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Ministry Of Defence

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 3 November 1965

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Service Establishments (Cost Of Upkeep)

40.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the total annual cost of upkeep in the current year of airfields, Army camps and other service establishments which are not fully used at the present time.

About £180,000.

Can my hon. Friend say whether this includes the cost of upkeep of the airfields and establishments other than the 42 which are required for changing requirements in the course of the year, namely, those which have been declared redundant and those which are being rebuilt? Does not he think that there is a vast waste of resources in this situation, and will he give further consideration to the possibility of drastic economies and to using such facilities for civilian purposes, even if at a later stage these are required by the military authorities?

This does not include premises which are being rebuilt or which have an operational purpose. A large part of the money is required for the maintaining of runways—they have to be maintained to rather exacting standards—which are not in use at the moment, but for which there is still a possible operational requirement. I cannot accept that premises are being held unnecessarily. We are at present disposing of about 58,000 acres of land.

Director Of Public Relations

41.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if outside advice was taken before the appointment of Director of Public Relations was made.

The decision was entirely mine. Before making it I took into consideration all relevant factors including Mr. Edward Pickering's report on the Defence Public Relations organisation.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware of the discontent of the professional Information Grade officers in this matter, and will he bear this in mind in making any future appointments to this post?

I am aware of the dissatisfaction, and I have already arranged for the Permanent Under-Secretary for the Defence Secretariat to meet I.P.C.S. representatives to discuss considerations which might govern future appointments.

Territorial Army (Future)

42.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he took, before announcing his plans for the future of the Territorial Army, to consult Scottish Territorial Associations.

The Deputy Secretary of State for Defence and Minister of Defence for the Army
(Mr. Frederick Mulley)

None, Sir. The rôle of the Army Reserves, and their size and shape, are the responsibility of Ministers. This the Council of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Association has recognised. We have however been discussing with the Council, which represents all Associations, the means by which our proposals should be given effect.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the lack of consultation has caused grave concern because there is an impression that over large parts of the country it will be impossible for young men to volunteer for service in fighting Territorial Army units? In view of the fine record of these units in the last two wars, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that we can afford to deprive ourselves of that good voluntary manpower?

One the first point, it was the wish of the House, and Questions were answered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that the House should be first informed of the Government's decision in principle. The details involved have been, and are still being, discussed with the Associations and the Territorial Army Council, but quite clearly what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind may mean not reducing but increasing the present size of the T.A.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Scottish Territorial Army Associations are willing to consider methods by which public expenditure can be saved, and will he take this into account in deciding whether to consult them in future?

Consultation is one thing, decision is another. I think that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not necessarily wish to discuss the whole range of public expenditure with the T.A. Associations in Scotland.

Would not it have been wise for the Government, before announcing their proposals, to ascertain by consultation with the T.A. Council whether they were practicable?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman has enough experience of the difficulties of leakages in the Press to know that it would be impossible to conduct wide-scale consultation before the House was informed, and his predecessor, the shadow spokesman on that side of the House, asked specifically that the House of Commons should be informed first of our intentions. I think that that is right, and that was done.

50.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what consultations he has held with the Territorial Council on the future of the Territorial Army; and if he will make a statement.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what is really affronting the Territorial Army is the feeling that it was handed a death sentence, and that consultations were limited to the funeral details? If his future plans have any rôle for the voluntary peacetime soldier, does not he think that he ought to start now by saying that his services are better appreciated than is apparently the case?

Perhaps the hon. Member does not know that since immediately after my right hon. Friend announced the broad plan for reorganisation—which must be the responsibility of the Government and which has been accepted to be the Government's responsibility by the Territorial Army Council—we have been willing and in fact have been consulting the Territorial Army Council over all the details involved, but we cannot consult it on what is essentially a matter of Government policy, which must be the responsibility of Ministers.

Aircraft Carrier (Proposed Purchase)

44.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the proposed purchase of an aircraft carrier from the United States of America.

No, Sir. We have not yet decided what part aircraft carriers should play in our plans for the 1970s, or whether the inclusion of an American carrier in them would be helpful. It is, however, one of the many options which we are studying.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether approaches have been made to the United States Government, and will he confirm that the object of the exercise is to provide an aircraft carrier capable of operating Phantoms until the new British carrier can be built?

We have been in consultation with the American Government to the extent necessary to enable us to clear our own minds about what would be involved in terms of cost, performance, and so on. I cannot at this stage say what are the various purposes which the purchase of an American carrier, if it were decided to purchase one, might serve.

Territorial Army Emergency Reserve (Service In Aden)

45.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many members of the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve have been serving in Aden; and if he will give an assurance that all will be given two days' home leave on full pay for every month served overseas to compensate for the fact that it has been impossible to grant these men local leave on this basis in accordance with their terms of engagement.

Seven officers and 122 soldiers. The original terms of engagement for the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve did not provide for any leave, local or home. It was later proposed to grant local leave when practicable. As this was not possible in Aden, I have decided to grant six days home leave on full pay for members of the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve serving in all theatres in the present call-out.

While not suggesting that it was more than a coincidence that the Government changed their mind about both this Question and Question No. 46 the day after I put them on the Order Paper, may I ask the Minister whether he is none the less aware that it has given great pleasure to the Ever-Readies, who have done such excellent work in Aden in trying circumstances, to know that they are to get part of their bounty in addition to the leave that they were expecting, but is not he being rather parsimonious about the leave even now?

The fact of the matter is that our predecessors, in devising the scheme, made no provision for any leave at all. We are considering this matter in conjunction with a number of other lessons which have been learnt as a result of this first call-out of the Reserves and I shall take the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point into account. I would add, however, that while we like to have him on our side in these matters, the Government machine is difficult to move in 24 hours, so his Questions were not a major factor in this decision.

46.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will arrange to pay all members of the Territorial Army Emergency Reserve about to return from Aden the unpaid portion of their annual bounty immediately on their return to this country in order to give them some spending money on leave.

In that case, will the Minister congratulate me on moving the Government machine so fast?

Arms Expenditure

47.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now make a statement on progress towards the proposed cuts in arms ependiture; and if he will state the approximate total expenditure he intends for 1966–67.

On the general question I have nothing at all to add at this stage to the statement which I made on 5th August; I would prefer not to make a forecast about expenditure in 1966–67 but it will, of course, be at a figure compatible with our 1969–70 target.

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the current review could result in a lower ceiling than that announced in August, and that he would welcome this? Secondly, without giving us any details, can he confirm that next year's total will be less than the current year's?

No. I can assure the House that it is my purpose and the purpose of the Government in this review to ensure that we bring our commitments, our military task and military capabilities into balance with each other—something that has not been the case for many years past. We shall do so within the figure of £2,000 million.

Tactical Strike Aircraft

48.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in view of the continuing deficit in the balance of payments and of his proposed reduction of arms expenditure, if he will forgo the option to buy F111A aeroplanes from the United States of America.

53.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government to take up the option to buy a small number of F111A's only if it is intended to take up the option for the main force of F111 Mark II.

54.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to announce a decision on the future tactical strike aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

A decision on the future tactical strike aircraft for the Royal Air Force will be announced in the course of the defence review. Our arrangements with the United States give us flexibility in deciding the numbers and timing of any orders for the F111 aircraft.

For the two reasons stated in the Question, would it not be a double folly to buy any of these aircraft at all from America, even if long-term credits were granted?

We understood that the defence review might not appear until early next year, whereas the option on this aircraft runs out at the end of this year. Can the Minister resolve that difficulty? Secondly, he told us last week that he considered the Mark I version of this aircraft to be equivalent to the TSR2, whereas it had previously been understood that we were interested only in the Mark II.

On the first question, the defence review is a continuing process. I said that we would take this decision in the course of the defence review, so the incompatibility that the hon. Gentleman appeared to find in my remark was not there. On the second question, he will know that there are a number of possible varieties of the F111 aircraft—there are three or four already—with various types of electronic equipment to cater for various types of capability and rôle. I can assure him that the aircraft that we buy will be fully capable of carrying out all the tasks for which it was intended the TSR2 should be responsible, provided that in the course of the defence review we decide to retain the capability for carrying out those tasks.

Can the Minister confirm that it would not be his intention to take up the option on the small number of aircraft required for training purposes unless he had also decided that the Royal Air Force would be equipped with the F111A in its developed version?

The hon. Member is quite right. It would not make very much sense to buy aircraft for training purposes if there were no intention of using them in operations.

58.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement regarding the future use of the all-British Buccaneer plane by the Armed Forces particularly as an alternative to the American F111.

Buccaneer aircraft are already doing sterling service with the Royal Navy, and aircraft of the Mark II version are now becoming available in increasing numbers. As regards the latter part of the Question I would refer to the Answers I have given to similar Questions today.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many first-class designers, particularly on Humberside, believe that our plane is better than the American one in this field? Would he give us a guarantee that work will be available at Hawker Siddeley for some years to come?

I am well aware of the enthusiasm of all our designers for their products and, on the second question, I will certainly give that guarantee.

Before coming to a decision as to what tactical strike aircraft he should order for the Royal Air Force, will the right hon. Gentleman keep very much in mind the possible consequential effect of his decision on the British aircraft industry as a whole and on Anglo-European co-operation in this respect as well?

Certainly, but I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish my main concern to be the operational effectiveness of the Royal Air Force.

Service Men (Separation From Families)

49.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is aware of the hardships caused to men serving in Her Majesty's Forces overseas as a result of their being separated from their wives and families; and if he will make a statement of the steps he is taking to avoid and mitigate that suffering.

Yes, Sir. Officers and men are having to put up with more family separation than they used to, and more than they ought to. A main purpose of the current defence review is to bring the resources of the Services into balance with the tasks which the nation gives them. Meanwhile, we are doing what we can to relieve separation by building more married quarters, by easing the rules about the occupation of hirings, and by sharing the work as fairly as we can.

As my hon. Friend admits that these hardships exist and that the hardships referred to in my Question are in some cases endangering family solidarity and in others inducing serving members to purchase their discharges, it counteracts the recruiting campaign. What has he to say to that?

I am bound to accept that there is a great deal of truth in what my hon. and learned Friend says. There is no question but that this is a major problem facing all the Services.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that in considering this problem sympathetically there is a strong case for much shorter postings overseas, with air transport, provided that the Service families who may have children at school are left in this country in Service homes?

We well understand that, and have made some progress. Equally, where, for operational reasons the men cannot go for only short periods, we think that as far as possible they should be accompanied by their families when they go abroad.

Portsmouth Dockyard (Graving Dock)

51.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he now has for building a graving dock in Her Majesty's Dockyard, Portsmouth.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy
(Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

The need for the graving dock depends on decisions on the future of the carrier force but plans are in hand to meet the need should it arise.

Will the Minister speed up the building of this graving dock? Many people in this country would rather have a graving dock in Portsmouth than spend £6½ million on the Minister of Technology and his office.

Aircraft Carrier Programme

52.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he will make an announcement regarding the future aircraft carrier programme for the Royal Navy.

This is an extremely complex issue on which we must be certain that we reach the right conclusion. There is still some more work to be done before we can reach a final decision, but I shall make a final decision in the course of the defence review.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that he gained a lot of popularity in the last election by promising bigger conventional forces—and that we have seen nothing of them to date?

Injured Service Men (Notification Of Next-Of-Kin)

55 and 56.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what official notification was given to the next-of-kin of Craftsman Keats (R.E.M.E.) attached to the 15/19th Hussars that he had received burns and was detained in the British Military Hospital, Hanover, Germany;

(2) what are the arrangements for informing next-of-kin of British Service men if they are injured or taken ill on active service.

None, Sir. Serious illness or injury is notified to next-of-kin by the Service authorities, but in less serious cases, as in the case of Craftsman Keats, where a Service man is able to do so it is considered preferable for him to write to his family himself.

I thank my hon Friend for that reply, but does not he think that it is a serious situation, when a Service man is due home on leave, that the first notification which his next-of-kin gets is a letter from him saying, "Dear Mother, I am in hospital"? Will not he see that in future commanding officers are given instructions that the next-of-kin should be informed of illness or injury?

No, Sir. It is much less of a shock to a family if a man is able to write home himself and say, "I am in hospital, but I do not feel too bad", rather than to receive a notification from the unit or the Department which could not give any personal details.

Army Exercise (Boy Soldier's Death)

57.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the circumstances in which a Coventry boy soldier serving with the Royal Warwickshire Fusiliers was drowned while on an Army Outward Bound School exercise; and what future added precautions he intends to take in order that the limits of reasonable risk should not be exceeded.

This boy soldier died after the canoe in which he was travelling overturned. When the coroner's inquest on his death has been completed the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Command will consider whether any modification to existing instructions is required.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind in the meantime that in this tragic incident several canoes overturned, and it was only fortuitous that more lives were not lost? Will he consider tightening up the regulations so that canoes, which are ill-fitted for sea-going purposes, will not be used in such exercises?

We shall consider any points that arise, but I think it would be better to leave it to the coroner and the inquest first, so as to get all the information. Then we can look at it.