and this operation has added a great deal of experience. Changes in the ration are taking place. However, our own medical authorities have an enormous amount of experience in this field. They are in constant touch with the lessons which have been learned during fundamental research by the Medical Research Council itself. Indeed, an officer of the R.A.M.C. is employed full-time with the Council. Whatever deficiencies there may have been in the sphere of health in the operation, none of them was due to a lack of medical consultation.
I am sure that the problem is better handled like this than by any sort of ad hoc consultation in particular circumstances which the hon. Gentleman seemed to be advocating. I do not think that there is any necessity for that.
I want to say something about jerrycans. Certainly some jerrycans which were being stored out there had deteriorated. There was rust in some of them. This was very quickly put right. I am absolutely convinced from all the reports I received that nobody suffered as a result from having drunk, unpalatable though it might have been, water from the jerrycans.
The hon. Member for Dudley also raised the whole question of our plan from the water point of view. There was no question at all of us having been caught on the hop through not having planned a lift of supplies of water by air or by sea. If we had had to do that, we could have done it. The first and essential stage of the operation involved the safeguarding of the water supply distillery. This is one of the main things, rather like taking a port or an airfield. Having done this, we were certain that we did not need to bring water in in this other way, but it could have been done. I do not want the hon. Gentleman or anybody else to think that there was a mistake in the planning stages.
With regard to the responsibility for water in the High Command, the hon. Gentleman painted the most marvellous picture about all the different spheres of responsibility. It works like any staff problem. Of course there are various 1671 aspects of responsibility lying with different people, but this was perfectly all right and I am convinced that the sort of co-ordination which we have now is the right type of co-ordination and that we do not want any what might be called Field Marshal Gungha Dins or anybody to do the whole thing from the top.
The hon. Member for Dudley made many other criticisms. One was that my right hon. Friend spoke about beer, soft drinks, ice, and so on, having been sent out there and how dangerous it all was. The beer was mainly intended for consumption off duty during the rest days in the rear areas. This quickly became a normal feature of soldiers' routine in Kuwait. I do not believe that total deprivation would have been smiled on by the troops. Nor do I think that it was necessary to inflict that hardship on them.
I have again looked up the question of somebody having died. Somebody became very ill from exhaustion, but he had not drunk very much beer and he recovered. If the hon. Gentleman has some further information, I will gladly look at it because I am anxious to get to the bottom of things. I only want to put matters in perspective. I do not think that this was a wrong thing for us to have done. As a result of all my examinations, I am satisfied that the serious allegations that the hon. Member has made are exaggerated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) said in a very lucid speech—about the rest of which, incidentally, my right hon. Friend will write to him—we have these lessons to learn, and we will learn them. One learns from any operation, and from this one we will learn what lessons we can, but the exaggerated way in which the hon. Member for Dudley put it has made it necessary for me to get it into perspective.
Perhaps he will take what I now say in the spirit in which I say it. I am sure that he has read a very wise and witty book by that great sportsman, Jack Leech, with the arresting title, "Sods I Have Cut on the Turf." In that book the author coins a new phrase. He refers to a talking horse, which is, apparently, an animal that is frequently taken on to the course with the certainty of its winning, but which never quite wins. 1672 Afterwards, there is always a great deal of talk about its performance.
The hon. Member for Dudley formed his own views of the Kuwait operation in the very early days, and when it did not turn out in the way he expected he became his own talking horse. It ran for about 1¼ hours this morning, and was very good value for its money. I know that he realises that what I am trying to say is that, from the very beginning, he started with the idea of the Kuwait operation failing. He was sure that it could not work. He then found that some things, of course, went wrong, and at once put them in the wrong perspective.
If the hon. Gentleman, or anyone else, thought that to get a brigade and a half to Kuwait in a few days from places as far apart as Kenya and the United Kingdom, together with all the necessary equipment, rations and stores, would be as simple as getting on the Tube from here to Victoria, he is right to be surprised that everything did not work perfectly.
If, on the other hand, he is like the majority of hon. Members and the majority of the people in the country who have some idea of the complexity of such an operation, he will agree that the surprise is not to be directed at what went wrong but that such an amazingly large proportion of the planning went exactly according to expectations. The proof is in the eating. There was a threat of an Iraqi attack on Kuwait. Our troops were sent there, and arrived in time and strength enough to counter that threat. Since that represented the object of the exercise, I need not claim more.
The hon. Member also talked very wisely, as did the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, about co-ordination. The last part of his speech was very moving indeed, and led to discussion of the higher defence organisation. The central organisation of defence is always under consideration and, from time to time, has to be adjusted in accordance with the strategic thought of the day. Neither my right hon. Friend, nor the other Service Ministers, nor the Minister of Defence, would deny that it is our task to get as close together as possible in planning operations. This must go on, and I can only say that I 1673 have taken note of what the House has felt on this matter this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Dudley talked about wastage. I have not time to go into all the figures now, but I can assure him that the wastage in recruiting, and in the Army as a whole, is going down. I am still not satisfied, but it is going down, and if one day the hon. Gentleman wishes to do one of these exhaustive exercises that he undertakes, I am sure that it will show that, as compared with wastage in industry, the Army shows up very creditably in this respect. We must go on pegging away at it, but the position is not nearly as bad as some people think.
Wastage leads me to consider whether the Army is right or not in such things as man management, and so on, but I do not agree that the surge of desire to become Parliamentary candidates has anything to do with life yin the Armed Forces being bad. Whilst I agree that we must take steps to ensure that our Regulations are not subject to wholesale abuse, I am anxious to avoid taking action of a type wider than is absolutely necessary.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of legislation, but legislation would be a very heavy weapon, and would be complicated and controversial. The only way would be so to legislate that any candidate who failed at an election should be required, in one way or another, to return to the Service. The primary objection is that this brings the Services into politics in precisely the manner the House has sought to avoid.
As I have said, we are considering the whole matter, but to understand the problems properly we have to go to the Regulations regarding officers and other ranks who want to leave the forces. There is no statutory right after the recruiting period for anyone to leave the Service but, by custom, if a soldier puts up a sensible and reasonable case, subject to the exingencies of the Service, he can buy himself out. The amount involved is often up to £250. So far, because they have been very rare, cases of requests to leave in order to fight a Parliamentary election have been treated wholly differently. The exigencies of the Service have not been applied and these soldiers have been 1674 granted a free discharge. However, this has led to widespread abuse on two scores. First, because of the exingencies involved they have found a way round them and, secondly, it has become obvious that if one uses this excuse one can get out scot free. If by administrative means we can prevent these abuses then we shall solve a lot of the problem.
But whatever happens about future legislation we must face the immediate future. Already another by-election is in the offing and I am told that a few Servicemen are sniffing around to see what opportunities there are whereby they can get out of the Services and get around the regulations. There is a strong case for treating requests for release for the purpose of standing for Parliament on all-fours with other types of requests, and if a man wants to fight an election he should buy himself out, just as another man would have to do if he wished to achieve any personal ambition. After all, if the exigencies prohibit one should they not prohibit the other? I thought that the House would like to hear these remarks, since they are thoughts of mine.
We have taken no decision on this yet, but we must find an urgent solution so that we do not bring into disrepute the Service or a respected system of Parliamentary candidature. I would only add that I hope that Servicemen will not feel from now on that there is an Open Sesame to them in this way by which they can get out of the Service, because we must stop it by one way or another.
I turn now to the thoughtful and interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) in which he concentrated on the question of pensions. Just as civil pensioners are covered by the Bill which had its Third Reading the other day, the new Royal Warrant will be the most costly measure, and the widest in scope, we have had so far. If it is suggested that it does not go far enough, then I would remind the House of the words of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary when he said that we must hold the balance between the interests of public service pensioners on the one hand and taxpayers on the other. As my right hon. Friend explained, we are providing for about twice the increase of each of the two previous Measures.
1675 There are many other problems. The right hon. Member for Easington rightly asked what we were doing and what had been done about special development districts. It is our invariable practice to invite tenders in development districts for all our requirements, provided there are firms which can carry these things out in those areas. If one of them is not the lowest tenderer we give an opportunity to the development district firm which is nearest to the lowest price to take on a proportion of the job, normally up to 25 per cent., if that is possible.
That is all I shall have time to deal in detail with what has been said in the debate. I am not sure that it is not a good plan always to try when we have a debate on the Army to debate the Army and Air Force. It has suited us today to do this, but it is plain that from time to time we must have these debates—partially in order to enable hon. Members to raise matters regarding the Armed Forces and partially so that the Ministers responsible are able to put in perspective the problems involved. This enables us to see from time to time how the forces are faring.
I was pleased that several hon. Members took up the question of recruiting. I do not want to claim undue credit for having got the minimum target four months earlier than that set. However, the Army can claim a real pat on the back, because this has been a team job from the top to the bottom of the Army and it could not have been done solely by gimmicks, television and other advertisements. We must try these things, but I would make it clear that what has caused this upsurge in recruiting is not that we have lowered the standard but that people are beginning to realise that the Army offers a really good life of service to Her Majesty and the country. This is what will make the Army of the future a regular, voluntary Army which we shall be proud of, just as we have been proud in the past.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Lords Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.