Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 237,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1968.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. James Boyden)
The total of Army Votes for 1967–68 is £586 million, an increase of about £22 million over the comparable Votes of 1966–67. However, there is a Supplementary Estimate before the House amounting to about £18 million to cover increased production of ammunition, delays in completing sales of redundant properties, pay increases and Selective Employment Tax. When this Supplementary Estimate is taken into account, the increased provision needed for 1967–68 compared with 1966–67 amounts to about £4 million.
This small increase is satisfactory since within the final figures are absorbed the costs of the Services Emergency Housing Programme, more expenditure on vehicles and equipment, compensation for military and civilian redundancies and price increases. Real economies for the nation are being effected in the reduced cost of the reserve forces, increased receipts from the sale of redundant properties, the lower cost of overseas allowances and more recoveries from other Governments. I hope that other economies now being made will show even greater effects later.
During the past year the Army has carried out an immensely wide variety of tasks with courage, fortitude and good humour. We are all aware of the Army's rôle in B.A.O.R., Aden and Borneo, but the lesser rôles show the troops in an equally favourable light. During the year our troops were in Guyana training the new Guyana Defence Force. In June, our small garrison in British Honduras 1058 helped to maintain order in Belize City. In fact, 20 per cent. of the total number of troops with the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Cyprus are British. The Royal Engineers are helping to build roads in North-East Thailand. In Hong Kong, British troops were in April quelling riots and in June helping with flood damage. More recently, the Army came to the assistance of the civil authorities in Laos and North-East Malaya during severe flooding.
At home, in addition to their normal duties, the Army has helped the civil Power in many ways. At Aberfan it helped with both men and equipment. Army helicopters helped with the search for escaped prisoners on Dartmoor. It was a young soldier who finally apprehended an escaped prisoner in Wales.
In the three main theatres the Army has had a variety of difficult tasks. B.A.O.R.'s deterrent rôle is in a sense the most difficult kind of soldiering of all. To remain highly trained, combat-ready with sophisticated equipment and yet, we trust, never to fight, inevitably taxes the skill of even the most highly professional of troops. And let there be no mistake, the British Army is the most highly professional of any in the world. It is a tribute to all in the British Army of the Rhine that they succeed so well in their difficult task.
In Borneo, together with the Malaysian forces, we had the task of containing the campaign of confrontation, a form of aggression by armed infiltration by both Regular and irregular forces across the Indonesian border. The Army carried out its share of the task by patrolling the border areas from forward strong points, creating the basis of security for the civil population of Borneo on which it was possible to gain their support. I need hardly stress the difficulties in operating for three years along 1,000 miles of jungle frontier. By its presence the Army was able to give both protection and medical aid to the villagers and so to achieve the two objects of securing the sources of intelligence on which the success of the campaign against armed infiltrators depended and winning the hearts and minds of the kampong dwellers.
I do not think that I can do better than to quote from a letter from the Governor of Sarawak to the Commander, 1059 British Forces Borneo, about our troops. He said:The friendliness and good comradeship which have existed between them and the people of Sarawak augur well for the future and the help given, particularly to the people in the rural areas, will long be remembered in the villages and long-houses throughout the length and breadth of Sarawak.In this difficult campaign, in which the Gurkhas played a prominent part, our troops maintained their usual high standard of morale. It is easy to forget what confrontation meant to our soldiers. The infantry, in particular, were already fully committed in other parts of the world when it all began. Battalions from this country or from peace-time exercises in B.A.O.R. had to adapt themselves to operations in the jungle with only a very short time for special training and acclimatisation. They were faced with separation from their families: unfamiliar and forbidding surroundings; long and arduous patrols and ambushes; monotonous guards requiring constant alertness; and primitive living conditions.
It is easy to dramatise, but hard to exaggerate, the way in which they accepted the challenge. Their adaptability was highlighted by the manner in which they won and held the confidence of the local inhabitants. In many ways this campaign was a model of the controlled use of force, and the lessons learnt will be lasting ones. At all levels, from corporal to commander, the Army carried out its task with a clear understanding of the object of the operations and with great courage and patience in unfavourable conditions.
In Southern Arabia and Aden our troops have been under continuous pressure throughout the year. Their job of maintaining internal security has been difficult not only because of the increasing expertise of the enemy, but also because of the fear of reprisals on the local population. The terrorists have introduced new methods of attack in recent months. They are now using home-made mortar bombs fired by delayed-action mechanism. It is easy to see how difficult it is to combat such devices.
Another difficulty is that in a situation in which the security forces must rely to a very great extent on the co-operation of the local population, this co-operation is hindered enormously by the fear of ter- 1060 rorist reprisals. The task of our troops is not helped by unfounded allegations of torture and brutal methods. British troops have conducted themselves in Southern Arabia with skill and honour in a situation of extreme provocation, and I am sure that the House would wish to join me in recognising this achievement for what it is. We all tend to take for granted, perhaps, the efficiency and forbearance that British troops display in the course of their duties.
In all their work in Southern Arabia, our troops work in close conjunction with the local security forces. Our efforts to expand and train up these local forces have shown encouraging progress during the last year and the local forces are taking on an increasing share of the internal security rôle.
In asking the House to pay tribute to the excellent way in which British troops have carried out their duties in the last year, I hope that special recognition will be given to those who have served with such courage and patience in Borneo and Aden.
The House will, I know, be glad to see from the White Paper on Defence Estimates that, in spite of all this activity, the overstretch of the Army as measured by the number of men sent abroad on emergency tours has been reduced. In 1966, this number was one-third less than in 1965. This relief is especially welcome to the families of Servicemen because it means that units do not have to spend so much time abroad on unaccompanied service. Even so, the overstretch on the Army last year obliged us to make some temporary withdrawals from B.A.O.R. to enable us to meet our commitments elsewhere. We expect the favourable trend of reducing overstretch will continue in 1967 as a result of the planned redeployment of forces in accordance with Defence Review decisions.
In the future as the House knows, we shall have a higher proportion of Army units stationed in Britain. They will carry out training to meet reinforcement tasks or sudden contingencies for which they may be needed overseas and to sustain the normal rotation of units at home and abroad. In considering what provision should be made for the unforseeable contingencies we shall no doubt continue to find that the infantry battalions 1061 in the modern Regular Army—and here I include the Parachute and the Special Air Service units—give us as outstanding value for money as any other category of expenditure in the Defence budget.
Now as to the implications of having a greater proportion of Army units in Britain. The need for strategic mobility will continue to increase if we are to be capable of reacting quickly and efficiently. We need the means of rapid strategic movement—that is the R.A.F. —and the ability to make use of that capability for rapid movement by being correctly organised, trained and equipped. The House knows from the White Paper that we are putting all teeth units in this country under the operational command of a new strategic command so that their training and deployment can be most effectively directed to rapid movement overseas. We must give units in the strategic command opportunities for training overseas if they are to keep up-to-date in their operational rôles and maintain their efficiency.
But it is no use having units organised and trained for rapid deployment overseas if they cannot take their essential equipment with them. Air portability is, therefore, of first importance in considering our future equipment plans. We are producing the new low-level air defence guided missile system known as Rapier or ET316, the new wheeled combat reconnaissance vehicle—the first of a new family of vehicles—and the new Class 16 airportable bridge. These are all equipments due in service over the next few years which have been deliberately designed to be fully airportable. As the House will realise, we are talking of equipment of some substance and sophistication—an air defence system, armoured vehicles and bridging equipment.
The presence of a larger proportion of the Army in this country also means that we must pay special attention to the relationship between the Army and the civil community. As the House will have seen from the White Paper, we are studying the scope for developing further the peaceful use of military forces. I myself am taking a keen personal interest in this study and would like to make two points quite clear.
There is no question of keeping units specifically for what, for want of a better 1062 term, I might term civil work. The Army's order of battle will be decided on military grounds alone. Nor is there any question of taking work away from civilians. What we have in mind is fostering close collaboration between the military and the civil authorities when there is a community of interest. It is because there are many difficulties in the way of doing more that we are studying the whole question in detail, and I stress that no decisions have yet been taken on what kind of developments might prove to be possible.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
Will not the hon. Gentleman elaborate on that a little more? It is a suggestion which brings doubt to the minds of those who are most anxious that we should continue to recruit for the Army. The idea that soldiers will in future be recruited to help in civilian work instead of what they ordinarily joined the Army to do in the past is not likely to be very popular. Can the hon. Gentleman say a little more about this?
§ Mr. Boyden
They are not recruited to do civilian work, as I thought I made clear in the announcement of principle. There is a two-way traffic between the Army and the civil population. The civil population is interested in the Army. Very often, in times of emergency, there are things which the Army is requested to do to support the civil population. These are the things we want to encourage, with a training side for Army work.
I stress the two-way side of this. For example, when soldiers retire and come to live in the civil community, it is not every authority which is particularly helpful in finding them houses. I would like to think of the Army helping when it can, without interfering with the civil population, and the civil population reacting helpfully towards the Army. I could gladly go on for 10 minutes about this, but I have a rather long speech to make.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
This is an important point. The only intervention in the civil field with which one has been familiar with the Army is strike-breaking. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is a light in which people are inclined to look at this matter. Can my hon. Friend say something about this?
§ Mr. Boyden
I should have thought that strike-breaking was one of the least things that the Army does. Generally speaking, the Army is called in for emergencies, for rescuing people and for a great many tasks which often the civil community either cannot cope with immediately or sometimes does not want to handle.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
The Army is, of course, frequently called to help when a disaster has occurred.
§ Mr. Boyden
Yes. This is a matter with which I would gladly deal on the Adjournment. It is a matter in which I am very much interested, but I ought to press on with my speech.
The Army's equipment programme continues to go well. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the British Army is better equipped than it has ever been—and this is equipment which is now in the hands of troops, not promised this year or the next year. In the future, tactical mobility on the battlefield will be just as vital as strategic mobility for rapid deployment from Britain. In Europe, the Chieftain tank is now coming into the hands of the troops in ever-increasing numbers, and the Abbott self-propelled gun, the FV432 armoured personnel carrier and a new family of bridging equipment are all improving the tactical mobility of our ground forces. In the Far East, the formation later this year of the first Army hovercraft unit will see us moving into a whole new field of battlefield mobility.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many tank regiments are being equipped with the Chieftain and the cost of equipping each regiment?
§ Mr. Boyden
As the hon. Member will appreciate, that is a detailed question of which I should have notice. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to give the answer when he winds up the debate.
Everywhere the second phase of a programme for the expansion and reorganisation of Army aviation is taking effect.
The expansion of Army aviation, particularly the increase in the use of organic Army helicopters, goes a long way towards meeting the requirement of 1064 mobility, reconnaissance, liaison by commanders and small-scale troop and logistic movement when R.A.F. support helicopters are not available. These needs have been highlighted in the operations in Borneo and Southern Arabia, where much has been learned by Army aviation. Further study is being given to other possible uses for the helicopters in all types of warfare. There are now about 250 helicopters in service with the Army.
At the end of this month, the Territorial Army and the Army Emergency Reserve cease to exist and the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve will be born. The House will, I know, wish to join me in words of appreciation to all those who have so selflessly given their services to the Territorial Army and Army Emergency Reserve. Theirs is a proud history and no one who fought in the two world wars alongside Territorials can under-estimate what a debt we all owe to them. But the needs of the future are different from the needs of the past; we no longer need to be able to raise a large Army for continental service and keep a framework in being against that contingency.
The need of today and tomorrow is for a smaller, better equipped volunteer reserve to support the Regular Army and to provide certain support to the civil authorities in time of general war, and this is what the new Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve is designed to provide. Sections I and II of the Reserve— "the Volunteers"—are to support the Regular Army; Section III—"the Territorials"—are to contribute home defence assistance to the civil authorities.
During the last year's camping season members of the Territorials and the Reserves were asked to sign declarations of intent to join the new Reserve Army. The response indicated that recruiting for the volunteers will not fall far short of the establishment and will be reasonably satisfactory for the Territorials. In the spring we propose to follow up this encouraging beginning by a campaign to attract new recruits
I welcome the new Reserve Army and ask members of the old order who have not already signed undertakings to join the new, to do so whenever they can. I am confident that we shall have a new 1065 volunteer Reserve Army that we can be as proud of as we were of the old.
Like other great organisations in both industry and Government, the Army is responding in many different ways to the need to discard old ways of doing things and adopt new ones. Not only is its organisation vast and complex, but its management tasks are made that much more difficult by the operational demands put upon it. Failure to have the right equipment or the right spares delivered to the right place at the right time can mean not a lost order and disappointment, but death and tragedy.
The most modern management techniques are all in use and a management services organisation has been developed to meet the need for specialised advice in such fields as management accountancy, work study, systems analysis, statistical services and other related techniques. Wide ranging though the Army's resources are, full use has also been made of outside resources and experts.
In particular, the Army has had outside advice on costing and advanced budgetary control systems, and these are being introduced into the Army's supply and repair organisations. They will in the future enable us to exercise much more sophisticated control. The scale of the task is well illustrated by the holdings of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps—well over half a million items, worth hundreds of millions of pounds. This is big business by any standard. A directorate of costing and management accounts has been established in our Management Services Division and it will assist the R.A.O.C. and R.E.M.E. in their task of applying the new budgetary costing control systems in ordnance depots and workshops.
We are anxious that, as far as is possible, managers at all levels should be held responsible for the costs of all the resources they directly control and new studies have, therefore, been put in hand by our Management Services Division to see how far we can delegate greater responsibility to our local depot and workshop managers. This kind of exercise—and we must recognise that there are particular problems for it in the public service—cannot, of course, be a once-and-for-all affair, but must be part of a continuing search to find the 1066 best modern methods and the best management structure.
I will give an account of our progress in computer installation and planning because it is largely by the use of computers that the more advanced management techniques are brought into operation. We are developing our use of computers for personnel management purposes. During the past year we have extended the equipment at Worthy Down. Further staff savings can now be made by using the extended machinery to deal with the pay of officers and of soldiers serving overseas. A study is also well advanced which aims to create a single computer service to handle both the pay and records of service of Army personnel. This should lead to more streamlined and efficient administration, as well as staff and financial savings.
Concerning stores, computers already installed and working efficiently at the Central Ordnance Depots at Chilwell and Donnington will shortly be joined by a new computer at the other Central Ordnance Depot at Bicester. Initially, this computer will be used for stock control of clothing and general stores and then will handle data on ammunition stocks at the central ammunition depots. Technical details of ammunition will also be held on the computer and all reports of defects discovered during use or inspection will be analysed, thus helping us to take early remedial action to improve reliability and safety.
Last week, I was at the Central Ordnance Depot at Chilwell and they had just had a visit from a senior representative of the Management Consultants' Association. He reported that the degree of sophistication in the use of techniques at top management level was to be commended. As a layman going round the depot, I was able to confirm that for myself. Another very good thing about a large and efficient establishment like this is the considerable and good cooperation that exists between the local council, the Army and the civilian staff.
R.E.M.E. is about to take delivery of a computer to be used for the analysis of information about the repair of Army equipment. This will enable information to be fed back to the stores computers so that more accurate assessments can 1067 be made of the spares required for repair work. The computer will also—and perhaps this is even more important—be able to analyse the incidence and cause of failure in equipment.
Production control is another sphere offering immense scope for computer application; we are making efforts similar to those in outside industry to use computers to increase efficiency in this way. A computer is coming into operation at the Royal Ordnance factory at Blackburn whereby the constant matching of manpower, machine tools and materials against orders placed at the factory will help to ensure that we obtain the maximum utilisation of resources.
I have so far described only the computers we already possess or have on order, but my account of what the Army is doing in this important field would be incomplete if I did not allow myself a modest attempt at crystal-gazing. Although we well know that we shall be breaking new ground and that no promise of early or easy success can be given, this is worth mentioning, if only as an earnest of how forward looking the Army is in the use of the most modern techniques. The crystal and prophecy I have in mind concerns military operations. In any future land conflict the commander will have to respond to a great multiplicity of rapidly developing situations and decision-making will have to take account of this great complexity and rapid change.
The gathering, sifting and acting upon a great quantity of information so essential to the modern Army Commander is fast outstripping the capability of staffs limited by manual methods. The Army is, therefore, studying the possible application of computers in the forward battle situation and although we have a long way to go before any firm conclusions are likely to be reached, the task is undoubtedly one of great importance and absorbing interest. It is interesting to note that the initiative for this kind of study comes from the operational soldiers as much as from the scientists. Gone are the days when the military officers neither knew nor cared about technical and scientific problems.
1068 Whatever efficient equipment or techniques the Army as a modern management organisation may use, it is the men who come first. Since assuming Ministerial responsibility of the Army's affairs, I have been most impressed with the care and sympathy given to all matters affecting the individual, whether he be officer, soldier, civilian employee or member of a family. Of course, there are mistakes. Of course, bad decisions are sometimes taken; I have yet to meet a large organisation where this is not so. And it is the bad decisions and mistakes which hit the headlines. The overwhelming majority of cases in which the individual's problems are dealt with swiftly, compassionately and justly are rarely reported because the normal is not news.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
While agreeing with a great deal of what he has just been saying, may I ask whether my hon. Friend would not agree that there is a continuing problem arising from what I can only describe as the awful situation which arises when bodies are brought home? I am referring to men who have been killed, perhaps accidentally, while on active service. Would my hon. Friend comment on this aspect?
§ Mr. Boyden
An announcement will be made on this subject during the Air Force debate next week.
It is a far cry from the days when the Army was looked upon by some as the haven of the uneducated and the misfit. Today, more than ever before, the Army realises the importance of offering good careers if it is to attract the high grade men needed to fill the senior N.C.O. and technical posts. A comprehensive review of soldiers' careers is at present in hand and the results are expected shortly.
In technical training we, like industry, are faced with the problem of preparing an increasing number of skilled tradesmen to meet the demands of developing technology. Our policy is constantly to seek improvements in our job analysis, course planning and methods of instruction by every modern expedient. Moreover, in training Army tradesmen, we try where it is practicable to arrange the courses to give the soldier a qualification which could later be of help to him in industry. For example, the electronic artificers' courses at the 1069 School of Electronic Engineering now lead to the award of the Higher National Certificate. This kind of arrangement not only ultimately benefits the community, but the Army as well as the soldier when he returns to civil life. The trade unions are most co-operative and recognise all of the skilled Army trades which have direct civilian equivalents, and these number well over100.
Perhaps I could refer also to the importance we attach to the junior soldiers' units in recruitment and training for the Army. We shall be setting up at Shorncliffe later this year a new unit to be known as the junior infantrymen's battalion. In future, nearly all junior soldiers for the infantry who up till now have gone to their regimental depots will be trained centrally at Shorncliffe. We hope that the attraction of this new junior battalion will help in maintaining the recruitment of junior soldiers.
One aspect of training which is very popular is adventure training which is designed to develop qualities of initiative, self-reliance, endurance and discipline, and to enliven peacetime military training by providing challenges and hazards against which small groups of men can test their mettle under skilled guidance. In view of certain Press controversy, I should point out that this is taking place all the time and hardly anybody notices it.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
Regarding the junior battalions which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, will the recruits be able to decide which unit they go to afterwards? Would it be to a unit of their own choice?
§ Mr. Boyden
I do not think that it will be entirely like that. I would prefer to write to the right hon. Gentleman about it. Adventure training includes long-range patrolling, Arctic survival, escape and evasion exercises. Whenever possible it is linked with sailing, canoeing, skiing, mountaineering, and rock climbing. All units at home and overseas take part, always in small detachments, so that the group spirit can be encouraged.
In last week's Defence debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence (Administration) spoke about the new arrangements we are to introduce for officer training and education. These arrange- 1070 ments will help to make certain that we shall have in the future a continued supply of well educated and well trained officers fit to lead the soldiers for whom they will be responsible. The policy of employment to the age of 55 for officers was adopted several years ago and new rules for promotion are being brought in which will offer greater opportunities for early promotion to officers of outstanding merit.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the education of officers, he will be aware that there are Members on both sides of the House who are worried by the Government's decision to locate the new Royal Defence College at Shrivenham instead of at Greenwich. The reason given last week was the difficulty in expanding the site at Greenwich. If hon. Members submit to the hon. Gentleman some constructive suggestions to cover this point, will the Government keep an open mind on the location of the Royal Defence College?
§ Mr. Boyden
I am a very reasonable man and will always consider any constructive suggestions.
To supplement the Regular officer cadre the Army relies upon short service commission officers. It is most important that we attract sufficient officers of the right quality into this category and we are making strenuous efforts to do so.
One of the problems regarding the less outstanding officers is their return to civil employment. I could perhaps mention a small scheme whereby an officer under training to become a Regular officer could transfer to the Civil Service. At the same time as an officer goes before the Regular Commission Board, he can go before the Civil Service Commissioners and, if accepted for the executive class of the Civil Service, will receive a certificate entitling him, when he leaves the Army, to enter the Civil Service in the executive grade. There are no strings attached. If he feels that he does not want to enter the Civil Service, he need not do so.
Whether for Regular or short service commissions, ability is the sole criterion for selection and we have, as I am sure the House is aware, been trying to increase the number of officers recruited from the non-traditional areas. We are, I am pleased to say, having some success. 1071 The percentage of boys entering Sandhurst from non-Headmasters' Conference schools has risen from 40 per cent. to 48 per cent. in the past five years. I would like to see this percentage rise still further, but this can only be so if more boys come forward from schools where the Army is not traditionally regarded as a suitable career.
Efforts have increased to recruit as many officers as possible from the ranks, and soldiers with leadership qualities are actively encouraged to try for a commission. The Adjutant General has drawn attention throughout the Army to the opportunities that exist for soldiers to reach commissioned rank and suitable candidates are encouraged to come forward. Not only is this policy helping to produce good officers, but it also encourages men to join as soldiers by showing them that the way to the top in the Army is genuinely open to all. Anybody who wishes to rise to the top can do so. In addition to the 100 or so men who go to Sandhurst each year from service in the ranks to take a regular commission, 70 soldiers were last year granted special short service and limited service Regular commissions. These are quite apart from the 120 or so quartermaster commissions granted each year.
This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Women's Services. In 1917, women serving with the Army formed an Auxiliary Corps known later as Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps. Today they have full military status and form an integral part of the Army. They are employed by all arms and services and in 27 trades. They serve both at home and overseas and release male soldiers for more active tasks. Recruiting is good and the House will, I know, join me in congratulating them on being 50 years old and wish them well for the future. It is not often that we congratulate the ladies for being 50 years old.
In conclusion, I would say that, like all living things, the Army must change and adapt itself to new situations. I am confident that the British Army will meet whatever new challenges are offered it with courage and ability. Let us not forget that about 1,600 British soldiers have given their lives since the end of the war. I regard one of my tasks as ensuring that the Army of the future will 1072 be such as to inspire the same loyalty and devotion to duty as led these men to be prepared to die in its service. Another task is to ensure that the wishes of the House are known to the Army in terms which the Army can understand and carry out.
I hope that I shall have the full support of the House of Commons in fulfilling these duties and that Vote A will have universal approval.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I should like to thank and congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for the sincere way in which he introduced the vote. It is an important debate and the first time we have had one for two years because of the election. I should like to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tributes which he so rightly paid to the Army for the work it has done over the past year.
I personally felt special satisfaction in what the hon. Gentleman said about the Territorial Army. We are very glad to hear that volunteers are coming forward. The next two years will be a crucial time and the volunteers will stay if they feel that they are wanted and if they have the proper kit and training which they demand. I associate myself also with the tribute paid to the W.R.A.C.
We have had the defence debate, when we discussed the strategic purposes of the Forces. I propose to concentrate upon the nuts and bolts side as it affects the Army.
Before turning to detailed questions, there are one or two subjects of broader scope upon which I should like to touch. The first is the problem of over-stretch.
Last year the Government complained, not without justice, that our forces were over-stretched for the tasks which they had before them. With the end of confrontation in the Far East, we might have hoped that this problem would be alleviated. I was glad to hear what the Under-Secretary of State said about that, but little has been done to solve the problem of overstretch so far. Basically all our commitments have been kept, but it is the troops who have been thinned out, and that will make it more, not less, difficult for those remaining to 1073 fulfil their tasks. That is general criticism which I think it is fair to make.
Secondly, I refer to B.A.O.R. The Secretary of State has made it very clear in the Defence Statement that he regards N.A.T.O. as being in a position radically to reduce the number of troops in West Germany. In this view, it is widely held that he is not followed by his defence colleagues in N.A.T.O., or perhaps he would prefer me to put it that he is at least the pathfinder towards a strategy which envisages a thinning out of our admittedly already thin forces on the Western frontier. As I understand it, he does so because he thinks that a war in Europe would escalate so quickly to nuclear war that large masses of troops are a needless expense.
I shall leave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), if he gets an opportunity later, the argument how far one can pronounce with absolute precision on the certainty of nations choosing within 48 hours genocide rather than anticipated defeat. In all wars uncertainty has made fools of prophets, and the only sure thing is that war will be different from what was anticipated.
Secondly, I would remind the Secretary of State that in any war in Europe the initiative will lie with the enemy, for I suppose that we do not intend to start a war. Before the Battle of Waterloo, Lord Uxbridge, who commanded the cavalry, asked the Duke of Wellington what his plans would be. The Duke answered, "Who will start the battle?". "Bonaparte," replied Uxbridge. "Then how the devil do I know what I shall do?" replied the Duke. I suggest that in strategic terms matters have not changed too much since those simpler days.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I only hope that the Secretary of State is wiser than the Duke of Wellington.
It may be that the enemy will not provoke a contest in the way that we expect. It may be that we should shrink from inflicting on ourselves and the world the instant annihilation which orthodox military planning seems now to envisage. In such case, in what sort of posture are we today to remake our 1074 strategy? How far does this White Paper leave open to us that flexibility in response which ought to be basic to our planning?
Perhaps, first, I should say that it is at least doubtful whether our troops, even at their present strength, are in a position to make effective the resistance required by present planning, namely, a few days only. These doubts are shared by the Commander-in-Chief, B.A.O.R. Speaking on television on 9th February, he said that he estimated his present means permitted a 48-hour resistance, and the Secretary of State, in answer to a Question of mine last week, said that he did not differ very greatly from that reply. So even now we are on a knife edge. We may or may not be able to carry out our aim, but yet it is proposed to reduce our troops further.
§ Mr. Healey
Will the hon. Gentleman help the House and his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), too? The forces which we now have in Germany are the level planned by the previous Government and maintained by them over about 10 years. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that we should have a lot more forces, will he say so, because I think the country as well as the House will know what conclusions to draw from that?
§ Mr. Kershaw
The right hon. Gentleman was not listening with his usual attention. I said that we were poised on a knife edge. I do not think that anybody says we are rich with troops out there. I do not think that anybody considers we have far too many. I am certain that we have the minimum required to carry out our task, and the Commander-in-Chief, B.A.O.R. thinks so, too. So does the Secretary of State, and so do I. I do not think that we have any quarrel on that, nor, finally, do I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West needs any help from me.
§ Mr. Healey
The Commander-in-Chief said that he had not enough troops to carry out the mission that he had been given, and this is the point which I have been making to the Alliance for the last 2½ years. This means that we must either change the mission or increase the number of troops, and it is about time that 1075 the Opposition said which of these alternatives they prefer.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Now we are getting it a little clearer. We are agreed that with the troops that are there the mission is only just fulfillable, and this is what I have ben saying. It might not be fulfillable, or it might be. This is the position, and I imagine it has been for some time.
The proposal now is that we should take some of these troops away. Whatever the position now, we are to reduce the number of our forces. This means that we will not be able to react against aggression even for the 48 hours about which the Commander-in-Chief spoke. It means, as I understand it, and as I think the logic of the matter shows, a return to the doctrine of massive retaliation. In the Dulles era that was almost credible, because, as the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) once rather unkindly put it, it was just possible to imagine that Mr. Dulles was crazy enough to mean it. But nobody imagines that our amiable Secretary of State really means to pull the plug and blow up the world merely because the pins on his maps in Whitehall are getting a little displaced.
The Commander-in-Chief, B.A.O.R. does not mean it either. On the same programme on 9th February he was asked whether he was confident that he would be given permission to use atomic weapons within the period he considered to be essential, and he said, "No, far from it. It is very difficult to suppose that there would be sufficient agreement between Governments", and I do not think that any reasonable man could differ from that. I do not think that the Secretary of State would. I do not think that the Secretary of State's proposed strategy is the accepted strategy in N.A.T.O. today.
The Commander-in-Chief also said on that occasion that the old trip-wire approach was now out of date. The aim now was to contain the enemy, yet it seems to me that we are going back to the trip-wire approach at full speed, and if it is out of date the Secretary of State is out of date, too.
Let us assume that the concept of a conventional 48-hour war is reasonable. 1076 Let us assume also that about half our troops come home from the B.A.O.R., as we are told is a possibility. We are told that they will be available to N.A.T.O.—although there is a little doubt about that after last week's debate—and that they will if necessary be moved back to Germany. But does anyone imagine that they could be transported, equipped and deployed back to Germany in time to take part in a battle which will last only 48 hours? Of course not.
No doubt the Secretary of State will say, as I think he has, that there will be plenty of warning. Is he sure that he is right about that? Are not we assuming a most co-operative enemy? Are not we assuming an enemy who, after giving us plenty of warning, enough for us to get all our regular forces and reserve reinforcements from the T. and A.V.R. back to Germany, will thereupon launch a conventional attack which he will continue for 48 hours, and no longer, and then proceed quietly back to his quarters? What an amazing war that would be. What a wonderful victory for an armchair strategist. And what absolute nonsense. It seems that that is what the Secretary of State is banking on, and if anything else happens he is done for, and so are we.
Let us assume, nevertheless, that we get political warning. The right hon. Gentleman may be right about that. Will we not then be up against another difficulty? Will not the gradual reinforcement of the B.A.O.R. as the political situation worsens add greatly to tension, and might we not trigger off the very crisis against which we are seeking to guard ourselves?
One of the arts of war is to find out what one does not know by what one does. What we know is that Russia has 22 divisions at a few hours' notice a few kilometres from the frontier, that these divisions are magnificently equipped for mobile, conventional warfare without necessary recourse to nuclear weapons, that there are 60 further divisions not far away in terms of time and space, and that whilst no doubt eschewing recourse to massive attack she has renounced none of her ambitions, and lies in wait for weakness and disintegration.
If the Secretary of State believes implicitly in Russia's good intentions, he 1077 should renounce all military defence. What he has done is to maintain at vast expense a defence whose only capability will be to unleash utter and complete destruction or to capitulate after 48 hours. I do not believe that the Secretary of State really thinks that this is a sound policy. I think he knows that he is talking military nonsense. When in opposition he was very clear about the need for conventional forces and the danger of reliance on the nuclear.
The voice is that of the Secretary of State, but the will, as usual, is that of the Treasury. All the way through, even from the first paragraph, the Statement on Defence emphasises that it is about finance and not about defence, and the Government's Motion last Tuesday carried on the theme.
Our fear is that B.A.O.R. is barely adequate to carry out the rôle it has at present, and that the threatened reductions will make it clearly impossible for it to do so; that these decisions have been made not on military but on financial grounds; that our allies do not agree with our concept of defence and that this divergence of view is dangerous to N.A.T.O. and damaging to the morale and the capacity of the British Army, and, finally, that this euphoria about there being hardly any need for military defence in Europe any longer is not shared by the Russians.
I furthermore doubt whether savings will be achieved, even across the exchanges, by the policy of withdrawing troops which is so damaging to our European policy and to our Army. If our troops are to remain available to N.A.T.O., as we hope, it will be necessary for them to train in the United Kingdom. How are they to train in this country for their rôle in Germany'? Even infantry battalions in these days have heavy tracked vehicles. I suppose that those vehicles will have to be left in Germany, which will mean double kit. What will be the cost of that? My hon. Friend has already asked what will be the cost of a Chieftain tank; and the cost of an A.P.C. How much does it cost to equip a brigade group twice over?
Then there is the problem of battle practice and battle training. The troops must be trained to deploy at short notice into their previously reconnoitred positions and according to strategy agreed 1078 by their allies. How many times a year will they practise that? How much will it cost them to do so, and how long will it take? How large will be the parties guarding and maintaining the vehicles and equipment left behind in Germany, waiting to be picked up? It will be very expensive. One asks whether there will be much saving unless we disband the troops and thus let down our allies and decimate our Army.
I have referred to the apprehensions caused by the ways in which Ministers have been talking on the question wheher the troops coming home from Germany will remain in support of N.A.T.O. In the debate on 27th February the Minister of Defence (Administration) seemed to call in question the idea that these troops would remain in support of N.A.T.O.—
§ The Minister of Defence (Administration) (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am glad to see the Minister shaking his head. In the debate on 27th February he said:If it is necessary—of course, decisions have not yet been taken—to bring troops back from Germany, and if as my right hon. Friend said, such troops remain assigned to N.A.T.O., they will have to be trained.and so on.
Further on, when he said:However, if the troops come back but remain assigned to N.A.T.O.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 216.]he seemed to raise the question whether they would remain assigned. Speaking the next day, evidently to correct a possibly false impression, the Foreign Secretary said:The consequence of any ill-considered withdrawal of our forces from the mainland of Europe would be disastrous. We cannot leave Central European countries to face by themselves the problems they have had to face before. So long as we and the United States are there in sufficient strength, some of the things which we all of us think dangerous—even disastrous—will not happen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 288.]One of the things that we hope to get from this debate is a clear statement of the Government's position, because there is a divergence of view.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would explain this 1079 point a little further. I cannot see any divergence. I said that it depended on if decisions were taken, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said the same thing.
§ Mr. Kershaw
It is not as simple as that. When the hon. Gentleman goes on saying "if" twice in the same speech in an important debate he raises the possibility that the troops might not be kept assigned.
§ Mr. Reynolds
The first "if" was in the phrase "if we withdrew" and the other "if" was in the phrase "if they remain assigned". I was stating two possibilities.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Not quite. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has it the wrong way round. He said,If it is necessary … to bring troops back from Germany, and if as my right hon. Friend said, such troops remain assigned to N.A.T.O.That is as clear as a pikestaff. I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman did not mean "if" but meant that they would be assigned to N.A.T.O.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Where will these troops train in this country? The Minister of State used to be complacent about training land. He used any excuse that came into his head. On one occasion he said that he had enough land and on another that the T.A. had made lots of room, and then that the Army had long had cross-country vehicles and therefore did not need to take a new look at the matter. He is referring to three-tonners, and if he thinks that they are cross-country vehicles he is the only man alive who does.
Back in 1964 he was singing a different song. Then he said that training land, especially for tracked vehicles, was desperately short and the problem would have to be tackled. He said that it was due to the political cowardice of the Tories that nothing had been done. Nothing has been done since. Far from acquiring more land his Department has sold land. It has sold 1,400 acres and is prepared to sell 42,000 more. Up till 10th February it had no plan for acquiring fresh areas, although the papers say otherwise. I taxed the Minister on his 1080 idleness in this matter, and he said that the reduction in the Reserve Army had so relieved the training land problem that no more was needed. Surely he was just jesting.
Can he mean that the T.A.s tracked vehicles took up all that land, and that the perhaps 50,000—certainly 25,000—Regular troops coming back would be able to fit their training on to the area vacated by the T.A.?
§ Mr. Reynoldsindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The Minister shakes his head, but that is what he said.
What has been the reduction in tracked vehicles of the T.A.? It has been exactly 69—one armoured regiment's worth. So all the Regular troops coming home to Britain—including the infantry—will be able to train with their tracked vehicles in areas left by one T.A. regiment. I ask the Minister to come off it and stop trying to pretend that everything is all right, for party political purposes.
§ Mr. Reynolds
The hon. Member must be aware that I was referring to the fact that under the Defence Review the units coming back will be able to use the land vacated by the T.A. He knows that they are not equipped with tracked vehicles. They are all in Germany.
§ Mr. Kershaw
This idea about troops coming back from Germany seems to have hit the Ministry of Defence a slap in the eye. It never said anything about it before 10th February. Did not it read the newspapers. Does it not know that the infantry is equipped with A.P.C.s, and has as many tracked vehicles as armoured units have? Did not it direct its mind to what would be available for these units when they were brought back for training? And time is now short. It is no good acquiring areas in general. All sorts of things have to be done to them. We read in the newspapers this morning that the Army is thinking of taking land near Hexham. That may be true. I warn the Minister—if he needs a warning—that land in the north country is often boggy and is no good for tracked vehicles, as I have cause to remember.
This is not a political matter. Of course, it is very difficult to find good training land in this small country. I am sure that the House will back up the Minister in any sensible proposals, but 1081 that equally it will rightly condemn him if he does not now set his hand to the job.
We know that 25,000 troops—less 6,C00 who will be in married quarters—will return to this country this year. Many of them will be leaving good barracks and accommodation. We know that almost as many, or perhaps even more, will be suddenly added if negotiations about German support costs go awry. Where will these troops go? To go into barracks there are 25,000 troops, less 6,000 who will presumably be in married quarters. That is about 19,000. There probably will be another 25,000 from B.A.O.R., of whom it can reasonably be assumed 6,000 will be married. That means about another 19,000 or 20,000. So there will therefore be about 40,000 troops requiring accommodation.
We know from a Written Answer that the rate of completion of barrack places has over the past three years been 10,000 a year. Therefore, to provide 40,000 places is four years' work. As we also know that the cost is £2,000 per head, this means that the task is about £80 million in value, mitigated, I presume, by the 14 barracks kept on a care and maintenance basis, although in what sort of condition they are, I do not know.
On 21st November last we were 29,000 married quarters short for the troops then in the United Kingdom. To this figure must be added at least one, probably two lots, of 6,000, which means that we shall be between 30,000 and 40,000 married quarters short. Over the past three years the rate of completion of married quarters has been 3,600 a year. We are now told that in the next three years we shall have 20,000 married quarters of one sort or another, including expedients. This figure of 20,000 is encouraging, until one realises that in the Statement we were promised 18,300; and only in the defence debate did the figure become 20,000. May I, without irony, say that 18,300 paper houses and 1,700 imaginary houses have so far been built? Will the Secretary of State realise that even his new figure will not catch up over the three years with an admitted deficiency of 29,000 which already existed on 21st November last?
In due course, no doubt, all the married quarters will be built—as I have said, about 30,000 to 40,000. As the cost of each married quarter is £4,600, that will be a final cost of £140 million to £180 1082 million. In this year, so far as I can make out, but it is not too easy to tell from the accounts, we are providing only about £38 at home, which is not much of a bite into this problem, plus £13 million under the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act, which is tucked away on page 76, and which conveniently does not come into the current account.
How can we face this expenditure of £80 million for barracks and about £150 million for married quarters? At least it can be said that it will be some time before the economies start to appear. Or is it really that we are not going to face it? Again I ask: is it really the case that these troops in fact will be disbanded when they come home, or a number of them?
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I have been following the hon. Gentleman's argument with interest. Is the conclusion he draws from the argument he has advanced that troops should not be brought home or that the provision of married quarters and barracks should be speeded up? Which conclusion is he inviting the House to draw?
§ Mr. Kershaw
The conclusion I am inviting the House to draw is that this defence budget purports to save a lot of money by bringing troops home. My argument is that it will not in fact save any money. It will not save it over the exchange costs, because of the training difficulties and because it introduces a strategic weakness into our planning. It will not save it on married quarters and barracks, because it will be immensely expensive to provide in the short term for these troops coming home. The Labour Government, who say that they are saving money and that this is the object of their defence policy, will not be doing so at all.
Turning to other details, I have said that one cannot exclude the possibility of an enemy which has the initiative acting in an unexpected way—indeed, the virtual certainty. One way in which an enemy could act would be by the use of bacteriological and chemical weapons. How are we equipped to counter this threat? There is very good evidence to show that the Russians attach very unusual importance to chemical warfare and to training and equipment in this field. They have spent far more than 1083 the U.S.A. and of course very much more than us.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the remarkable strides which have been made in chemical warfare. There are non-toxic gases today which could paralyse the process of command and other gases which could inflict terrible casualties and from which there is no practical protection at present. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that enough is being done in this field. There is hardly anything in the Estimates about it—quite rightly: I make no complaint about that. However, the Secretary of State must, if he can, reassure the House that all reasonable precautions are being taken and research kept going. Can we, in particular, be assured that the B.A.O.R. has all the equipment it needs for chemical warfare?
In the sphere of bacteriological warfare, in many cases no defence whatever is possible. Therefore, it might be as well if the Secretary of State or the Minister of State could say publicly at some time that we have adequate means of retaliation in order to deter any possible aggressor.
Is the Secretary of State satisfied that our heavy artillery equipment is adequate in quality and numbers? What about our tactical nuclear capacity? At one time the Secretary of State was adamant that all such weapons should be removed from front line troops. Is this still his thinking? What about the weapons themselves? Are our weapons up-to-date? What are our intentions about replacing them? The Under-Secretary touched on this matter earlier, but we should like to have as much information as we can. Are we going to buy the United States replacement which exists; and, if so, when?
I have a query about anti-tank weapons. No doubt the best anti-tank weapon is a tank. I have no doubt that the Chieftain tank is all that it is claimed to be, namely, the best tank in the world. I am glad that it is now coming off the production lines and that B.A.O.R. is receiving it in important numbers. In the absence of tanks, is the Secretary of State satisfied with the anti-tank equipment of the infantry? The Vigilant is not suitable. I take it that Swingfire is too heavy and too expensive. Has the 1084 Carl Gustav adequate hitting power? There seems to be a bit of a gap here. Can we be told?
In the sphere of communications, I still hear complaints that our systems are too heavy and that the newest equipment is slow in coming along. I realise the problems of cost involved if things come along too quickly. This is a query to which we should like to have an answer.
The Under-Secretary said something about computers in the forward areas—notably, I suppose, for the artillery, but also to enable the general staff to have better field information. Reliance upon irreplaceable, sophisticated equipment puts operations at mercy if the equipment gets knocked out. Has this factor been borne in mind?
In general, however, apart from these queries, I am sure that the Under-Secretary was right in saying that our Army is the best equipped in the world. All these weapons were ordered during the 13 years of Tory Government and the Army is now reaping the fruits.
Therefore, it is not the equipment that we are worried about. It is the men. I wish I did not have to say that I believe that morale in the Army today is lower than at any time since conscription ended. After all, this is not surprising. Changes are in the air. Everyone knows that the Army is to be cut down still further, but no one knows by how much. The Territorial Army has been reduced to less than half and would have almost entirely disappeared if it had not been for the efforts of the Opposition and of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), whom I am glad to see in his place.
This feeling of uncertainty is reflected in the gaps which there are in the junior ranks. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West gave some very alarming figures the other day, which were not denied, about some of the gaps in junior ranks. We should like to hear how this is going on. The senior ranks find that a great many avenues to promotion are now being closed because of the cut-down and the abolition of the T.A.
The morale of the Army has also been affected, I believe, by the Government's conduct towards the medical and dental 1085 branches and towards the Territorial Army civilian employees. The first episode seemed to portend a breach of the Grigg Committee's recommendations, which did so much to alleviate anxieties about the pay of the Army. The second indicates that the Treasury is determined to pare down redundancy pay far more than ever before. This is very alarming to men who must leave the Army at the age of 55, an age at which it is almost impossible to get a job. Many wish to go while there is still time to get a job, but they are being held back.
I have a cutting from The Times of 21st February which emphasised that men, having been at one time asked to apply as soon as possible to retire from the Army, now feel that they are not allowed to do so. The report says that,The delay has caused some confusion within the Army because, when the redundancy scheme was first announced last month the Defence Ministry sent out instructions urging officers to signal their applications as soon as possible. Since then it has become clear that the Treasury and the Army Department are unable to agree over terms for redundancy payments.In fact, the little exercise about T.A. civilian employees was, as it were, a pilot battle to see how far they could get away with how little.
The Under-Secretary of State allowed one phrase to drop from his lips, which I thought a little unfortunate, when he spoke on the Estimates. He spoke about the less outstanding officers who would have to retire. Is this the way it works in fact? Does it not depend on how many posts there are? When posts are being cut down, two outstanding officers go for the same post. They cannot both be employed, so one has to go. It is not a question of capacity. It is a question of the ground being cut from under people's feet. So people want reassurance. They want to know as soon as possible where they stand.
The Army is coming home. In future, the slogan will be, "Join the Army and see Salisbury Plain". At 6 o'clock on a February morning, Salisbury Plain is not all that it could be, as many hon. and gallant Members will know. Barracks will be crowded, and married quarters scattered and hard to come by. The contrast with civilian life will be tempting. What will become of recruiting? I wonder whether civilian ways of using 1086 troops—we had an exchange about this this afternoon—will really cheer them up. We should like to know a little more about this. The Parliamentary Secretary was, I thought, a little waffly on it, and all he could do was to offer an Adjournment debate later on. One wonders whether he said that thinking that he would find out what to say or whether he knows already and will not tell us. I think that he should tell us.
At this time also, when so many thousands of troops are coming home, it seems odd to reduce the number of commands so drastically. Scottish Command is to go, at a time when there will be, probably, more troops in Scotland than ever before since the Civil War. I hope that the Secretary of State will not underrate the part played by the pageantry and so on at Edinburgh Castle. If he does, it will not be the first time that this Government have shown indifference to the martial enthusiasm of Scotland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
We will leave Scotland alone. May we be told what the argument is? Is it argued that we must have foreign commitments if only to keep up recruiting?
§ Mr. Kershaw
Certainly not, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if troops are living at home, if they are short of training land, short of quarters, and living in uncomfortable barracks, recruiting is not likely to boom. This is a fact which must be faced, and we want to know what the Government's proposals are.
From the highest to the lowest ranks, the Army is at present in a state of uncertainty for which the Secretary of State's policy is responsible. If I may say so, the Service Ministers as a whole are individuals whose abilities are outstanding—I think it fair to say that of this Government they are the best of a bad lot—but their party has a policy which is inimical to the Army. Furthermore, we cannot but reflect on this side of the House and, indeed, everywhere else, on the consequences of the vote in the defence debate. The Government hardly survived and, clearly, would not have survived but for the 110 Ministers and 75 placemen who keep them going. The Left wing of the Labour Party is cock-a-hoop, if four-legged people can be 1087 cock-a-hoop. Left-wing Members reckon that, by this time next year, their policy will have triumphed in the party. Who is to say that they are wrong?
I doubt very much, in spite of his fierce attack upon his followers last week, that the Prime Minister is the sort of man who likes swimming against the tide. I doubt whether he is a man of the calibre to say that he will "Fight, fight and fight again" for a defence policy which he thinks right.
The country and the Army look to the future with misgiving. It would not be the first time in peacetime, unfortunately, when the Army was cut down below danger point. It would, however, be the first time that it had been so cut without the trained reserves upon which to build. This is why we are so anxious. In this imperfect world, it is necessary for there to be a certain amount of party-political manoeuvering. This is inevitable. But let Ministers reflect that they are for the time being, and against the backcloth of history only for a short time, responsible for the well-being of an Army which, over the centuries, has been part of our national personality, which has been a faithful servant of the State, and which has known more often than any army of any country the glory and the heartbreak of victory. In sustaining that Army, Ministers will have the support of this side of the House and of all men of goodwill in the country.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
We have just heard a most interesting speech from the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), on which I congratulate him. The hon. Gentleman has spoken today from the Dispatch Box, and he has spoken on this subject over a great many years from the back benches.
I take up one point which the hon. Gentleman made. Surely, it does not lie in the mouth of the Conservative Opposition to complain today of the posting of forces in Germany. They posted them there when in Government, and they maintained them in those postings for a great many years. This is not our policy. It is theirs.
For the last 10 years—I have said this before—those troops have not been placed as a force to defend Germany against aggression. They have been posted there 1088 as a military presence. Their postings are governed not by strategic needs, but by the chance position of barracks. They are placed so that they are at least 24 hours further from their deployment positions than the Russians are. If there were a war situation, we should not be able to move our deployment areas because to do so would provoke a crisis.
From the positioning of those troops, the choice, the initiative, would be with the enemy all the time. The enemy could occupy our deployment positions before we got there; they could turn the position before we could fight. I do not myself believe that we could, in practice, use nuclear weapons because the troops would be too intermingled before any nuclear concentration target had been brought about.
I drew attention to this situation, which has existed for 10 years, when I spoke from the Opposition Dispatch Box in past years. It is a situation which the Conservative Government accepted, and, on second thoughts, I think, probably rightly accepted. What we need in Germany today is a military presence rather than a defence force.
The occupation of that trans-European frontier is really a two-sided affair. I profoundly believe in the importance of N.A.T.O. I believe equally profoundly in the importance of the Warsaw Pact. I want to see those two instruments of unity, to call them that, remaining in operation on the two sides. I look today on the safest Europe which I have seen, safer than my father or my grandfather saw. Because of the two sides here, we have built up that which is the essence of unity, the first task of any unity, a common defence. It is far more important than a common market or the removal of trade barriers.
That is a common task, recognised as a common task open to us all, in which we are all involved. While one has that, one has a unity. I am very much opposed to detracting from or weakening that unity. I want the feeling of Europe to be that those are the troops of Europe available and posted not nationally, but internationally, within that European grouping. I am in no way opposed to an equal kind of grouping on the other side, because so long as there are international forces upon that frontier I think that the danger of a clash is very remote. 1089 I now come to another aspect which worries me greatly. That is the question of concentrating the Army back in England, which has never happened in its history. The danger to political institutions of professional armies is one which we once recognised. We had the experience in Cromwellian times, and we took the most elaborate steps to avoid it ever happening again. We legalised the Army for only a single year, and we took a good deal more practical steps than that. Not only this country, but a good many others, fearing that sort of danger from a professional Army, kept the Army so rigidly class-divided that it was impotent to intervene in any class conflict. For instance, even in the Curragh mutiny the Army was too socially divided for anything to be threatened beyond officer resignation.
The fact that one continually kept the major part of one's Army on foreign station was very important in order to keep it occupied as an Army instead of looking for political tasks. It felt important; it felt employed; there were always tasks for it to look for. But those tasks are beginning to disappear. Lastly, there was a Government here of great power, prestige and repute, and a Parliament of great respect. Sad as I find it to say so, that has decayed.
What do we see now? We are to concentrate back in England those forces from abroad. We shall bring back an army from Aden and it will be a very angry Army. I have been in touch with a good many of our soldiers in Aden. They see their people being shot and murdered, and they feel that their hands are being tied behind their backs. They feel that Parliament—and, I am afraid, particularly the Government supporters—are primarily interested in the crimes which Amnesty International says that they are committing in trying to defend themselves from Egyptian assassination, and are uninterested in what they are suffering.
Above all, they will return feeling a defeated Army that has been driven out because it was not allowed to protect itself, knowing full well that the Egyptians who are the cause of those things, and are known to be the cause, were utterly at their mercy in the Yemen. They know that we could cut their communications and order them out of the Yemen at any 1090 time. It will not be a very happy Army; it will not be in a good mood when it gets back here.
Nor do I think that the people who return from the Far East or Germany to far worse conditions here will be any happier. They will find themselves asked to live in caravans. The will compete with a civil population hungry for houses. I am told that the Government are trying to buy 4,000 houses in the very inadequate housing market, and are in competition with people who desperately need a home.
That does not bode well for a happy relationship with the Army that will be brought back and concentrated here, and given little sense of purpose, with its career structure imperilled. It has been pointed out that very good men must go when there is only one job for two men. That goes all the way down. With the present sort of mood of parsimony and crisis I do not see a second "golden bowler" policy.
Behind those men are their older relations, because the Army tends very much to be a family affair. Many of their older relations have been living on National Assistance, as the pensions which they earned are being paid in bad money, hopelessly depreciated money. That is the sort of situation they must face. They are being pushed out of a career halfway through. I am not optimistic that the terms will be attractive. At least, the men concerned will not think that they are.
That Army, brought here without an obvious job, is told that its job will be civil employment. When I asked about that civil employment, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence told me that a Signals section had been used in the Aberfan disaster. That hardly adds up to the purpose of an Army. For years and years one has tried to get a sane prison policy under which prisoners could work and produce for the national product. Trades unionism has made that impossible. One finds that it cannot be done, and if one imagines that it will be easier for an Army one is labouring under a great delusion. In practice, civil employment will mean only one thing—strike-breaking. If there is conflict with the trade unions, which looks only too likely at present, there may be quite a 1091 lot of trouble, quite a few strikes to break.
The concentration of the Army in these circumstances is not a recipe for a politically docile Army. It may be that the parties have earned their destruction. It may be that Gaullism is what we need. 1 hope not. That is the sort of regimé I would loathe, but the Government's policy is the kind that asks for it.
Why are we doing it? In B.A.O.R. we have troops with barracks and married quarters, taking part in the defence of Europe where we want them. They are living as Army units, not mixed up with the day-to-day difficulties of housing and Labour problems at home. We are told that we are bringing them home not for a strategic reason, but because of an alleged balance of payments difficulty. There seem to me to be astonishing priorities here in the things which we must sacrifice to maintain an exchange rate of 2.80 dollars to the £—the idea that rather than have a currency in trouble one must sacrifice one's production, one's employment, one's foreign policy, the postings of one's Army. In all conscience, what an undignified position in which to find ourselves! The amount of foreign exchange involved is a great deal less than Rhodesian sanctions are costing us.
What kind of priorities are these? They are ones which I think we are all led to forget. I find it an undignified argument that someone else has to pay for our Army where it rests for the needs, not only of us, but of Europe. Are the Americans protesting about support costs for their troops here? How much are we receiving? Are we receiving substantially less than we are paying out to the Germans?
I come to what seems the craziest of all, which is Malta. There is a place which is longing to welcome an army of ours. We are told that the troops are being brought here as a strategic reserve. Why in the world should we not station a part of our strategic reserve in Malta? We have the barracks there, we have the houses and we have the welcome and we have the service there. Across in Libya we have the exercise grounds.
If it were not for the kind of interdepartmental trouble which we run into, the Ministry of Defence having nailed its 1092 flag to the mast of £2,000 million at 1964 prices, given that this may be an economy on their books it is going to be an awful extravagance on the books of some other Department which has to deal with the Malta problem when it comes.
There is a dismal pattern in the decadence of affairs. We find political institutions losing respect and we find a law losing respect. We find the arrogance of an Executive building up and the Prime Minister describing the members of the majority party in this House as dogs requiring his licence. Within this mounting arrogance we find the pattern of history linked with the mounting impotence, the impotence we see in Rhodesia, the impotence we see in Aden and the Common Market—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The hon. and learned Member is getting a little far from the Army Estimates.
§ Mr. Paget
I am closing very shortly indeed, but I feel that the position and the future of the Army and its morale does concern the morale and future of the nation. I see this unhappy pattern in the decadence of empires being repeated here and I see a point at which the man with a sword intervenes, occasionally for benefit but more often, unhappily, disastrously. I ask the Government to look again at this. We are drifting, not riding, not steering but just drifting, into most dangerous waters.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
With a great deal of what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said I find myself in entire agreement. I agree particularly with his analysis of the character of the rôle that our forces in Germany are being and for some years have been called upon to play. I can make my speech the shorter because many of the arguments he put before the House so ably were arguments which I would otherwise have felt moved to try to put.
The speech of the Under Secretary who opened the debate I certainly enjoyed. I liked particularly the bit about "computers in forward battle situations." I was reminded of a favourite quotation from, I think, Colonel Bramble, to the effect that a soldier's life is well known 1093 to be a hard one, sometimes involving periods of actual danger. I hope that the computers in forward battle situations will come along, but I shall believe that when I see it.
The speech of the hon. Gentleman followed the normal pattern on these occasions. He told us a great deal of what had happened and proudly referred to items of equipment which had been produced, and so on. What he did not do—this is no exception on these occasions— and what the White Paper does not do, at any rate explicitly, was to give us much idea of what is to happen, what is in the mind of the Government about the future size and strength and deployment of the Army.
On this, I should like to probe a little in my speech. I think that there are clues even in this White Paper and that it has not been proved entirely possible to deny all information to the House. Chapter I, paragraph 44, refers to the fact thatA wide-ranging examination of the long-term structure of the Army is being carried out.I imagine that structure must include size.
In Chapter I, paragraph 46, we read:We intend to cut supporting services, wherever practicable, as reductions are made in the combat forces.In paragraph 13 of Chapter 10, on page 73, we read:Work will continue on the renovation of various temporary camps required in the short-term to accommodate troops returning home as a consequence of Defence Review decisions.Why only "short-term" unless the numbers of troops to be withdrawn are to be systematically reduced? It looks as though considerable reductions in force levels, to say the least, are under study by the Government at present.
Everyone knows the unsettling effects upon an Army of such a prospect. I think that we are entitled to ask the Government whether they are justified at this time in the light of the commitments as they exist in embarking upon an exercise which will inevitably cause as much unsettlement and as much heart-searching as this one will. Is an exercise in the direction of much reduced force levels justified by the commitments of the Army as they exist round the world today? Is it justified by the facts of life? Unless the Gov- 1094 ernment can show that they have managed to bring about a real, as opposed to a paper, diminution in the number of commitments, they ought not to be thinking in terms of much smaller forces.
Let us look at the principal areas involved and begin with the Far East. is there any actual reduction in commitments in the Far East? I doubt it. We have been given figures for the numbers of soldiers and other members of the Services who are to be brought home and we have been told of the contemplated reduction in the number of the Brigade of Gurkhas. These are withdrawals, certainly. The men will be coming home, but they are not coming home, it seems, because of any alteration in our commitments in that theatre. They are coming home because they have successfully waged a campaign and brought it to a conclusion and smaller numbers are therefore now required on the spot.
The real test of the Government's ability to fulfil its claim to make any reduction in the force levels of the forces is a comparison between preconfrontation force levels and those that are appearing as they are now. I am not aware that these figures have been given and it would be very instructive if the Minister could say something about them when he winds up. I do not believe that these commitments have been reduced. We still have our commitments to S.E.A.T.O. and we still have our defence agreements and our responsibilities for internal security in various places in the Far East. The Government cannot claim actually to have reduced commitments in that theatre.
I come next to Aden. I do not propose to enter today on the question whether the Government's policy in Aden constitutes a breach of faith. We can debate that later.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I agree, but I do not want to debate that now.
I refer to Aden because here, at any rate on paper, is a commitment which the Government may claim that they have been able to cut. But will that 1095 prove to be so in practice? With the present state of affairs, the process of handover between now and 1968, or whenever it occurs, will be a long and difficult and, I am afraid, a bloody business. The Government must be prepared for the probability of having to send reinforcements and will have to remain in the position to take what steps are necessary to preserve law and order and to stand behind their policy for a period which at the moment it is difficult to estimate.
I next come to the British Army of the Rhine. It must be clear to the House from both the White Paper and what was said in the defence debate that substantial withdrawals from the Rhine Army have been planned. I cannot forbear from reminding the House of the sort of things which hon. Members opposite used to say about the Rhine Army when they were the Opposition and we were in office. The number of speeches condemning the Rhine Army's overdependence on nuclear weapons and urging a better balance of conventional forces and deprecating the fact that we were not up to treaty strength must be legion, and quotations of that kind are so numerous that it would be boring to look them up and even more boring to repeat them, which I shall not do. The fact remains that hon. Members opposite now subscribe to all the policies which they criticised when we held responsibility.
I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton that it would be a great mistake to withdraw any troops, and certainly any substantial number of troops, from the Rhine Army at present. This is not just a matter of being engaged in the exercise of trying to get ourselves into Europe when a withdrawal of this sort would not give any great impression of sincerity in that regard. It is not just that it is distasteful and undignified to get ourselves into the position of making our contributions to N.A.T.O. dependent not even on the actual cost, but on some sort of calculation involving offset costs.
The Foreign Secretary gave the strongest and best of all reasons for maintaining our contribution to N.A.T.O. at its present level when he spoke in the second day of the defence debate. Cer- 1096 tainly, he spoke for me when, speaking of the rôle of our forces there, he said:They bind the United States to the defence of Western Europe, which was, perhaps, the missing link between the two world wars, and they enable Germany, firmly embraced within a system of collective security, to play her part in the defence of Western Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February,1967; Vol. 742, c. 288.]I cannot think of a better set of reasons.
Having said that, I also believe that there are great practical difficulties and objections to a policy of withdrawing troops from the mainland of Europe in large numbers. If the Government pursue that policy, they will run into a grave shortage of accommodation in this country, and there can be no doubt about that, for with 25,000 troops coming here from overseas, with, in addition, one or two brigade groups from Europe, would mean that there would not be the places to put them, or, at any rate, satisfactory places to put them.
At Question Time I ragged the Minister about Fort George and he rather brushed me off. We can pursue that later. The point about Fort George is not the standard of accommodation, but the fact that on military advice it was discarded about five years ago as being located in a part of the world totally unsuited to the stationing of troops, far too far away. It is good officer country, perhaps, with grouse moors and salmon rivers, but it is not the place to put the "Jocks" from Glasgow. But that is the sort of situation in which the Government will find themselves if they pursue a policy of withdrawal from the Rhine Army.
There would be a similar difficulty with training areas. At present, the bulk of the British Army's armoured regiments are in Germany where they have plenty of room to train. If they were brought back here, they would not have that room to train, for that room does not exist in this country. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that on Salisbury Plain, with good firm going underfoot, one can train about a brigade group, not much more, and a tight fit at that. But the training of two or three brigade groups not only with tanks, but with their attendant armoured personnel carriers on tracks, does not begin to be a starter in terms of the land available for training in this country. 1097 I believe that the Government know this perfectly well and that they are not so naive as not to take these facts into their calculations. I am, therefore, driven to the conclusion that what they really intend is to make these withdrawals and then disband a large number of the units. The situation towards which they are moving is one in which there is a strategic reserve located, as now, in the south of England, but whose rôle, in addition to the reinforcement of other worldwide garrisons, will be the reinforcement of the British Army of the Rhine. In other words, the two commitments will be lumped together and made the responsibility of smaller forces, the remainder being disbanded.
There is the further possibility which was mentioned in connection with the Minister's reference to training areas and to our assigning of armour to N.A.T.O. I will not pursue that, because I think that the Minister will wish to clear that up at the end of the debate. The logic of what the Government intend seems to point in the direction of much reduced forces. That is a mistake, because withdrawal from Germany on the scale contemplated would be a mistake.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
The right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) has made an extremely important statement. He has left with me with the impression that if there were a departure by the West German Government from the guarantee given by the previous Government about foreign exchange costs he would find that quite acceptable and would take the view that this country should accept it humbly. Is that his view?
§ Mr. Ramsden
I have deliberately refrained from becoming involved in these negotiations about foreign exchange costs. I am all for making the Germans help us as much as they can, but to have the size of the military contribution that we make to N.A.T.O., and stationed on the mainland of Germany, determined by this squalid argument about offset foreign exchange costs is an intolerably undignified position for this country.
I have criticised the Government for what I take to be implicit in its White Paper, that is to say, having plans for the substantial reduction of our force 1098 levels. The Government have been forced into this position by having deliberately subjected themselves to this phoney ceiling of £2,000 million expenditure. If they are to get anywhere near this ceiling, the Government will be obliged to make substantial reductions in our forces in Germany, and this is against our national interest, and against the best interests of the long-term security of Europe. If we pursue this policy we shall fall into courses which would be not only dishonourable to us, but dangerous and unwise.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), a former War Minister, has criticised the Government for their arms reductions. My feelings are exactly contrary. I feel that the ruinous spending will go still higher and that arms have not been cut sufficiently. My aim is to press for big troop reductions east of Salford, to use the Prime Minister's much reported phrase, and for far bigger troop reductions east of Scarborough—
§ Mr. Allaun
We have no fewer than 225,000 Servicemen east of that latter point, Scarborough. The Government propose to bring home 25,000 and I warmly applaud that decision. It will still leave 200,000 of our forces overseas. It would be far better for our country if the majority of these men were brought home and demobilised.
This is exactly contrary to what the right hon. Member for Harrogate has said. Not only would this relieve our balance of payments, which is a factor so airily dismissed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it would expand our industrial production. In particular, I urge a drastic reduction of our two main concentrations of troops, in West Germany and the Far East. I am not alone in this. A total of 62 Labour M.P.s who signed last week's Amendment, and the 60 who abstained from voting, also want this. So does the Labour Party. It will not have escaped the attention of the House that the Amendment contained the precise wording of the resolution carried out by a half million majority at the annual conference of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
This cannot be a general defence debate. It must be upon the Army Estimates, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come closer to them.
§ Mr. Allaun
My point is that the Army Estimates account for £651 million, and 237,000 men, which is the majority of our expenditure and manpower involved in all the Services and it is therefore necessary for me to say what I have just said.
Public opinion is very strongly in support of this reduction in manpower and expenditure, both in the Army and the other Services. I would like to quote some evidence to that effect. Last week, the Gallup Poll reported that in the public's opinionThe Government is spending too much on arming and too little on old people, rates and education. Criticism of Government spending on arms is at the highest level ever recorded by the Gallup Poll.These were the main findings of the Gallup Poll in theDaily Telegraph. They were the result of a survey completed between 10th and 13th February. No fewer than 58 per cent. of those interviewed thought that the Government were spending too much on armaments and defence, and only 5 per cent. thought they were spending too little.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before the hon. and learned Gentleman intervenes, I ought to point out to the hon. Member that he is getting into a general debate. What we are concerned with is the general administration of the Army, and its rôle within the defence programme, set in the debate that we had last week. We can only concern ourselves with the Army Estimates today.
§ Mr. Allaun
I hate to be awkward, I am not an awkward beggar, but I think that you will agree that before your predecessor left the Chair a few minutes ago, this was a fairly wide-ranging debate. It is very difficult to discriminate between Army spending and defence spending as a whole, particularly since the three Services have been amalgamated in this way.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I would accept that if the hon. Gentleman is 1100 adducing arguments which are incidental and limited in reference to make his point on the Army Estimates he would be perfectly in order, but I was of the opinion that he was going into a much more general debate on defence.
§ Mr. Allaun
I will try to follow your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The fact is that Army spending has also increased to the extent of £25 million upon the preceding year. I think that I am in order in pointing out that, as regards pensions, for instance, 2 per cent. of those interviewed for the Gallup Poll thought that the Government were spending too much and 71 per cent. too little. On education, 15 per cent. believed that too much was being spent as against 39 per cent. who believed that too little was being spent.
§ Mr. Hooson
While I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the level of defence expenditure, is he not embarking upon a rather dangerous argument if he is taking Gallup Polls as the media for deciding that one should spend a lot? Before the war, a majority of people in this country were in favour of appeasement, and no one can say that that was the right policy.
§ Mr. Allaun
I am not taking the view that because the public think that a thing is right, it is necessarily so. I am proving the point, I hope, that this is what the general public wants. Public opinion has moved very rapidly in the last two years, because the Gallup Poll shows thatComplaint about heavy arms expenditure is now 15 points up on the 43 per cent. recorded when this question was last asked in March, 1965.It has risen from 43 per cent. to 58 per cent. The Government are lagging behind public opinion and I am sure that the public is right. It is commonsense.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Does the hon. Gentleman not think it possible that the public have been taken in by all this talk about a runaway train which was proved only last week to have been quite inaccurate?
§ Mr. Allaun
The figures I have just quoted were taken before any references to statements made last week.
Far from expenditure falling, it has actually risen by £100 million a year. 1101 This happened regularly under Conservative Governments, but, unfortunately, it is also happening under the Labour Government—unless the policy is drastically changed. That is what the present vital controversy within the Labour movement is about. I think that the Opposition can be ignored in this debate since they did not press for arms cuts while in office and are not doing so now.
It is no use denying that arms expenditure is going up. I have here the official figures from the Estimates. For the six financial years from 1954, expenditure remained stable at £1,400 million a year. Since then, it has mounted annually, and fairly regularly, by £100 million. In the financial year beginning April, 1959, the total was £1,475 million; in 1960 it was £1,595 million; in 1961 it was £1,688 million; in 1962 it was £1,766 million; in 1963 it was £1,791 million; in 1964 it was £1,909 million; in 1965 it was £2,055 million; in 1966 it was £2,172 million; in 1967 it is estimated at £2,200 million. It will be seen that in the last three years, since April, 1964, there has been an increase of £296 million, or £99 million a year.
That is all that I wished to say on arms expenditure, but as the Army is the major factor in this expenditure I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, feel that I was entitled to say it.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
To get the matter in perspective, during the period which my hon. Friend mentioned, 1963–66, the gross national product rose by 50 per cent.
§ Mr. Boyden
My hon. Friend's argument about the Army is not correct. The maximum increase is £22 million. This is not a very much smaller percentage increase than the whole. As I said in my opening remarks, it covers some real economies, like Territorial Army saving and compensation for redundancy, which are helping to make economies for the future. Therefore, it is not the major increase in cost.
§ Mr. Allaun
Nevertheless, I must repeat that Army expenditure has increased in this estimate by £25 million 1102 compared with last year. If this is a cut, it is an Irishman's cut, because expenditure is increasing.
Drastic arms reductions are the master key to the problems facing our country. It would unlock the door not merely to one room, but to many.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman is making the speech which he should have made during the defence debate. I understand his anxieties about the problem and his wish to make such a speech, but I am afraid that he cannot make it on the Army Estimates. All that he must concern himself with today is the administration of the Army within the rôle already set for it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot quarrel with the Chair. I am endeavouring to help him as much as possible, but this is a limited debate.
§ Mr. Allaun
Very good, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I wish to show that by saving on Army expenditure by bringing home our troops from abroad we could end most of the difficulties facing our country. Surely this is in order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman will proceed, I shall endeavour to tell him from time to time whether he is in order.
§ Mr. Allaun
I am obliged, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
This involves vast sums of foreign exchange and, as has been pointed out, the deficit on our balance of payments. It is this which is causing the deflationary measures which have led to our having 640,000 unemployed. Hon. Members opposite can advocate great measures for expanding the Army, but they must bear these other factors in mind which are equally important and, in the view of many of us, even more important.
We are spending 25 per cent. of all Government revenue on military preparations, or 5s. in the £ of all taxation. It is not good enough to say that this is only 6½ per cent. of the gross national product. Put in that way, it does not sound 1103 too bad, but compared with other countries in Western Europe which are spending only 4 per cent. of their gross national product in this way it means a very heavy loss to us of nearly £700 million a year, and it is this which is involving us in our economic difficulties.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into general considerations relating to defence policy and not to the administration of the Army. He must return to the Army Estimates, Vote A.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order. As one who went through a similar experience in the debate on the Navy Estimates, may I respectfully suggest that there is some synchronisation of the Armed Forces and the Chair on this matter, because when the Chair has a different occupant rather different rules apply.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The occupant of the Chair must rule as he sees the matter. I am endeavouring to do that with the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun).
§ Mr. Allaun
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The Government propose to bring home 25,000 soldiers. The majority of them are single men who could return to their parents homes. Many of them are married men who would return to the homes of their wives and children.
In addition there could and should be a drastic reduction of recruiting. Surely it is absurd that we should continue to spend nearly £10 million a year on full-page advertisements in the "glossies" and the national Press. If we were to cut down on the 440,000 men and women in the Services, the need to buy houses and build new ones would not be so great.
It might be asked: if these soldiers are demobilished, would not they add to the number already unemployed? Not at all. The 640,000 unemployed are out of work because of the deflationary measures caused by the balance of payments deficit. If we ended that deficit by ending our overseas military spending, the need for the squeeze and the resultant unemployment disappears. Until that 1104 disastrous day, 20th July, there were 350,000 people out of work. The Government should get back to that figure fast.
The increase in arms spending is not solely the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. If we are to cut our arms expenditure, it is necessary to cut our overseas commitments both east of Suez and in Germany. That is what the resolution carried at the Labour Party conference sought to achieve. Why are not the Government doing what common sense and our commitments to the British people require? Why are we maintaining vast numbers of soldiers in the East and the West? It is because America is telling us to do so. Three Cabinet Ministers told the country both before and on 20th July that if the Bonn Government did not cover the foreign exchange costs of our troops on the Rhine—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is hardly concerned with the administration of the Army. The hon. Gentleman is out of order.
§ Mr. Allaun
Mr. Deputy Speaker, we have had long speeches on this point by hon. Members opposite this afternoon. This has been a matter which has largely dominated this debate. I think that it is not fair to discriminate between what has gone before and what is taking place now.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Further to that point of order. Are you ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that only matters of administration can be discussed, or that, since we are on Vote A, we can discuss the size of the Army which it is proposed to keep up and the justification for keeping up an Army of that size?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
This is a very difficult matter to rule on with any precision, as I think the right hon. Gentleman is only too well aware. We can discuss the size and the rôle of the Army, and considerations relating to that, but to enter now into a debate on defence generally is out of order.
§ Mr. Allaun
A case has been put on this issue of our troops in West Germany, and I think that it is right that I should continue—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If, in fact, an argument has in this debate been put and 1105 has not been ruled out of order I think that it would be fair of the Chair to allow the hon. Member to answer it. If I am assured that he is answering a statement which has already been made, and which has been admissible, I will allow him to answer it.
§ Mr. Allaun
I accept that. I think that is very generous of you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I assure you that I will deal with points which have been made during the course of this debate.
The point has been made that we should retain all our troops in West Germany, and I think that this is utterly wrong, and, indeed, out of conformity with the commitments given by three Cabinet Ministers both before and after 20th July. And then what happened? Our representative went to America and the announcement was made, "No withdrawals before July, 1967". As the Washington correspondent of The Times put it:This is a notable diplomatic success for Washington.Well, he can say that again. Similarly, as regards troops from the Far East, Mr. McNamara told the Daily Express reporter, Rene MacColl:You British are doing an excellent job in the Far East, and it is essential that you go right on doing it.So now we know.
I repeat that if we are to end our subservience to American foreign policies we must immediately and unconditionally end our overseas military expense.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) in his circumnavigating of the somewhat narrow waters confining this debate. I immediately invite his sympathy in return, lest I, too, experience some of the same difficulties in the course of my own remarks.
I was most interested by the contrast between the last two speeches we have heard from the Labour benches. The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was a most impressive performance, in its tremendous grasp of the feeling for the rôle of the Armed Forces, and the rôle of the British Army in particu- 1106 lar, throughout the history of this country. I would just add my small echo to the powerful plea which he advanced from his own sturdily independent position, that the Government should think again and again before taking, for short-term economic reasons, steps which may prove disastrous to our military and economic position in the long run. I thought that part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech was one which should be read and read again by every hon. Member of this House who cares at all for the future of this country.
I should like also to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) on his magnificent opening case deployed from the Front Bench. This was such a powerful and penetrating series of observations as effectively to silence the Secretary of State. I have always noticed that when he is put on the spot the Secretary of State can do little more than snigger and sneer, and this was the position in which he found himself today when confronted by the strong arguments advanced by my hon. Friend. I shall listen with a great deal of interest to hear whether whoever is to reply for the Government to the debate is able to answer some of the questions put to them by my hon. Friend.
I have no doubt at all, having listened to the case that he put forward, that the Government are in a state of complete confusion as to which troops they are bringing back, as to what are the circumstances in which they will bring them back, where they will put them if they bring them back, how they will house them when they do come back, and in what rôle they will employ them when they are here. It is high time, since the Government have produced a document which they have the audacity to call a "Statement on the Defence Estimates", that they should have answers to at least some of the questions put to them.
I was amazed that the Under-Secretary of State was not able to answer some of the questions put to him by my hon. Friends in interventions during his speech. They were questions to which, I should have thought, he would have had the answers at his finger tips. I hope the Government are taking this debate as seriously as the gravity of the world situation warrants. I hope very much that we 1107 shall get some full and comprehensive statement in reply from them.
Those who were in the House not so very long ago will recollect that during debates on Service Estimates and on defence they heard speeches from Sir John Smyth, V.C., on the rôle of the Brigade of Gurkhas and I want to say a few words about the Brigade of Gurkhas in view of the decisions which have been announced in the White Paper, and in view of the steps which are being taken to reduce the total strength of the Brigade itself.
In opening the Defence Debate on 27th February the Secretary of State told us how he had managed to arrive at firm plans for the withdrawal from the Far East of a total of 11,000 men. He went on to say:More than 5,000 were already home by the beginning of the New Year. Nearly 10,000 will be home by Easter, and the remaining number will come home during the few months following."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 103.]That is to say, within a few months 11,000 men will be coming home from the Far East. I should like to hear, as I am certain would every hon. Member, exactly where those men are to go and what units they represent and what tasks they will fulfil when they are back in this country.
In addition to the 11,000 men the strength of Her Majesty's Forces currently deployed in the Far East will, over the next 12 months, be further reduced by 2,000 serving soldiers of the Brigade of Gurkhas who will be returned to Nepal. Thus, over the next 12 months we have, in the words of the Secretary of State, a firmly planned reduction of our Far Eastern military strength by 13,000 men.
Looking at the Estimates, I find it hard to see exactly where the savings come in. Let me remind hon. Members that we have had the statement that 11,000 will be back within a few months. I cannot see where this will achieve substantial cost savings. Apart from this, if we look at Vote A we see that the number of "Commonwealth, Colonial &c. troops abroad and Gurkhas" is to be reduced by 600 other ranks. The number of officers is to be increased by 100. If we look at Subhead E of Vote 1, we see that the total "pay &c." of the Gurkha troops 1108 in the British Army is to be reduced by £195,000.
First, I want to know how many of the 600 men are from the Brigade of Gurkhas. Secondly, I must express some suprise that Subhead E of Vote 1 shows a reduction. I should have thought that the reductions in manpower might be higher and the reductions in pay would be considerably less. I say this because of the statement which was made about the amount of gratuities and specially calculated increments or pensions which the redundant troops from the Brigade of Gurkhas are to receive.
There is a reference on page 73 of the Defence White Paper:Those who are declared redundant will receive additional gratuities, varying according to rank and service. Special pensions will be granted to redundant soldiers who have completed ten years' service".In the circumstances, since I am certain that the Government mean what they say in that regard, I thought that the savings would not have been immediately apparent. I am certain that the Government are most anxious to ensure that the compensatory element of the payments made to those serving men of the Brigade of Gurkhas who, as a result of Government decisions, are to be returned to Nepal is as generous as they can possibly make it.
I am glad that the run-down is to be phased forward over a period of two-and-a-half years. I am certain that this is the correct decision. I ask the Government to ensure that as far as possible it takes place as a result of natural wastage and does not import any special measures to cut the strength of the Brigade far in excess of that which might normally happen as a result of holding back the rate of recruitment.
What will be the effect on recruitment? What will be the impact within the State of Nepal? This requires a little further probing. If we are considering the Government's decision to cut the strength of the Brigade of Gurkhas, we must be certain that the Government are not by this action taking steps which are likely to dry up altogether the source of recruitment of that most important and valuable element in the British fighting force. This is particularly important because of the economic and political impact which a decision of this nature could 1109 have in Nepal. Nepal occupies a most important strategic key position between China and India.
In this context, the payments which we make for serving Gurkha soldiers constitute a most valuable form of aid to Nepal. In terms of value for money, we could not get a better investment than we get from expenditure on the Brigade of Gurkhas. In the Brigade of Gurkhas we have a fighting force which has borne the brunt of our cold-war operations in the Far East. At the same time, as a result of the training, education and money which these men get in the Brigade of Gurkhas, we have a most important element of stability in Nepal, which is a vital bulwark against the spread of Communism in the Far East.
§ Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)
Does not the hon. Member think that it would be better to give assistance to Nepal from the Ministry of Overseas Development to replace the foreign exchange which would be lost by the reduction in the number of Gurkhas? Does he not see the future of this country being in Europe rather than east of Suez? Does he not welcome this reduction in the number of troops provided that the financial loss to Nepal is made good in other ways?
§ Sir J. Eden
I will endeavour to answer that point during the remainder of my speech as I touch upon these questions. It might be better for me to follow my own speech through and then, at the end of it, if I have omitted a point which the hon. Member wishes to press, perhaps he will have an opportunity, Mr. Speaker, of catching your eye.
For over 150 years this country and, in a direct and personal way, the British Crown have received unstinting loyalty from the people and from the serving soldiers recruited from Nepal. The Gurkhas have displayed their own special and magnificent qualities, not merely as recited by the Secretary of State in answer to my Question on 7th December, as reported in column 1357 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, not merely as being unsurpassed as jungle fighters, but in a wide range of employment. They have shown how amazingly versatile they can be. They have seen service in Europe and in Africa. They have taken part in nuclear warfare exercises in the United Kingdom. They have served not in the British Army but 1110 in the Indian Army in United Nations operations in the Congo. I suggest that were they now to be present in Aden they would contribute to a great extent to a restoration of law and order there.
The Gurkha is more than just an infantryman. The Brigade is extremely well self-contained. The Gurkhas are also engineers, signallers and parachutists. In a variety of ways they have shown their ready facility for learning new trades and mastering new weapons systems. They are now even being trained for making the fullest and most effective use of helicopters within the Brigade's operations.
As any hon. Member who has seen them in action or who has had the privilege of serving with them at any time will know, their chief asset as fighting forces is their tremendous sense of discipline, their unquestioning obedience and their unswerving loyalty. In addition, wherever they have been employed on internal security operations, as the Under-Secretary of State today made clear, their wisdom, their humanity and their naturally cheerful disposition have won over the hearts and minds of the local populations. In any sort of conflict in which British military forces are likely to be engaged in the future, the Brigade of Gurkhas have a unique and invaluable contribution to make, and nothing which has been announced about the Government's plans to cut the strength of the Brigade will, I hope, in any way affect their determination in the future to employ this powerful military and fighting force in the service of the Crown in whatever part of the world it may be necessary to do so.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. and learned Member is absolutely right. That was extremely well displayed throughout the Malaysian situation, in confrontation, and in the Congo.
I am especially concerned about the choice of words used by the Secretary of State on 7th December, at column 1356, when he made his announcement about the decision to cut the strength 1111 of the Brigade. I have said what I felt it necessary to say not so much because of the Government's decision to cut down by 5,000, but because of the clear indication given by the Secretary of State that this is only the first in a series of other measures which will lead to a further reduction in the strength and fighting effectiveness of the Brigade.
The Secretary of State said on that occasion:Changing circumstances, including the outcome of a detailed examination now taking place on the future structure of the Army, may make it necessary at some future date to reduce the Brigade of Gurkhas below that strength.That is, below 10,000.It is the present intention of Her Majesty's Government to retain a substantial force of Gurkhas until the future becomes clearer, but a final decision cannot yet be taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1966; Vol. 737, c. 1356.]The right hon. Gentleman announced also that he had cut out two battalions altogether. These measures—the right hon. Gentleman's statement and the measures which he has already taken—aroused fears in my mind that the Government regard the Brigade of Gurkhas as expendable and something which they can simply cut off whenever it becomes embarrassing in financial terms for them to retain them in their employment. If that is not a fair statement of the Government's view, I hope that I may get a full repudiation of it, because I am nervous of the possible consequential effect of the uncertainty in which the Brigade is now likely to find itself on future recruitment from Nepal.
I know that this decision is being taken because confrontation has come to an end, but I agree very much with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), a former Secretary of State for the Army, that the commitment still remains. Confrontation may have ended, but the Communist activity and agitation continue. In Sabah, Sarawak and Borneo the clandestine Communist organisations are very actively at work. There are large numbers of them in those countries who remain a potential source of unrest and conflict which we cannot, and should not, ignore.
I agree very much with the opening sentence of paragraph 21 of the Defence White Paper that: 1112It is still too early to make firm assumptions about the political pattern of South-East Asia in the 1970s".It certainly is too early to make firm assumptions and it is very much too early, since we cannot make those firm assumptions, to make firm decisions about cutting the overall strength of our military forces or our capacity to deploy them to any part of the world.
The whole House would, I am sure, hope that the day may not be far distant when the responsibility for these matters can safely be placed in other hands—when, for example, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand themselves come together to form their own collective defence organisation. Meanwhile, however, before this has taken place and while the Communist threats still persist, it is essential that we should continue to assist in the provision of a protective shield behind which these desirable objectives can be allowed to foster.
The effect of these cuts on Nepal gives me considerable concern. The Government will know that one-seventh of the total income of Nepal comes from Gurkhas serving in the British Army. More than that, the fact that these men come from the hills and ultimately return there means that the whole standard and level of education in the country is considerably raised. They provide a disciplined element in the society which straight aid could not of itself produce. This is an important stabilising influence.
I am concerned, therefore, about the effect on Nepal, and I am concerned equally about the effect of this decision on New Zealand and Australia. I agree with the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who said on the second day of the Defence Estimate:What I am concerned about is Australia and New Zealand, and Malaysia to some extent.He went on to say:I am concerned, not with Malaysia or Singapore, but with Australia and New Zealand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 310.]The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to be concerned about Australia and New Zealand, because we see how concerned those two countries have been with the necessity to maintain effective defence against Communist incursion in the whole of the Far East. They are 1113 obvously nervous about the impact of any reduction in military strength on Communist activities in the Far Eastern sphere and the resultant threat which that poses to their own northern territories.
In all this, however, the real threat is China. When considering the deployment and strength of our forces overseas, the House would do well to consider what may be happening inside China at this time and what could possibly be the effect on the preservation of national sovereignty and independence as a result of this. It is hard to forecast what could happen, but I feel that we have not yet seen the last of China's imperialist ambitions, or, rather her territorial ambitions. China is clearly faced with a number of grave problems concerning her own population—
§ Sir J. Eden
I am coming right back to the Army Estimates, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This seems to me to be an extraordinary time to cut down the strength of our forces overseas. At a time when the political situation as a result of the turmoil inside China is so extraordinarily uncertain, this would seem to me to be the time to preserve stability by whatever means we can. In this regard, the deployment and strength of the British Armed Forces, and the British Army in particular, has an important rôle to play.
I regard the containment of Communism as still a duty and a proper rôle for this country to discharge. I know that some hon. Members find this unpalatable and that they do so for their own political or pacifist reasons. I know that the Government are finding it difficult to follow this through because of what they call balance of payment difficulties. I hope, however, that they would not carry these arguments so far as to undermine our capacity to deploy military forces in the Far East and to preserve the strength of our fighting forces who are there now.
I say this especially in regard to the Brigade of Gurkhas because, on a cost-effectiveness basis, we could not ask for a better return on our money invested. The Minister of Defence(Administration) 1114 told me not long ago that their cost is half that of a comparable British unit. At that price, the Gurkhas should not be reduced in number but strengthened. I should like to see us taking steps to use the Brigade of Gurkhas in other parts of the world, should the need arise. At any rate, it seems folly that, when so much uncertainty persists in the world today, we should be taking steps to reduce the strength of some of the most effective voluntary fighting forces in the world, and I beg the Government to think again.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his efficient team. I, too, pay tribute to them. It is indeed an efficient administrative team. I am sometimes concerned, however, about whether their strategic ability matches their administrative ability.
I am also sometimes concerned about whether the Secretary of State, in fashioning Britain's defence forces, is having regard to certain things which may be outside his control. We realise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will shortly be having his say about how much money shall be spent, but there are other factors which one must bear in mind. Reference has been made, for example, to our having no troops east of Salford, and I wonder to what extent views of this type are having any influence on my right hon. Friend's policy.
There are certain responsibilities which we have undertaken in the past and which it may not be possible for us to evade in the future. Whatever they may be, we appear to be trying to cover too many parts of the world with too few resources. That being so, sooner or later we must come to a decision about whether we wish to continue to exert influence in all these areas or whether we should use what forces we have in those areas which are vital for this nation's defence.
The future of N.A.T.O. is of vital consequence to this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) spoke about the great stability that exists in Europe and said that we did not need all the paraphernalia of defence now existing in Europe. He fails to realise that this stability exists as a result 1115 of the Biblical expression about the strong man, armed, keeping his goods. Anyone who under-estimates what Russia might wish to do in certain circumstances is deceiving himself about the real issues involved. N.A.T.O. has given Europe the stability of which my hon. Friend spoke and I believe that Europe is the area vital to the defence of Britain. We lost most of the Far East during the war. Could we have lost this country and still have won the war? I ask this question because if one is considering these things from the point of view of economising in the number of forces available, one must consider in which areas those forces should be deployed—and I plump for Europe.
I wish to concentrate on some illogicalities in the policy of my right hon. Friend regarding the withdrawal of troops from Germany. We are told that we will withdraw these forces because of some foreign exchange cost difficulty. Either those troops are vital for N.A.T.O. or they are not. If they are not, they should not be there anyway—exchange costs or any other difficulty. If they are vital, then, exchange costs or any other difficulty, they must remain there.
The Secretary of State has also said that if we withdrew our forecs from Germany we would be able to get them back there if difficulty arose and they were needed in that area. Does anyone really believe that? Have we been told of the air transport ability we have for moving forces? How quickly could we get one or two divisions back to Germany? And, of course, this is being considered in the light of its being a 48-hour battle. I wonder to what extent the decision to withdraw our troops is pandering to certain aspects of the views of some of my hon. Friends?
I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East back in his place because I told him that I would give him honourable mention in my remarks if I caught Mr. Speaker's eye. I have been asking my hon. Friend a question for a considerable time, since he is for bringing our troops back from Germany. He does not want 5,000 or 10,000 of them brought back. He would prefer that we withdrew 50,000 of our troops, although he also says that there must not be a German finger on the nuclear trigger. 1116 How does he reconcile those two arguments? He can possibly reconcile one, but not both. I will willingly give way to my hon. Friend if he will resolve this vital problem which has been exercising my mind.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
The official policy of the party to which my hon. Friend and I belong is that there should be disengagement in Europe, with a nuclear-free zone in the centre of Europe. This would mean no nuclear forces for West Germany and also a drawing back of the troops of the N.A.T.O. Alliance and the Warsaw Alliance.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I wonder whether my hon. Friend remembers 1936, when Germany went into the Rhineland. At that time we were in a position to have stopped it militarily. Does anybody ever consider placing troops back somewhere once they have been withdrawn? Like my hon. Friend, I would like to see all our troops brought home, but I am not prepared to see Germany filling the vacuum which will be created by our withdrawal from this area. I believe that if we give up our responsibility to N.A.T.O. in this matter it will be only a question of time before Germany is in possession of independent nuclear weapons. We must make the choice. I believe that it is an easy choice to make. If our troops are brought out we will have no control over whether or not Germany has nuclear weapons. I wonder whether, as a result of this disagreement with Germany, that country will get what it has never been able to get by agreement with us—and that is our troops out of Germany?
From the point of view of withdrawing our troops from Germany, is the resultant policy a credible one? We are told that we do not need troops there because we shall use nuclear weapons from the word "go". I am not sure when and upon whom those weapons will be used. Presumably one cannot use them on the troops coming at one because, in terms of Germany, within a matter of hours one would be firing those weapons at the German population, who are our allies. One can only assume, therefore, that they will be used on Russian cities.
If that is the kind of defence we have in mind, then we do not need any troops 1117 in Germany. It is a matter of strategy. We simply tell them which cities we are going to obliterate. We enumerate them and obliterate them in order. That makes a credible policy. It is not a credible policy that we keep troops there presumably to stop the Russian's advance, and then start using nuclear weapons. My party, when in opposition, knew something when it said that we had to get rid of nuclear weapons or have sufficient conventional forces in Europe to stop the Russians. But that is not our policy now. Whether our policy is dictated by military or financial means. I do not know.
May I touch for a few moments on the situation in the Far East? Towards the end of last year I had the opportunity to visit Malaysia. I should like to pay tribute to the high regard in which our armed forces are held in that country. It was rather embarrassing at times to find people there more "British" than the British themselves. There is no doubt that our troops made a tremendous impact in that area. Is the Secretary of State prepared to tell us what is the rôle of the Commonwealth Brigade in Malaysia?
Hon. Members will recall that last week we were told that our troops in Thailand had donated an airfield to the Thai Government. For us to get bogged down in any conflict in that country would be to land ourselves in the same position as the Americans have landed themselves in Vietnam. When we do not have prolific forces, we have to make our strategy suit the size of our forces. I hope that the Commonwealth Brigade in Malaysia and the troops in Thailand are not something which indicates action in the future. We would get ourselves into an impossible position if that were so.
I know that the Secretary of State comes under criticism for not withdrawing from the Far East. I should like to see us out of the Far East. That is where I differ from hon. Members on the other side of the House. I do not believe that we can fulfil all the obligations which we have to fulfil. We have to get our priorities right. Is there any understanding with the Americans, explicit or otherwise, on our retaining certain troops out there? These are matters which concern hon. Members on both sides of the House. Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell us.
1118 In the last few moments of my speech, may I touch on air transport before dealing with personnel matters? I was interested to hear that we are to have more air transport for troops. That is the only way in which this country can make its presence felt. Obviously, the economy cannot stand large forces in any of the three Services. I have always held the view that to be able to land a brigade in an area within 24 hours is worth two or three divisions a matter of a few days later. On what scale are we seeking to operate? The Rhodesia issue would not have arisen had we been capable of moving forces of any size by air. This is the difficulty in which we have landed ourselves.
§ Mr. Reynoldsindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
My hon. Friend shakes his head. He has no intention of using them. I do not believe that there were any troops to use in the first place.
I do not believe that by bringing troops back to this country we will have a good Army. I do not believe that the man who joins up wants to serve his period of engagement in this country, or that the training facilities are suitable in this country. I do not believe that this way a man will be able to become accustomed to different types of climate during his period of service so that we can at a moment's notice switch him to a different type of climate.
There was one situation in Aden, or somewhere in that area, about two or three years ago where we had more troops out of action than in action because of the nature of the climate. I would ask the Government to consider very seriously whether this is the answer to bringing the troops out.
I am not surprised that men are volunteering for the Territorial Army. It is the sort of thing for which men will volunteer. I would ask my right hon. Friend not to try loyalties too far, because we can try them too far. Certain things get people's backs up in the forces, and they are not the big things. I brought to the Minister's attention the other day the matter of people being asked to hand back their Territorial Army lapel badges. That is the type of thing which gets their backs up. I know of one unit where this has caused considerable resentment among the men.
1119 It often strikes me as being hypocritical when, at the Dispatch Box, the Minister pays tribute to our forces and to the loyalty of the men, but when it comes to a cut-down the loyalty of those men seems to be cast overboard. I do not believe that we can turn it on both hot and cold. If we genuinely believe that these men, who have reached retirement age or have become redundant in the Territorial Army, have served their country well, it behoves each one of us to make sure that when they are displaced full regard is given to what has happened. A sergeant-major in my Territorial unit is being displaced next month. He has served for more than 19 years in the unit. He is not being kept on. I would ask the Minister not to take loyalty too far. Many of these men are still willing and anxious to serve in future emergencies. I know that a difficult decision has to be made on the financial issue, but I hope that the Government will get their priorities right.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), knowing, as I do, his work both in the law and in the Territorial Parachute Regiment.
What he said was all important. He would not expect me to agree with everything, but the way in which he ended his speech, when he referred to the loyalty of the Army, is of first-rate importance in the difficult times that are bound to come.
The "nigger in the woodpile", if I may use an obvious metaphor, seems to be the Treasury. I sympathise with Service Ministers because they are subject in so many matters to the Treasury.
Regarding payment to the troops, we as a party were to some extent as guilty as anybody. The cutting by half of the biennial payment was bitterly resented by the Services. We are still going on under the present Government with this sort of thing. I need not refer to medical officers, because that matter has already been debated. The hon. Member for Toxteth will be interested to hear that legal officers in the Army are still without any increase in pay as compared with the ordinary Service officer.
1120 What is being said about that, and I believe it is true, is that nobody has kicked up a row on their behalf. This is the uneasy feeling which one finds in the Services. When a difficult situation arises, difficult in the sense that it is not what the man expected when he joined the Services, there is the thought that he cannot get the people in charge to treat him fairly. This produces an extremely bad atmosphere, and I hope that the Government will realise this, because this will be the test if it is necessary and it is finally decided to bring a large number of Servicemen back to this country. They did not necessarily join for service in this country. Many of them joined with the idea of seeing the world, and if they are unable to do this there will be a feeling of boredom unless careful and wise arrangements are made.
We all know that the widows of officers of a decade or two ago are in poor straits. This is a topic which I shall not exaggerate or talk too much about, but it is an example of the fatal fact that between the Service Ministers, who I believe genuinely want the best for the Army, there stands this Treasury control over expenditure. The amount involved for such widows is infinitestimal. I suppose that those widows' pensions would be covered by about £2 million, and the increase for legal officers would amount to a few hundred shillings. But these things are not done, and bad feeling percolates through the Services, in the way we have heard.
There is another matter which I think ought to be carefully considered. I have the privilege and the honour of representing Aldershot, which likes to call itself the home of the British Army. We are very pleased that there is a friendly relationship between the council and the Services there. Military members are on our council, and I hope that this state of affairs will continue, because I believe that it is a valuable link. One must attach considerable importance to this if there is to be a substantial increase in the number of Servicemen and families coming back to this country.
So far as I know, when a question was raised about the Services not getting a fair chance of obtaining accommodation, someone, I think it was the Minister of Housing and Local Government, sent a circular to local authorities asking them 1121 to help if they could and some did their best. This is a problem which must be dealt with if we are to bring back 25,000 or more soldiers, many of whom have families. I hope that the Services and local authorities will get together on this issue and that decisions taken by the Services will, wherever possible, fit in with the situation in local authorities. The Minister of Defence, whom I am pleased to see in his place, knows a great deal about the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act, and 1 wonder whether, in winding up the debate, he will say something about how the situation will be helped and financed by that Act which we passed about a year ago.
The White Paper contains a sentence which is rather frightening from the point of view of local authorities. It says:Furthermore, a sum of £20 million has been set aside for other expedientsthat is not for building, or for the hiring of accommodation, but forcaravans, mobile homes, the purchase of private houses and the rehabilitation of barracks.This is a really big issue, and perhaps I might quote as an example what has happened in Aldershot. We have built on nearly every available piece of land, and yet I am sure the Aldershot Council will be most anxious to help in any way it can. If, however, it is unable to do so, the Army should realise this and act accordingly.
These expedients are extremely frightening because they are unsatisfactory. I see that there is a proposal to build an extra hostel for families. This is a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with this difficult situation because it will mean that we may almost be helping to break up homes in some cases. It is important that the Minister should realise that this repatriation is almost a war operation and not something which can be treated merely as a matter of a few people coming back and arrangements being made for them.
I propose next to say a few words about the Army Cadet Force. We all remember the great interest which the late General Dimoline, whom we knew so well, took in the Cadet Force and the work that he did for it. The White Paper says thatarrangements are in hand to rehouse detachments of 15 cadets and over, who are at present accommodated in Territorial Army centres no longer required by the Regular or Reserve Army.1122 This is vagueness carried to an extraordinary degree. What sort of arrangements are being made, and is a detachment of 15 a satisfactory size? I doubt it.
I hope that the Minister will say something about the Staff College arrangements by which those who did not succeed in getting into the Staff Colleges, but were very near it, were given certain facilities and it was hoped at the time that by this arrangement we would satisfy the aspirations of people who were very good but who just failed the examination. I have not been able to discover anything about that. It would be of interest to know.
§ Sir E. Errington
That is more correct.
Finally, there is the question of the Seychelles. A figure of £100,000 has been given. I have had an opportunity of visiting that territory. As I understand it, the Commonwealth Office is providing £3½ million to build a civilian airstrip in the Seychelles. Why has the Ministry of Defence to help in this work, to the extent of £100,000, due to the establishment of the British Indian Ocean Territory?
I am sorry to have referred to so many odd points. My message to the Government is that they must realise that soldiers, sailors and airmen are willing to do their jobs, however unusual, if they know that they will be backed solidly by the Government. Secondly, local authorities will help to solve these problems, but there has to be consultation with them to ensure that this is so.
§ 6.51 p.m.
Mr. Colin Jackson (Brighouse and Spenborough)
With the permission of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) I will not follow him in his remarks about the Seychelles, although I listened with great interest to everything he had to say. I join other hon. and right hon. Members who have paid tribute to the Army in its work overseas and at home. I have had personal experience of this. Last year I saw the Army in Cyprus performing a valuable rôle in the United Nations and the individual garrisons at Dhekelia and Episcopi, and not long ago I recall our forces in 1123 Aden performing an infinitely difficult and trying job with great courtesy and consideration. The way in which our armed forces were operating in Aden showed an increased sensitivity for the local community, compared with the situation in Cyprus a few years ago.
I want to explain why I believe that we need to continue the run-down of our Army units abroad, and I hope that I can point to definite political reasons behind the military thought. Let us take the question of Aden. In my opinion, we are right to provide for the withdrawal of our forces next year. When I was in Aden I noted the way in which our battalions—from the Royal Sussex, the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the East Anglian Regiments—were occupied. The majority were not occupied as teeth arms, on a fighting job; they were occupied in looking after British families in Maala, and the homes of senior colonial officials. They were working eight hours on and eight hours off. No member of our Army could enjoy that. He would not have expected to be involved in such work when he joined.
I know that there are terrorists in Aden, and I deplore their activities as much as does any other hon. or right hon. Gentleman, but there comes a time in any country—whether it be Cyprus, Algeria or Kenya—when there arises among the local population, excluding any question of terrorists, the feeling that the Army element from a foreign country should leave.
If attempts are made to resist this feeling, as happened in Algeria, there is liable to be an escalation of tension to an infinite extent. In the case of Algeria between 400,000 and 500,000 French soldiers were involved, and President de Gaulle's first solution was a ghastly disaster for the local French population. Fortunately we do not have a large indigenous British population in Aden. We are having an escalation to an unlimited extent in Vietnam.
Next year a United Nations presence in Aden may commend itself in the United Nations and around the world. An indefinite pledge by Britain to stay would make life more difficult for the international position of the South Arabian Federation. It would not be accepted 1124 by the Arab League if there were a British base in Aden, and its possibility of being admitted to the United Nations would be further reduced.
§ Mr. Ramsden
I appreciate the hon. Member's point about the United Nations, but in regard to his analogy with Cyprus, even if the United Nations take a hand how many of the units are likely to be British units, still tied up in Aden?
When I said that I believed that our forces should leave next year I had in mind that we should leave if we were expected to bear the sole responsibility. Cyprus is the most interesting analogy. I would not exclude the possibility of the presence of British troops in Aden, just as in West Iran there was the presence of Pakistan forces, but an indefinite sole commitment would do no good to the territory itself, and would certainly do great harm to our Army units.
I now turn to the question of the Persian Gulf. Are we to understand that the Army unit based in Sharjah will be an unaccompanied Army unit? My experience of that part of the Gulf leads me to suppose that it is not a suitable station for families, but I have not seen it specifically stated that it will be a station for soldiers without their dependants.
I wonder what thought is being given to the difficulties involved in the presence of British Army units in this part of the Trucial Oman area. Up till now we have had only the Trucial Oman Scouts. It has been an extremely conservative area in the past, unused to the presence of external forces, and I can foresee considerable difficulty arising between the local inhabitants and British forces in this area unless some kind of current affairs programme of education is initiated.
The increase in building in the Gulf, which will cost £2½ million, is very considerable, and an increase in British armed forces—and particularly in the Army—may involve us in deeper political trouble at the beginning of the 1970s. In view of our policy of withdrawal from Aden—to be succeeded, we hope, by a United Nations force—it would not be right to suggest that a withdrawal from the Persian Gulf by our forces would be suitable at the moment. This is an area 1125 of turbulent change. We have one position of change under way. We should not inaugurate a second.
By 1970 not only Egypt but Syria, Algeria and Iraq will be questioning the British presence in the Gulf, as they are questioning the British presence in Aden today. I hope that some thought is being given to alternative defence arrangements in the Gulf. The eventual answer to the Kuwait situation was the presence of an Arab League force with a U.N. connection, although the initial force involved was British. If we close the Aden base, I do not see that we have a sufficient follow-through of assistance in extra forces to hold any upsurge in Kuwait. Therefore, the basic premise of the additional forces is lost, because we do not have the back-stop in Aden. The increase in Army units in the Persian Gulf may in the end be an unwise move.
Will the return of our Armed Forces from the Cyprus garrison mean the closing of either Dhekelia or Episcopi, or simply a further run-down of both bases? On economic grounds it would be difficult to argue for the maintenance of both those vast military complexes. They were built for an entirely different situation in the Middle East and the Near East than now exists. Fortunately, the Cyprus Government do not feel as strongly about run-down problems as do the Government of Malta.
If Dhekelia were to be given up and if there were to be a concentration on Episcopi, one novel suggestion might be that Dhekelia should become the first headquarters of a United Nations force overseas, perhaps even with a small British contingent, because we are responsible for the logistic support of the United Nations troops in Cyprus today. The presence in Cyprus of a small U.N. force might be a valuable means of preventing general war from breaking out along the Israeli-Arab frontier, which is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous areas in the world.
Moving on to the question of the total number of British troops in Singapore and Malaysia, I am not one of those who thought that a date could be put to the withdrawal of British troops from South-East Asia. I have not believed that the last Army unit could be spelled out today to be out of Singapore in 1969. It is 1126 only necessary to look at the problem there is in Malta, with a much smaller total of forces involved, to realise what would happen if "exit 1969" were to be marked as the target date for the British Army in South-East Asia. The one-third to one-quarter of the population which is employed by our Army, air and naval bases would, with a run-down of 2½ to three years, be thrown into unemployment and chaos.
There is a democratic Government in Singapore. Any hon. Member who has visited the territory must be proud of it —for example, the arrangement for the education of children. What talks are now going on about phasing after the withdrawal of certain teeth troops in the next year to 18 months? When it comes to the reduction of the bases, where a large number of Singapore citizens are employed, we shall have to watch out for a Malta-type situation.
There have been reports about discussions round the table between representatives of the Malta Government, the Department of Commonwealth Affairs, the Department of Overseas Development, and the Ministry of Defence on the problem of Malta in the next few months. I hope that talks are now taking place about the rundown of Singapore beginning in the second half of 1968. It is too early to say whether the Army presence should be closed to Singapore. This cannot be decided until at least 1973 to 1975.
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) referred to political union or closer action between Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. All hon. Members will hope that in the early 1970s South-East Asia, through political discussion and political partnership, can be taken out of the cold war, but it would be unwise to announce 1969 or 1970 as the date for withdrawal.
Finally, I come nearer home, to Germany. My understanding is that, unless the defence talks go well with the Bonn Government, a considerable portion of the Rhine Army will be arriving home in the United Kingdom. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that the size of the British Army must be contracted. There is nothing sacrosanct about the total number of soldiers in the Army. Its strength is based on the tasks required of it. One of the great things about Britain is that 1127 we have learned to adapt ourselves to the ages. We have been described as a chameleon with principles: we see which way history is going and get round in front of it.
Inevitably there will be a contraction of the British Army overseas. Therefore, we should be planning for it in our long-term arrangements for the Army here at home. The Secretary of State for Defence has said that no definite statement about the size of the Army can be made until the talks with the Germans are concluded. It seems from all the evidence that there will be a need for a reduction there. There will therefore need to be a reduction in the total size. I wonder whether the advertising campaign aimed at getting people to join the Armed Forces will not have to be reviewed. Such a review would be in line with our long-term policy.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Russell (Wembley, South)
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson) said that there was a democratic Government in Singapore. I was tempted to say at the time that that is more than we have in this country, in view of the events of the last four days.
I hope that the Government will take some notice of the excellent speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), which most of us on this side will wholly endorse, of much of what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), and of the remarks just made by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough about not withdrawing too hastily from Singapore. I think that the hon. Gentleman by implication meant from Malta as well. These are vital factors. It is wrong to run down in the way which the Government are following at the moment, and I hope that they will reconsider the important points which have been raised.
My speech will be directed not to that aspect of policy but to certain points which came to my attention in going through the Army Estimates the weekend before last. I put down some Questions last week, to which I have had Answers of varying satisfaction or otherwise, and 1128 I wish to probe one or two matters further now.
My first question may be thought trivial but I regard it as pertient. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw), by a slip of the tongue during his speech, called the Minister the Parliamentary Secretary. That is a very good name for the hon. Gentleman, but his full title is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army—10 words. His opposite numbers in the Navy and Air Force take 11 and 12 words respectively. Last week I put a Question down to ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he would shorten these titles by cutting out at least the words "for Defence", which seem completely superfluous. The answer I got was a blunt "No", without any reason.
Will the Minister say why it cannot be done? The present title must be a bugbear to typists in all the departments of the Ministry. It must certainly be a bugbear to toastmasters if the hon. Gentleman goes to dinners where he has to be announced by his full title. It must be the most cumbersome title ever given to any Minister in the public service, and I hope that the Secretary of State will look at it again.
Vote 8, Subhead E, covers the comparatively trivial sum of £1,440,000 for "Compensation for Losses, Damage, etc.", mainly for traffic accidents and training. Why has that amount of money to be spent—the amount last year was a little larger—principally on compensation of this kind? Why are there so many traffic accidents in the Army, which cost about £675,000 a year in compensation entirely, one supposes, to third parties? It probably does not include the cost of damage to Army vehicles or the cost of hospitalisation—if I may use an awful American word—of any of the soldiers involved. Could we have more detail to show why the figures remain so high? Why do all these accidents take place, and is anything being done to reduce the number?
§ Sir R. Russell
I am interested to hear that. The hon. and learned Gentleman brings me to my second question: can 1129 insurance take it over? Perhaps insurance will not take it over. Why does the Army have to bear the brunt of the third party claims made against it in that way?
Next, the question of training, for which the Estimate for compensation next year is £691,000. We have heard this afternoon that the Army has training areas of varying adequacy, not so much in this country though better, perhaps, in Germany or elsewhere. How does damage to this extent take place, presumably, outside the areas allocated for training? One assumes that the Army's training areas either belong to the Army or are leased to it, and they are confined to the Army. Where is the damage done, and how does it come to such an enormous figure? Perhaps the Minister will give me an answer either today or by letter later.
Now, Vote 10, Defence Lands and Buildings. Why is the cost of the purchase of land and buildings £15 million in 1967–68 compared with only £2,500,000 in 1966–67. Does the difference arise from the bringing home of the Army, possibly from Germany, Malta and elsewhere, or is it due to some new policy about which we do not yet know? I know that some of this amount is offset by sales of land and buildings, but I should like the Minister to tell us why there is that difference.
Finally, the question of ammunition and explosives, under the Army Estimates and also the Estimates for the Defence Services as a whole. We are estimating to spend for the Army alone £29½ million on ammunition and explosives in the year 1967–68, and the figure for all three Services is £49½ million. The total over the last 20 years, which is as far back as one can go with comparable Estimates, shows that the Army has consumed no less than £384 million worth of ammunition and explosives in what we call peace time. I realise that that includes the Mau-Mau trouble in Kenya, the war against Communism in Malaya, the recent confrontation in Borneo, the troubles in Cyprus, in Palestine and in Aden as well—perhaps other hon. Members can think of further areas of trouble—but, even allowing for the immense amount of training, including battle training, which a modern Army must do, I wonder why it costs that tremendous sum in ammuni- 1130 tion and explosives in peace time over 20 years. It can include only explosive bombs used by the Army, not bombs used by the Royal Air Force, for example.
Is there room for economy in expenditure on ammunition and explosives? It seems an enormous sum for a peace-time army, even allowing for the warfare of a "colonial" type which has been going on in various parts of the world during the past 20 years. I hope that the Minister will give us more information.
I end by emphasising what I said at the outset. I hope that the Government will take note of the feeling on both sides of the House against too hasty a rundown of our defence forces, particularly in bringing troops back from Germany too soon.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Those of us who have been critical of the Government's major defence policies in the last few days and who, quite frankly, would like to see some type of India operation in leaving east of Suez are none the less concerned about the soldiers and their welfare. Indeed, I think that many of us are no less concerned about the welfare of the individual soldier than those who take a different view on the major items of defence policy.
First, I want an assurance from the Minister on the Air Estimates. I understand that he is to make an announcement of some importance in the Air Estimates on the vexed subject of the bodies of serving men being brought home. His Department knows—it happened in his predecessor's time—that I have a constituency interest here, the case of Private Gomez, of Linlithgow, who was, unfortunately, killed in Aden in tragic circumstances. Although the Minister at the time did his best to make it possible for the body to be brought home, regulations were such that it was not possible, and the grave of Private Gomez is out in the Middle East. From this case and others brought forward by my hon. Friends, I take the view that in the very difficult circumstances of service in the Middle or Far East we should at least give the families of serving sailors, soldiers and airmen the assurance that their bodies will be returned home should tragedy happen. I 1131 hope that there will be an alteration in Government policy on this matter.
§ Mr. Reynolds
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force will deal with that subject in the Royal Air Force Estimates (Vote A) debate, which I understand is likely to be some time next week. But I tell my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) straight away that any change which he is then able to announce will not be retrospective.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I understand that point.
Another point that is considerably important to the welfare of the Services is the question of compassionate leave. Like many other hon. Members, I have a constituency interest. After an industrial accident to a member of the family at home, the eldest son in the Navy in Singapore was this week refused compassionate leave to return home and look after family affairs. I know that expense is involved, but it is a small matter compared to the knowledge that one can return home should bereavement take place, and the effect of that knowledge on the morale of the Services. Although I am a critic of the Government's defence policy, we are all concerned about the welfare of the individual Serviceman, and there should be a great change in Government policy on that matter.
I now turn to Vote 10, which concerns land and training areas. Whereas the costs were £2½ million in the current financial year, they will rise to £15,290,000 in the next financial year. To anyone who views the rising cost curves with alarm, for reasons that have been given previously in the debate and which I do not want to repeat, there occurs the whole question of training areas and facilities in Germany. Is it or is it not a fact that there is about £400 million-worth of British assets in the form of barracks and training areas in Western Germany, built up ever since the Rhine Army went into occupation?
If my figure is wrong I hope that that will be denied. But if there should be withdrawal from such facilities on an appreciable scale I should also like to know from my hon. Friend precisely what the contractual arrangements are with the German Government on a matter 1132 of that kind. I speak as a former member, for three years, of the Public Accounts Committee, which was deeply interested in such matters. May we have as full an explanation as my hon. Friend can give of the contractual arrangements he has in mind with the German Government both on land and barracks?
I share the view of several hon. Members opposite and one or two of my hon. Friends that it seems very strange, when we may be paying out vast sums for housing and other accommodation in this country—possibly very unsatisfactory accommodation—that we should at the same time be thinking of withdrawing from Malta. The Government should be prepared to swallow their pride and look at the situation again, because those of us with housing problems view with grave concern Government optimism that the necessary accommodation will be found. The Maltese want us to stay and I do not think that Governments should stick to decisions merely to save face. I should think a great deal more of the Government if they were prepared to look at the matter again.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The hon. Member has raised a very important point, which has been raised several times in the House, concerning the question of men who leave the Services and come back from abroad. He will probably be aware that in the past instructions have been sent to housing authorities to pay regard to the circumstances of men leaving the forces and coming home. I hope that he will press the point as far as possible.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The matter referred to by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is very important. It was referred to by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in his opening speech when he hinted that not all civilian local authorities gave the co-operation that they might to the military. I suspect that the housing lists of the authorities in the constituency of the hon. Member for Gillingham are longer than those in mine, and that it is very difficult for a local authority to put back potential tenants who have been waiting a long time and give priority to returning Servicemen. Representing a Service area, the hon. Gentleman must be peculiarly sensitive to the problem. I should like every local 1133 authority to be as co-operative as the best local authorities are.
That brings me to the question of Singapore, and here again I have a minority opinion. I would be for conducting an India type operation as soon as possible. I can understand that Lee Kuan Yew has his problems, but if the problem is to provide economic assistance when Singapore is changing from a commercial to an industrial city it could be done in a better way than merely by maintaining forces there. There is an optimum way of doing it, and if our arguments are mostly economic, as they appear to be, we should adopt a different method.
§ Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)
When the hon. Gentleman talks about an "India operation", what exactly has he in mind?
§ Mr. Dalyell
Withdrawal as soon as possible, the sort of thing the Attlee Government did in India—[An HON. MEMBER: "Kashmir."]—with all its disadvantages. I am prepared to face up to all the disadvantages as the previous Labour Government rightly did also in the case of Israel. It may mean putting stores into the sea and that sort of thing, but I consider that it should be done.
In his opening speech, my hon. Friend referred approvingly to what the Royal Engineers were doing in Thailand. Precisely what moneys are involved in the road building in Thailand? Why are we doing it? Does it involve the construction of air strips, and if so for what purpose are they being used, by whom, and under what Vote does it come in the Army Estimates? Many of us who have been in Cambodia and Burma are deeply disturbed about British participation in building up forces in Thailand because, as was demonstrated in the defence debate—and I shall not go into that any further—many of us feel that the presence of white troops provokes difficulty. The safest countries in South-East Asia are those like Cambodia and Burma which have adopted a strictly neutralist line.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State referred to the question of low-penetration aircraft and the hovercraft unit being set up in the Far East. I am interested in both these matters. Could my hon. Friend say precisely what 1134 weapons are being developed against low-penetration aircraft, bearing in mind the very considerable reference to Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, because if the Americans can develop Red Eye aircraft—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I just say on the question of equipment that I am hoping the Government have taken into account all the new technical advances in equipment, particularly those which affect lowpeneration aircraft.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I respect your Ruling.
May I come to the question of the career structure of the Services? I admit that, as many hon. Members opposite have pointed out, this creates extremely serious problems. Whatever the reservations of some of us may be on the general issues of defence, there are very considerable human problems which arise from the possible cutting short of an expected career. I am hoping that the Government, if they have to cut forces, will do everything possible to carry out the legitimate requirements of serving officers and men seeking their way into industry. The more that can be done in that direction, the better.
I should also be in favour of greater help to Service pensioners. There has been considerable pressure on this matter. As soon as the Government can do it financially, it would be right and proper that many Service pensioners who are in some need should be helped.
§ Mr. Onslow
Does the hon. Member remember that recently we were discussing in this House the setting up of a public service pensions commission? On that occasion we should have valued his support.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I qualified what I said, I think rightly, by referring to taking into account financial commitments. If the hon. Member wishes to make party points like that, that is fair enough, but I thought that the debate on the Army Estimates was an occasion for a general 1135 discussion. I was saying that I thought there was legitimate cause to give this matter further consideration. I think it right that this should be so. I am not prepared to commit myself to the Bill which came before the House, because 1 think there are other priorities. Granted that there are Service priorities, these should be taken into account.
On page 88, Vote IV there is the question of civilian employment. It appears to some of us that the dependence of the Services on civilians is more considerable than it should be. When it reaches the sum of £42 million we should be quite clear that all these civilians are actually needed. Going back some years to my own experience in the Rhine Army, it was certainly true in the early 'fifties that there were rather more civilians serving with the Armed Forces than was necessary. If there have to be cuts, this is something which should be looked at again.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows that I have raised the question of advertising, both in the interview I had with him and in subsequent correspondence. I should like him to tell us what is taking place from the point of view of cutting down advertising in what is often a rather misleading way, particularly in the quality Press. Perhaps he could say something about that when he winds up the debate.
Finally, and this is the main point I want to come to, I am extremely curious about what is said in the Defence Review on the question of "hearts and minds". Going through the Army Estimates rather carefully, I can find no heading under which this is discussed. I should like to know under what Vote the "hearts and minds" campaign is supposed to come. If it were a minor issue perhaps it would not be worth raising, but, in paragraph 25 of the Defence White Paper, the Government say:The 'hearts and minds' campaign was as critical to Commonwealth success in containing the conflict as the continuous jungle patrols and the system of helicopter supply. Lasting lessons have been learnt about the use of military forces to help people in their everyday lives.That is the importance the Government attach to this campaign. Are we to take it that it was really critical to Commonwealth success? If so, what is done to 1136 prepare for "hearts and minds"? Are Service men trained to do this? Is it left to the good sense of professional soldiers? What does it really mean? I can quite understand that in Borneo, Sarawak and elsewhere the British troops were often personally kind to indigenous peoples. It is in the nature of most British soldiers to do a good turn when they can. I accept that. That is not in doubt, and I am not in any way getting at the troops, but I am jolly curious when the Government begin to put such emphasis on this "hearts and minds" campaign, because when I was on a Ministry of Defence visit to the Far East I put a systematic series of questions to the troops on this issue.
In September, 1965, I remember well asking about "hearts and minds" in Singapore. I was told, "Ah, now we shall show you an actual example of 'hearts and minds'." I was taken to some kind of a boys' club in Singapore where all that seemed to be going on was a very disorganised game of basketball and some very desultory boxing, with no proper washing facilities. I do not doubt that the staff sergeant responsible for this was doing his best, but by no stretch of the imagination was that any kind of a "hearts and minds" campaign. It was small-scale good works by rather junior members of the Armed Forces there.
It may be argued by my hon. Friend that the "hearts and minds" campaign did not take place in Singapore at all, and that it was out in Sarawak where a confrontation was taking place. I can only report back—a number of hon. Members who were also on the delegation I am certain would bear me out as they asked similar questions—that at two out of four of the forward units to which we went we got the reply, not from one person but from quite a number of soldiers, that they had never heard of "hearts and minds". This was in September, 1965, in Sarawak to the south of Kuching. In two units we got the answer, "We do not do that here". I want to know what this is all about. What do people who carry out the "hearts and minds" programme actually do? On what scale?
My suspicion is that this is absolutely unrealistic and that one cannot talk meaningfully about a "hearts and minds" campaign conducted by troops who do not know the language—that is no discredit 1137 to them—of the indigenous people. It seems that this part of the White Paper—it was one of many reasons, though not the most important, why I voted against it—is absolutely sheer window-dressing. I do not believe that a "hearts and minds" campaign in any meaningful sense ever took place during the confrontation. It is perhaps outside the scope of the Army Estimates, but I do not accept, this perhaps is a minority view, that the British presence in Sarawak and Sabah was anything like as popular as the Government make out.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not think that the hon. Member can be allowed to pursue this any more.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Miss J. M. Quennell (Petersfield)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) holds a view which is held by some other hon. Members in connection with the repatriation of our forces from the Far East. When he gave way to me, he quoted the British withdrawal from Israel. That made me think of something which I should like the Department to bear in mind. When British forces were withdrawn from Israel, the United Nations forces which entered that country were led by Count Bernadotte, who was shortly afterwards murdered. We believe that United Nations forces will take over from British forces when we withdraw from Aden. I hope that provision will be made for those who, in the initial stages and until they are established in the area, will be exposed to terrorist attacks.
I want to direct my speech to a narrow but extremely important aspect of the White Paper. The most outstanding speech in the debate has been that made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who in a broad and reflective and philosophical contribution spoke of the relationship of the Army to the citizenry, a subject with which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) dealt in great detail. Preserving and maintaining good relations between the Army and the citizen is a difficult and delicate exercise which we shall have to consider very closely in the next 12 months, because if 25,000 or 30,000 men and about 6,000 families are repatriated to this country, problems which have hitherto been unimportant 1138 will be bound to arise. The preservation of good relations between citizen and soldier therefore requires consideration now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot spotted in the Statement on the Defence Estimates the sentence which I spotted. I should like to assure the Under-Secretary that this is not a concerted attack on his flank from the county of Hampshire, but is an entirely spontaneous action taken independently by two hon. Members from that county.
§ Miss Quennell
Perhaps later the hon. Gentleman will not think that I am giving him quite so much support. The passage in question reads:… a sum of £20 million has been set aside for other expedients, e.g., caravans, mobile homes, the purchase of private houses, and the rehabilitation of barracks. The bulk of the money will be spent on buying private houses in the open market on a scale not previously contemplated.A series of problems will be created if this matter is not handled at this stage, problems which hitherto have not been contemplated.
The sum of £20 million is a great deal of money for buying caravans, mobile homes and private houses. However, winding up the defence debate, the Secretary of State for Defence said:Mobile homes are not caravans"—which cleared up a great deal of confusion—they are prefabricated houses on hard standings, fitted with electricity and water. The number of mobile homes which we expect to require is about 20, and the number of caravans we expect to require for our forces returning under the Defence Review decision will be about 120. We shall be producing many thousands of permanent married quarters and many thousands of new private houses to accommodate those families at the same time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 392–3.]This money is therefore to be provided for the purchase of 20 mobile homes, 120 caravans, and private houses and the rehabilitation of barracks. I cannot seriously believe that only 20 mobile homes and 120 caravans will be required.
Even assuming that only those will be in occupation, a number of important problems are raised and they are all associated with the settling of a large 1139 number of men from the Armed Services into a civilian context. On the day before, the Minister of State in his winding-up speech had quoted other and equally important figures. He said that there were four methods of obtaining married quarters and he went on to enumerate them. He said that the Department was building 3,300 houses, but these, he said:take time to build. It takes a year or more to build a house from the time that a start is made on it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 222.]He went on to say that provision was made for the purchase of 4,175 houses, a figure different from that given in the statement, and he went on rather optimistically with the theory that British troops would be perfectly happy to spend the summer months in caravans while their houses were being built. After the summers which we have had recently, I wonder whether British troops would be perfectly happy, especially if they had come to this country from warmer and drier climes.
The Minister of State used a very telling metaphor when he said that the Government were having to provide the housing on the basis of the provision of a new town for 40,000 to 50,000 people. That metaphor was very good, because this provision will place great strains on local authority resources and services in the areas to which the men are sent and where they are housed, whether permanently or temporarily. It is therefore vital for the Secretary of State to consider what routes of communication, or routes of liaison, are created between the Army and the local authorities concerned. I am sorry to say that so far the evidence is that this communication is not as good as it should be.
My constituency contains two old-established large military establishments, although I cannot pretend to have the large connection with the Army which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot has. Nevertheless, the problems facing his constituency and mine are similar, although, because I have a different type of local authority construction, the problems which I want to pose may be a little more difficult. However, they will apply to every constituency which has camps to which men are repatriated.
1140 Appreciating the problems with which it might have to deal in connection with repatriation, in a statement Hampshire County Council recently said:The Ministry of Defence (Army) have notified the County Council of their intention to build 286 new married quarters at Longmoor and 269 at Barton Stacey to accommodate troops withdrawn from overseas, but they have not indicated how many children are likely to be involved. The Ministry have been asked to say what their proposals are for the county as a whole, but up to the present a reply has not been received. This information is necessary to enable the services provided by the County Council to be properly planned.That last sentence is the kernel of the whole matter. I quote from a letter written by the correspondent to the managers of the local Bordon County Junior and Bordon County Infants' School:At a meeting with the Headmaster and Headmistress of the above schools, the school managers viewed with alarm, the rise in numbers of children on the school rolls,… At the present time at Mr. Woodward's school, there are 250 on the roll. In September it is estimated that the numbers will rise to 300. If the new quarters which are being built are filled, then the numbers could very well be over 330.… With Mrs. Pierce's school the same problem exists. In the short space of three years the school roll has doubled. At present the total roll is 206. A further 30 will be admitted at Easter, and taking into consideration the infants becoming juniors in September, the number estimate on the school roll then could then be 220.This position prevails in the local secondary school which serves that area, and it highlights the problems facing local authorities if the Ministry tells them how many houses he proposes to build but gives no indication or estimate of the number of children likely to be involved.
While the Army has its own problems to solve in repatriating 6,000 families, there are problems for the local authorities, too. If there is no clear-cut and recognised route of communication between the Service Department and the local authorities, such problems can become very acute and embarrassing. Moreover, the caravans and mobile homes already mentioned can be sited and occupied far more quickly than it is possible to build hutted school classrooms.
It is absolutely vital that the local authorities should be informed of the Army's intention by some well-known route of communication, so that it can 1141 prepare for the problems which will face it. So far this route is not established. I do not expect the Minister to give me an answer on this point tonight, but I would be grateful if he could let me know in some other way which Department the county and the L.E.A. ought to approach, on this matter for information. Is it to be the Quartermaster-General's department, the G.O.C. of the command or the local commander? How are they to find out?
So far I have been speaking in terms of the L.E.A. and the county, but they are not the only authorities concerned. The county has planning functions and in this capacity it will be affected. The district authorities will be equally closely affected, because they will have the problem of coping with sewage disposal and water supplies. How will a rural district prepare for an increase of even 50 caravans? Not only will it have to find another vehicle, or two more vehicles, to deal with the problems created, but it may have to take on extra staff.
Apart from that, there is another problem which will affect both levels of authority in the health and medical services, with which both district and county authorities are concerned. The other aspect has to do with the housing problem. Here, with a nice fat bank balance of £20 million, the Army Land Agent's Department will be going round the countryside, buying up houses. In my constituency it has already bought up quite a lot. It is quite clear that where there is a newly developed estate, the developer may find that there are certain attractions in dealing with the Army Land Agent's Department. He will have one client and can sell a block of houses instead of having to deal with perhaps 25 individuals. This would simplify his problems enormously.
That raises a problem because if, in a certain area, the Army is mopping up the available houses, it will create a shortage. This can have two effects. It can have the effect of driving up the price of the remaining houses in the area, and secondly it can throw a further burden on the rural district as a housing authority, since people who have to live in the district will go to the housing authority and it will not be able to tell them to go and buy a house, knowing that they are perfectly well able to do so financially, 1142 because the authority will know that there are no houses available to buy.
In some areas the housing problems can be made artificially acute by the Department's purchase of houses, as indicated in the White Paper. Housing authorities should also be informed, out of courtesy if nothing else, where the projects are contemplated, and where they are being made, so that authorities are in a position to adjust their own programmes to deal with the repatriation of our forces, with all the problems involved.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
Anything that I say in the next two minutes will not, I hope, reflect on the proud tradition of the British Army. I take a lot for granted from the British Army, especially its ability to tackle all sorts of jobs. At this point I must say that there is no need for my hon. Friends to worry about the "hearts and minds campaign", because this is something, again, which I take for granted from the British Army. It is something which in my experience of the Army just happens. I am intrigued by the Motion on the Order Paper which says:That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 237,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1968.I look at the breakdown of these figures and I find that the numbers in the Army for 1967–68 will decrease by 500 men. In the same column I find that the number of officers will increase by 200. One finds that the ratio of other ranks to officers in the period of one year is from 8.7 other ranks to one officer to 8.5 other ranks to one officer. If we go on at this rate, we shall have more chiefs than Indians.
§ Mr. Dalyell
While I accept the natural decency, if I may use that phrase, of British soldiers, I tried to find out what is special about the "hearts and minds campaign". This strikes me as having, by definition, some kind of ideological concept. It is the ideology of this which I suspect very deeply, rather than the decent goodness of the British soldier.
§ Mr. Concannon
I think that my hon. Friend worries too much over this point. It need not be a planned campaign— 1143 ordinary British soldiers have done this over the years through a natural instinct. In opening the debate, my hon. Friend spoke quite a lot about the recruitment of officers and similar things. He said that he would like to see a larger increase from the ranks through officer cadet training and on to Sandhurst. The problem arises when they have finished their training, and they go in front of the selection board. What happens about the recruit's choice of regiment? Many of these officer cadets will go for certain types of regiment, so that some kind of selection will have to take place to decide who goes where. Can my hon. Friend give me any further information on this point?
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) paid a great deal of attention to the Territorial Army. As time goes by, this Government will take a great deal of credit for the reorganisation of the Territorial Army. I would sooner see a smaller but more efficient force. While my short period in the Territorial Army was not completely a farce, I think that everybody serving in it at that time would have agreed that some reorganisation should take place. To be trained with wireless sets which we sent to Russia during the war and which still had on them the instructions in Russian was not conducive to a good and well trained force. I have been told by the sergeant on my excursions to the local drill hall that all this sort of thing is finishing. The Territorial Army is now a well-organised, well-drilled, well-armed and well-equipped force of which the men in it can be proud.
During the defence debate and during this debate one theme has been paramount, namely, the question of the families of soldiers returning to this country. The composition of the Army has changed in the last 20 years. When I joined the Army just after the war it was a bachelor's Army. The pay at that time was not conducive to a man being anything else than a bachelor. Pay was only 4s. a day and the marriage allowances and things of that nature were not good enough for a man to think about getting married and having a young girl following him round the world living in married quarters.
1144 The married quarters of those days were a sight to see. I remember in my early Army days doing fatigue duty. If anybody did the coal fatigue at the Stillington Street married quarters this was enough to send him absent for a fortnight. This made me make up my mind to be a bachelor during the time that I was in the Army.
When National Service ended we had to think again about the size of the Army. We had to induce the Regulars to sign on for a longer period. It also meant inducing craftsmen and technicians to join the Army. The inducement obviously was the big wage increase which was given to the Armed Forces at this time which put them on a par with civilian employees. There was also the increase in the married family allowances and things of this nature. At the same time there was a housing problem. Previously, the only people who used to be in the married quarters were the old-time Regulars, or the Regular who signed on for 21 years, non-commissioned officers, and so on. There were very few other ranks with families in those days. This made life in the Army all the easier. The Army could be moved without so much unrest and upheaval being caused to families.
At this time I did two trips to Egypt. The first took just over 10 days on a troopship. The second took me one day. I found myself being chased round Piccadilly Circus by some military policemen early one morning. The next day I was out guarding the Canal Zone in a sandstorm. The Army judiciary has been going through a bit of heavy weather just lately. I cannot understand why. My friend and I who were chased round Piccadilly Circus claim that we are the only two members of the British Army who did their punishment in Egypt for being caught out of bounds in the middle of London.
The big change in the Army came in the mid-1950s. Pay and conditions were improved. The type of person who was brought in changed the concept of the Army into a married man's service. One could see this happening in one's constituency. A young lad would join the Army, would see the benefits of being married and on the first opportunity would get married and sign on. This obviously was the purpose of the wage 1145 increase. When a soldier signs on for 12, 15 or 21 years, the Army accepts that it has to keep a family with three, four, five or six children.
Up to the Defence Review of this year, this was all well and good. All the time that we have had an Army we have never had the room in this country to barrack and house them. This meant that for a great deal of the time half the Army and half the married families had to be overseas. In the Defence Review last year the bringing home of 25,000 troops and 6,000 families was made a paramount consideration. With the changing rôle, we have to have changing conditions. Therefore, we shall gradually have to fetch the men home and station them here instead of overseas. We shall have to make room for their families.
The unfortunate thing is that political and military decisions must be made in the light of social and welfare conditions. New camps and houses must be built as soon as possible. This was why I was very pleased to read what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in the defence debate. He stated:… when we are talking about the redeployment of forces we are talking about flesh and blood, about moving not inanimate objects or statistical abstracts, but troops and their families who are human beings and who require barracks or housing in their new location."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 102.]These are fine words, and they must bear fruit. We must have these houses and barracks if we fetch our troops home. I have no doubt that this is the ultimate aim. If we do not require these troops, we must demobilise them.
This is where I disagree with some of my colleagues. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and his companions underestimate the position. I agree with their object, but I do not think that we can achieve it in six or 12 months. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East made quite a lot of play about resolutions at the Labour Party conference. I agree with the resolution which was passed at that conference. But I must point out to him that the passing of resolutions has not solved the problem. It still exists. If passing resolutions solves problems, may I say that I have one or two lined up for next year's conference.
1146 The natural follow-up of the resolution passed at last year's conference is that we must pass another resolution which says that all the Government's commitments must cease forthwith. I learned my lesson in this matter as a very young trade unionist when I first took office. There were some agreements which I did not like. When I called to see the gentleman with whom I had had to argue the point, I said, "I want no part of this agreement. We must negotiate another one". His stock answer was, "We will start afresh. We will cancel them all." This is the point which my hon. Friends miss. Agreements which are made, even by previous Administrations, are binding on the Government.
I am honest enough to think that the Government will not spend £1 more than they are forced to spend. I am prepared to concede this point. I also believe that we must have enough troops and equipment to fulfil our commitments in the world. The only time to reduce our forces is when our commitments disappear. The only time that they disappear is when we have worked them out or they disappear by mutual consent. The three-year agreement with Germany ends on 31st March. Then will be our opportunity to negotiate another agreement.
We should consider the composition of the Army. I should like to see the day when, instead of the emphasis being put on the married man with a family, the emphasis is once again put on the bachelor. The structure of the Army has been based on families inducing the husbands to sign on. I should like to know whether there is any way in which we can induce bachelors to join the Army and stay bachelors while they are in the Army. I know that this is a a difficult matter. Demobilisation should be selective. The biggest liabilities should be demobbed first. The biggest liabilities are obviously men with large families. It may sound a revolutionary idea, but if a man joins up as a bachelor we could possibly think of paying him a bonus if he stays single in the Army. That would be something new.
I should like now to turn to the position in Aden. During the weekend I have been reading speeches made at the weekend and speeches reported in HANSARD, and the first question I must ask about Aden is, why are we there at 1147 all? Judging by the speeches I have heard and read the only deduction I can draw is that we are there to protect our oil supplies and assets. Hardly anybody has made any mention of the people who live there, or of protecting them.
I was in the company of some managing directors of some international oil companies last week, and I asked one a point blank question, "Does your supply of oil depend on British troops in the Middle East?" He gave me a point blank answer: "We should be pretty poor business men if that were so". I tend to believe him, but it is obvious that there are Members of this House who do not tend to believe that.
When are we going to learn from our previous mistakes? When I was in the Army in Palestine I heard said umpteen times the sort of thing that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) said in his speech about Aden—that if the troops came out, they would be angry and defeated. If that is so, I must have been the angriest and most defeated man in the Army in Palestine at the time when we left there. I left with only what I stood up in. We had more or less to fight our way out; we came out in battle order. I left in what I think was the last ship to leave the harbour on 31st May, 1948. But I was not disappointed at leaving. I was glad. I think every British soldier that day was glad to be out of Palestine.
It must be remembered that the date for our leaving Palestine had been known for months and months previously, and I say to my colleagues on the Front Bench and to hon. Members opposite that if we had not left Palestine at that date and at the appointed hour what would have come after would have been worse than anything before. The whole thing would just have blown up in our faces. If we do not come out of Aden at the appointed time, the same thing will happen. What we are having now will be nothing to what will then occur, if we do not keep our promise and come out in 1968.
I have said that we are in Aden to protect our oil supplies, and nobody has disagreed with me, and the speeches which I have read and heard convince me that it was our oil supplies and our assets which concerned us in Kuwait, 1148 North Africa, Persia and Palestine. The best example is Suez. And what happened in those countries? I went out to Suez twice. The last time, I was flown out, and I was put on guard at the Suez Canal, the very next day after arriving from England. While I stood on guard there in the moonlight of a desert night, while I was guarding that strip of water to see that nobody pinched it, an officer would come round, and say, "Any questions?" I would say, "Yes", and I would ask, "What the hell are we doing here?" The stock answer I used to get, and obviously got all the time, was that, if we left, those Egyptians—though at that time he did not call them Egyptians—would not be able to run the place. Well, we all know now that the only time the Canal closed was when we closed it down.
When shall we learn from the lessons of the past? Sometimes the presence of British troops in other countries can set off a chain reaction, and the mere presence of British troops in Aden could set off a chain reaction. I can remember how, since the war, instances like that have happened. Can anybody deny, for instance, that but for the American presence in Vietnam the Vietnamese issue would have been settled? We might not have liked the solution, some of us, but I am sure the conflict would have been over.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
The hon. Member is getting a little wide of the Army Estimates.
§ Mr. Concannon
I will draw to a conclusion. The only thing 1 was going to say was that if we were to ask the Vietnamese people we should have to remember that some 10,000 of them are already dead and they cannot give us an answer.
The final plea I make to my colleagues on the Front Bench is for the troops in Aden. I think that the strain on the Armed Forces in Aden at this point of time must be dreadful. I have been through that type of warfare myself; I have been through that type of guerrilla warfare in Palestine, North Africa and Egypt. It is extremely difficult, and it is extremely tiring on the forces who have to carry it out.
They want no added difficulties put on them, and this is where I would make 1149 my plea, that we should not wait any longer to bring the women and children out of Aden. We must do this right away. They are an added burden on the forces in Aden.
It comes on top of all those snide little attacks made by people who should know better—and here I am talking about the people who try to convince Members of this House that British troops are a mob of torturers, and who say things of that sort about them. I know the conditions in which our soliders there work. Nobody can tell me that British forces would do anything unnecessarily harsh. I would put what is or is not necessary at this height: quite a lot of things are excusable when they save the lives of British soldiers, British children and British women.
I do not accept for one minute some of the charges which are made against British forces in Aden. We must relieve the forces in Aden of as much trouble as we can. This is why I plead with the Government to get the married families out of Aden right away. In my opinion they should not have been there in the first place, but that is water under the bridge. If we have not the accommodation for them, then send them on a world cruise. Put them on an aircraft carrier and send them on a world cruise. But as soon as possible let us have these families and children out of Aden. When we get the women and children back to England let us house them as well as we can and look after them. They are human beings and need looking after as much as any one else. As soon as possible I should like to see the women and children reunited with their husbands and fathers. We have no right to be in Aden. The sooner we are out of Aden the better.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) spoke nostalgically of the days of the bachelor Army and contrasted them with the present situation. According to recent figures there were more women and dependants with the forces overseas than there were soldiers. If there are 25,000 soliders returning to this country and 6,000 families, then the number of people involved may be as large as the hon. Member for Mansfield suggested. There may well be 25,000 dependants.
1150 This creates the problem of schools in this country, and this is where there is a conjuring trick. Once they are in this country the Ministry of Education will pay for their schooling and not the Army. This will create a great saving on the Armed Forces Vote, but it will make no difference to the economy of the country. It is therefore a bogus saving.
May I add my congratulations to the women's services on celebrating their Golden Jubilee? One of their very first senior officers was my first cousin, Miss Violet Markham, who, although she married Colonel Carruthers, liked to be known throughout her public life as Miss Violet Markham. She went to France in 1917 to visit the women serving with the forces in France. During her visit to France she took the opportunity of meeting her husband when he came on leave, and complaints were made to the War Office that while she was allegedly inspecting her girls in France, Miss Violet Markham had had a man in her room. The complainants said that this was disgraceful.
I should like to pay a tribute to our forces in Borneo now that they have successfully completed that operation. They have had to overcome appalling difficulties of terrain and long distances and they have given very successful help to the local population and made themselves extraordinarily popular.
The use of helicopters was underlined during those operations. It was as a result of the experience of the need for helicopters during confrontation that the vast expansion in helicopters was undertaken which the Secretary of State mentioned last week. I wonder whether there has been a review of the requirement for helicopters since confrontation ended. We are accustomed to preparing always for the last war and not for the next war. Helicopters were an essential feature in Borneo, but that does not mean that they will be an essential feature in the next problem that arises.
I hope that the Minister is not leaving the Chamber. because I want to say something about his efforts. I am glad to see that he is staying with us. Helicopters are a mixed blessing. They are extremely complicated and require many hours of maintenance, and they are very expensive. I should like to know whether there has been a revision of the requirements for 1151 helicopters since the ending of confrontation.
I echo the tribute paid to the Gurkhas by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). They have performed most wonderful service for the British Crown. A reduction to 10,000 men has been announced, but in the way in which the reduction was announced there is a possibility that there may be a bigger reduction. It is significant that while under the Conservative proposals it was intended that all eight battalions should be retained, the Government now propose to reduce the number of battalions from eight to six, and this will make it much easier to continue with a further reduction at a later stage.
On 27th February the Secretary of State for Defence said,We felt it right, when confrontation came to an end, to carry out the plans made by the previous Conservative Government before confrontation developed and to reduce the Gurkha ceiling to 10,000 men."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 741, c. 103.]As I have said, this is not exactly in line with Conservative policy, but even if I accept that the Conservative Government intended to reduce the number of Gurkhas, I should like to contrast the Secretary of State's words with those which he used on 16th February, 1965, when he said:The previous Government decided to reduce the ceiling for Gurkha recruits and were compelled to revise the ceiling upwards again in the light of the emergency which we faced in Indonesia. On the question of Gurkha recruiting, I am glad to say that the present Government have decided to stop playing about with this issue and to leave the target at 15,000 men.That is a very different situation from that two years later when confrontation ended, when he said that he was following the intentions of the Conservative Government. He was prepared to make party capital in a very offensive way in 1965.
I have to take issue with the Minister of Defence (Administration) on something which he said last Wednesday. I do not think that he was at his most polite when he said it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) who had asked him whether Fort George would be used for troops. He replied: 1152I can only say that the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware of the amount of money spent on rehabilitating Fort George when he was Minister of Defence for the Army. It is in very good condition. I visited it about eight months ago."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 494.]That was a pretty offensive snub.
I put down a Question to the Minister of Defence immediately after that, which was transferred to the Minister of Public Building and Works. His reply was that in 1963–64, about £7,000 a year was spent on maintenance and that in 1964–65 a special £22,000 was spent as part of a separate service to preserve the fort as a historic building. What my right hon. Friend was referring to, however, was the figure of £160,000 which is the cost of renovating Fort George to make it acceptable for British troops. This money began to be spent in January, 1967. The Minister has put his foot in it severely and I trust that he will withdraw and make a decent apology to my right hon. Friend.
In the White Paper, we are told that at Sandhurst academic subjects are to be abolished. I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary could give us some information about this. It seems a most extraordinary proposition that when a young man enters the Army to get a commission to go into the most highly technical Army, in which he must be able to understand battle computers and every sort of advanced technology, his academic career should be postponed when he arrives at Sandhurst, he will deal only with military subjects and several years later he will be expected to start up his academics again and undertake a university degree course. This is extraordinarily shortsighted. Sandhurst has had a marvellous reputation for its academic subjects. Now apparently, with very little explanation, this whole idea is to be torn up.
I turn now to the Territorials. Their primary rôle is stated in the Defence White Paper as beingto assist the police to maintain law and order and to act in support of the civilian authorities in general war.That, however, is not the only rôle. It is the primary rôle.
The Minister of Defence (Administration) told us on 2nd February last year that another rôle was the defence of the United Kingdom in the event of invasion. Another rôle, which he has not mentioned and which must be an important one, is 1153 the defence and guarding of key points in times of emergency. These rôles together call for a very different form of training than that solely for the primary rôle. The primary rôle barely needs a rifle and certainly not automatic weapons. These men, however, should be trained as soldiers in the infantry rôle and this should include field craft. This interesting training is also necessary to attract recruits, because the aim is to produce a disciplined force of soldiers. This should be the object of the training and equipping of the Territorials.
Existing training time is quite insufficient. There are an eight-day camp, four out-of-camp full days and 27 parades. The 27 parades should be increased to at least 52; they should be weekly. This would mean that each man would know that on a certain night in the week he should be at his drill hall; he would make his arrangements and would become accustomed to going. If he has simply to turn up 27 times a year, it will be merely a matter of fitting in occasionally when convenient to him. This is not nearly as satisfactory.
The four out-of-camp full days are equally unsatisfactory. At least another four are required. One or two days in the year are taken for field firing. A weekend from noon on Saturday must be at least two days. This means that possibly one weekend in the year will take up the full days' training out-of-camp allotment.
It is not good enough merely to say that the Territorials should be equipped in accordance with their primary rôle. They should be equipped to make a self-respecting force. The same can be said of transport. At present they are given one Land Rover per company, although the companies are widely dispersed and there is no possibility of pooling. Three-tonners are issued only on mobilisation. This means that the Territorials are virtually immobile. Even one three-tonner per company would be extremely welcomed by them. They would not ask for additional staff to look after these vehicles. They would be happy to garage them in their drill halls and look after them themselves. They would then at least have some mobility. I trust that this matter will be carefully considered, because the three-tonners are ready to be issued and it is only reason- 1154 able that they should be given to these units instead of being kept in mobilisation stores.
The signals equipment is also insufficient. One short-range radio is issued to each company. The Territorial companies may be spread anything from 10 to 60 miles apart and it is difficult to see how radio operators are supposed to be trained. I imagine that a radio operator must switch on his radio and then telephone a company 10 miles away and say, "I have switched on. Let us pretend we are on radio; over to you", and then carry out training in that fashion. It is ludicrous to work on a basis of one short-range radio per company.
Who supplies the communications equipment for the Civil Defence set-up? The Territorial Army has been helpful in Civil Defence matters in the past. The Regular forces will not be able to provide this assistance in the event of war because they will be overseas and fully engaged. Who, therefore, will supply the signals for Civil Defence? It will not be much good going to the Territorials at the last moment and asking them to help when they are so woefully short of radio equipment.
The No. IV Lee Enfield rifle was ceremonially interred at Bisley last year, having done a wonderful job of work over many years, but Lee Enfield rifles have been issued to the Territorials. There is an issue of 20 SLRs per battalion and I understand that these are normally kept at a central point and are not in general use with the companies. We need about 20 SLRs per company. There cannot be any shortage of these rifles, of which I understand there are 50,000 in the Territorial Army now. It is clear that a large number of these will be withdrawn and, presumably, put into store. Could they be issued on a more generous scale to the Territorials? I hope that in this and other matters the Minister will be more generous to the Territorials. They have a difficult job to do and it is extremely important that they should succeed in this task, but they will not succeed if all that we give them is thoroughly inadequate equipment.
The Under-Secretary referred to the Strategic Reserve and how it would be poised in Britain, ready to fly to any part of the world at a moment's notice. What does he propose to do about heavy 1155 equipment? In the past this concept depended on the holding of stockpiles of heavy equipment at places overseas, where all the equipment could be coordinated. Part of my own regiment flew out, from the United Kingdom to the Persian Gulf at the time of the Kuwait crisis and married up with their tanks in the Persian Gulf. It was a most successful operation. One day they were at Salisbury Plain, and two days later they were ready to take on anyone Kuwait.
When the Government have succeeded in closing down all bases overseas, what is their intention? I can only guess that it is that everything will have to be carried with the Army. In that case, will we have an extremely lightly-equipped Army for use everywhere except in Europe? If that is so, is the Minister satisfied—he ought to come clean on this—that the forces, if sent out on an emergency, can meet and take on the heavy equipment which they might encounter as a result of going overseas?
This year has been one of unparalleled uncertainty for the Army. This uncertainty is bad for recruiting, bad for morale, and bad for efficiency. I regret the muddle which has been brought about by the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Defence. It is virtually admitted in paragraph 2 on page 66 of the White Paper, which says:The intention is to relate Service plans more closely to national manpower resources …Surely the first thing to do is to determine our commitments and the number of men we need to fulfil those commitments, and to make sure that we get them by paying them adequately. Instead of doing that, apparently the way that we will look at all our commitments in future will be to relate Service plans more closely to national manpower resources. In other words, we cannot afford to pay our forces so let us cut them down.
I know that this would suit the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I have heard him say so on a number of occasions, but that is not the general view of the House, and it has not been the general view expressed on both sides of the House this afternoon. Surely, it is grossly unfair to send forces to do tasks for which they are not 1156 properly equipped, and in insufficient numbers. That is what I fear will result from the muddle which is now going on in the Ministry of Defence.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)
I believe that it is wrong to discuss this subject without first remembering all those who gave their lives, limbs or years of their lives for the defence of this country in the past. It is indeed probably right to say that the majority of families in this country lost some relative in one of the two World Wars. For their sake, as well as for our own, we should never return to a Munich state of unpreparedness in our defence until some form of universal disarmament is achieved; meanwhile, I hope that we will redouble our efforts to achieve some sort of United Nations peacekeeping force. That is quite a different matter from our present commitments to maintain our military forces throughout the world.
Ministers at the Defence Department have done very well within the context of the commitments which they are at present asked to honour, but it is my belief that our troops in fact have no business to be in the Far East or in the Middle East continuing a policing rôle which they inherited from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I believe that the peace-keeping there should be effected by the United Nations, and principally by means of development funds for aid instead of the present methods which we on this side of the House attacked the Tories for maintaining when they were in power.
Frequently, in fact, the presence of our troops in the Middle East is counter-productive to the ends we wish to serve. As other hon. Members have said, it often has the effect of inflaming the local nationalists. The help which we should be giving there should be for social development, and to India, for example, food and not arms.
Perhaps I might give two specific examples relevant to this debate. I am sure that everyone on this side of the House feels that our withdrawal from Aden comes not a moment too soon, but we are in danger of becoming identified elsewhere in the Middle East with just those sheiks who are now belatedly in Aden being replaced by trades union 1157 leader's and other democratic representatives. I hope that in the Persian Gulf we will work to hand over to the United Nation in the same way as the Government are seeking to do in Aden.
We often hear the argument from hon. Members opposite that it is essential to keep our troops in the Middle East to safeguard our oil supplies; but surely the answer to this is that French and American oil companies obtain their flow of oil perfectly satisfactorily without the presence of a single one of their troops throughout the Middle East.
Turning to another example, in Hong Kong it is not the presence of our few battalions that defends it against the Chinese. What preserves Hong Kong is the wish of the Peking Chinese Government to trade with Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is getting into the realm of defence and foreign policy, which is not admissible in this debate.
§ Mr. Whitaker
I accept your Ruling, of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Perhaps I might new ask some specific questions for the Minister to answer tonight with regard to economies which could be effected in our military forces. Why are we still spending considerable sums of money on advertising for yet more men for the Army when it has been apparent for some time that there is going to be a contraction of our military obligations?
Secondly, how much are we now spending on military bands? I believe that last year we spent £6¼ million on them. It is a sobering thought that we spent less than this, £6¼ million, on our contributions to the United Nations together with all its agencies. Does not this show a remarkable scale of values in our national priorities?
It is also a fact that some of our soldiers are still being employed full-time in looking after polo ponies and grooming private horses. I would be grateful if the Minister would say tonight how many of our soldiers are still employed in this way at the taxpayers' expense, what is the cost consequently to the taxpayer, and why the animals' owners cannot pay for this themselves? After all, 1158 such owners tend not to be the most impoverished members of the Army.
On a matter of a more important scale, I hope that the Minister will say what contingency plans are being made for the eventual evacuation of our troops from Singapore, which will create difficulties of a size that will make those of Malta small by comparison.
The problems of the military rôle which we inherited from the Tories, and the recasting of our concepts in this direction cannot be achieved overnight. But we as a Government have been committed to a rethinking of these policies for two and a half years, and one hoped that there would by now be more contingency plans made for bringing home troops, including plans for their demobilisation, for their rehousing here, and perhaps for starting in consequence various State industries in development areas. Could they not play their part also in what the Prime Minister spoke of when he said that he would like to see housing in this country treated as a military operation?
To summarise—the majority of Government supporters and, indeed, the majority of the country, irrespective of political party, have shown that they desire a firm change of emphasis in our military policy. Our fight for the strength of our economy would benefit from the demobilisation of some of these able-bodied men. I hope that the Minister will tell us tonight what further planning has been and is being made for the future, in the direction of converting our present 19th century nationalist military rôle into an international United Nations peacekeeping concept more compatible with the ideas of the 20th century.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) said that Aldershot was proud to be considered the home of the British Army. I have no wish to challenge that claim but I must declare an interest in the Army Estimates by reminding the House that many Army units are located in my constituency. They include the Staff College at Camberley, the Guards Depôt at Pirbright, the R.A.O.C. Depôt, the R.A.M.C. Depôt. the W.R.A.C. College at Frimley, and—another important unit which I hope to 1159 mention again later—the Defence Operational Analysis Establishment at West Byfleet. If I touch on a number of matters of general importance perhaps I may be excused in view of the constituency interests I have and the large numbers of soldiers and their families who are based in my constituency.
I begin with a general criticism both of this debate and of last week's debate on the Defence White Paper so far as it has been expounded and presented by the Government. The first man to devote himself to systematic thought on the subject of war was naturally a German—Clausewitz—who advanced the maxim that war is an extension of foreign policy by violent means. When we consider the rôle of our forces in any future war we are not inclined to approach the subject from the point of view that we seek war; we take the view that it is necessary for us, in deciding what forces we wish to have, to attempt to analyse whom our enemies may be, and the type of operations that we may have to counter. My main criticism of the Defence White Paper and the Minister's opening speech this afternoon is that this analysis has been completely lacking on the part of the Government. This is a very sad and regrettable state of affairs.
We have had a few indications of Government thinking. The Government seem clearly to take the view that there should be a European orientation of our Army effort. Last year's Defence Review, however, made it fairly clear that in the Government's view there were major threats to British interests and to world peace in theatres outside Europe. This point is made specifically in paragraph 24 of the Defence Review:It is in the Far East and Southern Asia that the greatest danger to peace may lie in the next decade …This has been totally ignored by the Government.
A particular point arising from this and relating directly to the Army is the statement in the Defence White Paper concerning the re-equipment of armoured regiments in B.A.O.R. with the Chieftain tank. There are clearly some unsatisfactory aspects even of what is said here. Paragraph 7 on page 33 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1967 contains this sentence: 1160The greater killing power of this tank, coupled with the increased protection, which it provides, will help to offset the considerable numerical superiority in armoured vehicles, which could confront our forces.That statement, boiled down, seems to amount to an admission that, if there were to be a conventional war in Europe, British tanks would be outnumbered. This is not in itself a new situation. We naturally hope that the Chieftain is a sufficiently good tank to compensate for the greater weight and umbers of armour which would be deployed against it by any attacker.
The point about the Chieftain goes slightly further than this. I was sorry that the Under-Secretary appeared to have no idea of the financial costs or numbers involved in re-equipment by the Chieftain. I do not know that the House has ever been given accurate figures on this matter, but my guess is that the cost of each Chieftain is about £150,000, that the number in each regiment to be so equipped might be [...] if the regiment is not fully up to strength, that the total sum of money involved in re-equipping each regiment is therefore certainly about £5 million, and that the number of regiments is to be so equipped must be at least five. So a very large sum of money is involved.
This is a considerable commitment in terms of money, on the re-equipping of our forces for a particular rôle because, however useful the Chieftain tank may be in armoured regiments which are to take part in a conventional war on the European land mass—a conventional defensive war is what it would be—and I believe that the preoccupation with such a commitment must have unfortunate effects upon the flexibility of the Army in general.
To consider what the general rôle of armour in a modern army is, we must go back to the first days of the tank and its invention. It was evolved to over come the particular circumstances of the 1914–18 war, and especially to enable troops to get over the obstacles of trenches and barbed wire and to provide them with protection from machine guns. It was basically also to provide a mobile gun platform whose gunners would have great security.
By its advent in that war, the tank had a considerable influence on the course of the war—if it had been better handled it 1161 would have had a much greater influence—and represented a new breakthrough in the course of land warfare. That breakthrough was carried further in the 1939–45 war, very largely by the Germans, but also by ourselves, the Russians and the Americans.
Is the concept of the tank in the rôole of a gun platform in a highly mobile battlefield still relevant? What is the Government's view as to where outside Europe tanks could be used? Do we envisage British forces ever being engaged on a major scale in a desert war, in a repetition of the North African campaign where tanks had particular uses? I doubt this very much. Can the Government see any rôle for Chieftain tanks in the paddy fields and the jungles of Asia? I doubt that very much. Possibly the only time where tanks have been of much use in an Asian battlefield was in Korea during the winter when the paddy fields were frozen and the going was hard enough for tanks to be employed.
§ Mr. Allason
Does my hon. Friend realise that, although Burma was thought to be a totally unsuitable country for tanks, we operated tanks all over the place in Burma and, by linking two tanks together, got them right to the tops of hills? They were invaluable in that jungle country.
§ Mr. Onslow
I know that tanks played a rôle in Burma, a very distinguished rôle in some operations, but those were particular circumstances where they were able to advance along mountain roads. They were at times used on the dry zone, but they were only really effective at the time when there was the least rainfall. If we were to be involved in a war in Thailand, Vietnam or some such place in the Far East, where it is possible to envisage a British involvement in the next 10 or 15 years, the use of the Chieftain tank, which is about three times as heavy as any used in the Burma campaign, would not seem very likely.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Before the hon. Gentleman goes further, will he tell us the cost of a Chieftain tank?
§ Mr. Onslow
That is a question which I have already addressed to the Government Front Bench and to which, so far, 1162 there has been no answer. If the hon. Gentleman shares my concern in the matter, he will, like me, have to await the Government's reply.
My point is that there is now a need for the British Army to rethink its heavy-tank philosophy. I believe that the likelihood of war in conventional terms in Europe is remote, and I suggest that there is much to be learned from the lessons of the American air cavalry. If we are thinking forward in terms of possible wars in which we might have British forces engaged in the next 10 or 15 years, that example is of great importance to us. Hon. Members opposite may not like any sort of rôle east of Suez, but, if we are as a nation to be able to play our part, or any part, in the containment of Chinese agression—we might find ourselves playing a part with the Russians and Americans on the same side as ourselves—we should remember, as Mr. Harrison Salisbury has recently pointed out, that the Chinese conception of warfare is war at 200 yards, and the value of Chieftain tanks in Asia in those conditions is likely to be fairly small.
To turn from crystal-gazing, in which I have followed the Minister who opened, to a more immediate subject. The Government's preoccupation, which is revealed in the White Paper, with the homeward movement of forces has created particular problems of accommodation, training facilities and the employment of the troops which, so far as we are able to judge at this moment, the Government have not thought through and on which they are in no position to give the House an answer.
First, the question of barracks and married quarters. If the only withdrawals are to be withdrawals from the Far East, from Aden and Cyprus, and the others which are detailed in the White Paper, there will be tremendous pressures in the United Kingdom. They will—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) pointed this out—result in a situation in which we have by no means as many acclimatised troops as we should have if we are to have a fully operational and mobile Army. On this ground alone, there seems to be the strongest possible argument for retaining the barrack facilities in Malta which the Government seem determined to give up. 1163 If all the troops are to come back to the United Kingdom a tremendous problem will stare us in the face. But I detected in the Minister's speech today, as also in the White Paper, a suggestion that some of the troops being withdrawn from the Far East might go to B.A.O.R. In paragraph 6 on page 33 of the Defence White Paper it is said:During the past year, we have again been obliged to make temporary withdrawals"—from B.A.O.R.—in order to meet our commitments in other parts of the world".In his opening today, the Minister again used the word "temporary", and it seemed to me that he stressed it.
What intention is there, if any, that units withdrawn from Asia and other stations outside Europe should be returned to B.A.O.R.? Perhaps he would be good enough to clear up the ambiguity on that point.
We know that emergency camps are being renovated in various parts of the country to accommodate units which must return to the United Kingdom. In spite of the answer which I received last Wednesday from the Minister—I cannot specify him, for there are so many Ministers of Defence in various capacities at the moment—it seems highly likely that some of the camps to be reactivated for that purpose are of a lower standard than camps and barracks which have been demolished since 1964. Some of that emergency accommodation probably still relies on bucket latrines, and I believe that within the past two years camps have been demolished which were of a higher standard than that.
About 700 married quarters have also been demolished in the past two years, or contracts for their demolition have been let. Was it really impossible to renovate them, and would not renovation have been much cheaper than the policy of building completely anew, to which the Government have now committed themselves? I strongly suspect that the sudden decision last July to accelerate the movement home of British troops has made a nonsense of the Government's previous policy on the provision of barracks and married quarters in this country.
1164 I should particularly like to know what the effects of the accelerated movement home will be on three matters which were briefly touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell). First, what will be the effect on the availability of houses for sale in areas where the concentration of returning troops will be greatest? How many houses does the Army intend to buy, for instance, in and around Aldershot, in Camberley or Frimley? How many buildings which are being put up for sale on the ordinary civil market will be pre-empted by the Army? It seems to me that the effect on the availability to ordinary house purchasers of properties they would like to buy must be very detrimental.
Secondly, what will be the effect of the burden upon certain local authorities of rehousing Servicemen who are discharged and who have no claim upon their own area, or who have no area of their own to which they can go to obtain housing when they leave the Services? Does the Minister intend to offer special help to councils which have in their areas the regimental and corps depôts from which those discharges are likely to take place? Has he had consultations with the authorities, and would he be prepared if necessary to offer them help and discuss with them the release of areas of surplus military land which may exist around some of the depôts?
Thirdly, what will be the effect on the local schools situation? In the South-East, where many of the depôts are located, pressure on school facilities is intense. We are constantly having to build new schools to cope with the expansion of population which occurs in the normal course of events. What will be the effect of the return of Service families to areas like that? What thought has the Minister given to the question, and what action will he take to help local authorities which find themselves in difficulty?
Thirdly, there is the question of training areas. It seems clear that if troops return from B.A.O.R. and if they remain assigned to N.A.T.O. there will be a need for more land for training, particularly for tracked vehicles. The Minister of Defence (Administration) admitted that in his statement of 27th February, in columns 216 and 217 of HANSARD. But what happens if those troops are not 1165 assigned to N.A.T.O.? Will there then be a need for further training facilities? I tried to put that point to the Minister when he was winding up last Monday night, but he was midway through his impersonation of a runaway train and rattling over the points so fast that he stubbornly refused to deal with that question at the time. Or do the Government intend that these units will be disbanded, as we suspect, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) argued the evidence seems to suggest? Or is there just to be no need for more training areas?
The Government must spell this out in much greater detail than so far has been presented to the House. What effect is the need, if it arises, for greater training facilities to have on the use of common land? Much of the use which the Army makes of common land in my constituency for training purposes already causes some annoyance and disturbance to local inhabitants when night exercises take place. Is such use to be intensified?
Then there is the occupation of the Army. On page 70 of the White Paper, reference is made to the problem of re-engagement. In particular, in paragraph 30, speaking of the Army, these words appear:These rates are too low, and great emphasis is being placed upon internal recruiting to improve them.What in the Government's opinion will now induce troops to re-engage? What is there in the prospects offered by the Army as a career which are likely now to make a man wish to extend his engagement and likely to make a wife wish her husband to extend his engagement? The influence of the family on soldiers in the matter of re-engagement is of crucial importance. This the Government seem to be ignoring. They should not be as complacent as I believe them to be about the prospect that many men, when they complete their term, will find their families living in mobile homes or other sub-standard accommodation, and bringing pressure upon them not to re-engage, which will be very intense.
Even if they do sign on, what are the peaceful uses to which troops in this country will be put? I imagine that the Government will not argue that there will be a continuing and increasing need 1166 for troops to be employed in the search for escaped prisoners. There are a number of other civilian activities in which troops can be employed, but the number is not limitless. Assuming that the policy of returning troops to this country results in a decline in the number of the forces, where is the margin of error? What capacity have the Government now rapidly to re-expand the forces in case their policy proves to be disastrously wrong?
This is a matter in which the existence and strength of the reserve forces is of vital interest, particularly in the Territorial Army. I remember going to Territorial Army camp in 1951 when we were in the curious position of finding ourselves suddenly brought up to strength as a unit by the recall of the Z men during the Korean War crisis. After a little difficulty, these soldiers, who had taken their discharge as they thought in 1946 or 1947, were fitted back into the unit to which they had returned, but that was because there was a framework which they could join. I doubt whether the Government are leaving themselves with any reserve framework which would be of use in any necessary expansion of our forces which may in future occur.
I wonder how well T.A. recruiting is, in fact, going. I hope that it is going well. Of course it is still early to judge what results are being achieved, but I have my doubts about this. It is quite easy in the atmosphere of an annual camp to get volunteeers to sign a declaration of intent to soldier on in a Territorial Army, but matters might appear very different when they return home and think it over in the cold light of civilian life.
If the Minister is looking for something for the troops to do, perhaps I can indulge in one piece of special pleading. I am a member of the Council of the National Rifle Association, although what I am about to say will not be said in that capacity. In my constituency we have the Bisley ranges, and the withdrawal of support which the Government have recently enforced on the Bisley meeting for the coming year has had a very difficult effect on the management of the meeting.
In the past, there used to be a unit, usually of battalion strength, which provided a number of very necessary services for the Bisley meeting. This year, we are to experiment with a different system, 1167 relying on the efforts of competitors and such labour as we may be able to enlist from the cadet forces of various schools and other sources of that kind. If the Government are looking for work for the troops to do, I hope that they will reconsider the possibility of reallocating a battalion to the Bisley meeting.
Although this might appear to be a marginal activity, this is a very popular sport which many people follow and which is threatened by rising costs. Secondly, the presence of troops in these conditions, which are not necessarily very easy, provides the unit concerned, especially the officers, with valuable experience of handling a unit in conditions which are not ideal. If most units are to remain more or less permanently based on their own barracks and relying on an established system of regimental accommodation and policing, when some departure from routine occurs there will be difficulty unless there has been experience of transfer into different surroundings, such as an exercise like this would provide.
I am very worried about this subject of the peaceful use of the Army. Many potential soldiers will not sign on because they will not wish to serve their term of engagement almost entirely in the United Kingdom. I wonder whether the Ministry of Defence has applied the techniques of the D.O.A.E. to this problem. As the Minister well knows, this is a unit which has the task of systematic analysis, using advanced scientific methods, to test the logistics and parameters within which the Army and other defence forces are operating or are likely to operate. It is a very valuable extention of the old A.O.R.E. I wonder whether we can be absolutely happy with the rather superficial assumptions in the White Paper—that the effect of returning a larger proportion of units to this country will have no impact on their morale or strength. I should like to know that the assumptions underlying this have been rigorously tested and whether they have been analysed by computer methods, which might teach the Ministry of Defence a number of useful lessons.
I repeat my fundamental complaint about the Government's attitude to national defence as revealed in these de- 1168 bates and particularly by what has been said today. We have had a Defence White Paper which seems to have been prepared and presented to the House by Messrs. Fudge and Scrooge—bogus statistics, a preoccupation with penny-pinching and very little real thought to the purpose of the Army and the conditions which it is likely to have to meet.
I take leave to doubt whether the Government have thought about the fundamental problems which the Army is now facing and particularly whether they have any answer to the criticisms which have been levelled at them by my hon. Friend today. They seem preoccupied with an attempt to conceal their intentions to cut the Army's size drastically, even though all the evidence seems to point in the direction of a decision to that effect. If that is in fact their plan, the country is entitled to know and so, too, is the Army.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I am amazed at the complete lack of imagination of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) who asked, "If the soldiers are brought home what can we do with them?" The obvious answer is that they should defend us at home. Defend us against whom? Every Friday we read about crimes, many of them in the centre of London. One hears of gangsters and bandits holding up banks, attacking innocent people with motor cars, right in the centre of London. Sometimes I would not be surprised if the Mace disappeared over the weekend. The hon. Gentleman will surely agree that we are desperately short of police. The Home Secretary is trying to build up a police force of 200,000 men, and the hon. Gentleman asks what we should do with these soldiers if we brought them home.
§ Mr. Onslow
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he may not have heard the exact terms of my question, which was broadly this: if the troops were brought home, what would the Government intend to do with them? Earlier in this debate we have heard the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) suggest that the Government intended to use them for strike-breaking. I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's 1169 suggestion that the Government should use them for police purposes, but what I want to know is what the Government intend to do.
§ Mr. Hughes
If the hon. Gentleman had been interested in that suggestion, why did not he make it himself? I am making the one constructive suggestion that I have heard in the debate in over two and a half hours, but the hon. Gentleman had not thought of it. He asks why have the Government not stated their policy. I want to defend the Government here. They are seriously alarmed as to how to defend the people of the country against the mail van robber, against the gangster, against the man who brings a motor car, jams up the street, and runs off with people's wages.
I suggest that a very considerable number of soldiers, with whom the hon. Gentleman does not seem to know what to do, could be employed in defending our people in their own streets. I am amazed at the hon. Gentleman's complete lack of imagination. I am sure that if one gives the soldiers the chance to return to civil life it will be found that a lot will be delighted to get the ticket that the soldier received the other day at half-past three in the afternoon, having been previously arrested by the Army.
I am sure that when he was released, and the House was delighted that he was released, he must have had thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the Army, wishing him good luck and wishing to God that they had been with him at half-past three that afternoon.
§ Mr. Hughes
I do not see any difficulty at all in reabsorbing soldiers in uniform into civilian life, in order to take their part in the industrial life of this country. They are as essential and as important here as they are hanging about, as some of them are doing, in Germany, doing nothing except quarrelling with one another and the civilian population. I am quite sure that if the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army sent a letter to every commanding officer in Germany asking for the names of all the boys who want to come home and serve in the police force, saying that they would be welcomed and paid the 1170 increased rate of pay which we are paying to our policemen, inviting them to join in defeating the enemy at home, there would be such a rush that the problem of the Home Secretary would be considerably reduced a few weeks afterwards.
We have been asked where the houses are for the returning soldiers. Some of the soldiers are building workers. They can help to build the houses. There is talk about the need for a military operation on the housing front in Scotland. We must stop training many of these soldiers in the handling of useless and stupid instruments, which we are told they will never use, and use their energies and the organising capacity of the officers in civil life. We are told that in a few years we shall need 200,000 skilled workers to keep the economic life of the country going. Many of these soldiers are not like the old type of soldier—just foot-sloggers. They are skilled men. Many of them are used to mechanical processes of all kinds. A large number of them are used to repairing expensive tanks. There is among them a very large number of skilled workers who could be employed in doing useful work in many sectors of civil life at home.
I am advancing a case for the Government, and I am sure that they are grateful to me. The time has come for us to absorb these soldiers in the important economic life of the nation.
My complaint against the Minister of Defence is this. He is asking us for £563 million for the Army, employing 238,000 soldiers. That is about the number we need for the police. This is one of the most useless, wasteful and spendthrift of the nationalised industries. I believe that the ultimate aim of the Government is to bring a large number of these men home. I entirely agree with the Government's policy of withdrawing our troops from Aden.
I am a rather old Member of the House. I remember when Sir Winston Churchill stood at that Box and announced that the Government were going to withdraw troops from the Suez base. What a howl went up then. The "Suez rebels" said that Churchill was wasting the imperial heritage and doing away with the British Empire. They said we must remain in Suez. So said a very 1171 large section of the Tory Party at that time. But Sir Winston Churchill said, "No. The time we could stay in a base in a hostile territory—in Egypt—is over, and it is time that the troops were brought home." And that is precisely what the Government are doing in Aden, and it is what they will have to say in Singapore and will have to say in all the other bases in all other parts of the world.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) will agree with me on a good deal of what I say. I read the speech which he delivered at the Tory Party conference only two years ago. It is only two years since he said that we have got to rethink east of Suez policy. That was the thought of the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sorry that he was squashed, I am sorry that the Front Bench opposite and the Tory headquarters, governed by the Colonel Blimps, said, "We cannot have any original rethinking like that; we cannot have him stopping us wasting our money east of Suez."
I say, therefore, that we should come home from Singapore. After all, we lost Singapore very quickly at the beginning of the last war.
§ It being half-past Nine o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after half-past Nine o'clock and may he entered upon and proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour during a period of two hours after half-past Nine o'clock, though opposed.—[Mr. Harper.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Hughes
What the Opposition does not realise, and what the hon. and gallant Gentlemen who fought in the last war and the war before that do not realise, is that the world has completely changed, and that just as other empires have disappeared, just as the Spanish empire disappeared, and the Roman empire disappeared, and the French empire disappeared, and the Dutch empire disappeared east of Suez, our Empire has to be wound up east of Suez, too, and that means the redeployment—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is getting a little wide of the 1172 Army Estimates. He is now entering the realm of defence and foreign affairs, not admissible in this debate.
§ Mr. Hughes
I was pointing out that had we, and had the Opposition, realised that the time had come for the winding up of this empire, just as other countries have had to wind up their empires, we would not need to spend £563 million on the Army Estimates at the present time.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am asked about Russia. I am not here to defend the Russian army estimates. I would not be allowed to defend the Russian army estimates here. But I am asked, what about Russia? The hon. Gentleman could not have listened to the last speech delivered from his side of the House, because an hon. and gallant Gentleman had a new rôle for the British Army—we were to be engaged on the side of America, allied to the Soviet Union, to take part in a war on China—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must come back to the Army Estimates. We are now concerned with the administration of the Army and its rôle inside a defence policy which we debated last week.
§ Mr. Hughes
I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington), who was arguing about the use of the Chieftain tank, and who showed that the Chieftain tank could possibly be used in a war in which we would fight in China on the side of the Soviet Union and allied with the United States of America. I know that that sounds a very fantastic thing to talk about in a debate on the Army Estimates. But I was asked, what about Russia, and from the Opposition Front Bench. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite do not realise that this is not for fighting Russia at all. I do not know what it is for. Nobody knows what it is for.
I heard a soldier on the wireless this morning. He was interviewed in a programme just after the news. He was a recruiting sergeant, and he was given leave—given an extra fortnight's leave—to act as a recruiting officer and to say exactly what a good time he was having in the Army. Somebody said to him, 1173 "What do you do? Are you going to fight?" He said, "No, no. We are not going to fight. We are there to carry out missions and movements, but the last thing that we are thinking of doing is fighting." I predict an enormous number of recruits in that particular area. He was saying that there he was, having a fortnight's holiday, and then going back into the Army, but he was not going to fight anybody; he was not going to fight the Chinese, the Russians or anybody else. "Join the Army and have a good time." That soldier was quite honest about it. and his ideas about the Army were just as clear and just as precise as those which have been expounded by the old soldiers in this debate.
They do not seem to have realised the character of even a conventional war. If they want to know what a conventional war is like—not a nuclear war but a respectable conventional war—I advise them to read an article in this week's New Statesman by an observer who went to North Vietnam to study what was going on there. It is written by Mr. Lawrence Daly, a secretary of a Scottish Miners' Union. He describes the ghastly and bloody horror of a conventional war—and it is not like the war that we have been talking about today.
I know that the Government have had to revise their ideas about defence. I have been in the Opposition for many years and I listened in these debates to the speeches which were then delivered by the present Paymaster-General. I could repeat all those speeches almost word for word. The great argument was that when the Labour Government came into power they would not spend so much money on nuclear war but would spend the money on building up and improving the conventional forces in Germany. That even found its way into the Labour Party manifesto. It did not find its way into my election address because I knew that it could not happen.
I give the Labour Government credit for having a plan for reducing the number of men in the Army. I hope that it will result that instead of spending £538 million, the amount will be reduced very quickly so that by 1970 we shall have saved £800 million or £900 million or £1,000 million of this ridiculous defence expenditure. Then we shall be able to 1174 tell the people of this country that we have done something to fulfil our election promises.
Hon. Members may recollect that on more than one occasion in the past I have called attention to an item in the Army Estimates under establishment. I do not believe that it should be there. It is the establishment at Porton on Salisbury Plain, where we have a big establishment engaged in manufacturing and experimenting with gas and what are called biological weapons. I went with the Scientific Committee and had a good look at this establishment a few years ago. It is as big as a university. It seems that we are still spending £9½ million on research, on the Army Vote, for microbiological experiments or, to put it more crudely, germ warfare. I have advocated that this should not be on the Army Estimates at all.
If we have these devastating weapons, if we have nuclear weapons and atom and hydrogen bombs, do we need to spend so much money, employing nearly 200 very gifted scientists, on experimenting with germ warfare for possible use in some sphere of operations? I do not know why this is allowed to continue. The Labour Government would be doing a very useful thing if they said, "We are interested in protecting the civil population of this country against germ warfare". Such expenditure should not be on the Army Vote but on the Vote of the Ministry of Health.
I believe that we shall never get the examination of the Army Estimates that we need—carefully, meticulously watching every £100,000 and scrutinising every item—until we have a Specialist Committee for defence. That is the argument that was used by the Paymaster-General on the innumerable occasions when he spoke.
We will never get a real examination of the Defence Estimates, and especially the Army Estimates, until we get this specialised committee examining the Estimates before they come to this House. We have on both sides of the House men who know the subject, who have had experience and who could examine these Estimates long before they come to this House. If we did that, we would not have this enormous bill, and considerable saving to the taxpayer would result.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) ranged over many subjects. Whether the Government were grateful for his contribution was difficult to judge from their expressions. I was glad to be able to find at least one or two things in the hon. Member's speech with which I agreed. I am sorry that I could not agree with many of the sentiments from below the Gangway on the Government side, but I make an honourable exception of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), to whose speech I listened this afternoon.
Much of the debate has been concerned with the withdrawal of troops from B.A.O.R. My view is that at this moment in our history, nothing could be more disastrous than withdrawing our troops from Germany. Anybody who has any recollection of living through the 1930s much surely feel that there could be nothing more dangerous to the prospects of peace than to do anything in the way of creating a power vacuum in Central Europe.
I do not want to elaborate on that except to refer to the implications which many hon. Members have mentioned, namely, the question of accommodating the troops who come home. I am doubtful of the extent to which the returning troops would, as the hon. Member for South Ayrshire suggested, rush into the police force or the extent to which they would be welcomed if they did. However that may be, they would still have to be accommodated in this country. That would bring into question the section of the administrative services of the Ministry of Defence to which I want to make special reference and which comes in Vote 10 under the heading "Purchase of land and buildings".
In the Estimate for 1967–68, it is expected that land and buildings will be purchased to the extent of more than £15 million. It is also expected that land and buildings to the extent of more than £11 million will be sold. I only hope that these Estimates are correct, because I want to give certain details of what the Ministry of Defence has achieved or not achieved in my constituency. Judging by those performances, we shall certainly be lucky if it succeeds in selling anything in the neighbourhood of £11 million.
1176 I am referring to a constituency case called Ditton Priors. As the Minister has accused me, certainly on one occasion, of referring to this case in exaggerated terms, I thought that it might be a good thing if I gave the facts and dates so that the Minister and the House may judge for themselves. This is a case which has been going on for two and a half years.
§ Mr. Reynolds
On a point of order. I understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Member is about to give a lot of information concerning the ex-Royal Navy ammunition depôt at Ditton Priors. I hope that if he gives this information, it will be in order for me to reply to it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Member refers to naval matters on an Army Estimate, he will be out of order.
§ Mr. Reynolds
Vote 10 covers lands for all three Services, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member is referring to an ex-Royal Navy ammunition depôt which is now a Royal Air Force Station. I shall find it rather difficult to deal with it on the Army Vote.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In view of what the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) has said, and noting the remarks of the Minister, I think that it would be best to allow the hon. Member for Ludlow to proceed, and then we can determine whether or not his remarks are in order.
§ Mr. More
I wish, first, to refer to the case of my constituent, Mrs. Moreton. She is a member of a family whose lands were purchased early in the war. She was informed in October, 1955, that the Defence Lands Branch wished to negotiate with her for the possession of this land. A letter was sent to her enclosing a plan of the 10 acres which, the letter stated, she might be interested to purchase. That was 14 months after the question was first raised. I ask the House to note the lapse of time. Finally, in December, 1965, she received a letter 1177 from the Defence Lands Branch stating that allocations were still to be agreed and that negotiations would start in three months' time. There was then a delay of four months and then, on 1st April—perhaps a significant date—the district valuer was instructed to negotiate. Later in the year Mrs. Moreton's agent offered £75 per acre. There followed a delay of three months and, finally, in January of this year, she received a letter from the District Valuer—it was sent to her agent—referring to the… tentatively agreed sale figure …and it added:You will have no doubt heard that this depôt will now pass to the Americans and that in the circumstances the completion of this sale will not take place. I would like to inform you that the first notification received was the 10th January.I ask the House to note the date. Finally, on 24th January, there came a letter from Surbiton—odd how all these letters emanated from different addresses—saying that the offer had been withdrawn.
There is then the case of my constituent, Mrs. Colebatch. She had a personal call from the Defence Lands Agent in October. 1965. That was followed by correspondence with the Defence Lands Branch. There was again a delay of three months and, on this occasion, letters came from Liverpool. She had no notification that the deal was off, although I have recently gathered that her solicitors have been told that the deal is off.
Then there is the case of my constituent, Mrs. Cains. She also, two and a half years ago, was approached on this subject. In her case there was a delay of seven months. That was followed by a letter from the Defence Lands Branch stating:Various members of your family have expressed interest in this matter …and it went on to ask that somebody should be appointed to represent the family. There was then a delay of three months, after which another of these letters came from Liverpool saying:In the light of all the circumstances I am now advised by my Headquarters that it will not be possible to regard any member of the family as former owners for the purpose of the disposal of the Establishment.Oddly enough, the word "establishment" was spelt with a capital "E". It went on: 1178If you are likely to be interested in buying the property by auction I shall be pleased to keep you informed of the disposal arrangements proposed".Various letters were exchanged until, on 17th February of this year, the Defence Lands Branch claimed that it had said that if the family was interested it should say so… in order that you might be kept informed of the disposal arrangements".It was untrue to say that Mrs. Cains had been informed that he should say anything of the kind, and she has lost her land.
In the case of another constituent of mine, there was a delay of seven months. It all stared in 1964, and, after that delay, she received a letter from the Defence Lands Branch, complaining that the delay was due to the settling of conflicting interests. There was then a delay of nine months. At a meeting the Lands Branch gave the precise details of the land offered. It was agreed that vacant possession should be given on 30th October last year and, in January, 1966. letters were exchanged confirming the details.
A new thing then came into it, which was the railway. There had been a railway of 10 miles which served the depôt. After a few weeks of correspondence, that was settled also.
In June, after a delay of two and a half months, my constituent was informed that the Lands Branch had met the District Valuer—this brought somebody new into it—who would be getting in touch. There was then a delay of four months. Finally there was a meeting with the District Valuer to value the plantations, and the District Valuer had to consult the Forestry Commission.
Finally on 4th January it was stated that the District Valuer would arrange a final meeting on 17th January to discuss these things It was on 10th January that the depôt was taken over, but it was not until 13th January that the Lands Branch sent a letter breaking off negotiations.
I refer once again to the railway. As early as July, 1965, I had a letter from another constituent complaining that the railway was breeding rabbits. That is not unusual when railways are abandoned. They breed weeds and do a fair amount of damage to the surrounding farms. I had already been approached by another 1179 constituent. I told him that I had applied on his behalf for instructions from the Ministry of Defence as to what was happening, and I told him that I would try to keep him in touch.
Finally, I got a letter from a Minister this time—that was on 27th July, 1965—saying:We shall get ahead with its disposal as soon as possible.I got slightly told off in the letter, because it finished up saying:It is a rule that all correspondence from Members of Parliament should be dealt with by Ministers.Apparently I had written to a mere official. Anyway, encouraged by that I wrote to my constituent informing him, and said:If you do not hear from the Minister of Defence within a reasonable time, please let me know.There then elapsed twelve and a half months and my constituent, a patient gentleman, wrote to me in August, 1966, saying:Your letter to me was dated 29th July, 1965. In this letter you said that should I not hear from the Ministry of Defence within a reasonable period, I should let you know. I have heard nothing further from the Ministry.Somewhat to my surprise, in view of the telling-off that I had received in the previous letter, I received, on 5th September, a letter not from the Minister but from a private secretary, saying:Mr. Ennals is away from the office at the moment … Next month we hope to begin advertising the sale of the rails … We shall shortly ask adjoining landowners whether they want to buy any of the land.Needless to say, they never got any of the land.
I come on to the Bridgnorth Rural District Council. In 1964 they were offered the sewage works which had served the depôt and they decided that they would buy the works subject once again to the report of the District Valuer. The District Valuer then stated in April, after a delay of 10 months, that he was unable to act and the Minister of Housing and Local Government announced that it would arbitrate.
In fairness to the Minister of Defence, one must confess that in this case they were helped in their delays by the Minister of Housing and Local Govern- 1180 ment. Nevertheless, after four months they began to take an interest and while the Minister of Defence demanded £6,000, the rural district council offered only £1,750. A delay of eight months ensued, and by arbitration it was settled at £2,160.
One would have thought that that was final, but after a delay of two months the Minister of Defence said that he refused to accept the valuation of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. After another two months they withdrew their offer altogether, so the council has not got the sewage works.
Finally, there is the question of the village hall. There were rather a lot of surplus buildings in the depôt, and the villagers thought it might be sensible to see if they could get one as a village hall. In December, 1965, they formed a committee and the Land Agent came to see them. He offered them a large canteen and the car park area, and a price was agreed at £2,250. The village is a very small one, but it got busy and by means of a house-to-house collection £300 was collected. They got the Fire Officer to come and inspect the building for safety. They went to the County Planning Committee and got permission for a change of use. They got the Electricity Board to restore the electricity which had been cut off by the Ministry of Defence.
They wrote to the Department of Education and Science asking whether they could be given a grant. They were told that before they could have anything else they must have an architect. They got one, and had to pay him 50 guineas. They then asked the Ministry of Defence for a contract. The Treasury Solicitor then came in—and this was a new man—and said that he could not make a contract until they knew about the grant. Anyway, they succeeded with the grant, and in December, 1966, they received an offer from the Department of Education of £1,125 for the grant and were told that additional grants might follow, which was good news.
They wrote and told the Ministry of Defence about this, but got no reply. Finally, their solicitor wrote after some weeks and then they received a reply on 31st January saying that the United States Forces needed the canteen for an 1181 indefinite period. Finally they had a call from the Land Agent saying that negotiations had terminated.
I do not think that any of that experience encourages one in the idea that the Lands Branch really is very good at dealing with sales of property. I suggest that it would be wiser not to vote £22,560,000 in Vote 10, because it is obviously a fairly useless organisation. It would be far better to scrap the whole thing and find a competent firm of land or estate agents and turn the whole thing over to private enterprise so that there can be more satisfaction for people who are trying to buy back land taken from them for war purposes.
In a broadcast not long ago the Minister said rather ingenuously, and these were words of truth, that the trouble at Ditton Priors would never have arisen had these sales been completed, and I entirely agree with him. In the meantime, while these services for defence land and buildings are being wound up, I see no reason why they should come under a separate heading, because on the previous page of the Estimates, page 97, there is a Vote which would completely and effectively describe them. It is "Non-Effective Services," and I suggest that they might be put under that category.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) raised the question of the rôle of the Army in a war with Russia against China, and he was replied to by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) who dealt at some length with his rural district council's sewage works.
I wish briefly to raise a subject which has both a national and a constituency interest. I want to revert to the point which I put to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence during his speech about the threatened decision by the Government to send the Royal Defence College to Shrivenham and not to Greenwich. This threatened decision has alarmed hon. Members on both sides of House.
It is contrary to the recommendations of the Government's own independent Committee which they set up to consider the whole subject of higher education for officers. The decision to set up the Royal 1182 Defence College is fully in line with the Committee's recommendations and is, I think, supported on both sides of the House, but the decision to send it to Shrivenham and not to Greenwich is opposed on both sides of the House, and I hope very much that the Government will consider the matter again.
The only reason which the Government have given for opposing their own Committee is the strange one that there is no room for expansion at Greenwich it expansion is needed. I wonder how far they have seriously considered this. Have they considered, for instance, a number of local sites, such as that to be made available by the closing of the Seamen's Hospital in Greenwich, or the site opposite the Trafalgar Tavern, which is now used as a car park? Have they considered using the buildings of the Royal Military Academy on Woolwich Common, which are under-used at present? After all, this was the old Sandhurst. Its future is uncertain, and it would make an ideal part of the Royal Defence College if one were needed to be expanded in Greenwich borough.
Finally, there are the possibilities of the site of the Royal Herbert Military Hospital, shortly to be demolished, which would be admirable from this point of view. As a local Member of Parliament, I see no evidence that the Government have investigated this problem before reaching a decision. As the Committee pointed out, to send the college to Greenwich would be cheaper than to send it to Shrivenham. The capital cost would be £2 million as against £3 million at Shrivenham, and the college could be established sooner if placed in Greenwich rather than in Shrivenham—in 1969 instead of 1971.
At Greenwich it would be more likely to attract the best staff and the best outside lecturers. Many hon. Members, including myself, have been invited to lecture at the Royal Naval College from time to time. When we get such an invitation we mentally measure the distance from here to Greenwich. If we had to try to measure the distance from here to Shrivenham we might come to a different conclusion. Whether that would be good or bad for the standard of lecturing at the college remains to be seen, but Greenwich is more convenient from this point of view than is Shrivenham. 1183 Finally, the whole history of Greenwich is a recommendation for the establishment of the Royal Defence College there. The Government are not showing enough understanding of the nature of these splendid buildings and their history. To destroy the connection of the Armed Services with Greenwich Naval College would be to repudiate the findings of the Government's own Committee. It would be financially wasteful, administratively inefficient, and would be an act of vandalism and a crime against the history of the Armed Services.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I support the plea of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) for the establishment of the new Defence College in Greenwich. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the traditional buildings and the well-known history of the Royal Naval College would be of tremendous advantage to the environment and for the work that would go on at the Defence College. In the same way, we might say that if this House were situated at Margate or Southend it would not be so effective as it is in Westminster. We should use the tradition of the Royal Naval College to the full, for centuries to come.
I want to raise three points, the first being a matter of information on Vote 7, in relation to aircraft and ships, Subhead "Light aircraft", with the sum of £2.9 million. I hope that the Minister will expand a little on this matter, and give us a breakdown of the figure. Does it refer entirely to helicopters, or does it include hovercraft. To an airman like myself a helicopter is not a light aircraft anyway; only fixed-wing aircraft are what airmen would regard as aeroplanes.
I should like to know whether this figure includes Sioux helicopters. I have been impressed by their performance and their ease of maintenance, although I know that difficulties have been experienced with the jet engine. If the figure should also include a number of light fixed-wing aircraft I should be interested to know what type, and how many. I know that we are short of British light aircraft and that only a few elderly Austers, and Beagles, have been used in recent years. I would not like to think 1184 that we would have to buy American or continental aircraft for the Army. That might well be true if we are to have a policy of using light aeroplanes as well as helicopters.
My other two points have a much closer connection with Scotland. Like many other hon. Members, I want to pay my tribute to the regiments, to the Royal Air Force, and to the Royal Navy, which have done so well in Borneo and the Far East. I am thinking particularly of the Scottish regiments—the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
I want to make two points in regard to Scotland. The first concerns the regiments which will be returning to Scotland. Which regiments will be returning? What units will be coming? Where will they go? Are they going to the old traditional areas of Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Fort George, or has the Secretary of State other places in mind?
Scotland is, perhaps, rather neglected by the Ministry of Defence. There are many areas which would welcome the arrival of some more soldiers in Scotland. Scotland always gives a very warm welcome to its regiments. I hope that the Minister of State will be able to tell the House that there will be a number of battalions coming to be stationed in Scotland in the next year or two. In recent years we have been a little disappointed that the only time we saw fleeting glimpses of our Scottish regiments was at the Tattoo, when they were usually dressed up as Beefeaters or something else.
Secondly, I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not deem it appropriate to make a statement in the House on the downgrading of Scottish Command. I know that rumour has been prevalent for over a year that Scottish Command might disappear. There is no doubt that the final announcement has been received with shock and resentment in Scotland. Scottish Command means much more to Scotland than Southern Command or any other command does to England. Scottish Command is the focal point of Service life in the country. The office of the General Officer Commanding, with his unique position in Edinburgh Castle and his control over ceremonial in our Scottish capital, is one of the most honoured 1185 positions obtainable by a Scotsman in the Army. We in Scotland appreciate the importance of naval headquarters and of the Air Officer Commanding, but to Scotland and Scotsmen Scottish Command has a very honoured ring about it. Regardless of whether Scotland now has sufficient troops to justify a command, it is wrong that Scottish Command should be demoted.
What financial saving, will arise from the downgrading of Scottish Command? What loss will there be in civilian jobs through this change? It seems incongruous, now that more Scottish troops are returning, that this command should be downgraded. I press the Minister to reconsider this decision and warn him that Scotland will not take this decision lying down.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will excuse my voice, which I lost earlier this evening and have only just recovered. I shall therefore speak very briefly.
I want to draw attention to a subject which has not been mentioned so far. I refer to the work done by the universities in adult education in the Army. Many universities have an extra-mural department dealing with all three Services. They supply lecturers and teachers to teach all kinds of scientific subjects and liberal studies. But, much more important, they encourage the scientific study of strategy. This is very valuable, particularly for senior officers. Soldiering is now so technical, scientific and complicated that, unless Regular senior officers are kept up-to-date with the overall aims of strategy, they soon get out of touch with strategic realities. I emphasise this side of the work, therefore, as a valuable effort which should be deepened and, where possible, greatly expanded.
It would be a great mistake if this work were thought valuable only for senior officers. It should be open to all ranks. All ranks should have some understanding of overall strategic problems and how the Government see them so that they can discuss them with people in other fields. I understand from reports produced by the various extramural departments that it is the practice also to encourage Departments such as 1186 the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office to send their people to join seminars so that one has at the same time the experience of the serving soldier as well as that of the civil servants in the Departments. I hope that this, too, will be encouraged.
There is another aspect of education in the Army which is of great value. There comes a time when every soldier feels that the step into civilian life will be tricky for him. He is more likely to think this at a time such as the present when there are changes going on. This is not just a question of personal confidence, though I am fairly sure that this arises, but of preparing the individual soldier for civilian life.
We have something to learn here from experience in the German Army. Admittedly, that is a conscript army, but the German practice has some relevance to what we should do. The German Army provides vocational training for soldiers so that they learn trades which are useful in civilian life. I am not suggesting that there are no jobs in the Army related to civilian life. There are many Army trades plainly relevant to civilian life, of course, but I hope that this aspect of the matter will be considered closely so that people who sign on in the Army are given apprentice training and proper master's certificates which enable them, when they leave the Army and return to civilian life, to be an asset to the country industrially.
I put those two points to the Minister, and I hope that he will tell us something about how the Government see the work of the extra-mural departments of the universities in relation to adult education in the Services.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
Before I come to my own speech, may I say how very much I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) about the future of Greenwich College. This is a decision which the Government have been considering, and it must have been very much a knife-edge decision as to whether it should go one way or another. We all understand that. But I put it to the Minister responsible that, if he decided to remove the Services altogether from Greenwich, this 1187 would be looked upon by people in the Services as a gratuitous insult, taking them away from what is the finest group of buildings in all Europe. By common consent, it is a magnificent group of buildings, with which the Services have been associated in one way or another over the centuries. I beg him to look upon the matter again if the decision is, as I believe, finely balanced.
The debate has been unusual for me because, for just a few moments, I found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) who has unfortunately just left the Chamber. I agreed with him when he paid tribute to the value of the police in this country. We all recognise that, but it is no good having law and order at home if we abdicate to anarchy in those parts of the world where we still have residual responsibilities.
In my constituency we have a considerable number of military establishments. We have the Royal Army Pay Corps with its computer unit, which has been discussed by several Members on both sides in the debate, and it is a very impressive set-up which is very typical of the modern Army. We have the Army Air Corps at Middle Wallop, where intensive and advanced training is done with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. We have the Green Jackets depôt in Winchester and the Royal Hampshires, whose reputation stands very high in the Territorial Army.
When I survey the cumulative amount of Regular Army personnel and volunteer effort involved in just those four establishments, I come to the big point I want to make I ask the Government to look at the value of our Armed Forces in the right perspective. The theme running through most of the speeches from this side of the House has been that the savings which the Secretary of State hopes to make are chickenfeed compared with total Government expenditure. Let us hold up our heads as a nation, look at the matter in the right perspective and not moan to our friends and allies that a Socialist Government made us so broke that we cannot afford to pay for our share of peace-keeping.
The subject of Malta is to some extent sub judice, because I understand that discussions between the two Governments 1188 are still going on in London. Has the Secretary of State considered the strategic side of the problem anew, as he implied that he would the other day? I am sure that everybody on both sides of the House agrees that British battalions cannot be permanently deployed around the world in this place or the other just to bolster up, perhaps temporarily, the economy of the country in which they are stationed. That is not a valid argument. But there are valid strategic arguments on Malta. Malta secures the right flank of N.A.T.O., and it is an essential base if we are to have a creditable defence agreement with Libya which the Libyans will regard as a reasonable bet. It is often forgotten in this context that we have the defence agreement with Malta herself. Several speakers have mentioned the possibility of a Mediterranean Cuba situation arising if Malta should get into the wrong hands.
There is also the point about training areas, which have been much discussed in the debate. Malta is a valuable training area for all three Services. There is the acclimatisation point, because the whole concept of the Secretary of State's air transportable army does not take sufficient account of the fact that if men are flown suddenly from the United Kingdom to the Mediterranean or tropical areas they will be useless for the first few vitally important days.
Malta is and always has been the linchpin to the command of the Mediterranean. So I ask the Secretary of State whether he will consider placing two battalions of the strategic reserve in Malta? This has been mentioned by other hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). Will the Secretary of State station two battalions there as if it were part of the home base and an extension of Salisbury Plain? If this were done, everyone would be happy, the Maltese would be happy, our troops would be happy, their families would be happy, the poor old British taxpayer would be happy, and I do not see why the Secretary of State should not be happy.
That was a large point and I now raise a small point. It is about the peaceful use of military forces, known by the Ministry of Defence as "P.U.M.F.". Many hon. Members have asked for more 1189 information about P.U.M.F., but we have had astonishingly little from the Front Bench opposite. It is an astounding concept. I do not understand it and I do not think any hon. Member on either side of the House understands it. Will the Secretary of State tell us what this means?
I turn to the Army in the Far East. A great deal has been said about this and sometimes you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have called hon. Members to order when they were discussing the strategic concept in the Far East. I wish to speak about the Army in the Far East. We must not forget the war against Communist insurgency in Malaysia from 1948 to 1960. Confrontation has been mentioned, but I do not think the Malaysian campaign has been mentioned. It has been typical of the peace-keeping we have had to do in the past, and it would be a very brave man who said that we would never have to do it in the future. To look at this in its right perspective we should remember that it was the only time that the Communist Powers have taken us on militarily at a time of their own choosing and on ground of their own choosing and have been thoroughly seen off. It has been the most significant event in the history of the Far East.
Do not let us deprive ourselves and our children of the means to look after ourselves in the wicked world in which we still live.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
Time does not permit me to give a resumé of my opinion on the Army Estimates, so I shall devote the two minutes at my disposal to dealing with a more or less constituency problem. Most hon. Members have paid great tribute to the prowess, bravery and tenacity of purpose of the men in our Armed Services, but among those who have been in our services, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are as good as, if not better than, most. There is no doubt that they 1190 have been exceptional in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.
I raise this matter because last night I attended a service in Haggs Parish Church where the band of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Territorial Army Division gave its last performance before being disbanded. The problem which has arisen has been because of the loyalty of those individuals who were the only band or group of people who enlisted en bloc in the Territorial Army Association way back in 1955 to give the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders a band of its own. The band was known at that time as the Bonnybridge and District Pipe Band.
Now it has been disbanded. During the period when it was associated with the Territorial Army its canteen facilities, dances and so on made a considerable profit for the Territorial Army Association—of approximately £2,000. Now that it has been disbanded it unfortunately is not being permitted to get that £2,000 from the Territorial Army Association. I appeal to my right hon. Friend that he should be generous in this respect and show a very good spirit to these men who have served so well. I hope that my right hon. Friend will seriously consider my plea that the money which this band has raised should be handed back to it to help the band to continue in civilian life.
I am told that in Bonnybridge there is a little hall which the band has used for many years as a place in which to practise. It is of no further use to the Territorial Army Association and it would be a great pity if the band had to give it up. It would give great pleasure to me and be an act of great generosity by my right hon. Friend and would make very little difference to the Army Estimates if he gave this £2,000 to the men who have done so well by their country and if he permitted them to have this little hall to carry on in their civilian capacity.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) for piping me in so briefly and so cheerfully.
This at times has seemed to be a rather Parkinsonian debate in that it might have been designed to illustrate Parkinson's Law that the number of speakers expands to fill the time available. It was opened by the Under-Secretary in an often interesting and informative speech which has been referred to as of being of a nuts and bolts character, though it was disappointing that he did not seem to be informed on one or two questions, not very recondite, which were put to him. But it was my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) who, in a most valuable speech, carried the debate to a much higher level and who set its tone.
§ Mr. Powell
I was about to say that I was rather shocked by the levity with which it was greeted by the Secretary of State when my hon. Friend trenched upon some of the deepest questions which have to be decided in this country's defence policy. It was a levity which ill-matched the responsibility which the right hon. Gentleman bears.
My hon. Friend sounded the note, which has been frequently repeated throughout the debate, of anxiety and uncertainty as to the whole rôle and future of the British Army. It is not surprising that there should be that anxiety and uncertainty, because we have had a White Paper which has simply told us that we must now await the outcome of various discussions before knowing "the shape and size of our defence forces in the 1970s" and referring to the intention to "cut supporting services … as reductions are made in the combat forces".
The evident embarrassment and insincerity of the Government on a number of matters relating to the future size of the Army were bound to intensify this anxiety and suspicion. For example, there is the question of the accommodation of troops returning to this country. 1192 In that period of fret and bluster last July, when we were to bring back the troops from the Continent in a matter of weeks if not days, the public was told by the Ministry of Defence that there were 14 camps on a care and maintenance basis, earmarked—that was the word—for an eventuality such as this.
That was last July, but when last week I asked the Minister of Defence (Administration) about those 14 camps, he told me that they hadnow been included in a larger list of camps to meet planned withdrawals as a result of the Defence Review as well as possible withdrawals from B.A.O.R."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 2nd March, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 154.]It is perfectly obvious that most of this accommodation is being used, and will be required, for the Defence Review withdrawals, as they are called, alone. It was a piece of bluff last July.
It is a vast operation on which the Government are engaged, to accommodating the 30,000 troops which they expect to bring back from outside Europe. It is an operation for which we have not had the slightest suspicion of a costing. We have been told that it is the equivalent of producing a whole new town, but the question which my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) put, as to what was to be the cost of this new town has so far not been answered. Yet this concerns only the Defence Review withdrawals.
It must raise a question in one's mind and is bound to excite suspicion when it is realised that, in addition to all this, would come at least an equal operation, if not a greater one, if substantial withdrawals were to be made from B.A.O.R., and if those troops were retained in the Services and not disbanded.
Then there was the matter of training ground. In March, 1965, the Minister of Defence (Administration) said:We are desperately short of land where tracked vehicles can manoeuvre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th March, 1965; Vol. 708, c. 195.]This was a very forthright statement, and after a time we started to inquire what had been done to meet this desperate shortage of land where tracked vehicles could manoeuvre. In the debate last week the hon. Member attempted to say that everything was alright for the time being 1193 because of a reduction in the size of the Territorial Army.
When I challenged him and asked, did he really mean that the reduction in the size of the Territorial Army had met the deficiency of land for training with tracked vehicles, he said, quite candidly:To a slight extent that has happened,…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 216.]To a slight extent. Of course, this is an enormous problem, a problem to which the Government have not yet seriously addressed themselves, how training land, particularly for tracked vehicles, could be found if substantial forces were to be brought back to this country from the continent and retained with the Colours. They would need training land on which not only units, but whole formations can manoeuvre, formations including armour as well as infantry.
It was in this connection, the question of availability of training land, that the hon. Gentleman twice used his significant "if."if"—he said—it is necessary … to bring troops back from Germany, and if"—a further condition—such troops remain assigned to N.A.T.O.… then there will have to be training land for them, including the armoured formations.and again:We would probably require additional land for tracked vehicle training if these troops come back from Germany and remain assigned to N.A.T.O.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 216.]It is impossible to listen to that repeated hypothesis on the part of the Government without realising that this great threatened operation has barely been considered by the Government in its practical bearings—unless, of course, it is to be coupled, and there are all these indications that it is, with a reduction in the size of the British Army as a whole.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State asked in an intervention this afternoon where, in the matter of bringing forces from the Continent to this country, did this party stand? The answer has been given repeatedly, and I will give it again. In the first place, we are resolutely opposed to any unilateral decision by this country to 1194 withdraw troops from the Continent. In the second place, we do not believe that the strength of British forces on the continent ought to be determined by short-term foreign exchange considerations, especially when we are entering upon a year in which—the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us, a day or two ago—we shall have a surplus on our balance of payments sufficient to make massive repayments of debt. Finally, we believe that this is a matter which must be decided with our allies, upon a long and profound view, both of the military and political implications.
This brings me to the great central question which seems to dwarf all others in the field of defence. I raise it particularly within the framework of the Army Estimates and the manpower Vote, for though the answer which is given to this question must affect profoundly the future of all three Services, its effect upon the future of the British Army is beyond all comparison far reaching.
§ Mr. Healey
With respect, the question I put to his hon. Friend referred not to possible withdrawals from Germany, but to the withdrawals already planned from outside Europe—[HON. MEMBERS: "No.") Oh, yes. His hon. Friend was arguing that the cost of accommodating those people would offset the savings. The question I asked him was, was he in favour of moving those people outside Europe back to the United Kingdom or not? We have not had an answer to that question yet.
§ Mr. Powell
It appears from the sounds from behind me and elsewhere that my recollection is not the only one that it was the issue of the size of B.A.O.R. on which that question was put. However, this can be settled when we look up the record.
I am referring to what I may perhaps for convenience call "the nuclear assumption". Stated in bald terms, this assumption is that there can never again be a war which threatens the safety of this nation, because if such a war were ever to commence it must speedily be terminated by the inconceivable catastrophe of the nuclear exchange. To accept this assumption is to take a decision of the utmóst gravity for the future of our country. For if our military preparations were based on it—and logically they must 1195 be, if it is accepted—then, in the event of its proving to be wrong, we should have thrown away the means of rational self-defence and stand, like Wolsey, "naked to our enemies".
It would be the ultimate, unforgivable miscalculation, and an awe-inspiring responsibility is entailed upon those who accept this assumption. Clearly, it is the duty of us all not only anxiously to examine and re-examine it, but to give the benefit of any doubt rather against than for it. It is in this spirit and with that sense of responsibility that I want to challenge the sway of the nuclear assumption tonight.
The assumption is accepted by the Government:It is difficult to believe"—they say in the White Paper—that any rational government … would reckon to achieve by the use of force against Western Europe any political objective whose value would be remotely commensurate with the appalling risks".That is, the risks of going nuclear. In the Minister's words,… a Western nuclear response to deliberate aggression in Europe is inevitable…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 113.]Inevitable—that is his word. Hence the only war, in the ordinary sense of the word "war", for which we have ever to be prepared is the brief pre-nuclear phase of a few days or even a few hours. That is why, for instance, the White Paper says thatit is no longer realistic … to attempt to provide maritime forces for conducting a prolonged war at sea after a nuclear exchangedismissing as non-existent the possibility of a prolonged war at sea without a nuclear exchange or before a nuclear exchange.
§ Mr. Powell
I think that I am going to take most of the questions which the hon. Gentleman would think of putting to me. I shall be on the nuclear assumption for the next 20 minutes, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be a little patient.
No wonder that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), with his octogenarian common 1196 sense, pointed out last Monday that in this case one needed very few forces at all.
In my submission, this assumption is untenable, and is only, in modern dress, our old friend, the hoary, perilous delusion that "There will never be another war", which those of my generation remember having heard before, just as we remember two wars that were going to be "over by Christmas" because a long war was supposed to be no longer possible. The first one lasted four-and-a-quarter years, and the second lasted six years.
But let me, at the outset, identify if I can as many areas of agreement as possible before I come to the difference. First, I accept that as long as nuclear weapons exist, there is always a possibility that they will be used at some stage in a conflict. I do not see how this can be denied. If the nuclear assumption asserted no more than that—that is, that the possibility of the nuclear exchange cannot be excluded—I would have no quarrel with it. Secondly, I accept as self-evident that the existence of nuclear weapons other than one's own is a deterrent to using them. In the words of Part II of last year's Defence White Paper,… the nuclear strategic forces exist to deter any nation from mounting a nuclear against ourselves or our allies. To achieve this, the nuclear forces must be seen to be able to inflict an unacceptable degree of damage on any nation contemplating a nuclear attack.Notice the careful, and in my view logically correct, insertion each time of the word "nuclear". Whoever drafted those sentences might well have had in mind Sir Basil Liddell Hart's dictum that the nuclear weapon is a deterrent to nuclear war but not to war.
Here I part company with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) at that point of his important argument on the Navy Estimates last Wednesday when he dismissed the British Polaris fleet as void of effect because of its relatively small scale. Certainly no deterrent is absolute; but I suggest that if in August, 1945, Japan had been known or even suspected to possess and to be able to deliver a fraction of the atomic power of the allies, the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would very likely never have happened. However the efficacy of nuclear weapons to deter nuclear war and the worth-whileness of Britain's nuclear weapons for this purpose is 1197 common ground with the Government, if not with their so-called supporters.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The right hon. Gentleman said that nuclear weapons never deter conventional war. Does he suggest that if Nasser had had nuclear weapons, Suez would have taken place?
§ Mr. Powell
I am about to deal with the question whether nuclear weapons deter non-nuclear war. I have admitted so far, and I accept, that they are a probable and valid deterrent to nuclear war.
Finally, before I come to the point to which the hon. Member sought to bring me, I go further, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no significant hurdle between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, to use those horribly inappropriate adjectives. As he said last week:within days of starting to use nuclear weapons, organised warfare would become impossible." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 111.]In other words, I accept, as he does, if not the inevitability, the high probability of nuclear escalation. Once you go nuclear at all, you go nuclear for good; and you know it.
Here is the parting of the ways, for from this point two opposite conclusions can be drawn. One is that therefore there can never again be serious war of any duration between Western nations, including Russia—in particular, that there can never again be serious war on the Continent of Europe or the waters around it, which an enemy must master in order to threaten Britain. That is the Government's position.
The other conclusion, therefore, is that resort is most unlikely to be had to nuclear weapons at all, but that war could nevertheless develop as if they did not exist, except of course that it would be so conducted as to minimise any possibility of misapprehension that the use of nuclear weapons was imminent or had begun.
The crucial question is whether there is any stage of a European war at which any nation would choose self-annihiliation in preference to prolonging the struggle. The Secretary of State says, "Yes, the loser or likely loser would almost instantly choose self-annihilia- 1198 tion." I say, "No. The probability, though not the certainty, but surely at least the possibility, is that no such point would come, whatever the course of the conflict."
The right hon. Gentleman has expressed the core of his argument in those two terrifying sentences to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) devoted a brief but trenchant analysis last week. I must read them again:… there is no country on the Continent",said the right hon. Gentleman,which does not believe that a prolonged conventional war would inflict damage on it quite as difficult to bear as the damage resulting from a strategic nuclear exchange. This is not an option which any of our European allies has the slightest intention of accepting."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 112.]Those are the right hon. Gentleman's words. In other words, every European nation has resolved to choose nuclear annihilation rather than fight to win or lose.
§ Mr. Powell
Let me translate that into terms of a real situation which we all remember. Suppose that in September, 1939, all parties had possessed whatever nuclear capability one chooses but that otherwise everything was as it was in reality. I ask, would Reynaud, in June, 1940, have destroyed his country? Would Churchill have destroyed ours in September, 1940, if the Battle of Britain had failed to deny the Channel to the invasion barges?
If that seems to be making it too easy, take Poland in 1939. Would the Poles, even if they had foreseen the years of crucifixion which lay before them, have chosen rather not to exist? In all these cases the answer, I believe, is "No, in all human probability not." If so, it follows that as reasonable beings we have to be prepared to fight for our country, not despair of it and make ready to destroy it. In making and being seen to make preparations to fight with reasonable prospect of survival and victory lies the longest hope of peace.
To those who argue as I have just done, two great objections are always made. One is that no such European war is in prospect; that in the words of the White Paper, "Though it is not, 1199 perhaps, inconceivable that because of some fundamental change in the world situation the threat to Western Europe might revive, such a change is most unlikely to develop overnight".
Very likely. We are not today, to use analogy, at 1935, let alone 1937 or 1939. But there is a relativity which is vital to all thinking about defence. It is that political circumstances can change, and the assumptions of foreign policy can be stood on their heads, in a much shorter time than is required to gain a new military capability or to regain an existing one which has been lost. If we were to dispossess ourselves of the capability of fighting a conventional war for the safety of these islands and Western Europe, we might not be in a position to acquire it again once a specific threat became unmistakable.
§ Mr. Healey
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to make clear to the House and the country whether he believes, therefore, that the British Government should prepare itself to fight and win a purely conventional war in Europe.
§ Mr. Powell
This is my speech. I will make it in my own time and in my own order.
As I was saying, this is the reason why those hon. Gentlemen opposite are so mistaken and so dangerous who demand imperiously to be told who is the enemy before they will consent to a defensive capability being required or maintained.
There is, moreover, a certain relationship of cause and effect. The declaration, as a matter of settled policy, that a nation does not contemplate defending itself otherwise than in the sense of committing suicide is bound to affect the balance of power of which that nation is a part. I adopt some wise words spoken last week by the Foreign Secretary, they contain a sentiment expressed by a number of my hon. Friends, and I commend to the House the whole passage in which they appear. He said:We cannot leave Central European countries to face by themselves the problems they 1200 have had to face before. So long as we and the United States are there in sufficient strength, some of the things which we all of us think dangerous—even disastrous—will not happen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1967; Vol. 742, c. 288.]As we learnt between 1918 and 1939, mortal danger to a nation does not arise suddenly like a summer thunderstorm. It creeps upon it, stealthily, by gradual stages, at none of which extreme measures appear either necessary or justified—until, at last, simply because we had rested our safety upon the theoretical alternative of no war or the nuclear exchange, we might find ourselves one day faced with that very alternative in practice; and be forced to resolve it by choosing surrender.
I come to the other objection, in which the right hon. Gentleman sought to anticipate me. It is alleged that to provide the reasonable means to defend ourselves and Western Europe, along with our allies, in a perhaps prolonged conventional war would be altogether beyond our capability or, at least, beyond our will. There are several fallacies in this argument, all rolled up together.
It is true that the nuclear assumption is the cheapest form of defence ever thought of. Taken literally, it makes it possible to dispense with the great bulk of all military forces and preparations other than nuclear. It is, of course, cheaper still if, like some hon. Gentlemen opposite, one is prepared to leave even that to somebody else. But whereas between two courses of action within our own control we are entitled, if we wish, to choose the cheaper, we are not entitled to choose the cheaper of two assumptions about the future course of events and the behaviour of others. There we dare take only reason and probability for our guide, for there is no ground for supposing that what is cheap and convenient for us is therefore probable.
Of course, if it were true that it would be quite beyond our capability to fight a European war with any rational chance of victory, then that might have to be accepted. But what reason is there for supposing that to be true? There is no such inferiority either of industrial capacity or of manpower on the part of Britain and any likely combination of allies, compared with any likely combination of enemies, as to make the contest a priori unsustainable, especially if 1201 we take into account the degree of superiority which it is generally considered necessary for a successful aggressor to possess.
It may indeed be that the prevent conventional forces in Europe, of the present North Atlantic Alliance, are not capable of defeating an aggression by the Warsaw Pact Powers, though even this is by no means as self-evident nor so firmly held by professional opinion as is commonly supposed; but that is not what the argument requires. The Government themselves regard such an aggression as far from imminent. As the right hon. Gentleman said, if Soviet policy… were to change, all sorts of political indications that a change was under way would reach the West long before military intelligence was received on the physical movements of forces which must precede aggression."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1967; Vol. 742, col. 111.]What the argument does require is that we should have the ability, by the time such aggression was mounted, to oppose to it, with our allies, such forces as might have a rational prospect of eventual victory.
For the Service whose Estimates are before the House that means, to adopt a famous phrase from naval theory, that Britain must have "an army in being," an army equal in armament, training and philosophy to any other in Europe, and of such dimensions and structure, and supported by such reserves, as to be able, and to be seen to be able, to play an important and continuing part in Continental warfare; a part which would make it the cement and fulcrum of the indispensable alliance.
If there is to be a British Army in the years to come—and I confess I cannot conceive that a nation such as ours in size, position and potential could be without a substantial military capability on land then to be such "an army in being" must be its raison d'être and its principal purpose.
I sometimes think that the magnitude of the reorientation which lies before the British Army, far beyond what is imposed on either of the other Services, is rarely grasped. It has been concealed from us in the last 20 years by the very existence of B.A.O.R. and N.A.T.O as they emerged, without a decisive break, from the circumstances in which the last 1202 war terminated. This has enabled us to forget that in 1939 there were 46,000 British soldiers in India, large numbers in Egypt and the Far East, as well as in garrisons east and west right round the world. The British Army was then, as it had been for the greater part of two centuries—except when we were fighting for our lives—a colonial or imperial army, with the establishments in Europe serving to recruit, train, reinforce and relieve it.
That Army has gone for ever. On any possible view, the proportion of British troops outside Europe in a few years' time will be only a minority. There has to be a new basis, a new concept of what the Army is about, a new main purpose. This main purpose can only be to provide such "an army in being" as I have defined for the defence of Britain in Western Europe. From that main purpose all else—organisation, training, location, reserves—will fall logically to be derived.
But there is an underlying prior decision which has to be taken first—
§ Mr. Powell
—it is a question which the hon. Member and I resolve in an opposite sense—whether we intend to be able to defend ourselves at all, in the rational, human sense of that term. That is why it is vital that the issue of nuclear assumption, which denies alike the possibility, the desirability and the necessity of rational defence, should be fought through to a finish. On the rightness of our answer may hang not only the future of the British Army, but the existence of the nation.
§ 10.58 p.m.
Minister of Defence (Administration) (Mr. G. W. Reynolds)
I was interested to hear hon. Members opposite cheer at the declaration that we shall come out of everywhere east of Suez. I was also interested that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), in his opening remarks, rather lowered the tone of the debate by criticising my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Army for not knowing the answer to the couple of questions which he allowed someone to interject into his speech, yet the right hon. Gentleman did not allow us to know whether he knew the answers or not. He did not give way when hon. Members wanted to get up. 1203 A large number of points have been raised during the debate, and I shall endeavour to answer them, and then try to deal with some of the general points which were raised by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, and those raised earlier by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw).
First, there was a reference to training land in this country if it was necessary to bring troops back from B.A.O.R. As I said last Monday, if they remained assigned to N.A.T.O. we would require additional land for track training. There is no contradiction with what I said then, and what I repeat now, and the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, which were quoted by both speakers on the Front Bench opposite, about the need to maintain a military presence both of the United States and the United Kingdom in N.A.T.O. and in Europe.
I said that this would apply only if we withdrew troops from Germany, and, as the House is aware, we have not made a decision on that. I said that it would apply only if these troops remained assigned to N.A.T.O., but it has to be remembered that N.A.T.O. is looking at the strength levels required in Europe to meet the occasional threat there. So the two "ifs" that I used were deliberate, and I will stick by them.
With regard to possible German withdrawals, we state in paragraph 18 of Chapter I of the White paper that accommodation is being prepared in Britain in case it proves necessary to reduce the level of our forces in Germany. We are starting these preparations in 16 separate barrack complexes. Hon. Gentlemen continually ask where they are. I occasionally receive letters from them advocating the desirability of locating them in their constituencies and sending the troops there. It all seems rather odd. They complain in the House about us bringing troops back from abroad, and then they ask that they should be sent to their constituencies where there are good barracks, and presumably the shopkeepers and businessmen are waiting for them.
We are preparing 16 barrack complexes, throughout the country, in Perth, Edinburgh, Catterick, Barnard Castle, 1204 Scarborough, Ripon, North Weald, Pembroke, Crowborough and Warminster. Some of them will be in Scotland, and, as with the Defence Review withdrawals, all the necessary works will be carried out in two phases. Phase I will consist of the essential "get you in" services to make sure that all the facilities that are necessary are there, followed by phase II services which will provide any necessary additional amenities not available in the camp at the time.
This work has been earmarked and contracts are being prepared, and I assure the House that if it is necessary to withdraw troops from Germany we know by what dates these various barracks will be available, and the rephasing or redeployment of the troops will in the main be linked to the dates on which the barracks will be available for them to move into.
Steps are being taken in the areas where the barracks have been identified to begin acquiring a further 4,000 houses as married quarters, and I am certain that by the several means I mentioned last Monday we shall be able to provide the married quarters which will be required if these units come back.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) has left the Chamber. He asked questions about the pipe band. The funds belonging to the pipe band will be trust funds, and will have to be dealt with under the provisions of the Reserve Forces Act and the various laws relating to trusts in Scotland, which are different from those in England.
With regard to the T.A. hall, as with all other T.A. halls which are surplus, it will be offered to other Government Departments. If there is no other Government use for it, it will be offered in the first instance to the local authorities in the area, and if the local authorities do not require it it will be available for public auction as a last resort. My hon. Friend has often called for a reduction in military expenditure. There is no hope whatsoever of handing over this hall free of charge to his pipe band. It must play its part in securing income to set against the military expenditure which my hon. Friend has criticised on many occasions, and in respect of which I believe he abstained from voting the other night.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of housing troops returning from overseas, may I ask whether he will consider introducing legislation to help Servicemen who return from abroad to gain possession of their own houses without having to get a court order to do so?
§ Mr. Reynolds
Special provision was made in the Rent Act in respect of married soldiers and other persons working in Government and diplomatic services overseas if they were in this position. If the hon. and gallant Member knows of any specific cases in which this provision has not been of use perhaps he will get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Provided a place has been let in a way which applies under the provisions of the Act it should not be difficult for people in this position to get the accommodation they require.
The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) asked whether the money shown in respect of light aircraft in the Estimates was for fixed-wing aircraft as well as helicopters. The amount covers the purchase during the coming year of Beavers—fixed-wing aircraft—as well as Sioux and Scout helicopters.
The hon. Member also asked whether returning troops would go to traditional areas, and was particularly concerned with Scotland. They will go to traditional areas, because they will be moving into existing barracks which are being prepared at present to receive them. As for Scottish Command, he regretted that the decision was not announced in the House. I was intending to announce it in my speech in the defence debate last Monday evening, but I had only 22 minutes in which to speak and I was not able to get the announcement in. That part of my speech had been given to newspapers, particularly in Scotland and the West Country, earlier, with a time embargo for 10 o'clock, and by the time I sat down it was not possible to prevent the announcement appearing. I can assure the hon. Member that it was intended to be announced in the House.
The hon. Member objected to the demotion of Scottish Command tó an independent district in Scotland. He must remember that we are setting up a new 1206 command structure for all three Services, which will provide a new operational command which will be responsible for the bulk of the units in the United Kingdom, including those in Scóotland. Once these units come under the operational command, situated in Salisbury, with the increased number of troops in the United Kingdom because of the Defence Review and possible B.A.O.R. withdrawals, it will no longer justify our maintaining Scotland's status as a cóommand in its own right, and from 1st April, 1968, it will become an independent district, responsible direct to the Ministry of Defence. There will still be a general for Edinburgh and the Castle, although we have not yet decided what rank he will be.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) asked me once again—as I have been asked many times in the last few months, both inside and outside the House—what equipment would be provided for T. and A.V.R. 3 home defence units. These units will be given the rifles and the equipment necessary for their primary operational rôle, which is to assist the police and civil powers in the event of war in Europe. In the vast majority of cases T. and A.V.R. 3 units, by working with T. and A.V.R. 2 units, will be able to get good value for their training, and do most of the things they want to do.
The hon. Member also accused me of misleading the House about Fort George. I had said that a fair amount of money had been spent on this whilst the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) had been Minister of Defence for the Army. He read out figures—£7,000 in one year and £23,000 in another, which was the year I was referring to, and he said that £160,000 was being spent now. I said the other day that I had visited Fort George to see what the accommodation was like, and that it had been obvious to me that if it was to become a permanent barracks it would need a new N.A.A.F.I., a new kitchen and new dining rooms and other facilities.
Strange though it may seem for a building erected in 1750, the accommodation was suitable for four men in a room. No doubt when it was erected it held many more men per room, but there is now good accommodation for 1207 four in a room. We are also purchasing 108 married quarters adjacent which should be available in October this year.
§ Mr. Allason
The hon. Member did mislead the House. He referred to the amount of money spent on Fort George and mentioned the sum of £22,000 spent as part of the cost of preserving the fort itself as a historic building.
§ Mr. Reynolds
The hon. Gentleman is referring not to what I said, but to what was said, I think, by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works in reply to a Question. I said that a considerable amount of money was spent on it, and, of course, all money spent on military property goes on the Ministry of Public Building and Works Vote. The £23,000 spent on that occasion was spent partly to preserve the building; it has given us a building in good condition for barracks. If the hon. Gentleman would like to go and see it, I should be only too pleased to arrange for him to do so. I do not think he will be disappointed by what he sees there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), in an interesting speech covering his own experience, asked whether it was possible for officer cadets, including those from the ranks, to have free choice of the regiment into which they could go. My answer here applies also to the question asked by the hon. Member for Stroud about the new junior regiment at Shorncliffe. One must first take into consideration the needs of the Army and where the vacancies are. Officers and soldiers must serve where they are needed, in the regiments which have vacancies, but they are able to state a preference for the units they want. These preferences are taken into account, especially where there are family connections. This is the position when a man wants to join the Army at present. Where possible, we always give weight to the preference expressed by an officer or soldier for the regiment in which he wants to serve.
The hon. Lady the Member for Peters-field (Miss Quennell) and the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said that, with large numbers of soldiers coming to the United Kingdom under the Defence Review withdrawals and possible withdrawals from B.A.O.R., there could 1208 be problems for local education authorities in the areas to which they were moved. This is a fair point. As regards the hon. Lady's own area, I shall take her suggestion and write to her to give details of what is happening there.
I must make the point in this connection—it seems to be forgotten by many local authorities—that by making a contribution in lieu of rates the Army and, for that matter, the other Services contribute a large amount to local authority revenues every year. It is not, so to speak, a dead loss to the local authority to have units moving into empty barracks in its area. Money will come in. There are some local authorities, notably in counties surrounding London, which have had to cope with the problem of expanding towns and new towns, with the consequent education problems put on their plate. We shall do our best to make sure that local authorities are given the maximum possible notice of units coming into their area and of the occupation of a large number of married quarters so that they can knit their plans into the returning dates of the troops.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) criticised Vote 4 and said that there were too many civilians; and also criticised the number of civilians employed by the Army in the United Kingdom, the Far East and B.A.O.R. Over the last 10 years, every possible effort has been made to civilianise Service jobs wherever possible. The more one civilianises jobs, the larger is the proportion of civilians supporting the actual teeth arm units. There has been a big move to civilianise jobs, so that there is now a large civilian element backing the Army not only in the United Kingdom, but in other parts of the world.
We are at the moment investigating the possibility of more room for civilianisation of jobs of one kind or another because it is generally cheaper today to employ a civilian than a soldier. There are some jobs which must be done by a man in uniform not only for reasons of discipline but for other reasons, too. There are some jobs which must be done by soldiers because, if the same job is done by a soldier overseas, there must be a corresponding job for him in the United Kingdom; otherwise he will never be able to have a home posting. 1209 My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian asked, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker), that we should cut the amount of advertising for recruits to the Army which is now being done. They argued that, if there was to be a reduction in the size of the Army, it was ridiculous to spend a lot of money on advertising to try to bring people in.
The answer is that one needs young men in the Army whatever its size happens to be, and one has to keep on drawing young men in all the time. We cannot suddenly turn off the tap and say we do not want any more young men in for a few years. If we did that, we should end up with an ageing Army, and, of course, once having stopped trying to recruit, it would be very difficult to start again once we had got down to the appropriate level. Strange as it may seem, therefore, although there is a reduction in the number of Service men, we shall have to keep up the advertising and the recruiting momentum.
The hon. Member for Woking asked about the Chieftain tank which is now coming into service with units in B.A.O.R. The 11th Hussars are already getting supplies of Chieftain tanks and the 17th/21st Lancers will be the next regiment in B.A.O.R. to receive them. By the end of April, 1968, we shall have 300 Chieftains in service in the Army. All tank regiments will have them by the early 1970s. They cost between £90,000 and £100,000 each, depending on what is in them and their various attachments. A regiment's worth, including initial spares, is about £5½ million.
The hon. Member also asked whether we intended to buy any houses in his constituency. At the moment, there are no plans to buy houses in Aldershot. Whilst hon. Members criticise us for bringing the troops back, they seem anxious to have them in their constituencies.
It is not our intention to use caravans for troops. except as a last resort for the Defence Review withdrawals. I think that I managed to get into my speech last Monday night that so far we had identified a need for only 20 mobile homes, but the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West did not seem to appreciate that there is a major difference between mobile homes and 1210 caravans. In the Defence Review withdrawals we shall need some caravans for temporary accommodation until married quarters are ready.
§ Mr. Onslow
The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I am neither anxious nor un-anxious to have troops and married quarters in my constituency. I want to know what consultations the Government will have with local authorities, and the consideration the Government are giving to the needs of the people not in the Services who want to buy homes of their own in constituencies affected.
§ Mr. Reynolds
The hon. Member is curious, and I am sure that his local paper will report that next week.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian asked what our troops were doing in Thailand and who was paying for them. A Royal Engineers squadron will be in Thailand throughout the whole of 1967 doing road work which will link up isolated villages, enabling Government services to reach them and the villagers to get produce from their fields to local market towns and improve the situation in their own area.
The Thai Government pays for material, internal freight in Thailand and local labour. I believe that that is a straightforward "hearts and minds operation" of the type about which my hon. Friend asked for information. We are providing it as a service. It is the kind of work that I hope units of the Royal Engineers will be able to undertake in large numbers in various parts of the world once we have got rid of "stretch" in the Army. They are ideally equipped for that kind of work, and it is excellent training for their job, so long as no great additional cost falls on the military budget.
§ Mr. Dalyell
To avoid misunderstandings, would it not be better if such work were put on the Ministry of Overseas Development Vote?
§ Mr. Reynolds
I cannot think that we should be able to get it to take over the cost of soldiers' wages and equipment. The Department carries the extra cost of having a unit in Thailand compared with being in the base in Singapore. That is covered in the Ministry of Overseas Development Vote at present. 1211 The hon. Member for Stroud asked for details of anti-tank weapons, including Vigilant, Carl Gustaf and Wombat. Swingfire will be coming into service with units next year, and will give a long-range anti-tank capability to the Royal Armoured Corps. In atomic tactical weapons, we have the Honest John and the 8-in. howitzer, and we are watching development of the American weapon, Lance, and shall make a decision in due course.
The hon. Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) asked why there was a sum in the Defence Votes to cover the cost of damage to vehicles and things of that nature. It is not the policy of the Government as a whole to insure against matters of that kind, except on the Vote of the Department concerned. In view of the miles covered by Army vehicles, I do not regard the amount of money he mentioned as excessive. Every effort is made to bring home to soldiers and other drivers of Army vehicles the need to be as careful as possible, because accidents cost the taxpayer a considerable amount.
The hon. Member also wanted to know about the £650,000 needed to compensate for damage caused in training troops. In Germany, a great deal of training is done in military areas, where that type of damage is relatively small. A great deal of training also takes place on ordinary farmland and hon. Members who have seen an exercise involving a complete division of armoured vehicles moving across farmland will appreciate that the farmer has to be compensated for the damage done. It is alleged that some farmers used to guide vehicles so that they knocked off the corner of a building, so that the farmer could be entitled to compensation, but whatever the truth of that a few years ago, there is no truth in it now. However, the sum of £650,000 is provided for this purpose and such damage is inevitable when we use wide areas of agricultural land in Germany for training as soon as the harvest is gathered in. The land is torn up and we have to pay for damage caused.
I was also asked about the £385 million worth of ammunition which, it was said, had been consumed over the last 20 years. That was the figure which the hon. Gentleman gave. I have not been 1212 able to check it and I have accepted the hon. Gentleman's figure. He listed some of the engagements in which it could have been used.
The majority of this ammunition has not been consumed. Much of it is completely obsolete and has been dumped. Some of it, made in the years during or after the war, is no longer in service and has been sold or dumped in large quantities. For example. a considerable amount of 25-pounder ammunition was dumped in the Indian Ocean when we came out of Kenya and areas like that.
A large amount of money has to be spent on making new ammunition, for instance, for the Chieftain with its own gun, the Abbot self-propelled gun, for the 175 mm. and 105 mm. American gun which is being or has been purchased and, of course, the 81 mm. mortar. We are still building up ammunition stocks, so that a considerable amount of money in the current year's estimates is for ammunition. We have been able to produce more during the last 12 months than in any comparable period for the last few years.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I thought that I had answered that question. It is between £90,000 and £100,000, depending on exactly what is in the tank at any time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Colin Jackson) asked why we should not leave one sovereign base in Cyprus and make do with one. This was considered in the Defence Review, but the equipment and facilities of these twó areas are complementary to, rather than different from, each other, and we need some of the facilities of each area. It would cost a very large sum of money to try to provide all the facilities in either base, and it would be uneconomic to do so.
I know that I have not replied to a number of questions which hon. Members have asked and I will endeavour to write to the hon. Members concerned.
§ Sir J. Eden
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman does not have much time left, but I asked an impórtant question about the Government's intentions about the future cost and strength of the 1213 Brigade of Gurkhas. So far he has not mentioned the Gurkhas.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I have that on the next sheet of my notes. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman will have to rely on a Written Answer, or I will write to him. In fact, I have nothing to add to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 7th December. There has been no change since then. We are proceeding with the rundown, which was originally agreed with the Government of Nepal by the Administration which the hon. Gentleman supported. That run-down is now being carried through by us.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I cannot give way; I have only six minutes left in which to deal with the general questions put to me by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and by the hon. Member for Stroud. I will write to the hon. Gentleman and if he does not like what I say in my letter, he can put down a Question and we can have a go at satisfying him.
§ Mr. Reynolds
It probably is an extraordinary idea of priorities and it is possible that I should spend more time dealing with the size of the Brigade of Gurkhas and not waste time dealing with the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Stroud, but the hon. Gentleman had better sort that out with his right hon. Friend and hon. Friend afterwards. That is not something with which I can deal at the moment.
The hon. Member for Stroud criticised us strongly for contemplating withdrawing from Germany for Deutschmark reasons. That was his main concern, although I gathered the impression that he was against any kind of reductions in our forces in Germany. He also criticised us for preparing contingency plans for withdrawing from Germany. Those criticisms rather surprised me, because the hon. Gentleman supported a Government which over the course of about 10 years reduced our forces in Germany from 80,000 to 53,000. I find it difficult to understand why he should be criticising 1214 us at this moment when he supported a Government which carried out bigger withdrawals than those which we are contemplating.
Then his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, went on to say that the assumption that there could only be a nuclear war in Europe was untenable. I think I am quoting him fairly, and, of course, the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government which produced the 1957 White Paper. He was, if I remember rightly, in the Treasury at that time, and it would not surprise me in the least if he was one of the Ministers who were putting pressure on the right hon. Gentleman, who nowadays usually manages to occupy the seat below the Gangway, and insisting that there should be cuts in expenditure on the Armed Forces and that the only way this could be done was the way proposed in the 1957 White Paper.
This White Paper stated that the only existing safeguard against major aggression—and it did not say whether nuclear or conventional—was the power to threaten retaliation with nuclear weapons.
The right hon. Gentleman was a senior member of the Government that produced that particular White Paper in 1957, and so was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) who was cheering him on this evening and congratulating him on his speech on his way out of the Chamber afterwards, and some other hon. Members who cheered him after his speech.
I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman has undergone this complete change round in his ideas. He did not give us any indication tonight that the situation had changed since 1957, and indeed I do not think that it has changed in this respect. He tells us we must have an Army equal to any other in Europe—
§ Mr. Reynolds
In training, equipment and philosophy. Indeed the right hon. Gentleman is now trying to make out 1215 that we could fulfil the rôle he is talking about with a much smaller Army, but he did not say tonight how many extra men he wants us to have in the Army, how many more tanks at £5 million a Regiment, how many more 175 mm. and 155 mm. Abbot guns, and how much they are all going to cost; how many more bomber aircraft he wants in that Army to carry the conventional bombs, and how many more fighters he wants to protect us against conventional bombers in that Army.
Nor has he told us how much it will cost to provide the extra ammunition, food and fuel that would be required if one was contemplating having a conventional war of that kind on the Continent.
One other thing he has not told us today. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) urged during the defence debate that we should send British troops to Vietnam; he was speaking from the back benches then. A day or two later the hon. and gallant Member said from the Front Bench that we should use the Royal Navy to assist in the shelling of Vietnam. I am still waiting—and I have not heard yet—to see whether the statement made from the Front Bench by the hon. and gallant Member represents the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who speaks on defence for the Opposition.
It is significant that today the right hon. Gentleman concentrated all his attention on the building up of our forces in Europe and said nothing about troops for Vietnam. I can only assume that he is disowning the remarks of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester on Monday and Wednesday of last week. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester should remember that it is one thing to speak from the back benches and put forward one's own personal ideas, but that it is quite a different thing to speak from the Front Bench for one's party. But we have had no withdrawal of what he said—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
If the hon. Gentleman will read HANSARD, he will find that I said no such thing as he has just attributed to me.
§ Mr. Reynolds
I think that what I have said is a fair portrayal of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West presumably means that he and the Tory Party disown the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I am very glad of that.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of Land Forces, not exceeding 237,000, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1968.