§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1975, laid before the House on 31st October, be approved.
The annual consideration of this Order in your Lordships' House has, over the years, become identified with a debate on recruiting, discipline, conditions of service and morale of Her Majesty's Forces. This debate has always been the occasion for the most informed and rational discussions of Service personnel questions—an important area all too often overlooked during general Defence debates, when policy and strategy matters take pride of place. Only two weeks ago, however, your Lordships had the opportunity during the debates on the gracious Speech to discuss some of these matters, and I do not honestly believe we could add much of value today. As I said at 1072 that time, the morale of our Forces is good and this, in my opinion, is of prime importance. We should all, in these difficult times, be especially careful of what we say about Defence matters. Rumours and speculation are the enemies of good morale.
Today's Order seeks to continue the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts for a further year. One need look no further than Northern Ireland to see that discipline in our Armed Forces is excellent. This in turn must in no small way be a reflection of the equity and sensibility of these codes of discipline. I have every confidence they will continue to prove as effective in the future as they have been in the past.
Next year your Lordships will have the opportunity to consider the 1975 Armed Forces Bill, which will seek to introduce, among other things, measures relating to summary powers of punishment; revised powers over civilians, which includes of course dependants of all personnel (service or civilian) serving with Her Majesty's Forces abroad; and—I am sure this will be of general interest to many noble Baronesses, and in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, whom I am glad to see is in her place—to make the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service, the Women's Royal Naval Service and their reserves legally members of Her Majesty's naval forces, and to apply the Naval Discipline Acts to them. As the noble Baroness will have noticed already, this point is dealt with in Clause 4 of Schedule 1 of the Bill we propose to discuss. This will bring them into line with the Women's Services of the other branches of the Armed Forces. Again, however, I would not propose to discuss any of these things in detail today. They will undoubtedly be very fully debated when the Bill comes to your Lordships' House for consideration.
The defence of this country and the wellbeing of its Armed Forces have always been of paramount importance to your Lordships. I am quite certain that many of us are bewildered and perhaps anxious about the various newspaper and magazine reports of impending large-scale cuts in defence spending. I am equally certain that, seeing a Defence subject on the Order Paper today, many of your Lordships would like to air your views on 1073 it. If so, then so be it; but there will be nothing new that I can say in reply. We cannot debate media mumblings and possible misinformation. We must await the outcome of the Government's Public Expenditure Review. Then, and only then, will we have the hard facts. Armed with facts and figures, a discussion of real substance could then be held. Of course your Lordships are masters of your own House, and if at that time enough of you consider a Defence debate necessary there is little doubt that one will be arranged. In the cause of informed Defence opinion I am, as your Lordships know, always more than willing to stand here and accept your brickbats and your very occasional bouquets. But today is not the right time and the Service Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order not the right vehicle for such a confrontation. I am certain that your Lordships will understand. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1975, laid before the House on 31st October, be approved.—(Lord-Winter bottom.)
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL
My Lords, the House will welcome the statement which the Minister has just made, and will congratulate him on the amazing brevity with which he succeeded in making it. I hope very much that I can match him. As he said, we discussed Defence on the third day of the debate on the gracious Speech, and I agree with him that we should perhaps try to restrain our natural inclination to stray from the strict words of the Motion, motivated by the deeply-felt misgivings and sincere worries which are certainly felt on this side of the House and, I believe, shared by many on the other side. Clearly, the Acts must continue, so we readily agree to the Motion. But, equally, it seems sensible in principle that the arrangements for an annual Review should be superseded by a more lasting and permanent arrangement which, no doubt, we shall be able to discuss more fully at the proper time.
I should like to make only two points. Let the Government be under no illusions as to what would be the effects on morale of any further cuts. The 1074 noble Lord has referred to the high morale existing in the Armed Forces. I am sorry to say that I cannot feel that the Government have greatly contributed to that, and I am bound to say that while the noble Lord may deplore the rumours which are flying around, the plain fact is that these rumours have originated from the activities of Ministers in the Government. However, I am not attempting to be contentious. I know that the Minister's heart is in the right place, and that is true also of his honourable friend in another place. We want to help them in their endeavours of fighting for the Armed Forces. May I finish by welcoming the offer, and I hope that the noble Lord means every word he says in promising that an early debate will be arranged, in the event of anything concrete being announced in the near future.
§ 3.34 p.m.
My Lords, the Minister has kindly referred to me in his opening remarks and, as I have given him notice that I want to raise a few points on the major change in regard to the Women's Royal Naval Service, perhaps he will not mind if I ask him a few questions. As I understand it, the WRNS and the Nursing Service connected with it are now to come under the Discipline Acts. I should like to recall the name of Dame Vera Laughton Matthews—a very redoubtable woman who reformed the WRNS after they had been totally disbanded after the First World War, and did a magnificent job. I think it would have been her wish today that the WRNS should come under the Naval Discipline Act. But I should like to know why that is now considered necessary, because I understand that in the past both Services have worked extremely well. I should like to ask the Minister what advantages will accrue to both of these Services.
I gather that until now there have been 24 different occupations for ratings, and I wonder whether these will be extended and what will be the conditions of service. It has been noted that recruitment is excellent for both Services and there are a large number of people waiting to join, but I should like to know whether extra categories will be added. At the present time, the WRNS are training to be pilots of helicopters. I should like to know 1075 whether, under the new conditions, they will be trained to be pilots of 'planes. At present, they are serving as cooks and stewards. Will they be allowed on ships, because if they are to have equality they should be able to go on ships in future. I gather that they would be very welcome on hydrographic surveys, because ships on this work go overseas for a considerable tame and that is not particularly favoured by married seamen.
Furthermore, what is to happen in regard to the headquarters, HMS "Dauntless" at Burghfield? For a great many years it has been suggested that they should go to HMS" Dryad". It seems to me that if the WRNS and the nurses are to integrate with the Navy, they should be nearer the sea than Reading and many other naval establishments. Surely it is much better for them to be integrated, than segregated as they are at present. Regrettably, there will be considerably fewer jobs overseas for these WRNS and nurses. Therefore, can they take their part in air traffic control or serve as naval attachés to Embassies? In 1956, a Select Committee was appointed to examine the Naval Discipline Act and to rewrite it to meet modern conditions. This Committee stated that they were impressed by the esprit de corps of the WRNS, and recommended that they should remain outside the Naval Discipline Act, considering,…that a code of discipline designed at sea was inappropriate to women.I should like to know whether it is now more appropriate to women than it was in the past. In other words, what are the advantages of the change, and how was it decided?
Will the pay and conditions be the same as they are for men—there are differences at the present time—and what will he the change, if any, in the mode of address? Also, will there be equal pensions, which is not the case at present? There is one matter which I hope will definitely be changed. It was proposed in the Seebohm Report that there should be civilian welfare officers. I consider that this is inappropriate and that welfare officers should be trained in the Service concerned. They would have far more understanding of the problems in the Service in which they work. At the present time, at Yeovilton in Somerset there 1076 are 200 in training and 150 qualified officers, very many with good A-levels. I know that some of them are attached as writers to Embassies in New Delhi, Peking, Hong Kong, Naples and Oslo but I suggest that if we are to encourage highly qualified women to come in they must have better jobs than stewards, cooks and so on.
Through the kind hospitality of Her Majesty's Government, I had the opportunity to meet a great many women officers of the EEC countries and of NATO, and it appeared that women in their three Services had far better opportunities than the women in our Services. For example, in the case of Turkey, I met a married woman with three children who has been flying Turkish air force' planes for 17 years; and there were others from France, Norway, Denmark and so on with similar jobs. American women are now allowed to go to the equivalent of Sandhurst. I am a little worried, because it is said that disciplinary powers are to be exercised by commanding officers of the Royal Marines, the Army and the RAF for breaches of Service discipline. I will not go into the details, although I have taken the opportunity of obtaining them. Will these also affect the WRNS and the Nursing Service if they come under a similar discipline?
I do not know whether the noble Lord can reply today to my questions. I gave him notice that there is considerable anxiety because this is something completely new and if the noble Lord is able to reply today I shall be grateful. If not, perhaps I may have a reply later.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, the issue of the integration of the Women's Auxiliary Forces was raised on another occasion, but without success. Indeed, I can recall an occasion between 1950 and 1951 when the matter was raised in a Defence Committee and it has taken a long time for Government to reach a satisfactory conclusion. There is no reason at all why members of the Auxiliary Forces, particularly in the female sector, should not be fully integrated. However, that is a matter which we can debate at greater length on another occasion. I have not ventured to intervene in order to initiate a prolonged debate. I recall that when similar orders 1077 were submitted in another place in bygone years they always led to a prolonged debate on matters of discipline, recruitment, and, indeed, the purpose of the Army in particular. However, I agree with my noble friend Lord Winter bottom that this is not the occasion for such a discussion.
There are, nevertheless, two observations that I ought to make on this occasion. First, I join my noble friend Lord Winterbottom and the noble Lord. Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, in expressing our gratitude to the members of the Armed Forces, particularly in Ulster but also in other parts of the world—Hong Kong and in the European sphere. Prolonged residence in such places can be much more boring than being occupied in Ulster. Exercises, training, a variety of other expedients, occasional recreation and the like can, however satisfactory it may appear to be, be extremely boring. They deserve our praise, and I am sure that in making that observation I am expressing the view of every Member of your Lordships' House.
In my judgment, my second observation is much more important. It emerges from the current rumours about further reductions in Defence expenditure. This matter has been referred to in past Defence debates and it will he referred to again. However, it is becoming even more significant because of the pessimistic utterances, reported in the Press, that are emerging from NATO. Yesterday a speech was reported in The Times newspaper—it may have appeared in other periodicals—by the Chief of NATO Forces, Admiral Sir Peter Hill-Norton who expressed considerable disquiet about the situation. On the other hand, I read in this morning's Press that there are now more decisive proposals about coming to a conclusion on a mutual reduction of Forces. The suggestion is that we are ready to make such a proposition to the Soviet Union. I must confess that what I read this morning filled me with considerable disquiet.
For example, the suggestion was made that we should offer to abandon 1,000 tactical nuclear weapons. I was unaware that we had so many weapons of this kind, but that is because of the paucity of information to which I made reference on a previous occasion, which led 1078 to the suggestion that some of us might have discussions with representatives of NATO. In addition, there was a suggestion that the United States' Forces would be reduced by 25,000 and that in return for these concessions the Soviet Union would remove 70,000 members of their Tank Force. How the Russians would respond to these proposals is very difficult to estimate. On the other hand, I have also read that Mr. Brezhnev has asked—this appears to me to be a coincidence—for further détente. He wants peace in the world, yet significantly the Russians arc simultaneously increasing their military strength beyond any of their urgent, immediate or even foreseeable needs.
I am bound to say that I find the utmost difficulty in reconciling these statements. All that I can say is that we had better be mighty careful. I am expressing my own view, not those of my colleagues; they can speak for them-salves. Certainly I do not endorse the views expressed by some of my former and new colleagues in another place who are demanding even further Defence cuts. I am resolutely, definitely and earnestly opposed to any suggestions of that kind. In the world as it is at the present time —there is hardly one part of the globe where tension is absent, with all the possibilities that that envisages—we had better exercise the utmost caution. I recognise the economic difficulties, as does every Member of your Lordships' House. These economic difficulties, depressing as they are, cannot be shoved under the carpet. To do so would be an egregious blunder. Nevertheless, when it comes to the matter of security in a world where such tension exists, Defence is of the utmost importance. To those who ask for a reduction in our Defence expenditure, all I have to say to them is: Let us have no defence at all than inadequate defence. Do not let us indulge in pretence. We should never deceive ourselves. These are the only observations that I wish to make, since this is not the occasion for a prolonged debate. However, what I have just said ought to be said and I ask the Government to take note.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and by my noble friend Lord 1079 Strathcona Mount Royal. May I ask the Minister to do all that he can to expedite the truth about the rumours so that, if possible, our Armed Forces can have a happy Christmas?
§ Lord ALPORT
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to take this opportunity of making one point because the noble Lord the Minister referred to the high morale of the British Forces at the present time. I come from a garrison town which regularly provides a number of units that serve in Northern Ireland and if it were necessary I could give personal evidence that what the Minister claims about the Army is absolutely true. Their morale is very high indeed and it is remarkable how, despite all the difficulties with which they are faced, they still maintain the high standard of discipline and morale which we expect from our Forces.
However, there is one point which I think the Minister and the Ministry of Defence should watch. In normal peacetime, with a professional Army it is—and has been recently—the custom for the families to accompany troops when they go to stations overseas. As a result of the big turnover of units between here and the North of Ireland there is a constant separation, at sometimes six-monthly, sometimes yearly and sometimes two-yearly intervals, for periods at a time between the soldiers and their families. I do not say it is the case now, but it could have an effect on morale because, frankly, nothing has a bigger effect on serving soldiers or Servicemen of any sort than problems at home arising as a result of complications attributable to their service in the Army, such as arise from the separation of the parent from the rest of the family. So I think I should take this opportunity of suggesting to the noble Lord that when the Government are considering the Defence cuts they should realise that the reduction of infantry units or major units which are used in the infantry role in Northern Ireland, for instance, which will put an even greater strain on the existing troops as a result of increased separation, might in the long run have an adverse effect upon the morale of our Forces.
§ Lord CAMOYS
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, in her remarks about the 1080 WRNS. I only hope that they will not be asked to undertake bomb disposal work, although I know they have done it in wartime, and also that they will not be required to fly some of the more difficult aircraft, such as the VTOL aircraft. Otherwise I fully support all that she has said. I myself have great respect for the WRNS.
I also agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. I suggest that we should again encourage recruiting of the Gurk has because it will be realised that, in the case of Gurkhas who are killed or who die or retire, their families get no assistance from the Government and it is only by voluntary contributions, which last year totalled nearly £1 million (I know this because I have a great deal to do with Nepal), that their families receive any aid. That position, of course, is quite wrong. As an ex-Territorial officer I should also like to see the Territorial Army encouraged to a greater extent in this country. I do not think it would be very expensive to look into the matter and I am certain that it would be well worth while.
§ Lord BOURNE
My Lords, I should like to add a word or two in support of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. I did not hear the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, but if Defence cuts are being talked about then I think we have already passed the peak period. The 1975 Review was purported to be carefully done by the Labour Party and the Labour Government and it was the Review to end all reviews. In the process of that, although I have no doubt we were labelled a bad ally by our allies in NATO, we were hauled over the coals for weakening the flanks and also weakening the antisubmarine effort of this country. What we are talking about is the freedom of the country and I suggest that before we accept any more cuts we ought to view the position from that angle.
§ The Earl of GLASGOW
My Lords, I should like to make two brief points. First, I wish to associate myself wholeheartedly with everything the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said to us today and, secondly, I wish to refer to the WRNS. I hope the Government will look carefully at the question of placing the WRNS under the Naval Discipline Act. I have worked with WRNS for 1081 many years and they are the most magnificent body of women one could find anywhere. There is absolutely no cause whatsoever to alter the present way in which they conduct their affairs and their service life and I ask the Government most sincerely to think about this again.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, first I should like to thank the House for acceding so willingly to my request that we should not broaden the discussion too much today. It is a matter of concern to all of us and no doubt when we have something to discuss, we shall discuss it. It is obvious that the opportunities given us by this annual review —perhaps I might say "restoration"—of the Armed Forces is valuable from the point of view of having a periodic discussion of an important element of military strength. But in practice I think this is something that we might very well discuss during our consideration of the Order that is in front of us, because it may be considered by your Lordships, and indeed by everybody concerned with this Order, that an actual five-yearly review, which the Order might assume, is not quite what we all want.
Obviously we must have opportunities for regular consideration of the state of the Armed Forces of our country and of the threat to the country. For this reason I would not altogether write off the possibility of full periodic reviews. But in any case, when anything concrete comes out of the discussions on governmental expenditure which are now going on, as is common knowledge, it is again quite clear that your Lordships may wish to discuss this matter in detail and I know this would be welcomed by my noble friend the Leader and by everybody concerned in this matter. I can only agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, that the Government, as well as noble Lords throughout the House, have no illusion on the effect of major cuts on the morale of the Armed Forces. Without morale the Armed Forces might as well go home and return to civilian life.
To turn to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, I do not wish to discuss in detail the various points she has raised; I shall treat them as an 1082 advance warning of the subject she wishes to discuss. She may care to read speeches that I have made in the past supporting an increased use of the qualities of skill and character which our womenfolk possess within the Armed Forces. I think once I made a very good speech on the subject but that has doubtless passed into history.
The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, asked what were the advantages of bringing women in the Royal Navy under the same umbrella as the other two Armed Forces. I really think it means that the possibility of a wider use of their skills is made available by treating them on exactly the same basis as the women in the other two Armed Forces. Lady Vickers also mentioned the question of air traffic control. This is standard practice in the Royal Air Force. Many of the air traffic controllers are women, and very good they are, too. They are much appreciated by the pilots who find their calm voices very beneficial.
My Lords, many other things—there is the question of living on ships, flying, and so on—are under consideration. The problem is the same as the original problem facing your Lordships when it was decided to bring noble Peeresses into this House. It was a question of heads. Purpose-designed ships and ships designed for men only may need rather expensive alterations if women are to be accommodated. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, has put her finger on the area where the first step might be taken, namely, the hydrographic ships. All these points are, to coin a phrase, under active consideration. By the time we get round to debating the Armed Forces Bill in about March, we might have something positive to say.
My Lords, may I echo the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Shinwell, and also express our gratitude, to the forces in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. We owe them a debt which we seem to forget, but which we must not forget. In my speech a fortnight ago, I tried to say, somewhat ineffectively, that morale is the key to everything else. The Forces in this part of the world, where they are doing the dirty work on our behalf, will do it to the full extent of their courage and ability only if they know that society is behind them to an encouraging extent.
1083 The noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, asked for rapid action. Let us hope we get it. It would be of benefit to us all. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, also supported the need for maintaining morale and for not reducing the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland to a point where separation and domestic disruption would follow on a reduced number of troops carrying an equally heavy, or heavier, burden. I wish to thank noble Lords for their tolerance and sympathy.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.