§ 7.20 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Ian Gilmour)
I beg to move,That a number of Land Forces not exceeding 195.500, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, and that a number not exceeding 60,000 be maintained in the Regular Reserve, that a number not exceeding 90,500 be maintained in the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve, and that a number not exceeding 6,000 be maintained in the Ulster Defence Regiment, during the year ending on 31st March, 1972.In view of the tragic events of last night, I hope that the House will think it appropriate that I should begin by talking about the Army in Northern Ireland and postpone until later a brief review of the Army's activities throughout the world.
My right hon. Friend and the whole House have already expressed their abhorrence at the cowardly assassinations which took place last night and have expressed their sympathy with the relations of the murdered soldiers. So I will pass on to a more general survey of Army's rôle in Ulster. But just how arduous and thankless that rôle is has been underlined by the appalling events of last night.
Since August, 1969, although units of all three Services have been employed on peace-keeping duties in the Province, the load has, of course, fallen heaviest on the Army.
We now have 10 major units in the infantry rôle there, together with supporting units. The tenth unit went there earlier this week. Three of these units are in accomodation which enables them to serve on two year tours accompanied by their families—an increase of one unit in this category since the present emergency began—and a fourth unit is to be so accomodated during this year. The remaining units are on special short tours of about four months.
The system of special short tours requires the frequent replacement of units, and units of the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Marines and R.A.F. Regiment have all been called upon. We have also had to redeploy temporarily 672 and on a limited scale units from B.A.O.R. But these are still available for their N.A.T.O. rôles, and they can be returned rapidly by air to Germany should the need arise.
The rôle of the Army and the security forces in Northern Ireland is, in conjunction with the Royal Ulster Constabulary, to promote the maintenance of peace and order, to enforce the law firmly and impartially, and to combat subversion. These objectives are all being vigorously undertaken—with a complete absence of sectarian bias—and solely in order to achieve the ending of violence in the Province and to bring about a more peaceful climate in which the social reform programme can proceed without hindrance.
Like every other hon. Gentleman in the House, I should like to give proper recognition and quite unstinted praise to the way all those who have served and are serving in Northern Ireland have performed their duties. They have maintained the highest professional standards in the face of intense hostility on the part of some—I hope an isolated and diminishing few—and shown a remarkable degree of fortitude, tolerance and good humour. Often under severe provocation, they have not reacted indiscriminately or ill-advisedly in the face of vicious and murderous assaults upon them. Instead, they have stuck consistently to the principle of minimum force under which they operate. I am sure that there is no other army in the world which would have performed anything like so well as our soldiers have done in Northern Ireland. Their restraint is all the more notable when one recalls that since August, 1969, over 600 Servicemen have been injured and, tragically, six soldiers have died.
The entire House is united in its distress at these casualty figures and in its condemnation of the extremists who are responsible for them.
§ Mr. Gilmour
How lucky we are that the qualities of the British soldier are such that he is ready to accept the risks, the difficulties and discomfort, and the separation from his family, and yet carry out his duties with restraint and undiminished cheerfulness and good will.
§ Mr. McMaster
Is there any doubt whether these extremists are or are not Republicans? As I believe them to be Republicans, will my hon. Friend call them Republican extremists?
§ Mr. Gilmour
We are against extremists of all kinds. The appalling horrors of last night are being investigated by the appropriate authority. I do not think that it would be right for me to point the finger at any particular organisation, although all hon. Members will have their own views as to who the most likely culprits are.
The House will be aware that the task facing the Army has changed in character during the last few months. Originally that task was to keep the peace between the communities. But now inter-communal rioting has noticeably diminished, and when there are disturbances, the number of people on the street is much smaller than in the past. These in themselves are encouraging factors.
The Army is now faced with organised terrorism by a small minority of extremists whose latest enormity took place last night. In dealing with this situation, as in dealing with the previous one, the Army has been criticised from two conflicting points of view: on the one hand, for being too tough in certain respects and with certain parts of the community, and, on the other, for not being tough enough in their counter-measures. I do not accept either of these criticisms. I welcome the opportunity of this debate to repudiate them, and to reiterate what the Army's policy is. It is to continue to operate, as it has hitherto, within the principle of minimum force. But within this principle—which is part of the law of the land—to be as tough as necessary with the trouble makers, whilst so far as possible protecting the innocent.
The gunmen's only conceivable hope of success is to gain the support of the majority of peaceable and law-abiding people in the community. That means that any indiscriminate retaliation by the security forces would be self-defeating as well as wrong. You do not vindicate the law by breaking it yourself; nor do you gain support for your cause from those—and they represent the overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland—who deplore the methods of terrorism and murder.
674 Just how low the terrorists are ready to sink we saw last night. But these treacherous murders are designed to provoke us. And if our enemies want us to do something, a safe rule to follow is that we should not do it. We are not going to be provoked into enabling the gunmen to gain the sympathy of the law-abiding: we are going to see that they remain isolated from the community. The gunmen must remain in their ghetto cut off from the approval of all decent human being. We are not going to be provoked into over-reacting, but we shall continue to react and to act with the utmost strength against the terrorists themselves.
Unfortunately, it is a regrettable but unavoidable fact that in a situation like the present some innocent people will suffer. That sometimes happens when the houses of innocent people are searched. But, plainly, when the Army receive apparently reliable information that arms are hidden in houses—in whatever section of the community—it would be negligent to disregard it. We are anxious to do all that we can to keep the inconvenience or the damage suffered by innocent people to the barest minimum. But, at the same time, we shall be relentless in our actions against gunmen and we will be as tough with them as we have to be in order to stamp out terrorism. The Army will not hesitate to open fire when they or others are shot at by gunmen or attacked by petrol bombers. But they will not be indiscriminate in their fire—nor would anyone in the House want them to be.
The full restoration of peace and order is unlikely to be achieved quickly. As the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, said recently in another place, there may be a long hard slog in front of us. None the less, nobody should have any doubt about the determination and the ability of the Army to deal with the trouble-makers. The Army will remain there in whatever force is needed, and will be reinforced as the situation demands. As I have said, another battalion has been sent over this week.
I turn now to the Ulster Defence Regiment. It has been operational for 11 months and is now a firmly-established part of the security forces in Northern Ireland. Its strength is over 4,000 and applications continue to be received. We are now aiming to recruit the full figure 675 of 6,000 mentioned in the White Paper published in November, 1969. Naturally, I cannot forecast when we shall reach that figure, but the regiment is an undoubted success and will welcome further recruits. I can announce that it has been decided to establish three additional companies in April, 1971, which is the first anniversary of the U.D.R. vesting day. These companies will be located at Newtownabbey, Saintfield-Ballynahinch and Coleraine.
Roman Catholic members of the community have demonstrated in the most convincing manner that this is a regiment in which they can participate and contribute to the maintenance of security in Northern Ireland. At present, about 15 per cent. of the U.D.R. consists of Roman Catholics and there is room for many more. I hope very much that they will continue to apply.
So much for Northern Ireland. I turn now to the subject of recruiting and manning. Services manpower generally was discussed during the course of last week's debate on the Statement on the Defence Estimates, 1971, and I do not propose to take up the time of the House by tilling the same ground again. My aim will be to highlight the main features of the Army's manpower picture and to give the House some indication of the general lines on which we are hoping to solve the manpower problems that we have inherited.
To deal first with officers, although in overall terms the deficiency is fairly marginal, this conceals serious shortages and imbalances between arms and corps. For one thing, we need a lot more doctors. But, numerically at any rate, perhaps the most serious shortages are in the teeth arms. We look primarily to Sandhurst to meet our career officer needs, but the number of suitable young men coming forward for regular commissions at Sandhurst has recently fallen far short of the Army's needs and, unfortunately, we can see no immediate improvement which is likely. By contrast, however, we are more than meeting our requirements for short-service commissions from Mons O.C.S. We hope, therefore, that some of these young men will take advantage of the opportunity that is now open to them to convert to 676 regular commissions and so help to ease our officer manpower problems.
We are naturally doing all we can to improve our officer recruiting. In particular, we are seeking to follow up the success of the short-service commissions which I have just mentioned. We are intensifying our efforts to bring to the attention of young men the worth of the Army as a career—by means of schoolboy visits to units; increasing contacts with headmasters, careers masters, youth employment officers; and so on. We also hope that the payment on 1st April next to single men of the second stage of the military salary, a welcome innovation, will provide an added stimulus to our officer recruiting.
Turning to the recruitment position of soldiers: as the House knows, our problem in this area is a cumulative one in which we have to try to make good the shortfalls of previous years. In 1968–69 the shortfall of adult recruits was nearly 50 per cent. The situation improved in 1969–70 and, although the final position at the end of the current year cannot yet be given, an improvement in the actual recruiting performance of some 15 per cent. or better over 1969–70 is forecast. That is most encouraging, but it is still, unfortunately, a long way short of our requirements.
I am pleased to say that junior recruiting has shown a steady improvement for several years now. Here again, the final figures for this year cannot yet be given, but it looks as if the total intake will be about 7,300. This is about a 10 per cent. improvement over the previous year and the best junior recruiting performance ever. This increase is most encouraging because junior soldiers make a most valuable contribution to the Army's manpower. Indeed they account for about 25 per cent. of the Army's annual intake of adult recruits.
While we tend to concentrate, naturally, on recruiting, this is only one part of the problem. It is not enough to increase the intake: we must at the same time try to staunch the outflow: to persuade more men to prolong their engagements. This is what we are anxious to do at present, particularly among the soldiers who enlisted on the three-year engagement that was introduced in 1969. We shall not know, of course, until much 677 later next year, how many of the first of these soldiers will prolong their service. A good number have already done so and we hope that many more will prolong, because the shorter the time a soldier serves, the greater is the turnover and the more expensive in money and manpower the initial training becomes.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
On the subject of recruiting, would my hon. Friend consider a scheme by which, when the school leaving age is raised to 16, boys who wish to do so will be allowed to leave school early, say at 15, and join the Forces, so that they can swell the ranks of junior entries and continue their education within the Forces?
§ Mr. Gilmour
We are considering this, but my hon. and gallant Friend will recognise that it contains a certain number of problems which would have to be ironed out with the Department of Education and Science, and that these may prove intractable. But it is an attractive proposition, and we are considering it.
We are also looking carefully, in our efforts to staunch this outflow, at all those aspects of Army life—length of tour, turbulence, family separation and so on—which tend to increase wastage and influence soldiers and their wives against staying on. Mention is often made of the difficulties of young Service wives and their families, and we are mindful of this important aspect of Army life. For example, to supplement the normal very thorough unit arrangements for looking after soldiers' wives and families, we have established the Housing Commandant Scheme, which is mentioned in the Defence Estimates and to which my noble Friend drew attention last week.
We are also looking at conditions of service generally to see what improvements, financial or otherwise, are practicable and desirable to attract new recruits and also to encourage as many serving soldiers as possible to remain in the Army as long as possible. Some of these improvements will take time to implement and have effect, because there are many competing claims on the funds available. But we shall do as much as we can as and when we can.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
Would the hon. Gentleman answer the question I asked during the defence debate; 678 namely, what effect has service in Northern Ireland had on re-engagement?
§ Mr. Gilmour
The first tour in Northern Ireland seems, if anything, to have had a rather favourable effect on re-engagement. This seems to be less true on following engagements, but I should not like to make a definite statement on this yet because, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, we have not had a great deal of experience of a large number of units coming back. There is some evidence for thinking, however, that the effect of the second and third tours may be different from that of the first tour.
As foreshadowed in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy last October, we are proceeding with the expansion of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve. We are increasing its size by establishing a second Armoured Car Regiment, which will be available to N.A.T.O., and by establishing 20 unit headquarters and 77 sub-units in the infantry rôle, totalling some 10,000 men.
The new units will begin to form on 1st April, and we expect that all of them will have begun to recruit by the end of June. These additional infantry units will increase our reserve of men trained in military skills and will give an opportunity to many people throughout the country who are anxious to undertake this valuable form of public service.
Although formal recruiting has not yet started, there are encouraging signs that many young men are keen to participate. I have heard it said that some men are unofficially already substantially recruited.
During the year the Army has been engaged throughout the world in many diverse activities. The major units of 6 Armoured Brigade, which was redeployed to the United Kingdom early in 1968, have now completed their return to Germany; 36 Heavy Air Defence Regiment will return by the summer. In the Far East, the redeployment of Army units to Hong Kong and Western Europe has continued.
The headquarters of the Brigade of Gurkhas has now moved from Malaysia to Hong Kong, where most of the Brigade will be stationed in future. One Gurkha battalion will be stationed in 679 the United Kingdom on an 18-month unaccompanied tour, and the first unit to be posted here will be 7 Gurkha Rifles, who will be deployed from Hong Kong to Crookham in late September.
The first British major unit to be stationed in the Far East under the Government's new five-Power arrangements for the area will be the 1st Battalion the Royal Highland Fusiliers, who will move to Singapore in September. At about the same time, the 1st Light Battery Royal Artillery, which is being retained as part of the Government's decisions on Phase 2 of the Army rundown, will be deployed to the Far East as part of our military land presence there.
I come to a change which we have decided to make in the plans of the previous Administration to withdraw the last battalion from Malta without replacement units this year. I know that hon. Members have been worried about security in the Mediterranean. In reviewing our defence dispositions, the Government have concluded that, in the face of the growing Soviet presence in the Mediterranean, it would be inappropriate, both politically and militarily, to proceed with rundown plans and withdraw the battalion.
Therefore, after consultation with the Malta Government, we propose that when the time comes to withdraw the present battalion, it will be replaced by an equivalent unit. The changeover will not, in any case, occur before the second half of this year.
We hope and believe that this decision will be generally welcome in Malta on both defence and economic grounds. At the request of the Malta Government we propose immediately to defer discharges of Maltese civilian personnel, which would have been due later this month. There will be further consultation with the Malta Government on these and other details.
I close as I began, with Northern Ireland. The whole House admires the way in which the Services are discharging their highly disagreeable duties there. We are not going to be deflected from our purposes by criminal outrages, however cowardly and vicious. The terrorists are not only behaving in a demented and wholly subhuman manner. They have no 680 hope whatever of achieving their objective. The Army will stay in Northern Ireland in whatever strength is necessary to see that peace is restored and order and stability maintained. The crimes of the terrorists will be in vain.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Walden (Birmingham, All Saints)
We are discussing the Army Estimates in the aftermath of yesterday's tragedy in Ulster. That three young soldiers should have lost their lives would, in any circumstances, have been a matter for deep regret, but the peculiarly horrifying nature of this murder will provoke a deep sense of outrage in the British people. I suspect that not only today but on subsequent days this House will have to address itself to that sense of outrage.
I wish to say nothing that will weaken the sense of solidarity which I think exists in all parts of the House on this issue. I therefore start—this is a debate on the Army Estimates and not on Ulster; I will not, therefore, go wide of the subject—by reaffirming the belief of the Opposition in the decision which took the British Army to Ulster.
It was the view of the Labour Government that the Army had to undertake a peace-keeping rôle in Northern Ireland, and the present Conservative Government hold an identical opinion. The Under-Secretary pointed out that that rôle had in some senses changed—that the Army was rather less concerned now to prevent communal violence than to suppress a particularly iniquitous kind of terrorism. I accept that.
The Opposition wholly join with the Government in supporting that objective. I say that while acknowledging, as I know the Government acknowledge, that the Army cannot play the rôle of the police. Nevertheless, the Army is discharging an absolutely vital function in Ulster which cannot adequately be discharged by any other agency.
I join with the Minister in stressing the great difficulties of our troops in carrying out their rôle. We are a democracy, and we live under the rule of law. Methods which I think would be unhesitatingly used by dictatorships cannot be used by us. We cannot order the Army to take steps which would violate those very standards which it is in Ulster to 681 preserve. That inevitably means that we are asking a very great deal of our men. The whole House has been unsparing, and I know will be unsparing, in its praise of the restraint and the excellent morale of the Army in these most trying circumstances.
There could be no clearer indication of the calibre of the British Army, its officers and men, than the way in which they have carried out their unpleasant duties in their own country—because it is their own country: the British Army is not only an English, a Scottish and a Welsh Army but a Northern Ireland Army as well, and those three Scottish soldiers, to whose families and comrades we extend our profound sympathy and sense of loss—lost their lives in their own land—an almost unparalleled circumstance. The only analogy I can think of is Ireland in the early 'twenties or the Easter Rebellion of 1916 in Dublin—and even that is not nearly comparable. This is why I say that the British people will have a peculiar sense of outrage at what has occurred.
Inevitably there will he calls for strong measures to be taken, not only against the perpetrators of the crime but against any who gave them aid or comfort. I think that the whole House will certainly agree. We are all at one in wishing to see that done, in wishing to see our Intelligence Branch strengthened or any other steps taken which will bring these elements to book.
Equally, however, I hope that the wise words used by the Home Secretary this afternoon, which have been echoed by the Under-Secretary, will command universal support; that it will be realised that the aims of the murderers are to provoke retaliation and thus destroy the middle ground so that the irreconcilable extremes can he left to reduce Ulster to a pitiable condition of chaos.
As the Home Secretary rightly said, it is not necessary to tell the British Army not to be provoked, but it is right that the Government should make clear that they know the aims of the extremists, and thus remove from them any hopes that this unbridled savagery will serve any political purpose whatsoever, and that the Opposition unreservedly associate themselves with the remarks of the Home Secretary and of the Under-Secretary in that respect.
682 The last word I want to say on Ulster is to put on record that the Opposition do not have any easy panaceas or miraculous solutions to proffer to the Government. Later in the debate we will make certain suggestions, but they are suggestions, not imperatives. We sympathise with the Government. We know their difficulties, we know their problems, and we join with them in support of the rô British Army.
I turn from that grave matter, which is nevertheless not an issue between the parties here, to other matters on the Estimates which give rise to some controversy. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's speech was singularly uncontroversial, and so far as I am capable of it I shall try to maintain that uncontroversial note. There are, however, necessarily certain things about which the Opposition wish to know more or on which they may wish to make certain suggestions, some of which we hope will be found by the whole House to be constructive.
Let us, first, consider the issue of recruitment. I agree with the Minister that in the defence debate a good deal was said about manpower, and I do not intend to go over that ground again any more than he did. It is always easy to find arguments either to justify or assail the record of any Government in regard to recruitment. Perhaps it is wiser simply to consider the facts of the present situation.
I noticed in the Defence debate an excellent speech made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lt.-Col. Colin Mitchell), with a good deal of which I agree. I hope, however, that he will not take it amiss if I say that I thought that his suggestions on conscription in relation to manpower would in practice be either objectionable to the Government or would prove to be politically impossible. I do not see any hope of improving Army recruitment on the basis of either universal or selective military service. Here I must say how much I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) who thought that selective service was repugnant because of the obvious injustice it involved.
683 I therefore take it that we can rule out that option, however unfortunate it may be in terms of Service manpower. I just do not believe that either major party here—certainly not mine—believes in constription as a method of producing the men we need. There are obvious disadvantages in putting Regulars alongside National Service men, many of whom, although they have done excellent service in the past—I was a National Service man myself though I do not claim to have done excellent service—obviously wish to get back to civilian life and do not have the same feeling towards the Forces as do Regulars. That, in itself, presents problems.
What are we left with? The last Government substantially improved the pay of the Army and that had obviously beneficial effects but, necessarily, recruitment is affected by other things than pay. We ought to acknowledge, and I think we do, that there are inevitable demographic trends which will reduce the number of people available for recruitment. That in itself is an important factor.
Moreover, the Army is not comparable with any civil occupation. In paragraph 46 of the Third Report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes there is a discussion of the so-called "X factor". Admittedly, the Board was trying to assess the financial value of the factor, but I must say that it succeeded only in convincing me—and I speak here purely personally—that that was an exceedingly difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, I want to quote the paragraph, because I think that it sums up very well what it is that makes life in the Army so different from life in "civvy street". It reads:The Service man is faced with the following combination of factors: He may be exposed to danger in the course of military operations; is subject to military discipline which involves restrictions on personal liberty not normally endured in civil life; and is bound to a period of service which he cannot terminate at will. Any one of these features may possible be found in civilian life, but not the combination … In short, therefore, we regard the X factor as comprising a combination of exposure to danger, discipline, total commitment to the Service and the frequent uprooting that is inseparable from Service life.It is only fair that I should say that not only did I not write those wise words but I am not even the first person to quote them here, because the hon. Mem- 684 ber for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) did just that last year, although, of course, in a slightly different context. Nevertheless, I think that that puts the matter very well and makes it apparent that the issue of recruitment is complex. It is not really suitable for party debate, not that my saying that will stop it from being a subject for party debate. However, that is my view.
I want to make a suggestion on behalf of the Opposition. In Session 1969–70 Sub-Committee C of the Estimates Committee conducted an investigation into recruitment which was called "Recruitment for the Armed Services" and it published a Report which I have studied. In fact, I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) served on that Sub-Committee. The Report is a valuable document, but, by the very nature of the Select Committee involved, it could not go into the matter in all its aspects. This would necessarily be so and I take it that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester would gladly concede that.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles indicated assent.
§ Mr. Walden
I am glad to have the hon. and gallant Gentleman's agreement on that point.
Therefore, the Opposition wonder whether the Government would consider the establishment of a Select Committee on recruitment. We believe that such a Select Committee would have great value. It would, first, bring legislative wisdom to bear on a problem that taxes the Executive. It might remove, though I do not want to be sanguine about this, some of the partisan elements from the discussion of the issue. Most important of all, I believe that it would give the subject the status and priority that it deserves.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
Why is the hon. Gentleman so keen to limit the terms of reference of such a Select Committee merely to recruiting instead of having a properly constituted Select Committee on defence fully empowered to study the broad spectrum of the subject?
§ Mr. Walden
I must not go too wide of the Army Estimates, otherwise you will rebuke me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I will try to answer that question, which I regard as a very fair one. I do 685 not believe that a Select Committee on Recruitment would give rise to problems of security and to the problems that necessarily exist between civil servants and their Ministers which would arise if those civil servants had to testify before a Select Committee examining the whole range of defence matters. A Select Committee on Defence would raise very serious matters which I do not think would be raised by a Select Committee on recruitment. It is our opinion that a Select Committee on recruitment would not give rise to anything like the same level of difficulty and problems. I will not enumerate the problems. The hon. Gentleman will readily understand the sorts of matters on which a Select Committee on defence would wish to question civil servants. That would take the issue very wide indeed. I do not believe that a Select Committee on recruitment would be open to such an objection.
I do not expect that the Minister can give me an answer to this point tonight, but we ask him to give the matter some consideration to see whether he can reach a decision favourable to the setting up of such a Select Committee.
In view of the attenuated nature of the debate I will be as brief as possible, because I know that many hon. Members on both sides wish to speak. Therefore, I am very much condensing the remarks that I had intended to make.
We were grateful for the information the Minister gave about the deployments and redeployments of our Forces east of Suez. The Minister will not mind my introducing a slightly controversial note—it is my bounden and plain duty to do so—by saying that the Opposition have very considerable reservations about whether single battalions in given areas in fact perform any effective deterrent whatever. However, that is a well known view of ours and I will not pursue it now.
However, I want to take up with the Minister two points in regard to the Army and our Far Eastern commitments. First, there is a reference to the British Jungle Warfare School in Johore on page 5, paragraph 19, of Cmnd. 4592. I will not read the reference, unless there is any dispute about my interpretation of it. The substance of the reference is that the British military authorities will continue to operate the school until the end of this year and it will then be transferred 686 to the Malaysian authorities and discussions will take place about the school then with the Malaysian authorities.
The Opposition would very much like to stress, not only that we feel that the facilities in the school should be available to the British Army—it is unlikely that they would not be, but it is not clear that they would be—but also that it is very important that they should not be denied to Singapore. That admittedly is a much more touchy issue, but we think that it is an important one, particularly important for co-operation within that area itself, especially if we are, against the wishes of the Opposition, to maintain a physical presence there. Therefore, we would like some assurance that, if they have not already concluded the negotiations on this point, the Government will earnestly pursue the issue of access to the school once it passes under Malaysian authority.
Second, I want to raise the issue of our Army personnel in Singapore. There is strong local feeling in Singapore that it would he of great value if all military personnel in Singapore were more fully integrated into the life of the local community and if, for instance, in terms of schooling and in terms of many other things which I will not now detail, there was no segregation between our military personnel and the local community.
We have considered this matter, which is to some extent controversial, at some length. The Opposition would like to urge upon the Government that that be done. If we are to keep a presence there, we think that there is a very good case for seeing that it is not a presence which is artificially restricted from sharing in full community life. We would like some assurances from the Government on this matter, too.
The last specific subject that I want to deal with relates to equipment. I am bound to say, even in this very noncontroversial speech, that I noticed the absence of any reference to either equipment or to the costs involved in the Minister's speech. No doubt that was because of the shortage of time. There is much missing from my speech as well.
We want to know more about this issue. In particular, the Opposition are becoming very alarmed by the kind of statement that we are getting from the Government Front Bench in regard to the 687 vehicular transport of the British Army. We have asked: is the situation such that the Government can guarantee that within the foreseeable future the British Army will have its engines and its vehicles supplied by British firms supplying British engines? It is a very clear question. Due to inadvertence or possibly even inattention on our part, we are not wholly sure about the answer that we have received.
§ The Minister of State for Defence (Lord Balniel)
Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman is worried about the prospect of the British Army using Vauxhall or Ford engines?
§ Mr. Walden
No. That is not the point involved. The point involved is that, as the Minister of State knows, Rolls-Royce—I shall not go back on that debate—supplies a considerable number of engines to the Army. We are not at all sure what the Minister means—indeed, we are not at all sure what the Secretary of State for Defence means—by saying, as they do—admittedly, I am interpreting them, but I am sure that the Minister of State will correct me if I interpret them wrongly—that they do not see any issue involved in this. We do.
In our view, there must be a statement from one of the Defence Ministers making clear that we shall not allow the provision of this kind of engine to pass out of British hands, not only for the jobs involved but for other reasons which are best not expanded upon but which we regard as important. We do not wish to see a shift from a situation in which Rolls-Royce in Britain is supplying certain equipment to the British Army to one in which the orders are placed elsewhere. We should like more information and a guarantee that they will not be placed elsewhere.
Before I conclude, I must take up one point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester, whom I shall now unkindly repay for having agreed with me a few minutes ago by saying that I very much disagree with him about recruitment to the Army of schoolboy soldiers at the age of 15.
The Opposition would not regard that as a good idea. Boys should have a full schooling up to the age of 16, and then be available for military service if they 688 wish to join after that. I make that point because I was rather surprised to hear the Minister say, though he admitted the difficulties and was very fair about it, that the idea nevertheless had some attractions. I hope that on further study he will find that it has very few attractions, and I am sure that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will help to convince him of that.
I join the Minister, above all in the tragic circumstances of today, in paying tribute to the diverse functions of the Army throughout the world. He talked about the security efforts of the Army, about its operations, and about its rôle in Ulster. He could have talked about its rôle in N.A.T.O. He could have mentioned all the thousand-and-one other things which British troops throughout the world do which reflect credit upon them and upon this country. He said himself that he could think of no finer Army, or no other Army which would behave as well as ours. That is one issue on which the Opposition have no quarrel whatever with the Government.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I join with the Under-Secretary of State and with the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) in expressing our horror at the events last night in Northern Ireland. In this House, we are always grieved when our soldiers are shot down on duty, but when they are murdered when off duty and in civilian clothes there is a particular revulsion against that sort of crime.
I have seen something of our forces in Ulster during the past year and, indeed, before that, but before turning to the Ulster scene I wish to pay tribute to the rôle of the British Army during the past 25 years in another part of the world, in the Persian Gulf.
The hon. Member for All Saints, in his admirable speech, said that his party and he himself had considerable doubts about the deterrent value of single battalions in faraway places. If one looks at the history of the Persian Gulf over the past 25 years, one may be somewhat reassured about the deterrent value of comparatively small numbers of troops. Despite the fact that one has the explosive combination of Arabs, large quantities of oil and large quantities of money, there 689 has been less bloodshed there than in any other part of the Arab world, and a considerable part of the credit for that state of affairs belongs to the presence of the British Army.
Because British soldiers have been present on the ground, the local Rulers have had good reason for not pressing their own internal disputes to the point of bloodshed—and we all know that there are plenty of internal disputes in that part of the world. At the same time, because of the presence of British troops, the local Rulers have not had to build up their own defence forces. We know from events in Aden and in Libya that it is the security forces in that part of the world which are themselves only too often a source of insecurity in that they trigger off revolution in their own country.
I am not wholly happy about the proposal that the Trucial Oman Scouts should be handed over to the control of the Federation, if the Federation in the Gulf comes about.
The third major service which British soldiers in the Gulf have performed in the last 25 years has been to keep the forces of other countries out of that area. I fear—one has only to look at Egypt and see the vast number of Soviet troops who have entered that country in recent years—that the withdrawal of British soldiers and the creation of a military vacuum in that part of the world may lead to an incursion by the forces of other less friendly—indeed, wholly hostile—countries. I do not look forward with pleasure to the possibility that Soviet forces will follow British forces into the Gulf and that two-thirds of N.A.T.O.'s oil supplies will come under the grip of the Soviet Union.
I realise that my hon. Friend and his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Defence are not enthusiastic about the withdrawal of British troops from that area. It was the difficulty of reaching agreement, particularly the Persian Government, which led us to say that the treaties will be terminated at the end of 1971 and that the British garrison will be withdrawn. I attach no blame to my right hon. and hon. Friends for the fact that we have not been able to persuade the Persians that it is in their interest as well as ours that our soldiers should remain there. But we have, alas, 690 seen a notable diplomatic defeat for this country.
I turn now to the area which has, naturally, occupied a major part of our attention during the debate so far. It is easy to express sympathy with our troops and admiration of their conduct. I agree with my hon. Friend that British troops have reacted with a restraint that would not have been equalled by the soldiers of any other country. But I hope that he is also right when he says that the savage murders last night have been greeted with revulsion even by the extremists in Northern Ireland. We should soon know whether that is true, because it would seem from the nature of the crime that many people must have a great deal of information. If that information is made available, as it should be, we should see a reaction and action taken to bring the murderers to justice very quickly. But if it is not forthcoming it will be difficult to maintain that all sections in Northern Ireland are revolted, as I hope they are, by the murders.
But it is not up to us to tell my hon. Friend or the General Officer Commanding in Northern Ireland how to play this hand tactically. It is up to us to concern ourselves with the strategic implications for the Army as a whole of the Northern Irish problem. Sooner or later we shall have the problem of how to get ourselves out of the situation.
In 1969 we tried to turn the Royal Ulster Constabulary into another British police force by taking away its arms and disbanding the B Specials. In return we gave it the British Army to do the dirty work and the Ulster Defence Regiment to guard certain vulnerable points. But as months have gone by and casualty has followed casualty—we were reminded this evening that 600 British soldiers have been injured since 1969—any gleam of optimism has left our minds. It is becoming all too apparent that the security situation in Belfast and Londonderry, and indeed throughout Northern Ireland, will not be like the security situation in Hampshire, Kent or Surrey, and that we shall be faced with the threat and the actuality of violence for many months. It may be years before we can look forward to the day when an unarmed Royal Ulster Constabulary can go about its duties in the same way as the Metropolitan Police can today.
691 What will happen? Will there be a perpetual drain on the rather slender resources of the British Army? I think that we are faced with three choices. We can keep the Army there as it is now for years to come. There will be substantial recruiting problems if we do that. We could rearm the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but I do not think that that is a very happy solution either, and I do not think that the Royal Ulster Constabulary itself wishes to be rearmed. But there may well be a case, which could be studied with care in the months to come, for creating within the R.U.C. special riot squads equipped with special weapons for dealing with the particular problems of violence in Northern Ierland, a sort of para-military force. Unless we turn our minds to the creation of a new sort of body it seems to me that the Army will be stuck in Northern Ireland in its present disagreeable rôle for many months.
I wonder whether our equipment for dealing with the riot situation and internal security problems in Northern Ireland is adequate. I have seen the Army carrying out its duties in the streets of Belfast and Londonderry. The tactics and weapons did not seem to have changed very much since the days of the Roman legions. A British Army platoon preparing to go out into the streets has its shields, helmets and pick helves. Its members are strangely reminiscent of the Roman legionaries who 2,000 years ago no doubt tramped through the streets of Londinium. I do not think that they ever got as far as Belfast. The tactics also seem to be virtually the same as those used by the Roman legionaires to put down rebellious ancient Britons.
Cannot modern science do rather better in developing non-lethal weapons? We are spending a great deal of money on sophisticated equipment that will be very useful in very sophisticated and very large wars. But the problems we are likely to face and are facing now are primarily internal security problems. If a little of the millions of pounds spent on the immensely destructive weapons with which a large part of our Armed Forces are equipped could be channelled into the development of rather more powerful and potent non-lethal weapons, the return in terms of cost-effectiveness might be rather better.
§ Mr. McMaster
I am following my hon. Friend's argument closely. The nature of the problem in Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, has changed a great deal since Christmas. The problem of crowd control and of dealing with nonlethal weapons is not so apparent now. We are getting the use of nail bombs, gelignite and even firearms—as we have seen in the last 24 hours. That is the problem now, and it is much more serious.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I agree that that is the problem of the moment, but when dealing with guns the Army has the weapons that it needs. Although the problem of non-lethal weapons may have receded for the moment from the front pages and from our television screens, we know all too well from the history of Northern Ireland that that does not mean to say that it will not return. We have seen during the last few weeks many small but dangerous riots, with young people throwing petrol and nail bombs at British troops, causing casualties, and at the moment we seem to have, sadly, little answer except to throw CS gas and to make swift darts in an attempt to catch the offenders. I think that our equipment can be improved.
The sad fact is that our soldiers are faced with the prospect of carrying out internal security operations in Northern Ireland for years to come. The one redeeming feature is that they seem to do it better than the forces of any other country in the world.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) in what he said tonight; instead I want to quote what he said in our debate last year. He then made a point which I would like to take up again tonight. He was referring to the number of doctors in the Army and the calamitous fall in the number of medical cadets entering the Service on graduating from medical school. He said:We are particularly vulnerable in the medical sphere, and that vulnerability is growing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March 1970; Vol. 797, c. 1603.]There is some more encouraging news about the Royal Air Force in the Defence 693 Estimates, but, unfortunately, we read on page 35 that the recruitment of medical officers to the Army is not encouraging. On page 33 we note that another problem is that of imbalance—the proportion of older and long-serving medical officers being likely to continue to rise as against the proportion of the newly-recruited and others coming along. We thus face a situation in which the Army medical services are likely to be a combination of weakness of manpower and an imbalance of age structure in favour of the older, long-serving officers. I think that all hon. Members will agree with that analysis. I want to ask the Government a number of questions arising out of it.
First, to what proportion has the shortage grown? Has it got to the stage, for example, of embarrassing the efficiency of the services operated? Is it, perhaps, even leading to a curtailment of those services? If that is so, is the situation likely to get worse in future? Or do the Government' foresee that it may get worse? In such circumstances, have the Government any plan for providing medical services for Army personnel? Do the Government bear in mind—I am sure they do—that one of the most hopeful and prestigious operations of the Army in recent years has been the flying of medical officers to areas stricken by disaster? That service has been a great advertisement for the Army.
My second point concerns the housing commandant organisation. This is a worthwhile idea, but any idea is only as strong as its practical implementation. How many officers have been recruited for the organisation, and what training will they be given? As will be appreciated, numbers of themselves are not the important factor.
What is important is the keenness of the officers concerned that their job should be worth while and that the training they are given to be able to help families and young wives in emergencies and with the problems which can occur is thorough. I hope that the Government will not only regard this as something to be used in an emergency, because this is what the paragraph in the Defence Estimates seems to foreshadow, but instead regard it as a welfare facility in the interests of the well-being of the Forces and, therefore, in 694 turn a spur to recruitment and reinlistment
I hope that the Government will also consider operating these housing commandant organisations overseas as well as in this country. In Western Germany, for example, there is certainly evidence that Army married quarters are a considerable distance from the camps, so that the husband is often away from the wife for many hours, from early in the morning until late at night. Often these are young married couples, and this might be their first trip outside Britain. The wives are stuck in a foreign country without help in case of difficulties. Use of the commandant organisations could play an important part in such stations. All hon. Members know that the attitude of Servicemen's families is crucial when we come to talk about possible re-enlistment. This is one way of keeping our Forces strong.
My next point arises out of a case which I took up with the hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to refer to it specifically but it does illustrate a general proposition. I make a plea for the retention in the Armed Forces only of those who are genuinely happy and contented with Service life. We are living in the wake of the Donaldson Report which highlighted the fact that there might be young people who at the age of 15 had committed themselves to a long period of service without fully understanding the nature of the contract and who might be regretting this and be thoroughly miserable and discontented with their life in the Army. If this is so, there must be a number of pre-Donaldson recruits still in the Army, doomed to remain there because they cannot avail themselves of the provisions of Donaldson and opt at the age of 18. These people may be leading very unhappy lives and can be of no use to themselves or to the highly technical and professional Army which we are seeking to create, one with a proper professional pride in its achievements.
There are obviously people who want to slough off their bargains lightly, and I believe that they can be detected. For some, however, their boyhood bargains are not even tolerable, and in some cases they may act in ways in which they would not normally act, driven through a combination of desperation and a feeling of being dropped. I know that this does 695 not excuse their behaviour, but I ask the Minister and those responsible for the administration of the Services to exercise mercy and understanding.
My major reason for doing this is that many of these people are retained because they were too old to avail themselves of the provisions of the Donaldson Report. Secondly it cannot be in the interests of the Army to retain these people because their indifference is infectious and their apathy damaging.
Thirdly, it does the Army no good if it hangs on to people to whom Service life is totally repugnant. That is rather like the Victorian husband who clung on to a marriage when to his wife he was totally repugnant. I ask that the Minister deals with this matter, because in this respect mercy may bring its own reward.
I am somewhat concerned about courts martial. I know that they administer justice impartially and well, but they are empowered to mete out sentences which not only in their severity but in their frequency are much greater than those which a civilian court—a magistrates' court, for example—would normally be able to impose.
Nevertheless, a man facing a court-martial charge is often defended by someone who is not legally qualified. He is defended by an officer who is presumed to know Army law because of having read the manual, and no doubt defended to the best of that officer's ability. I plead with the Minister to ensure that when men are faced with charges involving considerable loss of liberty, they are allowed legal representation if they wish.
I associate myself with the plea for a Select Committee on recruiting. It has been said that although pay is a substantial factor, it is not the sole reason why people join the Forces. We are left with a series of nebulous factors. It is said that unemployment is not an important factor in the level of recruitment. I have heard it suggested that there are emotive reasons unconnected with material considerations—a sense of duty, a sense of patriotism and so on.
But we do not know for sure, and the strength of our Armed Forces depends upon the accuracy with which we can identify the factors which lead to people 696 joining the Forces. A Select Committee on recruitment would be useful and would follow up the valuable work already done by the Estimates Committee. We hear much today of the deterioration of the welfare services, but in their broadest sense they have much to contribute to the effectiveness and efficiency of the Army.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
I had not intended to take part in the debate, but it is almost impossible to listen to the speeches which we have heard this evening and not feel, coming from where I come from, that one must say something about the tragedy which occurred last night. I share the feeling of horror, dismay and disgust at what happened. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden), whom I am glad to see at the Opposition Dispatch Box from time to time, when he said that the Army was not just the Army of England, Scotland, or Wales, but the Army of Northern Ireland, too. This is something which is sometimes forgotten, even in the House.
I was reminded of it very strongly last night. My telephone rang at four o'clock this morning, and again at seven, but until four it rang almost without ceasing. The Press was looking not so much for me as for a more eminent relation who was thought to be staying with me overnight, although in that the Press was wrong. I was constantly asked whether I would make a statement of some kind, and I made comments of the kind which we have all made in the House today.
For one journalist this was simply not enough. He said, "How can you refuse to go further, and to say no more?" He said, in effect, "Our troops are being killed and murdered in your country." For the first time I lost my temper, and I used words that I certainly should not use in front of a collar such as is worn by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).
In recent weeks the most moving thing that I have seen depicted on the television screens was an elderly lady in Londonderry who had succoured a member of the British Forces who subsequently died. She said how much she would have liked to see him live and be able to return to his mother. She used 697 most poignant language when she said, "For God's sake, tell the people of England that we are not all savages in Londonderry" I hope that it is not necessary to remind even the troops who are there tonight of the fact that the vast majority of the people in all communities in Northern Ireland are decent, gentle and kindly people. I was going to try to see that old lady this weekend, but I was advised that it would be much better if I did not, because in all probability she was already in enough difficulty from the threats of some of the mad lunatics in the community.
This is not the moment to make criticisms about the tactics used in the Northern Ireland situation, but perhaps I may refer to the long-term strategy which I believe to be necessary—and that brings in the question of the use of the Ulster Defence Regiment. In February my noble Friend the Minister of Defence, speaking in another place, pointed out that the deployment of troops in Northern Ireland today imposed the gravest strain on the Army's manpower and made it difficult for us to discharge our N.A.T.O. obligations. He went on to say that the troops in Northern Ireland would be maintained only at a level which the security situation demanded at any time. He said that he was also seeking to encourage the civil arm of the security forces.
All of us, including hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, share the concern that has been expressed about the strain that the deployment of troops in Northern Ireland imposes upon our ability to keep our commitments elsewhere in the world. I hope that I am not misquoting the hon. Member for All Saints, but I believe that he said that the Army cannot play the role of the police. That is true, and it is something to which we ought to give serious consideration. We have had many assurances that the Army will remain there as long as is necessary, and we accept those assurances, but we should long ago have started thinking what is to happen in the long term. We know that even after the present emergency has died away there is the possibility, alas, of instant insurrection, even if it lasts for only a short time. The possibility is always there.
Although he did not say so, the hon. Member probably intended to go on to 698 point out that the Army is not trained to deal with the sort of situation that exists in Northern Ireland. We now have a civilianised police force, although it is not yet large enough. But between the Armed Forces and the police force there is a vacuum. I should like to know who is to deal with the question of riot control. It is not for an armchair strategist like myself to say what the solution should be and whether such a force should come from the Army or from the police. Nor is it for me to say under whose control it should be. These matters must be worked out now.
The Ulster Defence Regiment is not the body that ought to be used for the purpose of which I am speaking, though I hope that it will make great progress since it is giving great service to the community. The difficulty with that body is that its personnel are part-timers. Therefore, they are not able to be called out with the kind of despatch needed to deal with the sort of situation that those of us from Northern Ireland know only too well can arise very quickly. That is the great long-term problem, and I hope that we are proceeding to solve it.
Perhaps I may mention the question of the lengths of tours of duty by units in Northern Ireland. In the normal way the period is four months. In that time it is not easy to get to know some of the areas in which the troops find themselves. By the time the troops have learned to know an area, they are whisked away somewhere else and a new batch come in. When those new men come in, almost inevitably the people in the area who wish to make trouble tend to "try their wings" against that unit to see how they get on. This is something which we should try to avoid. It may be that we shall have to phase out the departure of one unit against the coming in of the next unit.
If I may give one example which I would not regard as a good situation—I may be open to contradiction on this matter and, if so, I would withdraw—the Green Howards were in Minden on 2nd July, and because of the exigencies of the situation in Northern Ireland they found themselves involved in the search of the Falls Road on 4th July. That was only two days after having left Minden and would seem to be plunging those men in at the deep end. Of course, I quite 699 understand that in that case it was no doubt an inevitable move following particular events, but this is something I feel we ought to try to avoid in the future. One answer may well be to increase the size of the usual permanent garrison in Northern Ireland.
In regard to the Ulster Defence Regiment, I know that my hon. Friend is aware that in some cases employers are withholding remuneration for days lost because of service to the Crown. This is an appalling situation at this moment, and I hope that the opportunity will be taken to publicise the fact that employers might be called upon to make some sort of sacrifice in the present situation since they could give assistance in the matter of remuneration where at present they are failing to do so. There are other difficulties for men serving in the Ulster Defence Regiment in regard to tax problems and remuneration throughout their period of service. However, these are matters of detail which I have put to my hon. Friend on other occasions and I will not go into them now.
I conclude by reiterating my admiration for the courage and bearing of the troops and by wishing them well in the task of seeking out those who have perpetrated this monstrous crime and bringing them to justice. During the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill a short time ago on the subject of Northern Ireland my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain On), in speaking of the death of Gunner Curtis, said that the widow should be told that that gunner did not die in vain. My hon. Friend was right to say that that soldier died in maintaining the authority of democracy in a British city. I can only hope and pray with other hon. Members of this House that not many more men will have to die in that same cause.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Any politician who thinks that he has the wisdom to contribute to debates in this House on a whole range of subjects is either deceiving himself or sadly mistaken. I am conscious that I have said little or nothing of Northern Ireland and indeed have little or nothing to contribute other than second-hand opinions. One 700 of my second-hand opinions will be, perhaps, what the hon. Member said regarding the length of service and the tour of duty. I am aware of this. I echo what the Minister rather movingly said about keeping the dastardly element in their ghetto and not over-reacting and creating sympathy for them.
I pass to another second-hand opinion which is held by a number of people in Scotland—I do no pretend a great number—and I pass it on sotto voce and as gently as I can. I do not repeat it loudly. A number of my constituents ask themselves in all seriousness just how wise it is to send Scottish regiments to Northern Ireland. There is a feeling that to a certain extent they are provocative. I admit straight away that I can understand the Army's point of view that there might be considerable reaction in the Army if it were said that a certain unit of the British Army could not go to a certain place. I understand that, and I simply pass on the second-hand opinion that there is a feeling in Eastern Scotland that we may not be the best people to be posted to this place at this time.
I go back to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. George Thomson) and what he said about recruiting and the importance of staunching the flow of people who leave the Services. There is no point in increasing recruiting if we lose as many people at the other end, and the Minister made this point himself. The problem is obvious enough; the issue is what can be done about it. It comes back to the question of legitimate career expectations, and what we do to preserve the legitimate career expectations of people in the Forces.
I ask the Minister whether it is true that a number of people leave the Services earlier than they might do because they want to go "while the galloping is good", and while they have the opportunity of another job before they are many years older. A guarantee might be meaningless, but if we could give a greater assurance that people leaving the Forces at 35 to 40 would be in just as strong a position to get a job in civvy street as those who leave between 25 and 35, the flow out of the Forces prematurely might be staunched. Therefore, I think that connections with industry are extremely important. I know that the Department 701 has received a good deal of private and public advice on this subject, and I should like to know what the Government are doing to ensure that those who take the risk of staying on in the Forces for a reasonable time make a smooth transition to civilian life.
On officer recruiting, the Minister talked about the difficulties of numbers at Sandhurst. I last went on an M.P.'s visit to Sandhurst four or five years ago, and one's experience can easily be dated. There are not only Sandhurst and Mons but also the considerable facilities at Shrivenham. Those whose interests have brought them into contact recently with Europeans cannot fail to be impressed by the quality of the people who have come out of the Ecole Polytechnique. I am not suggesting that Shrivenham should be modelled on exactly the same lines, but it could be expanded and the concept of civilian Shrivenham scholars accepted. There are considerable facilities there, and costs should not be too great. When I went there the staff was of seemingly good quality, and the Forces as a whole could have made a good deal more use of Shrivenham as a basic facility.
I understand from personal contacts that the scheme whereby potential university students have gone to Mons for a month, or five or six weeks between leaving school and going to a university has been a success. Again, I hope that we shall hear a comment by the Minister on this, together with a value judgment about whether a young man of considerable ability spending only five or six weeks at Mons really is sufficiently experienced to be of use in commissioned service. I do not know, but it will be interesting for the House to have some kind of Ministerial comment on the matter.
I now change the subject, since I wish to echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) about the motor industry and equipment and its relationship with the Service Departments. I am not urging any case for the British Leyland factory at Bathgate, which makes trucks and tractors, but hon. Members who represent constituencies concerned with the motor industry know that there is a certain amount of discontent at the nature of bulk buying by the British Services. I understand that discussions are going on at present between the motor 702 industry and the Services. Perhaps out of those discussions there will come a more rational process of bulk ordering. The Minister may not wish to comment on that tonight, but I should like to be written to on that issue at the hon. Gentleman's convenience.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) was so right in saving that this problem of recruitment and getting men to stay in the Forces is bound up with social conditions. I gave notice to the Department that I wished to raise the issue of housing. Certainly it is my impression that a great number of local authorities up and down the country, though not all, just do not behave very fairly towards ex-Servicemen. They are being unnecessarily difficult and less than charitable and, though there are many defence matters about which I do not agree with hon. Gentlemen opposite, I stand second to none in believing that the British Serviceman who has served his country should get a fair deal when he decides to leave the Forces. This should be made clear to local authorities.
Having stated the problem, one realises the difficulty of a councillor who has a longish housing list and is expected to put someone coming out of the Forces above people who have been on the list for some time. However, there are a number of areas where houses have been greatly over-built. In my own constituency, there are over 300 empty houses in Livingston New Town, and some 230 empty houses in the very small town of Blackburn-by-Bathgate. I can quite see that that news may astonish my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle), with his problems, but the fact is that there are massive numbers of perfectly decent houses, and the Defence Department should make contact with those local authorities and new towns that have available houses. I suggest that, as a corollary, some special effort should be made to create jobs where the houses are available. If we had had this debate six months ago, I should have left it by saying, "Come to Livingston New Town because there are jobs for ex-Servicemen". The situation is not quite so easy now. As it happens, there are great difficulties following the Rolls-Royce catastrophe. Up and down the country, there are those authorities which have overbuilt. The Defence Department should 703 contact them and see what can be worked out, because this is a real problem.
I come to another equally pressing problem which I have raised with the Department and which is the subject of a Ten-Minute Bill on alimony or, as we call it in Scotland, aliment.
The experience of many hon. Members is that when a marriage breaks down the man often leaves his district and takes refuge in the Forces. I am not passing moral judgment here. However, I think that the Services have a moral obligation to any wife and children who are left in respect of whom a court order has been made. As we know more and more, and as the Prime Minister admitted at Question Time, with the increase in separations and divorces this has become a national problem. As I say, the man often takes refuge in the Forces, and they are sometimes uncharacteristically less than co-operative in making the individual face his responsibilities. It is difficult for an employer, be it the Services, a private employer or a public corporation, to meddle in a man's Private affairs. But in cases where decisions have been reached by the courts, those decisions ought to be honoured. I should be interested to hear any comment from the Defence Department on how it can help in this direction.
Another problem about which I have asked Questions concerns drugs. I make it quite clear that I have absolutely no evidence of drug taking in our Forces. However, the Americans tell us that 75 to 80 per cent. of troops in the American Army in Vietnam take drugs. Having just returned from an Anglo-American conference in Germany and spoken to some of the American military, there is no doubt that this is a major problem with American forces in Germany. I am not suggesting that it is a problem in the British Forces, because I have no evidence; but it strikes me, with what is going on round the world, that the Services have a special responsibility, especially to those under 18. The Minister talked about the success of junior recruiting. I hope that some kind of pastoral vigilance will be exercised in catching any nascent drug problem in the bud before it develops. I have men- 704 tioned American experience. I hope that it will not be our experience.
The next issue to which I want to refer is O.P.M.A.C.C.—Operation Military Aid to the Civil Community. It is within the recollection of the Department that a number of hon. Members took a deep interest in this project in the days when General Sir Derek Lang was Commander-in-Chief in Scotland. General Sir Derek Lang took us on a series of visits by helicopter round the Islands to see what was being done at Breich, Colonsay, and elswhere. I have the impression—indeed, it is not only my impression; it is shared by people in a better position to know than I am—that somehow the steam has gone out of the O.P.M.A.C.C. crusade. Somehow the Services seem less enthusiastic than they were about Operation Military Aid to the Civil Community, so I should like to ask one or two questions about it.
Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) raised the issue of what the Services were doing in Tunisia near Gafsa mending the pipeline and carrying out pumping operations. How is that going? Has the work been completed? What are the engineers abroad doing? This was working up to a useful scale. I have always been conscious, when discussing O.P.M.A.C.C., that there must be a training content. It is no good saying that the Forces can do this job, that job, or any job which comes along which might be of use to developing countries. I recognise that there must be a training content to it. Am I wrong in thinking that enthusiasm has waned for this particularly useful project?
The next issue concerns Service land. At Question Time today there were Answers on Lord Nugent's Committee. Am I being unfair to suppose that this Committee is taking rather a long time about its job? If I am not, some progress report should be given, because there is still a vast acreage within the control of the Department.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
The Committee has about 500,000 acres to consider over the entire country, and it has only just started. The hon. Gentleman is being a little impatient.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
We do not know, but it will certainly take some time: this is an enormous undertaking.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I will let that subject be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd said most of what I would have liked to say about doctors, and said it very well, but there is an important issue here of comparative pay, and one which certainly worried the last Secretary of State for Social Services. To attract Service doctors at all, may it not be necessary substantially to put them in a special category and increase their pay to make it match something like what they would get in civilian life? I can understand that this raises awkward problems with equivalent ranks in the Forces.
In all my reservations about policy, I was very glad when the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), created the military salary. Without question, and in any company, those who serve in the Forces should be properly treated and properly paid. Therefore, to continue and perhaps to improve this policy certainly has the support of those of us who may have reservations about some of the larger issues.
I should like to pass on something that I heard at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies where I was a visiting lecturer, along with Emilio Daddario and several other Americans. Some of the students, who were German and were of a critical turn of mind and in a position to know, commented very favourably on the behaviour and general decorum of the Rhine Army. Certainly this should be said by those of us who have recent information on this subject.
It might be proper to ask the Minister to pass on to those responsible for the general set-up in the Rhine Army this feeling among potentially rather critical young Germans that, given that we are an army and that an army anywhere may not by definition be universally popular, the British Army of the Rhine has behaved very well over the past few years.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
When almost exactly a year ago we debated the Army Estimates, the debate was wound up for the then Opposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. 706 Younger). It is, of course, only the fact that he now has other responsibilities in the Scottish Office that precludes him from taking part in either the questioning today of the Home Secretary or this debate in view of the fact that two of the soldiers who were murdered yesterday lived in his constituency.
I very much echo what every hon. Member has said so far about what should be our reactions to what has happened. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that he wondered whether Scotsmen were in some way aggressive or called forth retaliation. Having served in a Scottish regiment in the North of Ireland for a year during the last war, and having received untold kindnesses from the people of Northern Ireland, I cannot believe that the spirit of the country is basically changed. What we are dealing with, I believe, is an isolated part of the community. In the community as a whole, we Scotsmen can play a full and active part.
Since our two-day debate the other day, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) said, we have had the report of the Estimates Sub-Committee C on the recruitment for the Armed Services. Although, as it only came out this week and it is a fairly thick volume, I have not had time to go through it all, I found something rather worrying in regard to the situation in Northern Ireland and the difficulties of recruitment to the Armed Forces. Paragraph 15 on page 209 says:Rather more than 80 per cent. of male other ranks recruits to the three Services combined join at ages between 15 and 19 at their last birthday.Later it goes on to show how 80 per cent. of the target of recruiting comes into this 15–19 age group. This means that if we have a target for the Army of 28,000, about 22,000 aged between 15 and 19 come into the Army each year.
I had the good fortune last year to be a member of an all-party delegation which went round the British Army of the Rhine. We visited many regiments in Germany, and the extreme youth of the men serving there was evident. There is nothing wrong with this, but it brings home to one the need to appreciate the different situation which arises when one is sending men in to what has been described in the House, when referring to 707 Northern Ireland, as active service conditions. In other words, are we really happy that such a high proportion of very young men should be serving in these difficult conditions?
During that visit I paid to B.A.O.R. last year—and I wish at the outset to pay tribute to the efficiency and high standard of the training as well as the high morale of the troops we saw—two points were stressed. First, when giving us a briefing about the activities of his regiment, one commanding officer, telling us of what went on and describing the conditions in which his men lived, projected on to a screen from an illustrated paper that had been published earlier that week the new accommodation that was being provided for prisoners in one of Her Majesty's prisons. He then asked us to compare the barrack room accommodation which was being provided for Her Majesty's Armed Forces with the accommodation that was being provided for those who were serving Her Majesty's pleasure in prison. It was noticeable that in that case, the people in prison were getting a good deal better accommodation than were the soldiers serving overseas.
I reiterate that it was referring to barrack and not to married quarter accommodation, which, in that station, was remarkably good. This is something which the Army authorities must, in view of the continuing difficulties which we shall face in sending Forces to Northern Ireland, take very much into account.
As I understand it, the amount of really good accommodation available in Northern Ireland is small, that about six out of 10 "rotating" units are living in not very good accommodation and that, basically, they are travelling to and from Germany. If they are to have bad accommodation during the four months that they are in Northern Ireland—simply because better accommodation is not provided—something must be done to ensure that the accommodation they get when they arrive back in Germany is first-class.
We owe this to our troops. They put up with hardships and deprivations. They face a considerable challenge in Northern Ireland and they want to rise to that, meet it and conquer it. When they return to Germany they should be given much 708 better accommodation than they are getting in Northern Ireland. The continued presence of British troops in Northern Ireland underlines the necessity for this.
Another factor on recruiting which was stressed to us in B.A.O.R. was the fact that, owing to changed circumstances in the world, there is a lack of adequate training areas for troops to use when firing live ammunition. These areas are necessary if they are properly to assimilate battle conditions.
This, too, is vital for moral because a unit needs to know that part of its cycle of training involves being able to go to a training ground where it can be equipped properly to carry out its rôle. A great disservice is done to the morale of any regiment, and, therefore, to recruiting if these facilities are not made available.
More of our Forces might be sent to Canada for training. The cost of transporting units there would be very much less than it would be to send them to Australia or New Zealand—although in terms of fighting in Arctic conditions the mountains and glaciers of New Zealand might prove a useful training ground. Nevertheless, the transportation of units to Canada would be more practical on grounds of cheapness and ease.
In dealing with the Northern Ireland situation, would it not be possible to station at least one extra regiment in South-West Scotland or in Wales, where, in either case, only a short sea journey would be involved? We do not necessarily need to have people living in the atmosphere of tension that there must at times be in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that wives and families would be happier if troops were to be deployed from, say, Stranraer to Larne, which is a short and quick voyage.
I must declare an interest when I speak of the Scottish yeomanry regiments. I served in one of them and one of my sons is now serving in it, and it might be said that I am prejudiced. We have in Scotland three yeomanry regiments. One of them, the Ayrshire Yeomanry, has been allotted a squadron in the new Armoured Car Regiment and I make no complaint about its good fortune in that respect. But in the Reserve Forces there are two Territorial armoured car regiments, one in England and the other three-quarters in England and one quarter in Scotland.
709 The Lowland Yeomanry comprises the Lothian and Border Horse, the Lanarkshire Yeomanry and the Glasgow Yeomanry, and the Highland Yeomanry comprises the Scottish Horse and the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry. These two yeomanry regiments, built out of five, still carry on with a small cadre waiting to be called on to do something, and I only say that one can ask people to wait too long. The Scottish yeomanry regiments had an unsurpassed record in speed of recruitment in 1939, and I do not believe that they are getting a fair crack of the whip at present in allocation to armoured car regiments in the Territorial Army.
If my hon. Friend were to agree it would be fairly easy, at a comparatively small expense, to put matters right by having four fighting squadrons instead of three in the new Armoured Car Regiment. This would allow the extra squadron to he recruited betwen the Lowland Yeomanry and the Highland Yeomanry, and give the cadres the opportunity they so urgently seek to play their part in the enlarged Reserve Forces. The tensions and difficulties which will continue for some time in Northern Ireland and the "stretch" they involve mean that the forces could only be built up in an emergency in Europe by bringing in the Reserve Forces. This would justify doing as I suggest. The time to raise the extra squadron would be when, if not before, the original regiment, which is to start recruiting on 1st April, reached its level.
A two-day defence debate and then three evenings devoted to the Army, Navy and Air Force Estimates does not give sufficient prominence to the Armed Forces. I understand the difficulties which might arise over certain aspects of confidentiality arising from evidence before a Select Committee, but if hon. Members cannot be trusted to assimilate and keep confidential a certain amount of information relating to defence it says little for the House. I hope that my hon. Friends will agree that there is a need for a Select Committee on defence.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) referred to the extreme youth of our Forces in Germany. It is like the comment that our policemen are get- 710 ting younger every day. The fact is that it is rather unfortunate that we are growing older quicker than we like.
This year the debate on Army Vote A takes place under the shadow of the tragic murder of the three British soldiers in Northern Ireland yesterday. I join in the expressions of sympathy with the relatives, and echo the sense of outrage at this brutal and callous murder of three British soldiers who were off duty.
I know from my experience that ever since the end of the war, and even before the war, British troops have had to endure this kind of thing in stations in all parts of the world. Such outrages have happened in such places as Palestine, Egypt, Malaysia, Cyprus and more recently Aden, but they were taken more as part of the job. These murders took place in a city nearer at home—in fact, literally at home—and the sense of outrage of the British people has not yet been felt. We shall feel it more when we return to our constituencies at the weekend and try to explain to our constituents what our Forces are doing in Northern Ireland. Every weekend people ask me why our Forces are out there, and I do my best to explain why. Hon. Members must still explain that British Forces will have to stay in Northern Ireland to keep the peace there.
In every society groups of people can be found who are willing and able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism and brutal murder for purely political ends. I appeal to the British troops in Northern Ireland not to retaliate. They are the finest troops in the world, but as I have been in similar positions I know that restraint is not all that easy at the flash point. However, time is a great healer and the discipline of the ordinary British soldier is in itself a great deterrent. We should not take it too much for granted, however, but should praise the British soldier for what he is doing in Northern Ireland. He is performing one of the most disagreeable duties that the British soldier has been called upon to perform for a number of years.
I stress that acts such as these are not perpetrated by the Irish people, at any rate not by the Irish people that I know. It is just an element, the sort of element, as I say, which one may find in pretty well any society in the world. Coming 711 from Irish stock myself, with an Irish name, I should not like it to be thought that this was the work of ordinary Irish people. In fact, I know that it is not the work of ordinary Irish people.
I have said enough about the problems in Northern Ireland and I leave them there, save for a comment—I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) will agree here—about the need to speed up our work on the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, because I feel that we could save some of the more unpleasant consequences of having 17year-old Servicemen in Northern Ireland. I well understand how it has happened, due to the wording of the active service clause in the Army's disciplinary code, but what it comes to is that there can be de facto active service in the United Kingdom, and we cannot declare a whole area in the United Kingdom as an active service area.
We have had serious discussions on this point in the Select Committee, and I am sure I am right in saying that an Amendment may well come out which will delete the two words "United Kingdom" and probably save such a situation in the United Kingdom, with soldiers serving in Northern Ireland at the age of 17.
I say that having myself had experience of serving overseas on an active service station well before I was 18 years old. But that is neither here nor there now, and I should like to see a change made to save that possibility in Northern Ireland.
We are not discussing tonight the normal Army Vote A, and I do not wish to cover ground which has already been discussed, especially as so many hon. Members still wish to speak. Quite a few of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) are, I think, to be dealt with by the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. Incidentally, perhaps I may tell my hon. Friend, who was considerably worried about payments under court orders, that we are looking at another practice which is known to go on, that is, of Servicemen joining the Army in order to dodge their hire-purchase debts.
Now, a few words about the redundancy scheme. I went on a private visit 712 to Berlin recently and was very pleased to stay with a warrant officer there and be greatly entertained in the sergeants' and warrant officers' mess over Christmas. I was a little perturbed, however, about the talk going on among some of the sergeants and warrant officers—only relatively few of them—about the Army redundancy scheme.
These men, who are, in the main, so to speak, blocked by educational qualifications or by age from further promotion, see themselves really at a standstill. With 16, 17 or 18 years' service in the Army, they see themselves at a particular level and unable to go further, yet they will have to stay on for another four or five years and find it all the more difficult to secure civilian jobs when they come out.
There is a corresponding problem in the sense of filling the promotion ladder within the regiments concerned. We could possibly lose recruitment here of good young material, young men who would come along and yet stay at the corporal level because all the other ranks were filled above them. This is another reason for some concern about the redundancy scheme and the promotion ladder being stopped at a certain point for certain men.
I was a little worried at the number of people applying for redundancy out of the Army who told me that the redundancy scheme for them had virtually ceased. If the Minister could say a few words about the scheme tonight, it would be of assistance to these men to know that it was still open. They have, after all, served for 17 or 18 years, they have to hang on, literally, for their pension at 22 years, but they are blocked from the advance which they could otherwise have because of the age and education standards now required.
I should like to raise another matter that might sound trivial, but two of my constituents saw me about it, and it received quite a bit of publicity, as a result of which I had letters from all over the country. It concerns the holders of the Meritorious Service Medal. One of my constituents showed me the medal and said that a £10 annuity went with it, but he was not getting it. I promised to look into the matter and found to my surprise that the medal does carry such an annuity 713 but that only 750 holders could receive it. After some toing and froing between the Defence Department and myself, I realised that the 750 holders receiving the annuity must be a hundred years old. Among the letters I had from holders of the medal was one from a man who said that he received it for actions whilst he was a boy on active service. He served in both world wars, so he must be well over 70 at least, and he still is not receiving the annuity.
I understand that there are only 4,500 holders of the medal. If it is worth a £10 annuity to 750 holders, surely it is worth it to all the 4,500, instead of the majority having to wait for someone to die and then going up the ladder. The Defence Department should consider extending the annuity to all the holders. The total extra cost, plus increases on the premiums in the pension warrants, would amount to only £100,000 a year. Paying the annuity to all would prevent ex-Servicemen complaining after 30 years' service that they are not receiving the annuity. These are public relations matters. The man who complained to me could, in his bitterness, talk potential recruits out of entering the Army. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter with a little sympathy. An extension would not cost too much. We could help to clear up this anomaly.
The British soldier is the finest in the world, for whatever job we care to give him. Judging by some of the things we see on television these days, I must say that if unfortunately I found myself on the other side of the picket line the fellow I should like to see lined up in front of me, for fair play and fair treatment, would be the British soldier. Certainly it would not be a Japanese policeman, in view of what I have just seen on television, or anyone else in the world. The British soldier has had a lot of practice at that sort of thing, unfortunately, and he is very good at it. I will not let anyone decry the British Army or the British soldier, because to me the British soldier is the finest in the world.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I was not going to take part in this debate, but as many of the speakers have dealt with matters relevant to Northern Ireland I thought that I should say a word about 714 them as I represent a constituency in the North.
As I have already said, after the Home Secretary's statement, we in Ulster are under the shadow of a great tragedy. Sometimes it is only a tragedy like that, with all its fearful and frightening implications, that brings home to us the real, hard facts of the situation in Northern Ireland.
I should like first to pay tribute to the work done by our Army, and to make it clear that the people of Northern Ireland look upon the British Army as their Army.
The British soldiers have had a very difficult job to do, for many reasons. First, they were not trained to do police work. I do not think any army is trained to do police work. Yet, many of the soldiers in Northern Ireland have found that to be their rôle and task at present. It is entirely unfair in the long term to expect the soldiers to do this work. With all the good will in the world, they were not trained for the task and they cannot be expected to accomplish it.
Secondly, they have a difficult job to do because of the circumstances in which they are forced to do it. Irish politics has been the graveyard of politicians and we cannot expect young Army men to solve what the politicians have failed to solve. It cannot be expected of the Army that it can solve the problem.
I support the view expressed in the debate that the Army in Northern Ireland has not the best of accommodation. The soldiers work in difficult circumstances; in riot situations they have to put in long hours. Yet their accommodation is not of the best. This is bound to tell upon the morale of the soldiers.
Thirdly, in some areas they have the task of co-operating with the police where the police are able to take part in the security operations, but in other areas of Belfast the police are not able to take part in normal police duties. So the Army is in the situation where in some areas it is working with the police and in others it is not able to work with them. This makes the job even more difficult.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said that perhaps there was prejudice among some people in Northern 715 Ireland against some regiments of the British Army. That is perfectly true, because some sections of the community dislike the Scottish regiments, for they seem to think that all Scottish soldiers are Ranger supporters. One might smile at that, but it is a fact of life that we all have to face when dealing with the realities of the Northern Ireland situation.
Fourthly, the Army has a difficult task because of the types of attack to which it is subjected. The battle front is the small street. The attacks often take place in the streets where the soldiers during the day time are accepted—where, indeed, they receive cups of tea. But at night the very same streets can be turned into a battle front against the troops. They are subjected to nail bomb attacks, to gelignite bomb attacks, to ambush, to the sniper, to the booby trap and, as we have seen, to murder when they are not even on duty.
The British Army has a very difficult rôle to fulfil in the present situation, and the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland appreciate the role that it is playing and will continue to play. I do not think that there is any fear of any reaction from the Army to this latest tragedy. I believe that the troops are well disciplined and that they will show their courage and morale at this time by not taking any retaliatory action against those who they might think were responsible for the murders. I do not think that the Northern Ireland people are afraid of the British Army retaliating in any way.
When the Ulster Defence Regiment came into being, we were informed that it would be used to protect vital installations and to do patrol duties in the border areas. Today in Northern Ireland attacks are taking place against vital installations, some of which have been destroyed. Whether this is because the Ulster Defence Regiment is not at full strength I do not know. The other evening I travelled from my constituency to the centre of Belfast, and parts of the city were in riot. There were other incidents throughout the country. Yet, never once was there a road block throughout the whole of that long journey of 70 miles. Many people feel that the security 716 position with regard to vital installations such as transformers needs to be tightened up.
I have drawn the attention of the Minister to the fact that members of the Defence Regiment have gone on duty without arms. In Newcastle, where there was a bomb outrage, U.D.R. members have on many occasions been on duty without proper equipment. How can they resist terrorists when they are not properly armed?
There is another vital matter, affecting the police in Northern Ireland. The police force has been civilianised according to the standards of the Hunt Report. That report makes it clear that there can be no arms in a police station except for revolvers and a rifle. Police stations have been under attack from machine guns, bombs and other weapons. It seems that no police station can be safeguarded unless it has the proper firepower to resist a would-be aggressor. Is it not possible for the police to be given these weapons? If not, can they not have Army protection, particularly at certain police stations which have already been attacked?
The people of Northern Ireland lie awake at night listening for explosions. Then the telephone calls go through to the police and the Press. The whole of the city awaits the morning to hear what further tragedies have been committed. This type of situation cannot continue without a breaking point. The strongest possible measures must be taken against the terrorist organisations. For too long have they bombed and murdered and got away with it. The time has come to find those responsible and bring them to the courts to be tried.
The tragedy is that if these men escape across the border they have a sanctuary and there is no extradition treaty. We have heard sympathy expressed many times from Dublin, but it is not sympathy that Northern Ireland wants from Dublin, it is action. We would like to see the Dublin Government saying that they will have an extradition treaty with Northern Ireland and ensure that these people are returned if they flee across the border. This is important, because if soldiers are to be murdered by those who have a sanctuary 40 or 50 miles away, how can this terrorism be put down?
717 I support what was said by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). I do not often agree with him—or with his brother—but I agreed with him this evening when he said that in the long term there will of necessity have to come into existence a third force. I trust that the Government will give careful consideration to this suggestion.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
Overshadowing the normal debate on the Army Estimates is the whole problem of Northern Ireland. I had a number of Army questions that I wished to ask the Minister and perhaps it might be convenient if I merely ask them. I have no doubt that at some stage the experts in the Army Department will provide the answers. Then I should like to follow the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and say one or two words about the situation in Ulster and how it strikes some of us on this side of the House.
First, the questions. I understand that the Minister said something about Malta. Has the position of the Royal Malta Artillery been changed by the decision which he announced today? What is happening about the serious difficulties with quarters in Gibraltar and B.A.O.R.? The hon. Gentleman will know that it was even proposed at one stage to bring some kind of mobile accommodation to Gibraltar if the withdrawal of Spanish labour continued.
Can he give the present manning strength of B.A.O.R., some figures to show the existing levels there? He will know that in this debate last year his party made some play with what it considered to be the low manning levels and the strengths in B.A.O.R. It would be a somewhat illuminating comparison if we could be told what the present strengths were.
In this debate last year we announced the withdrawal of one battalion from B.A.O.R. to go to Ulster. How many battalions are now in Northern Ireland which would normally be in B.A.O.R. and how many battalions are the Government thinking of withdrawing?
The Minister will know that one of the things which the late Government were anxious to achieve was a concentration of the arms of the R.U.C. and ex-B Specials in properly constituted 718 armouries. Naturally, for security and other reasons, I do not ask the details, but I should be interested to know how that policy is being pursued and when it is likely to come to fruition.
I turn now to the general situation in Northern Ireland and especially to the speeches this evening by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North. Nobody in the House can have heard the views from Northern Ireland this morning with anything other than shock and horror. It is dreadful that British soldiers, unarmed and off duty, should be murdered in a part of the United Kingdom.
Having said that, it is important to try to analyse the situation to see whether the policy is right and, if it is not, how it needs to be changed. The hon. Member for Antrim, North believes the policy being pursued by the present Government, as by the last, to be misguided and wrong. I do not believe it to be misguided. The present Government are pursuing broadly the right policy in Northern Ireland, and the previous Administration laid the foundations for that policy.
But it is important to recognise that the nature of the problem is changing. We seem to have overcome the problem with which the Army was faced when it first went to Northern Ireland, namely, mobs coming on the streets and rioting against the civil authority. I do not say that we have solved it, but the problem on the streets seems slightly better now than it looked as though it would be this time last year. In Northern Ireland we have so far managed to avoid what would be the greatest difficulty of all, namely, the Catholic and Protestant mobs on the streets starting to fight one another. That has not happened so far and that is a considerable plus.
On the other hand, within the last two or three months it has become clear that the nature of the threat with which the Army is faced is different. It is different for Ulster. It is not different from the sort of threat which the British Army has had to face in other parts of the world over the last decade or so. Extremist terrorism is now apparently being pursued in Northern Ireland for political purposes. I do not believe that these extremists have popular support in 719 Northern Ireland. I see no evidence of it. I should have thought that from their point of view, if the object of the exercise is to persuade the people of Northern Ireland to come round to their own brand of politics, the policies that they are at present pursuing are bound to be self-defeating.
Faced with this situation, only three things need be said. First, it needs to be reiterated by the Government that the Army will remain in Northern Ireland until the problem is solved. That is very easy to say, but it may mean a determination to keep troops there in difficult situations—perhaps in exposed situations, and situations in which, regrettably, soldiers may continue to be killed. But unless the Government say it—and unless we all mean it when we say it—there will be no solution to the problem of Northern Ireland.
In saying that the Army will remain until the problem is solved and that we are determined to try to solve it, it would be wrong if, at the same time, we ruled out further methods of internal security to back the Army up—whether in terms of weapons, or scientific developments of the kind referred to by the hon. Member for Beckenham, or in terms of legal powers. I would not rule out the extension of some of the legal powers now possessed by the Northern Ireland Government.
It is a question of balance—a very difficult and delicate question of balance—to decide whether or not a situation has arisen in which the disadvantages of accepting, perhaps, imprisonment or detention without trial outweigh the difficulties of continuing without those powers, even if they are only held in reserve. I could understand it if the feeling existed in the Royal Highland Fusiliers that the legal powers under which the Government operated in Northern Ireland were insufficient.
Secondly, the Government must make it clear that if the Army is to stay in Northern Ireland it will be retained at force levels which are high enough to do the job. That is very easy to say, but it may be difficult and painful to achieve in practice, because it involves three things. First, there is the question of numbers—making sure that there are sufficient soldiers in Northern Ireland to 720 carry out a job that is terribly wasteful of manpower on the ground. Doing an internal security job requires a lot of soldiers, and if we say that we will retain the Army at a force level sufficient to do the job it may mean hard decisions having to be taken as to the part of the world from which troops will be withdrawn to go to Ulster.
If we found that battalions were being retained in Malta or in the Far East, or in other parts of the world, as a result of which the overstretch in Northern Ireland became more intensified than it now is, my hon. Friends and I would be extremely angry.
Secondly, a commitment to retain forces at sufficient levels to do the job implies not only numbers but the length of time that units will stay in Northern Ireland. I am aware of the arugments in favour of retaining the period of four months. The Minister will appreciate that they are not arguments that have cropped up solely since 18th June last year; they were put forward before. But I have never found those arguments wholly convincing.
Granted that it is a difficult job in Northern Ireland, that unaccompanied service is something that the Army rightly dislikes, and also that to do this type of internal security job in the United Kingdom is always more distasteful than doing it in other parts of the world, we must remember that Northern Ireland is still part of the United Kingdom and that unaccompanied service, even in Belfast, might be more pleasant for a soldier than unaccompanied service in, say, Sharjah, where soldiers now have to serve a nine months' unaccompanied tour. I therefore ask the Minister to consider the problem of the length of tour in Northern Ireland. Although I understand the views expressed by the generals on this point, I am not wholly convinced by them.
The third matter in regard to a commitment to retain force levels in Northern Ireland is that troops who go to that country may have received different and more expensive training for the job they are to do. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that it could not be expected that the British soldier could understand the intricacies of Irish politics.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.721
That this day the Business of Supply may be taken after Ten o'clock and that the Motion relating to Defence Estimate, 1971–72 (Army), Vote A may be proceded with, though opposed, until Eleven o'clock.—[Mr. Speed.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Richard
I agree with the hon. Member, but it is nevertheless important that we should realise that for a soldier to do this sort of job in Ulster at this moment of time requires a degree of political flexibility and delicacy, and unless he is trained for the job he may find it difficult to produce these qualities at short notice. Therefore, I hope that some thought will be given to this aspect when soldiers are sent to Northern Ireland.
I would utterly reject any suggestion that we should not send a Scottish regiment for service in Northern Ireland. If we ever get to the stage of saying that any part of the British Army cannot serve anywhere in the United Kingdom we shall be in a very sorry state, and I would make my protest against fragmentation of the Army.
Finally, may I say that we should re-emphasise our political commitment in Northern Ireland. If we are to give the Army this distasteful and unpleasant job it is crucial that the Army should realise—and we should make clear to the Army—that it has the full political backing of the Government and of the House of Commons. The House of Commons and the country are committed to the proposition that Ulster is part of the United Kingdom. What we are faced with in Northern Ireland is terrorism inside our own country. That is the problem that must be dealt with, and as a matter of political commitment it needs to be reiterated.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor)
I hope that the hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) will forgive me if I do not take up his points on Northern Ireland. Though I do not intend to speak on the situation in Northern Ireland, I should at least like to say how pleased I was to hear the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) give unqualified support for the work of our troops in Northern Ireland and to hear unqualified condemnation of those who were responsible for the atrocities.
722 I agree with the hon. Member for Barons Court that the four-month tour of duty will have to be reconsidered. All of us with any experience in these matters will know that it takes a considerable time for an ordinary soldier to learn to lower gear in time of civil strife. If we look at the matter in the longer term, we must realise that it takes a man a good six weeks or so before he becomes attuned to the form of exercise being undertaken by the Army in Northern Ireland. We ought seriously to consider this matter.
I should now like to turn from Northern Ireland to some rather different points. My hon. Friend mentioned the difficulty of recruiting officers into the Services. In this day and age there is a clamour by men to go to university, and as a result university places are difficult to obtain. At the same time it is extremely difficult to fill places in Sandhurst, although nobody would deny that Sandhurst provides one of the best educations in the world. We must look at the situation in the light of how education qualifies a man for future life. I have always thought that we should broaden the scope of education at Sandhurst so that when a man leaves lie can take with him the equivalent of a university degree. He would then be able to go to an employer and say, "I have a very good qualification", and he would then be able to seek and secure a better type of employment. This would add to the attraction of Sandhurst.
We all appreciate that there is a shortage of men in the Army. There is always a limited number of people who wish to pursue the call to arms, and the point is, therefore, to make the terms of service more attractive so as to recruit the extra people we need. Although pay is important, many other factors are more important. The National Board for Prices and Incomes brought out many points. There is, first, the question of married accommodation. Men want decent accommodation for themselves and for their families, and with men marrying at a younger age more married accommodation is needed.
Resettlement is also important. Men leave the Forces at an early age, and employers must be made to realise that the time which a man has spent in the 723 Services and the training he has received are of value. Men retiring from the Forces at an early age are worried that industry is not geared to offer opportunities to them. We should make clear in our recruiting drive that at the end of, say, 20 years' service the Army will do its best to make sure that a man is placed in civilian employment. A large number of people are worried about this.
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) spoke about housing. A man who spends his entire life in married quarters in various parts of the world needs somewhere to live when he comes out of the Army. This is also important to recruiting. It is difficult to put pressure on local authorities, and there are all sorts of difficulties in jumping the local authority housing queue. I believe that there is a scheme of special mortgages for men leaving the Forces, and this should be plugged in our recruitment drive. The men should be told not only what they will be doing in the Services but what their future will be when they leave. I hope my hon. Friend will say something about that.
The shortage of doctors in the Services may be related to the general shortage of doctors throughout the country. It has been suggested that this situation could be improved by raising the scale of pay, but it is difficult to make special arrangements for the pay of one arm of the Services. I know my hon. Friend is thinking about this.
Although this is a Supply Day when we are considering the numbers and pay of the Forces, it is appropriate for me to say that the deployment of the Services overseas is in just about the right proportion. The bulk of our Forces are in B.A.O.R., and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) made some good points on this. I am a little uneasy at steering so close to the wind, but I entirely agree with his thesis. It is essential that troops east of Suez in the Persian Gulf should be seen to be actually on the ground. I am not concerned very much about what they are doing there. I am concerned that they should be present there the whole time. They are a positive deterrent. If our Forces are stationed permanently in an area, anyone else attempting to go in is 724 at once an aggressor. It is no good saying that that is an old-fashioned theory; it may be, but it is a very practical one. I hope, incidentally, that we shall use the jungle warfare training facilities that we have in Malaysia. I would like to see our Territorial forces being trained in those areas. It would be a great stimulus to recruiting.
To emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, we pay a very small premium in manpower for securing our position in the Middle East and Far East. Once again I emphasise that there can be no possible substitute for troops on the ground in those areas. My hon. Friend referred to the Trucial Scouts and other units. They are officered by British officers, but they are not the same as a force which is entirely British. Indeed, I go even further and say that one British battalion is better than a large force of local levies. There is a great deal of difference between British units and units which are merely officered by British officers. I do not mean by that that the Scouts do not do a good job. They are a very important part of our defence arrangements. But I feel that it is much better that the forces are British and there permanently.
I want also to say a few words about the Territorial Army. I am convinced that if we are to have a good Territorial force which is capable of backing up our Regular Army, we must make the terms attractive. A man joins the Territorials for comradeship and to serve his country. He also wants an opportunity to see other parts of the world. It is important for any Territorial unit to be given the option of service abroad. It should not be forgotten that the average man does not want to go out alone; he wants to go with his friends. However, it is even more important to give him the opportunity to serve with a unit abroad. It is expensive to take troops abroad, of course, but it is worth it.
It is no use giving the Territorial Army out-of-date material. It needs good equipment. There is the possibility of Territorials using the equipment of Regular units, but the practice can give rise to trouble. Very often when a Territorial unit has gone, vehicles are unserviceable. If we are to have a Territorial Army at all, it is important that its equipment should match that of the Regular Forces.
725 We tend always with our voluntary Services to put a limit on the time in a year that a man can spend with his unit. Before the war the Supplementary Reserve and the other Regular Reserves were able to spend up to six months a year with their units. It would be helpful if there were more flexibility. For example, it might be better for a man to do one month's overseas service every two years rather than have to stick to his 15 days in one year. I know that the difficulties of paying for this must be considered, but I hope that when my hon. Friend looks at the Territorial forces he will give serious consideration to this point. He may be up against employers, of course. It is a difficult problem, and always has been. But I feel that it would be better to give the Territorial Army more flexibility, allowing men to stay for a month every two years so giving them a good chance to see what the Regular Army is like. We might also consider giving Territorials special facilities to enter the Regular Army. This might be an important attraction to new recruits.
The Government are doing all that can humanly be done to redress the balance and to make sure that we have not only an efficient Regular Army but, to back it up, a first-class Territorial force.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I should like to begin by re-echoing much of what has been said on Northern Ireland. Hon. Members who were in the House this afternoon will remember that I asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a question about Northern Ireland. I should like to elaborate why I asked that question. I particularly asked my right hon. Friend to bear in mind the need for the Army in Northern Ireland to have its own intelligence service. I say this with some recollection of what I was told happened in Southern Ireland at the end of the First World War. My experience of Ireland is in the south rather than in the north. For 25 years I had a farm there.
One thing which I certainly learned from those who had considerable involvement in dealing with the troubles when the Black and Tans were in Ireland was that the Black and Tans would never have been able to do what they claim to have done had it not been for the 726 fact that in the background the whole time there was a fully organised military intelligence service. I recognise that when the troubles broke out in Northern Ireland recently this service did not exist in the sense that it was built up during the time of the troubles at the end of the First World War in the south. It takes time to create the necessary intelligence service. But surely our experience is that whenever soldiers have to carry out the appallingly difficult job which our Forces are having to carry out in Northern Ireland and have to work in close co-operation with the police, there comes a time, all too often, when what the police can provide is not what is necessary for the military to have, however closely they may try to work together.
I suggest that perhaps my hon. Friend and, indeed, the Department in which he is a junior Minister never fully comprehend the importance of getting this right. I have had an opportunity of talking to those who have served in Northern Ireland and have come back. Soldiers say what they always say—and with some justification—that if, right at the beginning, they had been given a full head to do what they thought was militarily sensible, we might not be having the trouble we are having today. Always when the soldiery are called in, they are first asked to go easy and not be too vigorous. Always, when that happens, the opposition builds up and eventually the action which has to be taken becomes more intense and sometimes violent.
It is the old story. We never seem to learn by mistakes which we have made in the past. It is always assumed that the politicians know best, but they rarely ever do in these circumstances.
I strongly agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I think that the best summing up of the Irishman's approach to politics which I ever heard was the Irishman who said, "The cursed English. I always said that, if they ever left, this country would go to rack and ruin. Now the divils have left us on our own on purpose to bring down the country." That is and always has been the attitude of the Southern Irish towards the English.
We are dealing with killers. The I.R.A. are killers by instinct. We should 727 treat them in the way that, in agriculture, one treats a Jersey bull: always likely to kill if given the opportunity.
Last night's ghastly tragedy, which has shocked the whole country and many other countries as well, is, I believe, due to a failure to recognise what we are up against. It was for those reasons that I 728 asked my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the question which I did this afternoon. I cannot emphasise too strongly to my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate that unless the soldiers in Northern Ireland are given a properly and fully equipped military intelligence service we shall never get this matter right.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, West)
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) need not have apologised for seeking to intervene in this debate, since his contribution was very much on one of the main themes which have informed the debate. In contradiction to debates on defence and Army Estimates in previous years, this debate has been notable for its tones of muted party controversy. It has been a reflective and almost ruminative debate, and none the worse for that, because the Army Estimates debate has always been an occasion when the cognoscenti make their contribution, and all the speeches tonight have been very well-informed and knowledgeable. It has been a very good debate.
The reason for the absence of controversy is easy to ascertain. For some years, every time that we have discussed these Estimates, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have attacked my right hon. and hon. Friends for the way in which they were administering the Forces. If they were in a kind mood, they said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and his colleagues were possibly lacking in energy or competence, but if they were unkind, they were not above casting aspersions on their patriotism.
Since last March, when we had a similar debate, we have had a General Election, and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have taken over responsibility for the country's defences, and along with it they have taken over our policies. There may be the odd coruscation here and there, perhaps a battalion sailing around east of Suez or an armoured car in the Territorial Army or something of that sort. We do not begrudge them these fruits of victory, although we are sometimes interested to see that these coruscations are there and that at the same time the promise is made of further cuts in defence expenditure. There may well be: we shall just wait and see how it works out.
We have even got to the point at which hon. Members on this side have had to endure little lecturettes on the subject of the demographic and sociological difficulties in recruiting. I thought that some of my hon. Friends bore these 730 little lecturettes with cheerfulness and some fortitude. But it allows me to get on to my first subject, recruitment.
I do not propose to discuss the entire subject tonight. It has been mentioned frequently in these debates, but the whole subject is vitally important. If it is the duty of an Opposition to probe and question and keep the Government on their toes, it is fair comment that, on recruitment, the Government are not at the moment convincing. There is no evidence of a fresh and imaginative approach to this problem or of any new thought.
There is, in fact, almost a tendency to say that, because right hon. and hon. Gentlemen are now in power, the recruitment problem will be solved. In paragraph 27 of Chapter 1, the White Paper said:The Government firmly believes that its intention to restore the Armed Forces to their original place in the life of the nation and to keep defence in the front rank of its priorities will in itself provide a direct encouragement to recruitment.This is almost like saying that, just because the Minister of State happens to speak from the Front Bench, the recruiting problems will be solved. I cannot help feeling that that argument will prove a broken reed as the months and years go by.
I suppose that there is a tendency for the Government to rely on the continuing success of the three-year engagement the second bite of the military salary reinforcing the success of the first bite. We on this side would not take that point of view. Even if these new ideas are successful, what we have to bear in mind is that, so long as we are to have voluntary Regular Forces the battle for recruitment will be a continuing one and the little lecturettes which we have been reading on the subject of the demographic and sociological obstacles to easy recruitment in the years ahead are very serious ones, which we will have to consider with great seriousness.
It is interesting to note that the limited short-service commission idea which was put during the term of the Labour Government has been applied by this Administration. This is a scheme under which schoolboys with some months to spare between going to school and going 731 on to university or some other form of employment enter the Forces for three weeks training and do the remainder of their short stay, of about four months, as commissioned officers with a unit.
I understand that the first such course has recently finished and that it was a tremendous success. We must remember, of course, that the boys concerned represented first-class material, dripping with A-levels and apparently able to pick up their training very quickly. I gather that of the 25 boys involved in that course, six have already indicated that they will make the Army their career.
Whatever the future of this limited short-service commission idea, it should not be judged only on the basis of the effect it has on recruitment. I say that because one of the dangers of an all-Regular Army is that it could become substantially cut off from the life of the civilian community and the nation as a whole, and special steps must be taken to see that this does not happen.
One way to bridge this gap between civilian and Army life is this type of limited short-service commission course, because after spending their four months in the Army, these boys go on to their various professsions and occupations, but for the rest of their lives have an idea of what Service life is like. This scheme could do a lot to fill the gap that came with the ending of national service and I hope that the Service authorities will look at it from that point of view.
Generally speaking, the constructive thought in this debate has, with the exception of the comments of the hon. Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn), come from my hon. Friends, particularly on the subject of recruiting. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Con-cannon), my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) have been among those who have contributed a number of ideas. We hope that in his reply, the Minister will give evidence that the Government have also been taking a fresh look at the recruiting problem.
A major subject to be raised has inevitably been that of Northern Ireland, and it would be impossible for the 732 Opposition winding-up speech not to consider this matter. The speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) provides a perfect hook on which to hang my remarks, because I agree almost 100 per cent. with what he said.
It also allows me to repair an ommission of some months standing in that when the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made his maiden speech, I had the task of speaking next and therefore of complimenting him. He made that speech from the very seat that he is occupying tonight. Unfortunately, on that occasion he had no sooner made it than he left the Chamber at high speed, with the result that I was unable to perform the task of complimenting him.
I therefore take this opportunity to tell him that he is rapidly becoming an accomplished House of Commons figure. His contributions have become more balanced and he is being listened to more carefully. I hope that that does not sound patronising. It is intended as a compliment.
On the subject of Northern Ireland, the White Paper says in paragraph 30 on page 19:The most important operational rôle of the Armed Forces during the last twelve months has been in Northern Ireland.I do not wish to labour the horror which we all feel at the murder last night of three young British soldiers. Many hon. Members have spoken about this and I naturally associate myself with their remarks. They have also spoken of the admiration we feel for the way in which our troops are conducting themselves in Northern Ireland, and I associate myself with those feelings, too. I do not wish to dwell on this subject, because time is limited and I wish to deal with a number of other issues.
I join in the appeal that has been made to the British troops in Northern Ireland to restrain themselves. It is obviously intended by this action that they should be provoked. I was in a battalion on civil duties when one of our number was savagely attacked by a group of the civilian population. Fortunately, death did not result from that attack. As a result of that experience I know the feelings that must be running through 733 the Highland Fusiliers at this moment. Understanding those feelings, I still join those hon. Members on both sides who have urged the greatest possible restraint by our troops, because if they cut loose they will only make the situation much worse. I therefore ask them to restrain themselves.
I want to deal with two problems affecting Northern Ireland which were raised by the hon. Members for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and for Londonderry. The first concerns the rôle of the troops as regards the policing problem out there. We must understand that our troops are not policemen. The Armed Forces in the United Kingdom are called out by the Home Secretary. He has called them out in Northern Ireland in aid of the civil community. That is why they are there and that is why the Home Secretary would be the ultimate authority on security in Northern Ireland and why the military would be the ultimate executants of that security in Northern Ireland, although the Ministry of Defence provides the troops, equips them, organises them and supports them.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) that the rôle of the troops is to cordon off and damp down conflict. One of the great achievements of the British troops has been the absence of mob violence between various sections of the community there. Our troops can take credit for that. It would be entirely wrong to go beyond that and criticise our troops for not introducing law and order into certain sections of the community there. It is not their job to do that. If they were to do that, I believe that they would have to have a far finer tuning in methods of civil control than they have. Our troops are not trained as policemen. It is not intended that they should be policemen.
The solution of the problem which I have in mind is one which must reside with the Royal Ulster Police Authority and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. How they do it is a matter which it would be totally inappropriate to discuss in this debate. The line between what the policemen has to do and what the soldier has to do should be clearly drawn in the first place so that attention can be directed to the right quarter.
734 The hon. Members for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and for Londonerry raised the question of intelligence. The problem, which is serious is that, because the Army has poor accommodation in Northern Ireland and because the tours are unaccompanied, the tours have been short. The average length of tour for a major unit on internal security duty in Northern Ireland is about four months. This leads to the problem that, no sooner has a unit got to grips with the problem which is facing it than it is pulled out.
A solution to this problem is needed. It can be solved to some extent by increasing the number of major units which can be accommodated on accompanied tours. This may not be the entire answer, because there is always the possibility that families would be subjected to pressure if the unruly and terrorist elements could not get at the troops, and this danger must be faced. Nevertheless, this would be a contribution.
The hon. Member for Londonderry mentioned the possibility of staggering the relief of units. This might be helpful. One of the ideas that has occurred to the Opposition is that it might be possible to provide an intelligence officer's cadre for each unit which is stationed in Northern Ireland for a long period. The major units should be fed in under such an intelligence officer and his section. This system might be extended to cover the C.O. and his section.
It is quite easy to throw such ideas across the Floor of the House in a debate like this. There might well be severe practical objections to the idea if it were implemented. However, if an intelligence officer and his section could be passed on from unit to unit this might solve one the problems facing the troops in Northern Ireland. We should like to hear what the Minister thinks of this idea.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian raised the question of the rôle of the Scottish regiments. Are we as a country to continue sending Scottish regiments to Northern Ireland, in view of some of the unfortunate incidents which have occurred between Scottish soldiery and certain sections of the population? On our side of the House, we unreservedly say that the Scottish regiments should continue to go to Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for 735 Londonderry said, the British Army is the Army not just of Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland; it is the Army of the United Kingdom, and should serve wherever it is necessary for it to go.
If we, perhaps, restrained ourselves from sending Scottish regiments to Northern Ireland, somebody might next point out that the King's Division is to some extent recruited in Liverpool, and we should soon be in a most complicated situation, wondering which regiment or battalion should be posted where.
There is really no need for that sort of caution. In the deployment of troops, a certain discretion can always be exercised, I suppose, but it is totally unnecessary to have a policy of deliberately refraining from posting certain regiments to certain places. Wherever the British Armed Forces are, they will behave with total impartiality. We are all completely confident of that.
Next, are we continuing to get value for money? Under the last Administration the Army took over responsibility for all motor transport for all the three Services right up, as it were, to unit level, and that has led to considerable savings, notably in the Army, where 25 types of fork-lift trucks have been whittled down to eight, but we notice in Chapter V. paragraph 33, of the current White Paper that the Blowpipe surface-to-air missile and the Larkspur and Clansman ground radio systems are being taken over by the Army for all the Services. This is another step in the right direction, but what worries us is that there is no indication in the White Paper that this sort of helpful saving in rationalisation of the logistic support for our forces is being carried on, and we should like to know that the new Ministers are turning their minds to that.
The Larkspur and Clansman radio systems are ground radio systems, and it is difficult to see who would manage them if the Army did not. One wonders, therefore, whether this is really a contribution to that new development or whether that item has been put in under the heading "Rationalisation" merely as an afterthought.
The hon. Member for Windsor raised the subject of the Reserves and T.A. service abroad. Briefly, under 736 our conception of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve we had the idea of a slimmed-down Territorial Army equipped as the Regular Army, with a function to perform alongside the Regular Army, and that this would allow for purposive training. But now what we have is the extra 10,000 reserves predicated. Apparently, recruiting is to start on 1st April, but they will be lightly equipped, and nobody is quite sure what role they are to perform and, therefore, for what role they should be trained. We fear that some of the new sense of purpose which we felt was being instilled in the new Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve will be dissipated, and we should like to know what the Government's firm plans are.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian spoke about OpM.A.C.C. and addressed some pertinent questions to the Minister. I have taken an interest in this subject myself and should like to see it followed up.
The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) raised the question of larger training grounds. I wholeheartedly agree. This, also, is a subject which I have pressed in debate on the Army Estimates on previous occasions. It may be some encouragement to the hon. Gentleman if I tell him that, when I was in Canada in the autumn, near Sasketoon I drove past a vast empty military camp which could not have been many miles from some huge empty spaces ideal for training large formations of troops. So I shall be very interested also in the Minister's reply to the hon. Gentleman.
We on this side feel that we handed over to the Government a Regular Army which, although it may be a little short in numbers, is second to none in the world in quality, equipment and moral. What it can do has been demonstrated in practice in Northern Ireland. We regard ourselves as having handed the Army over in trust to the Government to keep in the condition in which we left it with them, in the hope that when we resume the reins of office in the not-too-distant future we shall find it in the excellent condition in which we handed it over.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Gilmour
Many points have been raised in this somewhat short debate. 737 I shall answer as many as I can, but I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not succeed in answering them all, and if those that I do answer are answered rather briefly and skimpily.
I agree with most of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Brian Walden) said about the Jungle Warfare Training School. It was agreed between officials in Singapore last January that there should be bilateral discussions between Malaysia and the other four Commonwealth countries involved about meeting the respective needs of the various countries for the use of the school's facilities. The discussions are now in progress, and I cannot say much more about them now.
I also have a great deal of agreement with the hon. Gentleman's other point about Singapore. We do not want more conspicuous facilities than we need. We shall try to fit in with the community as much as possible, but we must have adequate support facilities. The one example the hon. Gentleman mentioned, education, is not very suitable for integration, because of obvious language difficulties. But in general there is no great difference between us.
The hon. Members for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) raised the question of the shortage of doctors. This is a very serious subject, and we are closely concerned with it. My noble Friend the Minister of State is considering an investigation into the medical services which may be carried out by an independent committee, and would consider all the questions the hon. Members have raised.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd also asked how many housing commandants there are. They are established in all garrisons in the United Kingdom where the concentration of families justifies it, and serve more than 40,000 families in married quarters and official hirings. The hon. Gentleman suggested that this service should be extended abroad, but not quite the same problems arise abroad, because there are other arrangements. There are more full-time welfare officers and officers of S.S.A.F.A. and so on. Therefore, while we would not necessarily rule out such a development the hon. Gentleman will agree that 738 it is not as urgent a problem as it is in this country.
The hon. Member for West Lothian asked whether the steam had gone out of operation MACC. The answer is "No". Perhaps I should have mentioned it in opening, but because the debate was much shorter than it was to have been I left out many things that I would otherwise have included in my opening speech. The tasks undertaken under the scheme during the past year have included the building of temporary piers under the Britannia Bridge in the Menai Straits after it was seriously damaged by fire; drilling wells in Thailand; and the supervision of building airfields and other works in the Solomon Islands and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.
The House will know that the Army, along with the Royal Navy and the R.A.F., assisted in the major flood operations in West Malaysia. Also in East Pakistan, the Royal Engineers, assisted by the Royal Marines, repaired bridges, buildings and water pumps and helped restore other essential services. A glance at the Statement of the Defence Estimates for 1971 will show that I have mentioned only a few of the Army's activities over the last year. In fact, in the United Kingdom we carried out over 100 M.A.C.C. projects, which is a creditable number. But the primary task of the Armed Forces is to train for its operational rôle. Tasks for the civil community have to be secondary, but we carry them out when we can.
The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) asked about the strength of B.A.O.R. At 31st December, 1970, it was 53,354 men. He also asked how many units there were from B.A.O.R. in Northern Ireland compared with some other date which I forget. The answer is the same: it is one unit. Finally, he asked about the Royal Malta Artillery. No change is envisaged in that.
The hon. Member for West Lothian asked about drug abuse and pointed out that there is a real problem in the American Army. Obviously we do not want to be complacent about it, but at present there is no evidence that drug abuse is a serious problem in our Army at the moment. Commanding officers and unit medical officers have been given 739 guidance on how they should instruct soldiers to alert them to the dangers. Equally, we are careful not to stimulate any morbid interest in the subject.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of housing, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor. While I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said, he knows that the Services have no control over local authorities and that what we can do is limited. We know that there are some local authorities which are unhelpful in this matter. Anything that the hon. Gentleman or anyone else can do to alter the situation will be welcomed. As my hon. Friend pointed out, in their last year of service, Servicemen can obtain loans for house purchases against their terminal grants or redundancy compensation. This is an important feature. I agree with my hon. Friend that we should try to see that this facility is more widely known than it is.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Sir J. Gilmour) spoke about the T. & A.V.R. expansion. Of course, some disappointment in the allocation of units is inevitable, and naturally I appreciate his feelings on the matter. But we managed to expand about five-sixths of the existing 90 cadres, which is pretty good going, and the locations of these cadres and expanded units were decided upon after very close consultation with the T. & A.V.R. Council and the Associations themselves. We tried to distribute them as equitably as possible.
I come now to a point which was raised earlier today with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It was referred to again in this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon): the fact that one of the young soldiers so tragically killed in Northern Ireland yesterday was only 17. He was in fact 17 years and 5 months. Under existing rules it was in order for Fusilier McCaig to have served in Northern Ireland but I can tell the House that we have been considering whether a change in these rules should be made in view of the recently changed circumstances there.
The hon. Member for West Lothian also—sotto voce—raised the question of whether Scottish units should be employed in Northern Ireland. For the reasons given by his hon. Friend the 740 Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) and the hon. Member for Barons Court, I think it is entirely right for those units to be employed in Northern Ireland. As has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr.ChichesterClark), Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and this is not just an English or Scottish Army but also a Northern Ireland Army. This point must a fortiori apply to the Scottish element in the Army too. There would be the problem, as has been said, of the King's Regiment.
In an interesting speech the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that he had been on a long journey without coming across road blocks. I should be grateful to him if later, he would give me particulars of that journey, because I do not think that this is right. It should not be so. He also raised the question of extradition, which is not a matter for me but for the Home Secretary. The question of extradition from Eire to the United Kingdom is a matter for the Irish courts. Their Extradition Act, 1965, provides for extradition to the United Kingdom for indictable offences although extradition could be refused if the offences are held to be political or connected with a political offence. It is not for me to comment on any particular case but the hon. Gentleman will remember that only the other week an alleged member of some organisation was extradited from here to Eire and it seems that on the whole the situation could apply in reverse. I speak with a good deal of diffidence but perhaps the hon. Gentleman is unduly depressed in his assessment of this situation.
Many hon. Members have raised the question of the four-month tour. It was originally raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) and today by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry. The four-month tour means that we are faced with additional turbulence, and obviously units have less time to become familiar with local conditions. Unlike my predecessor, the hon. Member for Barons Court, I share the general view of the Department that four months is enough. I do not necessarily believe that the hon. Gentleman's comparison with Sharjah is apt, because the people 741 who are on these tours in Northern Ireland are under operational conditions for a long time.
§ Mr. Richard
Originally the figure of four months was fixed at a time when troops were going into Northern Ireland as a matter of urgency, when base accommodation was extremely limited and, if I remember rightly, when forward accommodation was extremely sparse. A lot has been done since the hon. Gentleman came into office, and before, so that the situation is somewhat improved.
§ Mr. Gilmour
I agree that accommodation conditions have improved a bit, but for the four-month tours they still leave much to be desired in many places. There have been improvements for the accompanied tours, but most of the accommodation for the four-month tours is still temporary. I am inclined to think that anything longer than four months would be too long, but I shall certainly bear in mind the suggestion about intelligence officers and so on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry and the hon. Member for Lewisham, North said that the Army had not been trained to be police and that, of course, is perfectly true. No one in the Army would have chosen the job which soldiers now find themselves doing in Northern Ireland. Equally, no one else can do it, and to prevent civil war in a part of the country is an extraordinarily important task and, however distasteful it may be, the Army manfully shoulders it. The Army's duty to support the civil power left it no choice, and we are in the thoroughly disagreeable situation that, at present at any rate, there is no alternative to the Army's performing that rôle, and we can only be surprised that it has performed it as well as it has.
With his historical knowledge, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) drew a rather alarming picture of the equipment we now have in Northern Ireland. He said that it had not advanced since the days of the Roman legions. I see what he means about its looks, but it is not otherwise altogether fair to say that. Over the last 12 months, the Army has been equipped with modern water cannon, the rubber baton round, which has proved effective, mobile barriers, protective clothing and devices which have enabled troops to 742 avoid casualties and more successfully to engage rioters, things like fragmentation jackets, shields and visors, abdominal protectors and leg guards, and in the pipeline there are other weapons which will be used in time. But that is not the most immediate need, because at the moment soldiers are being faced not so much with stones, as with bullets, and slightly different considerations apply.
The Army has been given a thoroughly clean bill of health by all hon. Members tonight. There has been scarcely any criticism of the way in which the Army has conducted itself, although the hon. Member for Lewisham, North, in a regrettably partisan fashion, ventured to criticise one or two of our dispositions and our policy decisions. I am sure that he will regret introducing such a disagreeable note into the debate! The Army has been widely praised and the whole House is deeply proud of the Army and grateful to it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of Land Forces not exceeding 195,500, all ranks, be maintained for the safety of the United Kingdom and the defence of the possessions of Her Majesty's Crown, and that a number not exceeding 60,000 be maintained in the Regular Reserve, that a number not exceeding 90,500 be maintained in the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve, and that a number not exceeding 6,000 be maintained in the Ulster Defence Regiment, during the year ending on 31st March 1972.