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British Army

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 26 July 1961

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No 7 Military Families Hostel, Kidderminster


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement concerning the future of No. 7 Families Camp at Kidderminster.

Present plans are to release No. 7 Military Families Hostel in about March, 1963.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House two things about the future of this camp? First, is the closure to be total and at the same moment in 1963, or is it to be a gradual close-down? Secondly, how many women and children are at present accommodated in this camp? Will it be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War to arrange alternative accommodation for them in concert with the appropriate local authorities?

At the moment, there are 59 families, including 133 children, in the hostel. In the nature of things, a closure of this kind would be gradual. We should naturally, when making our plans nearer the appropriate time, pay regard to the convenience of the families then concerned and to my right hon. Friend's other responsibilities.

Gurkha Soldiers (Pay)


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has now evolved a system of total remuneration for Gurkha soldiers parallel to that paid to others.

Yes, Sir. The Gurkha soldier will get a special United Kingdom allowance on top of his Indian basic rates of pay, which will make his total remuneration almost the same as that of the British soldier.

May I thank the Secretary of State warmly for that reply, because I take it that it fits into what he told me on 17th May and he has now achieved his aim of giving a total remuneration which will be in tune with the cost of living in this country and other standards.

Sandhurst Cadets


asked the Secretary of State for War what proportion of cadets at Sandhurst come direct from public schools.

Does the Minister think that in the national interest it is a good thing that Army officers should be selected from so small a minority of the general population? Will he do what he can to broaden the intake? If I send him details of regiments which accept commissioned officers who have been only to public schools, will he investigate the matter?

I am not very keen on the imputation made by the hon. Member. The selection of an officer is on merit only—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is on merit only—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]—but the selection board can choose only from the people who apply. It is a fact that the public schools provide something like one-half of the applications for entry. I should add that the selection board is a wise body of people and that it is open to the hon. Member or anyone who has any qualms about what happens to attend a selection board.

Accommodation, Kuwait


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will make a further statement on the provision of accommodation for British troops stationed in Kuwait.

Forward troops are still deployed operationally in the desert, but their numbers are being reduced. Most of the rest are accommodated in buildings. An air-conditioned rest camp is available in the desert for the use of the forward troops, and another one for 150 men in Ahmadi. There is a tented rest camp by the sea which can accommodate about 500 men.

Without notice, and trying to recollect what I saw when I was there, I would say none from the point of view of rest camps, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman from my own observation that the accommodation in the direction he is asking about is adequate for the reasonable comfort of the troops, bearing in mind the rigours of the climate.

Will the hon. Gentleman look into the question of schools? My information is that they could be much better used than they are.

I am not aware of any request from those on the spot for more accommodation. My information is that they have what they feel they need, but I will certainly bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Signallers, Kuwait (Reinforcements)


asked the Secretary of State for War what reinforcements of signallers were sent to Kuwait to supplement those landed with their units.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there was a serious Shortage of signallers in the crucial stage in the Kuwait campaign? Will he say, first, where the 86 came from—what theatres; and what action he is taking to prevent shortages of this kind from occurring on future occasions?

With great respect, there was not an acute shortage. They could have carried on even without the reinforcements, but this was part of a reinforcement which we knew would have to take place if we intervened in Kuwait. At any given time units are under strength with men away sick, on leave or on courses. It is obviously uneconomic to post a surplus of men to allow for this in normal times. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman particulars of exactly where they came from, but I will write to him, or perhaps he would like to put down another Question.

There is no need for action to prevent this happening on another occasion. It all went all right. It is not a question of signallers. I do not want to delude the House. There is a shortage of signallers, but when we do send troops abroad we send a sufficient complement of ancillary troops so that they can do their job.

Regular Army Recruitment


asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is satisfied that on the basis of the latest recruiting figures the target of 165,000 for the Regular Army by January, 1963, is going to be reached; and if he will make a statement.

I have nothing to add to the very full statement I made to the House last Wednesday.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that to save the Government's skin he is taking a terrible gamble with our national security? Will he agree that if his present sales promotion methods fail he will have to introduce a sudden measure of conscription so that we can face our commitments?

I answered that specific question in reply to a supplementary question on my statement last week. I cannot and will not agree that we are taking a gamble with our national security. What I have announced to the House—and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have a look at it, for it was a very full statement—seems to me to represent a sensible attempt to see that we are not on present trends running a great risk, as I said last week, in what I have done. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to throw himself behind this and not against it.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the efforts he is making to establish an adequate long-service voluntary Regular Army, but will he inform the House how individual Members of Parliameat can help in his endeavours—

bearing in mind that this is not a party political matter but something of vital importance in the national interest?

I am very grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend, particularly with his record, for what he has just said. I did ask the House when I first made my statement, and I would appeal again to all hon. and right hon. Members, when they are in their constituencies or making public speeches, to stress the importance of our having adequate forces to carry out any defensive rôle and to point out that life in the Army today is a really good life, a life of service, and that the conditions have considerably improved. If any hon. Member would like to have specific points to make in his speech, I will gladly give them to him.

Would the right hon. Gentleman, to settle this controversy, since it is becoming a little tiresome, break clown the figures showing the number he is anticipating as the number of combatant troops to be at his disposal when he reaches the target of 165,000, and the number of ancillary troops, because everything depends on the number of troops available in an emergency?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and my colleagues at the War Office and I are attempting to see that just what he has in mind does happen, and we are trying to steer the new recruits into those spheres of the Army where there are particular shortages. I believe we can do this.

Caterham Barracks


asked the Secretary of State for War when Caterham Barracks will cease to be occupied by troops; and what are the future plans for the use of this property.

On present plans Caterham will continue to be occupied by troops until at least 1967–68. It is therefore too early to draw up plans for the use of the property after this date.

In view of the fact that Chelsea Barracks are being rebuilt to accommodate two battalions, why is it necessary to keep troops at Caterham after Chelsea Barracks are finished?

As my hon. and learned Friend knows, Caterham is needed in connection with the current rebuilding plans. I will keep him in touch with progress.