§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
The defence review and the White Paper entitled "The Way Forward" provide a natural background for the debate. The Army has suffered relatively few immediate casualties compared with the massacre of the Navy and the savaging of the dockyards.
I pay tribute to our troops, and particularly to those in Northern Ireland. I do so not because it is customary to pay tribute in such debates, and not as a mere matter of ritual, but because the House and the country owe them a genuine debt of gratitude, particularly in such difficult times. All hon. Members will acknowledge that no troops in the world that have endured the difficulties that our troops have had to undergo in recent months could have carried out the responsibilities placed on them with such style, discipline and restraint.
When I visited Northern Ireland, serving soldiers gave me a reason for their consistently high morale. They said that they had a sure knowledge that that their equipment, weaponry and supplies were of the highest standard and would be maintained at that level. That is a practical illustration of the need to ensure that our Service men are not put in the morale-sapping position of being under-trained through the cancellation of exercises—to which the Minister referred when he wound up the debate on Tuesday—and through being under-equipped through lack of ammunition.
That can be caused through the strain of the ever-increasing cost of equipment—I appreciate that that was one of the justifications for the review—for which, in the words of the Financial Times, we arespending more and more to get less and less".That means that we must have a guaranteed source of production capability for equipment, ammunition and stores. We must have the necessary back-up services to meet the needs of our forces. Those requirements should be given priority over the more tempting and commercially acceptable and profitable contracts overseas.
Over the years the Royal ordnance factories have maintained that capability. They provide about one-sixth of the Army's equipment and, in some cases, are the only United Kingdom source of supply. It is shameful and an affront to the loyal, dedicated, hard-working and highly skilled work force in the Royal ordnance factories that the Government should have created a cloud of uncertainty over their future by initiating the study into the ROFs.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
I draw my hon. and learned Friend's attention to the headline on the front page of my local newspaper, the Enfield Gazette:Small Arms Factory to be Sold.Is it not a scandal and a disgrace that, because of the Government's intention to privatise the Royal ordnance 595 factories, and because of the uncertainty caused by the Government's plans, the employees of the Royal small arms factory are living under a cloud and fear for their future? Does my hon. and learned Friend intend to give any hope and solace to my constituents about what a future Labour Government might do?
§ Mr. Davidson
Not only do I want to give hope and solace to my hon. Friend's constituents; I want to give hope and solace to my constituents who work in the Royal ordnance factory in Blackburn. I shall have further words to say on that.
The study's terms of reference were clearly biased in favour of the Government's dogmatic obsession with privatisation and with selling off anything profitable in public hands that they could lay their hands on. It was a useful study of the advantages of the close link between Royal ordnance factories and the rest of the Ministry of Defence. It produced three options, one being to improve on the restraints and limitations of the trading fund organisation, but the Government seem set on the course of privatisation.
The Secretary of State's reply on 25 July to the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck)—whom I know very well—has added to the uncertainty, especially his statement that one or more of the ordnance factories may be sold to private industry.
That is the fear to which my hon. Friend draws attention. I do not know whether one of the factories to which the Minister alluded is the one at Enfield, the one in which some of my constituents work in Blackburn or the one at Leeds, which concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean).
The Minister has added to that uncertainty and caused depression and resentment among the loyal work force. There is no reason to sell such a profitable organisation to private enterprise other than dogma—an example of the same extreme political philosophy as has prompted the selling off of the gas appliance outlets.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
There is a doctrinal difference between the hon. and learned Gentleman and myself, but I am sure that he will acknowledge that what is likely to happen if some of the Royal ordnance factories are sold is that his constituents will, perhaps, be able to earn more, gain a better standard of living and have a better future.
§ Mr. Davidson
That is not what my constituents who work in the Royal ordnance factory at Blackburn tell me. They want to remain as a trading fund, though they acknowledge that there are deficiencies in remaining as a trading fund, especially in the research and development arrangements. At Blackburn we have an efficient research and development section, but there is no reason for provision not to be made for research and development facilities within the Royal ordnance factory trading fund.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that the logic of the Government's position is that they should consider selling off the Army to Securicor? If privatisation is so effective, there is no reason to stop at the ordnance factories. The Navy could be taken over by Townsend Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd. on exactly the same principle. Is it not true that the 596 Government do not do that because they recognise that the Armed Forces need to be under Government control and accountability? That is making the best and most efficient use of our resources. What is true of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force is true of the ordnance factories.
§ Mr. Davidson
My hon. Friend may not be surprised to hear that I agree with everything that he has said. I do not agree with selling off the Army or the Navy, and I do not agree with selling the Royal ordnance factories either.
The unions and the work force at the Royal ordnance factories are strongly opposed to anything in the nature of privatisation. The Opposition will fight privatisation by all the means in their power. I give the commitment that we will take back any factories that are sold, on terms that will guarantee that the purchasers derive no financial benefit therefrom.
One or two matters arise from the defence review. First, the tank has rightly been called the virility symbol of the British Army. For years we have relied on the Chieftain. It is a fine tank and has given excellent service, but it is getting old in the tooth and was to be replaced by the MBT80. That was the tank that the experts wanted and which was due to replace the Chieftain in the late 1980s. With the cancellation of the Shir 2 for the Shah of Iran, we can now acquire the Challenger. The Minister has said that he has plans for the Challenger to be produced in sufficient numbers to equip four regiments. When is the first Challenger expected to be in the field? How many Challengers does the Minister expect will come into service over the next few years—if that is not too ambiguous a question?
The Minister has spoken of modernising the Chieftain. How many of those tanks will be kept in service, and how will they be uprated? Will there be a problem with commonality of spares and different types of equipment with two types of tank in service? When will Challenger replace Chieftain entirely?
The Minister has also mentioned improvements to Challenger. What are they, and how does Challenger compare with the MBT80? Is the latter a major advance on Challenger, and are there plans eventually to replace Challenger with the MBT80?
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the tank has been called the virility symbol of the Army. Does he mean that the Army should not have tanks, or is his interest more real and down-to-earth than his terminology suggests? Does he believe that the Army can exist without tanks, or does he agree that the phase "virility symbol" is stupid and inappropriate?
§ Mr. Davidson
Nothing that I said should lead the hon. Gentleman to suppose that. The phrase appeared in a learned article in The Economist, and I have to get my information from such sources.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
To take up the point made so light-heartedly by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), may I ask whether my hon. and learned Friend agrees that the essence of the strength of the British Army of the Rhine is its armour, which is all the more reason not to dissipate millions of pounds on a useless missile system? We could use the money to put new tanks in the field in the BAOR more quickly.
§ Mr. Davidson
I was coming to that. The only justification that I can think of for Trident is that it could be unleashed on someone as boorish as the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).
I deal next with the number of Service men. The Army is to lose a divisional headquarters staff and 7,000 men. The loss of the divisional headquarters does not appear to be of great strategic significance and merely takes us back to the 1974 review. However, what will the redundancy pattern be for the 7,000 members of the Regular Army? The Minister mentioned a reduction to 135,000 trained men in five years. What ranks and grades will be involved, and will the top brass be included? Will the main burden fall on the other ranks? Can the reduction be achieved without involuntary redundancy? If not, what hope can the Minister give to soldiers who were recruited to aid the country and who will be thrown out at a time when Government policies have created unprecedently high unemployment, particularly in traditional areas of recruitment? Spread over five years 7,000 jobs may not be an enormous amount, but what effect will it have on the morale of the Armed Forces?
As we are dealing with the subject, what is the present position on recruitment? There has been little difficulty in attracting people into the Army, as there have been willing recruits from areas of high unemployment. I accept that the pay increases introduced by the Government have made the Services a more attractive career. Newspaper reports say that recruitment has virtually been stopped by the Ministry of Defence. Is that true?
There have been ambiguous statements about continued re-equipment of the BAOR. What new projects and orders are planned, and what orders has the Minister placed that were not started by the previous Government?
I welcome the purchase of the Milan anti-tank missile, but can the Minister explain the ambiguous and vague statement about the scale or timing of new projects that need to be modified? A little more detail on the scale and timing would overcome uncertainty about the BAOR' s re-equipment requirements and ensure that they are maintained at the highest level.
I was concerned to read the announcement by the Ministry of Defence about the reduction in the purchase of Land Rovers from 3,000 to 300 in 1981–82. Why is that necessary, and what effect will it have on employment prospects at British Leyland in Solihull?
Although it may be merely a rumour, it is suggested that there may be a £1 million cut in the Armed Forces network as part of the cut in the BBC's overseas service. The network has boosted the morale of our troops for many years. Are the rumours true? Is there to be a cutback, and, if so, what effect does the Minister believe that it will have on morale?
I come to a matter that has reflected little credit on the Ministry's wholly owned arms sales subsidiary, International Military Services Ltd. I am referring to the payment of nearly £500,000 into a Swiss bank account for what was delightfully and blandly described as "consultancy services". The Public Accounts Committee drew attention to the unsavoury incident. I accept as the PAC did, that no bribes were paid.
The sale of arms is not a glamorous business, although one cannot argue against it if one wants ROFs, which depend on overseas sales, to continue. Nevertheless, particularly if it is done in the name of the British Government, arms sales should be carried out honestly and 598 without the suspicion of palm-greasing. What has the Minister done to ensure that, if intermediaries are used, they are supervised as closely as possible to make sure that bribes are not paid? The Ministry of Defence, and therefore the Government, are too close to such sales to allow any suspicion to fall upon them.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
What is the Opposition's view? Many other Western nations offer what we might describe as bribes, although they might use a more euphemistic phrase. What is the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the activities of other countries? How would he seek to prevent such activities?
§ Mr. Davidson
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, it is not my job to interfere in other countries or to make suggestions to them. That is a job for NATO.
The review has been described by my right hon. and hon. Friends, and by the press, as a stop-gap, interim measure. At the most, it provides a breathing space for the Secretary of State before he comes back to the House to announce further cuts. That must happen. With the cost of Trident, whether it is £5 million, £5 billion or even £7 billion, reaching its peak in the mid to late 1980s, the Secretary of State will have to find some other project to accommodate it. It is an unjustifiable extravagance and an over-expensive piece of overkill.
With the cost of advanced equipment rising well above the inflation rate, plus 3 per cent., the Secretary of State must cut out some project. If that must happen, it should not be at the expense of conventional weapons or front-line troops. In any war scenario, however horrific, the BAOR will provide the front-line troops.
There is a danger, which was referred to in the debate on Tuesday. I shall not labour the point. Because of the Secretary of State's persistence in persevering with Trident, and because of the necessity to economise elsewhere, he will further lower the nuclear threshold. That will result in an earlier resort to nuclear weapons.
I have never doubted that the last thing that the Secretary of State wishes to do is to come to the House and announce further cuts. His patriotism and dedication to the troops are not in doubt. However, I fear that he will have to do that. I fear that before long he will be announcing serious and savage cuts, not for the Navy but for the Army.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)
I agree immediately with the hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) in his praise for our forces in Northern Ireland. It is eight years since I was the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army. In those days the Army's task was even more difficult than it is today. Northern Ireland, although still difficult, is less bloody than it was then. That must be due, to a large extent, to the patience, dedication, discipline and self-restraint shown by the Army in the intervening years.
The hon. and learned Gentleman referred initially to what he described as the "massacre" of the Navy and reductions in the dockyards. It is too much to expect that in the last two days the Opposition would have formed any ideas about what they would make their defence policy. If the hon. and learned Gentleman describes our actions, which involve a 3 per cent. increase in real spending over four years, as a massacre, what on earth does he think 599 would be the consequence of such policies as we have heard of from the Opposition? A reduction of £3,500 million per year is in their programme.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I have no doubt that the Minister has used his two days wisely, certainly more wisely than to rehash the speech that he made on Tuesday. Can he give a figure for the implications of the defence White Paper or has the Ministry of Defence only rehashed yet again the implications of our proposals? Is that the only arithmetic that the Ministry of Defence and its expensively paid officials are capable of?
§ Mr. Blaker
We have stated our plans for a 3 per cent real increase over the next four years.
The House will be aware from the White Paper and from the answer given to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) on 25 June that the Government favour early changes in the Royal ordnance factories' constitution to overcome the difficulties identified by the study group. The report of that group is in the Library.
As my right hon. Friend made clear, there are a number of possible ways in which private industry might, with advantage, play a greater part. However, a number of factors have still to be explored and no final decisions have yet been taken. In reaching final decisions the Government will seek to provide greater sales and job opportunities for the Royal ordnance factories to the benefit of defence and, I believe, of people who work in the factories.
One of the factors in the Government's mind is that the organisation does not in general have its own design and development capability. It would be beneficial if it did. There will be further consultations on the broad proposals.
§ Mr. Graham
Is the Minister saying that he can contemplate the possibility that there will be more employees in the Royal ordnance factories than there are at present? Can the employees at the factory in Enfield, for example, really believe that when the reorganisation settles down there will be more jobs there?
§ Mr. Blaker
The obvious answer is "Yes". That is part of the object of the exercise. I hope that hon. Members will reflect on that.
The hon. and learned Member for Accrington mentioned the Services' radio corporation. One achievement in my time in the Ministry of Defence in 1972–73 was the decision that we would provide television for our forces in Germany. We said that that decision was irrevocable. We said that, come what may, that would happen. Today the programme is 90 per cent. complete. That is a big achievement.
I intend to review the Army's activities, achievements and improvements over the past year and to look ahead to the future in the light of the programme changes announced as a result of our review.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
The Minister has not dealt with the Armed Forces radio network. Is it to be cut or not?
§ Mr. Blaker
The hon. and learned Gentleman is relaying speculation again. I do not wish to continue with answers to all the points that he has made. I shall ask my hon. Friend to deal with them later.
600 I shall now review the Army's activities, achievements and improvements over the past year and look to the future in the light of the programme changes announced as a result of our review.
The keynote of the White Paper "The Way Forward" is balance—balance between resources and commitments, between men and equipment and between short and long-term improvements. For the Army, striking the right balance will mean increased expenditure on equipment. We must ensure that the Army has the right equipment and enough of it. We must expect that a key element in any Warsaw Pact offensive would be the strength of its armoured units. Warsaw Pact tanks, artillery and air defences have all benefited from the massive Soviet research and development programme.
Planning for the future is no easy task. The length of time required to develop new ranges of equipment and to bring them into service contrasts with the fact that—in a defensive alliance—our requirements are ultimately dictated by the threat we face and cannot, therefore, be predicted with absolute certainty. We must construct a programme that maintains the capability of our forces in the short term and allows for expected developments in the longer term. We must combine gradual improvements to some weapons systems with replacements of others and phase programmes to achieve a smooth pattern of expenditure.
I propose, in talking about equipment, to adopt a radical new approach, largely for the benefit of the hon. and learned Member for Accrington. It was clear in our debate on Tuesday that the hon. and learned Gentleman had some difficulty with the names of equipment and the acronyms that we come across in the Ministry of Defence. I propose, therefore, to spell out a bit the purpose and the nature of the equipment to which I shall refer and not simply refer to it by its name.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he was not being sarcastic. I have some difficulty. So do some people who read Hansard. It is important that the public should understand the nature of the weaponry to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It is all very well to talk in initials, but these do not mean anything to the average person.
§ Mr. Blaker
I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Gentleman. I did not say that I was adopting this approach exclusively for the benefit of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is time that we spelt out these things in a way that is more intelligible to the public.
It is in the context of a wide range of time scales and capabilities that the improvements referred to in the defence White Paper and the review White Paper should be seen. The decision to purchase the Challenger tank and to discontinue the MBT80 programme, for example, illustrates the point that achieving an early in-service date can be more important than delaying to buy a more advanced tank later on. There will also be a programme of qualitative improvements both to the existing Chieftain fleet and in due course to Challenger. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the improvements. They will affect the gun, the weapons control system and the engine.
I would like here to go into a little more detail about one other improvement which was announced in the White paper. That is a new night sight for tanks. At the moment, our Chieftain tanks are equipped only with a searchlight 601 for night vision, and we have therefore decided to place a contract for full development of a thermal imaging surveillance and gun sighting system. I do not know what will be its eventual name, but I hope that it will not be called by its initials. We are placing the contract with Barr and Stroud of Glasgow. The system will be fitted both to the current Chieftain fleet and to the Challenger tanks now being built. The sight enables one, in effect, to see—
§ Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)
Is this replacement night sight a British commodity, or will it have to be purchased from a foreign supplier?
§ Mr. Blaker
I have said that the contract will be placed with Barr and Stroud of Glasgow. The sight enables one, in effect, to see in the dark by producing images based on the differences in heat between objects and their surroundings. It will provide a new capability to engage an enemy at night and in other conditions of poor visibility. The equipment will enter service in the mid-1980s and will be a major enhancement of the capability of our armoured forces.
The White Papers also list many other enhancements. One of our primary roles, our ability to defeat enemy armour, rests on the possession of a wide variety of systems, each of which presents a potential aggressor with different problems which he must take into account in his plans. In the current year, one aspect in particular will be much improved as we begin the deployment of Tow long-range anti-tank guided missiles mounted on Lynx helicopters.
The relevance of this arrangement is that the helicopter is very manoeuvrable and can take cover behind buildings or woods, emerging briefly to fire its missile and then returning to cover. Lynx will replace the Scout helicopters with the SS11 missiles and can really be seen as a threefold improvement. Not only is Tow a considerably more sophisticated weapon than the first-generation SS11, but each helicopter will carry more of them.
As the Lynx fleet is built up, the number of aircraft dedicated to this role will double. By the middle of the decade, we expect our holdings of helicopter-borne anti-tank missiles to increase by a factor of six.
Looking ahead, our own tank fleet will be enlarged and upgraded in the ways I described a moment ago. Just as important as the tank itself is the ammunition which it fires. Modern Warsaw Pact tanks have considerably better armoured protection than their predecessors, and we must match this by research into materials which will provide more effective penetration. One such improved round will enter service in the near future.
Yet another new anti-tank weapon which will be distributed by the thousand down to section level in the British Army is totally different again. This is the man-portable weapon known as Law 80. Law will replace existing short-range rockets such as the Carl Gustav, and as development proceeds it is evident that we have here an extremely potent weapon, capable of defeating the best-protected tanks. We shall also increase our capability with medium range anti-tank weapons by buying extra firing posts and missiles of Milan to increase our stocks, again by the middle of the decade, by 28 per cent.
I should like to touch on a few other aspects of our capability before I leave the subject of equipment. The first is artillery. This year, 69 additional M109 guns will be delivered. These are 155 mm self-propelled guns, and 602 this will allow us to reorganise the artillery in First British Corps—increasing the number of guns in a battery from six to eight. Further ahead, the multiple launch rocket system, entering service in the mid-1980s, and the self-propelled 155 mm howitzer-SP 70, following in the later part of the decade, are both collaborative projects, involving between them the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States, France and Italy as well as ourselves. Together, they will make a major contribution to the conduct of any battle on the central front, with their greatly enhanced mobility, accuracy, range and rate of fire.
Second, we shall be improving our low level air defence capability. The anti-aircraft Rapier missile with the Blindfire radar and the man-portable, shoulder-fired Blowpipe missile are, we judge, the most effective way of meeting our requirements in this field throughout the 1980s. Our decision to purchase three batteries of the self-propelled tracked version of Rapier will greatly strengthen our front-line defences because of its increased mobility. The tracked version, as the House will readily realise, does not need to be set up in each new location and, therefore, its reaction time will be very much improved.
The third aspect is command and control. In an age of such rapid technological change it is a brave man who will forecast which aspect of warfare is likely to change most during the 1980s, but the technology of the microchip seems set to revolutionise the way in which armies handle the information on which they depend to direct operations. The Britsh Army is well in the forefront of these developments. The Wavell system, developed by Plessey, will provide computer assistance in the processing of information about what is going on on the battlefield and enable it to be acted upon that much faster. We believe also that Wavell has great potential for export sales.
BATES, the battlefield artillery target engagement system, will ensure that our artillery resources are directed quickly and accurately against the highest priority targets, This again is a computerised method of providing information to those who need it. Communications are all-important. The modern and sophisticated Ptarmigan system will replace, from the mid-1980s onwards, the Bruin trunk communications system and provide a secure link for communicating between static and mobile headquarters for the transmission of information and messages.
I mentioned in the debate on Tuesday that we would be increasing our ammunition stock levels. Our plans should increase the combat endurance of First British Corps by 20 to 30 per cent. They cover a wide range of weapons, and I have already specifically mentioned Milan and helicopter-borne anti-tank missiles.
Taken together, I believe that we have a healthy and broad-based equipment programme—I have by no means mentioned it all today—which will enable the Army to fulfil its tasks through the 1980s. However, increased expenditure on equipment will have to be balanced by some manpower reductions.
The Regular Army's trained strength is planned to reduce by up to about 7,000 men to some 135,000 inert by 1986. We expect to achieve the bulk of the reduction by savings in the Army's infrastructure and support organisation, particularly its headquarters, training and general management structures. The reduction in numbers will be achieved as far as possible through natural wastage. I think that answers one of the questions put to me. The 603 reductions will cover all ranks. We hope to do them without redundancy as far as can be done but there will be no exemption in favour of the senior ranks.
The Territorial Army, the Gurkhas and the Ulster Defence Regiment provide fighting forces in addition to the 135,000. I should also pay tribute to the role that the Women's Royal Army Corps plays.
With regard to BAOR, we shall be maintaining an army of 55,000 on the Continent, in accordance with our commitment under the Brussels Treaty.
§ Mr. Best
Will my hon. Friend say what are the commitments under the Brussels Treaty and any protocols that there may be? Is it to a minimum number of troops in BAOR or to a maximum number? Will he also inform me whether there is any specific commitment as to what the constituent element should be vis-a-vis Regular forces and Reserve forces?
§ Mr. Blaker
My recollection—it can be checked in the Library, and no doubt my hon. Friend will do that—is that we are committed to a minimum number of forces and to the maintenance of a tactical air force in the Federal Republic. No doubt my hon. Friend will be able to verify the exact wording.
Our decision to maintain 55,000 on the Continent recognises the vital importance of the United Kingdom's contribution both to NATO's operational plans for the defence of this crucial region and to its political cohesion. But, to hold the manpower in BAOR at this level, some savings will have to be made. They will come, in the main, from streamlining the command structure and cutting administrative staffs. For example, headquarters at BAOR will be cut by 20 per cent. One divisional headquarters out of the present four will be withdrawn to the United Kingdom and reformed to command a predominantly Territorial Army division dedicated to the reinforcement of First British Corps in an emergency. This reorganisation will not harm First British Corps' operational effectiveness; rather the reverse.
604 Combat strength will not fall below the present level, and the existing eight brigades in Germany will be grouped into three larger and more powerful divisions, each of three brigades instead of the present four divisions. We believe that this will improve the corps' ability to meet an attack with little warning. The ninth brigade will be the 7th Field Force based at Colchester.
We are, therefore, planning for a slightly smaller but better equipped and more effective Army. But this cannot be achieved without highly trained and professional officers and soldiers. We need to attract and to retain men and women of a high standard. This we are doing. Last year we drew attention to an improvement in the Army's level of manning. This improvement has continued throughout 1980 and 1981. Not only has recruiting remained exceptionally buoyant—last year was the best for 10 years and between April and December 1980 it was 11 per cent. higher than in the equivalent period in 1979—but the outflow of trained soldiers has also dropped dramatically.
The number of soldiers leaving the Army is now at the lowest rate since the Army became an all-volunteer force in 1962. In April to December 1980 there was a 14 per cent. reduction in those leaving the Army compared with the same period in 1979. The number of soldiers leaving early at their own request at the present time is down by 40 per cent. compared even with last year.
This means that the Army is looking for very high standards in those who apply to join. It means also that we shall be taking in fewer fresh recruits from now until the end of the year. However, there are still shortages in certain skills and trades, such as electronics warfare operators, equipment technicians in the Royal Signals, and in several trades in the Army medical and dental services. I am glad to say that officer manning has also much improved recently, although we shall still have shortages of captains and majors in several corps of the Army for some years to come.
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
With regard to recruiting, can my hon. Friend assure the House that his right hon. Friend and he will take this opportunity to improve the standard, within the Armed Forces, and particularly within the Army, rather than by creaming off the less satisfactory people throughout the Armed Services, and rather than by stopping recruitment, which discriminate against youth employment and will create gaps in the Army in the future, when particular age groups pass on through the Armed Services? Cannot the opportunity be seized upon to improve standards?
§ Mr. Blaker
I have already said that we think that standards have improved. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his point about the continuation of recruitment. We have to continue recruiting. If we were to so stop recruiting, we would find ourselves in a few years' time with a gap in respect of a certain age group and a certain type of soldier. Therefore, we must continue recruiting, even though, for the reasons that I have mentioned, it has to be at a lower level for the time being.
Fundamental to the Government's future programme for the Army are the plans for the Territorial Army. In all operational planning, the Territorial Army is fully integrated with the Regulars and has a vital part to play in both of the Army's major roles—in defence of the United Kingdom base and of the central region. On mobilisation, the Territorial Army would complete the Army's order of battle by providing nearly 30 per cent. of our mobilised forces. Its units would perform vital roles in contributing to the reinforcement of BAOR and also make a major contribution to the forces that would remain to guarantee the security of the United Kingdom in war. The Territorial Army represents a particularly efficient way of using our manpower and financial resources, and we have decided, as we have announced, that the Territorial Army will be increased by some 16,000 men and women, raising its strength towards the end of the decade to 86,000. Recruiting trends since this Government took office have given us reasonable confidence that we can meet the new targets.
§ Mr. Blaker
I cannot say at the moment exactly from where they will be produced, but we have taken the broad decisions and we now have to do a great deal of the working out of the detail. My hon. Friend referred to substitution. That is the wrong way of putting it. The reduction of 7,000 will occur largely in support and administration, and perhaps in some of the headquarters staff. Obviously, the Territorials will not necessarily fill similar roles to those. We have to look at the two things as two separate operations.
The strength of the Territorial Army has continued to rise month by month and it is now 69,700—10,000 more than it was in May 1979. This is 94 per cent. of the establishment and the highest manning level achieved since the major reorganisation of the Territorial Army in 1967. The attraction of the Territorial Army and its efficiency will be enhanced by the increase in the number of man training days announced by my right hon. Friend.
606 Exercise Crusader 80 proved that our plans to reinforce BAOR have been well prepared and do work. In all, it involved over 95,000 British Service men. Although the other Services played vital roles, the vast majority of United Kingdom forces involved were from the Army. It consisted of a home defence exercise, a reinforcement exercise, and a field training exercise in Germany. The final lessons of this very complex exercise are still being analysed, but in general it went very well.
From the national point of view, the most important aspect of the exercise was the reinforcement phase. Thirty thousand soldiers, including 20,000 in the Territorial Army, were moved to Europe and deployed in their exercise positions within the planned time scales. This has given a feeling of confidence, not only in the Army itself, but equally among our NATO Allies, that the basing of our reinforcements in the United Kingdom contributes to a credible deterrent.
The exercise was notable for the very encouraging performance of the TA. Its turnout was very high, and there is no doubt that it showed up well, both during reinforcement and in the field training exercise. During the exercise, the Army maintained the very good public relations with the local population which are so important, and which contributed enormously to the success of the exercise.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I and a number of Conservative and Labour Members of Parliament went on Operation Crusader last year. Why is it that nine months have passed before the Ministry of Defence is in a position to estimate the so-called lesson of that exercise, and when will it be made public? Is it not true that soldiers often arrived at the wrong place, fatigued to the point of exhaustion, and that the whole scenario was bogus in that, because of the imminence of the German elections, there was no suggestion of nuclear weapons being introduced into the battlefield?
§ Mr. Blaker
As I have been at the Ministry for only a month, perhaps I should not go into the matter. No doubt my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces will have an opportunity, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to deal with the matter better than I can. In the meantime, I shall move on to the important question of civilian staff.
The House will of course be well aware of the pay dispute which since March has had its effects on defence, as on other parts of government.
I am glad to say, however, that its effects on the Army have been minimal. Staff on strike at the mapping and charting establishment at Feltham have been holding up map production for the Services but, to put this in perspective, these 40 to 50 on strike should be seen against the 28,000 Army Department non-industrial civilians who are working normally—and, of course, the 25,000 industrial staff working for the Army are not involved in the dispute at all.
I would like to pay a tribute to the civilians who do such valuable work in support of the Army. Some people seem to assume that all the Ministry's civilians are chairbound. The great majority of Army Department civil servants are people such as fitters in REME workshops, range wardens and storemen in ordnance depots.
I turn now from planning and exercises concerned with a major conflict to the operations and tasks in which the 607 Army has been involved during the year. I have already mentioned Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, with his knowledge of Northern Ireland, will describe in greater detail what the Army is doing there.
In other parts of the world, the Army was involved in operations over a very wide area. Elements of the Spearhead battalion deployed to Vanuatu in June in order to help ensure the orderly transition to independence for the Anglo-French condominium. In the jungles of Belize, border patrols continue to play a major part in maintaining stability, and we have continued to make large contributions to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus and to provide logistic support for the Lebanon.
In Hong Kong, temporary reinforcements have been provided during the past year to help check the flow of illegal immigrants. In June 1979 when, at the request of the Governor we first reinforced the garrison, there were some 800 arrests per day. By April 1981, following also a change in legislation, the average daily arrest figure had dropped to well below 100. The new defence costs agreement came into effect in April, by which the Hong Kong Government now meet 75 per cent. of the actual costs of the garrison. The agreement also provides for the deployment of an additional infantry battalion in Hong Kong. This will ease the burden on the existing garrison which has been unable to train sufficiently for tasks other than border patrols.
Apart from these direct contributions, the Army also makes an indirect, but none the less important, contribution to the maintenance of British interests overseas. Over 400 Army personnel are currently in loan service posts abroad, providing a wide range of training and assistance to the benefit of some 20 countries. Additionally, about 1,500 students from about 75 countries attended Army courses in this country during 1980. Such military assistance and training promote our interests, in the widest sense, and at the same time strengthen regional security.
Perhaps the best example of this is currently provided by Zimbabwe. There, the Army provides the bulk of the 150-strong British military advisory and training team. At the request of the Zimbabwe Government, the team has been helping with the amalgamation of the armed forces in Zimbabwe, following independence. It has been training ZIPRA, ZANLA and ex-Rhodesian security force personnel of different ranks and specialisations as part of an amalgamation programme drawn up by the Zimbabwe joint high command to form new national armed forces for that country. In addition to the advisory and training team, military assistance offered to Zimbabwe has included courses, visits and attachments for Zimbabwean personnel in the United Kingdom and advisory visits by British service personnel to Zimbabwe.
Through these various forms of assistance, the Army in particular is making a vital contribution to the future of Zimbabwe. The success of the operation to date—24 integrated battalions created so far—is largely due to the skill, enthusiasm and dedication of the members of the British military team, which Mr. Mugabe has described as playing its role "magnificently".
I hope that I have demonstrated to the House, as has been clearly shown to me in the past few weeks, how wide-ranging and vital is the contribution of the Army to the 608 security and well-being of the nation and how important its role is worldwide. We can be justifiably proud of the men and women, both Regulars and reservists, who fulfil their tasks so professionally. I look forward to working with them all.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I heartily join the hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson), who spoke for the Opposition, and the Minister of State, in their generous, but not over-generous, tributes to the troops who are serving in Northern Ireland and to those who have served in the past and have sometimes given their lives in protecting and defending our part of the United Kingdom.
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Accrington and the Minister of State will be aware that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have supported the Army in good times and bad. We have been careful to avoid condemning the Army on the rare occasions when a junior NCO has made a mistake. Those of us who have served in similar circumstances know how easily such mistakes can be made. The wonder is that errors have not been far more frequent. I am certain that we in our time made far more mistakes. The difference was that on those occasions we were not court-martialled on account of the accuracy of our marksmanship.
The Minister of State mentioned the Ulster Defence Regiment and the part that it has played and is playing in the defeat of terrorism from whatever quarter. Its local knowledge and experience is of immense value to its comrades in the Regular Army and in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I trust that that skill and success in intelligence-gathering will not be damaged in any way by an excess of zeal on the part of well-meaning senior officers who have ideas about centralising briefing, for example, at battalion rather than company level.
Like other parties in the House, we have supported the improvements in the pay of the Armed Forces. However, Ministers will be aware that certain anomalies have arisen from that increase for the Ulster Defence Regiment. In the Ulster Defence Regiment they have taken the form of curious differentials. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are studying the complications and the various factors involved. Perhaps we may be permitted to put our submissions to Ministers in the near future.
I shall deal briefly with two aspects of deployment. The first aspect concerns the intricate switching of overt to covert operational units and vice versa. At certain times it appears that there is a tendency to leak information which is just sufficient for political exploitation. I hope that the Minister is aware of examples of Army and Ulster Defence Regiment patrols being stood down to make it possible to commit undercover units to specific tasks. One hopes that these tasks include the elimination of terrorist units in given areas. Invariably the tactical decision is misinterpreted or perhaps deliberately misrepresented. When that happens the world at large, including terrorist gunmen, is informed. Attention is focussed on the particular locality and the planned operation has to be abandoned.
This is the old, old story of incurable gossips feeling compelled to divulge information even though they know that it will be used unscrupulously without thought of the consequences. One of these days the consequences will be 609 fatal for some, and unfortunately that "some" always includes the best. Perhaps Dieppe was the most serious war-time example.
Terrorists who are trained to interpret snippets of information that are leaked by unscrupulous politicians can read the signs, escape the net and live to kill on another day. I accept that the Minister of State is not responsible for more than a fraction of the wagging tongues. However, he may feel that it would be desirable to alert all concerned to the dangers of careless talk in the presence of politicians, a race that is inclined to go for headlines at the risk of sabotaging counter-insurgency operations of a covert nature. Perhaps we, the politicians can help by resolving that from this day forward we shall convey our views to the appropriate authorities instead of going public on current operational decisions. I trust that the Minister and his colleagues will be only too happy to consider the possibility of establishing a secure channel through which our fears and doubts may be transmitted in absolute confidence and at no risk to our security forces.
The second aspect of deployment that I wish to raise stems from the eruption of street violence in English cities. Like every other hon. Member, I wish that street violence would go away. However, in the light of experience in Northern Ireland I fear that what we have seen is something in the nature of a rehearsal. The next stage will be a determined attempt to stretch the police to breaking point by launching, in possibly six different centres in the same region, the same vicious attacks. One assumes that plans are being prepared to enable the Army to support the civil power in the event by means of what might be called a United Kingdom rapid deployment force. In such circumstances we in Northern Ireland will not be critical if Army manpower has to be switched to other regions of the United Kingdom that are under serious threat.
For us in Ulster the retention of the SAS is essential. Perhaps it might be possible to increase its strength as its special skills are not at the time being likely to be required to deal with security in England. This suggestion implies no lack of appreciation of the contribution made by all the Army units in Ulster, where they have developed effective methods and techniques of dealing with a variety of situations.
As an Ulster Unionist, I feel that I have a duty to all the troops to seek an assurance that on redeployment in England they will be permitted to use the same effective methods of riot control and, most important, an assurance that they will not be denied the protection of the specially developed clothing and equipment to which they have been accustomed.
We must also bear in mind the hardship which results from inadequate or hastily improvised movement arrangements in an emergency. May we be assured that adequate airlift capacity exists, or will be created, so that arrangements will work without any appearance of panic measures, which would in themselves have most undesirable consequences?
The Minister of State has given a detailed account of the Government's plans and intentions for the Army. Like the hon. and learned Member for Accrington, I have had some difficulty in interpreting the jargon of the Ministry of Defence. I am sure that we are both grateful to the Minister for the Army education section of his speech. Like most hon. Members I take the simple view that when politicians decide to use the Army as the cutting edge of their policies they have a corresponding duty—it is a 610 heavy duty—to ensure that the Army is supplied with the appropriate tools for the tasks with which it is presented. Far more important, we have to ensure, having committed it to specific roles and tasks, that it will have our consistent and unreserved backing and support.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), save to echo his tribute to the British Army in Northern Ireland, a tribute that will be echoed on the part of all hon. Members.
In the context of Northern Ireland I have a specific issue of military compensation to raise with my hon. Friend the Minister of State. A constituent whose husband was murdered by the IRA at Warrenpoint has complained to me that, despite the lapse of time, she has not yet received the compensation to which she believes she is entitled. It is a matter of £5,000 and £500 for each child. It may be that the fault lies with the solicitor in question. I do not know. I believe that the sums of £5,000 and £500 are based on 1977 legislation. Should not those sums be indexed? This is an issue which I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who is the longstop in the debate, to answer when he replies.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Armed Forces (Mr. Philip Goodhart)
There has been some correspondence on this issue. The £5,000 is an interim payment and will not be the final payment.
§ Mr. Critchley
The £5,000 is based on 1977 money values and there is a case in equity to ensure that that sum is indexed to present-day values. That is my argument.
When the Secretary of State began the defence review exercise he said that no options were to be ignored. That presumably meant that the position and strength of the Army, and the Rhine Army in particular, were to be scrutinised within the Ministry of Defence as carefully as the roles of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.
Information came to me in April from the Ministry of Defence that at that time the Secretary of State was considering a reduction in the Rhine Army of between one-third and one-half, which I wrote up in a newspaper article. Obviously, and to a great sense of relief, the Secretary of State altered his priorities so that the Army was protected while the Royal Navy was obliged to bear the brunt of the recently announced cuts.
I do not claim that that was the consequence of my vivid journalism. It was a consequence of the constraint exercised upon the Ministry of Defence by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in particular, and, of course, by the American and German Governments. All three combined to bring pressure to bear on the Secretary of State to ensure that British commitments in Europe were maintained at their existing level—the Treaty of Brussels level of approximately 55,000 men.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has come down on the side of the concept of the short as opposed to the long war. One cannot say which of those two would be the more likely, although I believe that the short war is the war against which we have to ensure. In that case, if there are to be cuts, I think that the Government have got it just about right in that the cuts have fallen on the Royal Navy surface and support role rather than upon the Army in Germany.
611 It is of crucial importance that the British Army of the Rhine should be sufficiently strong, that there should be enough forces on the ground and that they should be sensibly deployed so that, were there to be a conventionally fought war in Europe—which is, after all, the most likely of any eventuality—we would be able to match that Soviet attack without immediate resort to battlefield nuclear weapons.
I have a deep suspicion that were NATO to be engaged against the Soviet Union in a conventionally fought conflict, and were NATO to be getting the worst of it—we are clearly the inferior side and, therefore, by definition we are more likely to get the worst of it, certainly in the initial stages—the decision to introduce nuclear weapons into the battlefield would be postponed indefinitely. One can imagine the circumstances at the NATO Council as Heads of State and Foreign Ministers have to decide whether to introduce for the first time the smaller nuclear weapon. One can imagine all the pressures of public opinion upon them, with London and other European cities in the process of evacuation. Knowing politicians as we do, we can see that their reaction is likely to be to postpone and delay.
The wisest of all strategies for the Soviet Union, were it to embark on the hazardous course of a conflict in Europe, would be a smash-and-grab with conventional forces—a war which would probably last for three, four or five days, which would result in the initial defeat of allied conventional forces. The Soviets would then offer negotiation. No Western nation could refuse that negotiation and we would find that we were negotiating from a position of grave weakness with the collapse of the morale of the Federal Republic of Germany as a consequence and, with it, presumably, the collapse of NATO as a whole.
From the Soviet viewpoint that would be the ideal scenario. The consequence would be the Finlandisation of Europe and the separation of America from Europe.
I shall refer only briefly to the Trident programme, as I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak. I am that rare bird in the Conservative Party—an agnostic on Trident, although I confess that there are two arguments in favour of Trident which the Government are unable to deploy. Those two arguments are these. First, Trident is a means to ensure this country against American abandonment. That is not the sort of view which our leaders wish to make public or to stress unduly. The fear of American abandonment, therefore, is one argument for the Trident force.
The second argument is that were we to possess an invulnerable independent nuclear deterrent, were Europe to be defeated in a major, conventionally fought war on the mainland of Europe, and were Britain to be threatened with invasion or attack by the Soviet Union, under those nightmare circumstances we could surrender our society intact and bargain with a victorious Soviet Union for a modicum of independence in political terms. Those are two, unadmitted, and strongest arguments in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent.
More interesting than the argument is the new political development in the House and in the country—the unprecedented collapse of the consensus between the Labour Party and the Conservative Government in their belief in an independent nuclear deterrent. Conservative 612 Members and the Secretary of State should be asking whether it is possible to set the Trident programme in stone between now and 1983 to prevent a future Labour Government from relieving themselves of the responsibilities which we have taken on. The advice which I have been given, for what it is worth, is that it will not be possible to set the programme in stone. If that is so, that is an important factor in making up one's mind.
Were the United States to abandon Europe, as is implied by the first of those two arguments, in my submission—here I quarrel with the- former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who made such a good speech in the defence debate the day before yesterday—the consequences for Europe would be, not that Europe would rearm as a consequence of American abandonment, but that Europe would disarm. That is my fear. The result of European disarmament would be the Finlandisation of Europe. Why should any British Government cast any doubt, implied or not, on the validity of the United States guarantee? After all, we have lived under it, and our security has been the gift of the United States since the setting up of NATO in 1948.
More important than United States' good intentions is the salient fact that it is American self-interest which compels the United States to keep up and refurbish the American-European alliance. What the Alliance has to fear is not that the Americans will abandon us, but that we will abandon the Americans. That is the real political development and change in Europe, which should give rise to great anxiety. There has been a movement of disarmament in Germany, Holland and Belgium. Fortunately, the French Government are more robust, as is seen by the recent statement of the French President in support of Chancellor Schmidt as reported today in the magazine Der Stern. None the less, nuclear apprehension is bringing about within Europe a strongly renewed feeling in favour of disarmament and disengagement.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
I am following this section of my hon. Friend's speech with great interest. He mentioned Germany, using his freedom as a Back Bencher. Does he agree that one of the strongest arguments for us having an independent deterrent is that if we did not, another European power would have to take on that role? Although the Germans would be extremely unwilling even to contemplate that at this stage, they would be the obvious choice. The implication is that Germany would become a nuclear power.
§ Mr. Critchley
The Germans have no intention of becoming a nuclear power. They are apparently content to shelter under the American nuclear umbrella. Frankly, they do not give a fig for the French independent nuclear deterrent, nor do they give a fig for the British independent nuclear deterrent. Their attitude is that if the British wish to spend the money, let them, but secretly they would prefer that our resources went to the Rhine Army and to conventional defence.
My analysis brings me back to the condition of the Labour Party. On radio last Wednesday, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) said that, were he to become Prime Minister, he would disarm the United Kingdom of its nuclear weapons—a gesture which he said would shame other nuclear powers into following suit. So extraordinary and incredible an assertion prompts me to make a couple of points.
613 First, were there to be a Labour Government presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, would he get his way with his Cabinet? Would he be able to dictate to his Cabinet a unilateral nuclear policy, when the majority of that Cabinet ought to be multilateralist? Secondly, assuming that the right hon. Gentleman gets his way, and the Labour Government become a unilateralist Government, what is the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's position?
Britain could not remain a non-nuclear member of a non-nuclear NATO. It would be crazy to imagine that that were possible. NATO's strategy depends upon the first use of battlefield nuclear weapons. The whole concept of flexible response depends upon first use. It is a complete contradiction in terms to suggest that there could be such a thing as a non-nuclear NATO.
A non-nuclear—therefore, neutral—Britain, which is the object of this political exercise, would be the first step in the collapse of the NATO Alliance, which in its turn would bring about a fundamental revision in United States-Soviet relations.
At present, there is a revival of unilateralism both in Britain and elsewhere. There is a renewal of nuclear apprehension. What would happen were Britain to disarm unilaterally and become neutral? At worst the whole process of becoming neutral would make war more, rather than less likely, by making a relatively stable part of the world unstable. At best, neutrality would compromise our independence vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, because the balance of power between the United States and the Soviet Union would be upset.
Perhaps Trident is only a relatively minor matter. Perhaps it does not matter whether we have it or not. On the other hand, our membership of NATO matters, and the real threat to the Government's defence policy comes from those who do not wish to be defended. We must combat unilateralism in all its forms—a political movement with defence and foreign policy objectives dressed up in a spurious moralism, the whole purpose of which is to upset the global balance of power.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
I join my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson), the Minister of State and others who have paid tribute to our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland. It goes without saying that no other army in the world could have prevailed with the same forbearance in the situation that our Armed Forces have faced in the Province.
I compliment my hon. and learned Friend on being honest enough to admit what many hon. Members in years gone by have never been prepared to admit, namely, that Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence jargon is incomprehensible. It does not mean a damned thing to the average man in the street. I am delighted that my hon. and learned Friend brought that forcefully to the notice of the Minister.
It seems that the Minister has taken a crash course in this subject during the past month. I compliment him. He has done well to have made so much progress in such a short time, especially in bearing in mind the nonsense of the initials used by that Department.
I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the improvements in the Chieftain tank and the Challenger, 614 which will now replace the MBT80. At least we now know where we are going after spending many years in collaborative exercises discussing the future of the MBT.
I am sure that the Armed forces are looking forward with delight to the thermal imaging gunfighting system. It will be invaluable in night time and bad visibility work. I am pleased that the Tow infantry weapon is to be introduced in such numbers, as, indeed, is the Rapier self-propelled vehicle.
The Minister referred to the new communication system Ptarmigan and said that it would come into operation by the mid-1980s. That suggests a considerable slippage. How far has that system slipped, because it is vital that it comes into operation at the earliest possible moment?
I welcome the increase of 16,000 in the strength of the Territorial Army. That brings its establishment to 86,000. There is no better value anywhere in the defence sector than the Territorial Army. I believe that the new establishment will, in present-day circumstances, he quickly reached. However, I wonder whether the equipment will be available to be given to TA volunteers immediately they enlist. We are all aware that until comparatively recently Territorials were wearing 1939 webbing. Once they are established, it is essential that the Territorials have the best of equipment. They should have everything that is available to the Regular Army.
I thought that the Minister was somewhat complacent when he almost suggested that redundancies would be achieved by natural wastage. I have never known a time when manpower cuts in the defence programme have been achieved by natural wastage. Unfortunately, that is what happens when Governments face reality and take such decisions. We should not forget the effect that that has when Service men who have given many years of good service are suddenly faced with the uncertainty of the future, because, at the end of the day, that means redundancy in many cases. No matter how skilled a Service man might be, no one should imagine that he will find it easy to get a job in civilian life. I hope that it will be possible to achieve redundancy by natural wastage, but I have my doubts.
I had intended to comment on the success of exercise Crusader, but, in view of the intervention of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), I do not wish to get involved in the private quarrels of Conserative Members.
I was pleased that the Minister referred to the civilian employees of the Army, because behind every good soldier there is a good civilian. In fact, none of our Armed Forces could operate without the valuable support of civilian personnel.
I have mentioned the Army in Northern Ireland, but I forgot to mention specifically the one regiment which, in spite of all the criticisms that it has suffered, does a superb job and takes the weight off the regular mainland and Continental battalions. It is the Ulster Defence Regiment.
Equally, I think that the Army and the Air Force have done a great job in Belize. I like to think that the very presence of the British Army in that country, which is not a pleasant place in which to serve, has prevented the worst excesses of the colonels of Guatemala. I am certain that without the protection of the British forces those excesses would have taken place. In Cyprus, as well, the British Army does a superb job as part of the United Nations' peacekeeping force.
615 I wish to refer to the Royal ordnance factories, and I should declare a dual interest. First, more than 1,200 members of my union, the General and Municipal Workers Union, work in Birtley Royal ordnance factory. Many are personal friends and many are constituents. I have no desire to see them staring unemployment in the face because of the dogmatic detestation of public industries of the Prime Minister and her cohorts.
Only yesterday we heard a statement by the Minister for Consumer Affairs about gas showrooms, and we saw the relish with which she made that statement. The combination of the right hon. Lady and the Prime Minister has done more to undermine Women's Lib than any 10,000 male chauvinist pigs could have done.
Birtley Royal ordnance factory is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice). He wanted to be here to talk about the Royal ordnance factories and particularly Birtley, but the illness of a close relative has caused him to be absent.
There can be little doubt that the Government have it firmly in mind, one way or another, to dispose of the ROFs to private industry. I do not think that anyone in the Chamber would dispute that. The hiving-off of the Royal ordnance factories from the Civil Service can only be to satisfy the ideological spasms of the Tory Party and for the political purpose of reducing the number of civil servants, with little or no thought for the needs of our defence forces.
I talk with the hindsight of almost five years as a Defence Minister. I am convinced that the proper place for the Royal ordnance factory facilities is within the Ministry of Defence. Their primary purpose is to provide for the needs of our Armed Forces, and that is why I so strongly hold these views. A purely commercial undertaking is concerned primarily, as it must be, with the profit motive—I am not saying anything evil of that—and no such an organisation can possibly meet the needs of the Army.
The factories must do short runs of production and carry out other non-economic activities demanded by the Government, which they cannot refuse to undertake. Does anyone seriously suggest that things of that sort are likely to find much favour in a private firm? I cannot believe that that is likely. The Royal ordnance factory organisation, within the ambit of the Ministry of Defence, was able to cope with the sudden loss of massive Iranian orders by cutting staff by agreement with the unions and the work force. How many private firms inside or outside the defence industry could have coped so well with such a catastrophic blow?
With the exception of one recent non-industrial dispute at Bishopton, the ROFs have been remarkably free from industrial action. That is because the workers have a sense of job security and a fall-back position on pay and conditions, which results from being part of the wider family of the Ministry of Defence and Civil Service.
Piecemeal privatisation would inevitably lead to a complete change in the attitudes of the work force, and any change for the worse would have a telling effect on the primary purpose of the factories, which is to serve our Armed Forces.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I respect the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the ROFs 616 through his ministerial experience, and I respect his concern about his constituents' future, but he is painting the scene as though the Government intend to sell the ROFs like so many gas showrooms. Nothing that I have heard from the Minister or seen in the White Paper can lead one to conclude that that is the Government's attitude.
On the contrary, the White Paper says:At the same time the Government will seek to carry further our partnership with the private sector in the support area, especially where there are export opportunities.Surely the hon. Gentleman should support anything that will help to expand the job opportunities and underpin the security of ROF employees.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Gentleman can call it what he likes, but an extension of the partnership with the private sector means to me flogging off whatever is profitable. If there are two or three ROFs that are making money and look like making more, they will be ripe candidates for any flogging off.
The taxpayer has had £122 million in profits from the factories. During my time as a Defence Minister the ROFs trebled their sales. They have earned £516 million in exports—more than half their total sales—and they have twice won the Queen's award for export achievement. That is a record which the public do not appreciate.
I do not suggest that there is no scope for change or no room for developing the ROF organisation. The establishment of the trading fund can be seen as a useful development, but it cannot be argued that the present system is the ultimate in structuring or that the method of managing the organisation must never be changed.
I cannot believe that it would make sense to break up a body, the production of which, from factory to factory, is so closely integrated to serve its main role. The organisation must remain one entity. I also do not believe that any useful purpose could be served by taking the ROFs out of the ambit of the Civil Service.
A better solution would be to recognise the success of the factories, accept the usefulness of the trading fund and examine ways of building on that proven success by any necessary and advantageous modifications of the present system, rather than by any radical change or surgery. The organisation should be given extra powers and functions to enable it to operate even more efficiently, rather than the reverse, which would result from some of the possible options—I put it no higher than that—that are being proposed.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
Having served as a professional soldier for some 10 years and taken a keen interest in defence since then, I view defence with great respect as a highly complex, sophisticated and dynamic subject full of changes in technology, organisation and strategies. Furthermore, it is a subject of which important areas are of necessity shrouded in secrecy. Members of the House and others outside must remember that, quite correctly, much vital information on strategic decisions is simply not available outside a circle of senior Ministers. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will accept my general questions in the spirit in which they are asked and not in any way as personal criticisms.
With that in mind, I believe that within cash limits the defence White Paper is an excellent document. It is very clever. It is highly flexible and allows for potential future expansion. It is also brave. A great many hard decisions 617 have been taken in this review. In short, I see it as a dramatic review, which has been skilfully presented. I believe that it will play a major role in ensuring that if—God forbid—we have to go to war, we shall do so with up-to-date weapons, organisation and tactics.
I was particularly impressed by the first paragraph, and even more so by the first two sentences, of the review. The first paragraph begins:The first duty of any British Government is to safeguard our people in peace and freedom. In today's world that cannot be done without a major defence effort.Those are two classic statements. I strongly support both.
In considering the Army, however, I wish to examine our overall aims and the resulting strategic priorities within the cash limits in the light of the threat which we all know exists not tomorrow but today. We all know of the massive build-up of Warsaw Pact forces in both men and equipment and of the sophistication of that equipment. We all know of the existence of the nuclear deterrent and of the arms race. I believe that the post-war period has shown, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, a key shift of emphasis in Russian strategy away from a plan for open direct assault on a massive scale on the central front towards an indirect approach—towards the use of subversion, the exploitation of terrorism and the use of surrogate forces. There has been a major shift of emphasis away from direct aggression on the central front towards a global threat to NATO.
The real threat now exists that, while our Armed Forces face an overwhelming but passive Warsaw Pact Army on the European central front, we could be starved out or starved into submission by a Russian blockade of oil in the Gulf or even of strategic raw materials around the Cape of Good Hope. Today the risk of economic military strangulation or even emasculation is probably greater than the threat of a direct Russian assault on the European central front—all this under a nuclear umbrella and even in a state of so-called strategic peace without any actual declaration of war.
I believe that while we concentrate on the conventional and nuclear defence of Europe from land-based assault on the central front, the Russians are concentrating on internal subversion, the exploitation of terrorism wherever it arises in the West and the strategic strangulation and emasculation of NATO by means of a global indirect threat.
If my theory is correct, I wish to ask two serious questions about our order of strategic priorities. They are listed as, first, nuclear defence; secondly, defence of the United Kingdom; thirdly, the central front; and, fourthly, the defence of the Eastern Atlantic. Personally, I see the Eastern Atlantic as crucial to the defence of the United Kingdom. I do not understand how these have been arrived at as discrete priorities. I see them as far more integrated than they appear when listed.
In arguing this, I assume that our overall aim is obviously peace, but not peace at any price. I assume that the aim is for peace with honour, that is to say, without sacrificing our sovereignty. Switzerland has achieved such a peace for many centuries, but Switzerland maintains very strong defences. Indeed, the Swiss seem to hold to the old Roman adage "If you want peace, prepare for war". In Switzerland, every able-bodied man is trained for war, for the defence of his country, in military units or in civil defence, which is an integral part of defence.
618 If we aim for peace with honour, what price does my hon. Friend the Minister attach to peace in the 1980s? What is the price of peace in a decade of stress and of probable nuclear proliferation? Can such a price be subject to cash limits, especially when they are set by the Treasury rather than by the Ministry of Defence? I do not believe that peace can be purchased within cash limits and remain credible. I accept, and indeed welcome, the powerful drive for cost-effectiveness within the Ministry of Defence, but I do not accept that cash limits have a place in buying international peace insurance.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torbay)
I am listening with interest and approval to what my hon. Friend is saying. Does he believe that the famous figure of 3 per cent. was reached on the basis of what was needed for our defences or by a consensus of what everyone would agree to pay irrespective of our needs?
§ Mr. Browne
I personally feel that it was the latter. I believe that it was the largest politically acceptable amount, rather than the amount dictated by the needs on the ground. I believe that while it takes care of inflation, it by no means takes care of the escalation in improved technology. That is the battle. An essential part of the battle is to maintain the technological lead and to equip our Armed Forces with the right equipment, the right weapons systems and the right control systems. I therefore believe that the answer to my hon. Friend's question is indeed the latter.
In the late 1960s the Socialist Government decided to withdraw our forces from the Persian Gulf despite the pleas of the Arab Gulf sheikhs for us to stay. As a result of the 1960s and 1970s version of cash limits, we withdrew rather than pay for the defence of what we knew were our vital interests. At that time, 80 per cent. of British Petroleum's oil reserves were in the Gulf. Today, the countries of OECD, of which we are a member, pay approximately $160,000 million to OPEC for oil. That sum, which represents demand for goods and services, is withdrawn direct from the economies of the OECD countries. Only very little of that money is successfully recycled, so it is probably the major cause of the present massive unemployment in the OECD countries.
Would the oil price hike of 1973 and the subsequent operation of an oil cartel have happened if we had not withdrawn from what we knew at the time was an area of vital interest? I do not agree that we always need to have the capability for sustained action in such areas as the Gulf. If properly supported diplomatically, a military presence can and does have the effect of deterring Communist aggression, particularly in a world of effective nuclear deterrence.
I believe that defence cash limits in the 1960s effectively cost us a fortune in the 1970s, and they will go on costing us massive unemployment well into the 1980s. Indeed, cash limits have no place in defence or law and order, nor do they truly fit the intention of the first two sentences in the defence review.
If our aim truly is peace and we see at the same time a global Russian threat, what should be our order of strategic priorities? I noted with great interest the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). I believe that our overriding priority must be, as it has always been, the defence of the United Kingdom. I do not understand how nuclear becomes the first priority 619 and defence of the United Kingdom the second. The defence of the United Kingdom is both conventional—maintaining our sea and air routes and adequate ground forces—and nuclear. Nuclear weapons—sadly, but it is a fact—are part of a modern, integrated defence weapons system.
Part of the defence of the United Kingdom must be NATO. We should not stand alone. It has always been one of our major attributes that we have the ability to pull together allies. Therefore, I see a priority for maintaining our commitment to, and the morale of, NATO.
As I have said, we cannot seek to defend ourselves alone. We must maintain and build alliances. Therefore, we need to maintain adequate forces and morale and have the ability to reinforce on the central front. Defence of the United Kingdom should be our overwhelming defence priority. We should not consider the nuclear defence of the United Kingdom, the central front and the Eastern Atlantic as discrete priorities. They are all integral to the defence of the United Kingdom.
Why is the nuclear defence priority ahead of the defence of the United Kindom? It seems to me extraordinary if that nuclear effort is for the defence of the United Kingdom. If the priorities were called for again today, would they be the same as those given a year ago?
Why is the central front ahead of the Eastern Atlantic, when there is a growing global threat? People ask "What is the use of the Eastern Atlantic if the central front collapses?" I understand that argument, but there is the risk that while we have adequate protection on the central front we can be starved to death by the loss of our air and sea communications and our ability to resupply. Europe could collapse without a shot being fired in central Europe—indeed, almost without war being declared—as a result of the global threat to the sea lanes.
In short, the price of peace is dictated, as it always has been, by needs and total resources. There is no true place for cash limits in the credible defence of our country and the beliefs for which we stand.
Our strategic priorities do not yet meet the global threat on their present discrete basis. The priorities should be integrated. If my hon. Friend the Minister thinks that I am wrong, I hope that he will tell me why. If I am not wrong, will he admit that our strategic priorities should be recast so that they do not allow us to fall into the making of erroneous decisions?
Apart from my two main concerns, I strongly support my right hon. Friend's general thrust in the defence review—in particular his drive for modern weapons systems with sustained capability. I believe that his incisive mind has already prevented us from continuing with some outdated ideas. How often, in the last war and many others, have we gone to war with the weapons, attitudes and tactics of the war before? How much has it cost us in blood unnecessarily spilt?
I heartily support my right hon. Friend's drive for cost-effectiveness. I hope that he will ruthlessly investigate such matters as the Procurement Executive, which is very top-heavy and almost encourages expense. For instance, I notice in my travels that members of the Inspectorate of Establishments go round to inspect units refuse their hospitality and stay in hotels, at £42 a day. These may be small matters, but they reflect an attitude towards cost-effectiveness, an attitude that I find intolerable.
620 We should look at the tail of all the Armed Forces. In 1904 we had an Army of 280,000 men, in 170 infantry battalions, 50 cavalry regiments and 14 corps. Today we have 140,000 men, in 50 infantry battalions, only 16 armoured regiments, but 30 corps, all with huge headquarters, officers' messes, bands and so on, all drawing vital resources from the teeth arms and their weapons systems.
I see my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) looking quizzical. Perhaps I am criticising his corps. I do not mean to be critical of the service that the corps give, but do we need so many of them? For example, is there really a justified need for the army Legal Corps, with one major-general, two brigadiers and 47 officers? Could it not be combined with another corps, and have no major-general and no brigadiers?
I spoke just now of the price of peace. I believe that the price to this country, as a non-aggressor, must be such that we afford—rather than merely can afford—Armed Services that will make an attack upon us too expensive for a would-be opponent. I see an independent nuclear deterrent as a vital and integrated part of that price. I support 100 per cent. the decision to maintain our independent nuclear deterrent.
My only concern is the question, mooted recently, of the greatly increased potential effectiveness of energised chemical lasers in space. I believe that the American Congress has before it a report that says that lasers with a potential destructive anti-missile hitting capability could be with us by 1985. That is a matter of concern. Is that factor under constant consideration? Will the Government maintain a close watch on the Americans, on what they are doing about laser and on the evasive action that they are taking?
I much respect my right hon. Friend's bravery in facing and tackling the problems of the Royal ordnance factories and the Naval dockyards. That issue has been put off by successive Secretaries of State for tens of years merely through fear, which has resulted in inaction. That has compounded the problem. Many loyal and highly skilled people are now being made redundant in the midst of a recession. That is sad, because the steps could have been taken more gently and at a better time. We are now paying the price. Nevertheless, I admire my right hon. Friend's bravery in finally tackling that problem. Portsmouth is near my constituency, and it will be hard hit despite the fact that new high technology businesses in the area will benefit and will create profitable employment.
The biggest problem in Portsmouth and in some of the other Army areas is the availability of land. Will my right hon. Friend reconfirm his willingness and intention to co-operate with the Hampshire co-ordinating committee in ensuring that the maximum amount of land is made available to private enterprise, in order to lessen the dreadful unemployment that will occur in the Portsmouth dockyard area?
I was pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend intends to improve the night sights of tanks and hand-held anti-tank weapons. Will he reassure us that the rate of fire of the hand-held weapons is being enhanced. No one knows what will happen, but when I was a soldier I went on exercises in which there were marvellous fields of fire in open country. There was time to loose off six rounds from a Karl Gustav. However, in war, a soldier would probably have his head down for a long time and there would be smoke. Therefore, hand-held anti-tank weapons need a 621 high rate of fire. Attention should be paid to that, as opposed merely to increased maximum range. I was delighted to hear that the Government want to make the maximum use of computer technology in target acquisition, communications and control/intelligence information processing. Speed always has been, and always will be, a vital principle of war.
I have great respect for the Territorial Army. It is an essential part of our total defence but only a part. I do not see how it can replace part of a small professional Army, which is already over-stretched. We always hear that the Territorial Army is exceptionally good value. It is, but I just hope that people do not seize on that fact and use it as a cheap alternative. I have my serious suspicions.
In his review my right hon. Friend has made an important switch of emphasis by replacing about 7,000 Regular soldiers with about twice that number of Territorials. Of course, the Territorial Army consists of excellent soldiers.
I also agree that Exercise Crusader was a success, but in today's world of high technology weapons to be used against a sophisticated enemy, can two Territorial Army soldiers—with a maximum of 42 days training each year, and with little knowledge of the ground that they will fight over on the central front—be anywhere near the equivalent of one professional Regular soldier who is highly trained, lives in the combat zone and has a good knowledge of the ground that he will fight over? I think not. With all due respect, how can two Territorial soldiers be the equivalent of one Regular professional soldier under those conditions? If they are the equivalent, then there is something sadly wrong with the Regular Army.
In addition to those problems, there are others. Recruiting in the Territorial Army is, at present, good. But is recruitment likely to continue at such a rate? The amount of training has increased from 38 to 42 days. However, 42 days was the total in 1979. The figure has just been reinstated. I have heard a rumour that travel allowances have been cut in the Territorial Army. Is that so? In addition, do we really mean business when we say that we shall spend money on the Territorial Army to ensure that its soldiers are not second-class citizens?
Thirdly, and most seriously, I come to the subject of availability. The mobilisation of the Territorial Army will be read, internationally, as a significant military escalation. I can foresee generals in Europe asking for more soldiers in order to cope with increased tension but, at the same time politicians in England being too afraid to execute Queen's Order No. 2, to mobilise them. The possibility of that would appear to lower the nuclear threshold. I strongly support a major increase in reserves and in civil defence, but I am worried about the apparent switching of Territorials into a regular role. Furthermore, will the Minister please give an assurance that not one Regular Service man or woman will be made redundant while a civil servant occupies a job that could, 1 repeat could, be filled by a Regular Service man or woman? I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to stop recruiting, because that would discriminate against youth employment, but to use this opportunity to cream off and to raise standards in the Armed Forces.
In summary, I believe that the price of peace cannot be determined within or by cash limits. I do not see that cost-effectiveness—which I heartily applaud—necessarily means cash limits. I fail to see how our current strategic priorities meet the present global threat. I hope that I shall 622 be given the assurance for which I asked about raising standards in the Armed Forces by creaming off rather than by stopping recruiting. I hope that the Government will inform the House about laser technology and its threat to our strategic deterrent. As regards cuts in the Army, particularly in Hampshire, people are worried about the effect of the cuts that are mooted. May we be told exactly what will happen as soon as possible? Finally, may we have the assurance that I requested, that no Regular Service men or women will be made redundant while civil servants occupy jobs that could be filled by Regular personnel?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I should tell the House that 10 hon. Members wish to catch my eye. That means that hon. Members should speak for about 15 minutes each, if such restraint can be shown.
§ Mr. Joseph Dean (Leeds, West)
I have listened attentively to the debate. I was under the impression that the debate was about the Army. However, some hon. Members' speeches have ranged far wider than that and should have been made on Tuesday or in other defence debates. I shall certainly not speak for quarter of an hour, because I merely wish to make one or two salient points.
As our first line of defence, priority should be given to the conventional forces and not to any mythical role that nuclear weapons may have. Our first line of defence should be in Europe and not in rocket sites or submarines in the Atlantic.
I was glad that the Minister referred to the constructive role that the Army plays in various parts of the world. All too often we consider the Army only as an instrument of destruction. Some months ago I had the privilege of going with a Conservative Member on behalf of the House, to a small island called Dominica. In 1979 it was smashed to smithereens by probably the worst hurricane in the history of the West Indies. The island was wrecked. All its crops were wiped out. Two-hundred-year-old coconut trees were uprooted, and the island's banana crop was destroyed.
The first thing that those people saw was one of our frigates, which brought immediate help, that was closely followed by a unit of Royal Engineers. Anyone who has seen the island knows the task that the engineers undertook. There is one road on the island, which crosses the mountains from the capital to the port. That road was made usable again by the efforts of the Royal Engineers. No praise could be too high for their work. The Dominicans lavished praise on them. They were very appreciative of what had been done.
I wonder whether we could extend field training and allow the Army to take a more positive role in some of the underdeveloped countries, especially in engineering and allied work.
I was disturbed to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the leader of the Ulster Unionists, who wanted to see the Army, once again, as the policing force on the United Kingdom mainland. I deplore that idea in any cirumstances. It would be disastrous. I should be the first to say that no other Army could have done so patiently the job that ours has 623 done in Northern Ireland and suffered the abuse that it has from ill-informed world press and media. That abuse has probably emanated mostly from the Irish-American lobby in Boston and New York.
I do not take my stand about the Army not being used as a policing force because I am against the Army. I am not. As much as anyone in the House, I deplore the problem that has arisen in many of our cities. However, to cast the Army quickly into such a role would be the worst possible way to deal with it. The Army is not trained for police work. Although the Army holds the ring in Northern Ireland it is clear that both Labour and Conservative Governments see the Army's policing role in Northern Ireland as diminishing. Wherever possible that role is being handed back as quickly as possible to the civilian police force, which is better trained to deal with the problems.
My colleague the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) spoke at length about the Royal ordnance factories. My union, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, covers the major part of the work force of the industrial servants in the ROFs. Having spent the last war as an apprentice manufacturing arms, from the ill-fated Churchill tank to field and naval guns, I know a little about the subject. The Royal ordnance factories are the base that should always be there—immovable and beyond interference from outside forces.
The Mallabar report was commissioned six years ago to consider the future of the ROFs. Certain proposals were made and carried out to make the ROFs into trading funds. It is odd that after only six years we are again interfering with the Royal ordance factories. Since that report was initiated, the ROFs have earned the taxpayer a profit of £122 million. Between 1974 and 1978, sales more than trebled from £81 million to £284 million. They earned more than £516 million in exports, which was more than half the total sales. The ROFs have twice won the Queen's award for export achievement. That record is second to none, and it has been achieved by the 22,000 people who work in the Royal ordnance factories.
I cannot understand the reason for hiving-off these factories. The Minister could have been more forthcoming. It is possible that the Under-Secretary will tell us more, but the Minister did not tell us what the Government have decided to do. A successful organisation, based on the figures that I have quoted, its know-how and ability to provide logistics and replacements quickly, should be given better consideration and should not be kept in the dark.
On Tuesday there was a massive lobby at the House by people from the Royal ordnance factories and the dockyards that are being closed. My main concern is with the large ROF in Leeds, at Barnbow. That forms a major part of the successful trading figures. Despite the hiccup of losing the massive order when the Shah of Iran was dethroned, the factories have managed, with accommodated wastage, to keep a flow and to remain successful.
What are the reasons for the Government's determination to proceed with this policy? I find them difficult to understand. Any Army of today must have its replacements ready in wartime, with the capacity for destruction of each other's Armed Forces, replacements must be made available immediately. I have heard various 624 hon. Members suggest that private industry could fulfil that role. It could not. I am not aware that the private arms industry has patriotism as its top priority.
When I went to Europe on a defence visit some months ago, I visited the Harrier strike jet force and one of the armoured corps maintenance sections. The engineers in the private sector, because of a national wage claim, had struck on two successive Mondays. As a consequence, the Harrier jet force was being jeopardised because the engineers in the private sector were not supplying one of the pumps for the jets. The tank section said that the strike of the engineers in the North-East was affecting delivery of engine replacements for Chieftain tanks.
What is the reason for this mythical idea that the private arms sector can be trusted all along the line and will deliver the goods? I say that it should not be entrusted with that role. Can anyone in the House stand up and, with his hand on his heart, say that the arms manufactured in this country did not kill our forces during the war when the arms were used by someone else? There is no patriotism in the private arms industry. Everyone knows that it was the arms industry of this country that built the original Japanese Navy. We know what that did to us in the last war before the Americans were brought in.
Let us look at this realistically. I do not think that the hiving-off of the ROFs, which provide the foundationstone for our Armed Forces with quick replenishment in the field, finds much favour with the generals to whom I have spoken. They knew that they had direct access to them and that the priority would be the defence of the country and getting the equipment to the front as quickly as possible. The more that the manufacture of defence equipment is hived off, and the more that we allow the private sector, whose main motive is profit, to become involved, the more we shall weaken that important component of our defence.
The Minister said that he trusts the private sector to perform admirably. It will take over the role and there will be no problem. When I questioned the Prime Minister last week, she said the same thing. However, certain of our main armaments can never be produced at a profit. Plessey or Vickers will not produce equipment at a loss simply because the Armed Forces need it. The ROFs produce certain commodities on which there is no possibility of making a profit.
Finally, the work force is entitled to know what is happening. When the study group was formed last year, I objected because it did not contain one representative from the work people directly involved. It may have contained trade unionists from the ROFs generally, but at no stage in the consultations had representatives of the works committee of the shop floor been involved or asked what they thought. It is all very well asking national trade unionists who run industries, but, as an ex-shop steward, I know that the best way to find out what the work force in the factory feels is to ask the works committee. Members of the works committee will let it be known what the work force will accept and will negotiate on its behalf. It is not always too ready to follow or accept what area or national full-time trade union officers would agree on its behalf. The works committee has been treated shabbily.
It is unfortunate that the Minister did not say what the Government have in mind. Do they intend to hive off a successful factory like Barnbow and others, selling them to the main competitor, which is Vickers or, will it be 625 more of an equity scheme, with the private sector putting in money and the Government having a holding interest of, say, 51 per cent., which may be more acceptable?
About 7,000 to 8,000 people came here to represent the work force, which shows how worried people are. They should be told what is happening. The matter should not be left in abeyance. Otherwise, it may be thought that the Government have made a decision solely on the basis of political dogma and are looking for an acceptable way to carry it out. The Government owe the workers an answer as expeditiously as possible.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I shall comply with your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be as brief as I can.
The debate is on the Army, but it brings us to the fundamental point that the Conservative Party is committed to the defence of the realm. We cannot face a global and, in particular, an Eastern bloc threat alone, and without allies. The Minister will have to disagree with me, but I believe that we should spend more on defence. Although I agree that many economies can be effected within the Armed Services, that does not prevent us from spending more on our total defence budget, including the Army. We have a lesson to learn in that respect from the Russians.
I wish to deal mainly with the territorial and auxiliary forces. It is clear from the debate of 22 June that the House endorses the independent nuclear deterrent as a primary method of defending the realm and one that has preserved peace for over 30 years. An independent nuclear deterrent serves two purposes. First, it helps our NATO allies to know that they do not stand alone and are not dependent on America; we are together with them to give them extra strength. No one knows how long the United States will stay with us, as I said in the previous debate. A seven-year tenure for the President means that policies could change. However, it is a very important factor.
I shall not enter into the argument of spending the money for Trident on tanks. It is irrelevant and unrealistic, as was brought out in the defence debate.
However, we need more money, and it should be supplied by our allies and friends in Europe. Our commitments range throughout Europe, including Spain, Greece and Turkey. They are enormous. We are being expected to spend more on our defence budget than is reasonable in the present economic circumstances. Perhaps certain other nations spend more in percentage terms. I know that all sorts of arguments are produced.
§ Mr. John
I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument as best I can. He began by saying that we should spend more on defence. He now says that we are expected to spend too much on defence and that our allies should help. Does he mean that our NATO allies should contribute towards any extra money that we may spend on defence?
§ Dr. Glyn
I am sorry if I did not make it clear. I believe that, in general, we should spend more money, but we should press our allies to help us in that additional expenditure. I am not arguing that they should make up the money penny for penny or halfpenny for halfpenny, but Britain is being called upon to spend too much and other nations should spend more.
626 Whether it is a short or long war, in the end the battle is always fought on the ground, and it is the Army who will have to fulfil that role. In the short time available, I shall not go into the replacement of tanks and anti-tank guns. I wish to deal with general strategic issues.
I have one important question for the Minister. If we had to bring our troops back from Northern Ireland, is it correct that the expenditure on rehousing and re-equipping would be considerable? In passing, I pay tribute to the tremendous amount of work done by the Army in Northern Ireland and in Belize.
I turn to the reserve forces, which are dealt with on page 14 of the White Paper. We cannot go for national service. It is too difficult. We know all the problems. It would be extremely difficult to persuade the electorate that national service is necessary, although I and many of my colleagues may believe differently. We therefore have to expand the Territorial Army. It is essential to produce a force capable of reinforcing our BAOR commitments and also of home defence, if that should be necessary.
Secondly, we should adopt the idea put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) of a register of doctors, engineers and others who are ready and able to participate in military operations. There should be a central register so that they are available at very, very short notice. I do not say that they should necessarily have a commitment.
With regard to the Territorial Army, two problems exist. I know that the Minister will take note of these. The difficulty has always been that the big firms can let people off, whereas the small firms find it extremely difficult. I do not know whether, even by making it legal to let one's men go, that is possible. It is extremely difficult. One of the ways in which this can be overcome is by going back to a system, which I experienced for 17 years, of supplementary and emergency reserve. That allows men to do a month or three weeks service, which suits them and their jobs.
That will enable men outside the general circle to serve in the territorial forces. Most men like to serve with their colleagues. I am very glad to see that over the years men have gone out in units and groups together. But some individuals find that the drill days are not possible and that the periods allocated to camps are not convenient for their firms. I should like those men to be able to do their fortnight, three weeks or a month with a regular or territorial unit. I am sure that that would be an extremely useful way of getting additional recruits. Many of the men in that category are particularly interested in military service and in doing their job in the best possible way.
I hope that the Minister will ensure, as he said earlier on, that not only will the Territorial Army not be treated as second-class soldiers but that they will be provided with first-class equipment. I hope that he will give more latitude with regard to time.
Those leaving the forces early, particularly officers of a senior rank, should have a commitment to a longer period of service per year so that their services would be far more valuable at a time when we need to call upon them. If we are to defend the country we cannot be tied to cash limits. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) said about cash limits. We must measure our expenditure, not by the Treasury but by safety of the constituents we represent.
I thank the Minister for the written answer on 8 August when he confirmed that the Victoria barracks in my 627 constituency would be completed, by 1984, thereby allowing a battalion of foot guards to take up residence in my constituency. It will be a great historic step and extremely helpful to the Guards Division which will be called upon to be used more and more not only on ceremonial duties but on active service overseas. I thank the Minister very much for that assurance on behalf of my constituents.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
One of the surprising aspects of this debate so far has been the insensitivity of Government Back Benchers to the need to take a reasonable time in presenting their case. One Government Back Bencher spoke for longer than the two Front-Bench spokesmen. I do not wish to deny anybody the democratic right to speak, but hon. Members, even on the Government side, wish to contribute to the debate and time is limited. I do not question anybody's professional judgment as a soldier. The more one is in the House the more one appreciates the importance of succinct speeches such as that made by the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn).
I wish to make two or three points, and I shall do so as briefly as possible. The Minister will know of my concern about the possible privatisation of the ordnance factories. I hope that if that happens, some account will be taken of the fact that they have made a tremendous contribution to developing skill. The engineering apprenticeship schemes that operate in those factories must be allowed to continue if the plants are put on a private basis.
The Minister mentioned the new hardware that is to be given to the Forces. He was obviously aware, as we all are, that this means that there will be new and more sophisticated computer systems. I hope therefore, that under all circumstances, the "buy British" principle will be maintained, and that a strong reason will be given if it is not possible to do so. Let us give a boost to British computer systems by using them wherever possible within the Armed Forces.
I wish to say only in respect of the Army cuts that I am keen to note that 16,000 more recruits are required in the Territorial Army. Within our democracy some people are unilateralists, some are multilaterists and a few are pacifist. But many of us are prepared to defend the country. A lot of people, partcularly young people, still have an ideal and a belief, and wish to serve in Her Majesty's Forces and contribute to a good life for themselves while helping the nation. Therefore, it is sad to realise that recruitment has stopped. Nowhere has that been felt more than in the Northern region.
A spokesman for Northern Command stated the other day that there would be no more recruitment of young people. That has sent a wave of sadness and some despair among many young people who have already passed their medicals for the Forces. They have already been trained at school in preparation for entering a period of service. I can give examples to the Minister of constituents who will be told now that there is virtually no possibility of their being offered a career in the Army. These are lads—and, I might say, some lasses as well—of good quality.
Some young men who have come out of the Forces have realised that they are more suited to life in the Army and 628 would like to rejoin. They are of non-commissioned rank and their commanding officers would dearly like to take them on again. But unfortunately they have received letters saying that they cannot go back. I have made representations on their behalf, but the Minister has stated clearly that there is no possibility in the near future that these men, who have already received training for the profession, will be taken back into the Forces. They all appreciate my efforts. They also appreciate the Minister's decision about the cuts.
May I still be parochial and mention the role of the Territorial Army? The North-East has been a traditional recruiting area for the regiments going back over 300 years. There is a tradition of service in the territorial forces. In the county of Northumberland the territorial battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is fully equipped and has acquitted itself well over the years. I feel that we could consider in the Tyne and Wear area the formation of another battalion—a territorial battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I think that we would get the recruits from among young men who cannot join the Forces now and from others who want to join on a part-time basis. I ask the Minister, when considering the formation of these units, to consult the people in the region to ascertain whether the area from the mouth of the Tyne to the Northumberland border can be made a recruiting base from which I am fairly confident that he will obtain with the minimum of fuss a first-class second reserve battalion that performs with maximum efficiency.
I do not say that it was snide, but there has been an indirect reference to Army bands. I wish to conclude my remarks on a musical note. I become irritated, as I am sure Ministers and other hon. Members must become irritated, at seeing repetitive questions on the Order Paper relating to bands in the British Forces. I have always had a high regard for the musicianship, the tradition and the style—one can almost say the panache—of these bands that are the admiration of the world. I suggest that, in these days of gloom, we should provide some lightheartedness. The critics of the bands should be told that members of these bands need not only to be first-class musicians but they also have to be good soldiers. I urge that the bands should be seen on display, particularly in this Royal year. It is a matter of regret that one has to go to West Germany to hear them. The Germans hear them more often than we do in this country.
It was a wise decison to increase the size of the Territorial Army. I believe that more than cost effectiveness is obtained from our reserve forces. I should like to see them given every encouragement. This debate should be sufficient to give them encouragement to fulfil the task for which they are equipped and to bring credit to the nation.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I warmly support the gracious remarks of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) about Army bands. They form an important part of the Army's tradition. They are good for morale. They are popular with the public. As the hon. Gentleman says, they give a great deal of delight to people in West Germany, who hear more of their playing than do people in this country.
I was astonished to hear the hon. Gentleman say that all recruitment in the North had stopped, in view of the fine qualities that people from the North have displayed 629 in the British Army for a long time. One recalls from the last war the fine traditions of the 50th Northumbrian Division. When one hears of the shortage of skilled men in the Army and the reservoir of skilled people in the North-East, one wonders whether the Army cannot help itself and also the unemployment problem. No doubt the Minister will refer to what seems a rather short-sighted attitude.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that this matter relates not only to the North of England but to the South as well? Hundreds of youngsters who are keen to joint the Armed Forces, and who have been promised places, are now being told that no places are available. Similar conditions prevail in both areas.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
That is the problem that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has outlined to the House. One has to consider the high cost of equipment. There is a limit to expenditure. One cannot have the equipment and the men. There is a trade-off between equipment and men. I do not wish to embarrass my right hon. Friend. However, it seems sad that there should be this cut-off at a time when a reservoir of skilled labour and people with a fine apprenticeship tradition exists in the North-East.
My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) has advocated that the Government should have no cash limit on defence. The message should not go out from the House that hon. Members feel that there is no need for financial discipline. There must be such discipline. The Secretary of State for Defence cannot have carte blanche to spend what he likes. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester should consider what would happen if the budget were increased by £1,000 million. The Secretary of State for Social Services would have to say he was sorry, but the Government had decided to spend so much on defence that pensions would not be upgraded in line with the cost of living.
It can, of course, be argued that what the military needs the nation demands. Is that true? I am not sure that such an analysis is so correct that we should give carte blanche to the Secretary of State for Defence. I respect the wish of those who want to provide the Armed Forces with the equipment they need and the country with the defence that it needs but the motion that has been tabled by some of my hon. Friends to that effect is the wrong approach.
The Government have shown considerable courage in their review of defence. They have given the nation extraordinarily good value for money. I welcome particularly the manner in which they have cut out some of the tail of the Army. I realise that the reduction of a divisional headquarters in the BOAR involving 6,000 men may impose a strain on supplying the needs of Northern Ireland, but I suspect that among those 6,000 there are a number of people in the tail of the Army, which needs to be reduced. As a consequence, the Minister is now able to say that he can strengthen the combat efficiency of the British Army of the Rhine. I believe that that is the right course.
Early in the 1970s, it was possible to say that the British Army of the Rhine was an army with the highest morale and the highest degree of professionalism, the best trained and the best equipped. I do not think it can be claimed that, as the 1970s progressed, it achieved quite the same standards. There was a slip in terms of equipment and the 630 ability to train. That had some effect on the morale of the Army, particularly on the younger officer and the trained NCO. The Government are to be congratulated on the decision that they have taken to release more resources to re-equip the British Army of the Rhine so that once again it can achieve the highest standards of the early 1970s.
Of all the improvements proposed, there is one in particular that I welcome. That is the introduction of the Wavell system for rapid automated handling of tactical intelligence. In this area of communications we were in great danger of falling seriously behind in our ability to fight a modern war.
In recent years the Soviet Union has increased the strength of its conventional forces both quantitatively and qualitatively. If the professional pride of the British Army, which is strong, and its high motivation, which Js great, are to be maintained, I have no doubt that the announcements made by the Government will help to improve morale and to deter a potential aggressor.
I wish to concentrate on two aspects of the Government's defence review. One arises from my membership of the NATO Assembly sub-committee on manpower. My questions concern the quality and quantity of reserves and international collaboration on defence equipment. On going abroad on NATO business I find that if any doubts are expressed about our Armed Forces, especially the Army, these are concentrated on the numbers in them in contrast with the vast numbers of people under arms in Western Europe.
The question, narrowed still further, is largely concerned with the strength of our reserves. All our European allies have some form of compulsory military service that supplies them with more men on active duty. The conscript system provides a larger number of men with a degree of military experience. It is, however, true to say that our voluntary system provides small numbers with a higher degree of competence. That is not always admitted by some people on the Continent. They argue that some of their conscripts, particularly those in Scandinavian countries, have a high degree of motivation and competence due to their high standards of education. I believe, nevertheless, that we can make up for numbers by a high degree of competence.
The conscript system has another result. It provides large numbers of potential reservists. Our dependence on the voluntary system will lack credibility if it is not backed by adequate reserves. I appreciate the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester, who warned against the belief that by pushing more money into the reserves one gets the Army on the cheap. As my hon. Friend said, two reservists do not make up for one professional. I believe that that was the gist of his argument.
I know from my experience in the Ministry of Defence that many Regular Army people view with a jaundiced eye any expansion of the Territorial Army. I do not suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester is stirring things up, but there is a problem. Our NATO friends will accept our small professional Army, but they expect this country to exert greater efforts to achieve an increased number of trained reservists.
How good are our reserves? The Regular Reserve is put at 136,000. The Defence Committee which took evidence on these matters in April this year, noted that 50,000 of the 136,000 were called up last year for one day. These 631 are people who have left the Army in the last nine years. The press release put out by the Army public relations department said that theywill report to military centres near their homes where they will be issued with uniforms and respirators to keep at home in readiness for mobilisation.It sounds like 1938. The reservists are expected to report on at least one day every year for their equipment to be checked. But the Committee was told that the main function of the reservists would beguarding, static duties, rather than operational deployments with combat equipment".So much for the 136,000 reservists. In the eyes of many people in NATO, they are not contributing very much.
It is to the Territorial Army, therefore, that we must look. That is why I am glad that this force of about 60,000 will be increased. It has a vital job to do in protecting home installations as well as being a reinforcement for the BAOR. As Britain has the lightest military manpower burden, as measured by the ratio of military forces to total population, it is all the more important that we should make sure that the Territorial Army is maintained at a very high level of efficiency. Will the Minister tell us how the Government propose to recruit the extra men and women that they require?
What steps do the Government propose to take to improve the retention rate? It is no good having people coming in and then finding that they are bored because they are not getting the equipment to which they are entitled. The retention rate at the moment is quite good, but if we are to have a vast increase in numbers, obviously we want to keep the people that we have already, otherwise it is money ill-spent.
Will the Minister also assure the House that there will be a real improvement in the quality of equipment supplied to the Territorial Army? If the Territorials are to carry out the role that is given to them, they will demand the best possible equipment for their requirements. Assurances of that kind would be welcomed not only by people in the House, but by our NATO Allies.
Equipment is at the root of everything—for the Army, the Territorial Army and the defence forces as a whole. But all of us in NATO are suffering from the frightening increase in equipment costs. That is what has brought on the defence review, as we all know. Somehow the Russians—whose equipment, in comparison with ours, was relatively crude and unsophisticated some years ago—appear to have obtained more quality at rather lower cost. That is why we are all worried. That is why in the West we feel that we have to rearm. Quantitatively, the Russians are always ahead. Qualitatively, they are creeping up on us.
For years the NATO nations have tried, with limited success, to avoid what we know has on some occasions been a scandalous and wasteful duplication of research and development facilities and of the production of military equipment in the West. I remind the House of President Carter's concept of the family of weapons—"You build the light tank and we will build the heavy tank". Then there was the concept of multi-country collaboration, of which the Tornado was an example. But it was to cost more than Trident. That is a fantastic form of multi-nation collaboration. No wonder the people in the Ministry of Defence are a little jaundiced about any other efforts of a multi-national nature. We might have been wiser to buy 632 off the shelf from the United States, as the Dutch and the Belgians did. Yet we must keep trying to improve the position.
We must not leave everything to the Americans. It is right to insist that in Europe we retain technical design teams and manufacturing skills. In dealing with defence procurement strategy in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", the Government said on page 46:There are clearly important reasons why we should normally buy British".NATO hedges its bet a little by saying:This does not mean that we should pay an unlimited premium for a Made in Britain label.I am sure that that is right. The Government go on to say thatCollaborative projects can help us to share the financial burden and technical risks associated with development".Those are fine sentiments, and I make no criticism whatever of my right hon. Friend when I say that those sentiments do not altogether square up. They involve the Government in having to make terrible decisions, sometimes seeming to conflict one with another. The Government are sometimes asked by hon. Members, on both sides of the House, to buy British when the British weapon system is not the most cost-effective available.
True competition rarely exists in this field, because each nation, in the final analysis, is preoccupied with buying its own products. Lobbying is intense and jobs are at stake. Unless we, in concert with our allies, tackle the equipment problem with renewed urgency, we shall find ourselves in the very near future having yet another defence review.
One way that would appear to offer a good chance of reconciling NATO's military requirements with national industrial needs—not to mention the needs of hard-pressed taxpayers—is to use what is described as the industrial approach. If an American company has the best piece of kit and it meets a NATO requirement, it should be obliged to team up with a European company, and vice versa.
The problem brooks no delay. Without first-class equipment, troops are a waste of money and effort. Equipment that is complicated and so expensive that we cannot afford the troops is equally a waste of money. If we do not overcome the problem of escalating costs of military technology, when the next defence review comes along it will have a really traumatic effect, not just on the dockyards, but on the defence establishments of all three Services.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
One aspect of the review that causes me considerable pleasure is that whether or not one agrees with the Navy being cut, for the first time for many years we are not making cuts across the three Services in order to economise. I am not suggesting that we should economise; indeed, I know that we are spending more money. But all too often in the past we have made the cuts in each Service, irrespective of the vital functions that each Service performs.
Having said that, it does not mean that I go all the way with the Government's policy on Trident. I mention Trident briefly because it is so much involved with whether we are able to maintain our full conventional forces in the future.
The reason that I do not necessarily go all the way with the Government's policy on Trident is that I am not 633 satisfied that, with the cuts in the Navy, we shall be able to ward off a Soviet threat that comes to us solely on the sea or under the sea.
If I were convinced that we could ward off such a threat, I would agree with the cuts 100 per cent. I put my fears to the Minister at Question Time. I may have put it so badly that he did not follow my point, but it could well be that, without the Soviet Union moving one soldier or sending up one aircraft, it could destroy the economy of the Western world simply by sinking ships.
What should we do in that situation? There would be no land war or air war, and we should be unable to see a war that took place under the sea. Do we send Trident in cold blood against the Soviet Union? That seems to be the argument that is being put forward. Does anyone here really believe that in cold blood, when there has been no movement of troops or of aircraft, we shall send the Trident to destroy parts of the Soviet Union?
If that decision has been taken, I can see the logic of it, but I do not want us to be stranded without having any way of making a response. The NATO forces in Europe would not serve any purpose by advancing towards the Soviet forces, because they would not be in any position to take them on. That is the main point that worries me about the expenditure on Trident.
It is no good the Government saying that expenditure on Trident will not reduce expenditure in other directions. It will eventually reduce expenditure on BAOR, which has a very important function.
People ask, "Why have any nuclear deterrents like this at all?" The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) spelt out what the Government will not spell out. One can visualise a situation in which America may not wish to help this country, although of course, that is difficult to visualise when there are American forces in Europe.
§ Mr. Blaker
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. Does he contemplate Britain alone being faced with that form of blockade by the sinking of ships? Is he forgetting the fact that we have allies who in the scenario that he described presumably would be involved?
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I have left the scenario of the sinking of ships. I am now on the scenario of an assault by Russian ground forces into Europe. America may say, "If we respond with our nuclear weapons, New York and the rest of our cities will go up." People may say, "Allies do not do that." But there are people in the House who will remember when France pleaded in 1940 for us to send fighter planes to give her troops a chance. We took a cold-blooded decision not to send them, because we should have required them in the event of the collapse of the forces fighting in France. So these things happen. I believe, therefore, that it is important to have an independent nuclear deterrent, irrespective of what the Americans have.
I turn now to three matters that are causing me some concern. The first concerns the positions of our troops in Europe. Do the Government or NATO feel that, given certain situations, we would be able to get our troops into the positions that they are supposed to occupy? Does anyone really believe that, given certain conditions, we should be able to get our reserve forces across to join those forces, searching for them in a move towards the front? I do not believe that it is on. Clearly, Germany presents a difficulty, because one would be laying half of Germany 634 open to Russian forces. The object of the exercise would be to stop Russian forces coming through in an emergency, and to be caught with both legs off the ground, moving forward to positions under air attack, in my view, is not on. I do not believe that people have really considered the position as it now exists.
Then there is the matter of battle training. I am worried about the cutting down of expenditure on ammunition, oil, petrol, and so on. I am convinced that it is better to have half the forces sufficiently trained, than to have the full number of forces going into battle unable to operate the equipment that they are supposed to be operating. People are not being trained to the required level.
The other matter is morale. Our forces are in a high state of morale, and I pay credit to that. However, we cannot keep chopping and changing. We have gone through the stage of getting rid of all the reserve forces, and then we have started to bring them back again. We are getting rid of part of the navy. How long can people be expected to believe that there is any future in serving in the Armed Forces when we are chopping and changing from one year to another? It is important to take that aspect into account.
In conclusion, I wish to say one thing, particularly to my colleagues and ex-colleagues on the Labour Benches who talk about unilateral nuclear disarmament. It is easy to say that if a nuclear war starts so many millions of people will be killed. People talk about the last war as though it was something that we fought with kid gloves not counting the 40 million people who were killed. Instead of looking into a crystal ball to see what may happen if a nuclear war were to start, would it not be better to look at the realities of what has happened since 1945?
Is it not a matter of pride that there is not a man in this country under the age of 53 who could ever have been called up to fight in a war in Europe? Two generations have gone free of war. Yet all we hear from many people in the House is speculation about what might happen. There is no doubt at all that, had we not had nuclear weapons from 1945 onwards, on at least two occasions there could have been another European war. The people who talk about getting rid of nuclear weapons are the very people who will bring on a war that no one wants. Those nuclear weapons are not there to win a war, because no one will win a nuclear war, hut to stop a nuclear war. We sit here now wondering whether Russian forces are going into Poland, but would we be thinking about that if the Poles had one nuclear submarine at sea that was capable of devastating 64 Russian cities. Of course we would not worry about whether the Russians were going into Poland, because we all know that they would not do so If there is to be any safety for Europe, we must match the best that the Eastern States can do.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), not least because he and I shared service together in the Parachute Regiment many years ago. I wish that the words that he has spoken tonight could be echoed up and down the country on many occasions as coming from someone who puts his country above the party, whatever the party.
Most speakers in this debate have opened their remarks by paying tribute to the members of the Armed Services who have served or are serving in Northern Ireland. Those 635 of us who have encountered terrorist and similar activities in other parts of the world sometimes forget that in general terms our contact was, for example, three years in the Canal Zone, or four years in Cyprus. Now for more than a decade our troops have been in Northern Ireland. Their fortitude is quite remarkable.
My parent regiment, the Royal Fusiliers—now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers—my county regiment of the Devon and Dorsets and, above all, my regiment by adoption, the Parachute Regiment, have all served many tours in Northern Ireland and have performed gallantly there. However, if we pay tribute to their fortitude, we should also pay tribute to the fortitude of the families of the men who serve in Northern Ireland, because they are subject to great strain. I happily pay that tribute tonight.
The main burden of my speech is directed towards the Territorial Army. First, however, I want to raise one matter with the Minister of State. In his opening remarks, he talked—and rightly so—about the role of the Lynx in an airborne anti-tank role. He said that he had been in his present office for only a few weeks. He also said that he was really finding his feet and that there were areas that he still needed to explore. Perhaps I might pursue the point of the Lynx and the helicopter anti-tank role by asking him whether he has yet had an opportunity to discuss with his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, who knows all about this subject, what the German forces are doing in terms of helicopter-borne anti-tank groups.
In discussions that I have had with the Germans over the past four or five years I have found a tremendous drive and energy towards getting more battalions into the air in helicopters in a specialist role as anti-tank fighting teams. This matter is worth exploring. Perhaps over the next few weeks we may be given more information about any plans that there are in that regard. I am sure that it will come as no surprise to Ministers if I say that, if troops are to be put into such a role, they should be highly skilled and of exceptional quality. That obviously points towards a battalion of the Parachute Regiment, for starters.
I move on to the Territorial Army. One of the most refreshing and welcome aspects of the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was his remarks about the TA, the increase in its strength and a return to the 42 days of training a year. Surely the 42 days are an absolute minimum. We shall be returning merely to the position that we enjoyed in 1979. If we are to produce a territorial force that is worthy of a front line support role, we should be thinking of going beyond 42 days.
I was rather disturbed when my hon. Friend the Minister of State said that by the end of the decade we shall have increased the strength of the TA by 16,000. That was not my hope and expectation. I know that what I am about to say will be echoed by all those who serve in the TA. If it were under orders tomorrow, it could within two years at the outside absorb that additional number of men with good effect. I hope that I shall be reassured that it is not the Government's intention to spend the next five years achieving the increase by dribbling in the men. If that is their intention, we shall be wasting a great opportunity.
Last Tuesday's debate was one of the remarkable debates, and I wish the radio had been able to broadcast it in full. Broad views were expressed from both sides of 636 the House. We missed a great opportunity by not broadcasting the debate over the radio. There were two outstanding speeches, one from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the other from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Both dwelt strongly on the future role of our TA forces, the need for equipment and the fact that we have put ourselves very much out of balance in terms of the size of the Regular Army and that of our reserve forces in the TA. I agree with all that they said and all that everyone else has said in this debate about the need to increase the size of our TA forces and to improve their equipment.
How do we go about increasing the size of the TA and improving its efficiency? I return to the additional 16,000 men. The Minister of State has said that consideration is being given to how the 16,000 will be used and where they will come from. Is it to be a blanket operation across the entire spectrum of the TA, or is it to be a selective operation that will perhaps involve the formation of new units, as has already been said by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), involving a positive commitment to increasing efficiency and bringing forward the starting point at which the reserve forces could be of use in a front line reinforcement role?
I hope that the Government are taking the latter approach. We do not require a piecemeal operation. We must seek to increase the strength of the first-line reinforcement battalions and perhaps create new battalions. I hope that that is the line that the Government are taking.
In that context I draw the attention of the Minister to our three existing TA parachute battalions. Even those who would not declare an interest, as I happily do, in those battalions must admit that they form the most immediate and potent reserve that is available for Germany and for no less important tasks that might arise in future outside the NATO area.
Having mentioned the three battalions, I move on to develop two positive arguments about the reinforcement role and why we should concentrate much more on the creation of new units. My first argument relates to the need for a parachute TA brigade headquarters. One of the most disgraceful moves taken in respect of our reserve forces was the disbandment of headquarters 44 para brigade in 1978. It was vital that this brigade headquarters should have continued. It was the only formation within the TA that could have a formation role. If we are assembling a list of priorities, high on the list for the reinforcement of the TA should be the re-formation of that headquarters. Alongside that re-formation should be the bringing together of the arms and services that lost their parachuting identity as a result of the disbandment of the brigade in 1978.
Moving away from the TA, I put in a strong plea for the Government to recognise the need for a regular para brigade headquarters to be re-formed as well. I do not know the inner workings of the field forces, but sometimes they cause me to be worried. The sixth field force embodies all the regular parachute units. There are now no fewer than 52 or 53 units under the command of the sixth field force. It seems incredible that our spearhead force should be wrapped up within the sixth field force. There must be a strong case for a regular brigade headquarters to be re-established as well.
There are other ways in which we might usefully employ some of the additional 16,000 volunteers. I ask the 637 Secretary of State and Ministers to consider the raising of another Territorial Army parachute battalion. At present we have three such battalions. One is based in London, one in Glasgow and the third—I cannot think why this should be so—in Pudsey. There was a time—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) will remember this well—when we had other battalions throughout the country. There were battalions in Cardiff, Liverpool, Birmingham and Southampton. It would be the easiest thing in the world to re-form one of those parachute battalions in any of those major cities.
I find myself in a dilemma. The hon. Member for Wallsend spoke of the need to have a Royal Regiment of Fusiliers TA battalion, a second battalion, in his area. I was commissioned into the Royal Fusiliers and I must support the hon. Gentleman's view. However, failing a second Royal Regiment of Fusiliers battalion in his area, it might be a good idea if he pressed for a parachute battalion to be established in the area, or perhaps the two battalions together. That would make a great deal of sense.
If we are looking for quality and if we do not have a massive amount of money to spend, the obvious approach is to raise parachute battalions, which give the best possible value for money. I know that others will say immediately "All this will call for additional aircraft. From where are we to get the aircraft to provide parachute training?" It has been done before and it can be done again. At one stage, in the 1950s, the 16th TA Airborne Division was short of aircraft for parachuting. Every weekend United States aircraft, as the hon. Member for Toxteth knows, flew into the United Kingdom to enable a parachuting exercise to take place. They used to enjoy themselves before returning to Germany to their main bases. I am certain that there could be reciprocal arrangements made, not only with American aircraft, but with German aircraft.
I make no apology for laying so much stress on the parachute side. If we are to increase the size of our territorial forces, we must go for quality. I served as a regular officer in a Territorial Army formation in the mid-1950s. I remember well the incredible difference between the Territorial Army units which were of high quality and the others which were dragging along behind. The latter, units in name only, would have had little value and would have needed six or nine months before ever being considered worthy of use in the field in any shape or form. We must go for quality.
It is about four years since I had the great privilege of organising a one-day visit for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition. She spent the day with 44 Parachute Brigade and flew with it on a parachuting sortie. I remember how much she enjoyed that occasion and how, at the end of the day, with all the men of 44 Parachute Brigade gathered around, my right hon. Friend said that there was, and there always would be, a need for young people to come forward to serve their country.
My right hon. Friend went further than that and said that it must be wrong that at that time, when every weekend we were experiencing fighting on the football terraces, all the energy which was dissipated and wasted on such things could not be used to better effect, if those young men and women would answer a call to service by their country. If there ever was a time when they were needed, that time is now.
638 This is a time for a renewed call to service. I am certain that if that call were made, the response from our young people would be overwhelming today, as it always has been in the past.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I seem to be among a large number of territorials at present. Everyone is speaking about the Territorial Army, and I am pleased that that is so. Before I speak briefly about it I should like to congratulate my colleague in the Western European Union the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), on his speech.
I believe that we could recruit not just a second battalion in the North-East. We could double the TA if that was required. I remember the last camp which I went to before the war. That was when we were doubling the TA. It took a long time to bring about some form of coordination in the splitting of one batallion, the recruiting of many extra men and the making of two good batallions out of one. If we started that now, we could have a good force. I should support any increase.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) on his excellent speech. It reminded me of another of his speeches. That was a brave speech against his then party. He was the only person to speak out against the disbandment of the TA. His speech today was excellent, and it is one that we should all read and note.
I was glad to read in paragraph 15 of the White Paper about the increase in numbers of the TA and in training days, which I still do not believe is enough. The number should be pushed up to 50 because so many cannot attend the 42 days. If we pushed the number up to 50, everyone would probably be able to do 42 days.
The Crusader exercise carried out in conjunction with NATO was a tremendous success and showed what the TA can do. How long will it take for the numbers to be increased from 70,000 to 86,000? That must not be spread over a long period and dribbled in. We want extra units and those should be formed immediately.
I urge the Minister to see that the TA has enough petrol, ammunition and weapons to make its training won h while. The last time I went to see the TA unit in my constituency—the Royal Norfolks—I found that its exercise had just been cancelled. That was to be on the Stanford battle area, and it was cancelled because of the lack of petrol. The exercise had to take place in the drill hall. That was not a bad thing because it was pouring with rain. However, all the participants were sore that they had been cut down on petrol so that they could not do the training which they knew they had to do—practical field training, which meant so much to them.
People should realise that the TA is dead keen to do a worth while job. It is not so much the money, which is even better today in real terms than it was in my day. The TA wants above all the chance to be properly equipped and properly trained. I do not want a regular unit or a TA unit treated in the same way as my company was in front of the Maginot line in the period just two days before the blitz when all our weapons were taken away. The new weapons were going to be given to us two days after the blitz. As it was, we went to war armed only with rifles. That is no way to treat excellent men in a desperate situation, as it was then.
639 I turn to one other matter which is of interest to me in my constituency.
The vast majority of the Stanford battle area, which is the major training area for our troops, is in my constituency. Every unit destined to serve in Northern Ireland goes there for its basic final training in street warfare and in everything which the troops need to avoid casualties when they get to the Province. On part of that Stanford battle area training ground was to have been a new camp at Bodney. There is an old camp there with hutments which originate from the last war. It has been done up at various times, but it was to have been replaced. Announcements have been made that that camp was to have been rebuilt at a cost of several million pounds with tenders going out this autumn.
I read in my local paper, although I was not officially notified, that Eastern Command had said that the camp was not now to be proceeded with. I should like to know whether that means cancellation or postponement. If my hon. Friend cannot answer me today, no doubt he will write to me.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed forces and I had the pleasure of watching the Queen's Regiment and its massed bands beat the retreat on Horseguards a few weeks ago. He told me that he had never seen such discipline, even among the Brigade of Guards. It was a magnificent occasion. I join others who have expressed the wish to see more of our regimental bands. We are going through an extremely drab period. We would all like more colour, life and music in our lives, and I believe that the Army bands could provide it.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I am delighted to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No criticism of the Chair is intended, but unfortunately I caught your eye two days too late. However, I shall resist the temptation to make two speeches—the one that I would like to have made on Tuesday and the one that I intend to make tonight. If I did so, I would succumb to the same temptation that prevented many hon. Members from being called on Tuesday.
The Minister of State referred to his colleague the Under-Secretary as the longstop in the debate. In a way, this debate is the longstop of Tuesday's debate for those hon. Members who are not ex-Prime Ministers, Privy Councillors or spokesmen for major or minor parties. The conventions applied to that group mean that the ordinary Back Bencher interested in defence has no chance whatever of participating in one of the major defence debates. I personally believe that we should eliminate the automatic right of Privy Councillors to speak at any time they desire, to the detriment of the rest of us.
I should like to chastise the Minister of State for his patronising and sarcastic opening remarks which were absolutely uncalled for, particularly after his own speech on Tuesday. The hon. Gentleman's speech, like those of Ministers in the past, created an air of unreality for his hearers. One hears about the endless number of weapons systems that are being developed, most of which were conceived before the Government came into office, and as a result, one thinks, "Well, perhaps things are not as bad as we are told."
640 However, in the cold light of reality one realises that, despite the soft words, British defence is facing a serious situation. One may temporarily be beguiled into not believing how poor our air defences are or how weak BAOR or the RAF in Germany is. For a few minutes of ministerial verbal magic, one may forget the fact that much of our Navy is to be mothballed or sunk. Ministerial speeches seek to convey an expression of confidence so that those who want to believe will believe. However, as most of us know, the reality is quite different.
On Tuesday, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said:In the past 40 years one thing has remained constant among all the decisions that have been taken and all the views that have been expressed—namely, that when the Labour Party is in Opposition it expresses the view that we should become a non-nuclear power, yet, when in Government, it has the ability to maintain Britain as a nuclear power. That is the one consistent factor in history."—[Official Report, 7 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 295.]But the right hon. Gentleman forgot to refer to the other element of constancy in British politics—the dichotomy within the Conservative Party. He forgot to tell about the rhetoric of Opposition and the belief conveyed to party members outside that when the Conservative Party gets into office it is blank cheque time for the Services. He forgot about the dichotomy between the rhetoric, the excitement and the John Wayne approach to defence and the reality of decision making, which is what we are now seeking.
Many Labour Members who are interested in defence have been talking about that for some time. I am certain that many Conservative Members realise that this is now crunch time, and that we cannot have an expensive Trident system and a conventional defence. I am sure they realise that the price for a Trident system is a weak conventional posture within the United Kingdom defence forces. That is inevitable. Those hon. Members who try to postpone the inevitable will find in the not too distant future, when there may well be another White Paper or defence review, that the inexorable decline in Britain's economy, with the obvious repercussions for defence, will be manifest to all.
Another element of constancy in British defence policy in the last 25 years has been the wrestling—which has mostly failed—to reconcile goals and aspirations with resources. They were coming into line. The Secretary of State pretends that by his far-sightedness and skill at management and administration, aims, aspirations and resources will now be congruent. They will not, because the inviolate element in the Government's defence budget—Trident—will distort the remainder of the budget. After a few years of reality, will be the misalignment of goals and resources will become even more obvious.
As one of the joint authors of the minority report to the Defence Committee's strategic nuclear weapons report, I wish to say how Trident will have the repercussions I fear on the remainder of the defence budget. The irony is that almost the day after our report was submitted to the Committee, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) was sacked as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. In many ways, what we foretold came true much sooner than any of us expected.
I compliment the Ministry of Defence on its impeccable sense of timing by publishing its White Paper in time to snooker the report of the Select Committee. However, it cannot succeed permanently in doing so. But with cunning 641 and skill such as that, I wonder why we make such a mess of defence. The publication of the Ministry's White Paper hid even the majority report which contains a lot of sobering thoughts for Conservatives. Of course, the minority report is, I believe, a more significant and realistic analysis of the inevitable consequences of replacing Polaris with Trident.
§ Mr. George
As one of the joint authors, I accept that compliment.
The Minister of State displayed a sophisticated knowledge of acronyms. If a knowledge of acronyms equals an expertise in defence, that would make some Conservative Members experts. However, I suspect that a knowledge of defence goes much wider than reeling off a few acronyms to the delight of people who know even less than we do.
The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) spoke about the nature of decision making. He was right. Defence decision making is the monopoly of a handful of people. Parliament is an innocent bystander. When the Secretary of State said on Tuesday that we had had plenty of debates on Trident, he failed to point out that those debates ought to have preceded the decision so that the experience, knowledge and views of the House could have been of some assistance in the final decision making. The Government should not have made the decision and then pretended to consult the House. It was obvious that they were not prepared to share policy making with anyone outside the narrow circle who took the decision.
As I have said on a number of occasions, that approach reminds me of Frederick the Great, who said "My people and I have a wonderful arrangement. I let them say exactly what they like and they let me do exactly what I like." Talk is important, but a bridge should be built between talking in Parliament and the making of decisions.
The majority Conservative report, which in many ways condemns the Goverment's policies, said:we must record that it has been a matter of regret to us that we have found the Ministry unwilling to discuss in any detail the opportunity costs of purchasing the Trident system.The minority report was much stronger. It said:The Committee feels, however, that the Ministry's refusal to furnish adequate information relating to the likely consequences for the remainder of the budget should it proceed with Trident is to be deeply regretted. This failure has inevitably cast into doubt the whole basis of the Ministry's case for the acquisition of Trident.Only now are some of the inevitable consequences of Trident being made known. As time goes on and project after project is cancelled or limited and specifications are changed, hon. Members who voted for Trident will have to face their constituents who may work in defence industries and explain why the party of defence is helping to emasculate British defences.
I oppose the Polaris replacement on a variety of grounds. The terms of reference of our Committee excluded an investigation of the moral, ethical, religious or philosophical justifications for nuclear weapons and any examination of need for a missile system. The bulk of our investigation concerned opportunity costs.
I am not arguing on moral or philosophical grounds. I oppose the Polaris replacement because it will encourage further vertical proliferation. We possess now about 3 per cent. of NATO's warheads and we do not have the 642 capacity to attack Russian missile silos. With Trident, especially if we go to Trident II, we shall have a range which we do not require and a capacity to attack Russian silos that we do not desire. Our percentage of NATO missiles will increase from 3 per cent. to 7 per cent.—not merely a quantitative, but a qualitative change in our arsenal. That is undesirable.
The minority report opposes Trident largely on the ground of opportunity costs. Does anyone seriously argue that the cost will be only £5 billion? If it emerges as £5 billion the project will be almost unique in procurement history. It has been argued that Polaris was on target, hut the records of the Public Accounts Committee show few examples of major weapons programmes coming anywhere near the initial estimate, either because of malice on the part of the Ministry in deliberately underestimating the cost or a failure to estimate properly.
There will, to use the American jargon, be cost and time overruns. One of the more bizarre aspects of the proposed procurement is the uncertainty of the deterrent's final form. The minority report pointed out that there is no certainty whether we will have four or five missile submarines. I have come across quite a few members of the "We want eight and we won't wait" brigade.
There is no certainty about the power plant to be used on board the new submarines. The cost of refurbishing the shipyards is wildly unrealistic, and we certainly do not know where the SSNs will be built. The Ministry has masked that problem if it goes ahead with the Trident SSBN programme. We do not know the cost of updating the support facilities at Coulport, Faslane and Rosyth. We do not know the diameter of the submarines or the size of the missiles. Will they go for the C4 missile or will the Government be bounced into purchasing the larger D5 missile in order to retain commonality with the United States?
If we go along that route we shall be purchasing a submarine which is far larger than we want and a missile system which is in excess of what we need. The cost will be not £5 billion, but £7 billion or £8 billion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. I well understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration at not being called in Tuesday's debate, but I hope that he will not speak about the Navy for too long. This is a debate about the Army.
§ Mr. George
I accept your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was attempting to outline the consequences for the Armed Forces of going ahead with Trident. It wall be much more expensive than the Government have admitted, but my main reason for opposing it is the opportunity costs. The expense of Trident will undoubtedly, despite the Government's assurances, divert resources away from our conventional weaponry.
It is important that we maintain a proper contribution within NATO. The right hon. Member for Sidcup on Tuesday, and many speakers in this debate, have extolled the virtues of the Territorial Army. I have eulogised the TA on a number of occasions, but we must bear in mind the fact that the political and military warning times that NATO may expect could be different from what we expected five years ago.
Surprise is consistent with Soviet military doctrine. As an American analyst wrote recently:The classical indicators of attack will soon be permanently present, with or without crisis conditions. What many people are 643 now arguing is that NATO's deterrent posture in the early seventies was based on a substantial warning time and most analysts predicted that the Warsaw Pact would need to mobilise before a large attack and we could respond accordingly.It is clear that if, God forbid, the Soviet Union wishes to attack—I am not saying that this will happen—but its capability in weaponry and the speed that the Russians have shown in Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia will mean that the warning time on which we have hitherto worked could be telescoped considerably.
My worry is that if we alter the balance between our forces in Germany and our reserves and reinforcements a swift attack might result in our reserves and reinforcements waiting for Townsend Thoresen ferries in Folkestone. Their role will be superflous because the battle will have been fought and lost. Therefore, even though I support the idea of the TA, we must have a proper balance between our forces in the front line and our forces in reserve.
The British Army of the Rhine has the lowest density of fire power of all the European allies. The Government say that BAOR has not been weakened, but they are starting from the wrong position. We start from the position of a weak BAOR and RAF Germany, and nothing in the White Paper convinces me that our forces in Germany have been anything but weakened.
We occupy the north German plain, flat land which is conducive to tank attack. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) said, our tank inventory is grossly inadequate. We shall have a long wait for the replacement of the Chieftain tank and when it comes we shall have only half the numbers that are required. I am delighted that Chieftain tank crews will have the power to see at night, but if the armour is so weak that they can be easily knocked out, that will hardly be a major step forward.
In quality terms, we need in BAOR the present force and more quality equipment. It needs more modern equipment, a greater density of fire power, a new main battle tank and an improved air support system. It also needs a greater tactical flexibility.
I do not support the view of the American who said 70 years ago "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly". That appears to be the Government's attitude to defence. They seem to say that if we need a defence we can have a defence of sorts. The ultimate criterion for effective defence is not what might look good in a White Paper or in the Inernational Institute for Strategic Studies' annual report, but the effectiveness on the day, or days—should that catastrophe ever befall us.
I fear a weakening of BAOR at this time and a weakening of the Royal Air Force—I shall not discuss that, for, if I do, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will intervene again—in Germany. Unless adequate resources are put in, our defences will suffer. We have heard a great deal about privatisation. We have bought ageing DC 10s from East African Airlines. We shall have to commandeer British Airways, British Caledonian and European Ferries to get our troops to Germany or Norway. Perhaps the Government will consider further privatisation to see whether cruise missiles could be fired from Securicor vehicles. Factories might contemplate purchasing a tank, 644 or schools, enough ammunition to sustain a week of conflict. That is the way that the Government seem to be drifting.
In conclusion, I am sad that the Army is not being strengthened. I believe, as many if not all believe, that our important contribution to NATO should be our conventional contribution. It is important that our role in NATO should remain an irreducible commitment. I believe in alliances withering away, but withering equally swiftly or equally slowly. As others have said, any trend towards unilateralism or neutralism could lead to destabilisation. I hope that unilateralists and pacifists do not assume that anyone who believes in defence is automatically a hawk or a warmonger. There is no monopoly of conscience in any one group on party. We are merely proceeding to our goal of disarmament in a different way.
The Government, unfortunately, are damaging NATO by concentrating on nuclear weapons. We shall be back in the Sandys era of concentration on nuclear weapons to the detriment of conventional forces. I believe that such a Gaullist attitude is inimical to collective security. I believe that our allies will certainly recognise that. I hope that the realities of the situation will soon prevail and that we shall make the contribution to NATO that we are best fitted to make—which is, a conventional contribution.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
The House knows of the interest of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) not only in general matters military but especially in the Territorial Army. Indeed, he has accompanied me on at least one visit to the forces. I therefore take particular note of what he said about the reserves and shall turn to that in a moment.
It is a feature of every Army debate that hon. Members on both sides mention the Territorial Army more than any other aspect of the Army. I believe that that shows the importance with which the Territorial Army is regarded throughout the House. I believe, too, that it is an accurate reflection of the attitude of the public at large.
I wish to deal first with the BAOR commitment and the force levels there. Paragraph 17 of "The Way Forward" contains the proposal, which is now common knowledge, to reorganise the main regular structure of First British Corps from the present four armoured divisions, each of two brigades, to three armoured divisions, each of three brigades. At first sight that might seem to be a reduction in forces, but one must look carefully at the Brussels treaty.
Article 1 of the 1954 protocol to the 1948 treaty that the United Kingdom commitment of forces should not exceed in total strengthfour divisions and the Second Tactical Air Force".Article 6, however, contains a further commitment to maintain the level of forces which obtained at that time, which is stated to befour divisions and the Second Tactical Air Force, or"—and this is the important part—such other forces as the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, regards as having equivalent fighting capacity.I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been in consultation and has assured SACEUR that the reorganisation, with the removal of one divisional headquarters, will not in any way reduce the overall level of commitment and thus breach the treaty obligation.
645 I wish, however, to concentrate on the last part of article 6, which states:If the maintenance of the United Kingdom forces on the mainland of Europe throws at any time too great a strain on the external finances of the United Kingdom, she will through Her Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, invite the North Atlantic Council to review the financial conditions on which the United Kingdom formations are maintained.It is therefore possible that with those consultations we could reduce the level of forces in the BAOR. I do not say that we should. I do not think that that would be advisable or in the best interests of the maintenance of peace in the Western world.
My right hon. Friend's statement is clearly designed to redeploy and to save money, because we all know the constraint that has been placed on the defence commitment—the escalating cost of equipment and personnel, a cost that will outstrip the 3 per cent. per annum to which we are committed up to 1986. that means, almost inevitably, that what we are seeing this year will not be an isolated event. There will be other times when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to come back to the House and say that the escalation of equipment and personnel costs is continuing unabated against the 3 per cent. real increase in defence expenditure allowed for, and therefore further savings will have to be made. How shall we best be able to do that while maintaining our commitment to the British Army of the Rhine?
There is nothing in the Brussels treaty and its protocol that lays down the constitution of the forces there. There is nothing that says that a certain level of forces must be Regular Forces or that so many must be reserves. It would be within the realms of contemplation, although I suspect impractical, to have all four divisions as Territorial divisions, perhaps with a recycling process. The administrative burdens would be intolerable, but that is possible under the terms of the treaty.
There is to be an increase of 16,000 in the Territorial Army. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us about the time scale over which it is expected that extra recruitment will take place. The cost-effectiveness of the TA is not in doubt. We have heard that from many hon. Members, and we shall hear it again. Because it is a cost-effective way of providing services, it is inevitable that any Government will seek to find additional ways in which to bring in more Territorial Army men, though perhaps not as a substitute for Regular Forces. However, that may happen in the future.
That leads me to the aspects of the Territorial Army that I think are most important. The first is that of training. Even if we do not continue to escalate the commitments of the Territorial Army to BAOR, there is a need for greater training for the TA in the BAOR. I welcome the increase in man training days. My hon. Friend will know that there was consideable pressure from some hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, for that increase when there was a temporary reduction. For independent units, hitherto there were 44 man training days, and even though the number of days has now been increased to 42, it is not up to its previous level. It is important that more Territorial units should spend more time in training in the theatre in which they would be expected to act in time of war.
Another aspect is that of equipment. In paragraph 18 of "The Way Forward" there is a sentence that will send 646 a cold shiver down the spine of anyone who is interested in defence and in ensuring that our defence forces are adequately maintained logistically. It reads:The scale or timing of some of the new equipment projects will need to be modified, partly to restrain total cost but also to provide room, in accordance with paragraph 5 above, for further enhancement of war stocks and ammunition to improve the combat endurance of 1(BR) Corps;We welcome that further enhancement of war stocks and ammunition, but should it be provided at the expense of re-equipment, not only of the Regular Army but of the Territorial Army, on which I am concentrating'? Does it mean that there will be some delay for the Regular Army, but an even bigger delay—perhaps interminable—for the Territorial Army? That worries us all, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address himself to the matter.
Only 17 per cent. of the Territorial Army's total cost goes on equipment, compared with 41 per cent. for equipment in the whole defence budget. Therefore, no one can pretend that the Territorial Army is being profligate in its spending on equipment.
It was a privilege to hear the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), who is held in great esteem on both sides of the House, not only because of his former incarnation as Deputy Speaker, but because of his distinguished record in the Services and because of the authority with which he speaks on defence matters. The hon. Gentleman mentioned mobilisation, which undoubtedly will be greatly facilitated by the new individual reinforcement plan. We all welcome it, because the way in which the reserves have been expected to report to centres often far from their home base has been somewhat bizarre.
Mobilisation must be carried out in a way that is good for morale. The men must know that they will be effective in time of war. Moreover, it must be effective as a deterrent to any potential aggressor. Therefore, it must be practised regularly to show the potential aggressor that it works and to enhance the morale of those taking part That is why I hope that Exercise Crusader will not be an isolated event, and that there will be further mobilisation practices to make sure that we keep in trim.
How often do we think about what would happen if there were a war and suddenly the breadwinners in many families went off to join the Army, not knowing how long they would be away? How often do we tell the wives and families of Territorial soldiers about what might become reality? We must examine the matter, because I suspect that the wife and family of the average Territorial soldier do not think about that.
There are lessons about mobilisation to be learnt from Exercise Crusader. My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) mentioned some. I was a participant in the exercise, as well as an observer. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that the concept of long convoys will not work in time of war. Another lesson of the exercise concerned the fitness of the Territorial Army. My hon. Friend was worried about the training of the reserves—not the Territorial Army, but those who had been in the Regular Army and now constitute the reserve and who would go to BAOR as top-ups, right down to the basic unit section level, in time of war.
I spoke to a number of unit commanders who could not recall the time when they had ever seen those reservists 647 who were to come to them in time of war. There needs to be more training of the reserves, not simply of the Territorial Army.
§ Mr. Best
My hon. Friend has a point in so far as there is scope for increasing training for the Territorial Army and the reserves. Whether that is done in a quantitative or a qualitative way is a matter for debate. Training certainly needs to be enhanced in some way, and it may well be that the training given should be of longer duration. Civilians, however, cannot be taken away from their places of work for too long.
I should like to look a little beyond the BAOR and the Territorial Army to something that has been mentioned in the "The Way Forward". I refer to a world-wide, or broader, commitment. Paragraph 32 says that eventsmake it increasingly necessary for NATO members to look to Western security concerns over a wider field than before, and not to assume that these concerns can be limited by the boundaries of the Treaty area.Further on there is the following tantalising and most interesting sentence:Measures to increase the airlift capability of our Hercules force by fuselage-lengthening are already far advanced, and we have decided to incease its flexibility by fitting station-keeping radar equipment which will enable the aircraft to carry out the co-ordinated drop of a parachute assault force, even in poor weather".Shortly before that it states:We will implement plans for a modest extra stockpile of basic Army equipment".That equipment is for use outside the normal area. What does that mean? Does it mean—as the sentence implies—that we are returning to a world-wide parachute role? If so, we cannot do that with only two parachute battalions. That is inadequate. Does that mean that the forces' parachute capabilities will be enhanced? Is that something that could be undertaken by the Territorial Army?
I was interested to note the answer to a parliamentary question on 10 July 1980. My hon. Friend the Minister's predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), said:The restoration of a limited assault parachute capability is one of number of possible enhancements, attainable at modest cost, to the ability of existing United Kingdom forces to operate world-wide which is currently under consideration."—[Official Report, 10 July 1980; Vol. 988, c. 299.]Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the House on whether that consideration has borne fruit. We must have flexibility. Indeed, many hon. Members have mentioned that. We must be flexible not only by being able to take troops away from their BAOR commitments for use elsewhere, but by getting them abroad. Pehaps that means that more Territorial Army equipment must be pre-positioned in Germany, so that our sole difficulty is moving personnel. After all, there may be only a short period of tension in which to do that. Perhaps we should be thinking in terms of an uncommitted reserve, rather than one committed to specific tasks.
I am one of those who believe that any future conflict will not take place in Europe. There are many flashpoints 648 in the world particularly in the Middle East and Iran. We have trading links with those areas, and therefore they are of critical importance to us. A flashpoint somewhere else in the world is hardly likely to lead to a conflagaration that involves the United Kingdom. We do not have the same trading links with Afghanistan as we have with Iran. However, what would happen if we discovered that the Soviet Unions' troops had moved into Iran from the Afghan borders? What would happen if they threatened our imports from Iran? Would we look upon that with the same degree of equanimity as we have been forced to look upon the invasion of Afghanistan? I suspect not.
Regrettably, after several thousand years, the basic human desire for polemics has not suddenly changed in 1981. Therefore, war is a real prospect. Are we to look to a short war, or to one of long duration? We go into the realms of hypothesis, but suffice it to say that if one looks through the history books at previous wars, certainly those within living memory, one sees that they have all been wars which people thought would be of short duration, but which went on for much longer. That is why we should not throw all our eggs into the nuclear deterrent basket. We should ensure that we have adequate conventional forces.
I know that now is not the time to articulate views on the nuclear deterrent, but it follows from the argument. There is a need to keep the nuclear deterrent in the current capability. That must mean enhancement as the existing nuclear deterrent wears out. However, those who say that we should not have a nuclear deterrent cannot prove that it has not been the nuclear deterrent that has been responsible for peace in Europe in the past 30 to 40 years. If they say that we should not have a nuclear deterrent, and if they cannot prove that that is not means whereby we have secured peace in this troubled part of the world in the past 35 or 40 years, it is incumbent upon them to produce something better to put in its place.
I respect the motives of those who, out of philanthropy, feel that there should be unilateral disarmament, but is it realistic? How many people know that a few years ago Canada took the path of unilateral nuclear disarmament? The basis of the unilateralist argument is that if one country does it others will follow. What other nations followed suit? Were there headlines the next day—"Soviet Union recognises philanthropic stance of Canada" and followed suit by dispossessing itself of nuclear weapons? Of course not. We know only too well that if this country were unilaterally to disarm no other country would follow—certainly not the Soviet Union, the potential aggressor.
What worries me about nuclear arms is proliferation, especially among the smaller countries that now have the potential to obtain nuclear weapons. One thinks immediately of Libya. If those smaller countries gain access to a nuclear armoury, what good then will the SALT talks be between the two Super Powers if a nuclear holocaust can be precipitated by a smaller nation? Inevitably, and logically, that must lead us to the only conclusion that is viable—that is, the need for multilateral disarmament before it is too late. It will be too late once too many of the small countries, which lack our political stability or that of the USSR, have the potential to wage nuclear war.
It is necessary that our nation knows that the House stands for multilateral disarmament. There should be greater articulation of what is happening in Geneva. We all know that it is a slow and painstaking process and that 649 sometimes little result is seen for long days and hours of talks. However, the ground is being won in Geneva for multilateral disarmament in a number of spheres. It is time that more was said about that. Unless we tell the people of this nation what is being done to disarm multilaterally and secure the future peace of the world, we cannot blame them for joining the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and for thinking that we in the House are more concerned with rearmament than with disarmament. That is why it is essential to keep public confidence, and by doing so we shall also retain the respect of any potential aggressor.
It is a delicate balance. We must get it right. If we fail to do so, it is my generation that will pay the penalty.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) and others. The effect of the shortage of money on the Territorial Army, on bands and on the supply of petrol was mentioned. The hon. Gentleman paid a tremendous tribute to the TA, which I endorse. Apart from contributing to our defence, the TA makes a social contribution through those who serve in it. I had the privilege of attending a small TA function in my constituency last week. Members of the TA are bucked up by the tremendous job that they do. However, the TA is worried about where the money will come from to enable it to do the job that it would like to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) soliloquised about our great bands. We all endorse his remarks, but the future of these bands may be at stake through lack of funds. I hesitate to talk about the Royal Marines band, as I believe that the Royal Marines come under the Navy Vote. It is often said that the Marines are half soldiers and half sailors, but as an ex-Royal Marine I refute that; they are both, so it is right for me to point out that they, too, have suffered through the shortage of money.
In considering what is happening in the Armed Forces, we come down to the Government's basic philosophy. The difficulty is whether we can afford Trident, a consideration that overshadows all our debates on the Armed Forces. I do not believe in unilateral disarmament. I believe that we should be part of an Alliance which, unfortunately, because the nuclear deterrent exists is based on that deterrent.
I am old enough to remember the last war. I vividly remember in the last 12 months of my service heading towards the Far East to take part in the Japanese war. That war ended before I arrived. The reason arose because of a terrible decision that had to be made by our Prime Minister and politicians and the leader of the American nation. It was decided to drop a horrible weapon, and two cities experienced the terror of the effects of an atomic weapon. It stopped the war, however, at a time when thousands were being butchered in the jungles of Burma and elsewhere.
As has been said several times, we have had the longest period of peace between major nations, and I believe that that is because of the existence of the nuclear deterrent. It may be called a balance of terror. It may be argued that the weapon is wrong. However, the inescapable fact is that the only countries going through the terrors of war are those that do not have it. They are fighting with conventional forces, and people are being butchered. That is why it is wrong to chase the illusion of an independnt 650 nuclear deterrent such as Trident to the detriment of conventional forces. We must be part of a system that can provide those forces.
We hope that all our missile systems and weapons and our entire Armed Forces will eventually become obsolete. At least if obsolescence is created by people serving in the Armed Forces a social good results. I do not believe that a kid is harmed by spending time in the forces. It did me no harm, and I know of no other person who feels that it harmed him.
I do not say that we should have National Service, or anything like it. The disciplines of community life away from the apron strings of parents do no harm.
The Government are committed to the expensive Trident missile. That is detrimental to the country and to training that could take place in the Armed Forces.
During the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) I was reminded of something said to me at school. My hon. Friend said that the Government were committing themselves to £5 billion for the missile. I wonder whether the House or the nation understands what £5 billion is. It is worth using a calculation explained to me by a teacher when I was at school. If I had been born at the same time as Jesus Christ, and I had put £5,000 a day into the bank, and every year was a leap year, I would still not have enough money to pay for this toy. That is the size of the problem. That is what we are spending on something that we hope will become obsolete.
We are being asked by the Government and the planners in the Armed Forces to put all our eggs into one basket. At the same time we are sacrificing a major traditional role of the Army. Navy and Air Force. I find it difficult to accept the social effect that that will have on the youngsters who serve in our Forces.
If it is not too late—and I think that it probably is—for the Government to think again, let them think in terms of getting together with our NATO Allies and asking whether it is really that important to have this toy. I say "toy" but we are talking about something which is more important than a toy. Do we have to have it to prove that we are big lads? We are talking of a £5 billion or £6 billion nuclear weapon. Cannot we be part of the NATO Alliance, part of a system which pays considerably less? I believe that we could play a more important part in the defence of Britain, and contribute to the social uplift of many youngsters, if some of the money were diverted from that project to looking after traditional forces.
I am tempted to talk about the effect that it has on employment in the many military establishments throughout the country. They are all involved. I hope that in the clear light of day the Government will think again before committing themselves to putting all their eggs in that one basket. I hope that they will do something about creating a more effective system which has both a defence and social posture.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Hemel Hempstead)
I shall be brief because I know that time is short. I found the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) most interesting but I wish to look ahead to the development of our land forces for the defence of the mainland of this nation. I do so against the background of a White Paper that I applaud. It is a beautifully clear document that highlights the problems that we have to 651 face. It goes, within its own context, a good way towards meeting those problems. I believe, however, that we should be considering the development of our land forces along the lines that I intend briefly to sketch.
What are we facing if we get to the period of a countdown towards nuclear war? We rely on our deterrent strategy to cause the Soviet Union to back off. During that period of countdown, the stress on every man, woman and child in these islands will be absolutely tremendous. One of the questions that has to be answered—it is carefully posed in the White Paper—is whether we can physically defend ourselves against a direct attack by the Soviet Union.
The White Paper, I think for the first time, recognises, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his speech on Tuesday, spelt out, the fact that we have to be able to defend ourselves against the special forces of the Soviet Union. Those who have read Sir Neil Cameron's speech to the Royal Society of Arts on 6 April last year will be aware that he has pointed out that the Soviet Union has the capacity to airlift 50,000 highly trained front line troops from central Russia to the Gulf—the same distance separating central Russia from this country. The Soviet Union could land those troops in this country provided it could maintain air superiority. At the same time, the troops could be backed by no fewer than eight airborne divisions.
When that potential, together with the nuclear threat, is compared with our lack of civil defence and the very limited degree to which our population is involved in the defence of our island, we have a problem that I know my right hon. Friend recognises. I do not expect him to reach a solution overnight. I regard the White Paper as a step towards that solution. I take up another point made by Sir Neil in his brilliant address. We have a very under-used resource—our people. Our system, at the moment, does not involve our people. Each family does not know what would be its role. All would like to have an opportunity to play some role, not only in civil defence in protecting ourselves against possible attack by nuclear or conventional weapons, but also in defence on the ground.
My thesis for the medium term is that we should look for a method of training a far wider section of our population. This would not be a surprising proposal in European terms. It is not always recognised that we are the only country in Western Europe, with the exception of Eire and Luxembourg, that does not train all its young men between 18 and 20 in some defence role.
I realise that difficult issues are raised. How is it to be done? Should there be an element of compulsion? Could it be included as an option in an imaginative scheme of community service? How does one set about training? If there were more time, I would have developed my thoughts in greater detail.
I want to suggest in sketch form that we should be thinking along the following lines. I do not wish to damage our highly trained professional Army. I fully recognise its desire not to have its important role watered down by having to train either the Territorial Army or a broader home defence or civil defence force. I believe that we could institute this kind of training with a special cadre designed to do it, and that it could be done on a comparatively localised basis.
652 I do not wish, either, to damage the comparatively high state of readiness that the Territorial Army can achieve. I am not anxious to damage the professional forces or the Territorial Army. But we have 420 TA centres all over the country many of them significantly under-used. There are a large number of redundant schools. The cadre who could perform this task could be built up very largely from those who are leaving the Armed Forces.
I was astonished to discover from this years's White Paper that the number of professionals leaving our Armed Forces every year is between 40,000 and 50,000. That is a significant number of people. While they would not all want to perform this task, I suspect that in the present climate, with many of them looking for jobs, they would be happy and possibly keen to use their skill and experience in forming the nucleus—and possibly more than the nucleus—of such a cadre.
The time is opportune—I do not mean this year or necessarilly next year—for thinking along these lines. I understand that this year there will be 480,00 young men reaching the age of 18. There is not an hon. Member in this House who is not conscious that it is not easy now for those young men to obtain jobs. Let no one think that I am suggesting that this is a home for the jobless. If any scheme of this sort were to be brought into being, it would have to be directed nation-wide, on a one-nation basis. Everyone would have to be involved.
With reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South and to one's experience, I am just old enough to have been caught up in the last type of service for our nation, and I do not believe that people would resent a comparatively short period of carefully directed training. There would be enormous benefits in tackling the two problems that I have not managed to develop sufficiently. I refer to the countdown period, when people do not know what they will have to do, when there will be a terrible worry that people will be scrambling for the hills, and when they will also not have been trained or experienced in civil defence aspects.
Such a scheme would also, I believe, have its effect on those in the Kremlin who would have to consider the risks of making a pre-emptive strike on this island. Most hon. Members and most members of the public do not realise that strategically one of the most sensible options, if the Kremlin were minded to make such a move—I regard it as a remote possibility, I hasten to say—would be for the Soviet Union to go straight for the United Kingdom, the aircraft carrier which reinforces Europe.
This argument is not only to be found in the White Paper but has been carefully explained by Sir Neil Cameron, so that I am not out on a limb in putting it. It would make as much sense for the Soviet Union to seek to pre-empt and capture this island as to do what it is traditionally assumed that it would do—to come across the German border, through the north German plain, while we all scrambled back to some kind of Dunkirk and re-formed in this country.
It is not realised how limited our armed forces on the mainland are. They consist of a few regional headquarters, which were outlined on page 33 of the last White Paper. They consist, too, of our Territorial Army. I welcome the fact that the TA is to be enlarged. A substantial proportion of it, as was highlighted by the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), would be making their way towards the ferries at the time when this attack might occur, and therefore would not be available to defend the island as a 653 whole. They consist also of something called the Eighth Field Force, the precise size and strength of which I have not yet been able to ascertain, but about which I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to enlighten us. That is a most inadequate amount of land forces to protect the mainland of this island.
I am conscious that I have opened up a wide-ranging debate at this late stage in the argument, but it is time that the matter was opened up and carefully thought through. The principle of getting our people more involved and the notion of the citizen army, involving the whole nation, which was so well put at the end of the distinguished speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on Tuesday, should be carefully explored, and the resource of our young men and women, however we seek to use it, should not be ignored.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I want to make four brief points in about 10 minutes, at the most. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) said that the Army did no harm to anyone. I do hope that that is true, although I hardly think that it is an apt simile.
As the Minister knows, I have a constituent, Andrew Day, who said that he had been harmed in the Army. I do not intend to go into the details now, but I hope that the Minister will be able to tell me how long the investigation into the case will take. I know that he is keen to ensure that there is a full and thorough investigation and that, if the allegations are found to be accurate, action will be taken to ensure that such brutality does not occur again. I have received a number of letters confirming the views that were expressed—I put it no stronger than that—and I have received no contrary points of view. It is a matter of concern, and I am sure that the Minister too is concerned about the matter.
Secondly, I know that the Army frequently has a difficult role to play. I have been to Northern Ireland and I know that its role there is controversial. It is an issue that would merit a separate debate. I do not want to say to what degree the Army should be withdrawn to the barracks, but I realise that the Army has to face conditions of strain and great difficulty. The Army has within its armoury tactical nuclear weapons. The last Labour Government bought Lance tactical nuclear weapons for them. That is an enormous responsibility. I should like that responsibility to be diminished and ended, because I am a unilateral nuclear disarmer and have been ever since the movement started in the 1950s.
In view of the difficult role that the Army has and beause it is a large organisation, I believe that there is a place for trade union organisation within it. That is not so outlandish an idea. It happens and operates perfectly well in Holland, for example, and there they are discussing the role of nuclear weapons. After all, why not? They are the people who, if the deterrent theory fails, will be ordered to carry out the nuclear strikes. Those people should be involved in the debate. They are members of our community. They are people of our nation and they have the right to enter into the discussion. They are not automatons. They are not deprived of the right of thought and feeling on this issue, as the union role in Holland has demonstrated.
Thirdly, I turn to the Royal ordnance factories. I recently attended a meeting of the Yorkshire and Humberside region of the Trades Union Congress. Great 654 concern was expressed about the privatisation of the Royal ordnance factories. As I said in an intervention to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson), the Government have a funny way of viewing these issues. I assume that they are contemplating selling off the Royal ordnance factories because there will be profits for their friends. That must be the only reason. They would not sell off any other facilities. They do not try to sell off the rural branch lines of British Rail. There must be a potential for profitable turnover at the Royal ordnance factories.
Why not go the whole hog in this absurdity? Why not sell off the Army to Securicor, the Navy to European Ferries, and the RAF to Laker? We do not do that. We do not contemplate it. It is an absurd idea. We recognise that the resources need to be under public control and accountability.
Why not apply that principle to the means of production associated with the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and keep them publicly accountable? Why not use some of the ideas that have been spreading that involve using some of the capacity of the Royal ordnance factories for alternative products and using some of the facilities and the abilities within them? There is no reason why the taxpayer should carry the burden all the time. If there are facilities that could show a return, why not ensure that the taxpayer obtains that return?
At the meeting of the Yorkshire and Humberside region of the TUC strong opposition was expressed to any notion of privatisation. It is a concept that does not provide security of tenure for jobs. That has been demonstrated over the past two years. Privatisation leads to asset stripping and to decisions being made by private individuals without any accountability. During Tuesday's debate on the Navy we heard some interesting evidence concerning publicly owned parts of the Navy's manufacturing and retailing facilities. We cannot have a debate about a private closure because the Government do not have legislative responsibility.
Fourthly, I ask why the Ministry of Defence seems to be so reluctant to disclose the costs of the public relations exercise which it is continually carrying out. I assume that it is being continued at considerable public expense. When I last asked a question about the exercise I was told that over 600 "freebies" are organised each year—over 12 a week—to the various military establishments for journalists to enable them to maintain the campaign. I understand that there are occasions when it is necessary to give information but that level of operation seems much too high. In part it is maintained to sustain an image.
There is a rising groundswell of opinion against the deployment and use of tactical theatre and strategic nuclear weapons. There is no doubt about that. The Secretary of State says that he will step up the public relations campaign. However, he cannot command the enthusiasm, integrity and determination of those who support either the European Nuclear Disarmament Campaign or the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
It is ironic that almost every participant in the debate has mentioned the massive cost of Trident. Hon. Members have said, "We have had peace for 30 years and the deterrent theory works. We have Polaris." If that is so, why replace Polaris with something which is immensely more powerful? If it works already, why up the ante and raise the nuclear power?
§ Mr. Cryer
It is not a question of Polaris being outdated. Trident is immensely more poweful and each Polaris submarine carries more firepower than was used in the whole of the 1939–45 war with the explosives used by both sides. It is ironic that when 20,000 young people are being denied places in higher education, which we debated yesterday and when the full savagery of those cuts will be felt in 1983–84, the Government will embark on the £6 billion to £7 billion expendiiture on Trident. That is not acceptable to the nation.
I cannot go on with the extensive arguments against the deployment of nuclear weapons. They are sound and they are growing. More people are committed to that point of view. The deployment of nuclear weapons is not compatible with the defence of our country. Those committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament believe that it is a sound source of defence—indeed, the only defence for our country.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I have listened with interest to what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, particularly to their kind remarks about the Territorial Army. I have also listened to what the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said about the Armed Forces and his suggestion about the role of the trade unions in such an organisation, refering to what has been done in Holland.
I am afraid that the hon. Member has got the position in this country entirely wrong. If man-management in industry were as good as it is in the Services, there would be little or no need for trade unions. I can think of nothing worse or more likely to alienate the commendable structure of the Armed Forces than to try to introduce some form of trade unionism. I was grateful for the remarks of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean), who suggested that we should devote more of our energy to supporting other countries through our Armed Forces. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give more thought to that. There are countries, such as Nepal which provides us with no less than 10 per cent. of our infantry, which might find it a great advantage to have support from the Royal Engineers in helping with the provision of water supplies and in other matters. We could contribute a great deal of overseas aid in that way.
The House will not be surprised that I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's recent statement, particularly about increasing the Territorial Army by 16,000, because I have had the pleasure of serving nearly 30 happy years in the TA.
When looking at the proportion of the gross national product which we contribute towards defence, it is important that we should understand that we have an all-regular full-time force and that the people who contribute less in other parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world still have some form of conscription, and are therefore getting their defence on the cheap. We have decided not to do it that way, and therefore, inevitably, defence costs us more.
There are of course disadvantages in not having National Service. It means that a much smaller proportion of young people have the experience of military life and, therefore, a much smaller reservoir is available to be called upon in times of emergency. If some future combat took 656 either a nuclear or conventional form, inevitably far fewer people would have a clear idea of how best to go about defending themselves and the country as a whole. The increase in the size of the Territorial Army is, therefore, important. I wholeheartedly welcome the increase to 86,000 by 1990 from the present figure of 70,000.
My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) said that he had served in the Regular Army for 10 years. He will probably appreciate that I would have to serve in the Territorial Army for 100 years to cost the nation the same amount. The Territorial Army cost is only 10 per cent. that of the Regular Army, and I consider that to be very good value indeed.
§ Mr. Thorne
We must pay particular attention to the question of man training days and equipment for the Territorial Army. If we are to rely much more upon it—I am pleased that we shall—we must pay special care to those spheres. It is no good taking on the personnel and expecting it to do the job that we want of it unless we provide the facilities.
Undoubtedly, the Territorial Army must have modern equipment. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) said that some parts of the Territorial Army are still using 1939 webbing. That is true. Until the Territorial Army is brought up to date with more modern equipment, we cannot expect it to take on a greater role.
In a recent oral answer, my hon. Friend gave me figures about man training days. I believe that between 1978 and 1979 there was an increase from 2 million to 2½ million. My hon. Friend was unable to project further, but we both know that the figure of 44 man training days per person went down to 38 and that it will go up to 42 under the new proposals. However, I am still concerned that that will not be enough, because over the last few years Territorial Army recruitment has been considerable.
In the past, it was possible to rely upon using the full establishment figure in man training days of a particular unit which was only 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. recruited and even a proportion of them were dead wood. In these days, commanding officers are quicker to discard the inefficient. They therefore find that a larger proportion of men and women are attending more frequently. That means that virtually every person in the unit, especially units that are 100 per cent. recruited, are using all their man training days for normal basic training. That does not allow sufficient room for people to go on courses, which is particularly important, in the early years.
It is also important to cater for key personnel who contribute much. I am thinking in particular of the company quartermaster sergeant, the training captain and various mechanics, without whom the Territorial Army could not be equipped, train or get on the move. Unless they are given the incentive and opportunity to go into the drill hall in their own time to prepare the equipment and vehicles, we shall be unable to keep the Territorial Army on the road.
Those key personnel—there are probably 10 or 12 even at company level—require between 80 and 90 man training days a year. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at that matter.
Will my hon. Friend also look at the question of ammunition? I understand that the ammunition of artillery regiments is being cut by 50 per cent. and, as a gunner, 657 I know that there is nothing worse than spending a day on the range kneeling behind an artillery piece and firing only half a dozen rounds. One cannot keep up morale in such an atmosphere. Gunners are happy to stand in the snow and rain provided they can fire some rounds. I understand that small arms' ammunition has been cut as well by between 15 and 20 per cent., but that is also important.
If by the way the man training days are increased the petrol allocation will not then be enough. It is sufficient at present only because the man training days have been cut. It is not reasonable to expect men to accept payment for only a five to eight hour drill in return for a full day's work.
When my hon. Friend is considering an expansion of the TA will he think about reintroducing some of the more glamorous regiments? Many yeomanry regiments have been put into a Royal Signals role in the past. We ought to see the greatest increase in the yeomanry as cavalry or artillery, the SAS and the parachute regiments if we want numbers brought up to establishment as quickly as possible.
Labour Members have spoken about the privatisation of the Army. Many yeomanry regiments were formed by counties before the TA was established. The yeomanry regiments and the HAC, the oldest regiment in the Army, are the areas to which the Government should look for a major increase in numbers.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
By leave of the House, I should like to speak again. We have had an interesting and knowledgeable debate, which has been fairly non-combative and unbelligerent. The only warfare that occurred was over the use of the English language, and I consider that I won that battle bloodlessly and easily. I suspect that the Secretary of State was on my side, which is why he is Secretary of State. He always uses simple language.
I regard the Under-Secretary as an expert on defence matters. He has spoken in Army debates over many years, and I have read the reports of most of them. May I press him to be a little more forthcoming than the Minister of State was about future plans for the Royal ordnance factories? The Minister of State was vague and evasive, and his answers offer no comfort to those who work in the factories.
Those loyal public servants have suffered from the effects of the moratorium imposed by the Government and from the loss of orders for the Shah of Iran. They have adapted in a way that few work forces would have done, and they have done so because labour relations have always been good and there is a genuine community of interest between all those concerned with running the factories. They should not have been treated in the way that the Government are treating them. The Ministry is in danger of putting their good will at risk. When may we expect a final decision by the Government on exactly what form the Royal ordnance factories will take in future?
I wish to raise a point concerning the Royal ordnance factory at Blackburn, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has taken a specific interest and which he has asked me to raise on his behalf. Of course, many of my constituents also work in Blackburn. How will the Ministry of Defence make up the 658 shortfall and the loss of orders of £26 million? If the Minister does not have the answer now I should be happy if he would write to me or to my hon. Friend about that.
I come to a matter which was eloquently raised in an excellent speech by the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith). Indeed, it was alluded to in Tuesday's debate by the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). That is the ever-increasing cost of defence equipment. We cannot ignore this issue. I accept that it is at the root of this defence review, and that some review and some cuts would have happened whether or not Trident was a desirable project.
What is happening to the multi-country joint collaborative projects on development and production which were so optimistically regarded some years ago? Why have they turned out to be so disastrously expensive? Why has project after project been dropped, as indeed the project between this country and France or Germany to produce the new light combat aircraft will inevitably be dropped?
Has the Minister anything to say about the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman, and argued most effectively in an article in The Economist, about the family of weapons, an idea whereby one country would manufacture one of the family of weapons and another country another? The Economist gives the example of anti-tank missiles. Europe would produce, say, one short-range missile, and the United States another, long-range missile. Has any progress been made on these projects, or is this just another matter that is interminably talked about in NATO but on which nothing is happening that is likely to lead to more economic defence equipment costs?
If something is not done as a matter of urgency, either Europe will have to give up defence manufacture altogether—with the loss of expertise and technology that that entails—or at—one might say at worst, or at best—the Secretary of State, of whatever party, will have to come to the House once again and announce more drastic cuts in our conventional forces. I hope that the Minister will have something realistic and constructive to say about that.
I wish also to ask the Minister about the report of the Select Committee on Defence on ammunition storage sites in West Germany. Having mentioned that report, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of that Committee. The reports that it has produced have been invaluable to our debates on defence matters. We should pay tribute to the members of the Committee. They have done a great deal to make defence matters much more comprehensible to hon. Members who do not normally take a great interest in them.
I should like to read two of the recommendations in the report. The first is:We recommend that steps should be taken to get NATO-wide agreement on the basis for the calculation of ammunition expenditure rates and consequent levels of stock for both land and air forces".The second recommendation contains words that sent chills down my spine. It is amazing how, in an innocent paragraph, in what could be conceived of as a rather boring report, most illuminating facts are revealed. It says:Different national forces under the command of C in C NORTHAG"—that means the Commander in Chief, Northern Army Group—may not be provided with ammunition supplies sufficient to fight a war of the same duration. That being so the Commander, other things being equal, would have to plan for a period of 659 conventional warfare no longer than that able to be sustained by the Corps with the lowest level of supplies. He might therefore be forced to recommend the premature introduction of tactical nuclear weapons into the battle. It is of paramount importance"—that is an understatement—that all allied forces plan for and stock up to the NATO minimum level of supplies. Since BAOR levels of supplies are to be based on a national assessment of needs … the Government should seek to ensure that this assessment is introduced into NATO planning".The Government quickly produced a White Paper in response to those recommendations—a White Paper that was helpful and sensible—but in view of the alarming scenario in that paragraph, can the Minister say what advances have been made? It is a very important matter.
We have all paid tribute to our troops in Northern Ireland, and it is unnecessary for me to do so again. I understand that they carry out three tours in five years. What effect does that have on morale? Do Service men feel any significant reluctance to do the tours? On my visit to Northern Ireland I had no evidence that they did, but on a matter of this importance the Minister, who is very well informed, will no doubt enlighten us.
If I were in the Territorial Army I should be blushing now. I do not see the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) blushing, but I suppose that Territirial Army officers are not the blushing type. I should be blushing if I had heaped on me the praise that hon. Members on both sides of the House have heaped correctly on the Territorial Army and its role. It is right that they should have praised this body of men and there is no need for me to add to that praise.
If 16,000 men are to be recruited into the Territorial Army, it is not only right but essential that they be properly trained and equipped if they are to play the role that is expected of them and that they would expect to carry out. I should like to have more details of that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South, (Mr. George) made a most interesting speech on the effect that the cost of Trident would have on future spending on our conventional forces. This is not the time or place for me to discuss Trident. I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would not allow me to do so. That subject has already been debated. However, the minority report represented a devastating indictment of the folly of that exercise. My hon. Friend was right to say that matters of such importance, which involve vast sums of money, should not be decided upon and then debated in the House. If Chevaline were thrown at me, I would say that the same applies to that. Indeed the Minister will not be surprised to hear that I was not consulted about that.
The debate has been interesting, particularly as every hon. Member has been genuinely concerned to ensure that our Armed Forces are properly equipped to meet the tasks that we expect of them in the defence of this country and as part of NATO. I add my praise and commitment to the sentiments that have been expressed.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Philip Goodhart)
I endorse the praise that the hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson) has lavished on the Defence Committee and on its report. He has touched on a most interesting, important and worrying point. Clearly, there are major divergences between the 660 national ammunition stocks that are held by the various countries. However, that is not a matter that we can decide unilaterally. We can decide to raise our stocks, but there is little that the House can do to persuade the Dutch, the Belgians and perhaps, even more important, the Danes that their stocks should be raised if the front is not to be thrown out of balance.
It will, I am sure, be no surprise to the House if I begin—like the hon. and learned Member for Accrington, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and, in particular, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown)—by paying tribute to our soldiers in Northern Ireland. I know that there is general support in the House and outside it for the job that our soldiers do with such admirable restraint. I have already noted the unexpected tribute paid to the Army by our former colleague Bernadette McAliskey when she was saved from death a few months ago by the intervention of the Army, after she and her husband had been attacked by terrorists. Yesterday, I noted that The Guardian writer, Anne McHardy, wrote:Joan Lestor Labour MP for Eton and Slough and an old advocate of troop withdrawal confessed herself puzzled during a visit to Belfast to discover that the only organisation that seemed really to want the soldiers to leave was Provisional Sinn Fein".Meanwhile, we have recently had ample indication of what would happen if there were to be a premature withdrawal of soldiers from Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) twice derided the idea of privatising the Armed Forces. Can anyone in the House doubt that the departure of our national Army from Northern Ireland would not lead to the growth of private armies?
It is not for me to comment on the legality of the recent actions and statements of the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), but can anyone doubt that the threat of premature withdrawal would increase the number of hardliners drilling in the hills?
At the same time can anyone doubt that whispers of withdrawal would encourage the collectors of Noraid in the USA to rattle their collecting boxes still more loudly in the bars of Brooklyn and Boston.
Meanwhile the whole House will be well aware that the Army's role is to act in support of the Civil authorities and specifically in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The RUC's growing ability to deal with the men of violence has led over the years, to a steady reduction in their requirement for military support, and hence the Army force level in Northern Ireland. Here of course the Ulster Defence Regiment has been of substantial support to both the Regular Army and the RUC. The UDR now provides first-call support to the police over most of the Province patrolling rural and urban areas, guarding important sites and installations and manning vehicle check points. I shall gladly look at any points on pay anomalies presented by the hon. Member for Antrim, South.
Sadly, as we know, the UDR continues to be the subject of terrorist attacks. This year seven Ulster Defence Regiment soldiers have been killed—five of them while off duty. As a result of the increased strength of the RUC and UDR we have been able over the last 18 months to withdraw four of the regular military units deployed to the Province on short unaccompanied emergency tours.
661 I come to the point directly made by the hon. and learned Member for Accrington.
One of the many benefits that flow from a reduction in the number of unaccompanied units doing short tours in Northern Ireland has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of turbulence that the Army suffers. Two years ago, in the final defence debate of the last Parliament, I told the House about the First Battalion, Royal Regiment of Wales that had recently lost at a stroke more than 10 per cent. of its strength through premature voluntary retirement because in the previous 20 months it had spent 14½ months away from home—that point was made forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer)—because the families could not stand that sort of separation and therefore the Army suffered. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) that there is now a minimum of 20 months between Northern Ireland tours. In the corridors of the Ministry of Defence some people are talking of the problems of Army understretch rather than overstretch.
There is, however, one area in which Army specialist assistance to the RUC and the UDR to the people of Northern Ireland will not be reduced.
Of all the invaluable work performed by the Armed Forces in the Province, few tasks are so consistently demanding and dangerous as the work of the bomb disposal teams. Their levels of technical skill, coupled with ice-cool nerves, command the highest admiration and respect even among other members of the security forces in the Province, who themselves regularly face the dangers of terrorist attack. Men with the necessary attributes are a rare commodity, and at any one time there are only about 50 of them in small teams throughout the Province.
It is worth mentioning just a few of the cold statistics to bring home the value of the men who stand specifically between society and the bomb. In 1980, Northern Ireland bomb disposal teams were called upon on over 1,000 separate occasions, and so far this year the tally has run to over 600. Many of these—about half—turn out to be hoaxes or false alarms, but every one must be approached with the same care and thoroughness and makes the same demands of skill and courage.
We were shocked when, on 19 May, a 600 lb. bomb near Newry killed five soldiers. Very few of us, however, even noted in passing that on 3 February this year a bomb disposal team succeeded in neutralising an exactly similar bomb near Bessbrook in South Armagh, again containing more than 600 lb. of explosive. Similarly, as recently as 15 June, a van was found on the northern outskirts of Lurgan containing 600 lb. of explosives in beer kegs and was defused by our experts.
Alas, only a month or so ago a senior non-commissioned officer was killed while attempting to defuse a booby-trapped car bomb. He was the seventeenth soldier to be killed on these duties in Northern Ireland. Since 1971, over 150 decorations and gallantry awards have been made to soldiers working in this area.
The work of these courageous soldiers is backed up by another group of remarkable men—our research scientists working in this field. It was said this afternoon that our equipment comes through too slowly and is often too expensive and that our research establishments work at too leisurely a pace. That charge cannot possibly be levelled at the experts working in this field. In remarkably rapid time—and in the closest co-operation with the users—we have developed a range of equipment that has swung the 662 balance against the bomb. 'The full story of this scientific adventure will not be told for many years, but those involved deserve more than an interim vote of thanks.
However, not all the bombs are detected and made safe. The most devastating explosion in the past two years took place at Warrenpoint, where 18 soldiers were killed and five were wounded. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) rightly raised the question of delays in paying compensation.
Settlements or interim payments have been made in almost all the cases, but I am. concerned that seven families have not yet had their claims resolved. However, I am repeatedly assured that the time being taken to reach a settlement is not due to delays in my Department or in the Northern Ireland Office. The solicitor representing the families has not replied to the original proposals that were put forward as long ago as August 1980.
One understands that solicitors consider that it is often in the best interests of their clients to delay reaching a quick settlement. I hope that swift agreement is reached in this case. Meanwhile, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot about indexation is well taken. All the factors involved in the settlement are indexed so that there will be no loss to the people concerned
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
The matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) excited the interest of the House. He suggested that the solicitor might not reply. To what extent is the Army department pushing the reply? For how long does my hon. Friend think that the lack of indexation has caused this sulk with the solicitor and his client?
§ Mr. Goodhart
The factors involved are indexed, so there is no sulking on the part of the solicitors. One suspects that in these cases there is a belief that by deilay the settlements will be larger. Over the years the size of settlements has risen. They hardly ever go down. But now my—
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Will the Minister confirm, however, that the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), of £500 and £5,000, are in the nature of limits or maxima under certain conditions and that therefore the question of indexation is relevant to those figures?
§ Mr. Goodhart
The figures relate only to interim payments and do not themselves affect the final settlement. The indexation to which I am referring relates to the final settlement, not to interim payments.
§ Mr. Joseph Dean
I respect the Minister's courtesy in replying in detail to a member of his party. The Minister has spent over half his speech talking about Northern Ireland. We all accept that that is a pressure point. The Minister has a limited time to reply to questions about matters other than Northern Ireland. I hope that he will do us the courtesy that he has done his own Back Benchers who have not had the good manners to stay and listen.
§ Mr. Goodhart
The hon. and learned Member for Accrington referred to training, as did many hon. Members on both sides of the House. As the Minister of State reminded us, Exercise Crusader was the largest exercise of its sort undertaken since the war. We shall be producing a report for Parliament in the Autumn on the 663 lessons that we have learnt. Many of these are technical and unglamorous, such as the need to amend emergency powers, both here and in Germany.
My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) raised one point. I am told that, while it is not desirable from training or financial point of view to have a Crusader exercise every year, it is desirable to practice our reinforcement procedures more often and more thoroughly than we have hitherto.
A number of hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Accrington and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South, have suggested that cuts in the past year in training, particularly in ammunition and fuel, have had far-reaching effects.
It is not NATO practice to give precise figures on training ammunition, for security reasons, but I can say that last year the amount of small arms ammunition fired amounted to nearly 1,000 rounds per man and per woman in the Army, even counting cooks, clerks and bandsmen. This showed, roughly speaking, a 20 per cent. increase over the 1978–79 figures. There was a similar increase in mortar bombs fired and a smaller increase, but still an increase, in artillery rounds fired.
Meanwhile, we must remember the very heavy cost of training ammunition. Recently, while visiting the Benbecula rocket range, I met 10 officers and NCOs on the gunnery instructional staff course. I watched them fire a Lance missile and we calculated afterwards that the cost of that missile equalled the annual salary of 20 hon. Members. The men involved seemed much taken with the idea that they had each fired one hon. Member into lower space for two years. Meanwhile, on a less exalted plane, I note that the Army has spent no less than £1 million last year on wood and hessian for targets while the new, improved model aircraft targets for Rapier and Blowpipe firings will cost about £25,000 each.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the undoubted fact that the cost of equipment is escalating rapidly. We know that the cost of new helicopters is some three times the cost of the old helicopters. It has been said that the cost of the new armoured personnel carrier may again be some three times that of the old armoured personnel carrier. One of the most devastating examples of this increase in cost I saw recently in an exhibition of Clansman equipment. Clansman is a much more effective wireless set than Larkspur. It is also very much more expensive.
One of the most expensive items, curiously, was the carrier bag for equipment. The new Clansman bag was no less than 10 times more expensive than the old Larkspur bag. I have made some inquiries to discover the producer of this item of equipment that has escalated so enormously in cost. I do not wish to strike a discordant note, but I was told that it was the Royal ordnance factories.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State said, in opening the debate, that I would cover a number of points such as training and the Territorial Army. I do not believe that I can really go beyond what he said earlier when he told the House that a number of factors have still to be explored and that no final decisions on the Royal ordnance factories, as a whole, or on individual factories, have yet been taken.
§ Mr. Joseph Dean
The Minister says that no final decision has been taken. A final decision has, however, been taken according to a written answer and correspondence that hon. Members have received indicating that there will be a drastic alteration in the situation. I said in my speech, and say again now, that it is palpably unfair for Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and say that they have taken the decision in principle but that they are not aware of the nuts and bolts that will be put together to carry out the decision.
One of the questions raised with those hon. Members who attended the recent lobby is that the Government are to explore legislation. This is contained in the letter that most of us received and also in the written reply. What kind of legislation will be needed to put their policy into operation?
Will the Minister come clean? He said that no final decision has been taken. The written answer clearly indicates that a final decision has been taken in principle. Is he saying only that the Government do not know yet how they will do it? If that is what he is saying, it is terribly unfair to the work force involved. Will he please say what kind of legislation the Government envisage, as there is a time scale involved in that?
§ Mr. Goodhart
I have said, and I repeat, that no final decision has been taken. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the opportunity that he has taken in the debate and that so many hon. Members have taken to put their views very firmly on the public record before the decision is taken.
Meanwhile, it would be fair to say—
§ Mr. Goodhart
I have only a few minutes left. I have said that there is nothing that I can add to what the Minister of State has said.
Nearly all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have expressed their enthusiastic support for the increase that we have announced in the strength of the Territorial Army, but I am well aware that announcing an increase in the strength from 70,000 to 86,000 does not of itself produce a stronger force. I assure my hon. Friends that we are aware of the problems that an expansion of this sort involves. We shall be seeking ample advice in dealing with those problems.
It is plain that we shall have problems with finding enough senior NCOs and officers of the right quality. Here I should like to salute the imaginative recruitment programme of the Queen's and Scottish Divisions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) had some useful ideas on flexibility of training. It is clear that we shall have to take a closer and more generous look at the number of Regular NCOs and officers seconded to the Territorial Army, so that volunteers are not overburdened with administration—a point well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South.
We must see that equipment matches both the role of the unit and the capacity of the volunteers to learn how to use it in the training time available—a point thoroughly made by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West. Here again, it will be particularly important to see that retention rates, which have been improving, improve still further.
§ Mr. John
I want to make two brief points. When will the House of Commons be taken into the Government's confidence in regard to what they have decided about the Royal ordnance factories? The Minister said that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) should welcome the opportunity to affect the decision before it is made. What does that mean? What decision? Does he mean that the Government are prepared to consider keeping the Royal ordnance factory structure in its present form?
§ Mr. Goodhart
It will be one of the three options that have been outlined, and we have said that there will be ample consultation on this question.
I hope that the House will give the Army the support that it has earned in the past year and that it can expect from this House.
§ Mr. Donald Thompson (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion. Motion, by leave, withdrawn.